THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: Why Alexandrian Christianity Identified Itself as 'Gnostic'

Why Alexandrian Christianity Identified Itself as 'Gnostic'

It is strange that even though I grew up devouring the writings of Nietzsche - a most unsystematic thinker - I have come to develop a very systematic interpretation of early Christianity.  It might be difficult to get the whole picture owing to my annoying writing style.  Yet it should be obvious that when I delve into specific subject areas (the Mar Saba document, the development of the canon etc.) the ideas I am developing fit within a greater understanding or attempt at understanding the original religion of Christian Alexandria.

The term 'gnostikos' is only one such example.  I despise the simple-minded explanation of the term as meaning something like mystical knowledge.  The Alexandrians couldn't have been ignorant of the fact that the term was a  technical term within Platonic philosophy.  The way most scholars use the term gives the impression that it was a commonly used term in contemporary Greek.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When the Alexandrians identified their tradition as 'gnostic' I believe they were referencing their Papacy.  I know that this sounds very radical to Coptic scholars because they still debate the question of whether Demetrius was their first Pope.  Yet let's be honest with ourselves - the fact that we don't know much about the Alexandrian tradition before Hieraclas (the first Alexandrian to be identified as 'Pope' and Demetrius' successor) the stupid among us allow that lack of information to dictate what is 'acceptable' to believe about the early period of Egyptian Christianity.

It used to be said that there was no proof for an early veneration of St. Mark in Alexandria before the discovery of the Mar Saba letter.  Now that the letter has been discovered, the conservatives among us (translation - those who zealously stick to the bigoted notions of our ancestors AGAINST the Coptic tradition) refuse to allow the evidence from Clement's letter to dispel our ignorance.

The point is then that I have discovered the great gnostic secret of Alexandrian Christianity.  It isn't a matter of me spending a lot of time banging out a hundred posts to prove my thesis.  I wrote an academic article on the throne of St Mark which was looted from the Martyrium of St. Mark in Alexandria in 828 CE and has resided in the Venetian Basilica di San Marco ever since.  It has been published in the Journal of Coptic Studies and anyone can buy a copy of that article on line.

I don't see why I have to defend my opinions here as they were peer reviewed by the editors of that journal.

There are people of course who will say that I am not a professor or that I have weaknesses in my skill set (such as working in a particular ancient language).  All these criticisms are valid.  Nevertheless I was smart enough to identify the throne of St. Mark in Venice for what it is - the original Episcopal Chair of Alexandria (or at least an object built to represent the original chair of St. Mark).

I think that I have stumbled into a discovery greater than the Nag Hammadi texts.  I am sure those people who worked on that find will disagree.  We all think that whatever we are doing is more important than what the next guy is doing.  Yet let me tell you why I think my discovery is so important.

I think my throne explains why Alexandria was 'gnostic.' The throne is a Gnostic relic, you see, but the term needs explanation.

The term “gnôstikoi” was used in ancient times to denote adherents of what we call Gnosticism, but it was used in this sense by their opponents, mainly early Catholic Christian writers. (Note that we call it Gnosticism. There was no Greek word “gnōstikismos” before the 19th century).

When these persons called themselves gnōstikoi, Gnostics, they used it not as a term denoting denominational adherence but rather as a description of their own nature and purpose. The word is artificial. It is a deliberately made up technical term.

It is at this point that nearly all discussions of its origin go astray by assuming that the word was made up by the adherents of what we call gnosticism. The original intended meaning of the artificial term gnōstikoi is then guessed at. The guesses are necessarily vague, something like “those having, or claiming to have, special knowledge”. But in fact the term was invented centuries earlier, and it is known who made it up and precisely what was meant by it.

The word as I noted was made up by Plato. Philo and his contemporaries would have known this fact, and would have known what Plato meant by the term. As Morton Smith points out, it describes “the ideal king, the only man capable of knowing God, who would therefore act as the mediator between God and man; he would be, in effect, the Nous [the divine intellect] of his subjects, in whom he would restore their lost contact with the heavenly world from which he came.”

The Throne of St. Mark demonstrates that the original evangelist –- St. Mark himself –- and those who followed him in an unbroken succession of 'bearers of the Christ soul' were conceived as sitting on a throne like the earthly representative of an ancient sun god or like Plato’s “gnostic” philosopher king.

The presence of numerous and varied symbols, codes and kabbalistic ciphers typical of what we call Gnosticism on the throne along with symbols that express Platonic doctrine adds weight to the theory that what we call gnosticism arose out of a kind of Jewish Platonism.

Many scholars have noted an uncanny similarity between the theological concepts behind the gospel and the writings of Philo. The surviving Christians of Alexandria –- the Copts –- maintain that Mark the original evangelist was Philo’s cousin. The Throne of St. Mark at long last gives independent confirmation that there was indeed a historical relationship between the two.

I just wanted to restate this point as I continue to examine the context of Irenaeus' development of a HOSTILE SYSTEM to Alexandrian gnosticism. Most people don't have the proper context about the original term to see that 'anti-gnosticism' was essentially political.

Irenaeus wasn't just saying that there were people claiming to be 'gnostics' - i.e. possessors of mystical knowledge. This is all that Irenaeus would allow himself to say about what the religious system of the gnôstikoi. But make no mistake about it, his opposition was entirely political.

His point is now laid bare - the man who sat on this throne in Alexandria was not "the ideal king, the only man capable of knowing God, who would therefore act as the mediator between God and man; he would be, in effect, the Nous [the divine intellect] of his subjects, in whom he would restore their lost contact with the heavenly world from which he came."

People will of course say that Demetrius was clearly an acceptable bishop of Alexandria. Yet notice that he is never identified as its Pope by the early witnesses.

I don't believe that Demetrius ever sat on this throne. This throne was part of the ancient church of St. Mark which lay on the other side of the eastern walls of Alexandria, a traditional "no man's land" after the Jewish revolts of the first and second centuries.

The question of all questions for me was whether Clement and Origen sat on this throne and thus functioned in the capacity of Pope while Demetrius was supported by his namesake in Rome - Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias, the Christian mistress of Commodus.

I can't prove that these men represented the occultated Papal leadership during the Commodian period but it is interesting that ALL the remaining Alexandrian Popes thereafter are identified as 'Origenists' in one way or another until Pope Alexander of Alexandria who was essentially a Roman puppet. Arius was the last true Pope of the ancient line (Copts please don't throw stones at me).

This is what I think and believe is true. I would never put any of this is an academic article because I can't prove it. Nevertheless, I think it is essential that somebody says it in order to understand the proper context for the Mar Saba document.

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