THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: How Alexandrian Judaism Developed into Christianity [Part One]

How Alexandrian Judaism Developed into Christianity [Part One]

So let me begin by saying that this is my second attempt at developing this observation.  One wrong typing stroke caused the original long, long article (many of you know how long my articles can get!) caused the first draft to disappear.  Given that I naively believe that everything happens for a reason, I will try and use this 'opportunity' to boil down that original - and now lost - article down to its essential points.

Let me start by saying that I know I go against the grain when I suggest that Christianity developed from Alexandrian Judaism. While it is relatively well known that there are legendary stories that Philo was the first 'bishop' of Alexandria, they are rightly regarded with some suspicion.  Nevertheless one should still be open to the idea that a kernel of truth might still be in these fabulous stories.  Let's look at Photius's version of the tradition which reads in full:

Read, also, his two tractates, Censure of Gaius and Censure of Flaccus in which, more than in his other writings, he shows vigour of expression and beauty of language. But he frequently errs by changing his ideas and in describing other things in a manner at variance with Jewish philosophy. He flourished in the times of the emperor Gaius, to whom he states that he sent a deputation on behalf of his own people, while Agrippa was king of Judaea. He was the author of numerous treatises on various subjects, ethical discussions, and commentaries on the Old Testament, mostly consisting of forced allegorical explanations. I believe that it was from him that all the allegorical interpretation of Scripture originated in the Church. It is said that he was converted to Christianity, but afterwards abandoned it in a fit of anger and indignation. Before this, during the reign of the emperor Claudius, he had visited Rome, where he met St. Peter, chief of the apostles, and became intimate with him, which explains why he thought the disciples of St. Mark the evangelist, who was a disciple of St. Peter, worthy of praise, of whom he says that they led a contemplative life amongst the Jews. He calls their dwellings monasteries, and declares that they always led an ascetic life, practising fasting, prayer, and poverty.

Philo came of an Alexandrian priestly family. He was so admired amongst the Greeks for his power of eloquence that it was a common saying amongst them : "Either Plato philonizes or Philo platonizes." [Bibl. 105]

To be certain the whole business of Philo meeting St. Peter in Rome is legendary but the idea that Philo came from an Alexandrian priestly family (and thus was connected with the Alexandrian temple) and that persistent idea that the Therapeutae were disciples of St. Mark might not all be complete nonsense.

Indeed it should be emphasized that Photius is not getting ALL his ideas about a connection between St. Mark and the Therapeutae from Eusebius.  This because we see in the previous entry in the Bibliotheca that Photius was reading Philo's original report on the Therapeutae.  It reads:

Read, also, his description of the lives of those amongst the Jews who led a life of contemplative or active philosophy, the Essenes and Therapeutae. The latter not only built monasteries and holy places (semneia, to use their own word), but also laid down the rules of monasticism followed by the monks of the present day. [ibid 104]

I find the reference to the existence of semneia of the Therapeutae very interesting given the consistent use of this word to mean 'temple' - i.e. a building or site 'in the possession' of a god.  Liddell Scott has the following entry for the related term σεμνός ,, ή, όν, (σέβομαι):

A. revered, august, holy:

I. prop. of gods, e.g. Demeter, h.Cer.1,486; Hecate, Pi.P.3.79; Thetis, Id.N.5.25; Apollo, A.Th.800; Poseidon, S.OC55; Pallas Athena, ib.1090 (lyr.); at Athens the Erinyes were specially the σεμναὶ θεαί, Id.Aj.837, OC 90,458, Ar.Eq.1312, Th.224, Th.1.126, Autocl. ap. Arist.Rh.1398b26; or simply Σεμναί, A.Eu.383 (lyr.), 1041 (lyr.), E.Or.410; τὸ ς. ὄνομα their name, S.OC41; ς. βάθρον the threshold of their temple, ib.100; ς. τέλη their rites, ib. 1050 (lyr.).

2. of things divine, ὄργια ς. h.Cer.478, S.Tr.765; “θέμεθλα δίκης” Sol.4.14; “ὑγίεια” Simon.70; “θυσία” Pi.O.7.42; ς. ἄντρον the cave of Cheiron, Id.P.9.30, cf. O.5.18; ς. δόμος the temple of Apollo, Id.N.1.72; “παιάν” A.Pers.393; σέλμα ς. ἡμένων, of the Olympian gods, Id.Ag.183 (lyr.); ς. ἔργα, of the gods, Id.Supp.1037 (lyr.); “μυστήρια” S.Fr.804, E.Hipp.25; τέρμων οὐρανοῦ ib.746; ς. βίος devoted to the gods, Id.Ion 56; σεμνὰ φθέγγεσθαι, = εὔφημα, A.Ch.109 (v.l.), cf. Ar.Nu.315,364; ἦ πού τι ς. ἔστιν ὃ ξυναμπέχεις; A.Pr.521; τὸ ς. holiness, D.21.126.

Photius is clearly getting his ideas for a Therapeutaean semneia from the text of Philo that he has read with his own eyes.  This is not something that he has simply appropriated from Eusebius.

Some examples of the use of semneion in Philo's Contemplative Life include:

And in every house there is a sacred shrine which is called the semneion, and the monastery in which they retire by themselves and perform all the mysteries of a holy life, bringing in nothing, neither meat, nor drink, nor anything else which is indispensable towards supplying the necessities of the body, but studying in that place the laws and the sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets, and hymns, and psalms, and all kinds of other things by reason of which knowledge and piety are increased and brought to perfection. [Vita 25]

And this common semneion to which they all come together on the seventh day is a twofold circuit, being separated partly into the apartment of the men, and partly into a chamber for the women, for women also, in accordance with the usual fashion there, form a part of the audience, having the same feelings of admiration as the men, and having adopted the same sect with equal deliberation and decision; and the wall which is between the houses rises from the ground three or four cubits upwards, like a battlement, and the upper portion rises upwards to the roof without any opening, on two accounts; first of all, in order that the modesty which is so becoming to the female sex may be preserved, and secondly, that the women may be easily able to comprehend what is said being seated within earshot, since there is then nothing which can possibly intercept the voice of him who is speaking. [ibid 32, 33]

It is more important that we see remind ourselves that the Therapeutae employed a 364 day 'Jubilee calendar' where the day after the forty ninth day (i.e. the seventh sabbath) - i.e. the fiftieth day - was especially holy.  As Clement learned from Philo, fifty is the embodiment of the ogdoad - i.e. 7 (x 7) + 1 - or as Philo explains:

In the first place, these men assemble at the end of seven weeks, venerating not only the simple week of seven days, but also its multiplied power, for they know it to be pure and always virgin; and it is a prelude and a kind of forefeast of the greatest feast, which is assigned to the number fifty, the most holy and natural of numbers, being compounded of the power of the right-angled triangle, which is the principle of the origination and condition of the whole.  Therefore when they come together clothed in white garments, and joyful with the most exceeding gravity, when some one of the ephemereutae (for that is the appellation which they are accustomed to give to those who are employed in such ministrations), before they sit down to meat standing in order in a row, and raising their eyes and their hands to heaven, the one because they have learnt to fix their attention on what is worthy looking at, and the other because they are free from the reproach of all impure gain, being never polluted under any pretence whatever by any description of criminality which can arise from any means taken to procure advantage, they pray to God that the entertainment may be acceptable, and welcome, and pleasing; and after having offered up these prayers the elders sit down to meat, still observing the order in which they were previously arranged, for they do not look on those as elders who are advanced in years and very ancient, but in some cases they esteem those as very young men, if they have attached themselves to this sect only lately, but those whom they call elders are those who from their earliest infancy have grown up and arrived at maturity in the speculative portion of philosophy, which is the most beautiful and most divine part of it. [ibid 65 - 67]

Now I know that it will be difficult for Christians to give up their essentially childish assumptions about the development of their tradition from the pseudo-historical narrative in the Acts of the Apostles.  Nevertheless what Philo is describing here is clearly the TRUE GROUND out of which Christianity ACTUALLY developed.  

Acts, it should be seen, is complete nonsense developed for political purposes alone (i.e. to develop an alternative theory to the reality of the Alexandrian origins of Christianity).  

This becomes especially clear when we see that THE CONTEXT of the expectation associated with the veneration of the Ogdoad (i.e. the fifty) is the Crossing of the Sea.  As Marqe notes, the fact that the word AZ (i.e. Heb. 'then') begins the Song of the Sea is deliberate.  It draws our attention to the power of the Ogdoad - i.e. A (1) + Z (7) = 8.  As the Samaritans continue to acknowledge to this day the Israelites came to the water as the seventh day of Unleavened Bread ended and wonder of the crossing of the sea occurred just as the seventh 'went out' into the eighth.  

So it is that Philo says that the Therapeutae gathered on the forty ninth day and sang special hymns devoted to the crossing as the day went out into the fiftieth day.  As we read:

And after the feast they celebrate the sacred festival during the whole night; and this nocturnal festival is celebrated in the following manner: they all stand up together, and in the middle of the entertainment two choruses are formed at first, the one of men and the other of women, and for each chorus there is a leader and chief selected, who is the most honourable and most excellent of the band.  Then they sing hymns which have been composed in honour of God in many metres and tunes, at one time all singing together, and at another moving their hands and dancing in corresponding harmony, and uttering in an inspired manner songs of thanksgiving, and at another time regular odes, and performing all necessary strophes and antistrophes.  Then, when each chorus of the men and each chorus of the women has feasted separately by itself, like persons in the bacchanalian revels, drinking the pure wine of the love of God, they join together, and the two become one chorus, an imitation of that one which, in old time, was established by the Red Sea, on account of the wondrous works which were displayed there;  for, by the commandment of God, the sea became to one party the cause of safety, and to the other that of utter destruction; for it being burst asunder, and dragged back by a violent reflux, and being built up on each side as if there were a solid wall, the space in the midst was widened, and cut into a level and dry road, along which the people passed over to the opposite land, being conducted onwards to higher ground; then, when the sea returned and ran back to its former channel, and was poured out from both sides, on what had just before been dry ground, those of the enemy who pursued were overwhelmed and perished. When the Israelites saw and experienced this great miracle, which was an event beyond all description, beyond all imagination, and beyond all hope, both men and women together, under the influence of divine inspiration, becoming all one chorus, sang hymns of thanksgiving to God the Saviour, Moses the prophet leading the men, and Miriam the prophetess leading the women.  Now the chorus of male and female worshippers being formed, as far as possible on this model, makes a most humorous concert, and a truly musical symphony, the shrill voices of the women mingling with the deep-toned voices of the men. The ideas were beautiful, the expressions beautiful, and the chorus-singers were beautiful; and the end of ideas, and expressions, and chorussingers, was piety; therefore, being intoxicated all night till the morning with this beautiful intoxication, without feeling their heads heavy or closing their eyes for sleep, but being even more awake than when they came to the feast, as to their eyes and their whole bodies, and standing there till morning, when they saw the sun rising they raised their hands to heaven, imploring tranquillity and truth, and acuteness of understanding. And after their prayers they each retired to their own separate semneion, with the intention of again practising the usual philosophy to which they had been wont to devote themselves. This then is what I have to say of those who are called therapeutae, who have devoted themselves to the contemplation of nature, and who have lived in it and in the soul alone, being citizens of heaven and of the world, and very acceptable to the Father and Creator of the universe because of their virtue, which has procured them his love as their most appropriate reward, which far surpasses all the gifts of fortune, and conducts them to the very summit and perfection of happiness. [ibid 81 - 90]

Philo's use of terminology to describe the buildings of the Therapeutae is very confusing of course as many have noted.  There seems to been a koinon semneion for seventh day worship as well as individual semneion but that isn't our immediate concern here.

Our interest is to understand the context for LGM 1 (i.e. the first 'addition' to the Gospel of Mark in its original Alexandrian form).  I think everyone reading this post can see the connection now.  If not, here is some additional assistance for those people.

The Liber Pontificalis makes absolutely clear that up until the end of the second century the Alexandrians DID NOT venerate Easter on the Sunday immediately following Passover.  This was the 'innovation' that Victor of Rome established, thus changing the original Alexandrian practice.  While that original Alexandrian practice isn't explicitly identified the context of the reference makes it clear it had something to do with the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

I have already referenced the fact that a number of scholars have noted that Origen references a contemporary Alexandrian Christian celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread venerated with 'appropriate' gloom (i.e. 'bitter herbs).  Origen was not alone.  This development of Chag HaMatzot as part of a variant Easter liturgy was quite early and widespread.  It seems be rooted in the conclusion of the narrative of the Gospel of Peter.

Yet I am also very convinced that it was already anticipated in the section of text which appeared in the Alexandrian Gospel of Mark just before Mark 10:35 - 45 (i.e. the so-called LGM 1).  The section of text which reads:

And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan

As I have often noted the ogdoad is implicit in the narrative.  The evening when Jesus comes to the neaniskos is the first day and counting after the Jewish manner we add the 'after six days' to arrive at 'the evening the youth comes to him wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.'  The 'mystery of the Kingdom of God' which takes place 'that night' is actually the eighth day in the sequence.

One would clearly expect that any baptism would occur as the seventh day literally 'went out' into the eighth.  The context is clearly the 'crossing of the Sea' as the Apostle already references this event as the basis for Christian baptism (1 Cor chapter 10).  I have also already demonstrated that among the followers of Mark (Aram. Marqione = 'Marcionites') the Letter to the Corinthians was known as 'to the Alexandrians.'

For those who ask why Jesus could be imagined by Mark to have established a ritual connected with the Israelite 'crossing of the sea' in a period of the year outside of the feast commemorating that event (i.e. the Passover) there are two easy answers for that.  The first is that Clement already tells us that LGM 1 appears immediately following Jesus' 'prediction' of the Passion - i.e.

after "And they were in the road going up to Jerusalem" and what follows, until "After three days he shall arise", the secret Gospel brings the following material word for word ...

In other words, Jesus stands up and says something is going to happen during the feast which commemorates the redemption of Israel and then IMMEDIATELY goes on to describe a baptism which occurs as the seventh day 'goes out' into the eighth (as I said many times before if Jews and Samaritans were involved in the 'deciphering' of To Theodore the text would have been understood the day after Smith found it).

The second explanation is that Philo already tells us that Alexandrian Jews - the Therapeutae - were ritually 'reenacting' or remembering the crossing every seventh Sabbath.  As such, for contemporary Alexandrian audiences at least, it wouldn't have seemed at all strange that Jesus or anyone else for that matter was thinking about the seven day Chag HaMatzot on a particular 'seventh day' in the year.

Indeed I have already informed my readers that the contemporary Samaritans still reference the 'crossing of the Sea' at the end of every Sabbath (undoubtedly a survival of Dosithean practice).

They start the second part of Saturday evening prayer with the citation from Ex. 14:10, 13 (SP) by the next words:

וישאו בני ישראל את עיניהם ויראו והנה מצרים נסעים אחריהם וייראו מאד.
ויאמר משה אל העם אל תיראו, התיצבו וראו את ישועת ה'.
ה' ילחם לכם ואתם תחרישון:

And the son of Israel raised their eyes and they saw, and behold the Egyptians were driving after them, and they became very frightened
And Moses said to the people, do not fear, stand by and see the salvation of Shehmaa.
Shehmaa will fight for you while you keep silent.

Indeed if we take matters one step further it is worth noting that the Samaritan chronicler Abu'l Fath makes explicit that the Dositheans said prayers while standing in the water. This can only be a reference to the recitation of the Song of the Sea or indeed this practice associated with commemorating the crossing as the seventh sabbath went out into the fiftieth day (they are also called Sebueans = 'seveners'). The Dositheans were especially numerous in Alexandria even down to the sixth century when Eulogius composed a special treatise against them (Photius Bibl. Cod 230).

The point is then that when we take all the evidence together it is not all surprising that something like LGM 1 appeared in the original Alexandrian Gospel written 'according to Mark.' It is even clearer why it was taken out by later Roman editors. It was clearly connected with the heretical hope for the community in a 'redemption' from the ruler of this world, who was interpreted to be Caesar.

The connection between LGM 1 and the liturgy of the Alexandrian Church is already established in Clement's description. As he introduces the idea of 'extra material' found in the Alexandrian copies as a means of justifying the presence of LGM 1 (which was apparently disputed, altered or ridiculed by at least some Christian sects) Clement notes that these additions formed the basis to the Alexandrian liturgy:

Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries (megala mysteria).

Now I have already noted in my last post that Clement's division of a 'lesser' and 'greater mystery' is paralleled by the Marcosian understanding that there was a lesser and greater baptism in Christianity. The fact that Clement was a crypto-Marcosian has already been demonstrated by a number of scholars before me. I have just strengthened those proofs by uncovering over fifty parallels between the beliefs of Clement and those of the sect.

The 'great mystery' has everything to do with the eighth day (or more precisely the seventh day 'going out' into the eighth) and its relationship with the crossing of the Sea. Scott Brown's objections are not even worth considering because they are based on a set of assumptions which weren't shared by the Alexandrian tradition.

I don't want too involved in his analysis in his Mark's Other Gospel but it is worth saying two things rather briefly. The first is that the Alexandrian's always emphasized Jesus' divine nature with good reason. He was not the messiah but rather the divine hypostasis called 'Chrestos' (in the LXX a translation of yashar, consistently understood to be the root to the name 'Israel') and a name which the Marcosians emphasized had the numerical value 888. Marqe (Mark) also notes in his Samaritan writings that where the Hebrew text begins the Song of the Sea with the word AZ which, as we noted has a numerical value of eight the LXX has 'then sang' which has a value in Greek of 888. In other words, to follow the Apostle's train of thought in 1 Corinthians, Chrestos or Jesus was the hypostasis into which the ancient Israelites were baptized in the sea. As such what is being described in LGM 1 is clearly Jesus preparing the neaniskos for a similar 'baptism into his cloud' as it were only now the Christian initiates are being baptized directly into the Father rather than a divine hypostasis.

The second point is that when Jesus is properly established as the hypostasis of the Father - or even the Father himself according to some early Alexandrian 'heresies' - we realize at once that there are two different figures in the gospel narrative - i.e. 'Jesus' and 'Christ.'

To this end, when Irenaeus speaks of "those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark" [AH iii.11.7] I think it is one part of that original Alexandrian paradigm. So too his ridicule of various heretical groups for arguing that Jesus descended onto Christ and the like.

With regards to the prediction that Christ would be 'raised on the third day' [Mark 10:34] there is no contradiction in associating baptism with the eighth day given that the Gospel of Peter (a text I have always identified with the 'account of the Lord's doings' that Mark wrote for Peter in To Theodore) has BOTH Mary and the women discovering the empty tomb on the Lord's day [Gos. Pet. 50] AND additional significance to the eighth day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as the disciples are depicted as being 'on the sea' on that day [ibid 58 - 60] just before the text becomes fragmentary.

The point is that we have yet to discuss why the Marcosians identified as the 'redemption' apolytrosis] but we have already made great progress in that regard. The writings of Philo make clear that the crossing of the sea is the ultimate context for Alexandrian Christian baptism. In our next post we will take that understanding one step further ...

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