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

How Alexandrian Judaism Developed into Christianity [Part Two]

Imagine how silly a study of the origins of Islam would be if it were conducted by devout Muslims or perhaps, if the question of whether or not mount Gerizim might have been the original holy mountain of Israel were settled by people who already thought that Jerusalem was the proper home of the Mosaic religion. In the same way, it is just as implausible to think that anyone has seriously investigated the possibility that Christianity might have started in Alexandria. The facts are that everyone already 'knows' the 'right answer.' It's the understanding we inherited from our enlightened European ancestors.

As I already noted in the first post in this series the existing model for Christianity is a joke. Yes there is a 'document' which support the idea that the 'primitive Church' moved to Antioch in the period leading up to the Jewish War in 66 CE. But this text - the Acts of the Apostles - only makes its appearance in the mid to late second century and is rejected as totally spurious by Christian groups outside of the Catholic tradition.

The manner in which Alexandria is completely 'shut out' of Christian history is also very suspicious. All of our earliest witnesses to Christianity see it develop as an organized religion in Alexandria (cf. Athengoras, Hadrian to Servianus, Celsus etc.). So how has it that Alexandria 'got the shaft' as it were?

I think it has something to do with the basic idea that a Greek speaking form of Judaism which actively proselytized was a danger to the Empire. The worry is as old as the Acts of Isidore (c. 45 CE). You know the drill - 'the Jews are trying to take over the world.'

The truth is that EVERY PEOPLE has tried or is trying to take over the world. The fear which grew out of the Bar Kochba revolt was that the Jews might actually end up pulling it off.

So it is that I believe that in the late second century a new form of Christianity was developed which had very little in the way of 'roots' in Jewish tradition. Yes, the Catholic tradition 'confesses' no God greater than the Creator. But so what? As if the Jews ever identified the power which made the world with En Sof ...

It is my supposition that there was indeed an original form of Christianity which developed from Alexandrian Judaism that happened to embody all that was DANGEROUS about messianism as such. It is my belief that this tradition was founded by Mark pretty much in the way that Clement and a handful of cryptic fragmentary references in the later Alexandrian tradition describe it.

The core concept however is the idea that the central mystery in the tradition - baptism - was identified as apolytrosis. Irenaeus reports on this phenomenon in his Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called. We have to begin piecing together the original liturgical context of this identification and this starts with recognizing that the Hebrew verb ga 'al gets translated into the Septuagint by Greek verbs generated from the substantive lutron, meaning the ransom paid to buy freedom. Lutron, in turn is the root of the term apolytrosis.

Two critical passages which illustrate the use of lutron in the LXX translation of Exodus. The first:

I am the Lord, and I will lead you forth from the tyranny of the Egyptians and I will deliver you from bondage, and I will ransom you [lutrosomai] with a high arm and great judgement. [Ex. vi.7 LXX]

and then from the Song of the Sea:

Who is like to thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like to thee? Glorified in holiness, marvelous in glories, doing wonders. Thou stretchest forth thy right hand, the earth swallowed them up. Thou hast guided in thy righteousness this thy people whom thou hast redeemed [elutroso] by thy strength, thou hast called them into thy holy resting place [Ex. xv.11 - 13]

The point of course is that we have the very foundation of the idea here that the ritual prayer form called ge'ullah in Aramaic was rendered apolytrosis in Greek. Philo, however helps demonstrate for us that in Alexandria the apolytrosis took on quite a different form that the Jewish prayers which are said morning and night.

We just saw in the first post in this series that Philo makes clear that the Jews of Alexandria gathered together each forty ninth day (i.e. each seventh Sabbath) and engaged in a nocturnal reenactment of the Israelites crossing of the sea which which took place as the seventh Sabbath 'went over' to the fiftieth day or 'eighth' (i.e. 7 x 7 + 1).

Philo clearly connects this number fifty with apolutrosis in his Preliminary Studies. While the section I am about to cite seems ON THE SURFACE to deal with the number ten, a careful examination of the material will make clear that what Philo IS REALLY SAYING is that the number ten is the simplest expression of the holy power embodied in the fifty WHICH IS THE APOLYTROSIS.

Philo begins by noting that:

the most sacred Moses has composed a hymn, with no slight degree of skill, attributing the most excellent things to this number of the decade, such as prayers, first-fruits, the continual and unceasing offerings of the priests, the observance of the passover, the atonement, (Lev 23:27} the remission of debts, and the return to the ancient allotments of property at the end of every fifty years; {Lev 25:9} the preparation and furnishing of the indissoluble tabernacle, {Ex 26:1} and ten thousand other things which it would take a long time to enumerate [Prelim. 89]

From this original identification that the number ten has within it the potential to express the power of the fifty - i.e. the Jubilee - he goes through all the places where the number ten has mystical significance in the Torah and ending with the example of the Passover lamb being consecrated on the tenth day.

So it is that Philo will use this allusion to the number ten to go back to the number fifty saying that:

This is, to speak properly, the spiritual passover of the soul, the passing over of all the passions and of every object of the outward senses to the tenth, which is the proper object of the intellect, and which is divine. For it is said in the scripture: "On the tenth day of this month let each of them take a sheep according to his house; {Ex 12:3} in order that from the tenth, there may be consecrated to the tenth, that is to God, the sacrifices which have been preserved in the soul, which is illuminated in two portions out of the three, until it is entirely changed in every part, and becomes a heavenly brilliancy like a full moon, at the height of its increase at the end of the second week, and so is able not only to guard, but even to sacrifice uninjured and faultless improvements, that is to say, propitiations. For this propitiation also is established in the tenth day of the month, when the soul addresses its supplications to the tenth portion, namely to God, and has learnt, by its own sagacity and acuteness, the insignificance and nothingness of the creature, and also the excessive perfection and pre-eminent excellence in all good things of the uncreated God. Therefore God becomes at once propitious, and propitious too, even without any supplications being addressed to him, to those who abase and humble themselves, and who are not puffed up with vain arrogance and self-opinion. This is remission and deliverance, this is complete freedom of the soul, shaking off the wanderings in which it wandered, and fleeing for a secure anchorage to the one nature which cannot wander, and which rises up to return to the lot which it formerly received when it had brilliant aspirations, and when it vigorously toiled in labours which had virtuous ends for their object. For then admiring it for its exertions, the holy scripture honoured it, giving it a most especial honour, and immortal inheritance, a place namely in the imperishable race. This is what the wise Abraham supplicates for, when that which in word indeed is the land of Sodom, but in real fact is the soul made barren of all good things and blinded as to its reason, is about to be burnt up, in order that if the memorial of justice, namely the Tenth (Gen 18:32} part be found in it, it may obtain a short of amnesty. Therefore he begins his supplication with a prayer for pardon, connected with the number fifty, and terminates with the number ten, the lowest number for whose redemption (apolutrosis) he can dare to entreat.

From which consideration it appears to me to have been, that Moses, after the appointment of chiliarchs, or commanders of thousands, and of centurians, and of captains of fifties, {Ex 18:25} thought proper to appoint captains of ten over all, in order than if the mind was not able to be improved by means of the elder orders, it might at least be purified by these last in order
.[Prelim. 106 - 110]

In my opinion it is only when you start to THINK about Philo's kabbalah that you can start to see why 'those of Mark' - i.e. the Marcosians - were so sure that the gospel was written by someone using this Alexandrian system.

Jesus has the disciples sit in groups of fifties (Luke 9:14). Jesus is understood to have come to Jerusalem on the tenth day (John 12:12). I invite the reader to look at Irenaeus's description of the Marcosians and the way they developed arguments about numbers in the Bible. I trust that they will understand how I view the followers of Mark developed out of Alexandrian Jewry.

It is more important now that we focus on Philo's words that there was "a prayer for pardon, connected with the number fifty ... [for] redemption (apolutrosis)." It is indeed important to remember that Philo also writes:

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 [Vita 65]

And after the feast they celebrate the sacred festival during the whole night ... 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 [ibid 83 - 89]

Given that Philo connects the fifty with a prayer for apultrosis in one text, that lutron appears throughout the relevant sections of Exodus and the Jews call their prayers adapted from this same material 'the redemption' can there be any doubt that the Alexandrian community identified these practices described by Philo as 'the apolutrosis'?

The one thing that is missing from the description in Philo is any reference to baptism. Yet it has to be acknowledged that Philo is certainly not revealing everything about the sect - let alone his relationship with the community.

I have already noted that the Samaritan Dositheans must be regarded as being very closely related to the Therapeutae. The major difference is that we have references to them standing in the water saying prayers which - we must assume - were related to Crossing of the Sea by the Israelites. Of course, it is worth noting that these reports only come down to us because of their opponents.

Jan Van Goudoever refers to the Therapeutae venerating the 21 of Nissan as the date of the crossing - which he argues - SHOULD have been taken over by the Christians. I think we can now begin to make the case that IT WAS using the evidence from Irenaeus's portrait of the Marcosians and Clement's Letter to Theodore /...

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