Judaism’s Gnostic Ingredients

In Christianity, there is much concern about Jesus Christ’s family lineage.  The whole point of putting Jesus in Bethlehem was to create a link between Jesus, David, and David’s father Jesse, who also lived in Bethlehem.

Some of Jesse’s (and David’s) direct ancestors included Obed, Salmon, Judah, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Arpachsad, and Shem.

Shem was often associated in Jewish literature with the King and high priest, Melchizadek.  Shem was also a son of Noah, and was on the arc.

Cain slaying Abel

Shem and Noah were of course descendents of Seth, who was Adam’s third son.  Adam’s second son, Cain, killed his first son, Abel, thus earning him “the mark of Cain” – this mark was interpreted by later Christians as black skin, which helped them to justify slavery and other maltreatment of Africans.

Cain’s evil act and subsequent fall from grace caused many people over time, including the Hellenized Jew Philo of Alexandria, as well as the proto-Orthodox Christian father Tertullian, to presume that Cain was not the legitimate son of Adam; rather, Eve must have been seduced or raped by Samael (the lion-faced serpent, whose name translates to “blindness [or poison] of God”), who was an evil archangel, and probably the earliest iteration of Satan.  In Gnosticism, Samael is synonymous with Yaldabaoth and Saklas.  In other words, for some Jewish Gnostics, the father of Cain was the Demiurge, who kept people enslaved on Earth.

Consider the incredibly polemical discussion Jesus has with Pharisees in John 8:44 within this context:

You [the Pharisees] belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

Can there be any doubt Jesus was calling the Pharisees sons of Cain in this passage?  In other words, John clearly relies on the (pre-Orthodox Christian) tradition that Cain was a son of Samael, and that Samael is indeed equivalent to Yaldabaoth, the Demiurge.  Thus, the emerging Christian view, perhaps originating between 100 and 150, was that Jewish Pharisees were beholden to an inferior God.

In this context, is it any wonder that the Valentinians, who believed that an ignorant lower God participated in creating the earth, were copious consumers of John’s Gospel (AH 3.11.7)?  My speculation is that it was Eastern Valentinians who indeed wrote the original Gospel of John and took it West (that is why the Western Valentinians continued to maintain a theology that excluded the virgin birth, where the Eastern Valentinians later evolved to integrate the virgin birth).

A subsequent speculation in this Johannine Christology depicted in John 8:44 is that Jesus was sent as an archangel to free humans from Cain’s influence, thereby eliminating any concern for prophets who came after Cain’s reintegration back into the Sethian bloodline.  This would have included Moses and his brother, Aaron; the prerequisite to be a high priest in Jerusalem was to be a descendant of Aaron (and by extension, Levi).

It is therefore interesting that Shem was associated with (and often considered the same as) Melchizadek, as Shem was also a son of Noah.  Perhaps the assumption in some communities was that Shem had a different mother than his brothers, Ham and Japhteh; alternatively, the reverence for Shem came from the shenanigans in Genesis 9:21-27:

When Noah drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside.
But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”
He also said, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

In this passage, which describes the “Curse of Ham“, we see a blatant polemic against Ham and his son, Canaan – a likely reference to the writer’s main competition, the Canaanites.

There was a document recovered in the 1940s at Nag Hammadi which is called The Paraphrase of Shem.  In it, Shem describes how his thought, which was in his body, snatched him away from his race.  It goes on to say that Shem had a voice revealing things to him.  The voice said:

Shem, since you are from an *unmixed* power and you are the first being upon the earth, hear and understand what I shall say to you…

In other words, in the sect which produced this text, Shem was like the first being upon Earth, and his lineage was unmixed – he is free from Cainite blood, and thus a legitimate, God-authenticated son of Adam.

In any case, this subtext makes Hebrews 7:11 noteworthy, especially for those who saw Shem and Melchizadek as the same person:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest (Jesus) to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?

The trouble with humanity, as some Jews would have seen it, is that the family lines of Seth (Adam and Eve’s other son) and Cain were merged after Cain was expelled.  Cain (and Samael) managed to infiltrate the more pure, Sethian bloodline.

This probably helped to explain why there could be evil on the earth, but it also is helpful to understand that it was a Sethian descendant, Noah, who was chosen to recover humanity.

Genesis Family tree

Of the later Gnostic groups, reverence for Seth was nearly universal.  And of course, the reason for this is, given the lineage they had, either people will revere Seth, or they will revere Cain.  The solution is obvious…unless of course you are a Gnostic Cainite who believes they are being persecuted and mischaracterized by an Earthly Demiurge hell-bent on spreading lies to humanity.

In several Jewish sources, Noah had his 3 sons with a descendant of Cain, named Naamah.  Some sources attempt to recast Noah’s family history, and refer to Noah’s wife as a Sethite, Emzara, a daughter of Methuselah; however, a convenient point for the purveyors of this Naamah story would have been to explain the problem of evil, and why a good God could allow evil on the Earth, even after drowning everybody.  In this view, an obvious solution is that God drowned the Earth because he was attempting to purge it of Cain’s descendants.

maxresdefaultIt is therefore not inconsequential that Gnosticism, in its various iterations, also explained away the Epicurean problem of evil with its claim that humans are enslaved on a planet, and within a celestial paradigm ruled by inferior Gods.  The logical consequence for people who held that belief was that it was necessary to find a way back to the highest God, and past those princes (archons) who patrolled the viewable Cosmos.

There was also a point of contention in some Gnostic views that another character named Norea was Noah’s wife.

For the Jewish groups that believed it was the Cain descendant Naamah who married Noah, and thereby infested a perfectly good blood line, it is no wonder she is often associated with the demon Naamah, who was a minion of Samael (AKA Satan, Yaldabaoth, the Demiurge).  Among other things, Naamah’s demon doppelganger helped to cause epilepsy in children.  That indeed makes it easy to understand why people with (what modern Westerners would recognize as obvious) neurological ailments were considered to be demon-infested, which might explain Jesus’ mandate to force demons out of people – they were remnants of Cain and Samael.

Nasaraeans: The OGs (Original Gnostics)

According to Epiphanius of Salamis in Panarion, there were several key features of the Nasaraeans:

  1. They kept the Sabbath, practiced circumcision, and abstained from meat
  2. They were similar to the Hemerobaptists and Ossaeans (Essenes)
  3. They were located along the Jordan River (the Sea of Galilee feeds into the Jordan River)
  4. They *did not* believe in fate or astrology (this may suggest Sadducee association, but is in contrast to Essenes and Elcesites)
  5. Most importantly:  They believed that the books of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) did not represent Moses’ teachings; rather, they believed these scriptures are incorrect, and that Moses handed down other, secret books, which the Nasaraeans claimed to possess.  This is similar to a notion the Elcesites had, with their book that came down from heaven.

The Jewish influence within the Nasaraean community is undeniable.  Yet even Epiphanius puzzled over how they could so staunchly reject Judaism’s primary scriptures, given their reverence for the prophets and their Jewish practices.

In my estimation, the reason for this contrast is clear:  there was increasing antipathy among Jews for Judaism’s teachings, and the Nasaraeans believed they had a better formulation of Judaism which included its practices and implications, but not its holy texts.  One aspect of this alternate-Judaism was its claim of secret literature which gave alternatives to increasingly problematic theological issues within Judaism, particularly as Roman influence increasingly impeded on Jewish liberties and religious practices around the turn of the millennium.

It is interesting to note that the Mandaeans, who emerged out of a similar religious (Hemerobaptist) and geographic (Jordan River) backgrounds, had similar cherry-pickings of the Old Testament as the Nasaraeans.  For example, the Mandaeans revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, and Aram, but reject Abraham and Moses (the lawgivers).  In other words, they revered the lineage of Seth and Shem, who were associated with Melchizadek in Jewish midrash literature.  And like the Nasaraeans, the Mandaeans also rejected the Pentateuch.

Most people today would be surprised to learn how staunchly and unambiguously the John the Baptist cult rejected Judaism.

Yet unlike the Mandaeans and other groups that emerged out of this religious atmosphere, the Nasaraeans were not Gnostic in the way we might think about Christian Gnosticism.  The fact that they did not believe in astrology or fate implies they lacked the robust creation story that Gnostic Christians, such as the Valentinians and Sethians had.  Reliance on astrology is nowhere more evident than in Sethian Gnosticism, which presumed the human body and soul was assembled based on the time of year; this view seems to have manifested in the assumption that particular health ailments required offerings to particular archons outside of the Earth.

The Nasaraeans’ lack of concern for astrology could imply their socio-political roots were more related to the Sadducees than they are to the Pharisees, Scribes, or Essenes, as the Sadducees were the only of the primary Jewish groups who explicitly rejected the notion of fate.  In other words, the Nasaraeans might have been part of the upper class.

Yet, their rejection of canonical Genesis suggests they must have had some sort of alternative creation story that was inconsistent enough with canonical Genesis that they felt the need to reject the Pentateuch’s version.

For example, perhaps the Nasaraeans had specific interpretations of Genesis, which were different than traditional literal interpretation, or perhaps they filled logical gaps which are common in Genesis, such as in Genesis 1:26, where God said “Let us make mankind in our image” – who was God talking to?  This specific detail, that modern atheists sometimes poke fun at Christians and Jews about, was solved in the Gnostic myth by presuming that Yahweh (Yaldabaoth) was working in conjunction with other archons to construct an inferior reality to the Pleroma (a sure invocation of Platonic philosophy into their religious thought).

These sorts of alternate readings were in line with the emerging Pesher exegesis genre (specifically among Jews in the region).  It is also the sort of thing Gnostic Christians did, with their alternative interpretations of Genesis.  An example of this Gnostic interpretation is where the angels in the Pleroma [highest heaven] sent the divine spark to Eve, and it was delivered by the serpent.  Indeed, the serpent held a high status in many of these communities, including the Ophites.

In this light, it is interesting that much of the extant New Testament canonical texts seem like re-tellings of Old Testament stories; for instance, Jesus’ calming of the sea in Mark 4 is very similar to the raging sea in Jonah 1.

This presumed omission of Genesis in the Nasaraean worldview might also imply that the Nasaraeans had begun to implement certain Greek concepts into their creation story which would have been blasphemous to their surrounding Jewish community.  Such concepts would have included the Logos, Nous, and Chaos.

My speculation is that the Nasaraeans were forerunners to the Cerinthians, given the assumption that Cerinthus made direct contributions to Revelation*.

*Note:  Cerinthus was claimed by at least 2 groups, 100 years and 1000 miles apart (and with different theological agendas), to have contributed authorship to Revelation, namely by Caius the Presbyter and an anti-Hellenistic Christian group referred to as the Alogi.

Cerinthus had similar inklings as the Ebionites, who are often identified as the “men from James” in Galatians 2.  Cerinthus and the Ebionites believed Jesus was an ordinary man who received the Spirit; yet unlike the Ebionites, Cerinthus believed that the creator of the Earth was not the highest God, nor the God who sent Jesus; the Ebionites did believe that the highest God both created the Earth and sent Jesus.

Using internal clues within Revelation, it is clear that Cerinthus and/or other consumers and contributors of Revelation came from a Jewish tradition, but his theology seems to have marked an important milestone with regards to increasing hostility towards Yahweh.  In Cerinthus’ theology, the world was made by inferior angels, as opposed to the highest God.  One speculation is that Cerinthus saw the God of the Old Testament as one of these inferior angels, which makes his relationship to the Marcionites and the Valentinians (and as a closer forerunner to Christian Gnosticism) obvious.

Compare these more obvious Christian groups to the Nasaraeans who had special texts which replaced the Old Testament (Pentateuch), yet their worldview was still Jewish, even to the point of practicing many Jewish customs.  In this aspsect, the Nasaraeans do indeed resemble the Apostle Paul, at least abstractly.  It also could imply they were a mystery religion, and their immediate surrounding community was Jewish.

It is difficult to pinpoint Nasaraean origins, but Epiphanius gives this intriguing clue about a figurehead, Elxai:

And four sects have made use of [Elxai] because they were bewitched by his imposture: Of those that came after him, the Ebionites and Nazoraeans; of those before his time and during it the Ossaeans, and the Nasaraeans whom I mentioned earlier.

In other words, the Ebionites and Nazarenes come from similar traditions as the Essenes and Nasaraeans, and a leader was a person named Elxai. Given the sound of his name, this Exlai might be the namesake of the Elcesites, who are also described as being similar to the Essenes.  We also glean that the Ebionites and Nazarenes were later, and the Essenes and Nasaraeans predated Elxai.

In other words, in this framework, the Essenes, Ebionites, Nasaraeans, Nazarenes, and Hemerobaptists all came under the umbrella of the Elcesites.

Epiphanius relayed clues about this Elxai.  He was active during the reign of Trajan (98CE-117CE), he was Jewish but did not strictly adhere to Jewish law, he innovated his own Jewish-like theology, he argued his people should pray toward Jerusalem (an interesting parallel to modern Islam), and “…by revelation…he introduced some further figments of his imagination.”

There was also a book used by Elxai was apocalyptic in nature, and promised its readers remission of their sins.  Compare that to Revelation 1:3

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

The Book of Elxai also predicted war among wicked angels.  Compare that to Revelation 12:7

Then a war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.

Under this Elcesite theological umbrella, we have a Jewish derivative which cherry-picks selected Old Testament stories, has an increasing ambivalence about Mosaic law, and is guided by mystical revelation.  Once again, Paul and Elxai seem quite similar.  In fact, given how the Elcesites seem to be near the root of the Mandaean, Manichean, and Christian religions, Elxai could have been one of the main players that gave rise to these groups.  Indeed, Mani (the figurehead for the Manicheans) was said to have been an Elcesite.  The Mandaeans seem like a later offshoot of the Essenes or Hemerobaptists.

This speculation might explain a curious characterization Elxai had about Christ’s size.  Notice Epiphanius’ characterization of Elxai’s Christ below – Christ was man-like, invisible, and in the sky, 96 miles tall and 24 miles wide.  How on Earth could Jesus Christ have lived on Earth with those dimensions?!?  Yet, it seems unlikely that Epiphanius simply invented this characterization as a completely false attack on Elxai.

Thus they believe that Christ is a manlike figure invisible to human eyes, ninety-six miles…tall; …twenty-four miles wide…Opposite him the Holy Spirit stands invisibly as well, in the form of a female, with the same dimensions.

‘And how did I find the dimensions?’ he says. ‘I saw from the mountains that the heads were level with them, and from observing the height of the mountain, I learned the dimensions of Christ and the Holy Spirit.’

What makes this claim even more curious is the fact that Elxai was perceived as a figurehead for groups that were not explicitly Christian.

If this Elxai indeed existed and believed something in-line with Epiphanius’ characterization, one speculation for why he would believe such a strange thing is that he saw the Christ as a heavenly figure which served as something of a beacon to send the Christ to those “worthy” to receive it.

The Apostle Paul Was Simon of Cyrene

I alluded to the notion that Paul and Simon of Cyrene were the same person in my post yesterday, but I thought the idea deserved its own post.

Simon of Cyrene bearing Jesus Christ’s cross

This equivalence between Paul and Simon of Cyrene is an idea I have circled around for some time, but the conclusion became quite obvious to me when I recently re-read Acts of the Apostles.

My assertion is that foreshadowing of Simon of Cyrene was put in Mark 9:38-40

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,  for whoever is not against us is for us.

This foreshadowing relies on an expectation Mark’s author would have expected the reader to have:  someone will receive the Paraclete from Jesus.  The reason Mark’s author would have expected his readers to have this expectation is because the whole purpose for writing the Gospel was to demonstrate that Spirit ownership was fluid – it bounced from person to person, presumably based on some sort of material catalyst.  In this context, Jesus Christ was the first person to have received the Spirit.

Taking this theme a step further, I believe this framework is derived from Revelation 14 (I think Revelation preceded Mark):

like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.  Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.”  The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.  They were trampled in thewine press outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press

The implication in Revelation 14 is that one angel with a sickle would precede the other.  The first angel’s actions would be a relatively clean swipe, but the second angel’s harvest would cause blood to flow out of the press.  This seems to have been a prophesy about Christian martyrdom.

The hopping adoptionism idea that is hinted in the Gospel of Mark can be found within the Basilidean view that the Spirit jumped from Jesus to Simon of Cyrene during the time that Simon carried Jesus’ cross.  Irenaeus also implies that the Basilidean view was very similar to the Cerinthian view.  Both Basilides and Cerinthus might very well have used the Gospel of Mark, or something like it.

When one factors in the Gospel of Matthew’s treatment of Mark 9:38 (Matthew’s responses can be found in Matthew 7:22-23 and 12:30), coupled with the fact that Irenaeus explains in Against Heresies i.26.2 that the Ebionites used the Gospel of Matthew and hated the Apostle Paul, it becomes evident that Matthew’s author (and therefore the Ebionites) were vociferously opposed to this aspect of Mark’s Gospel about the man who was driving out demons.  One obvious person who fits the profile of this demon-chasing man (and this would have been evident to a Matthew reader who had also read the proto-Mark Gospel) is the Apostle Paul:

Matthew 7:22-23
Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you;depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness

Matthew 12:30
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters

In Mark, not everyone had the ability to cast out demons – Jesus had to specifically grant the apostles authority over impure spirits in Mark 6:7; even Jesus seems to have only recently gained the ability after his baptism.  How then did this demon-casting anonymous stranger get the ability to cast out demons if Jesus did not give it to him?!?  The implication must be that either he got it secretly from Jesus, or he got it from the same place that sent the Spirit to descend on Jesus in the form of a dove after his baptism.

This implication ties in with the Paraclete, who would have been born under special circumstances.

Galatians 1:15-16:  “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.

In the Gospel of Mark 15:21, Simon is featured briefly, but he is given backstory.  He had two sons, which a cynical reader might interpret as the author(s) taking literary license to inject themselves (or their predecessors) into the historical narrative they were crafting.  Simon of Cyrene is then forced to carry Jesus Christ’s cross.

Mark 15:21

Now Simon of Cyrene,the father of Alexander and Rufus,was passing by on his way in from the country,and the soldiers compelled him to carry the cross of Jesus.

Compare Matthew’s treatment of the same scene in 27:32:

Matthew 27:32

Along the way they found a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they compelled him to carry the cross of Jesus

There are two major differences between Matthew’s and Mark’s depiction of Simon of Cyrene:

  1.  In Mark, Simon was coming back from the country (the Greek term is also translated as the field – could this agricultural reference be a reference to the wilderness Jesus had to endure in Mark 1:13?), whereas in Matthew, the soldiers simply found Simon, and give no indication of where he was coming from or what he was doing
  2. (More importantly) Matthew omits Rufus and Alexander from Simon’s backstory, as if Matthew does not know Simon of Cyrene

The are 2 reasons I speculate Matthew’s author omitted mentioning Simon’s sons:

  1.  Matthew’s author recognized that Mark was referring to a specific person (that the Ebionites or other Matthew consumers did not like) who had sons named Rufus and Alexander
  2. Rufus was mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13.  Matthew’s author(s) recognized this detail in Mark as being a pointer to Paul’s epistle.

Romans 16:13:  “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too”

In Romans 16:13, Paul suggests some sort of quasi-familial relationship to Rufus and his mother.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I propose Paul was Rufus’ biological father, and that his lover (Rufus’ mother) compensated for Paul not having a mother; the Paraclete, after all, would have had unusual birth circumstances.  The Gospel of Thomas references this aspect of the Paraclete in Saying #15 when Jesus says

When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.

This unusual birth aspect is why the Ebionite pseudo-Clementines make reference to Simon Magus claiming to be born of a virgin; it is because Simon Magus recognized this detail as an element of who the Paraclete would be.  Moreover, the implication of this aspect of the Paraclete (coupled with a reasonable grasp on reality) is that the Paraclete would not be local to the Christian community where he claimed to be the Paraclete, as people who knew the Paraclete intimately would also know their parents.

The link between Paul and Simon of Cyrene becomes more obvious in Acts 11:19-20 and Acts 13:1

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul

It is clear that we should imply that Simon the Niger is either from Cyprus or Cyrene, as he is at the church in Antioch, where there are no Jewish Christians – only Greeks.

Of course, if Simon the Niger is from Cyprus, he becomes a likely reference to Josephus’ Simon in Antiquities 20 (who was a friend of Felix the procurator, who tried Paul in Acts 24)

While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, one of his friends; a Jew he was, and by birth a Cypriot

But if Simon the Niger is from Cyrene, then he is clearly Simon of Cyrene, who already has a history of casting out demons.  Either way, both were later transformed into Simon Magus who is depicted in Acts 8 as trying to buy the Spirit from Jesus Christ’s “true” apostles Peter and John.

Compare the statement in Acts 11 and 13 to Galatians 2:

James, Cephasand John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face…For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles…The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Paul is saying that he went to Antioch to preach to non-Jews with Barnabus.  It was only after the “men from James” (the Ebionites) came into Antioch that they began to ruin his work by injecting their version of Judaism into his Greek-friendly Christianity, thereby leading astray Peter and Barnabus.  Of course, Acts’ injection of Saul (who I think refers to villainous Saulus in Antiquities 20.9.4) obfuscates this detail because it increases the number of possible people that we can link to Paul.

If Saul was injected into Acts as a passive-aggressive swipe at Paul (Simon of Cyrene), and the writers used the frequently-used literary device within early Christian history to make characters within the community analogous to Josephus characters, then we might presume that Saul wasn’t there at all – he was simply a device used to vilify Simon, in the context of the political need to integrate the Pauline Christianity into the emerging (or hopeful) Orthodoxy, which later became known as the Nazarenes.

In this speculation that Paul and Simon of Cyrene were the same person, consider how a Mark reader would read Paul’s Galatians 6:1 within this framework (and with the common knowledge within the mystery that Paul and Simon are the same person):

Galatians 6:1:  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

Clues in Acts of the Apostles

There is a remarkable passage in Acts 11:19-22

It relates to men from Cyprus and Cyrene who were responsible for spreading Christianity to the non-Jewish Greeks.  This theological dispersion was occurring specifically in Antioch, and (per usual in Acts), a liaison (Barnabus) was sent:

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch…Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch

Acts 13, which follows Barnabus’ earlier partnership with Saul, begins in Antioch with Barnabus, Saul (Paul), Simon the Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene (whom Origen identified as Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel*).  They were called by the Holy Spirit to go to Cyprus, an island off the coast of Greece and Turkey.

*Note:  Origen’s claim is of course not true, but an interesting link is that the earliest consumer of the Gospel of Luke appears to be either Carpocrates or Marcion, who were both consumers of Luke and a subset of Paul’s letters

Paul Blinds Elymas Acts 13:6-12
Elymas and Paul

They traveled around the island, and met Elymas bar Jesus, a magician and assistant to the governor Sergius Paulus.  Elymas bar Jesus (of Cyprus) gave pushback to Paul, and Paul told him that he was full of “deceit and trickery”.

This is curious phrase for Paul to have used, considering (evidently) his similar usage in 2 Corinthians 16:

Be that as it may, I was not a burden to you; but crafty as I am, I caught you by trickery.

Consider Acts 8, when Peter who relayed a similar sentiment to Simon Magus.  One gets to wonder (and I do) if Elymas bar Jesus of Cyprus was the same person as Simon Magus of Samaria, and one of the two stories was modified to sanitize Paul.  Of course, the motivation here would have been that the original authors of Acts had an antipathy towards Paul, a characteristic of the Ebionites, as Irenaeus points out (AH i.26.2).

As Paul’s confrontation of Elymas son of Jesus in Acts 13 ends, Paul tells bar Jesus he will go blind, a parallel to Paul’s fateful trek through Damascus in Acts 9, where he was made blind by the Spirit due to his persecution.

Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus Christ’s cross

The curiosities do not end there.  Consider again that men from Cyprus and Cyrene who were said to be catalysts for Christianity’s spread to non-Jews in Antioch (where evidently Christianity was first so-called).  In Acts 13, Simon (who was called Niger) was in Antioch spreading the word.

Is Acts 13 saying Simon the Niger was from Cyrene?  And Simon of Cyrene, the man who bore Jesus’ cross, went to Antioch with Barnabus to spread Christianity?

If so, one might (and probably ought to) imply that Simon of Cyrene and the Apostle Paul were the same person!

Consider Galatians 2:11-13, where Paul describes his fight with Peter:

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

In Galatians, Paul and Barnabus were in Antioch, preaching Christianity, and fighting about how Jewish (men from James) Christianity should be.  Barnabus was even led astray from Paul’s pushback against Judaism, into a more Jewish practice.

Yet it was in Antioch that the Cyrenians and Cypriots who were the ones specifically preaching to non-Jews.

In this context, at least according to Acts, the place where the cult members were first called Christians was originally inhabited and populated by non-Jewish, Greek Christians.

Consider how Simon of Cyrene came to be viewed by (perhaps proto) Gnostic Christians, such as Basilides.  Here is Irenaeus’ description of Basilides’ view of Simon of Cyrene:

He appeared on earth as a man and performed miracles. Thus he himself did not suffer. Rather, a certain Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry his cross for him. It was he who was ignorantly and erroneously crucified, being transfigured by him, so that he might be thought to be Jesus. Moreover, Jesus assumed the form of Simon, and stood by laughing at them

According to Basilides, Simon of Cyrene absorbed (or inherited) the Christ (alternatively, Jesus and Simon shape-shifted and switched positions so as to fool the Roman soldiers).  Again, this fits the adoptionist/Docetic view that was probably the earliest view in Christianity.

The Gospel of Mark says Simon of Cyrene was the father of Rufus and Alexander.  A cynical person might presume that Mark’s original writer(s) might have been so named, and this critical point in the story (which would have been understood by Mark’s original readers as being the point at which the Spirit left Jesus’ body) specifically makes reference to the revered sect leader(s).

Interestingly, we find a Rufus in Romans 16:13:

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too

In Romans, Rufus has a mother who was a mother to Paul, as well.  Did Paul not have a mother? Why should he need another?  Of course, we can explain this sentiment away by assuming Rufus’ mother must have had a motherly personality, even to men who were not her biological sons.

But if we believe what Paul says in 1 Corin 15, we might presume that he was making this statement in support of the claim he did not have a mother:

…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul relays a similar sentiment in Galatians 1:15-16:

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles

How fascinating that Paul’s statement in Galatians was that God set Paul apart from his mother’s womb, in light of the Eastern Valentinian view (remember, Valentinus was said to have received revelation from Theudas, Paul’s supposed disciple, and in my opinion, a doppelganger for John the Baptist) that Jesus Christ’s body was spiritual, and that he was born from Mary as through a pipe, never making contact with her.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe this was an allusion to a proto-Paraclete prophesy found in the Gospel of Thomas (although not necessarily originating in it).  What I think the Gospel of Thomas says is that the Paraclete (and not the original Christ) will have had an abnormal birth (I suspect the Paraclete’s virgin birth [or abnormal birth] was the original view, as opposed to the notion that the original Christ-on-Earth will have been born to a virgin, as is offered in Matthew and Luke)

Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.”

A more outrageous speculation is that Paul’s greeting to Rufus and his Mother was actually Paul reaching out to his biological son, and his son’s mother who acted as a mother to her lover (note that Paul did not make reference to Rufus’ father).

Irenaeus described many heretics in Against Heresies, which most of the later heresy hunters relied on for their formulations.  Many of those heretics held almost exactly the same views as each other, and perhaps were simply duplicates of one another.

For instance, consider Marcus the Magician (AH i.13) who seduced a Turkish Deacon’s wife and used love potions; compare Marcus to Simon the Magician who seems to have been borrowed from Josephus’ Antiquities (Book 20) – Felix’s friend who “convinced” Herodian Princess Drusilla to marry him – the most obvious speculation is that Josephus’ Simon was versed in how to argue on behalf of Felix because he was Jewish; my alternative speculation is that Felix recruited Simon to make and disperse love potions (which might have been antiquity’s version of the modern hallucinogen).  The detail which makes these two characters connected is that Procurator Felix and Drusilla had a son named Marcus – could it be that the invention of Marcus the Magician was simply a polemic Irenaeus (or his predecessors) invented to simultaneously claim that Felix’s son Marcus was Simon’s biological son AND that Simon’s bastard son was actually infesting Christian sects?  Also note Carpocrates’ use of love potions in AH i.25, and the fact that he seemed to use the Romans epistle and the Gospel of Luke.

There are other encoded messages in Acts.  For example, in Acts 21, Paul is detained by Roman soldiers, and asked if he was an Egyptian who led a revolt:

As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

Close readers might notice Paul did not deny being an Egyptian who led a revolt.  Clearly the commander was referring to the “false prophet” Egyptian Josephus described in Wars.  The Egyptian ran when Felix attempted to make war with him and his followers:

But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place; and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison and the people, he intended to domineer over them by the assistance of those guards of his that were to break into the city with him. But Felix prevented his attempt, and met him with his Roman soldiers, while all the people assisted him in his attack upon them, insomuch that when it came to a battle, the Egyptian ran away, with a few others, while the greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken alive; but the rest of the multitude were dispersed every one to their own homes, and there concealed themselves.

The story of the Egyptian prophet even includes the Mount of Olives, which is referenced in Acts 1 as being the place where Jesus ascended to heaven.

Pythagoras and Ezekiel

The Book of Ezekiel opens near the Kebar River in Syria and Turkey, when the narrator sees the heavens open and has revelations of God.

If this setting sounds like the Book of Revelation, it is because it is; Revelation makes several clear and obvious references to Ezekiel, to the point where the two books might very well have been used in conjunction by certain groups.  Of course, Ezekiel preceded Revelation by (at least) several hundred years.

One of my speculations is that Revelation was an important text for early Christians, notably those that were considered “Paulinists”.  The links between the Paulinist-Marcionites and Revelation are clear, specifically when reading 2 Corin 12-13, along with indications about (Marcionite) Apelles’ relationship to Philumene, and her book of revelations.  Further, I suspect Revelation was derivative of the Elcesite “book from heaven” which Eusebius described (alternatively, the Elcesite book was simply the Book of Nahum).

If one interprets Galatians 3:1 as a clue into the Christian mystery (“in front of your own eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified”), then what this implies is that Paul’s “Gospel”, often referenced in his epistles, included dramatic depictions for would-be Christians who lived many hundreds of miles away from the geographic location in which Jesus lived.

Therefore, items for consumption in Pauline Christianity were the spoken word (which would taste sweet but make the stomach bitter), parameter-defining epistles, and Revelation (2 Corin 12:2-4).

One dissonance that becomes evident when one investigates early Christianity is how remarkably Christianity was adopted by Greek-thinking philosophers – why on Earth would a barely-literate Judean preacher have appealed to forward-thinking, sophisticated Greek philosophers?  Christian Gnosticism, for example, has remarkable Platonic and Pythagorean elements.  Indeed, some of the earliest examples where Christianity met the secular world (notably Justin Martyr) indicate clear Greek influence.

cm_earliestAs I have mentioned in earlier posts, the Elcesites, Hemerobaptists, and Essenes (and by extension, the Nasoreans) seem to be at the root of groups that gave rise to Christianity, Mandaeanism, and Manicheanism; like the Ebionites, the Elcesites hated Paul.  This is an intriguing detail, given Paul’s likely claim to be the Paraclete.  Mani, a 3rd century son of an Elcesite, similarly claimed to be the Paraclete.

The reason I reference these groups is because a curious feature of many of these Christian implementations: they often presumed a high God other than Yahweh.  For instance, the Marcionites and Valentinians presumed an unknown God above Yahweh.  Manichean literature makes clear reference to the Zoroastrian God.

In this sense, Christianity was an interchangeable module that fit into any number of religions, most effectively in religions that recognized some notion of a middle-layer creator/Demiurge.

It is quite interesting then that Ezekiel, the supposed author of the Book of Ezekiel was considered by several early commenters as Nazaratus Assyrius, a teacher to Pythagoras.

The Virgin Birth (Part Three): Paul, Simon, and the Paraclete

There is a remarkable, albeit easy-to-miss clue Jesus gives in the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your faces and worship. That one is your Father.”

One way to interpret Jesus’ statement is that he was talking about himself, referring to his virgin birth.

This is an easy conclusion to come to, especially for modern Westerners brought up on a steady stream of Christmas nativity scenes.

However, I do not think Jesus’ statement is a reference to his own virgin birth; rather I think this statement is a reference to the Paraclete that is described in the Gospel of John 14:16-18:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you

In other words, the evolving tradition, featured in the Gospel of Thomas, was that Jesus Christ’s followers will know the Paraclete because he would have had peculiar circumstances that surrounded his birth, perhaps being born of a virgin.

The Gospel of John suggests that this spirit will come after Jesus’ death; the Gospel of Thomas essentially implies the same thing.

One intriguing bit of subtext here is the implication that the Paraclete could not have been someone who lived in a community where everyone knew him; rather, he would be an outsider.  After all, if everyone knows who your parents are, you can hardly claim your mother was a virgin.

Consider this in the context of Simon Magus’ monologue in Recognitions:

For before my mother Rachel and he came together, she, still a virgin, conceived me, while it was in my power to be either small or great, and to appear as a man among men

Many observers note the strong Ebionite undertones in Recognitions, (at least) in part due to the hostility with which they treated the virgin birth.  Recognitions was asserting Simon Magus claimed to be born from a virgin, which every indication suggests they would have rejected.

An early reader of Recognitions would have spotted this nuance, recognized it as Simon’s claim to the Paraclete, and like-minded readers would have responded with hostility.

This detail is interesting in light of the earliest theologies which lacked the virgin birth.  Why did the Gospels of Mark and John omit the virgin birth?  Of course, the most obvious reason they omitted the virgin birth is because they were not aware of it, or did not believe Christ was born of a virgin.  My speculation is that the virgin birth was almost always reserved for the Paraclete, rather than the first instance of Christ on Earth; however, the later merging of attributes of the original Christ and the Paraclete would have probably made sense to enough early practitioners that it became a mainstay.

If one is inclined to believe that Simon Magus (Acts 8, etc) was a reworking (or perhaps the earlier iteration) of the Apostle Paul, then Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:7-8 becomes striking:

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Of course, there have been many speculations as to what Paul meant here.  My suspicion is that early readers (and hearers) of 1 Corin 15 would have recognized that Paul was claiming to be the Paraclete.

The Virgin Birth (Part Two.A): Origins

The Valentinians categorized humans into 3 distinct groups:  the spiritual, psychical, and material.

Hippolytus wrote that the Valentinians split into two distinct groups, the Western (Italian), and the Eastern.  The primary difference between the two groups, aside from geography, was that the Eastern Valentinians believed Jesus Christ’s body was spiritual, and that he was born from Mary as through a pipe, never making contact with her; the Western Valentinians held (what I consider to be) the original Christian belief, which posited that the Christ entered Jesus’ (psychic) body at the time of baptism.

In both cases, Jesus Christ’s flesh was distinct from typical human flesh.

The intriguing detail about this geographic divergence is that it seems to me  the Eastern (as opposed to Western) Valentinians should have held the more adoptionist, Marcan position, which made a clear distinction between the Christ and the man.

The reason this divergence seem so strange to me is because Eastern Valentinianism strikes me as the earlier version; this a self-evident speculation, as most of the earliest Christianity sprung up in the Eastern part of the empire, between Roman Asia and Alexandria.  Therefore, the Western Valentinians would seem the more likely candidates to have been influenced by late-iteration theologies, especially if one believes Irenaeus’ claims that many heretics went to Rome in the mid-2nd century.

With their adoptionist view, the Western Valentinians held a position similar to Marcion, in that Jesus Christ did not possess the same sort of flesh as normal humans do.  The Acts of John expresses a similar sentiment as Marcionism in that Jesus did not even leave footprints as he walked.

Perseus’ mother Danae, who was inseminated by Zeus

The most economical speculation I can make about why the Eastern and Western Valentinians seem like they should hold the other’s position is because members of a still-evolving Eastern Valentinian sect moved west to Rome beginning sometime (perhaps) between 120 and 135, and more rigidly adhered to their original Eastern position, despite Western influence; likewise, the still-evolving Eastern Valentinians, more open to other philosophical points of view, integrated stories from other cultures, such as the Greek story of Perseus, whose mother was inseminated by Zeus who snuck through her underground chamber.  Implied in this speculation is that the Eastern Valentinians (along with their philosophy) were never isolated; the fact that they were so integrated into the emerging Orthodoxy indicates that they were quite social, and therefore, probably also moving Westward, despite their name.

Alternatively, the Valentinian categorization of Westerners was simply a misnomer, and this divergence between the Valentinians was more-or-less parallel to the evolution of overarching Christian thought.

Taking one step further out onto the limb, one speculation is that an increasing number of sect leaders who claimed to be the Paraclete, or inheritors of Jesus’ spirit (the Christ), were diluting legitimacy for other high-ranking Paraclete-claimants.  This detail, coupled with a clear progression away from mystical communication with Jesus and the divine realm in the beginning-to-mid-2nd century would explain the need to put Jesus’ birth as a centerpiece in the story: if Jesus was born inherently divine, then making claim to the body-hopping Christ, or any mystical communication in which Jesus revealed to you new directives, becomes more difficult.  Therefore the existing power hierarchy within the church would be more difficult to supplant.

In this speculation, the alteration to the “Orthodox” position was that Jesus Christ transferred part of that spirit to his apostles, rather than some random passer-by, such as Simon of Cyrene or the Apostle Paul.  This alteration would explain the emerging 2nd century anti-apostolic sentiment among Marcionites, a phenomenon that makes no sense at all in other circumstances…why on Earth would anyone ever be against Jesus’ hand-picked apostles?  This historical detail is absurd when one relies on the traditional Christian narrative, but it becomes quite obvious when one factors in the paradigm shift the virgin birth allowed.