Fun With Stats: Abortion Rate

Against my better judgement, I got drawn into a Facebook debate this weekend.

It became clear as I was e-conversing with my old friends that many non-pro-choice people do not realize abortion rates in the US are in decline, and have been for decades.  This phenomenon is an overall positive for anyone whose goal is to minimize induced abortions, which is desirable regardless of political ideology.

This post will not be a diatribe.  Rather, it will simply share statistical findings I pursued as a result of this conversation. These findings suggest a clear and likely continued reduction in abortions in the US for the foreseeable future.

Below is a chart of abortion rate by year.  As is evident from the below graph, the abortion rate in the US peaked in the early 1980s, several years after rapid increase following the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision.  It has fallen steadily since then.

Abortions_per_year

Something happened in the early 1980s which caused a significant decline in abortions, and this trajectory has continued for decades.  There is no evident expert consensus on what caused this drop.  One possibility is that this directional change was caused by a combination of easier access to birth control, education, lower organic birth rate, and perhaps evolving social stigma associated with abortion.

There are slight increases (or at least slowed decrease) during economic recessions – those recessions were in 1987, 1990, 2000, and 2008.

I conducted statistical analysis to determine what might happen to abortion rates in the future by building statistical models and feeding future parameters into those models to derive predicted values.

Methodology

Data is from Wikipedia, which uses CDC data.  I appended onto the data the political party which controlled the presidency during the years in the dataset.  I used R-Studio software, which in my mind is the best statistical package in the world…at the very least, the best free one :).  My dataset looked as follows:

Head_AbortionData
*Note:  The AbortRt variable represents the induced abortion rate per 1,000 live births.  In 1980, around peak abortion rate, there were 359 abortions per 1000 live births.

The first model

I used a simple linear model, transforming Abortion count into its logarithm (log(Abortions)).  For example, the log of abortions in 1980, 1.29mln, is approximately 14.07.  The model therefore was

log(Abortions)=Year+Political Party

Below are coefficients of the model.

log(Abortions)=(-24945*Year)+(47753*Political Party)

In this model, the R² (correlation between the input and output variables) is about 83%, and the model’s p-value is nearly 0, indicating this is a good model.  In my own experience, this quality of model is very good, given the lack of other input variables.

Model.Simple

Things to note:

  1.  The p-value of the Political Party variable is .25, suggesting it does not contribute much to the model.
  2. When I remove Party from the model, I get roughly the same results.  Occam’s razor says that the better model is simply
    log(Abortions)  = Intercept+(Coefficient* Year)
  3. The residuals (error) in the model is quite wide, and not quite centered around 0, suggesting a problem in the model.
  4. In the revised model, which excludes Party, the equation is
    log(Abortions) = 72.509077 + (-0.029358*Year)  (p=2.254e-09)
  5. Notice that the coefficient of the revised model is -.029358.  In other words, the negative coefficient in the model means that the trend line is decreasing every year.  This is self-evident, but noteworthy.

Another Model

I wondered if abortion rate might be more useful than raw abortion numbers.  When I built a model targeting abortion rate rather than count, political party again was again insignificant.

The model was:  AbortionRate = Intercept + (Coefficient * Year).  

Model.Rate

This rate model is better than the first.  Its  error residuals were narrower and more centered around 0 than the first model. It has a lower p-value for the overall model, and a R² (correlation between the input and target variables) of about 93%.

Predictions with this model

The abortion rate per 1000 live births for the most recently available year, 2014, is 186.  Using the rate model, I predicted abortions for years 2017-2020 (2017 abortion data for the US is not evidently available).  By 2020, this model predicts the abortion rate will be 160.09 per 1000 live births (95% confidence interval is [126.5423, 193.6397]).  

Predictions

Further Discussion

The primary problem with the best model in this paper is that it does not include any relevant explanatory variables which might give insight into what brought on the eventual drop in abortion rate.  We hypothesize reasons, but did not include any statistical tests, aside from presidential political party.  We investigated other variables not discussed in this paper, including minimum wage and unemployment.  Neither significantly affected the model’s performance.

We used other modeling techniques, as well, such as machine learning; however, the simple linear model was the best of the models we attempted.  Given the observed curvature of the actual data, some other sort of geometric transformation of the data would probably render better fit and predictions.  As with any non horizontal linear model, there is also the question of sustainability of the trend.  It is plausible that the decreases will slow in the coming years, especially if the US experiences another recession, following the earlier observation that economic recessions seem to put upward pressure on abortion rates.  Also worth studying is whether economic indicators apply significantly to this model.  We also suspect that political party of the president, as well as political party of Congress, may well have a contributing effect to a hypothesized model; this suspicion assumes that there is some lag between policy implementation and actual perceived effects on rate change.  For example, if a policy is implemented under one political party, it might not necessarily take effect until another political party comes to power.

Conclusion

It is difficult to know whether the abortion rate trajectory from 1980 to 2014 will continue to hold.  At present, it is falling 5.5 abortions per 1000 live births per year.  If it continues this rate, by 2020 the abortion rate will 160 per 1000 live births, which is a 55% decrease from its peak in 1980, and 14% lower than the most recently available year.  Given that many of the hypothesized reasons for the original trajectory change in the early 1980s,  including easy access to birth control, as well as early sex education,  it is plausible that ongoing abortion rate reductions will continue.  Anyone who wishes to see a significant reduction in abortion rate should take at least some comfort in these numbers.

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Criterion of Embarrassment

The question is often posed by defenders of Jesus Christ’s historicity:
Why would Christ’s Apostles allow unflattering characterizations of themselves to permeate in the Gospels?

Throughout the Gospels, the Apostles are portrayed as dimwits, unable or unwilling to follow Jesus’s commands to the letter. Jesus even tells Peter to get behind him, and then refers to him as Satan! (Mk 8:33).

In my view, the answer to this question is quite disastrous to not only Jesus’s historicity, but also to the Apostles.

Let us consider some plausible reasons why the heroic Apostles would be characterized in a way as to paint them in an unflattering light:

1. Exposure of weaknesses set the stage for later epiphanies.
Most heroes must go through personal growth in order to become heroes. Personal growth implies prior imperfection
2. Exposing failings of his disciples juxtaposes Jesus and them.
Such juxtaposition creates the sort of differentiation which highlights Jesus. The Apostles were little more than supporting cast members
3. It was virtuous to have moral failings
Such virtue survives into modern Christianity. We often hear “I am born sick/a sinner/fallen”. Such failings create a bridge between the reader and Jesus via the Apostles

In my mind these solutions are the most intuitive.

However, during these past years of accumulating information about early Christianity, I have come to suspect the real solution is more insidious than what these solutions imply.

For background, I would ask the reader to consider some background facts:

  1. The Gospels were not written in Hebrew or Aramaic. They were written in Greek, a fact which implies the authors might not have been from Judea (and indeed probably were not)
  2. Mark, the least Jewish of the Synoptic Gospels, and perhaps the least knowledgeable of Judean geography and culture, was the first Gospel written.
  3. Later writers, more familiar with Jewish culture, redacted Mark to correct obvious errors.
  4. Consumers of traditions in Mark’s Gospel, namely the Basilideans, were adoptionists, believing that the Spirit moves from person to person
  5. These adoptionistic themes are found throughout Mark

Adoptionism means that the Spirit is up for grabs. There is contention over it. Different players in the communities want it, claim it, and do not want to give it up. As evidenced in Acts 8:9–24, the key players, namely Peter and John, will not even give up the Spirit for money! Paul’s eyelid maintenance technician, Ananias, died in Acts 5:1-11 for attempting to withhold money from these same Apostles, which means that money was not entirely unimportant within these groups.  The fact that Ananias had to die for withholding earnings from the church smacks of a not-so-subtle attack (by proxy) of the Apostle Paul (given the relationship Ananias played in Paul’s epiphany).

According to the Basilideans, the Spirit did not move to the proximily close Apostles after Jesus died; rather, it was to the previously unknown Simon, the heroic cross-bearer who had the unhappy task of bearing Jesus Christ’s cross while he was marched to his death to fulfill a prophesy to save humanity.

As I have proposed for quite some time now, I suspect that the anomalous demon-caster in Mark 9:38-40, who had his own version of the Spirit and had the ability to cast out demons without Jesus’s explicit authority (which was in contrast to the Apostles’ authority in Mark 3:15), was a foreshadowing of this Simon, and subsequently, the unexpected later recipient of the Spirit.

Incidentally, Mark’s redactors explicitly went out of their way to have Jesus subjugate this demon caster. Matthew 7:22-23 makes it clear what its authors thought of this demon-caster:

Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Matthew, whose adoptionistic roots are as detectable as Mark’s (although later versions included a rethinking of this theology via the virgin birth), had different ideas about who the Spirit recipient was. I will spare the reader any guessing and put forward that Matthew’s users believed Peter was the next Spirit-holder.

This forces us to consider who the earliest Gospel writers had in mind, in terms of the contention over the next generation’s Spirit wielder. If it is not obvious at this point, consider a passage from one of Paul’s letters (Gal 2:11-13)

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.

This remarkable insight into the very earliest Christian in-fighting, which frankly is never resolved by Paul (although efforts are made in Acts of the Apostles), confirms to us exactly who stood in contrast to Cephas/Peter. It was Paul!

Paul’s alter-ego, at least to some Ebionites, was Simon. Therefore, the Simon Magus encounter in Acts 8 is little more than the alternative perspective of the Antioch incident Paul describes in Galatians.

In this context, let us revisit the initial question in this post:

Why would Christ’s Apostles allow unflattering characterizations of themselves to permeate in the Gospels?

What I have implied here is that the earliest Gospel authors wrote the Apostles in a negative light because they were hostile to the Apostles and they believed that Paul was the true revealer of Christian Gnosis. The personal shortcomings of the Apostles were designed to demonstrate their inferiority to Paul. To the earliest authors, Paul was the rightful owner of the Spirit. He was the Paraclete.

Which author fits this profile? Who loves Paul but is somewhere on the spectrum between hostile and ambivalent towards the Jerusalem Apostles?

In my mind, the answer could not be more obvious: it was the Marcionites!

apostle_john_and_marcion_of_sinope2c_from_jpm_library_ms_7482c_11th_c

The Marcionite canon included 10 of Paul’s letters, along with a scaled down Synoptic Gospel. We can also plausibly put the Marcionites’ activity at the time when these Gospels were authored.

The next question in this line is: why do later Gospels repeat Mark’s characterization of the Apostles? In my mind, this is explained by the fact that the proto-Mark was already very popular – too popular to withstand too drastic of a reworking without Orthodoxical authority behind it. The cat was out of the bag, and frankly, such a drastic reworking was unnecessary and untenable.

Reworking of the Apostles would instead be done in various Acts literature by communities focused on emphasizing historicity and writing the ancient equivalent of fan fiction.

The implication here is that much of the intellectual property developed by the earliest Christian practitioners was hijacked and repurposed by a later Orthodoxy.

10 Unexpected Facts About Early Christianity

I shared an article written by Candida Moss on my personal Facebook page today, and couldn’t help but write an accompanying diatribe about underlying facts that inform my interpretation of articles and books such as these. I thought I’d modify it and post here, as well.

Saint_James_the_Just

This is a more superficial glance into early Christianity than I usually give here, and it also avoids straying too much from scholarly consensus…but I still think these facts make it much more difficult to believe the traditional narrative remembered about early Christianity:

1. The Gospels aren’t written in the right language. Most of the earliest manuscripts are in Greek, but some exist in other languages, as well, such as the Egyptian Coptic language. There were rumors of early Gospel manuscripts written in Aramaic and Hebrew, but no such manuscript has ever been found
2. The Gospel authors didn’t use the right version of the “Old Testament”. References to the Old Testament in the Gospels were readings from the Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. One would expect the Gospels to make reference to the Hebrew Old Testament, but they don’t.
3. Despite it appearing first in the New Testament, Matthew was not the first Gospel written. Rather, the first Gospel appears to be Mark, or some version of it. This is to say, the first Gospel lacked a virgin birth. Some early Christian sects were adamant that Jesus was not born of a virgin. The earliest manuscripts of Mark also lack a resurrection.
4. According to some of the earliest Christian writers, Christian sects tended not to use multiple Gospels; rather, they used a single Gospel (AH iii.11.7). The Gospels were not compiled into a multi-text “canon” until the late 2nd century. Some combinations were “harmony Gospels”, but the prototype for the current New Testament was assembled by a bishop named Irenaeus, Circa 185.
5. The earliest Christian to compile a multi-text canon was named Marcion, a native of Northern Turkey. One might expect Marcion was an ardent follower of the Jewish Apostles, but he was not. Rather, he saw the Apostles, such as Peter, James, and John, to be inferior to the person he considered to be the true revealer of Christian knowledge, the Apostle Paul. Marcion’s name translates to “Little Mark.”
6. Despite the geography referenced in the New Testament, there is not much evidence Christianity was actually popular around Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark even seems unfamiliar with geography, having Jesus walk some 50 unnecessary miles on foot to a city called Tyre.
7. Christianity was very popular in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, before it moved into Rome.
8. According to some early Bishops, some Christian sects believed Jesus lived 100 years earlier than tradition states. There is also a Jewish anti-Christian text called the Toldoth Yeshu which makes reference to Jesus living at this time.
9. There was a contemporary and competitor of Jesus, named Simon – a magician, who referred to himself as “the Standing One”. Some “radical” scholars in the late 19th and early 20th century believed that the person we remember as the Apostle Paul was actually an encryption of this Simon. Many words were written about Simon by early Christian writers, and he even shows up in the New Testament, in Acts of the Apostles 8. Though the Paul=Simon theory never became popular consensus, one can build an interesting narrative around it.
10. There are references throughout Mark’s Gospel to magic. Jesus is clearly a magician in Mark. He uses saliva to restore hearing and sight to people who were without. Such practices were common for 1st and 2nd century magicians. An interesting detail about the Gospel of Matthew is that it removes such magical references. This makes sense, given what we know about the Matthew community; in particular, they were more attached to the day’s Jewish Orthodoxy than was Mark’s community. The rest of Christianity followed suit, but it makes the question of who originally authored and used Mark much more intriguing.

Implications of the Simon-Jesus Parallels

In my previous post, I discussed parallels between the Simon Magus traditions and scenes in the Gospel of Mark. The most significant parallel in my mind comes with the woman in Tyre who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. I argued this woman was dual cast as Helen and Mary Magdalene. She makes a pithy argument on behalf of her daughter, and Jesus cured her. The subtext hiding in this anecdote is that Jesus took an extraordinarily inefficient by-foot route, traveling some 50 miles out of his way. This trip, which observers have noticed over the centuries, is nonsensical in most contexts; however, it makes more sense given various assumptions:

  1. Mark’s author was unfamiliar with the local geography. This admittedly is the most plausible explanation.
  2. Jesus was attempting to get out of Dodge. This is plausible if the Gospel Jesus character was, as I suspect, influenced by the so-called Egyptian, who Josephus wrote eluded Jerusalem law enforcement after causing riots. Incidently, Paul is accused of being this Egyptian by a Roman commander in Acts 21:38.
  3. The whole Gospel story was constructed to intertwine Simon Magus traditions with Jesus traditions.

Recall the implication of Mark’s Gospel: the Spirit is the centerpiece. Jesus is a slave (δοῦλος) to the Spirit, just like Paul is in Romans 1:1, Gal 1:10, and 1 Cor 7:22. An implication is that Jesus cannot be held to account by the local rulers, because the Spirit acted on his behalf, which meant Jesus was crucified an innocent man; this violation of nature caused the rulers to fold in on themselves (Mk 3:26), which eventually causes the temple veil to tear, thereby removing the barrier between Earth and heaven.

In this context, or at least this version of the story, the Spirit passes to Simon of Cyrene. That is what the Basilideans believed, anyway.

The leap I make is that I think that a lot of groups believed similar things. This transient spirit is detectable even in the Orthodoxy. For example, when Simon the magician attempts to buy the Spirit from Peter in Samaria in Acts 8, the implication hiding underneath is that the Spirit is transferrable under the appropriate circumstances – it was not Simon’s audacity to attempt to purchase the Spirit which would have rung with early readers; rather, it was an inappropriate manner of transfer – one where appropriate initiation had not been done.

This is why I believe the notion of the Paraclete was such a critical component of the early theology: He who possessed the Spirit was the new leader. The leader gets to direct the movement of the religion. This explains why Matthew’s Gospel minimizes Simon of Cyrene; it seems to me the instance where Jesus’s servant chops off the high priest’s servants ear (Mthw 26:51) reflects the official Spirit transfer in Matthew. John’s Gospel recognizes Jesus’s ear-lopping servant as Peter, which I think early Matthew readers would have recognized as well; this action was compelled by the Spirit, which implies that Peter became the Paraclete, and was subsequently innocent of the act which the Spirit compelled.

The Spirit hopping in Mark can be reasonably decrypted with some help from Irenaeus, who discusses the Carpocratians in AH i.25. The Carpocratians bear resemblance to, and indeed probably were, Marcionites. Irenaeus writes that Carpocrates believed “Jesus was the son of Joseph,” and “…he differed from [other men]…that his soul was steadfast and pure.” This is a match to the Paraclete, whose crimes are forgiven because they were the Spirit’s responsibility. The admission Irenaeus inadvertently makes is that Jesus “…perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God.”

In other words, the Carpocratians believed that significant events occur in other realms. In other words, Jesus’s actions were not on Earth. They were in a realm between the unbegotten God and Earth. This is why I think Paul’s claim that God set him aside from his mother’s womb (Gal 1:15) is so important. Paul is laying claim to the Paraclete.

He received the Spirit prior to his birth; therefore, the anomalous magician in Mark 9:38-40 is a reference to Paul, who acted independently of Jesus and his apostles. This demon-casting magician beat the Apostles to the punch. While those inferior apostles were still in Jerusalem trying to receive the Spirit from Jesus, Paul was out wielding the Spirit.

Irenaeus goes on that “some of [the Carpocratians] declare themselves similar to Jesus; while others, still more mighty, maintain that they are superior to his disciples.” Irenaeus uses the examples of Peter and Paul, whom Carpocratians believed themselves superior to. However, if we remove Irenaeus’s example of Paul, then we [finally] have an adequate explanation for Marcion, who believed Paul was superior to the apostles who supposedly heard Jesus’s words directly.

Again, Marcion must have seen Paul as this anomalous magician who received the true Spirit, rather than the inferior Spirit which Jesus granted his apostles (Mk 3:14-15).

If we extrapolate further, relying on this “sphere of the unbegotten God”, we can adequately understand the relationship between the Spirit and the Paraclete. Whoever possesses the Spirit gleans insight into the “sphere of the unbegotten God.” Therefore, the Paraclete is Jesus Christ. The traditions which fed into the various Jesus mysteries were actually attributes of Paraclete claimants.

This, I think is what some early Christians found so appealing about the so-called Egyptian, who claimed he could knock down the temple walls with his words, just like Jesus claims in all the Gospels. The Egyptian proselytized in Jerusalem, pissed off the authorities, and escaped, presumably to another major metropolis, such as Rome or Alexandria. While the dunce apostles remained in Jerusalem, the Egyptian was busy bouncing around the empire, spreading the word and casting out demons.

And the impulse to replace Simon of Cyrene’s Spirit transference with the Peter ear chopping incident: this was an attempt by the Jamesians – for the Peter group, James was the 1st generation Jesus Christ on Earth. For the Paul group, the Egyptian/Simon/magician was.

Helen and Mary

There is a compelling case to be made that the writer we remember as the Apostle Paul, his 6 or 7 authentic works anyway, had a different name which his disciples recognized. The Orthodox response would be that this alternate name is Saul.

I do not think this is the case.

Rather, as I have written on this blog (and “radical” scholars have noticed for well over 100 years), I believe this alternative name was Simon. About a year ago, I wrote a sort of tongue-in-cheek post about how I imagine the Christian mystery was originally implemented as a dramatic depiction, where characters in the proto-Gospel, something like the modern Gospel of Mark, were doppelgangers (Platonic ideals) of their real-life personas. I also made this case in a post where I argued that the cross-bearer in Mark 15, Simon of Cyrene, was the doppelganger for the the writer underlying the Apostle Paul.

There are many implications in this theory. The most obvious one was that early Gospel consumers, based on the modern contents of Mark, as well as what we glean from early heresy hunters about who consumed Mark, were adoptionistic, and that the Spirit which was encapsulated by Jesus in the Gospels was the more important aspect of the story than was the human who had the Spirit. Jesus was simply a slave to the spirit in this context.

Another implication is that we have a discernible system: this Spirit is transient and leaves the human prior to their death, as it (perhaps) did when the Spirit went from John the Baptist to Jesus during the baptism. The fact that the Basilideans believed the Christ Spirit bounced to Simon of Cyrene makes clear that some sects believed the Christ would exist in perpetuity within the community. This, I think, eventually (perhaps originally) gave rise to the notion of the Paraclete, a concept which predates Christianity, but is explicitly found in modern Christianity in John’s Gospel (Jn 14:16).

Following this train of thought, we can assume Mark’s author(s) and consumers were familiar with (and indeed revered) the Apostle Paul; given that Paul was a later successor of Jesus, it is not much of a leap to presume Paul and Simon of Cyrene were the same person, and that Simon of Cyrene is simply a fiction used in the Gospel to demonstrate that the rogue Paul/Simon received the Spirit after Jesus.

Incidentally, we have a hostile polemic waged within the Ebionite pseudo-Clementines (and Acts) against a messiah-claimant who antagonized Peter and John and who advocated faith over acts, mirroring Paul’s conflict with Cephas in Galatians 2. Peter’s antagonist in the pseudo-Clementines (and the Acts of Peter) was named Simon, and was recognized by his followers as a powerful magician.

This Ebionite sect, we can also presume, modified the earlier Mark-like Gospel, and changed it to assert a priority of law-adherence and a disdain for magic; magic in particular was highlighted in proto-Mark, but is absent in this modified Gospel, which would be recognized as a proto-Matthew. Matthew also converts the proto-Gospel from an easy-to-perform Greek drama into a more literary endeavor with extended speeches.

The detail which helped clarify this theory for me was an interview Miguel Conner (Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio) did in 2016 with author John Munter, who argues that Jesus Christ was Simon Magus!

In the “Paraclete model” to which I subscribe, which assumes the Gospel was originally part of the “lesser mystery” – a drama performed by church leaders, and which was designed to demonstrate who received the Spirit after Jesus died, several parallels become clear between Simon and Jesus.

One such parallel is that we see instances where Jesus performs magical acts common for the time in Mark, such as using saliva to restore vision and hearing. Matthew’s Gospel removes these magical acts, as any law-abiding Jewish author would.

Another parallel is with the mysterious “unnamed demon-caster” scene in Mark 9:38-40, where John complains of an unauthorized individual casting demons. In my mind, either Mark never resolves this thread, or he resolves it with Simon of Cyrene, who must have been pre-ordained prior to receiving the Spirit. This unnamed demon caster is an anomalous magician operating under the radar and independently of the Jerusalem disciples, just like Simon Magus (and Paul).

In my mind, this unnamed “character of prominence” theme common throughout all the canonical Gospels forces me to re-examine any prominent, short-lived, and unnamed characters in the Gospels. When we look at Christianity through the lens of a mystery religion, it becomes clear that these characters help to advance attributes of the mystery, and probably had deeper underlying symbolic meaning, probably as celestial pointers, with Jesus as the sun.

When we consider the logistics of a mystery religion which performed dramatic depictions, we must allow for a limitation: there were only so many community members who could put on such a drama. This seems especially the case among early Christians, who according to Pliny the Younger, were discouraged from participating in such fringe religions via torture and death. One solution to this logistics problem is to have characters in the drama perform multiple roles. As long as those roles are unnamed and short, the audience does not invest too much into the relationship between a particular role and that role’s actor.

Another unnamed character in Mark is the Syro-phoenecian woman who begs Jesus to cure her daughter after his 50 mile trek to Tyre (Mark 7:24-30). Jesus throws a mean-spirited insult at the woman and her child, referring to them as “dogs” (Mk 7:27). The woman responds with a pithy quip, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus was amused by the woman’s response, and as far as I can tell, this is the only instance where Jesus changes his mind in the Gospel (readers: feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

Consider this analogue between this scene and Simon Magus’s biography from Irenaeus in Against Heresies i.23:

Now this Simon…Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phœnicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind…

This “first conception” of Simon’s mind, Helena, was also his Ennoia, which is analagous to Sophia, who herself was an emanation within the Pleroma in various Gnostic systems. In other words, Helen was simultaneously a shadow of the Platonic ideal – an archetype of the mother and wife.

It is odd that versions of this trope were so common in different Gnostic systems in the subsequent centuries. This oddity could be explained by the pervasive claim that Simon Magus was indeed the “father of all Christian heresy”. However, it is also explained if we presume this trope was original to the Christian mystery.

In the modern Orthodoxy, the name Mary is simultaneously associated with the mother and female companion. This idea permeates through various heterodoxical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, where Peter complains about Mary’s presence, and Jesus responds “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.”

I brought this idea of the parallel between the mother and Helen up to Miguel Conner on his Facebook page about a week ago, and he said “Could be, but wasn’t the woman Jesus called a dog a pagan?”. My impulse was to look to the Greek text, as translations tend to obfuscate original intent. The translation of the adjective for the woman is usually Greek, rather than Pagan (sometimes translated as Gentile); an interesting corroboration is that the Greek term for Greek, the term used in the Gospel, is Hellenis.

When we get to Mark 14, we get a named character, Simon, a leper, who put Jesus up and offered him a seat at his table (Mk 14:3). Again, we have a prominently featured unnamed woman who comes to visit Jesus at Simon’s home. She proceeds to pour expensive oil on Jesus’s head while the apostles protest. Jesus rebuked them, saying that they will always be stuck with the poor (ie Ebionites), but will only have Jesus for a short while. Jesus goes on to say that this unnamed woman will be celebrated forever (Mk 14:9).

How can the reader parse Jesus’s curious claim that this unnamed woman will be remembered forever?

The Gospel never bothers to mention her again beyond this scene. Again, the solution is that this was part of the mystery, and the mystery’s congregants, if they didn’t recognize her by her actions or by Jesus’s words, they would recognize her by the fact that she visited Simon’s home! Anointing Jesus would have rung clear as a bell, as well, as this was a ritual the high priest did prior to entering the Holy of Holies.

harold_copping_mary_lazarus_sister_anoints_jesus_350.jpg

My subsequent speculation is that this unnamed woman from Mark 7 appears again in John’s Gospel (John 8) as the woman “caught [or taken or seized] in adultery”. In this scene, we get Jesus’s famous disregard for Mosaic law when he tells the Pharisees “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. When we allow for the fact that adultery for a woman included being widowed AND marrying a man other than her husband’s brother (Deut 25), this scene might be an obfuscation of Jesus defending his own wife’s honor (and life)! The fact that Jesus called those same Pharisees sons of “murderers” later in the chapter (Jn 8:44) would have made this link obvious for early readers who were on the lookout for unnamed and prominent characters.

Lucifer and Satan

I’d never really considered the distinction between Lucifer and Satan prior to a few months ago, but stumbled onto a detail which makes the distinction clear and coincides with my working theory on Christianity’s roots.

The primary entry point for the discussion on Lucifer, the “fallen angel” in various traditions, is Isaiah 14:12:

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn [morning]!
You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

The morning star is the key here. It is a reference to Venus, which shines brightly in the morning, and as such garnered much attention among worshipers in antiquity, as natural elements were often associated with deities at this time (something which is plainly evident in Sethian Gnosticism, as well as various Greek myths).  April Deconick describes this paradigm in the 13th Apostle:

To reinvigorate the soul, the human being must live in accordance with the most important virtues, relying on reason to subdue the sours desires and emotions. Once the psyche was rehabilitated and released from the body at the moment of death, it would be pure enough and strong enough to ascend through the seven planetary realms and reunite with the Good.

The implication is that the 7 planets stood between the soul and its reunification with the Good.  When considered in the context of Neo-Platonism, which had the material realm as an imperfect shadow of the perfect realm, we get a clearer picture of how Gnostics integrated pre-Gnostic Christianity and Platonism.

When Isaiah’s Hebrew was translated to Latin, the term morning star was translated as Lucifer. Therefore, Lucifer=Venus=Isaiah’s fallen Angel=son of the morning.

This concern for a fallen object from heaven is repeated in Revelation 12, which contains the story of the Lady chased from heaven by the 7-headed red dragon. The dragon’s chase triggers a war in heaven, uniting heaven’s angels to fight on the lady’s behalf (Rev 12:7). The dragon swung its tail and knocked stars from the sky (Rev 12:4). Eventually the dragon fails to capture the lady or her newborn child, so he turns his attention on the woman’s other children, who were the keepers (eg Nasar).

Revelation 13 has the beast rising out of the waters, and subsequently receiving rendered authority from the dragon. This rendering of authority from the Demiurge to the Cosmocrator (Satan) is parallel to the Valentinian view of it, which Irenaeus describes in AH i.5:

[The Valentinians] represent the Demiurge as being the son of that mother of theirs (Achamoth), and Cosmocrator as the creature of the Demiurge. Cosmocrator has knowledge of what is above himself, because he is a spirit of wickedness; but the Demiurge is ignorant of such things, inasmuch as he is merely animal.

There were various “Gnostics”, perhaps a later iteration, who saw a differentiation between the creator of the earth and the ruler of the earth. The ruler of the earth was Satan. This distinction is not so apparent in other heresiologist descriptions of the archons.  However, it is quite analagous to Alexandrian/Sethian Gnosticism, which had multiple defined rulers of the material realm.

This raises the following questions: Is Lucifer the same as Satan? Was this always the case?

Venus is the clue here.

In Sumerian myths, Inanna was Venus. Inanna became Ishtar to the Akkadians. She eventually became Astarte and Asherah (Astarte and Asherah are sometimes considered sisters). The abstract form of the Lady had several associated symbols, including the dove.

We find a likely reference to the dove, not just in the dove-holy-spirit, which manifested in Jesus after his baptism (Mk 1:10), but also in Songs of Solomon 6. Consider the following excerpts:

Where has your beloved gone, most beautiful of women? My beloved has gone down to his garden…You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, as lovely as Jerusalem…Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate…but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her.

It is easy enough to imagine the recipient of this poem was a human person; however, it is also easy to imagine that this is an obfuscated reference to the queen of heaven (Asherah, etc), given the reference to the garden (a Nasar/branch reference, Agony in the garden), as well as the veil which halves the pomegranate, a reference to the temple veil which separates heaven and earth. Comparing the lady to Jerusalem is a not-so-subtle reference which occurs throughout texts, including Revelation, which has the lady triumphantly returning in New Jerusalem, like an adorned bride (Rev 21:2).

Songs also calls this lady the “only daughter of her mother”, which rings parallel to the spiritual adoptionism so apparent in the Gospel of Mark, which not only has the man Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit, but also has analogues where men, pigs, and other objects receiving malevolent Spirits which only Jesus, his inner circle, and the mysterious demon caster in Mark 9:38-40, have the ability to cast out.

A symbol which represented the divine lady throughout various cultures was a star within a circle, which represented Venus. Below (left) is an image of Venus’s orbital pattern over the course of 8 years, which explains why the symbol would look as such. Also consider the image to the right, which has inscribed a pentagram within the orbital pattern.

venus3venus-path-pentacle-pentagram

In Isaiah 14:12, the lament goes that the son of the dawn, which was the morning star, has fallen. As such, we have a mother-son relationship, where interestingly enough, Venus becomes the son of the morning (thus the morning is the mother).

A closer reading of Isaiah 14 renders its intent more obvious. Consider Isaiah 14:3-4

On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon

Though Isaiah was supposedly written in the 8th century BCE, it has long been noted that much of the content of Isaiah matches what would have been written during and after the time of Josiah, who is remembered as the king who purged Asherah idols from the temple in the late 7th century.

This passage is in reference to the Jewish captivity in Babylon following the 6th century BCE invasion. According to this tradition, Jews were held in captivity by the Babylonians. Isaiah 14:3-4 is saying that the Jewish people will taunt the king of Babylon with a prolonged monologue, which includes the reference to the morning star. Isaiah 14 dwells on this star for a time:

Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb. But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch

Some dishonest apologist might see the above passage as a reference to Jesus! The “rejected branch” seems again a reference to the Nasar (the keepers, the branch, the children of the Queen). To Isaiah, there was Venus (or perhaps her son), who caused the earth to shake and kingdoms to tremble. The kings received a funeral, but the son is a rejected branch, dead and without tomb.

However, throughout Isaiah 14, one gets to suspect that there is a specific human(s) at whom this lament is intended.  My own speculation is that this detail was an early version of that same Spiritual adoptionism that is present in early Christianity:  the notion that Spirits can come in and out of humans.

One place this spirit lived was in the temple.  The temple’s most holy room was the Holy of Holies, where no one was allowed, except for the high priest one day per year.  This room came to represent God’s place on Earth, and was therefore ripe for similar spiritual association.

In 2 Esdras 9-10, we see a reference to the lady as the holy city, and her

The Septuagint refers translates Lucifer (Hebrew Helel) as heōsphoros, which means “bringer of dawn”. This is in reference to the notion of morning star, and that Venus is most easily seen at dawn and dusk; however, there is a parallel Pliny the Younger gives in his description of Christians in Central Turkey in the early 2nd century:

[Christians] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god…

The Solomon Problem

Theory review:  The earliest Christians remembered and altered an older version of Judaism which was more Henotheistic than the day’s Orthodoxy.  This version had less concern for Moses’s law, and at the root of their mystery, had a deep concern for Asherah, the Queen of Heaven, who they remembered as, among other things, the tree.  Accordingt to the Old Testament, Asherah was prominently featured for much of the 1st temple period in Solomon’s temple. The Nasar were the keepers of this older memory.  It is not a coincidence then that Nasar also means branch in Hebrew (the written ancient Hebrew had no vowels, which allowed for much modulation between the written and spoken language).  Branches are children of trees.  This movement had lived for hundreds of years, particularly throughout the Diaspora.  Jewish Orthodoxy countered this movement by rewriting the Pentateuch, and in particular, bastardizing an older tradition that gave reverence to the tree by contrasting two separate trees in Eden.  The tree of Wisdom (Asherah was Wisdom) became associated with the serpent, and was altogether obsolete (the root of humanity’s fall).  Wisdom was contrasted with the tree of life, which was a metaphor for Moses’s law.

ea392-asherahpole

For people who remembered the Queen of Heaven, they saw her as a Spirit which underlay the Holy City, and they awaited her return, perhaps expecting a male counterpart to be their proxy to her.  This is represented in 2 Esdras 9-10, as well as Revelation 21.  This is part of why there was so much concern for the New Jerusalem among early Christians.

There are various problems with this theory; one of the biggest problems is what I call the Solomon problem.  Solomon is not remembered kindly in texts found at Nag Hammadi – the very texts which one would intuitively expect to remember Solomon kindly, if this theory were true.

Consider this excerpt from the Apocalypse of Adam:

Solomon himself sent his army of demons to seek out the virgin. And they did not find the one whom they sought, but the virgin who was given them. It was she whom they fetched. Solomon took her. The virgin became pregnant and gave birth to the child there.

Here is an excerpt from the Testimony of Truth

…and his son Solomon, whom he begat in adultery, is the one who built Jerusalem by means of the demons, because he received power. When he had finished building, he imprisoned the demons in the temple.

Why should we see such a poor opinion of Solomon in these texts?  These authors seem to equate Solomon to the dragon who chased the crowned lady from heaven (Rev 12).  One might chalk this up to evolution within the mystery over centuries and disparate cultures.  Pre-Deuteronomists met post-Deuteronomists, and eventually the later Jewish Orthodoxy’s views won out.

Another possibility is that, in Christianity’s evolution, a dualism emerged which required material makers to be on the dark side.  Indeed we see in Gnostic thought that Sophia gave rise to the Demiurge, who was responsible for material creation.  She then became trapped by him.  In other words, it might be that Solomon, the creator of the Holy and revered temple, represented material, while the lady of the temple represented Spirit – the Wisdom emanating from heaven.  Her wisdom was blocked as the Moses sect came to control the 2nd temple.

Wisdom’s stifling explains why Jesus had to be offered up (in the process, tricking material’s rulers).  The trick that was played (offering up a spiritually pure man), caused a rift in the material realm.  The temple veil tore, and it opened up a pathway that had previously been closed by the Aaronic (Moses) priesthood.