Revelation And The Jewish Temple

There are a couple keys needed to decipher much of Revelation.  The first comes from Josephus, and an unassuming description of the temple veil in the (second) Jewish temple in Wars 5.5.4

It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple: and of a contexture that was truly wonderful.

Revelation makes reference to the linen of the second temple, along with other ornate decor around the temple in Rev 18:12

…merchandise of gold and silver and precious stone and pearls and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet…

Incidentally, this same veil ripped in two after Jesus was crucified in the Gospel of Matthew 27:51 and Luke 23:45.

Revelation seems to make references to the 2nd temple’s decor, but it associates these colors, along with stones and cups, to the whore of Babylon.

Revelation 16:19

God remembered Babylon and the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath

Revelation 17:4-6

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations…and upon her forehead a name written, MYSTERY, BABLYON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE HARLOTS…I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people

Revelation 18:2

And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons…

Josephus references the gold cup in Wars 1.7.6

it was not lawful for any to enter but the high priest, and saw what was reposited therein, the candlestick with its lamps, and the table, and the pouring vessels, and the censers, all made entirely of gold

The temple’s golden censer shows up in Revelation 8:5 when the angel used it to throw fire at the earth after the seventh seal was opened.

The recurring theme of the latter half of Revelation is the personification, as a whore, of the scarlet Babylonian curtain, and the structure in which it resided, the 2nd Jewish temple.

The implication is that the Christian sect(s) who wrote Revelation were hostile to the 2nd temple.

One can surmise many reasons for a growing antipathy towards the temple: perhaps it was a psychological strategy after the temple was destroyed.  Another possibility is that Jewish Christians became hostile at a perceived corruption and embrace of Roman ideals within the temple walls, notably by the Sadduceees, who were accused of being pro-Roman.

But as I have written in prior posts, I believe the key to unlocking this antipathy is in Revelation 12.  Below are excerpts:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads...But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands

In Revelation 19:6, the rushing waters ties up the loose thread of the woman being protected by earth via its swallowing of the dragon’s river.

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder

Revelation 21:2 gives the new mother’s triumphant return into the New Jerusalem – she was the bride dressed for her husband.

 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them

Another key to this riddle is in 1 Enoch XLII

Wisdom found no place where she might dwell; Then a dwelling-place was assigned her in the heavens.

Wisdom went forth to make her dwelling among the children of men, And found no dwelling-place:

Wisdom returned to her place,And took her seat among the angels.

And unrighteousness went forth from her chambers:Whom she sought not she found,And dwelt with them,

1 Enoch and Revelation describe the same woman: Wisdom.  Wisdom was the Spirit which underlies the Holy City.  She can be found in 2 Esdras 9:38.  She turns into the holy city in 2 Esdras 10:26-27

I looked with my eyes and saw a woman to my right. She was lamenting and crying with a loud voice, and she was experiencing deep grief. Her clothes were torn, and there were ashes on her head… While I was speaking to her, look! Suddenly her face shone brightly and her countenance became a flashing splendor. I became afraid of her, and I wondered what was happening.  Without warning she let out a noise, a great voice full of fear, so that the earth itself shook with the sound. I watched, and she no longer appeared to me as a woman, but there was a city built, and a place with great foundations appeared…

Who is Wisdom?  She was the lady of the temple.  But not the second temple:  the second temple was occupied by the whore in scarlet; rather, the lady was of the 1st temple.

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The point of Revelation is to explain how the Woman, who was the original iteration of the Holy Spirit (IMHO) would come back to Earth, despite not finding a place “where she might dwell” the first time.  But this time, when she came back, she would bring her son, whom the dragon (Satan, the Demiurge, Rome, Babylon) attempted to eat.

The woman’s other children, the Nasar, would reserve her holy spot on Earth, despite theological resistance given in the book which King Josiah’s high priest found – major portions of Deuteronomy (portions of Moses’s Law).  This is traditionally referred to as the Deuteronomic reform, which was a Jewish reform which purged various idols from the temple and Orthodox Judaism, including the lady, who was also called the Queen of Heaven; her followers expressed lament in Jeremiah 44:18-19, when they told Jeremiah that their troubles, including famine, disease, and the destruction of the first temple, was due to their failure to burn incense for the queen of heaven.

This connection between the Nasar and the theological descendants of those displaced by the Deuteronomic reform is amplified by Epiphanius, who described them as rejecting the Pentateuch.  The Nasar rejected the Pentateuch because they rejected the Deuteronomic reform.  Instead, they believed they had the real writings of Moses, which would have left room for the Queen’s Wisdom.

Revelation describes the fate of the woman (the scarlet-wearing whore) of the 2nd temple.  Her demise was brought on by “…great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent” (Rev 16:20).  Josephus gives a parallel description of what Revelation’s author is referring to in Wars 3.7.9 – it was Vespasian’s siege engines, which killed Jesus ben Ananias (Wars 6.5.3), and helped knock down the 2nd temple:

At the same time such engines as were intended for that purpose threw at once lances upon them with a great noise, and stones of the weight of a talent were thrown by the engines that were prepared for that purpose, together with fire…

Coming back to Matthew and Luke, and the reference to the torn temple veil after Jesus Christ’s crucifixion: what was the metaphor?   With awareness of this tradition from Revelation, Jesus Christ’s death was required to usher in the destruction of the temple and the downfall of the whore of Babylon in order to return the Queen of Heaven to Earth and give rise to the New Jerusalem.  My speculation is that Revelation was text reserved for those more deeply initiated into the mystery, where the Gospel story (and dramatic depiction) were for newer initiates.

Free Speech And White Supremacy

Skeptics, Atheists, Agnostics, and others who are disinclined to attribute the creation of the universe to a bearded man in the sky are rightfully sensitive to impediments to free speech.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Does that go for racist hate speech?  Should we defend the speech rights of those whose primary concern is the subjugation, or perhaps the extermination, of Jews, blacks, Latinos, and others who do not share the same skin hue or adequate percentage of the Neanderthal genome?

My $0.02, and that’s probably about all it’s worth, is that such racist positions (along with the vile speech that accompanies them) do not merit defense or sympathy.  There is no place in the marketplace of ideas for such cruel, frivolous stupidity.

I may be cutting open a large chunk on the hill which gives rise to the slippery slope, but my reverence for life, and the foundation of my ethical framework, relies on the notion that we should be intolerant to intolerance.  In that sense, I suppose I am a bit of an ideologue.

The Gospel of Mark As A Greek Tragedy

It has been observed since the mid-20th century that the earliest Synoptic Gospel, Mark, follows the framework of Greco-Roman tragedy.  The first attention I can find paid to this topic was in 1977, in Bilezikian’s The Liberated Gospel and some 24 years earlier in the same author’s doctoral dissertation.

The pattern is quite clear: sparse dialog, frequent scene changes, narration, passion.  I recommend Ken Humphreys’ Youtube video on this topic as an introduction.

The point of this post is not to develop or convey findings of previous scholarship, but rather, to describe how I think this Gospel drama was used as a political and theological tool.

Picture this:  you are a late 1st or early 2nd century mystery cult member.  The cult to which you belong, the Christian mystery, is more compatible with your worldview and deepest longings than other mysteries; those other mysteries (and their Demigods) lack the personal touch which your mystery touts.  You regularly meet with other members of your local mystery community, and you are aware of,  by name or reputation, prominent members of surrounding communities.

Life is hard as an Iron Age Christian.  Many Christians are slaves…maybe you are too.  The drudgery of life is interrupted by your daily morning routine of worshiping toward the sun.  Of course, if you’re caught, you’ll either be whipped, imprisoned or killed.

Then one day the news comes!  The most famous proprietor of this mystery — the one who saunters around the Eastern Roman empire sharing the Good News, regardless of the tremendous risk — is coming to your town, somewhere in Roman Asia, the geographic space known today as Turkey.

This regional celebrity has developed his shtick well:  he goes from town-to-town, with props, wardrobe changes, and a crew of about a half dozen others.  In this sense, the celebrity is borrowing a well-developed trope within the mystery schools.  Dramatic depictions were common in the mysteries.

His most notable compatriot is a near-equal woman who simultaneously identifies as the archetypal mother and wife.

The dear leader makes curious claims, such as remembering previous lives and experiences in higher realms (Against Heresies i.25.1, i.25.4, Galatians 4:19).  He claims to have been born under odd circumstances (a miscarriage – 1 Corinthians 15:7-8), claims to possess a special spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12) which gives him amplified power of proselytization.  He usually brings a several-hundred word letter addressed to members of the community.  At some point during his stay, with his band of co-conspirators (and some local community involvement), he enacts a dramatic depiction which culminates in the crucifixion of one of the featured players – not the leader, though.

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There is a feature in the play that did not translate to canonical paper.  To the audience members, the feature could not be clearer.

A little past the midpoint of the play (Mark 9:35-40), one of Jesus’s apostles comes to him and complains that an unnamed person was casting out demons!  New proselytes watching the play wonder “how could that be?”  Some minutes earlier, the play’s narration made it clear that it was only through Jesus Christ’s authority that his apostles could cast out demons (Mark 3:14-15).

Despite the snitching apostle not giving specifics about him, senior members in the audience immediately recognize this unrevealed, unnamed demon-caster.  The new initiates soon will too.

The characters in (and absent from) the scene, coupled with the audience’s intuition, eventually makes it clear who this unnamed ally is.  For added effect, Jesus assures his worried apostle that this anomalous wizard is on the straight-and-narrow (Mark 9:40).

The Gospel text eventually gives the name and face of the Jesus-sanctioned magician, but the obviousness of this revelation in the play is lost when translated to text (which lacks relevant stage directions).

The real star of the show, Simon (who went by at least one other name), had arrived in town with pomp and circumstance.  He is bombastic, educated in Alexandrian traditions.  He is a populist, but he operates with Aristocratic certainty – well funded, but pretends he is not.  After being conspicuously absent throughout the major dramatic movements, he shows up just in time to let the audience know that he is the new sheriff in town — the recipient of the Christ Spirit before Jesus was crucified (Mark 15:34).  He is front-and-center in the most important scene in the play.  The metaphor he conveys to audience members rings clear as a bell:  Simon bears Jesus Christ’s cross! (Galatians 6:14, Mark 15:21)

The metaphor means different things to different audience members.  To the newly (or soon-to-be) baptized proselytes, Simon’s role as the heroic cross-bearer, plucked from his otherwise unassuming role planting seeds in the field, demonstrates how Simon received the Spirit emanating from the higher heaven while aiding the dying Jesus against his Roman oppressors.  More senior initiates recognize the field as the “New Jerusalem” (2 Esdras 10), where marginalized Diaspora Jews could make pilgrimages in the absence of a safe and unadulterated Original Jerusalem.

For those deeply initiated in the mystery, Simon’s role is more robust, because they recognize the dramatic invocation of several features of the mystery:

  1.  The reference to historical events decades earlier makes it clear that these “heads of the church (ekklesia)” who put on the drama were acting as their previous incarnations on earth.  How else could someone operating in the late 1st or early 2nd century be so keenly aware of events occurring in the early 1st century?  Simon’s soul had migrated from one body to another (andanother) so he could bring this community the Good News.
  2. Alternatively, for full initiates, these events did not even occur on Earth; rather, they were in the realm above, a well-developed trope in the Jewish Diaspora, and certainly something early Christians would have been aware of.  Simon’s play demonstrates his perfect memory of the events in this realm.

Simon’s chief compatriot is a woman named Helen.  She claims she is from Tyre (Mark 7:24-30, Against Heresies i.23), and in the play begs Jesus to exorcise demons from her daughter.  Jesus is reluctant, but how can he deny the desperate pleas of such a grief-stricken woman?  She goes by the name Mary Magdalene in other scenes.  Like the character she plays, her real life persona has her former profession as a prostitute.  Like Simon, Helen had lived multiple lives, including that of Helen of Troy.  She is the female incarnation of the Paraclete.

Simon was not always the only leader.  There were dozens of leaders who employed Simon’s format.  For a time, there was a tense symbiosis which existed between he and other leaders (1 Corinthians 3:3-6, Galatians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 11:4).  Those leaders went by various names, including Cephas, Apollos, Cerinthus, Theudas, Dositheus, Menander, and John.  John’s claim to fame was dogmatic reliance on water tricks and magic associated with baptism.  After John died, Theudas (AKA Theodosius, Dositheus) took up his mandate.  For a time after John’s death, tensions were high between Simon and Dositheus; some even claimed Simon killed Dositheus, a claim which would help to mar Simon’s name forever (Recognitions xi).

Simon conveyed his esteem (or lack thereof) for others in the community via his treatment in the production.  John was treated well (Mark 1:4).  Cephas, not so much (Mark 8:33).

Simon’s time as leader of the church was nearing its end.  His abrasive bombast, coupled with a staunch resistance to recognize any of the other leaders as his peers (Galatians 2:6), made him wildly unpopular with others in power.

This tense symbiosis, which these leaders configured, devolved into treachery (Galatians 2:11).  Competing gospels were constructed which minimized Simon’s backstory and role in “the field” (Matthew 27:32).  Simon’s Gospel was embellished, and the role of the unnamed demon-caster was demoted – Jesus would say he never knew him (Matthew 7:21-23).  Additionally, the central tenet of Simon’s Gospel, which is to say an alternate to Mosaic law, would likewise make Simon the least in the kingdom (Matthew 5:19).

Simon tried and failed to recapture the power which gradually slipped out of his control (Galatians 3:1).  He changed his name and address.  His students tried to restore their teacher’s former glory.  One student even paid the “church” 200,000 sesterces to put his teacher’s theology back in the forefront of the church.  It was too late.  The old tricks did not work anymore.  A new Orthodoxy was on the rise.

Did The Earliest Christians Believe Jesus Existed?

When I refer to early Christians, I am referring to Christians before the year 250CE.

In this post, I refer to those Christianities, later called heresies by an evolving Orthodoxy in collaboration with the Roman government and its hegemonic military.

Jesus Christ did exist.  He did not exist in the way we intuitively think about the term “exist”, which is to say, as a unique, autonomous individual, but nevertheless he existed…lots of times.  There were many Jesus Christs!  I leave it to the reader to decide whether this condition is equivalent to non-existence.

To the earliest Christians, Jesus Christ was the member of the generation who possessed the Spirit – not the Spirit originating on Earth by the ruler of this world, but rather, the Spirit which was created in a realm above and sent to lead the way out of this material hellhole.  This Spirit was transient, and would leave a person before their death.  This early Christian framework is clearly attested by Irenaeus and other heresy hunters who were hell-bent on purging the Christianity which (IMHO) they first hijacked for their own political purposes.  It is also detectable in the Synoptic Gospels, when Jesus asks God why he abandoned him (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46).  This passage is perfectly compatible with this Spirit adoption idea which was so common among early Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Carpocratians.

We glean the point of the earliest Gospels from Paul in Galatians 3:1, when he said “It was in front of your own eyes Christ was portrayed as being crucified”.

Paul’s lament in Galatians 3 was a clear allusion to a dramatic depiction, common in mystery religions of the 1st and 2nd centuries.  Given Paul’s regular references to his own Gospel, I think this is what the earliest proto-Gospel was – a dramatic depiction performed for the benefit of new proselytes, perhaps children and those who could not read, but no doubt enjoyed by the community.

For the earliest Mark consumers, notably the Basilideans, the Spirit which Jesus inherited after baptism was given up prior to his crucifixion.  The Spirit migrated to the one who bore Jesus Christ’s cross, which in the Gospel of Mark was Simon of Cyrene.  Consider that same Paul letter, Galatians, 6:14:  “May I never boast except in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me.”  Paul was claiming to be in the same role as Simon of Cyrene!

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One of the earliest writers against these early Christianities, Irenaeus, gives 3 early Christian sects which all hold similar views about Jesus Christ:  the Ebionites, the Cerinthians, and the Carpocratians.  The Ebionites and Cerinthians used different versions of the Gospel of Matthew, where the Carpocratians used either Matthew or Luke (perhaps a harmonization of both).  However, one distinction Irenaeus makes is that the Carpocratians used Paul’s letters (at least Romans).

Irenaeus gives an interesting description of Carpocrates that cracks the “mystery” wide open.  Irenaeus writes “[Jesus] perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God…”

Could this be why Paul often complained about the pains of child birth (Galatians 4:19), and why he was born from a miscarriage (1 Corinthians 15:7-8)?  And why he was set apart from his mother’s womb by God (Gal 1:15), and “…crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

The point of the mystery, at least that which is most evident to this observer, was that the Gospel of Mark occurred in the heavenly Judea, and one of the final acts before the story’s 2nd hero, Simon of Cyrene, descended to the material realm, was that he had to carry Jesus Christ’s cross, which would cause the proper eruptions in the heavens (Revelation 8:5), which would create a path for the spiritual believers to traverse so that they could escape the material realm and the malevolent rulers who controlled it.

The Gospel story was simply the first instance of the Spirit taking this path to get to Earth.  Once on earth, the Spirit could inhabit those practitioners of white magic who experienced enough material phenomena (Against Heresies i.25) and had “rendered unto Caesar” (code for the ruler of this Earth) those material possessions which were most prized by humans.  This is why, in Matthew and Luke, Jesus said that practitioners were not getting out of this prison until they’ve paid the very last penny (Matthew 5:26, Luke 12:59).

There were probably many of these Paracletes who claimed to be Jesus Christ:  Paul, Simon Magus, Simon of Cyrene, James, Theudas, John the Baptist, Mani, The Egyptian.  At least some of these people must have existed, although we may have duplicates in the mix.

It is indeed interesting that one of the earliest infancy Gospels which had Jesus being born of a virgin was the Infancy Gospel of James.  The reason for this is predictable:  competition.  This competition is captured in various early Christian literature, including Paul’s epistles, the Epistle of James, the Shepherd of Hermas, and others.  My speculation is that the James community was trying to “one up” the Paul community, whose leader claimed to be born from an ektroma (miscarriage).  Not to be outdone by that leader who “was not born of a woman” (Gospel of Thomas, saying 15), the James community gave Jesus an even more amazing woman-less inception.

Christianity And The Heretics

There is a single idea at the root of every single word I have written about the earliest Christians.  It is an idea that would certainly be rejected by conservative Christians, and probably the large majority of “critical” Christian scholars, as well.

The idea is this:  conventional wisdom states that the earliest heretics took proto-Orthodox Christian ideas and texts, and flipped, or otherwise corrupted them to support their own, weird philosophies.  This paradigm is erroneous.

Rather, I believe that the heretical interpretations which are described in-depth by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other Heresiologists represent the original spirit in which the earliest Christian tenets were invented.

My speculation is rooted in a reality which the Gospels and other New Testament literature so often violates.  For example, consider a famous blunder the Gospel of Mark makes when it has Jesus go from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee (Mk 7:24-31).  Though observers poke fun at Mark’s woefully inefficient route (50 or so unnecessary miles on foot), I cannot help but wonder if the woman Jesus met, who begged him to exorcise the demons from her daughter (before Jesus called her a dog!), was a reference to a story about that messianic claimant, Simon Magus of Samaria, who, according to Irenaeus (AH i.23), rescued his female counterpart, Helen, who had been a slave and worked as a prostitute.  Helen was from Tyre.  This female companion trope shows up in the Gospel of John, where Jesus, who was accused of being a Samaritan (Jn 8:48), had the former prostitute Mary Magdalene, who received special prophesy from Jesus (Jn 20:18).

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An even more obvious example of this speculative corrupted Christianity involves Satan.  The obscure Old Testament co-conspirator who dared God to ruin Job’s life by killing his family and destroying his means of income comes back with a vengeance in Christianity as the owner and operator of hell.  Aside from being the progenitor of Earthly evil, Satan has a post-death underworld realm he controls, which doubles as the destination for Heaven’s rejects.

And so we encounter Christianity’s primary recruitment problem: a loving God will reject some number of Earth’s population because of perceived violation of obscure and inconsistent rules.  Instead of the soul being rendered null in eternity’s abyss, there is a symbiotic hand-off where God sends the soul to Satan’s domain.  Once in hell, the rejected soul undergoes trillions of years of torture (thanks Dad).

Satan makes little sense in this context, which puts God in the back-seat, and promotes Satan, in terms of managing behavior on Earth; this detail is not lost on those blasphemous enough to poke fun at this Iron Age invention.

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It is my contention that Satan makes more sense in the Gnostic and quasi-Gnostic worldview, particularly that of Cerinthus, who supposed Earth was crafted by lower angels ignorant of the most-high.  In this Cerinthian view, and its derivatives (such as the Valentinians and Marcionites), the responsibility is on the Christian practitioner to become aware of the gulf between the material realm and the one above it, which is where the most high God resides.  From there, standard mystery religion rules apply:  collect the proper amulets, recite magical incantations, perform the proper rites, and you’ll out-maneuver the “Principalities and The Rulers and The Powers of this dark world(Eph 6:12).  In other words, the Gnostics suppose that Earth is hell, and that Christ is the way out!

Consider also demonic possessions, which are highlighted in the Gospels.  In the Gospel framework, Satan not only controls actions on Earth and hosts the soul junkyard, but he can also reside within a human’s body!  One wonders if the Christian God has any influence on this Earth at all.  In the Orthodox view, he must not have much!

My theory is that the earliest Mark and proto-Matthew/Luke architects (notably Cerinthus) did not believe that the most high God had much use for this material world, and that the deeper Christian mysteries would reveal to practitioners how they could get to him (Jn 14:6).  Demonic possession makes much more sense when the ruler of the world is hostile to humanity.  Consider Jesus’s vitriol against the Pharisees around John 8:44, where he calls them the children of Satan!  Does that attack make more sense in the modern Christian understanding of Satan, or does it make more sense in the view that the creator and manager of Earth is separate from the loving God Christians imagine?

Could Jesus really be saying that the Pharisees are sons of Satan?  Plenty of Christians believe this.  What is really happening in this passage is that Jesus differentes the Jewish God from Christ’s God.

There are also individual passages which we sometimes get insight into.  For instance, the “very last farthing” passage in Matthew 5 and Luke 12:

Whilst you are with your adversary in the way, give all diligence, that you may be delivered from him, lest he give you up to the judge, and the judge surrender you to the officer, and he cast you into prison. Verily, I say unto you, you shall not go out thence until you pay the very last farthing.

Irenaeus gives details about how the Carpocratians, who used a Matthew or Luke Gospel, interpreted this passage in Against Heresies i.25.  Irenaeus wrote “They deem it necessary, therefore, that by means of transmigration from body to body, souls should have experience of every kind of life as well as every kind of action…They also declare the adversary is one of those angels who are in the world, whom they call the Devil, maintaining that he was formed for this purpose, that he might lead those souls which have perished from the world to the Supreme Ruler.”.

Biblehub.com gives a variety of theological interpretations of this passage, some of which make more sense than others (I will leave it to the reader to determine whether they care enough to parse any of these interpretations); it is clear to me that this passage should be used in conjunction with “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, which is found in the Gospel of Thomas, as well as the Synoptic Gospels.  The point is obvious from a “Gnostic” perspective: the material wealth, money or other, which one accumulates in this world must be surrendered in order to escape the Demiurge‘s prison, which is this world.  Failure to do so will result in reincarnation, which was a widely-held view of several heretical groups.

Irenaeus gives Valentinian interpretations, as well.  For instance, when Jesus says on the cross “My God why have you foresaken me”, Irenaeus gives the following Valentinian interpretation:

“Jesus simply showed that Sophia was deserted by the light, and was restrained by Horos from making any advance forward.”

According to Irenaeus, the Valentinian interpretation of Jesus’s Earthly crucifixion was that it was allegory for Sophia’s imprisonment outside of the Pleroma.  This would indeed make more sense than the Orthodox interpretation, which has superman Jesus experiencing pain and doubt on the cross, despite being the actual “word of God”.  There were theological battles over whether Jesus experienced pain on the cross for hundreds of years.  Doesn’t it make more sense that, in light of an absolute absence of Jesus in secular history, coupled with clear composition of multiple biblical and historical figures feeding into Gospel Jesus (notably Jesus ben Ananias, Theudas, the Egyptian, Paul, and James), that the whole Gospel story was allegory of a much broader religious mystery?

Consider Irenaeus’s description of the Valentinian interpretation of the parable of the leaven:

Also the parable of the leaven [Note:  Matthew 13, Luke 13] which the woman is described as having hid in three measures of meal, they declare to make manifest the three classes. For, according to their teaching, the woman represented Sophia; the three measures of meal, the three kinds of men— spiritual, animal, and material; while the leaven denoted the Saviour Himself.

Traditionally, leaven was used as a symbol of evil desire (Weber, p. 221).  A common interpretation of this parable is that Jesus flipped that symbolism on its head, giving the leavening as a metaphor for spreading Christianity.  To the Gnostics, the “three measures” is a source of mystery:  Sophia rendered the 3 types of humans, and it was through the Christ that her measures were intertwined.  Saint Irenaeus gives away the mystery here, and in implementing his own Orthodoxy, purges a more interesting metaphor.

 

Theodotus And Christian Evolution

When I was writing about Elxai, his 96 mile-tall Christ angel, and his super-secret apocalyptic story about the wars among angels, I stumbled onto a passage Hippolytus wrote in Refutation of All Heresies, the significance of which only occurred to me this morning:

…Theodotus [of Byzantium] has been a victim of error, deriving contributions to his system partly from the Ebionites, (partly from Cerinthus).

Hippolytus described a hierarchy of influence.  In this description, Hippolytus took the opportunity to wage a polemic against early 3nd century Pope (/Saint) Callistus  by writing that he took influence from Theodotus of Byzantium, who was influenced by Cerinthus and the Ebionites.

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Hippolytus gives specific details about influence:

…how Callistus, intermingling the heresy of Cleomenes, the disciple of Noetus, with that of Theodotus, constructed another more novel heresy….

In Against Heresies i.26, Irenaeus describes the Ebionite and Cerinthian Christologies as roughly similar – both believed Jesus was an ordinary man who received the Spirit after baptism (the 96 mile tall Spirit?  According to Epiphanius in his Panarion, Ebionites came to espouse this view after following Elxai!).  The core detail distinguishing the two groups was a sort of proto-Demiurge:  Cerinthus believed that inferior angels created the Earth, where the Ebionites believed it was the God of Abraham (so Irenaeus says).  The heresiologists are quick to say that Cerinthus was (educated as) an Egyptian (as in Josephus’s Egyptian?), my speculation is that this proto-Demiurge notion was probably found in 1st temple Judaism, prior to Josiah’s reform.

Hippolytus gives a peculiar description of Theodotus’s views in Refutation 10.19:

And Theodotus affirms that Christ is a man of a kindred nature with all men…He had been born of a virgin, and the Holy Ghost had overshadowed His mother…[Theodotus] maintained that Jesus had not assumed flesh in the womb of the Virgin, but that afterwards Christ descended upon Jesus at His baptism in form of a dove. And from this circumstance, the lowers of Theodotus affirm that at first miraculous powers did not acquire operating energy in Saviour Himself. Theodotus, however, determines to deny the divinity of Christ

Theodotus is an almost perfect hodge-podge of the Ebionites and Nazarenes – the distinguishing detail was that the Nazarenes had the virgin birth and resurrection, where the Ebionites did not.  Both used something like the Gospel of Matthew (with perhaps some harmonization with Luke).

Theodotus was on a theological no-man’s land.  On one side of the Jesus debate, practitioners believed the Spirit descends on ordinary-man Jesus.  On the other side, Jesus was divinely manifested by Zeus’s (sorry, did I say Zeus?) artificial insemination of Mary.  My lack of attention to Theodotus until now has led me to assume that the two views are entirely incompatible.  Yet, Theodotus held both(!).

My speculation is that Theodotus held both of these views for the same reason humans still have appendixes and wisdom teeth, and for the same reason that whales have a oddly-placed hip-bone.  Theodotus had vestiges of older faiths!  The adoptionistic view, which was held by Cerinthus and the Ebionites, was an older version which must have been losing sway among the upper echelon of Christian leaders in the late 2nd century, perhaps as Christianity’s proto-Orthodoxy sought more obvious differentiation from Judaism, which was not well-received in Rome.  Alternatively, the injection of the virgin birth was to create differentiation between (what must have been a growing collection of) Paraclete claimants and the “original” Gospel Christ, who was concocted relying on attributes of Prophets and earlier Paracletes/Christ owners.

humpbackwhaleskeleton

But if Theodotus took his influence from the Cerinthians and Ebionites, where did the virgin birth come from?  This ties into earlier speculations I have made that the virgin birth existed in the East by the mid-2nd century, advocated by the Eastern Valentinians, among others.

The passage “Jesus had not assumed flesh in the womb of the virgin” is compatible with various views, including the Marcionites, who apparently did not believe Jesus had any flesh at all, and the Eastern Valentinians, who believed Jesus Christ’s body was spiritual, and that he was born from Mary as through a pipe, never making contact with her.

In this light, given the mystery origins of Christianity, my suspicion is that Theodotus was indeed influenced by the school of Valentinus, which evidently had members who did not share deeper elements of the mystery with lower-level initiates.  In Against the Valentinians, Tertullian writes

In like manner [as the Eleusinian mysteries], the heretics who are now the object of our remarks, the Valentinians, have formed Eleusinian dissipations of their own, consecrated by profound silence

Who Was Elxai?

To most people who have pondered him, Elxai was simply another, in a long line of obscure heretics who played a marginal role on the fringes of early Christianity.

Elxai’s curious doctrine included male and female 96 mile-tall angels who lived in the sky.  The male was the son of God, and the female was the Holy Spirit.  A clear prototype of an emerging Christian Trinity should be noted here, as a father, mother, and son make for plausible and economical early formulation of the Christian Trinity.

Along with Elxai’s pre-Trinity formulation, he also advocated remission of sins via the combination of belief, obeying his book, and baptism. This baptism included adherence to his book, which made reference to “seven witnesses” which were critical in his mystery:  heaven, water, holy spirits, angels of prayer, oil, salt, and earth.

He seems to have had a Pythagorean (Platonic) worldview, which to Hippolytus, equated to concerns for astrology and magic, and he believed followers should be circumcised and live according to the (Jewish) law.  According to Hippolytus:

…he asserts that Christ was born a man in the same way as common to all, and that Christ was not for the first time on earth when born of a virgin…that frequently again he had been born and would be born.  Christ would thus appear and exist among us from time to time, undergoing alterations of birth, and having his soul transferred from body to body.

According to Elxai (via Hippolytus), Jesus would return to earth over-and-over again.  Could this be a precursor to the Paraclete?  The mention of “undergoing alterations of birth” is also remarkable.  Perhaps Elxai’s view was that Jesus would be born normally in one generation, but abnormally, such as via a miscarriage (1 Cor 15:7-8), in a subsequent generation.  Consider this in the context of Jesus telling his apostles in the Gospel of Thomas that they should fall down on their faces when they find one “not born from a woman”.

Hippolytus’s description appears to be compatible with the beliefs of Basilides, who used the Gospel of Mark, and believed that the Spirit which was encapsulated within Jesus Christ transferred to Simon of Cyrene prior to his crucifixion.  Likewise, the notion of reincarnation is quite compatible with this view.  The fact that Elxai incorporated the notion that the Christ Spirit would descend onto Jesus under the right circumstances is likewise similar to other early Markan/Matthean readers, such as the Ebionites and Cerinthians.

Though Hippolytus references the “third year of Trajan’s reign”, C 100 CE, it is not entirely obvious that this was the time Elxai was active; Hippolytus references students of Elxai, Pope Callistus (c 210CE) and Sobiai – both received Elxai’s teachings.  However, Hippolytus appeared to err in his assumption about the personhood of Sobiai.  Rather, Sobiai seems to be a reference to an Aramaic term, which means “sworn members” (Lightfoot, St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 1876).

In contrast to more popular heretics such as Marcion and Valentinus, Elxai was not mentioned by Irenaeus in Against Heresies.  Rather, the first mention of him was when Hippolytus wrote about him in Refutation of All Heresies.

Hippolytus paints a complex picture of influence with Pope Callistus as roughly the hub.  Callistus was influenced by the Noetians.  Callistus was also influenced by Theodotus the Tanner.  Callistus’s doctrines were expanded by Alcibiades, who claimed to have Elxai’s book, which included, among other things, a story of war in heaven among angels.

Elxai

Alcibiades was contemporary with Mani the Prophet, who was also said to be an Elchesite.  Therefore, the following speculations are most economical:

  1. Mani was a disciple of Alcibiades
  2. Mani and Alcibiades were disciples of an Elchesite teacher who had Elxai’s book.
  3. This Elchesite religion was much more prominent than the Heresiologists (Hippolytus, Epiphanius, etc) would admit

Callistus’s role in this hierarchy should not be understated; note that, according to Hippolytus, Callistus had influence from Theodotus the Tanner (or shoemaker).  Hippolytus wrote “How Theodotus has been a victim of error, deriving contributions to his system partly from the Ebionaeans (partly from Cerinthus).”

Consider a New Testament parallel in Acts of the Apostles.  There is only one book in the entire bible (including the Old Testament) which makes reference to the tanner profession: Acts of the Apostles.  Acts 9 has Peter bringing a Tabitha back to life in Joppa (Tabitha was also called Dorcas – as Eisenman speculates, Dorcas may be Dortas, a reference to Dositheus.  In the Pseudo-Clementines, Simon Magus overcomes Dositheus to take control of John the Baptist’s sect).

During his time in Joppa, Peter stayed with a tanner named Simon(!).  If this anecdote is fictional (which it no doubt is), consider a reason why an author would have given Simon the profession of tanner.

Tanners made shoes and other wearable products by using dead animal carcasses.  The tanning profession was not a pleasant one.  It required working with foul-smelling carcasses, and it created much pollution in local water supplies.  This profession would have been regarded with aversion by Jews because it “necessitated more or less ceremonial contamination, especially in the case of unclean animals” (Hastings, Bible Dictionary, IV, 677).

In Acts, Peter’s time with Simon preceded a change to his dietary views which were referenced (with infamous hostility) in Galatians 2, and which Paul griped were influenced by the men from James (Ebionites).  In Peter’s vision in Joppa, the lord shows Peter four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds, and commands Peter to kill and eat them.  Peter protests at first, but eventually alters his dietary rigidity.  He then goes to Jerusalem to share this vision with the apostles.  He was rebuked by some community members for eating with uncircumcised men.  According to Epiphanius, Peter’s antagonist in this scene was Cerinthus.

Read chronologically, Peter’s stay with Simon the tanner precipitated this major alteration to Christian dietary rules, and flew in the face of Jewish law.  Of course, Christianity’s rejection of Jewish law was precipitated by the Apostle Paul’s writings.

Could this anecdote of Simon the tanner be a codification of the Apostle Paul?

A few paragraphs earlier, Peter (and John) encounter another Simon who practiced magic (similar to Elxai, along with other heretics, such as Marcus the Magician and Carpocrates – Theudas [John the Baptist] was also claimed by Josephus to be a magician).  Simon Magus desired to have similar powers as the Apostles, and offered money to get those powers.  Throughout 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century polemical texts, Simon the magician became a thinly-veiled obfuscation of the Apostle Paul, although it is possible Simon the magician was his own individual person – perhaps that Simon referenced by Josephus who played matchmaker to Procurator Antonius Felix and Drusilla of Mauretania the Elder.

I have made the case in another post that Simon of Cyrene was also a codification of the Apostle Paul, and he was foreshadowed in Mark 9:38-40 as an anonymous stranger whom John told to stop casting demons in Jesus’s name.

One frivolous speculation is that Theodotus the Tanner, Simon the Tanner, and the Apostle Paul were all the same person.  A somewhat more economical speculation is that Theodotus claimed to be a reincarnation of one of the two; given the penchant for reincarnation claims within these early Christian sects, this speculation is quite possibly economical.

Regardless, we have a clear linear progression between Cerinthus and Alcibiades, who used Elxai’s book, which described a war among angels in heaven.  Recall that Eusebius of Caesaria pointed to two separate entities, Caius the Presbyter and the Alogi, who believed Cerinthus wrote the Book of Revelation. Eusebius gives the following Caius quote in Church History:

But Cerinthus also, by means of revelations which he pretends were written by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things which he falsely claims were shown him by angels; and he says that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ will be set up on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem will again be subject to desires and pleasures. And being an enemy of the Scriptures of God, he asserts, with the purpose of deceiving men, that there is to be a period of a thousand years for marriage festivals

In terms of Elxai’s description of a war among angels in heaven, consider a passage from Revelation 12:7-8

And there was war in heaven:  Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven

If Elxai’s book was not a prototype of Revelation, it seems a likely derivation.  The fact that Elxai is linked to Trajan is not inconsequential, given the tradition that the Apostle John, the earliest presumed author of Revelation, died in the year 100.  According to tradition, Trajan’s adopted father, Nerva, released John from his imprisonment on Patmos.

Elxai’s connections to other groups is again brought up by Epiphanius.  Epiphanius says that Elxai had followers who were Nasaraene, Nazarene, Ebionite, and Essene.  What a remarkable diversity among the Elchesites!

Two of the above groups, the Nasaraenes and the Essenes, were explicitly non-Christian; yet, they aligned enough to be called Elchesites!

As I have proposed, the glue which would have held these groups together was a version of Judaism which existed prior to Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform, which held reverence for the Queen of Heaven, and her law emanated from heaven.  The clue here is that, according to Epiphanius, the Nasaraenes believed they had the true teachings of Moses, which (in this hypothesis) would have been the text in its form prior to Josiah’s reform.

It seems likely that most of the earliest versions of Christianity were iterations of these various heresies, concerned with restoration of the Queen of Heaven (and her wisdom), elevation of the mother and her son (in the form of spirits manifest on earth), baptism which facilitated the encapsulation of the spirits, and demotion of Mosaic law.