My quest continues to figure out how orthodox Christianity became the way it is; in other words, what happened between 70 and 160?
I keep coming back to Irenaeus (b130 – d202), and I haven’t quite figured out if there’s a publication bias, because he’s one of the only people who recorded anything about Christianity during its formative years, or if he had a hand in inventing the whole thing (including being a major contributor to Acts of the Apostles).
Here are the key facts as I see them
- The centerpiece of Jesus’ generation is John the apostle
- There is a generation (or two) who live between the time of John the apostle and Irenaeus
- The generation I refer to are the apostolic fathers – notably Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement. I’ve gone back and forth about whether some of these guys existed or not…perhaps they were simply legendized by Irenaeus and subsequent church historians
- Most Christian activity during this key time (70-160) is happening in Western Turkey (in a province called Asia); some Christians are already moving westward into Europe, due presumably to persecution
Polycarp (b69 – d155) was said to be a pupil of John the apostle (b6 – d100). Polycarp was also a teacher of Irenaeus. In fact, Irenaeus claims that Polycarp sent him from Western Turkey (Smyrna) to France (a 1600 mile trek).
Polycarp’s motivation (if he had one) is unclear, but from what I’ve gathered, Christian persecution in western Turkey during this time was bad, and Lyon’s Christian population was growing as Turkish Christians migrated there to escape persecution.
According to Irenaeus, in 177, the bishop of Lyon (Ireneaus was supposedly the #2 in Lyon) sent Irenaues to deliver a letter to Pope Eleuteris, and while Irenaeus was out of town, there was a massacre in Lyon, where 48 people, including the bishop of Lyon, were killed. From there, Irenaeus claims authority in the church, and spends the next couple years writing a huge tome criticizing Gnostic Christians, who were also based in western Turkey. Wasn’t it lucky for Irenaeus that he happened to be out of town at this specific time? A more cynical person might assume that Irenaeus planned the whole thing, but I would never claim such a thing (*snickers*).
Aside from my favorite victim of Irenaeus (Marcion), one of the Gnostic Christians (gnosticism is rooted in Platonism) Irenaeus criticized was Cerinthus. Not much is known about Cerinthus, but one interesting characteristic of his version of Christianity was that he saw Jesus and the Christ as separable entities. He lived around the year 100, but we don’t know when he was born, nor when he died.
According to a story, told by Polycarp, and written about by Irenaeus, John the Apostle hated Cerinthus very much. After Irenaeus writes that, the very next sentence of “Against Heresies”has Irenaeus telling an anecdote of how Polycarp once met Marcion, and called him the “first-born of Satan”.
In this anecdote, I find more fodder for a hypothesis I have. In previous posts, I’ve written that I think Marcion wrote the Pauline letters and Irenaeus used those (modified) letters to incorporate in his canon. I’ve also suggested that, unlike the conventional wisdom that assumes Marcion modified the gospel of Luke for his own purposes, I think Luke used Marcion, and added a birth story.
So in my evolving picture of Irenaeus’ MO, he seeks out Christians from the previous generation, steals and modifies their writings to incorporate into his canon, and then commences to libel them in his book “Against Heresies” that he wrote after he seized control of the Lyon church after their tragic massacre.
One of the smoking guns I’ve found is a group of heretical Gnostic Christians in the 2nd and 3rd century (from…you guessed it: Turkey), called the Alogi. Not much is known about the Alogi, but the did seem to believe that Cerinthus wrote Revelations and the gospel of John (wait? What about John The Apostle!?!). Isn’t that interesting? John, the most Gnostic gospel in the New Testament, might have actually been written by a Gnostic Christian, as opposed to the orthodox elder through whom Irenaeus inherited his theology and history.
If the Alogi’s claims were true, then Polycarp’s link to John the Apostle is meaningless and/or fictitious, and therefore, Irenaeus’ claims about Polycarp are equally fictitious and suspect.
I do have another interesting finding: I’ve suspected that it was Irenaeus who wrote Acts of the Apostles, and who used Marcion’s gospel to write Luke (Luke and Marcion appear to be the same except for a few small details – Marcion begins at Luke Chapter 4…before that was the birth story and some other details).
There’s a disconnect between Matthew’s telling of Judas’ death (where he hanged himself), and Acts’ version, where his guts spilled out. Of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I would think Irenaeus would be most attracted to Matthew because of its strong Jewish undertones, but that’s just conjecture.
Here’s the Matthew 27:3-8 and Acts 1:18 accounts of Judas’ death
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day
(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.
There was another Turk, from Smyrna (where Irenaeus and Polycarp were from) who lived from 70 to 163 named Papias. His account of Judas’ death goes like this:
Judas walked about in this world a sad example of impiety; for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out.
So, we have Matthew talking about the “Field of Blood” that was purchased with Judas’ silver. Acts makes reference to that field, but has a much different fate; Papias’ writing is right in the middle – there’s no field, according to Papias, but his guts spilled out, as in Acts.
Once again, we might have a situation that fits the model I’ve been describing – Irenaeus steals information from his allies and enemies, and then whitewashes his victims out of history.