The Out-of-Egypt Theory And An Alternative

My current Out-of-Egypt theory (I’m not the first person to call it this) is that Christianity was born in Alexandria in the late 1st century.  It’s earliest stages can be traced to an evolving mystical Hellenized Judaism, found notably in the Book of Enoch, and popular by the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, remaining popular in the 1st century CE.  Among other things, the Book of Enoch borrowed from Greek traditions the notion that deity-types could reproduce with human women to create separate classes of human beings; this idea seems to have been borrowed from Greek myths, notably in stories about Zeus.

One important person within this branch of Judaism was Philo of Alexandria, and his notions of God’s word, the Logos, a Platonic/Pythagorean concept, which gave rise to the later notion of the Christian Demiurge, which translates to craftsman.  The Demiurge was a necessary concept in any philosophy, because the dilemma was how [and why] would a perfect, eternal deity, existing outside of space and time, create this imperfect material realm.  The notion of the Demiurge resolved that dilemma (arguably better than modern Christianity solves it).

Philosophical lodges flourished around Alexandria, with eventual late 1st and early 2nd century manifestations such as Hermeticism and Sethian Christianity.  Gnostic (Sethian) Christianity worked its way to Northern Turkey (Asia Minor) via trade routes which connected Alexandria, Syria, Ephesus, and Sinope.  These philosophical groups were influenced by their brand of Diaspora Judaism, but also had plenty of Pagan and Egyptian influences, such as the notion that a secondary God (Anubis) helps to guide the dead through the stars (which were considered rulers of the universe) for judgement (by Osiris); convicted souls were doomed to be consumed by Ammit, a lion-hippopotamus who lived near a lake of fire.

Samaria_Jerus_Pella_Sinope_Ephesus

One of the earliest Christian writers, Cerinthus, authored the book of Revelation (John’s Apocalypse) in the late 1st or early 2nd century.

Cerinthus, by means of revelations which pretend to be written by a great apostle, speaking falsely, introduces wonders which he speaks of as if they had been shown to him by angels, saying that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ was to be on earth, and that again men in bodily form would live in Jerusalem and be subject to lusts and pleasures. And being an enemy to the Scriptures, and wishing to lead astray, lie affirms that a thousand years will be spent in marriage feasting

-Caius, Roman Presbyter C 200CE

Cerinthus’ successor, Marcion, wrote a Gospel very similar to Mark and/or Luke in the first decades of the 2nd century.  Marcion modeled his messiah after Jesus ben Ananias, a Jew in Jerusalem he had read about in Josephus’ War of the Jews, who rambled about end-of-days (“Woe to Jerusalem”), and who was rejected by Jews in Judea.  Marcion’s gospel functioned as both religious text and as a prototype for dramatic performances (Galatians 3:1:  “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified”).  Marcion used, and probably wrote, the “authentic” Pauline letters as implementation notes for the theology.

Prophet-desperate Jews between Jerusalem and Antioch found Cerinthus’ philosophy and Marcion’s messiah depiction appealing, but were hesitant to reject Jewish law.  By the early 130s, a schism occurred between Jamesian Christians, who authored the Gospel of Matthew, and Marcionite Christians.  The Jamesian Christians, otherwise known as the Ebionites, created their own, law-friendly Jesus, which adjusted Marcion’s Jesus to be adamant that its followers remain adherant to Mosaic law.  We see Marcion’s lamentation of this in Galatians, where he opposed Cephas to his face for giving into “certain men from James”, and as a result, stopped eating with Gentiles.

The Jamesians countered Marcion’s attacks with counter-attacks of their own, where they cast Marcion as extremely vain.  These attacks are evident in the James epistle (James 2:20:  “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”), as well as the Shepherd of Hermas

Mandate 11:  “And he, the false prophet, having no power of a divine Spirit in himself, speaketh with them according to their enquiries [and according to the lusts of their wickedness], and filleth their souls as they themselves wish.”.

Within a few years, the Valentinians in Syria (not Alexandria or Carthage, as many presume), the Johannines in Ephesus (western Turkey), and the Montanists in Phrygia (central Turkey) branched off from an emerging Orthodoxy which had adopted several tenets of the Jamesian Christianity, which might have originated in Palestine (Pella).  Among other things, I suspect the Valentinians contributed to the Pauline library; these contributions probably included the letter to the Ephesians, as well as Colossians.

In the following decades, starting in the early 140s (the years following Rome’s sound defeat of the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt), an increased lobbying campaign began among many of these Christian groups in an attempt to gain acceptance from Rome.  This campaign can be seen in apologies written by Justin Martyr and Melito of Sardis, among many others.

The most effective power grab in the growing Christian community occurred in the early 180s, when Irenaeus wrote his tome Against Heresies, in which he declared that every sect, save for the Johannines (Polycarp specifically) were wrong in their theology; he specifically targeted the Marcionites and Valentinians in this text.  Irenaeus’ work lay the groundwork for what Catholicism was to become.  Within another decade, a work known as Refutation of All Heresies, purportedly (but probably not) written by Hippolytus, was written to reiterate Irenaeus’ earlier positions.

One of Christianity’s earliest purveyors, Cerinthus, was hodge-podged into a character within the emerging story, John, son of Zebedee, and Marcion was hodge-podged into Paul.  This series of adjustments probably took a long time, as evidenced by this 11th century depiction of Marcion (right) meeting with John the Apostle (left) (Marcion was presumably active decades after John the Apostle died).

Apostle_John_and_Marcion_of_Sinope,_from_JPM_LIbrary_MS_748,_11th_c

The Out-of-Egypt theory is not without its problems.  One problem centers around Marcion and Valentinus.  Marcion and Valentinus both presumed the God of the Jews was Yaldabaoth, the lesser God of Moses.  To Marcion and Valentinus, Yaldabaoth was not the God who sent Jesus.  Adding to their similarity, both Marcion and Valentinus were fanatical consumers of Paul.

The Sethians of Alexandria had a Gnostic myth which was very similar to the Valentinians, but presumably much more Gnostic than Marcion’s theology – as it stands, modern scholarship does not presume Marcion had an elaborate Gnostic myth like the Sethians and Valentinians.

How could it be that the Valentinians found such a synthesis between Marcion and the Sethians?

In order for the Out-of-Egypt theory to work, one might presume one of the following:

  1.  The theology Marcion inherited was Sethian, and Marcion removed the complex Gnostic myth (which was then re-inserted and modified by Valentinus)
  2. The theology Marcion inherited lacked the Sethian myth.
  3. (Perhaps the most likely) We’re missing crucial details about Marcion’s cosmogony and theology

Although there is some economy to each of these assumptions, there might be a simpler model:  Christianity originated in Turkey.

This Out-of-Turkey solution explains why there were so many tremendously popular Christian groups in Turkey:  the Johannines, the Marcionites, and the Montanists.

The Out-of-Turkey (Asia Minor) theory presumes that either the Sethians were later than the Valentinians, or that the Valentinians did indeed synthesize Marcion, as well as adopting certain Gnostic portions of the Sethian myth, while themselves influencing the Sethians by encouraging the integration of the Christ.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

9 thoughts on “The Out-of-Egypt Theory And An Alternative”

    1. Thanks John. One of the things I didn’t mention in this post is that I’ve been becoming increasingly skeptical of the claim that there were Sethian Christians in the 1st century. I just find no evidence for it at all…the only way I can tell people derive this date is by the assumption that Christianity existed in mid-1st century Judea and the Diaspora…a claim which I also think is weak.

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  1. If one were going to create a theology out of whole cloth in Turkey, wouldn’t the setting for it be rather Turkey? Linking the new religion to an older one is rife with difficulties especially concerning settings, first-hand knowledge of the scriptures, etc.

    Or were the benefits of making something be an offshoot of Judaism that large?

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    1. Good point.

      I think the earliest Christianity was a rejection of Judaism and its prophets, which necessitated the setting. Consider that the Gospel of Mark doesn’t seem to know anything at all about the geography or customs of the area…it’s as if the author had never been there. If Marcion played a role in crafting the Synoptic narrative, then it stands to reason why it is that the author seems so oblivious to life in Judea…it’s because he was from Turkey, and hanging out in Rome.

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    2. Another point I would make about your comment is that things were bad, and getting worse, for Jews in the Eastern part of the empire. Bar Kokhba was just around the corner (mid-to-late 130s), and there had been tensions for several lifetimes between Jews and Rome.

      From that perspective, I think it was easy for Jews to start wondering how God’s “chosen people” could have experienced such persecution for so long…the wealthy elites (Marcion was by all accounts the equivalent of a multi-millionaire) would have had some time and philosophical background to ponder this…if Marcion was familiar with a “Sethian” strain of Christianity, then perhaps he cherry-picked what he liked from it, and then ran with it.

      Coupled with the Gnostic underpinnings of the Pauline theology, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that people would start considering alternative readings of the Old Testament (Septuagint); Gnosticism certainly did that – it inverted everything.

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  2. Hi. Thank you so much for this and mentioning the late DM Murdock’s article. She wrote in her book Christ in Egypt on the Alexandrian roots of Christianity. She wrote:

    “One group of the Hellenizing Egyptian Jews, or, rather, “Hebrews of a fashion,” was deemed the “Therapeuts”, a type of monastic community centered at Alexandria, with similar groups elsewhere around the Mediterranean…” (433-434ff)

    I don’t know if you agree with her second century dating on the canonical gospels (which Dr. Robert M. Price agrees, see his book The Pre-Nicene New Testament) but in pages 486-495 she discussed about Marcion and his gospel being the origin of Luke’s gospel as well as his cognizance of Gnosticism in Alexandria. In her other book Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of the Christ, she analyzed the Lukan prologue and exploited it to show that the Lukan gospel was written later by using the testimonies of the Early Church Fathers like Origen (Homily on Luke 1:1), Epiphanius (Panarion), and Jerome (Commentary on Matthew) as to who are the heretical “many” in Luke’s prologue. I don’t know if you have read Charles Burlingame Waite’s History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two Hundred but he made the case that it was the Church fathers (Polycarp? See Price’s TPNNT) corrupted Marcion’s gospel and added Judaizing elements while using Mark to flesh out the Luke gospel.

    One apologetics tactic for the early gospel dates are writings of Justin Martyr (100-165 AD). It doesn’t require so much to figure out that he is not quoting any of the four canonical gospels but rather, some other gospel(s) with similarities. In his Dialogue with Trypho (chapter 78), he mentioned that Jesus was born in a manger inside a cave. That pericope is absent to both Matthew and Luke but present in the Protoevangelion of James.

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    1. I do agree with DM Murdock that the canonical gospels were 2nd century, although my suspicion is that the Marcion’s gospel was more Mark-like…but then again, if you take Luke, remove elements of Jesus’ humanity, such as his birth, it looks like Mark anyway…Irenaeus even went so far as to say that the Docetics used the Gospel of Mark, where the Ebionites used Matthew.

      Specifically, I think Marcion’s gospel could have been as early as 110-120, but probably no earlier. I also agree that the major revamping (Acts of the Apostles, Pastorals, etc) were Johannine and/or Syrian in origin, and occurred over a 30-40 year period, beginning in the mid-130s, which is also around the time Galatians was written. In that sense, I might be 10-20 years earlier than Murdock and others, but I really do believe Marcion was active by 115 or so.

      I am familiar with another of Waite’s works, but not the one you mention…I will check it out though. In my opinion, scholars were really getting close to figuring this all out in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but for some reason, scholarship really faltered in the 20th and 21st century, except for a few rare cases (Murdock and Price for example…Deterring and Rene Salm are also doing fantastic work, as well as the other modern “radicals”).

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