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.
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).
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:
- The theology Marcion inherited was Sethian, and Marcion removed the complex Gnostic myth (which was then re-inserted and modified by Valentinus)
- The theology Marcion inherited lacked the Sethian myth.
- (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.