In my write-up about how I think Christianity was a martyr cult which recycled Josephus characters to construct the Synoptic narrative, I made reference to a person/sect who, in my opinion, was one of the most important developers of Christianity: Carpocrates.
Carpocrates is described by Irenaeus (in Against Heresies i.25) as being a magician, not too dissimilar from Josephus’ account of the messiah magician who took his followers to the Jordan River, promised salvation, and was beheaded: John the…erm…oh wait. Not John the Baptist. Theudas!
As I mentioned in a Youtube video I made about Carpocrates, I think Carpocrates was a sort of synthesis between Cerinthus who believed there was a fall from the Godhead, and the Ebionites, who held similar views about Jesus, but did not believe there was a fall from the Godhead (Yahweh was the highest God for the Ebionites).
One of the tenets of the Carpocratians, aside from being clear forerunners of Gnostic Christianity, was that they believed the soul must undergo a tremendous amount of experiences so that they could surrender their material elements to the archons and return to the highest God. In that sense, there is clear Osiris-cult influence, where Jesus would have assumed the role of Anubis (in Greek mythology, it was Hermes) – consider the Gospel of John 14:6 in this context: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Irenaeus even wrote that the “very last farthing” passage that is found in both Matthew and Luke was elemental to the Carpocration philosophy, particularly their view on this broad set of experiences.
Thus, we see a compelling link between Carpocrates and Simon Magus (an obscured doppelganger of the Apostle Paul), as Simon Magus used his female companion Helen as evidence of a transmigrated soul trapped on Earth (AH i.23).
Consider an implication of soul transmigration within this paradigm: if a soul failed to engage in the appropriate type and number of mystical activities, it would be migrated to another body, which would have meant (among other things) that it would need to re-join the Christian sect and re-attain its position within the mystery in order to continue its material journey. It is easy to imagine why Carpocratians would have been so motivated to get all that work out of the way in their current lifetime. In this context, it is also easy to imagine magical and mystical rituals which the group might have conjured in the attempt to direct the soul after death to the newer body, or perhaps initiation rituals performed for newborns.
One of the speculations I have made is that I believe Marcion came out of some formulation or interaction of the Cerinthians, Ebionites, and Carpocratians, and it was Marcion (and not Paul) who laments undue Ebionite (men from James) influence on Peter, who can actually be identified with Cerinthus. Below is a rough model of how I see this evolution:
It was out of this dynamic which arose the Synoptic narrative, and all its conflicts – the Cerinthians had the Gospel of Mark, the Ebionites had Matthew, and the Carpocratians (and later Marcionites) had proto-Luke – none of the earliest Gospels would have had a birth narrative; the birth story appears to have been added fairly early (at the latest, the time of Justin Martyr C 150) by the Nazarenes, who were an offshoot of the Ebionites, but must had some other pagan influence which compelled their belief in a virgin birth; interestingly, the Carpocratians seemed to have much pagan influence.
In Marcion’s (Paul’s) bitch-fest about the political breakdown that arose from such a diverse group of players in the early church, he mentions that he went to Jerusalem and saw none of the other apostles except James. He assures the reader he was not lying:
Only after three years did I go up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie
In my post about the martyr cult, I link James to the character described by Josephus in Antiquities (xx.9), who was the victim of Hanan ben Hanan‘s illegal Sanhedrin trial, which resulted in his death. In the aftermath, Pontius Pilate’s later (30 years) successor, Albinus, appointed Jesus bar Damneus to the high priest position.
Suppose this speculation is correct.
How would Paul’s reference to James have read to an early (120-140) Christian reader? To the Montanists, who were very close to Galatia in central Turkey, they may have read this passage differently than we read it, as they imagined a new Jerusalem to exist in Central Turkey, rather than the one in Judea. They spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and to pray, so that they might share these revelations. In other words, their Christian cult centered around having and sharing mystical visions.
This mystical visionary inclination was not unique to the Montanists. The Valentinians, Syrian Thomasites, and Ephesian Johannines were all practitioners of this visionary mysticism. The Marcionite theological fountainhead Paul, constantly made reference to such visionary mysticism, particularly in 2 Corinthians 12, which I assert was a reference to Cerinthus’ Book of Revelation, which (I speculate) he had evolved from the Elkesite book from heaven:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell
Here’s The Point
Paul’s reference to seeing James was neither truthful nor intended to be consumed as a literal, material phenomena – that is why such a pedestrian claim that Paul saw Jamesin Jerusalem required the postscript that he was not lying. Marcion, a post-Carpocratian, was describing a mystical experience to people who were near a geographical location where they invented themselves a “New Jerusalem“, and seeing James was Paul’s “evidence” that he had a legitimate mystical visionary experience.
I begin to suspect, given this array of data, that the Gospel story was one of the first texts revealed to practitioners (see Gal 3:1), which probably would have eventually raised questions in the initiates’ minds, in terms of how to interpret and implement Christianity (this would of course depend on the background of the community and the individual – more Ebionite-type communities would have had serious pushback against any command to violate Jewish law). This inconsistency and confusion, along with other initiation rituals, would have led to epistle consumption. The later stage, which Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 12, was reading whatever version of Revelation the particular Christian community had.
To the upper echelon in the Christian community, they probably would have recognized these Gospel characters as Josephus characters, as Josephus was one of the most widely read historians of the time; yet, we might presume that the upper echelon remained in the cult, despite eerie similarities between the Gospel characters and Josephus’ historical players. If that is the case, the upper echelon might have remained in the cult, either because they were in on the lie, or because these early Christians imagined themselves to be reincarnations of those Josephus characters whose deaths (and martyrdoms) they could confirm.
Further Reading: The Christ Myth Theory