Is The Gospel of Mark Gnostic?

As I have pointed out in several posts (ex. Jesus or the Christ), the Gospel of Mark’s users did not believe in the virgin birth.  This is detectable within the text of the Gospel of Mark, as it omits a birth narrative and gives clear indication that Jesus’s post-baptism behavior is entirely new, notably in Mark 3:21, when Jesus’s family considers locking him up because they believed he lost his mind.

We also glean from a variety of heresiologists, including Irenaeus of Lyon, in Against Heresies i.24, that one of Mark’s earliest consumers, Basilides, whose theology holds clear Gnostic attributes, believes that the Spirit, which an ordinary man Jesus absorbed at the time of his baptism, left him prior to his crucifixion, and jumped to Jesus’s cross bearer, Simon of Cyrene, who had been plucked from the field, and essentially becomes “the last” apostle which Jesus Christ mentioned in Mark 9:35, and who (in my opinion) is clearly foreshadowed in Mark 9:38 as the unnamed demon-caster who John complains to Jesus about.

The fact that Gnostic Christians used the Gospel of Mark does not necessarily mean that Mark was written with Gnostic intentions.  However, there is a passage in the Gospel of Mark 4:10-11 which reveals alternative motives.

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables

The above passage alludes to a mystery religion.  The defining characteristic of a mystery religion is that the literal components of the religion are obfuscated so that outsiders have limited access to the religion’s inner workings.  Jesus privately addressing his inner circle about hidden meaning in his words is a clear allusion to a deeper mystery.

This means decoding techniques which rely on modern literal intuition are not going to render the intended meaning.

Along with the theme of secrecy which is detectable throughout the Gospel, the specific attribute that makes Jesus so special, aside from his demon-casting abilities is that demons recognize him.  This paradigm is given almost immediately in the Gospel in Mark 1:23-24

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out,  “What do you want with us,Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

The above passage implies that malevolent spirits can inhabit humans.  But where did the malevolent spirits originate?  And how could they originate on an Earth which is governed by a benevolent God?  And what was that Je ne sais quoi about Jesus that triggered demons to lash out at him?

According to Irenaeus of Lyon, the Gnostic view of earth-originating demons is that the Cosmocrator is the ruler of the Earth.  The Cosmocrator, in Against Heresies i.5.4, is the “creature of the Demiurge” (the Demiurge was the Craftsman who created Earth).  This gave the Valentinian Gnostics the ability to offload the Craftsman’s malevolence onto the Cosmocrator; for the Valentinians, the Demiurge was more ignorant than malevolent.  Incidentally, this Demiurge-Cosmocrator relationship correlates to the dragon rendering his authority to “the beast” in Revelation 13:4.

According to Irenaeus, the Valentinians saw the Demiurge as “incapable of having knowledge of spiritual things”.  The Christ, which Jesus possessed, was a Spirit.  How then could the Demiurge’s minions, such as the demon-possessed man around the synagogue, have recognized Jesus in this context?

The Demiurge and his followers recognized Jesus because the Demiurge became aware of “spiritual things” after Jesus received the Christ!

In Mark 1:9-10, Jesus receives the Spirit via baptism:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

After Jesus was baptized and the dove descended carrying the Spirit, the heavens opened to express the lord’s pleasure.  Mark 1:12-13 has Jesus being instantly taken to the wilderness to be deposed by Satan:

 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tested by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

christ_in_the_wilderness_-_ivan_kramskoy_-_google_cultural_institute

Note that the wilderness (ἐρήμῳ / ἔρημον) to which Jesus was taken was the same wilderness mentioned around John the Baptist’s ministry:  “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance” (Mk 1:4).

The Demiurge’s ignorance of all things spiritual was transformed into hostility against the spiritual after he interrogated Jesus.  This awareness remains evident throughout Mark; for instance, with the demons from Mark 1:34, who knew who Jesus was.

The fact that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days is probably not inconsequential, as it may have been a multiple (as in other Jewish text, such as 2 Esdras 10:45) – consider my speculation that 40 days was equivalent to 4000 years, that would imply this interaction occurred prior to the Earth’s creation, which according to Rabbinical Chronology, occurred on October 7, 3761 BCE.  In other words, Satan’s attempted deal-making with Jesus would have occurred prior to creation, which means Satan was in control of the wilderness prior to the creation of the earth.  This would put Satan as the primary candidate for the Demiurge, or the creator of the world — hardly an Orthodox view of creation!  In Mark 1:13, Jesus “was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”  Incidentally, this allows for the Gospel of John’s assertion that “through him all things were made” (Jn 1:3).

Who are those angels and wild beasts?  In Gnostic traditions, the Demiurge’s fellow rulers (archons) were often represented as animal hybrids.  Likewise, according to various Gnostic and proto-Gnostic practitioners, the Earth was created by inferior angels.

Jesus’s presence during this time puts him as a candidate for a primal Adam.

What these details amount to is a Gospel which must have been more aware of Gnostic traditions than tradition purports.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

13 thoughts on “Is The Gospel of Mark Gnostic?”

  1. Hello Tim. This is a copy/paste comment/question from your previous post “The Naassenes.”

    I’m here on the suggestion of John Zande at TheSuperstitiousNakedApe, introducing myself as a former deconverted Reformed Theologically Seminary educated grad, 12-year church/missonary staffer, to see if YOU would like to be involved in an Arkanaten/John Zande and myself idea of a co-hosted, two-part, two seperate blog-posts joint effort covering…

    (My part) the highly problematic theological and Scriptural concept of Jewish Messianism, God Incarnate, the Nativity, Massacre of the Innocents, and Amazement at the Temple by a 12-year old followed by Trinitarianism… followed by the 2nd accompanying part/blog-post (your part?) of the severe LACK OF independent corroborating sources/evidence for all of the Gospel and Pauline narrations, exegesis, and Hellenistic-Christology he purported/sold to the Gentile world, again without truly exhaustive independent corroborations!

    Arkanaten and John Zande have recommended you if you are interested. If not, thanks anyway! 🙂

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    1. Sorry about the delayed response – I meant to respond to your last comment, and I have been thinking about it.

      I’d be happy to contribute to something like that. In terms of the lack of independent corroborating sources, the intuitive direction I’d be inclined to take is to look at specific details about who the Paulinists were, relying mostly on Heresiologists, and probably making visits to the inauthentic Pastorals, which (in my opinion) were crafted to rework Paul (in my own theory, Paul also went by Simon, and he was fictionalized in the Gospels as Simon of Cyrene, and was also foreshadowed in Mark 9:35-40).

      The contrast I’m concerned we might encounter is that I tend not to buy the traditional notion (as described in Acts) that Paul was a Johnny-come-lately who took the news to Antioch, Turkey, Greece, etc…so I’d be concerned that your message might get a little muddied by my musings.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No worries Tim on the delay — as I’m sure you know, this topic/topics are really deserving of exhaustive analysis and study requiring no small amount of time or effort. HAH! 😉

        I tend not to buy the traditional notion (as described in Acts) that Paul was a Johnny-come-lately who took the news to Antioch, Turkey, Greece, etc.

        Very intriguing Tim. Could you elaborate a bit more on this please and some on your (reciprocal by default) UNtraditional notions. I’m assuming they involve Simon of Cyrene, aka Saul/Paul, connections? Or is their a post or two here where you dive into this/these connection(s)?

        Also, in order NOT to clutter up your blog-comments here, should we exchange email addresses to discuss further?

        Many thanks Tim!

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      2. tim.claason@gmail.com

        Here’s a truncated version. I dive into this topic throughout my blog. Here’s a page that organizes my thoughts on the matter: https://timsteppingout.wordpress.com/christ-myth-theory/

        In terms of the traditional narrative, I don’t think they can be correct. As R. Eisenman points out, pre-Paul Saul is probably in reference to the Saulus who Josephus mentions in Antiquities 20, who is a Herodian. Likewise, Simon Magus of Acts 8 bears striking resemblance (and this is born out throughout the pseudo-Clementines) to a Herodian ally named Simon (sometimes translated as Atomus) that Josephus mentions in Antiquities 20, and who was a Cypriot. Josephus’s Simon convinced Herodian princess Drusilla to divorce her husband to marry the Procurator Felix; Josephus omits Simon’s tactics, but what occurs to me (having some interest in 1st century magicians) is that Simon would have used “love potions” as part of his strategy (admittedly, this is not the most economical speculation).

        When you merge together Simon Magus from Acts 8 with the Cypriot magician, bar Jesus, in Acts 13:6-, who Paul strikes blind, what you get is Josephus’s Cypriot, Simon.

        Acts 11:20 tells us that men from Cyprus and Cyrene were the first to go to Antioch to preach the word. Therefore, when we read in Acts 13:1 that Simon the Niger was preaching along with Barnabus and Saul, what becomes clear is that Acts is an impossibly interwoven obfuscation which attempted to historicize Gospel stories which were written to highlight the roles of particular leaders at the time.

        Bottom line: everything in Acts is suspect, although there’s probably nuggets of truth hiding in there (this is the critical consensus anyway).

        Here’s the problem: when we assemble the list of heretical sects mentioned by the heresiologists, many of them seem to be Paulinists. Given that some of the earliest polemics written in Christian literature were against Paul, and that many of those texts equate Paul and Simon Magus, it seems to me that an equally plausible narrative is that a non-Judaized sect were the originators. The fact that some of these polemics put Simon Magus as a student of John the Baptist (!) increases this likelihood, and leads me to believe the entire tradition is a clever obfuscation and inversion of what actually happened. The fact that the surviving John the Baptist sect, the Mandaeans, are simultaneously Gnostic and anti-Jesus adds some weight to this speculation.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Fascinating Tim! I like your approach and analysis to Simon Magus, Josephus, Simon the Niger, Barnabus, and Saul/Paul. This is a new angle I hadn’t thought of nor had I read about outside of Robert Eisenmann inferences perhaps — he is by the way, one of my favorite, reliable biblical historians I reference quite often.

        Nevertheless, I did send you a personal email about all this. Thanks again Tim!

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  2. Another thing why Mark is gnostic in origin is that he erroneously describes Judea especially Jerusalem sometimes, which makes some scholars think that the author of Mark is probably a diasporic Jew or he’s not a resident of Judea or he’s never been to Judea at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right! Clearly he doesn’t seem familiar with the geography of Judea…although, there is one famous example of him going to Tyre – a very inefficient route. I think this was added as a reference to Simon Magus’s Helen, who was also from Tyre…

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  3. When one accepts the Jesus of the Bible as fictional, it is far easier to see the motives of those involved. I am currently reading “The Jesus Wars” which focuses on the fourth through sixth centuries and the wild number of different Christologies, all of which are supported by scripture and tradition. The “winner” of the war was determined by politics and weaponry, not scripture and tradition. When you add in the fact that all of the scripture was propaganda with a spin built in, it is possible to trace the influences as you have done … but as to how those influences shaped modern Christianity, well they didn’t so much as the politics did. Scriptures supported a very wide range of interpretations, which allowed for Christianity to create a “big tent” of followers, which were then recast as true believers (or trimmed off in massive prunings in the time period above).

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  4. Aside from the geographical errors in Mark that Matthew seems to correct, Matthew is also correcting Jesus’s odd angry behavior and some scholars noted that Matthew’s Greek is more refined than Mark’s. It makes me wonder why Mark needs to have an extra appendix (Mk 16:9-20) to be added later? I don’t think that the original copy of Mark has the appendix but I think the scribes who copied them by hand decided to add it just because the Jesus Mark describes is not human enough unlike Matthew and Luke.

    I have a feeling in the original gospel of Mark especially after 16:8, there’s a continuation but it was removed because of reasons unknown. It doesn’t make sense to me that they’re ending Mark’s gospel with a man in a white robe telling the three women to go after Peter and tell him and the others that Jesus is in the place they laid him. This is pure speculation from me but it seems that the early Catholic Church is not a fan of Mark’s ending and it’s probably a docetic one so they decided to remove it. Then scribes of the 4th to 5th century stepped in and decided to add the appendix so that Mark’s ending will make sense which made its way to modern translations like the KJV which uses an errant copy Textus Receptus where Erasmus decided to translate back an already translated Latin Vulgate back to Greek which led to much more errors.

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