Is The Gospel of Mark Gnostic? (Part 2)

In my previous post about detectable Gnosticism in and around the Gospel of Mark, I discussed one of Mark’s presumed earliest consumers, Basilides.  The key feature of Basilides, and so many others, is that they omitted the virgin birth in their theology, believing instead that a transient spirit descended onto Jesus at the time of his baptism – a feature still extant in Mark’s Gospel.

This transient spirit hopped to Simon of Cyrene, the unknown stranger plucked from the field by Roman soldiers, and who was, in my opinion, foreshadowed as the Jesus’s last disciple and unnamed demon caster in Mark 9:35-40.

An intriguing question emerges in the Basilidean worldview:  what makes Simon of Cyrene so special?  Why is he placed specifically at the end of the story and given such a revered and sacred responsibility?

One speculation is that the Gospel story was simply a parable which described how the sacred Spirit, emanated from Elxai’s 96 mile tall sky angels, made its way into the human body.

Another speculation, and one which I prefer, is that Simon of Cyrene was a stand-in for the real inspiration behind the Gospel theology, Paul.   Paul was referred to as Simon by his theological adversaries, the Ebionites (Ir AH i.26.2).  Like Simon, Paul boasted of bearing Jesus Christ’s cross (Gal 6:14).

Like the Spirit, names seem to have been transient in Christianity.  A propensity for pseudonyms in early Christianity is confirmed in Lucian’s Passing of Peregrinus – in it Lucian says “I have heard that he no longer deigns to be called Proteus but has changed his name to Phoenix”.  Lucian also quips “He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god…”.  Compare this polemic in Lucian to a similar sect Irenaeus of Lyon referred to as the Carpocratians: “…some of them declare themselves similar to Jesus; while others, still more mighty”.  The Carpocratians also believed “[Jesus Christ] perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God”.

Consider my parallelomanic assembly:  The Christ bounced from person to person, and this Spirit went to Simon of Cyrene.  Suppose this Gospel activity occurred in “the realm of the unbegotten God”.  I have made the case Simon of Cyrene was a cipher for Paul.  Paul claimed to remember details which would only have made sense if he had perfect memory of his pre-birth (1 Corin 15:8, Gal 4:19); what we have in Paul is a Christ (messianic/Paraclete) claimant, similar to Simon Magus.  In this context, assuming the Basilideans played a role in Mark’s construction, then Jesus Christ is simply a cipher for Paul.

Consider another tact to investigate the Gospel’s Gnosticism:  let’s put Mark’s discrepancies from Matthew and Luke in the spotlight.  It is most reasonable to presume the contents of Mark preceded Matthew and Luke for a number of reasons, notably because it rarely contains content not contained in Matthew or Luke.  When there are small deviations between Mark and the other two Synoptics, it is usually Matthew or Luke correcting awkward language or technical errors, such as geographic or cultural goofs.

There are only a few passages in Mark not present in either Matthew or Luke.  In my theory, these passages ought to have Gnostic, or Gnostic-parallel elements in them.  Indeed, I think they do.

The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

These agricultural tropes were common in Christian literature.  When one allows for the fact that Simon of Cyrene was plucked from the field, rather than the more commonly translated “country”, this feeds into the Basilidean view.  Simon of Cyrene was presumably not expecting to be forced to carry Jesus Christ’s cross.  Likewise, if one believes Simon is foreshadowed in Mark 9:35-40, the reader is left to wonder how Simon got the power to cast out demons if Jesus never granted such authority.  This question is not answered in the text, as far as I can tell.  But this notion of planting seeds in the field is likely a reference to the field in which the New Jerusalem will emerge (2 Esdras 10:3, 2 Esdras 10:27).  This notion of the New Jerusalem is also found in Revelation 21:2  – where the city emerges “as a bride adorned for her husband” – Revelation shares a common feature with 2 Esdras: the woman is the city.   In other words, the woman will mark the rebirth of Jerusalem.

This concern for a New Jerusalem is prominent with the Montanists, who were located in central Turkey, near Galatia.  The Montanists (and presumably generations before them), settled into central Turkey to make it the New Jerusalem.  They were planting seeds in the New Jerusalem.

The Healing of the Deaf Mute (Mark 7:31-37)

Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. 

This might be a reference to the tradition of Paul becoming temporarily blind, which also seems to be inverted in Acts 13:11, when Paul tells bar Jesus “And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun”.  Of course, one reason Matthew’s community might have disliked this story is because Jesus is seemingly performing a parochial magic act, something Jewish communities would have grimaced at.  But if this tradition of Jesus as a magician was the original one, then that would mean the Simon Magus traditions perhaps were also original.

The Healing of the Blind Man (Mark 8:22-26)

Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?”  And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

Once again, we see an aspect of Jesus’s magic unique to Mark.  And once again, this calls into question Paul’s blindness on the Damascus Road.  It was sky-Jesus who gave Paul his sight back; in Mark, Jesus performed a similar act more than once.  Again, Acts seems, in my opinion, to be a sophisticated inversion of the earlier tradition.

The Naked Fugitive (Mark 14:51-52)

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

There are many interpretations of this text, but to me, this appears to be a metaphor with relation to the Christ Spirit, which inhabits the Paraclete’s body.  The surviving Islamic tradition, that Jesus tricked the Romans, conveys a similar sentiment.  They caught the linen-clothed boy, but he ran off, leaving the cloth with them.  If the point of the Gospel was to prepare the reader (audience) for the Spirit hopping, a scene like this would have served to butter the audience up for the main event.


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.


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.

The Naassenes

In Refutation of All Heresies, Hippolytus describes a Gnostic sect he called the Naassenes.  According to Hippolytus, the Naassenes were the first Christians to be called Gnostics.

Hippolytus wrote “The Naasseni ascribe their system, through Mariamne, to James the Lord’s brother”.  The Naassenes were concerned with the first man (Adamas) and had a system consistent with other Gnostic sects, which included a material paradigm which had 3 classes of men: material, psychic, and spiritual.  This trinitarian view of man is consistent with the Valentinians.

“Naas” is a reference to the serpent; this elevation of the serpent in Genesis is not unlike other Gnostic sects, or other groups between Syria and Alexandria.  The serpent represented the “moist essence of the universe”.  This puts the Naassenes in a similar category as the Ophites or Sethians, who believed the serpent in Eden was the Logos of God sent from heaven to rescue Eve and Adam from the rulers of material.


In the Paul/James Christian dichotomy tradition, which presumes a divergence between Judaized and Greek Christians in the late 1st century, the Naassenes are a puzzle.  For instance, Hippolytus explains that the Naassenes are understood through a passage in Romans – Romans 1:27

And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

There is dissonance here, in terms of their awareness of Paul.  Hippolytus writes this James-reverent group used a Pauline letter.  Of course, the fact that this Pauline passage is about homosexuality may reveal Hippolytus was constructing a polemic.  It might also be the case that Hippolytus was incorect, lying, or mis-attributing details to this group.

But I do not think any of these alternatives are correct.  One of the central Naassene tenets was that the primal man was androgynous – again, in parallel to the Valentinians.  It is therefore not unexpected that the Naassenes practiced homosexuality within their sect.

Also noted about the so-called “Naassene fragment“, which is a portion of the text Hippolytus claimed belonged to the Naassenes, is that it relied on excerpts from 1 and 2 Corinthians, as well as Galatians and Ephesians.  The reference to Ephesians, at least to this writer, is unanticipated, as it is viewed by many critical scholars as being inauthentic.  A solution here is either the Naassenes sprang up after Paul’s authentic letters had already been written (assuming Pauline forgeries only began after Paul’s death), or Ephesians was forged in Paul’s lifetime.  Alternatively, Ephesians is at least partially authentic.

The explanatory factor in the Naassene fragment is its awareness of the Gospel of Thomas.  Hippolytus states:

They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled “According to Thomas,” which states expressly, “The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed

I have described the bridge between Jamesian Christianity and Pauline Christianity in terms of the Gospel of Thomas in other posts.  There are 2 separate logia within the Gospel of Thomas which clarify the matter.  In one saying within Thomas, the disciples ask Jesus who they should follow, and Jesus responds that they should follow James, because the heavens and the Earth were constructed for him.

In another saying, Jesus told his disciples that they should be on the lookout for one not born of a woman.  I have made the argument that this saying in Thomas explains why Paul made references to “pains of his childbirth” (Gal 4:19), and being born of a miscarriage (ektroma) (1 Cor 15:7-8) in the context of Christ revealing himself to James prior to revealing himself to Paul.

I have also made the case that this reference in Thomas to “one not being born of a woman” is simultaneously a reference to the Paraclete, or the subsequent recipient of the  Christ Spirit in the current generation, along with being the prototype of the virgin birth.  The Gospel of Mark, in my opinion, is a pro-Paul drama which has his doppelganger, Simon of Cyrene, being the new recipient of the Christ Spirit after Cephas and the other disciples abandon him.

In my post about Elxai, I pointed out that he had two 96 mile tall spirits in the sky, and he led a group of Essenes, Ebionites, Nasaraenes, and Nazarenes.  Critical scholars have pointed out the relationship between the Ebionites and Nazarenes; the distinguishing factor was the belief in the virgin birth – the Nazarenes were essentially Ebionite 2.0.  I also pointed out that Elxai believed the Christ had reincarnated several times across many generations, undergoing different birth circumstances each time.

The connection here is that Paul was taking up this tradition; his awareness of pains from childbirth, along with odd circumstances he claimed about his birth, was an invocation of Paraclete attributes.  The fact that Paul is so often considered a reworking of Simon Magus is not inconsequential, considering that Simon Magus, like Jesus Christ, had a female companion attached at the hip – Helen.

The significance of the Naassene reverence to Mariamne is critical here, especially in light of Mariamne being a disciple of James.  The James-Mariamne relationship is synonymous with the Simon-Helen relationship, as well as so many other repetitions of this motif.  Marcus the Magician had a Deacon’s wife that he went around with; the Marcionite Apelles had a Philumene; Montanus had 2 female companions.  And Jesus Christ had Mary Magdelaine.

In other words, these early Christian leaders believed themselves to be earthly incarnations of the masculine and feminine spirits which were proposed by Elxai.  James and Mary were just another in a long line; however, Paul’s awareness of James probably indicates that James (and Cephas) preceded him.  In light of the Naassene awareness of Paul, the Naassenes might represent a snapshot in time prior to a fallout between Jamesian and Pauline Christians.  And James…he was just another in a long line of Jesus Christs.

Revelation And The Jewish Temple

There are a couple keys needed to decipher much of Revelation.  The first comes from Josephus, and an unassuming description of the temple veil in the (second) Jewish temple in Wars 5.5.4

It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple: and of a contexture that was truly wonderful.

Revelation makes reference to the linen of the second temple, along with other ornate decor around the temple in Rev 18:12

…merchandise of gold and silver and precious stone and pearls and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet…

Incidentally, this same veil ripped in two after Jesus was crucified in the Gospel of Matthew 27:51 and Luke 23:45.

Revelation seems to make references to the 2nd temple’s decor, but it associates these colors, along with stones and cups, to the whore of Babylon.

Revelation 16:19

God remembered Babylon and the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath

Revelation 17:4-6

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations…and upon her forehead a name written, MYSTERY, BABLYON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE HARLOTS…I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people

Revelation 18:2

And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons…

Josephus references the gold cup in Wars 1.7.6

it was not lawful for any to enter but the high priest, and saw what was reposited therein, the candlestick with its lamps, and the table, and the pouring vessels, and the censers, all made entirely of gold

The temple’s golden censer shows up in Revelation 8:5 when the angel used it to throw fire at the earth after the seventh seal was opened.

The recurring theme of the latter half of Revelation is the personification, as a whore, of the scarlet Babylonian curtain, and the structure in which it resided, the 2nd Jewish temple.

The implication is that the Christian sect(s) who wrote Revelation were hostile to the 2nd temple.

One can surmise many reasons for a growing antipathy towards the temple: perhaps it was a psychological strategy after the temple was destroyed.  Another possibility is that Jewish Christians became hostile at a perceived corruption and embrace of Roman ideals within the temple walls, notably by the Sadduceees, who were accused of being pro-Roman.

But as I have written in prior posts, I believe the key to unlocking this antipathy is in Revelation 12.  Below are excerpts:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads...But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands

In Revelation 19:6, the rushing waters ties up the loose thread of the woman being protected by earth via its swallowing of the dragon’s river.

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder

Revelation 21:2 gives the new mother’s triumphant return into the New Jerusalem – she was the bride dressed for her husband.

 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them

Another key to this riddle is in 1 Enoch XLII

Wisdom found no place where she might dwell; Then a dwelling-place was assigned her in the heavens.

Wisdom went forth to make her dwelling among the children of men, And found no dwelling-place:

Wisdom returned to her place,And took her seat among the angels.

And unrighteousness went forth from her chambers:Whom she sought not she found,And dwelt with them,

1 Enoch and Revelation describe the same woman: Wisdom.  Wisdom was the Spirit which underlies the Holy City.  She can be found in 2 Esdras 9:38.  She turns into the holy city in 2 Esdras 10:26-27

I looked with my eyes and saw a woman to my right. She was lamenting and crying with a loud voice, and she was experiencing deep grief. Her clothes were torn, and there were ashes on her head… While I was speaking to her, look! Suddenly her face shone brightly and her countenance became a flashing splendor. I became afraid of her, and I wondered what was happening.  Without warning she let out a noise, a great voice full of fear, so that the earth itself shook with the sound. I watched, and she no longer appeared to me as a woman, but there was a city built, and a place with great foundations appeared…

Who is Wisdom?  She was the lady of the temple.  But not the second temple:  the second temple was occupied by the whore in scarlet; rather, the lady was of the 1st temple.


The point of Revelation is to explain how the Woman, who was the original iteration of the Holy Spirit (IMHO) would come back to Earth, despite not finding a place “where she might dwell” the first time.  But this time, when she came back, she would bring her son, whom the dragon (Satan, the Demiurge, Rome, Babylon) attempted to eat.

The woman’s other children, the Nasar, would reserve her holy spot on Earth, despite theological resistance given in the book which King Josiah’s high priest found – major portions of Deuteronomy (portions of Moses’s Law).  This is traditionally referred to as the Deuteronomic reform, which was a Jewish reform which purged various idols from the temple and Orthodox Judaism, including the lady, who was also called the Queen of Heaven; her followers expressed lament in Jeremiah 44:18-19, when they told Jeremiah that their troubles, including famine, disease, and the destruction of the first temple, was due to their failure to burn incense for the queen of heaven.

This connection between the Nasar and the theological descendants of those displaced by the Deuteronomic reform is amplified by Epiphanius, who described them as rejecting the Pentateuch.  The Nasar rejected the Pentateuch because they rejected the Deuteronomic reform.  Instead, they believed they had the real writings of Moses, which would have left room for the Queen’s Wisdom.

Revelation describes the fate of the woman (the scarlet-wearing whore) of the 2nd temple.  Her demise was brought on by “…great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent” (Rev 16:20).  Josephus gives a parallel description of what Revelation’s author is referring to in Wars 3.7.9 – it was Vespasian’s siege engines, which killed Jesus ben Ananias (Wars 6.5.3), and helped knock down the 2nd temple:

At the same time such engines as were intended for that purpose threw at once lances upon them with a great noise, and stones of the weight of a talent were thrown by the engines that were prepared for that purpose, together with fire…

Coming back to Matthew and Luke, and the reference to the torn temple veil after Jesus Christ’s crucifixion: what was the metaphor?   With awareness of this tradition from Revelation, Jesus Christ’s death was required to usher in the destruction of the temple and the downfall of the whore of Babylon in order to return the Queen of Heaven to Earth and give rise to the New Jerusalem.  My speculation is that Revelation was text reserved for those more deeply initiated into the mystery, where the Gospel story (and dramatic depiction) were for newer initiates.

Free Speech And White Supremacy

Skeptics, Atheists, Agnostics, and others who are disinclined to attribute the creation of the universe to a bearded man in the sky are rightfully sensitive to impediments to free speech.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Does that go for racist hate speech?  Should we defend the speech rights of those whose primary concern is the subjugation, or perhaps the extermination, of Jews, blacks, Latinos, and others who do not share the same skin hue or adequate percentage of the Neanderthal genome?

My $0.02, and that’s probably about all it’s worth, is that such racist positions (along with the vile speech that accompanies them) do not merit defense or sympathy.  There is no place in the marketplace of ideas for such cruel, frivolous stupidity.

I may be cutting open a large chunk on the hill which gives rise to the slippery slope, but my reverence for life, and the foundation of my ethical framework, relies on the notion that we should be intolerant to intolerance.  In that sense, I suppose I am a bit of an ideologue.

The Gospel of Mark As A Greek Tragedy

It has been observed since the mid-20th century that the earliest Synoptic Gospel, Mark, follows the framework of Greco-Roman tragedy.  The first attention I can find paid to this topic was in 1977, in Bilezikian’s The Liberated Gospel and some 24 years earlier in the same author’s doctoral dissertation.

The pattern is quite clear: sparse dialog, frequent scene changes, narration, passion.  I recommend Ken Humphreys’ Youtube video on this topic as an introduction.

Picture this:  you are a late 1st or early 2nd century mystery cult member.  The cult to which you belong, the Christian mystery, is more compatible with your worldview and deepest longings than other mysteries; those other mysteries (and their Demigods) lack the personal touch which your mystery touts.  You regularly meet with other members of your local mystery community, and you are aware of,  by name or reputation, prominent members of surrounding communities.

Life is hard as an Iron Age Christian.  Many Christians are slaves…maybe you are too.  The drudgery of life is interrupted by your daily morning routine of worshiping toward the sun.  Of course, if you’re caught, you’ll either be whipped, imprisoned or killed.

One day the news comes!  The most famous proprietor of this mystery — the man who saunters around the Eastern Roman empire sharing the Good News, with sheer disregard for his own tremendous risk — is coming to your town, Bythnia in Roman Asia, the geographic space known today as Turkey.

This regional celebrity has developed his shtick well:  he goes from town-to-town, with props, wardrobe changes, and a crew of about a half dozen others.  In this sense, the celebrity is borrowing a well-developed trope within the mystery schools.  Dramatic depictions were common in the mysteries.

His most notable compatriot is an unexpectedly high-ranking woman in the mystery who simultaneously identifies as the archetypal mother and wife.  She goes by multiple names, including Helen and Mary.

The charismatic leader makes curious claims, such as remembering previous lives and experiences in higher realms (Against Heresies i.25.1, i.25.4, Galatians 4:19).  He claims to have been born under odd circumstances, a miscarriage  (1 Corinthians 15:7-8).  He also claims to possess a special spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12) which gives him amplified power of proselytization.  He usually brings a several-hundred word letter addressed to members of the community.  At some point during his stay, with his band of co-conspirators (and some local community involvement), he enacts a dramatic depiction which culminates in the crucifixion of one of the featured players – not our leader, though.


There is a feature in the play that did not translate to canonical paper.  To the audience members, the point could not be clearer.

A little past the midpoint of the play (Mark 9:35-40), one of Jesus’s apostles comes to him and complains that an unnamed person was casting out demons!  New proselytes watching the play wonder “how could that be?”  Some minutes earlier, the play’s narration made it clear that it was only through Jesus Christ’s authority that his apostles could cast out demons (Mark 3:14-15).

Despite the snitching apostle not giving specifics about him, senior members in the audience immediately recognize this unrevealed, unnamed demon-caster.  The new initiates soon will too.

The characters in (and absent from) the scene, coupled with the audience’s intuition, eventually makes it clear who this unnamed ally is.  For added effect, Jesus assures his worried apostle that this anomalous wizard is on the straight-and-narrow (Mark 9:40).

The Gospel text eventually gives the name and face of the Jesus-sanctioned magician, but the epiphany rendered to the audience is lost when translated to text, which lacks relevant stage directions.

The real star of the show, Simon (who went by at least one other name), had arrived in town with pomp and circumstance.  He is bombastic, educated in Alexandrian traditions.  He is a populist, but he operates with Aristocratic certainty – well funded, but pretends he is not.

Simon plays several non-speaking roles, including that of a leper (Mark 14:3) in a scene which had Simon’s partner, Helen, anointing Jesus with expensive perfume (Mark 14:3-4), and Jesus rebuking his apostles for complaining about her frivolous wastefulness – an accusation Simon was often forced to address himself (Galatians 2:10) in real life.  Jesus’s rebuke was necessary, because the waste was required to confirm Jesus was the Christ – the Anointed.  This put Helen into the unique apostolic position of amplifying Jesus’s Christ-hood.  It also reminded the audience that Helen should be praised by them and across all nations (Mark 14:9).


A few scenes later, Simon shows up just in time to let the audience know who the new sheriff in town was — he was the recipient of the Christ Spirit before Jesus was crucified (Mark 15:34).  Simon is front-and-center in the most excruciating moment of Jesus’s life – arguably the most important scene in the play.  The metaphor conveyed to audience members rings clear as a bell:  Simon bears Jesus Christ’s cross! (Galatians 6:14, Mark 15:21)  Simon is the Paraclete:  the new Christ.

Simon’s cross-bearing scene means different things to different audience members.  To the new proselytes, Simon’s role as the heroic cross-bearer, plucked from his otherwise unassuming role planting seeds in the field, demonstrates how Simon received the Spirit emanating from the higher heaven while aiding the dying Jesus against his Roman oppressors.  More senior initiates recognize the field as the “New Jerusalem” (2 Esdras 10, Revelation 21:2), where marginalized Diaspora Jews could make pilgrimages in the absence of a safe and unadulterated Original Jerusalem.

For those deeply initiated in the mystery, Simon’s role is more robust, because they recognize the dramatic invocation of several features of the mystery:

  1.  The reference to historical events decades earlier makes it clear that these “heads of the church (ekklesia)” who put on the drama were acting as their previous incarnations on earth.  How else could someone operating in the late 1st or early 2nd century be so keenly aware of events occurring in the early 1st century?  Simon’s soul had migrated from one body to another so he could bring this community the Good News.
  2. Alternatively, for full initiates, these events did not even occur on Earth; rather, they were in the realm above, a well-developed trope in the Jewish Diaspora, and certainly something early Christians would have been aware of.  Simon’s play demonstrates his perfect memory of the events in this realm.

Simon’s chief compatriot, Helen, says she is from Tyre (Mark 7:24-30, Against Heresies i.23), and in one scene begs Jesus to exorcise demons from her daughter.  Jesus is reluctant, but how can he deny the desperate pleas of such a grief-stricken woman?  She is Mary Magdalene in other scenes.  Like the character she plays, her real life persona has her former profession as a prostitute.  Like Simon, Helen had lived multiple lives, including that of Helen of Troy.  She is the female incarnation of the Paraclete.

Simon was not the only traveling leader in the Christian mystery, but he was the most traveled.  There were dozens of leaders who employed Simon’s format.  A tense symbiosis existed between he and other leaders (1 Corinthians 3:3-6, Galatians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 11:4).  Those leaders went by various names, including Cephas, Apollos, Cerinthus, Theudas, Dositheus, Menander, and John.  John’s claim to fame was reliance on water tricks and magic associated with baptism.  After John died, Theudas (AKA Theodosius, Dositheus) took up his mandate.  For a time after John’s death, tensions were high between Simon and Dositheus; some even claimed Simon killed Dositheus, a claim which would help to mar Simon’s name forever (Recognitions xi).

Simon conveyed his esteem (or lack thereof) for other leaders in the community via his treatment of them in the production.  John, for instance, was treated well (Mark 1:4).  Cephas, not so much (Mark 8:33).

Hiding beneath the spectacle and festivities, a reality was becoming clear to Simon and his band.  Simon’s time as undisputed leader of the church was nearing its end.  His abrasive bombast, coupled with a staunch resistance to recognize any of the other leaders as his peers (Galatians 2:6), made him wildly unpopular with others in power.

This tense symbiosis, which these leaders configured, devolved into treachery (Galatians 2:11).  Competing gospels were constructed which minimized Simon’s backstory and role in “the field” (Matthew 27:32).

As Christianity gained traction within the empire, dramatic depictions and other artifacts of its mystery origins gave way to a more Orthodox routine.  Rome occasionally picked winners in the mystery game, and Christianity was about to score a big victory after other leaders crafted a slew of apologies to cast specific Christian sects in a carefully curated light.  Simon’s Gospel was converted from a play into literature and subsequently embellished.  The role of the unnamed demon-caster was demoted – Jesus would say he never knew him (Matthew 7:21-23).  Additionally, the central tenet of Simon’s Gospel, which is to say an alternate to Mosaic law, would likewise make Simon the least in the kingdom (Matthew 5:19).

Simon tried and failed to recapture the power which gradually slipped out of his control (Galatians 3:1).  He changed his name and address.  Students tried to restore their teacher’s former glory.  One student paid the “church” 200,000 sesterces to put his teacher’s theology back in the forefront of the church – for a time, the student was successful, until letters to the emperor undid his efforts.  The old tricks did not work anymore.  A new Orthodoxy was on the rise.

Last Updated: 20170830

Did The Earliest Christians Believe Jesus Existed?

When I refer to early Christians, I am referring to Christians before the year 250CE.

In this post, I refer to those Christianities, later called heresies by an evolving Orthodoxy in collaboration with the Roman government and its hegemonic military.

Jesus Christ did exist.  He did not exist in the way we intuitively think about the term “exist”, which is to say, as a unique, autonomous individual, but nevertheless he existed…lots of times.  There were many Jesus Christs!  I leave it to the reader to decide whether this condition is equivalent to non-existence.

To the earliest Christians, Jesus Christ was the member of the generation who possessed the Spirit – not the Spirit originating on Earth by the ruler of this world, but rather, the Spirit which was created in a realm above and sent to lead the way out of this material hellhole.  This Spirit was transient, and would leave a person before their death.  This early Christian framework is clearly attested by Irenaeus and other heresy hunters who were hell-bent on purging the Christianity which (IMHO) they first hijacked for their own political purposes.  It is also detectable in the Synoptic Gospels, when Jesus asks God why he abandoned him (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46).  This passage is perfectly compatible with this Spirit adoption idea which was so common among early Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Carpocratians.

We glean the point of the earliest Gospels from Paul in Galatians 3:1, when he said “It was in front of your own eyes Christ was portrayed as being crucified”.

Paul’s lament in Galatians 3 was a clear allusion to a dramatic depiction, common in mystery religions of the 1st and 2nd centuries.  Given Paul’s regular references to his own Gospel, I think this is what the earliest proto-Gospel was – a dramatic depiction performed for the benefit of new proselytes, perhaps children and those who could not read, but no doubt enjoyed by the community.

For the earliest Mark consumers, notably the Basilideans, the Spirit which Jesus inherited after baptism was given up prior to his crucifixion.  The Spirit migrated to the one who bore Jesus Christ’s cross, which in the Gospel of Mark was Simon of Cyrene.  Consider that same Paul letter, Galatians, 6:14:  “May I never boast except in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me.”  Paul was claiming to be in the same role as Simon of Cyrene!


One of the earliest writers against these early Christianities, Irenaeus, gives 3 early Christian sects which all hold similar views about Jesus Christ:  the Ebionites, the Cerinthians, and the Carpocratians.  The Ebionites and Cerinthians used different versions of the Gospel of Matthew, where the Carpocratians used either Matthew or Luke (perhaps a harmonization of both).  However, one distinction Irenaeus makes is that the Carpocratians used Paul’s letters (at least Romans).

Irenaeus gives an interesting description of Carpocrates that cracks the “mystery” wide open.  Irenaeus writes “[Jesus] perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God…”

Could this be why Paul often complained about the pains of child birth (Galatians 4:19), and why he was born from a miscarriage (1 Corinthians 15:7-8)?  And why he was set apart from his mother’s womb by God (Gal 1:15), and “…crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

The point of the mystery, at least that which is most evident to this observer, was that the Gospel of Mark occurred in the heavenly Judea, and one of the final acts before the story’s 2nd hero, Simon of Cyrene, descended to the material realm, was that he had to carry Jesus Christ’s cross, which would cause the proper eruptions in the heavens (Revelation 8:5), which would create a path for the spiritual believers to traverse so that they could escape the material realm and the malevolent rulers who controlled it.

The Gospel story was simply the first instance of the Spirit taking this path to get to Earth.  Once on earth, the Spirit could inhabit those practitioners of white magic who experienced enough material phenomena (Against Heresies i.25) and had “rendered unto Caesar” (code for the ruler of this Earth) those material possessions which were most prized by humans.  This is why, in Matthew and Luke, Jesus said that practitioners were not getting out of this prison until they’ve paid the very last penny (Matthew 5:26, Luke 12:59).

There were probably many of these Paracletes who claimed to be Jesus Christ:  Paul, Simon Magus, Simon of Cyrene, James, Theudas, John the Baptist, Mani, The Egyptian.  At least some of these people must have existed, although we may have duplicates in the mix.

It is indeed interesting that one of the earliest infancy Gospels which had Jesus being born of a virgin was the Infancy Gospel of James.  The reason for this is predictable:  competition.  This competition is captured in various early Christian literature, including Paul’s epistles, the Epistle of James, the Shepherd of Hermas, and others.  My speculation is that the James community was trying to “one up” the Paul community, whose leader claimed to be born from an ektroma (miscarriage).  Not to be outdone by that leader who “was not born of a woman” (Gospel of Thomas, saying 15), the James community gave Jesus an even more amazing woman-less inception.