Inventing Jesus

The short answer for why Jesus inherited seemingly later attributes such as the virgin birth is because some of those attributes were reserved for leaders in Christian communities.  Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.”

The modern reader is inclined to assume Jesus was talking about himself in the Gospel of Thomas, but he was actually talking about the Paraclete – the person who would inherit the Spirit and take up Jesus’s cross after he died.

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This misdirection was an example of what I have come to refer to as a “head fake” – these head fakes were common in early Christian writings.  For example, the Gospel of Mark contains such a head fake:  the reader (or audience member – Gal 3:1) consumes a story centered around Jesus; meanwhile, a lone-wolf messiah mentioned in Mark 9:38 was working in parallel to cast out demons despite the fact that only Jesus and those with his authority (Mark 6:7) were supposed to possess such ability.  As I have argued in previous posts, this lone wolf was Simon of Cyrene, who showed up in Mark 15 to inherit the Christ Spirit from Jesus prior to his crucifixion; this explains why Basilides and other early Mark consumers believed Simon of Cyrene played the role as future cross-bearer, which would have been synonymous with the later-named Paraclete.  It also explains why the seemingly earliest Christians, the Ebionites and Cerinthians, were adoptionists (believed the Spirit descended onto Jesus after his baptism), and why inklings of this story still survive in modern Islam.

Those attributes which a later version of Jesus inherited in extant versions of Matthew and Luke are given as inklings in Paul’s (authentic) writings.  For example, Galatians 4:4 implements a “head fake”, while telling how Paul imagined himself:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, constructed (genomenon) from a woman, born under the law,

This notion of construction Paul alluded to in Gal 4:4 (genomenon) is presumed to be about Jesus, but I think Paul was referring to himself.  Paul’s phrasing gives insight into abnormal attributes of his own birth in that he was constructed, rather than the typical term used for born, something like egennēthēsan.  Paul makes a similar reference to his awkward birth in 1 Corin 8:

Last of all, as to one born of a miscarriage (ektroma), he appeared also to me.

There are other odd Pauline childbirth passages, notably Galatians 4:19, where Paul tells his readers that he is once again feeling pains from child birth:

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you

Paul claimed to possess attributes which were prophesied in early Christian texts (notably the Gospel of Thomas); references to this Paraclete transference concern manifest in various Christian texts including the Acts of John when John granted his spirit to a young man (I speculate this young man was intended to be Polycarp, who tradition remembers as taking John’s torch, passing it to Irenaeus, and subsequently giving rise to Catholic Orthodoxy):

And yet holding the young man by the hand he said: I say unto thee, child, go and raise the dead thyself, saying nothing but this only: John the servant of God saith to thee, Arise. And the young man went to his kinsman and said this only…and entered in unto John, bringing him alive. And John, when he saw him that was raised, said: Now that thou art raised, thou dost not truly live, neither art partaker or heir of the true life

References to the transient spirit are also found in Acts of the Apostles, such as Acts 8 when the arch-heretic Simon Magus attempts to buy the Spirit from Peter.

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What I have described here is a framework which is agnostic to the matter of whether Jesus existed; yet the inclination, based on Jesus Christ’s presence, is to presume he did exist.  Yet, along with notable historical silence, specifically the fact that Josephus did not notice Jesus despite noticing other messianic figures with similar stature and followings as Jesus (specifically Theudas and the Egyptian), there is a passage in 2 Esdras 9-10 which leads me to believe the Jesus figure was entirely fictional.

In 2 Esdras 9-10, Ezra encounters a grieving woman with ashes in her hair whose son had recently died.  This encounter occurs in a field (Mark also makes reference to a field from which Simon of Cyrene emerged prior to carrying Jesus Christ’s cross).  At the end of this encounter, the woman transformed into the new Jerusalem, which was in “the field”.  An angel accompanying Ezra later reveals that the woman was the Spirit of Zion, and her dead son was Solomon’s temple.

The emerging formulation was that the new Jerusalem would be in “the field”; an expansion of this motif was that seeds must be planted in the field.  This might help to explain such references throughout Christian texts (mustard seeds, Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener, etc).

The earliest Ebionite and Cerinthian Christians believed that human encapsulation of the Spirit/Christ was impermanent and transferable.  A diverse group of early Christians, including Ebionites, believed that the Spirit and the Christ were feminine/masculine polarities which were 96 mile tall beacons in the sky (see Elxai in Hippolytus and Epiphanius).  In these theologies, the Christ was never intended to be human.  Rather, the Christ was the gift which God gave to humanity, which people who had undergone proper initiation (baptism, etc) could receive.

The fact that a transferable Spirit is detectable in extant Christian literature, notably Acts and the Gospel of Mark, is not inconsequential; it is an artifact of this earlier Christianity.

My conclusion is that Jesus was a literary device: a representation of what the Christ (or the Spirit of the temple), who inherited authority from the mother Spirit, would have wanted his followers to do.

Those later attributes, originally reserved for the Paraclete, but later assigned to Jesus himself, injected humanity, via literature, into an otherwise metaphorical spirit.  The most likely reason later redactors chose to give those attributes to Jesus was so that existing power hierarchies could be preserved without undue influence from an outsider claiming to be the Paraclete, as was the case with Mani the Manichean, found throughout Manichean literature:

Let us worship the spirit of the Paraclete (comforter).
Let us bless our Lord Jesus who has sent us the Spirit of Truth…Honor and Victory to our Lord Mani, the Spirit of Truth, that cometh from the Father and has revealed to us the Beginning, the Middle, and the End.

An earlier Christianity is detectable throughout the literature.  For instance, we see the Christ receiving authority from his mother in the Gospel of John; later, Jesus turned over his mother to the disciple:

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her,“Woman, here is your son,”  and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

Another reference to Jesus’s “true mother” can be found in the Gospel of Thomas saying 101:

Whoever does not hate [their father] and mother as I do cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not love father and mother as I do cannot be my disciple.  For my mother [For my mother is of this world*], but my true mother *gave me life*

*Note:  This is my speculative interpolation – actual text is lost

The Gospel of Thomas makes reference to Jesus’s “true mother” who gave him life.  He distinguishes his true mother from his earthly mother.  The paradox Jesus creates, where a person must simultaneously hate and love their mother and father, is well-explained when one recognizes that Jesus was referring to hating their earthly father and mother, while loving their celestial father and mother.  In this case, it was his celestial mother who provides life.

There is an equation between the Spirit and the temple in Paul in 1 Corin 3:16-17

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple

Paul again equates this temple Spirit as an item which lives within Christian hearts in 1 Corin 6:19:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

 

This a religion obsessed with secret messages from God which manifested as two distinct spirits – the feminine mother/city Spirit and the masculine temple Spirit Christ.  Early Christianity was concerned with the temple, and how that temple could deliver messages to adherents, even if the temple is no longer on Earth.  One consequential aspect of this religion, along with several other parallel Jewish-sourced religions of the day, was an increasing antipathy towards Jewish (Pentateuch) scripture.

It was from this emerging antipathy, coupled with the aftermath of bar Kokhba, where most Jews were expelled from Judea, that many early Christians were motivated to create a “New Jerusalem” which is indicated in Revelation 21.  To the once popular (later heretical) group known as the Montanists, the New Jerusalem was in Central Turkey.

My speculation is that the pre-existing theology which gave rise to Christianity was the Nasaraene movement.

We learn from Epiphanius that the Nasaraeans rejected the Pentateuch, believed they had secret writings from Moses, yet who lived among Jews and practiced their customs.

In Hebrew, Nasar means to keep, guard, or preserve; therefore, any references to such preservation in Christian literature is likely a reference to this group of “keepers”.  We find such a reference in Revelation 12:17

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 and hold fast their testimony…

As I have described in earlier posts the woman mentioned in Revelation 12 was The Queen of Heaven.  In Revelation, she gave birth to the son, who was taken up to heaven and later came to purge evil from the earth.  Here, we have a paradigm which is better explained as metaphorical prophesy, rather than post-Jesus poetic fiction.

Prior to King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform in the 7th century BCE, where his high priest claimed to have found a (still extant) book of the law which purports to have been written by Moses, described in 2 Kings 22-23, temple worshipers burned incense for the Queen, and she was represented as the Asherah, which was a sacred tree or pole, a likely reference to the tree of life found in Genesis (remember, Jesus’s celestial mother gave him life in the Gospel of Thomas), and perhaps manifested in Kabbalah as the Sephirot.

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The Queen of Heaven, along with the older faith which produced her, is detectable in Jeremiah 44

But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”

The women added, “When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did not our husbands know that we were making cakes impressed with her image and pouring out drink offerings to her?”

Consider the late 1st/early 2nd century quasi-Christian Elxai, and his Nasaraene, Ebionite, Essene, and Nazarene followers.  A likely speculation is that all four of these groups were doing roughly the same thing:  practicing a religion which had evolved from this pre-Deuteronomic Judaism.

Cerinthus, an early Christian who much-resembled the Ebionites, was linked to Revelation, via several disparate groups evidently claiming Cerinthus wrote Revelation.  Therefore, another likely speculation is that Cerinthus was, like the Ebionites and Essenes, a member in this Nasaraene conglomeration.

Following King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform, the Queen and all other references to heavenly hierarchy and Monolatrism were thrown out of the temple, burned, and otherwise destroyed.  Within a few decades, Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II and Jews were expelled from Judea.

Though the 2nd Jewish temple was rebuilt in the late 6th century BCE, there were probably many who worshiped the Queen of Heaven who saw the Queen-less temple as illegitimate.  Scribal re-workings which purged the Queen from scripture would have made the Queen’s adherents likewise untrusting of the new Jewish Orthodoxy.

 

In 70CE, the 2nd temple was destroyed, and not long after, Jews were expelled from Judea.  Theological solutions for Christians and Nasaraeans in a temple-less world manifested in 2 notions:

  1. New Jerusalem (which represented the Queen/mother/city)
  2. The Spirit of the Temple (which represented the Christ/son)

The New Jerusalem is found in Revelation 3:12 and Revelation 21:2.  This New Jerusalem was the place in which the Spirit of the Queen of Heaven could live, as was alluded in 2 Esdras 10.  It would have been necessary because the Queen’s followers needed a place to welcome their queen, and because Jews were no longer welcome in the original Jerusalem.

If Jesus did not exist, why did people think he did?

There likely were people who resembled Jesus a great deal; further, those people might very well have been leaders within the Nasaraene communities.  For example, there was a James, who in the mid-60s was stoned to death at the hands of an unpopular high priest named Hanan ben Hanan; James’ death caused such an uproar that the people of Jerusalem pleaded with the recently-appointed Roman governor Albinus to punish Hanan.

There was also a prophet named Theudas who took his followers to the Jordan River, claimed he could divide the river (note the Moses reference), implored his followers to sell or take their possessions, and was beheaded and had his remains flaunted around Jerusalem.  Theudas’s resemblance to John the Baptist is significant, and his death preceded James’ death by about 20 years.

A few years after Theudas’ death, following increased tensions between religious movements in Judea and the Roman authorities, there was an Egyptian who took his followers to the Mount of Olives and who claimed he could knock down the wall of the temple.  The local governor made war against him and his followers, but the Egyptian escaped, and was not heard from again.  This Egyptian bears striking resemblance to both Jesus and Paul – Acts of the Apostles even links Paul to the Egyptian in Acts 21:31.

If the prerequisite for leadership in Nasaraene communities was a claim to the Spirit, the likely result would have been many people claiming to have inherited the spirit, and thus possess the appropriate attributes to be the Christ.

The solution for an evolving, maturing church with increasingly defined power hierarchy was to merge these early attributes into a single person which became Jesus Christ.

 

Theudas and The Egyptian

A detectable detail within the Theudas problem is that it becomes clear that Acts of the Apostles was relying on Josephus’ Antiquities to construct its own narrative.  Yet, there is a remarkable detail about this messianic claimant in Acts of the Apostles 5:36 that is missing from Antiquities.  Acts makes reference to Theudas’ four hundred followers.  That detail is not found in Josephus.

Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.

There is, however, a corollary to these “four hundred” in Antiquities book XX:

Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons…and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight

Josephus describes the Egyptian as a messianic insurgent who took his followers to the Mount of Olives, and who claimed “at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down”.  After the Roman procurator Felix ordered the attack on the Egyptian and his followers, the Egyptian disappeared, and was not heard from again.

This is in striking parallel to Jesus in Matthew 24

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

This reference to the temple’s destruction is also in John 2:19, when Jesus said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”.

Consider this subset of Judean chronology:

44-46CE:  Procurator Cuspius Fadus orders his men to attack Theudas’ followers near the Jordan River.  Beheads Theudas and parades his remains around Jerusalem

48-52:  Procurator Ventidius Cumanus quells a Galilean attack against Samaritans (the Samaritans bribed Cumanus) after the Samaritans had attacked Galileans on their trips to Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals.  Several Galileans were crucified, while others were publicly shamed in front of the most eminent citizens of Jerusalem, who poured ashes on their heads

52-58:  Procurator Antonius Felix quells the Egyptian’s uprising

Judean procurators were contending with uprisings and revolts that were led by charismatic messianic insurgents.  Acts 5:36 either confuses or equates Theudas with the Egyptian; any reader who was familiar with the unrest in the area at the time would have noticed this.

Consider what Acts does later in Acts 21, when a Roman commander makes an accusation against Paul

As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

“Do you speak Greek?” he replied.  “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

Acts never has Paul explicitly deny the commander’s accusation; rather, Paul simply says he is a Jew from Tarsus.  This strikes me as an intentional swipe against Paul by an author who was begrudgingly admitting Paul into the Orthodoxy.  The point was to cast Paul as roughly equivalent to the Egyptian, and (just as importantly), the Egyptian as equivalent to Theudas.

The fact that both were treated with veiled hostility in Acts is not inconsequential; my speculation is that Christianity’s Jesus-on-Earth story was a reformulation of these two characters (along with others) and their resistance against the day’s status quo; it might have even been the case that these two messianic claimants were proto-Christian (Nasaraene) leaders.

In a previous post (Theudas and His Problem), I made reference to a claim made by Clement of Alexandria

Likewise they allege that Valentinus was a hearer of Theudas. And he was the pupil of Paul. For Marcion, who arose in the same age with them, lived as an old man with the younger [heretics]. And after him Simon heard for a little the preaching of Peter

The proposal I made in Theudas and His Problem was that Clement made multiple errors in his above chronology.  The most glaring error was that Marcion preceded Simon Magus – a detail which seems unlikely.  But the other error I speculate is that Clement erred about Paul’s relationship to Theudas; specifically, Paul was a hearer of Theudas, rather than Theudas being a hearer of Paul.  I have also argued that Theudas was the actual historical character underlying John the Baptist; thus, the Egyptian was the historical character underlying Jesus (and perhaps Paul!).

If this is true, this provides a compelling explanation for where Paul came from, and the religious and political atmosphere which gave rise to his ministry, specifically that Judea, under increasingly brutal Roman procuratorships, featured violent pushback and social shaming against vigilantism.  Theudas’s ministry preceded an increase in state-sanctioned crucifixions and sanctimonious finger-wagging by the elders and well-offs, which culminated in an uprising which featured the temple-busting Egyptian at the Mount of Olives.

This solution also provides some explanation for why later Paulinists, including the Marcionites and Valentinians were so staunchly deviant of the Orthodoxy, and had such Gnostic underpinnings – this movement (probably a Nasaraene movement), born out of a rejection of law-centric Jewish Orthodoxy following the Deuteronomic reform, continued to suffer persecution by Roman and Jewish actors.  This is als in-line with the later John-the-Baptist successors, the Mandaeans, who were also, rejected Moses, and whose initiated priests were known as Nazoreans (nasuraiia).

Last Updated: 20170428

John and The Mother of Jesus

In John 2, Jesus performs his first miracle, where he turns water into wine at a wedding near Galilee.

The theological challenge for anyone towing the party line is that Jesus’ mother seems to facilitate Jesus’s first miracle.  This is curious considering Jesus was the son of God, and more explicitly, the “Word [of God] as flesh”.

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine.
Jesus said to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? my hour is not yet come.
His mother said to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it.

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Jesus reveals a subservience, along with his inability to do anything, when he says “my hour is not yet come”.  In response, Jesus’s mother transfers her authority to Jesus so that he can render the non-existent wine, thus making this moment Jesus’s “hour”.

Why should Jesus’s mother do this?

If you are anything like me, and believe that not a single word of these Gospels was wasted on frivolous prose, the implication is that Mary *must* transfer her authority to Jesus to catalyze his powers on Earth.   In other words, Jesus would have no authority to perform miracles unless his mother granted this authority.  The fact that this interaction precedes Jesus’s first miracle is not inconsequential.

John’s catalyst for miracle-making Jesus is in contrast to Mark’s prerequisite, which was Jesus’s baptism prior to receiving the Spirit.  Of course, the theology of this Johannine text was different than the Cerinthian/Ebionite theology which contributed to the Synoptic narrative; specific implementation differences should be expected.

An interesting aside is that Irenaeus, who also used John’s Gospel, gave a hostile response to Marcus the magician, who performed a similar trick as Jesus:

Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, [Marcus the Magician] contrives to give them a purple and reddish colour…

3a90210fe9d8851717e543dff446fb89The transfer of authority from the mother to the son is also detectable in Revelation, in a more abstract form.

Revelation 5:12 says “Worthy is the lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom…”

In Revelation 12, the pregnant woman, clothed in the sun, with stars in her crown and the moon at her feet, gives birth after triggering a war in heaven; her antagonist, the dragon, gives chase and attempts to eat the child.  The child is saved by God when he is snatched up to heaven.

Once the dragon sensed he would neither be able to capture the woman nor her newborn son, he turned his attention toward her other children, who were the keepers or preservers of the law.  In Hebrew, the term for keep, preserve, or guard is Nasar.

If one assumes this Greek tradition found in John’s Gospel was a carryover from an earlier Hebrew one, then this passage exposes an important detail:  the woman’s other children were the Nasaraeans.  Among other things, the Nasaraeans rejected the Pentateuch, claimed it was a forgery, believed they had the true word of Moses, and lived in secret among the Jews.

John 19:19 taps into this tradition, when Pilate wrote on Jesus Christ’s cross:  JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

If one is attached to the notion that Nazareth was called as such in the 1st century, this interpretation, that Nazareth was so-called because of the Nasaraeans, is faulty.  However, I am very skeptical Nazareth was called as such at this time; rather, I believe Nazareth was so-named because it was later identified as the location where the Nasaraeans saw their brother, the newborn child of the Queen of Heaven, return.

In John 19:27, Jesus said to his mother that she was now mother to “the disciple”, presumably John.  Likewise, he told John that his mother was now John’s mother.  From that hour on, John took Jesus’ mother into his home.  Jesus then drank vinegar, said “it is finished”, and “gave up the ghost”.

In this context, we see the underpinning of this Johannine system:  Jesus’s first miracle was preceded by his mother giving him authority.  Jesus’s last act was to turn over his mother to his disciple, and to make his disciple the adopted son of his mother.  This passage is not by coincidence and it is not pedestrian.  This is a critical element of the Johannine system.

The underlying theology saw Jesus’s mother as important, despite the fact that the Gospel goes out of its way *not* to name her.  One speculation is that John had no need to name Jesus’s mother, because it was so well-known.  But does that mean her name was Mary?

There are other Marys in John’s Gospel, including Mary Magdelaine and Mary, the wife of Cleophas (the extant Gospel says Cleophas’ wife was Jesus’ mother’s sister, but I suspect this was an interpolation).

More likely, Jesus’s mother was known to its readers because his mother was Wisdom, the Queen of Heaven.  Later texts which rely on John expose this detail, as well.  For instance, an early Christian text called The Teaching of Silvanus:

My son, return to your divine nature… Return, my son, to your first Father God, and to Wisdom your mother, from whom you came into being.

Jesus’ mother, who was the Queen Wisdom, is found in many places, including 1 Enoch 42.3, which describes her fate after being purged from Solomon’s temple after King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform in the 7th century BCE:

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

In other words, true Wisdom was replaced by another woman on Earth, and Wisdom subsequently returned to heaven.  In Revelation 19:2, we see this replacement woman’s fate:

He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.

The woman had shown up earlier in Revelation 17:

One of the seven angels…said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters.  With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls.

This reference to purple, scarlet, gold, and stones seems a likely reference to the 2nd temple.  Consider Josephus’ description in Wars:

As to the holy house itself, which was placed in the midst [of the inmost court], that most sacred part of the temple…the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors…a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful…There was also a wall of partition, about a cubit in height, made of fine stones, and so as to be grateful to the sight…on the other part there hung twelve stones, three in a row one way, and four in the other; a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; a carbuncle, a jasper, and a sapphire; an agate, an amethyst, and a ligure; an onyx, a beryl, and a chrysolite

 

The conclusion this matrix brings me to is that the Johannines, and perhaps their earlier Nasaraeane counterparts, saw the 2nd temple as an illegitimate replacement of Solomon’s temple, and this replacement woman was a metaphor for it.

Theudas And His Problem

According to the 1st century Jewish-Roman historian Josephus, Theudas was a messianic claimant who instructed his “deluded” followers to take all their possessions and follow him to the Jordan River, where he would divide the River, presumably to provide passage across it; one might speculate that there was a ritual attached to this process, particularly considering Josephus’ characterization of Theudas, namely that he was a magician and charlatan (Antiquities 20).

Theudas’ following must have been large enough, or his message poignant enough, to attract the attention of the governor at the time, Cuspius Fadus, because Fadus ordered a group of soldiers to attack and kill Theudas’ followers.  As for Theudas, he was beheaded, and his remains were paraded around Jerusalem, further amplifying his significance – after all, the decapitated head of an insignificant nobody serves no purpose except to stink up the room, but the decapitated head of an important adversary would have more impact, especially in Jerusalem – the Jewish social, economic, and religious epicenter of the day.

When Fadus assumed the role of procurator in 44CE, skirmishes had recently broken out between Jews in Peraea and people in Philadelphia (to Peraea’s East).  According to Josephus, Peraean Jews attacked Philadelphians in a village called Mia (perhaps read as Zia) – Josephus implies these attacks were concerted, coordinated armed robberies, and that they were led by four men:  Hannibal, Areram, Tholomy, and Eleazar.

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Hannibal was killed, and Areram and Eleazar were banished.  Eleazar showed up again a few years later, after Fadus’ procuratorship ended.  The Galileans recruited him from his home in the nearby mountains to fight back against Samaritans who had been attacking them during their regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem to attend festivals.  The procurator at the time, Cumanus, waged an offensive against these Galileans, taking some as prisoners to Jerusalem (Josephus claimed the Samaritans bribed Cumanus, which is why he gave them a pass and punished the Galileans).  According to Josephus, “the most eminent persons at Jerusalem”, after learning the extent to which the Galileans had taken their revenge, poured ashes upon their heads, and urged the Galileans to throw down their arms and return home, which they did (see Romans 12:20 for an interesting parallel regarding ashes).  Despite the temporary decrease in tensions, Judea saw a return of those robberies which Fadus purged some years earlier.

The Syrian governor, Quadratus, eventually intervened, bringing Samaritans and Jews to trial.  He ordered the crucifixion of several Jews for making “innovations” (rebellion).  One possible crucifixion victim was a Galilean named Dortus, who Robert Eisenman in The New Testament Code thinks is a variant of Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43), as well as an anagram for Dositheus.

When Theudas came on the scene, sometime within 2 years of Fadus’ crackdown in 44CE, it was in the aftermath, or at least the context, of this reform.  It would have been clear to citizens that violent swindle would not be taken lightly under Fadus; perhaps it was in this context that Theudas’ scam was born.  Instead of armed robbery, Theudas made promises to his followers, or employed sum magic trick to make it seem he was dividing the Jordan River (my personal speculation is that it was the dry season, and Theudas had an elaborate scheme to temporarily dam water flow).  The prerequisite for Theudas’ followers was probably monetary, as he convinced them to bring their possessions with them.

Consider this detail in light of Matthew 19:21:

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor,and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come,follow Me.”

Josephus is vague about what explicit crime Theudas committed, except to say that he implied Theudas was scamming people.  The religious undertones, notably the mention of dividing the river, coupled with his congregation of followers and the mystical associations must have concerned Fadus, given increasing tensions between Rome and the area Jews; a messiah would have been problematic for the Romans, because it would have given people a rallying point.  Clearly, Theudas was a threat.

salome-with-the-head-of-st-john-the-baptist-1507The parallel between this story and the New Testament is obvious; Theudas resembles John the Baptist in consequential ways – not just in geography, prophesy, or the notable reference to dividing of the Jordan River (perhaps a reference to Joshua 3:15-17), but also in the celebration accompanying his beheading.

Could Theudas be part of the inspiration for a more fictionalized Gospel character?  Or does he provide insight into a raw and unsanitized version of pre-Orthodox Christianity?  No – not according to those defending Jesus’ historicity.  After all, we have mountains of data supporting the historicity of Jesus (and John)…except of course, not really.  Secular, contemporary mentions of both of them are sparse and suspect.

To Jesus defenders (which is to say, practically everyone), assuming they know anything at all about this Jordanian charlatan (they probably don’t), Theudas is an anomaly – a one-off parallel who means nothing to anyone except those combing through obscure Josephus passages looking for kinks in the impervious Jesus armor.  Nothing to see here folks.

Yet, if one is so emboldened to pursue this insignificant, irrelevant anomaly, one finds much curiosity.  For example, Acts of the Apostles 5:36 resurrects Josephus’ anecdote in order to castigate Theudas, who post-dated the supposed narrator Gamaliel in Acts 5 (Acts 5 was supposedly based 7 years prior to Theudas).

Once Acts’ author, via his re-crafted version of Gamaliel, completed the polemic against Theudas, he turned his attention to the subsequent radical, Judas of Galilee, who in reality died nearly 40 years earlier than Theudas, thus creating the infamous Theudas Problem.

Some time ago Theudas appeared…After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt.

The choice consumers have regarding this timeline dilemma is to either admit Acts copied Josephus’ Antiquities (Josephus mentioned Judas after Theudas in Antiquities 20, despite acknowledging Judas preceded Theudas), or to invent another lie, that Acts was referring to a different Theudas…or a different Judas.  Considering the author locked himself into Judas being active around the time of the census (which he was), the more economical lie is that there must have been some other Theudas.

Honest traversal of this data compels one to admit the most self-evident conclusion is that Acts indeed copied Josephus, and this was simply a quality assurance failure on the part of Acts’ author(s).

Life would be simpler if, at this point, we could simply stick a fork in Theudas, and call the matter done; however, this Theudas shows up again, in the same timeframe, in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis 7.17:

Likewise they allege that Valentinus was a hearer of Theudas. And he was the pupil of Paul. For Marcion, who arose in the same age with them, lived as an old man with the younger [heretics]. And after him Simon heard for a little the preaching of Peter

I puzzled over this passage for some time, because it implied that Paul’s Theudas was nearly contemporary to Josephus’ Theudas.  Of course, these two men could be completely different people, but given Acts’ need to specifically call out Theudas as some two-bit impostor, I don’t think so.  The fact that Clement built an explicit bridge between Theudas and the heretics is also noteworthy.

My original point of curiosity here is that Clement places Simon Magus after Marcion.  No other tradition creates such a chronology.

There are many possibilities here for why (or whether) Clement believed this chronology, but the most economical solution is that Clement committed a simple error in his reconstruction of chronology.

But how incorrect was Clement?  My speculation is that Clement committed more than one error here.

Specifically, I believe Theudas was not a hearer of Paul; Paul was a hearer of Theudas!

If we entertain this speculation, what is the implication?  One implication is that Theudas was indeed the person at the root of John the Baptist, and that Paul took up Theudas’ cross; the subsequent re-crafting of John the Baptist as a forerunner to Jesus who couldn’t get out of Jesus’ way fast enough, was fiction designed to create more obfuscation and shenanigans in the alter-world early Christians created.

This would explain why Simon Magus (another name for the Apostle Paul) and Dositheus battled for control of the John the Baptist group in the Pseudo-Clementines – perhaps Dositheus and Theudas were one-in-the-same, or as tradition holds, Dositheus and Simon were simply students of John the Baptist (AKA Theudas).

But Dositheus, when he perceived that Simon was depreciating him…moved with rage, when they met as usual at the school, seized a rod, and began to beat Simon; but suddenly the rod seemed to pass through his body, as if it had been smoke. On which Dositheus, being astonished, says to him, Tell me if thou art the Standing One, that I may adore thee.’ And when Simon answered that he was, then Dositheus, perceiving that he himself was not the Standing One, fell down and worshipped him…

In the above scene, Dositheus appears to have tapped into a tradition conveyed in the Gospel of Thomas, in terms of his immediate falling down on his face:

When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your face (and) worship him.  That one is your Father

Subsequently, this is why Simon Magus claimed to be born of a virgin:

For before my mother Rachel and he came together, she, still a virgin, conceived me

Concern for this tradition might explain why Paul claimed to have been born of a miscarriage (ektroma) in 1 Corin 15:8 – because he was not born of a woman, fulfilling the prophesy in the Gospel of Thomas:

And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one born of a miscarriage.

Epiphanius relays that Dositheus died of starvation in a cave, an interesting feature given the cave near Beth Ha-Karim, west of Jerusalem is often associated with John the Baptist by modern archaeologists.

In this light, it is interesting that Bultmann speculated that the Gospel of John’s original content was more John-the-Baptist-centric, specifically because the Valentinians were said to copiously use the Gospel of John (Ir. AH 3.11.7).  My speculation is that the Valentinians, through their inheritance of Paul’s/Simon’s doctrines, actually saw Theudas/John the Baptist as the Christ, and after John’s/Theudas’/Dorca’s/Dositheus’ death by crucifixion, Simon Magus made claim to the Paraclete/Standing One; perhaps Theudas made the same claim some years earlier, before being beheaded for it.

This would explain why there was such contention between Dositheus and Simon Magus, in terms of who would inherit the title of “Standing One”.  My speculation is that the Standing One was the Samaritan version of the Paraclete.  That is why we see inklings of claims of the Paraclete in Paul’s letters, and likewise, it is why so many Jewish Christians were opposed to these claims.

Diversity in Early Christianity

The Valentinians were the first group of early Christians I learned about when I started to investigate early Christianity.  The Valentinians opened up a whole new line of inquiry, because their mythos surrounding Jesus was as much celestial as it was Earthly.  According to the Valentinians, the Christ/Soter had been created and sent by angels in the Pleroma to free Sophia from her entrapment and formlessness in the lower Kenoma.  In some versions, Sophia herself gave birth to the Christ, and he was promptly taken up to heaven (see Revelation 12:5 for an interesting correlation).

valentinian_cosmology
*Source:  Talk Gnosis

At the time, I saw an inkling of a relationship between this view and the Gospel of John (particularly John 1), so I was relieved when I realized the Valentinians were vociferous consumers of John.  My later speculations were (and are) that the Valentinians were responsible for the creation of the bulk of the extant Gospel of John, and probably injected the virgin birth into Christianity sometime around 130 – this probably would have created a rift between those Italian Valentinians, who held the earlier adoptionist view, and the Eastern Valentinians, who were the ones to inject this new Virgin Birth notion.

When viewed in isolation, it is easy to recognize that the Valentinians did not require Jesus Christ’s literal existence on earth.  Therefore, especially in light of their heavy Platonic influence, any text they wrote could be construed as Earthly allegory which was meant to be interpreted in terms of the celestial goings-on in their mythos.

I struggled with that conclusion for a couple reasons, and any subsequent implication that the Valentinians provide the key to unlock the Jesus mystery.  For one, the Valentinians and the Gospel of John were not the earliest Christian writings – they’re not even the earliest extant Christian writings – the Synoptic Gospels clearly preceded the Gospel of John – that’s the consensus anyway (I prefer not to disagree with critical consensus if I can avoid it).  The other reason I struggled with putting too much emphasis on constructing my view through a Valentinian lens is because the theology seems derivative.

Where the Valentinians put heavy emphasis on a Platonic worldview (there is also a palpable anti-Semitism in John’s Gospel), other theologies, such as those of Cerinthus, Carpocrates, and the Ebionites had worldviews which were more Jewish, less Greek, and seem more likely to have given rise to the Valentinian worldview than vice-versa.  For example, the Cerinthians and Carpocratians had a Jewish cosmological Demiurge model, where they presumed that inferior angels created the Earth, as opposed to the Valentinian Demiurge, Yaldabaoth – although both these Demiurges probably pointed back to Yahweh.

This Jewish angelological view is indeed related to the Valentinian view, at least abstractly in that it inserts hierarchy into heaven and it offloads material creation responsibilities onto a lower God (thus providing a solution to the problem of evil/pain/suffering), but it raises the question: which came first? 

In my opinion, the answer is self-evident.  The more Jewish view gets the priority because Jesus was (presumed to be) Jewish.  It seems entirely unlikely that the Valentinian view (or any similar predecessor) would have preceded the Cerinthian and Carpocratian models, because Cerinthus and Carpocrates both rely more on Jewish literature; likewise, they are both less hostile (or at least more ambivalent) to Judaism and Yahweh.  Providing support for this chronological conclusion is that the Cerinthians and Carpocratians are associated with the Synoptic Gospels – as I have mentioned in other posts, Cerinthus might have constructed some proto-Synoptic Gospel which gave rise to Mark and Matthew; Cerinthus was also associated with, and presumed to have written, Revelation.

In this paradigm, when one considers other important players in the pre-Orthodoxy, it is easy to see how Christianity evolved from a Cerinthian/Ebionite/Carpocratian/Synoptic model into the Valentinians; the fact that the Valentinians thrived in a tiered theological system, where initiation was required prior to receiving Gnosis, their adoption of various Synoptic and seemingly non-Gnostic material is not improbable.

When one factors in Marcion, who injected increasing hostility towards Judaism, and who seems at least partially responsible for the preservation and/or invention of the extant Paul letters (at least Galatians and 2 Corinthians), coupled with an increasingly robust Syrian and Alexandrian Gnosticism during a time of major growth in middle-Platonism, it is easy to understand what gave rise to the Valentinians, who relied on content from all of these groups in assembling their own theology.

1438140690The uniting catalyst in this mix was probably the bar Kokhba revolt in the 130s, which featured a doomed messiah claimant, Simon bar Kokhba, who persecuted Christians who refused to join him in his fight against Rome.  This was a recipe for alienation and schism, and the subsequent Jewish expulsion from Judea cemented this.

This  progression helps to explain some of the strange developments within Heterodoxical (pre-Catholic) Christianity, but it is by no means a “silver bullet” for all of the dissonant details in Christian history.  For example, it does not explain why there was such wide diversity among Christians before bar Kochba and the Valentinians.  One curious contrast was the one between the Cerinthians and the Ebionites.

The Cerinthians and Ebionites both used a Synoptic-looking Gospel which probably resembled Mark or Matthew.  Likewise, both groups agreed Jesus and the Christ were separate, and that the Christ left Jesus prior to crucifixion.  Yet the Cerinthians had a different high God than the Ebionites did.  It would appear that the Ebionites saw Yahweh and Elyon as the same God, where the Cerinthians had a hierarchy which seemed to have resembled the Canaanite religion, where the Earth’s creation was performed by inferior angels.

Approaching Cerinthus through a Greek lens reveals his insertion of the Demiurge, or the world-craftsman.  This was my simplistic conclusion on the matter for some time, but a problem (or at least a point of intrigue) is that Cerinthus seems to have relied on a Jewish worldview, especially if one presumes he was a consumer or contributor to Revelation, which strongly relies on various Old Testament texts, including Daniel and Ezekiel.  Another simplistic solution in this matter is that it was presumed among Ezekiel’s consumers that Ezekiel was a teacher to Aristotle; this probably is not true, but what it demonstrates is that there was intellectual flow between the Jewish and Greek world, and that flow was probably occurring for hundreds of years.

3a90210fe9d8851717e543dff446fb89Revelation also provides insight into its Jewish origins which solve this Jewish Demiurge dilemma.  Specifically, the reference to the woman clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet and a crown of stars.  This woman was the Queen of Heaven, a carry over from a long-lost religion which was purged from the 1st temple in the 7th century BCE (2 Kings 22-23).  She became known as Wisdom, was associated with the tree of life from Genesis, and worshippers burned incense for her.  She not only seems to have been the influence for the Gnostic Sophia, but she also seems to have worked her way into the later Jewish Gnostic belief known as Kabbalah, which integrates a concept called Chochmah Nistara, or “hidden Wisdom”.

Revelation describes the Queen giving birth to a child, who was presumably a reference to the messiah.  But another detail which is not inconsequential is its reference to the Queen’s other children, who were the ones who “kept” the law (Rev 12:17).

The Hebrew term nāsar means to guard, preserve, or keep.  This seems to be a quite obvious link which connects the Cerinthians (and any Revelation consumer) to the Nasaraeans.

This raises a question:  If the Cerinthians revered the Queen of Heaven, and the Nasaraeans were connected to the Cerinthians via Revelation 12:17, and its reference to the “keepers of the law”, does that mean the Nasaraeans were connected to the Queen of Heaven too?  Yes.

My support for that goes back to the purge of the Queen from Solomon’s temple in the 7th Century BCE.  King Josiah’s inspiration to purge the Queen came when his high priest found a lost law book of Moses, presumably Deuteronomy, while renovating the temple.  This book, which claimed to have been written by Moses, implores its readers to reject the Queen of Heaven, Baal, and other Polytheistic echoes.

It is striking then that these Nasaraenes lived among Jews, observed Jewish holidays, but rejected the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament).  According to Epiphanius, one of the reasons they rejected the Pentateuch was because they had a “secret book” which they claimed was written by Moses.  Consider this Nasaraene claim in the context of King Josiah’s purge, and it is easy to understand the Nasaraeane motivation:  they did not like Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform.

In other words, they were the theological descendants of those people who are described in Jeremiah 44:16-18, who blamed the destruction of Solomon’s temple on Josiah’s Deuteronomic reforms:

“We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! 17 We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. 18 But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”

It seems likely that the Cerinthians were derivatives of the Nasaraenes, or the keepers of the 1st temple law, but this by itself does not anwer the question of why the Cerinthians had a different God than the Ebionites, despite the two groups having remarkably similar views about Jesus (that he and the Christ were separate).

One solution is that the original, first-temple law left room for a hierarchy in heaven.  In light of the subsequent direction of temple-Judaism in the 800 years following Josiah’s purge, and the fact that Yahweh became Elyon (the most high) within Orthodoxical Judaism, it seems natural that this would have been where the gravitational pull took the group; indeed even the God of Christianity became the God of Judaism despite the fact that several early Christian groups explicitly denied Yahweh was the most high, notably the Marcionites, Valentinians, Cerinthians, and Manicheans.

Another piece of the puzzle lies with Elxai, presumably the figurehead of the Elcesites, a group to which Mani the Manichean belonged.  According to Epiphanius, this Elxai led an enormously diverse group of Christians and non-Christians, which included Essenes, Ebionites, Nasaraeans, and Nazarenes.

The timeline we have for Elxai was the late 1st or early 2nd century; however, given what appears to be a clear connection between these groups and the Queen of Heaven, an obvious inference is that Elxai was not doing anything new.

This historical detail also renders an obvious link between Cerinthus and the Ebionites if one presumes the Cerinthians were a Nasaraeane derivative via their connection to Elxai; in other words, Elxai was a leader of a diverse group who were “keepers” of the law – the Nasar.  The significant theological differences between Cerinthus and the Ebionites were probably, at least for a time, overcome by the group’s broader goals of adherence to “the way”, which probably included concerns for a restoration of the 1st temple and the royal priesthood, which would have been the Order of Melchizadek, as opposed to the more Moses-centric Aaronic priesthood, which had control over the 2nd temple.  This view is probably represented in Hebrews 7:14-19

For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

It appears there were many manifestations of the Queen of Heaven.  We see instances with the mother from Revelation 12, Sophia in various Gnostic theologies, a likely reference to her in the Kaballah, and various echoes of her throughout the Old Testament.  But she also shows up in 2 Esdras 9-10, as a woman mourning the death of her child.  Below are excerpts:

I went out as he told me into the field that is called Ardat…Listen to me, Israel! Offspring of Jacob, pay attention to what I say! Look, I am sowing my Law in you, and it will bear fruit in you, and you will be glorified in it forever…While I was saying these things in my heart, 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…She said to me: “I, your servant, was infertile, and I hadn’t given birth, although I had a husband for thirty years. Hour after hour and day after day during these thirty years I pleaded with the Most High by night and day…After thirty years God heard your servant and saw how dejected I was. He attended to my distress and gave me a son…But it happened that when my son went into his wedding chamber, he fell down and died. We extinguished all our lamps, and all my fellow citizens rose to console me…I got up at night and fled, and I came into this field

It is interesting to note that the setting for this exchange with the grieving lady was a field, especially considering Mark 15 has Simon of Cyrene snatched from a field to bear Jesus Christ’s cross.

The conclusion of this story in 2 Esdras gives the grieving woman’s fate – she became a city…a replacement for the destroyed city.  The most high would come to intervene

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. I was afraid, and I shouted with a great voice,  “Where’s the angel Uriel, who came to me from the beginning?…”  While I was saying these things, the angel who had come to me in the beginning came to me again and looked at me.

“This woman whom you saw is Zion, whom you now see built as a city. As for what she said to you, that she was infertile for thirty years, it is because there were three thousand years in the world when offerings weren’t yet made in her. After three thousand years, Solomon built the city and made offerings. That is when the infertile woman bore a son.  As for what she said to you, that she nourished him with labor, this was the time that Jerusalem was inhabited. And as for what she said to you, that her son came into his wedding chamber and died and that misfortune happened to her, this is the destruction that happened to Jerusalem. Indeed, you saw her likeness, how she mourns her son, and you began to console her over these things that had happened. (These things were to be shown to you. )  Now the Most High, seeing that you are sincerely saddened and that you suffer for her with all your heart, has shown you the splendor of her glory and the beauty with which she is adorned. For this reason I told you to remain in the field where no house is built:  I knew that the Most High was about to show you these things.

Tomorrow night you will remain here, and the Most High will show you in dream visions what the Most High will bring about for those who live on earth in the last days.”

From Cerinthus To Cephas To Peter

Up until a month ago, my view was that the heretic Cerinthus should primarily be associated with Revelation and the Gospel of Mark.  My reasoning behind associating Cerinthus with Revelation relies mostly on the fact that various groups asserted he wrote it, notably the Alogi and Caius the Presbyter.

john-bathhouse-cerinthus-luyken-1740An economical position in the face of likely objection by those who adhere to the traditional narratives about Revelation’s authorship* is that Cerinthus was probably a consumer of Revelation, perhaps holding some leadership position with an early iteration of Johannine Christians.  A subsequent speculation I make is that Cerinthus’ theological interpretation of Revelation was different than John’s (assuming John even existed), which is why Irenaeus relays the story about John fleeing from a bathhouse after encountering Cerinthus in AH iii.3.

*Note:  Revelation’s author was presumably a person named John – Irenaeus adamantly claimed in Against Heresies that it was John the Apostle who wrote Revelation and John’s Gospel, but it was later presumed that it was John the Evangelist (or some alternative John) who wrote it.  This idea seems to have been first proposed by Eusebius in the early 4th century.

Cerinthus’ association with the Gospel of Mark is more nuanced. Irenaeus implied this association in AH iii.11.7 and i.26.1

3.11.7:

Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark


1.26.1

[According to Cerinthus] But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being.

–BEGIN TANGENT

When reading Mark through the lens of Revelation (or vice versa), interesting correlations emerge, such as the reference to the young man dressed in white in Mark 16; compare that to the old man dressed in white in Revelation 1.  One speculation is that both these men were representations of the angel Gabriel, whose role as God’s proxy seems to have been eventually taken up by Jesus, particularly in the Gospel of John 14:6, when Jesus says  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  This role is quite analogous to other messengers in mythology, notably Anubis and Hermes.

–END TANGENT

A detail which made me rethink Cerinthus’ explicit attachment to Mark was a curious statement by Epiphanius in Panarion

For [the Cerinthians] use the Gospel according to Matthew—in part and not in its entirety

This is a curious statement by Epiphanius, but it is also exactly the sort of data I would expect to see in my developing model.  Most church fathers made it clear that the Ebionites used the Gospel according to Matthew.  Of course the Ebionites rejected the virgin birth.  If we presume that the Ebionites were derivatives (or the same) as the “men from James” Paul describes in Galatians 2:11-13, and we place Paul in the first century CE, then we might conclude that the earliest version of Matthew lacked a virgin birth…a speculation which is not altogether radical.

If this is the case though, then the original version of Matthew’s Gospel was even more similar to Mark than it is now – in fact, they would have probably been difficult to distinguish from one another, considering 90% of Mark is used in Matthew; coupled with the fact that the Ebionites and Cerinthians (and the Carpocratians) saw the Christ as a separate entity from a human Jesus, a likely solution is that this adoptionist belief was indeed part of the earliest Christian theology, and that Cerinthus and the Ebionites were contributors to a proto-Synoptic Gospel which later diverged into Mark and Matthew; therefore, the names that the early church fathers attached to the first two Gospels might very well be interchangeable.  Incidentally, this solves part of the Synoptic problem.

Consider one original distinction between the Cerinthian and Ebionite theologies, notably the notion of the high God.  Whereas the Ebionites held a decidedly 2nd temple view of the high God, where Yahweh was the most high, the Cerinthians believed the high God was separate from the creators of the earth, who were angels far removed from Elyon.  It is therefore not inconsequential that the Cerinthians had a theology which would have left room for the Queen of Heaven, considering she shows up in Revelation 12 (a text which we already speculate was consumed and/or authored by Cerinthus) as the mother of the messiah, who is also the mother of those who kept the true law, and not the same law as the one invented by Josiah and his high priest after finding the phony lost law of Moses prior to his 1st temple purge of the Queen and Baal in the 7th century BCE.

Irenaeus implicitly contrasted Cerinthus and the Ebionites in Against Heresies 1.26, but he explicitly contrasted the Ebionites with Paul, whom the Ebionites believed was an “apostate from the law.”

In other words, where Paul sharply diverged from the Ebionites, the contrast between the Ebionites and Cerinthus was more nuanced.  This is consistent with the extant canonical Gospels, notably the anti-Paul sentiments in Matthew, where Mark’s Christology is not only in-line with Paul’s, but also seems to equate Paul with Simon of Cyrene.

A major implication here is that Cerinthus is analogous to the Cephas whom Paul described in Galatians.  Cerinthus was originally, or at least superficially, attached to a Marcan theology, but had enough Ebionite sympathies that he came to associate with them, and therefore to the Gospel of Matthew which the Ebionites consumed; perhaps this explains the divergence between Mark and Matthew in the proto-Synoptic Gospel referenced earlier.  That Cerinthus is also associated with Revelation makes 2 Corin 12 more striking, specifically where Paul says that he knew a man who, 14 years earlier, was taken to the third heaven and saw “unspeakable things”.  The link becomes even stronger when, later in 2 Corin 12, Paul discusses the other “super apostles”, compared to whom he is not the least bit inferior (2 Corin 12:11).

The link here is that this was Revelation’s exact setting; according to Caius the Presbyter, Cerinthus wrote Revelation while “pretending to be a great apostle”.

This must be along a similar timeline as Paul described in Galatians 1-2, where he talked about 3 years after his conversion, and meeting Cephas for the first time in Jerusalem.  14 years later, he went to Jerusalem again, and had his famous conflict with Cephas (Gal 2:11-21).

Consider Epiphanius’ description of Cerinthus in this context:

And so Cerinthus stirred the circumcised multitudes up over Peter on his return to Jerusalem by saying, ‘He went in to [a place with uncircumcised] men…’ For, because he was circumcised himself he sought an excuse, through circumcision if you please, for his opposition to the uncircumcised believers…

[The Cerinthians] discount Paul, however, because he did not obey the circumcised. Moreover they reject him for saying, ‘Whosoever of you are justified by the Law, ye are fallen from grace,’ and, ‘If ye be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.’

Epiphanius referred to Acts 11 with the reference to Peter going into a house of uncircumcised men.  In Acts 11, Peter is chided by someone (it was Cerinthus, according to Epiphanius) for going into a house of uncircumcised men, something which would have been blasphemous to those “men from James” who had tainted Cephas’ faith in Galatians 2.  Peter in Acts 11 explained why it was acceptable for him to eat unclean meat with uncircumcised men – entirely in contrast to Paul’s Cephas in Galatians 2, who adopted an increasingly Jewish, anti-Paul position as a result of Ebionite influence.

What Epiphanius was doing was offloading attributes of Paul’s Cephas onto Cerinthus, and subsequently remaking Peter 2.0 as a carbon copy of the Acts version of Paul – a superstar apostle and entirely Orthodox team-player who was existentially incapable of heresy once he received the Spirit.  In other words, at least according to Epiphanius, the worst part of Paul’s Cephas became Cerinthus and the remaining shell was recrafted as Peter, a new and completely Orthodox doppelganger.  This brought Matthew consumers into the new Orthodoxy by remaking one of their revered figures to be an exact match to the sanitized Christianity.  This is a very interesting detail in light of the already curious parallels between Cephas-Peter and Cerinthus.

How Jesus Got To Earth

john-bathhouse-cerinthus-luyken-1740The earliest Christian theologies seem to be described in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies i.25 and i.26, notably the Carpocratians, Cerinthians, and Ebionites.  In my mind, the most intriguing of these three groups is the Cerinthians, because I believe they are the epicenter of the Christ-on-Earth theology.

Irenaeus described Cerinthus and his followers in AH i.26.1.  In AH iii.11.7, Irenaeus implied those who use the Gospel of Mark were an exact theological match to Cerinthus.  Epiphanius claimed Cerinthus consumed the Gospel of Matthew, and according to Eusebius, a wide variety of fringe Christians assumed Cerinthus wrote John’s Gospel and/or Revelation.  There is much to be unwrapped in this complicated matrix, but my speculation is that it was Cerinthus who wrote the proto-Synoptic Gospel which later diverged into Mark and Matthew.

Clearly, these early Christian groups relied on a story about Jesus on Earth.  The question of whether these groups saw Jesus as truly human, or whether they saw him as an allegory designed to advance their own agenda, is an entirely different question that is difficult to answer.  It could be the case that these groups had different humans who were influencing their personification of the Gospel Jesus.  Or it might simply be that the Christ on Earth gave each splintered group leverage to elect a leader they claimed had inherited the Spirit from the fictional Jesus after his death.  This motif is clearly evident with Mark’s invocation of Simon of Cyrene, whose carrying of Jesus’ cross granted him the Spirit prior to Jesus’ death.

In my mind, one of the most important details around the development of an earthly Jesus centers around a curious character described by Hippolytus and Epiphanius named Elxai.  Elxai was the figurehead for an extremely diverse collection of Jewish Christians, notably a group of Essenes, Ebionites, Nasaraeans, and Nazarenes.  As if this diverse conglomeration were not odd enough, he and his followers also believed that the Spirit and Christ were 96 mile tall figures in the sky, evidently positioned as beacons to send signals of themselves out to the elect, presumably to those baptized and initiated into the underlying mystery.

With that detail, it is easy enough to imagine why Cerinthus and the Ebionites believed the Christ descended onto the ordinary Jesus-man.  It was because the Christ/Spirit was fluid, and went to those worthy to receive it.  This notion is echoed throughout Acts of the Apostles, particularly in Acts 8, where Simon Magus went so far as attempting to purchase the Spirit without proper initiation or worthiness.  For his deal-making offer, he was chastised by Christian writers for hundreds of years.

Though it is relatively easy to build a bridge between Elxai’s 96 mile tall Spirit/Christ and the earliest Christ-on-Earth theologies, it still raises the question:  why did Elxai have such a diverse group of followers?

There are a few attributes that many of these groups had which I believe offers insight:

  1.  They relied on special, apocalyptic texts
  2. They tended to have heterodoxical views of Jewish prophets, notably Moses, and even perhaps a distinction between Yahweh and the “Most High”, El Elyon
  3. They increasingly rejected the Pentateuch
  4. Despite 1-3, they came from a Jewish background

The key to these strange attributes can be found in Revelation 12, and the woman clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet.  Though this woman is clearly an inspiration of the wisdom Aeon Sophia, her more obvious root is the Queen of Heaven, who was a centerpiece in the 1st temple period.

Though the Queen was purged from the temple in the 7th century BCE, and subsequently replaced by a Moses-centric, law-centric, Deuteronomic, monotheistic Jewish theology, Revelation 12 demonstrates that she remained a vital figure in various sects who were becoming increasingly disillusioned in a region in chaos, and whose concerns transcended socioeconomic and regional partitions.

There were probably many manifestations of Queen of Heaven cults, but if Revelation 12 is any indication, then Revelation’s consumers clearly believed the Christ was the child of the Queen, and therefore their heaven-sent brother.  He was raised in heaven and would return to save the earth from the dragon, the beasts, and other villains and apocalyptic imagery.

Though the Queen and dragon originated in heaven, the war in heaven brought them both to Earth.  Stories are indeed easier to explain and understand when they’re described on Earth.

An emerging feature, although arguably original, following the Cerinthus-Ebionite-Carpocratian generation was the Paraclete.  The Paraclete would be the manifestation of the Spirit on Earth, sent by God to finish Jesus’ work.  This is described in the Gospel of John, but the concept also seems to exist in the Gospel of Mark and Acts of the Apostles.

The matter of who the Paraclete would be must have been of some dispute, as any motivated would-be leader would have seen political leverage by claiming to be the Paraclete.  The Gospel of Thomas (saying 15) seems aware of this issue, and has Jesus saying that the Paraclete would be one who was “not born of a woman”.

Two details are interesting in this area:

  1.  The Ebionite pseudo-Clementines (the Ebionites did not believe in the virgin birth) said that Simon Magus claimed to be born of a virgin
  2. Paul makes several references to strange circumstances surrounding his birth, notably 1 Corin 15:8 – “and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

A group that became known as the Western Valentinians brought with them to Rome around the mid-2nd century a theology which relied on the Christ descending onto Jesus – the original theology, it would seem.  Yet their Eastern Valentinian counterparts, who did not make the trek west, interjected the virgin birth into their theology.

My speculation from this detail is that the virgin birth was indeed an Eastern Valentinian invention brought on by the need to stamp out Paraclete claimants.  Thus, antiquity had its extant formulation of Jesus Christ – an ordinary man who received the Spirit after baptism, but who was born of a virgin, but who also pre-existed the Earth’s creation as the “word of God” (the Logos), and who (in older versions of the story) freed the wisdom Aeon Sophia, who was trapped in a lower layer of heaven, prior to coming to Earth to be sacrificed to the God who would subsequently stop requiring all such sacrifice because Jesus’ death was finally enough. After this, the western world would experience roughly 1700 years of increasing zeal for Christ’s teachings, despite little benefit in terms of quality of life, infant mortality, or longevity.