Christianity And The Heretics

There is a single idea at the root of every single word I have written about the earliest Christians.  It is an idea that would certainly be rejected by conservative Christians, and probably the large majority of “critical” Christian scholars, as well.

The idea is this:  conventional wisdom states that the earliest heretics took proto-Orthodox Christian ideas and texts, and flipped, or otherwise corrupted them to support their own, weird philosophies.  This paradigm is erroneous.

Rather, I believe that the heretical interpretations which are described in-depth by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other Heresiologists represent the original spirit in which the earliest Christian tenets were invented.

My speculation is rooted in a reality which the Gospels and other New Testament literature so often violates.  For example, consider a famous blunder the Gospel of Mark makes when it has Jesus go from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee (Mk 7:24-31).  Though observers poke fun at Mark’s woefully inefficient route (50 or so unnecessary miles on foot), I cannot help but wonder if the woman Jesus met, who begged him to exorcise the demons from her daughter (before Jesus called her a dog!), was a reference to a story about that messianic claimant, Simon Magus of Samaria, who, according to Irenaeus (AH i.23), rescued his female counterpart, Helen, who had been a slave and worked as a prostitute.  Helen was from Tyre and Simon claimed to be a messiah.  This female companion trope shows up in the Gospel of John, where Jesus, who was accused of being a Samaritan (Jn 8:48), gave the former prostitute Mary Magdalene a special prophesy (Jn 20:18).

Simon_Magus_-_1620

An even more obvious example of this speculative corrupted Christianity involves Satan.  The obscure Old Testament co-conspirator who dared God to ruin Job’s life by killing his family and destroying his means of income comes back with a vengeance in Christianity as the owner and operator of hell.  Aside from being the progenitor of Earthly evil, Satan has a post-death underworld realm he controls, which doubles as the destination for Heaven’s rejects.

And so we encounter Christianity’s primary recruitment problem: a loving God will reject some number of Earth’s population because of perceived violation of obscure and inconsistent rules.  Instead of the soul being rendered null in eternity’s abyss, there is a symbiotic hand-off where God sends the soul to Satan’s domain.  Once in hell, the rejected soul undergoes trillions of years of torture (thanks Dad).

Satan makes little sense in this context, which puts God in the back-seat, and promotes Satan, in terms of managing behavior on Earth; this detail is not lost on those blasphemous enough to poke fun at this Iron Age invention.

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It is my contention that Satan makes more sense in the Gnostic and quasi-Gnostic worldview, particularly that of Cerinthus, who supposed Earth was crafted by lower angels ignorant of the most-high.  In this Cerinthian view, and its derivatives (such as the Valentinians and Marcionites), the responsibility is on the Christian practitioner to become aware of the gulf between the material realm and the one above it, which is where the most high God resides.  From there, standard mystery religion rules apply:  collect the proper amulets, recite magical incantations, perform the proper rites, and you’ll out-maneuver the “Principalities and The Rulers and The Powers of this dark world(Eph 6:12).  In other words, the Gnostics suppose that Earth is hell, and that Christ is the way out!

Consider also demonic possessions, which are highlighted in the Gospels.  In the Gospel framework, Satan not only controls actions on Earth and hosts the soul junkyard, but he can also reside within a human’s body!  One wonders if the Christian God has any influence on this Earth at all.  In the Orthodox view, he must not have much!

My theory is that the earliest Mark and proto-Matthew/Luke architects (notably Cerinthus) did not believe that the most high God had much use for this material world, and that the deeper Christian mysteries would reveal to practitioners how they could get to him (Jn 14:6).  Demonic possession makes much more sense when the ruler of the world is hostile to humanity.  Consider Jesus’s vitriol against the Pharisees around John 8:44, where he calls them the children of Satan!  Does that attack make more sense in the modern Christian understanding of Satan, or does it make more sense in the view that the creator and manager of Earth is separate from the loving God Christians imagine?

Could Jesus really be saying that the Pharisees are sons of Satan?  Plenty of Christians believe this.  What is really happening in this passage is that Jesus differentes the Jewish God from Christ’s God.

There are also individual passages which we sometimes get insight into.  For instance, the “very last farthing” passage in Matthew 5 and Luke 12:

Whilst you are with your adversary in the way, give all diligence, that you may be delivered from him, lest he give you up to the judge, and the judge surrender you to the officer, and he cast you into prison. Verily, I say unto you, you shall not go out thence until you pay the very last farthing.

Irenaeus gives details about how the Carpocratians, who used a Matthew or Luke Gospel, interpreted this passage in Against Heresies i.25.  Irenaeus wrote “They deem it necessary, therefore, that by means of transmigration from body to body, souls should have experience of every kind of life as well as every kind of action…They also declare the adversary is one of those angels who are in the world, whom they call the Devil, maintaining that he was formed for this purpose, that he might lead those souls which have perished from the world to the Supreme Ruler.”.

Biblehub.com gives a variety of theological interpretations of this passage, some of which make more sense than others (I will leave it to the reader to determine whether they care enough to parse any of these interpretations); it is clear to me that this passage should be used in conjunction with “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, which is found in the Gospel of Thomas, as well as the Synoptic Gospels.  The point is obvious from a “Gnostic” perspective: the material wealth, money or other, which one accumulates in this world must be surrendered in order to escape the Demiurge‘s prison, which is this world.  Failure to do so will result in reincarnation, which was a widely-held view of several heretical groups.

Irenaeus gives Valentinian interpretations, as well.  For instance, when Jesus says on the cross “My God why have you foresaken me”, Irenaeus gives the following Valentinian interpretation:

“Jesus simply showed that Sophia was deserted by the light, and was restrained by Horos from making any advance forward.”

According to Irenaeus, the Valentinian interpretation of Jesus’s Earthly crucifixion was that it was allegory for Sophia’s imprisonment outside of the Pleroma.  This would indeed make more sense than the Orthodox interpretation, which has superman Jesus experiencing pain and doubt on the cross, despite being the actual “word of God”.  There were theological battles over whether Jesus experienced pain on the cross for hundreds of years.  Doesn’t it make more sense that, in light of an absolute absence of Jesus in secular history, coupled with clear composition of multiple biblical and historical figures feeding into Gospel Jesus (notably Jesus ben Ananias, Theudas, the Egyptian, Paul, and James), that the whole Gospel story was allegory of a much broader religious mystery?

Consider Irenaeus’s description of the Valentinian interpretation of the parable of the leaven:

Also the parable of the leaven [Note:  Matthew 13, Luke 13] which the woman is described as having hid in three measures of meal, they declare to make manifest the three classes. For, according to their teaching, the woman represented Sophia; the three measures of meal, the three kinds of men— spiritual, animal, and material; while the leaven denoted the Saviour Himself.

Traditionally, leaven was used as a symbol of evil desire (Weber, p. 221).  A common interpretation of this parable is that Jesus flipped that symbolism on its head, giving the leavening as a metaphor for spreading Christianity.  To the Gnostics, the “three measures” is a source of mystery:  Sophia rendered the 3 types of humans, and it was through the Christ that her measures were intertwined.  Saint Irenaeus gives away the mystery here, and in implementing his own Orthodoxy, purges a more interesting metaphor.

 

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Theodotus And Christian Evolution

When I was writing about Elxai, his 96 mile-tall Christ angel, and his super-secret apocalyptic story about the wars among angels, I stumbled onto a passage Hippolytus wrote in Refutation of All Heresies, the significance of which only occurred to me this morning:

…Theodotus [of Byzantium] has been a victim of error, deriving contributions to his system partly from the Ebionites, (partly from Cerinthus).

Hippolytus described a hierarchy of influence.  In this description, Hippolytus took the opportunity to wage a polemic against early 3nd century Pope (/Saint) Callistus  by writing that he took influence from Theodotus of Byzantium, who was influenced by Cerinthus and the Ebionites.

Elxai

Hippolytus gives specific details about influence:

…how Callistus, intermingling the heresy of Cleomenes, the disciple of Noetus, with that of Theodotus, constructed another more novel heresy….

In Against Heresies i.26, Irenaeus describes the Ebionite and Cerinthian Christologies as roughly similar – both believed Jesus was an ordinary man who received the Spirit after baptism (the 96 mile tall Spirit?  According to Epiphanius in his Panarion, Ebionites came to espouse this view after following Elxai!).  The core detail distinguishing the two groups was a sort of proto-Demiurge:  Cerinthus believed that inferior angels created the Earth, where the Ebionites believed it was the God of Abraham (so Irenaeus says).  The heresiologists are quick to say that Cerinthus was (educated as) an Egyptian (as in Josephus’s Egyptian?), my speculation is that this proto-Demiurge notion was probably found in 1st temple Judaism, prior to Josiah’s reform.

Hippolytus gives a peculiar description of Theodotus’s views in Refutation 10.19:

And Theodotus affirms that Christ is a man of a kindred nature with all men…He had been born of a virgin, and the Holy Ghost had overshadowed His mother…[Theodotus] maintained that Jesus had not assumed flesh in the womb of the Virgin, but that afterwards Christ descended upon Jesus at His baptism in form of a dove. And from this circumstance, the lowers of Theodotus affirm that at first miraculous powers did not acquire operating energy in Saviour Himself. Theodotus, however, determines to deny the divinity of Christ

Theodotus is an almost perfect hodge-podge of the Ebionites and Nazarenes – the distinguishing detail was that the Nazarenes had the virgin birth and resurrection, where the Ebionites did not.  Both used something like the Gospel of Matthew (with perhaps some harmonization with Luke).

Theodotus was on a theological no-man’s land.  On one side of the Jesus debate, practitioners believed the Spirit descends on ordinary-man Jesus.  On the other side, Jesus was divinely manifested by Zeus’s (sorry, did I say Zeus?) artificial insemination of Mary.  My lack of attention to Theodotus until now has led me to assume that the two views are entirely incompatible.  Yet, Theodotus held both(!).

My speculation is that Theodotus held both of these views for the same reason humans still have appendixes and wisdom teeth, and for the same reason that whales have a oddly-placed hip-bone.  Theodotus had vestiges of older faiths!  The adoptionistic view, which was held by Cerinthus and the Ebionites, was an older version which must have been losing sway among the upper echelon of Christian leaders in the late 2nd century, perhaps as Christianity’s proto-Orthodoxy sought more obvious differentiation from Judaism, which was not well-received in Rome.  Alternatively, the injection of the virgin birth was to create differentiation between (what must have been a growing collection of) Paraclete claimants and the “original” Gospel Christ, who was concocted relying on attributes of Prophets and earlier Paracletes/Christ owners.

humpbackwhaleskeleton

But if Theodotus took his influence from the Cerinthians and Ebionites, where did the virgin birth come from?  This ties into earlier speculations I have made that the virgin birth existed in the East by the mid-2nd century, advocated by the Eastern Valentinians, among others.

The passage “Jesus had not assumed flesh in the womb of the virgin” is compatible with various views, including the Marcionites, who apparently did not believe Jesus had any flesh at all, and the Eastern Valentinians, who believed Jesus Christ’s body was spiritual, and that he was born from Mary as through a pipe, never making contact with her.

In this light, given the mystery origins of Christianity, my suspicion is that Theodotus was indeed influenced by the school of Valentinus, which evidently had members who did not share deeper elements of the mystery with lower-level initiates.  In Against the Valentinians, Tertullian writes

In like manner [as the Eleusinian mysteries], the heretics who are now the object of our remarks, the Valentinians, have formed Eleusinian dissipations of their own, consecrated by profound silence

Who Was Elxai?

To most people who have pondered him, Elxai was simply another, in a long line of obscure heretics who played a marginal role on the fringes of early Christianity.

Elxai’s curious doctrine included male and female 96 mile-tall angels who lived in the sky.  The male was the son of God, and the female was the Holy Spirit.  A clear prototype of an emerging Christian Trinity should be noted here, as a father, mother, and son make for plausible and economical early formulation of the Christian Trinity.

Along with Elxai’s pre-Trinity formulation, he also advocated remission of sins via the combination of belief, obeying his book, and baptism. This baptism included adherence to his book, which made reference to “seven witnesses” which were critical in his mystery:  heaven, water, holy spirits, angels of prayer, oil, salt, and earth.

He seems to have had a Pythagorean (Platonic) worldview, which to Hippolytus, equated to concerns for astrology and magic, and he believed followers should be circumcised and live according to the (Jewish) law.  According to Hippolytus:

…he asserts that Christ was born a man in the same way as common to all, and that Christ was not for the first time on earth when born of a virgin…that frequently again he had been born and would be born.  Christ would thus appear and exist among us from time to time, undergoing alterations of birth, and having his soul transferred from body to body.

According to Elxai (via Hippolytus), Jesus would return to earth over-and-over again.  Could this be a precursor to the Paraclete?  The mention of “undergoing alterations of birth” is also remarkable.  Perhaps Elxai’s view was that Jesus would be born normally in one generation, but abnormally, such as via a miscarriage (1 Cor 15:7-8), in a subsequent generation.  Consider this in the context of Jesus telling his apostles in the Gospel of Thomas that they should fall down on their faces when they find one “not born from a woman”.

Hippolytus’s description appears to be compatible with the beliefs of Basilides, who used the Gospel of Mark, and believed that the Spirit which was encapsulated within Jesus Christ transferred to Simon of Cyrene prior to his crucifixion.  Likewise, the notion of reincarnation is quite compatible with this view.  The fact that Elxai incorporated the notion that the Christ Spirit would descend onto Jesus under the right circumstances is likewise similar to other early Markan/Matthean readers, such as the Ebionites and Cerinthians.

Though Hippolytus references the “third year of Trajan’s reign”, C 100 CE, it is not entirely obvious that this was the time Elxai was active; Hippolytus references students of Elxai, Pope Callistus (c 210CE) and Sobiai – both received Elxai’s teachings.  However, Hippolytus appeared to err in his assumption about the personhood of Sobiai.  Rather, Sobiai seems to be a reference to an Aramaic term, which means “sworn members” (Lightfoot, St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 1876).

In contrast to more popular heretics such as Marcion and Valentinus, Elxai was not mentioned by Irenaeus in Against Heresies.  Rather, the first mention of him was when Hippolytus wrote about him in Refutation of All Heresies.

Hippolytus paints a complex picture of influence with Pope Callistus as roughly the hub.  Callistus was influenced by the Noetians.  Callistus was also influenced by Theodotus the Tanner.  Callistus’s doctrines were expanded by Alcibiades, who claimed to have Elxai’s book, which included, among other things, a story of war in heaven among angels.

Elxai

Alcibiades was contemporary with Mani the Prophet, who was also said to be an Elchesite.  Therefore, the following speculations are most economical:

  1. Mani was a disciple of Alcibiades
  2. Mani and Alcibiades were disciples of an Elchesite teacher who had Elxai’s book.
  3. This Elchesite religion was much more prominent than the Heresiologists (Hippolytus, Epiphanius, etc) would admit

Callistus’s role in this hierarchy should not be understated; note that, according to Hippolytus, Callistus had influence from Theodotus the Tanner (or shoemaker).  Hippolytus wrote “How Theodotus has been a victim of error, deriving contributions to his system partly from the Ebionaeans (partly from Cerinthus).”

Consider a New Testament parallel in Acts of the Apostles.  There is only one book in the entire bible (including the Old Testament) which makes reference to the tanner profession: Acts of the Apostles.  Acts 9 has Peter bringing a Tabitha back to life in Joppa (Tabitha was also called Dorcas – as Eisenman speculates, Dorcas may be Dortas, a reference to Dositheus.  In the Pseudo-Clementines, Simon Magus overcomes Dositheus to take control of John the Baptist’s sect).

During his time in Joppa, Peter stayed with a tanner named Simon(!).  If this anecdote is fictional (which it no doubt is), consider a reason why an author would have given Simon the profession of tanner.

Tanners made shoes and other wearable products by using dead animal carcasses.  The tanning profession was not a pleasant one.  It required working with foul-smelling carcasses, and it created much pollution in local water supplies.  This profession would have been regarded with aversion by Jews because it “necessitated more or less ceremonial contamination, especially in the case of unclean animals” (Hastings, Bible Dictionary, IV, 677).

In Acts, Peter’s time with Simon preceded a change to his dietary views which were referenced (with infamous hostility) in Galatians 2, and which Paul griped were influenced by the men from James (Ebionites).  In Peter’s vision in Joppa, the lord shows Peter four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds, and commands Peter to kill and eat them.  Peter protests at first, but eventually alters his dietary rigidity.  He then goes to Jerusalem to share this vision with the apostles.  He was rebuked by some community members for eating with uncircumcised men.  According to Epiphanius, Peter’s antagonist in this scene was Cerinthus.

Read chronologically, Peter’s stay with Simon the tanner precipitated this major alteration to Christian dietary rules, and flew in the face of Jewish law.  Of course, Christianity’s rejection of Jewish law was precipitated by the Apostle Paul’s writings.

Could this anecdote of Simon the tanner be a codification of the Apostle Paul?

A few paragraphs earlier, Peter (and John) encounter another Simon who practiced magic (similar to Elxai, along with other heretics, such as Marcus the Magician and Carpocrates – Theudas [John the Baptist] was also claimed by Josephus to be a magician).  Simon Magus desired to have similar powers as the Apostles, and offered money to get those powers.  Throughout 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century polemical texts, Simon the magician became a thinly-veiled obfuscation of the Apostle Paul, although it is possible Simon the magician was his own individual person – perhaps that Simon referenced by Josephus who played matchmaker to Procurator Antonius Felix and Drusilla of Mauretania the Elder.

I have made the case in another post that Simon of Cyrene was also a codification of the Apostle Paul, and he was foreshadowed in Mark 9:38-40 as an anonymous stranger whom John told to stop casting demons in Jesus’s name.

One frivolous speculation is that Theodotus the Tanner, Simon the Tanner, and the Apostle Paul were all the same person.  A somewhat more economical speculation is that Theodotus claimed to be a reincarnation of one of the two; given the penchant for reincarnation claims within these early Christian sects, this speculation is quite possibly economical.

Regardless, we have a clear linear progression between Cerinthus and Alcibiades, who used Elxai’s book, which described a war among angels in heaven.  Recall that Eusebius of Caesaria pointed to two separate entities, Caius the Presbyter and the Alogi, who believed Cerinthus wrote the Book of Revelation. Eusebius gives the following Caius quote in Church History:

But Cerinthus also, by means of revelations which he pretends were written by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things which he falsely claims were shown him by angels; and he says that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ will be set up on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem will again be subject to desires and pleasures. And being an enemy of the Scriptures of God, he asserts, with the purpose of deceiving men, that there is to be a period of a thousand years for marriage festivals

In terms of Elxai’s description of a war among angels in heaven, consider a passage from Revelation 12:7-8

And there was war in heaven:  Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven

If Elxai’s book was not a prototype of Revelation, it seems a likely derivation.  The fact that Elxai is linked to Trajan is not inconsequential, given the tradition that the Apostle John, the earliest presumed author of Revelation, died in the year 100.  According to tradition, Trajan’s adopted father, Nerva, released John from his imprisonment on Patmos.

Elxai’s connections to other groups is again brought up by Epiphanius.  Epiphanius says that Elxai had followers who were Nasaraene, Nazarene, Ebionite, and Essene.  What a remarkable diversity among the Elchesites!

Two of the above groups, the Nasaraenes and the Essenes, were explicitly non-Christian; yet, they aligned enough to be called Elchesites!

As I have proposed, the glue which would have held these groups together was a version of Judaism which existed prior to Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform, which held reverence for the Queen of Heaven, and her law emanated from heaven.  The clue here is that, according to Epiphanius, the Nasaraenes believed they had the true teachings of Moses, which (in this hypothesis) would have been the text in its form prior to Josiah’s reform.

It seems likely that most of the earliest versions of Christianity were iterations of these various heresies, concerned with restoration of the Queen of Heaven (and her wisdom), elevation of the mother and her son (in the form of spirits manifest on earth), baptism which facilitated the encapsulation of the spirits, and demotion of Mosaic law.

Sophia And The Queen of Heaven

In various Gnostic Christian myths, Sophia was the catalyst who gave rise to creation and the material realm.  Sophia, the timeless being, or Aeon, who existed in the realm of perfection (Pleroma) as the archetype of Wisdom, felt inclined to manifest a creation of her own.  But because she lacked the proper toolset or polarity, her creation was imperfect, and this imperfection caused an eruption in the Pleroma.

sophia

Sophia created Yaldabaoth (aka Saklas, Samael), an ignorant being hell-bent on crafting his own collection of inferior beings.  This gave rise to the creation of the material realm, along with several (7, 12, or 365) princes (archons) who would subsequently rule this new realm.  These ruling archons had heads of animals, and were often associated with fallen angels.

It was no coincidence that the number of archons were correlated to our calendar.  As in other religions, these material rulers were synonymous with planets, stars, and celestial bodies.

Sophia’s first creation, Yaldabaoth, was the Demiurge.  He was the craftsman responsible for design and creation of our universe.  One intriguing implication in this matrix (pun intended) is that it solves the problem of evil because it spares the “most high” God the responsibility of our pain-ridden, cancer-filled, war-torn creation; rather, it was Sophia and her fall from grace which gave rise to our earthly woes.  Despite her role in the eruption within the Pleroma, the Gnostics considered Sophia humanity’s mother, perhaps because she is humanity’s most direct connection to the Pleroma.

I see many aspects of Gnosticism as a collection of “modules”.  One module which integrated well within Gnosticism was Platonism, particularly Plato’s forms.  The Aeons in the Pleroma were Platonic forms, all manifested from the Monad, or the most high God.  Other Aeons included Nous (mind), Aletheia (revealed truth), Anthropos (man), and Ecclesia (church) – indeed, these concepts were present in Plato’s day and philosophy.  These aeons were archetypes for material phenomena, similar to Plato’s forms – they were the light which shone to create earthly shadows, as depicted in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  In this allegory, Socrates had the misfortune of receiving Gnosis by being dragged out of the cave.  During this revelation, the protagonist realizes that the obfuscated shadows on the cave’s wall, were actually more concrete than he and his fellow prisoners had ever imagined.  He was murdered by his contemporaries for sharing his insights.

Another module within Gnosticism was its integration with Judaism, specifically the creation story in Genesis.

Instead of the most-high God inventing Adam and Eve, it was really the Demiurge, which is why Genesis 1:26 has God speaking in the plural when he says “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”.  The reason for the plural speech was because Yaldabaoth was speaking to his fellow archons.

Detecting Yaldabaoth’s mal-intent, Sophia delivered part of the divine spark to Eve, whose Spirit was then transplanted into the Tree of Knowledge.  The serpent brought Adam and Eve forbidden fruit which concealed Gnosis and/or the Divine Spark.   In contrast to Orthodox Judaism, the Gnostic story has the snake in the Garden of Eden as a heroic, salvific figure rather than an adversary of humanity or ‘proto-Satan’.  Likewise, eating the fruit of Knowledge was the first act of human salvation from cruel, oppressive powers, rather than humanity’s first act of rebellion.  In this light, it was the God of Genesis who seems the more likely prototype for Satan (in my opinion, Yaldabaoth was indeed the prototype for the eventual Orthodoxy’s picture of Satan).

One could spend much time puzzling over how such a heterodoxical view could have emerged out of the Judaism we understand today.  This puzzle is solved easily enough when considering the variety of influences early Gnostics had, notably Platonic and Alexandrian influences.  If we presume these Gnostics were Diaspora Jews living between Alexandria and Syria, this speculation is economical enough.

However, I have become skeptical of the notion that this Jewish Gnosticism was simply a fringe, cultish offshoot.

Rather, I believe the earlier version of Sophia was the Queen of Heaven, who was purged from Orthodox Judaism some 700 years earlier with King Josiah’s Deuteronomic Reform.  The catalyst for Josiah’s reform was when the priest Hilkiah found a “Book of the Law” in the temple during the early stages of Josiah’s temple renovation – different versions of this story are found in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35.  Among other things, the Book of the Law contained a large portion of extant Deuteronomy, and instructed its readers

Behold I have taught you the statutes and ordinances, as the LORD my God commanded me…Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples…And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven…You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other

A detectable theme was the contrast between earthly and heavenly wisdom.  Where pre-Deuteronomic reform made concessions for a Spiritual wisdom emanated from the most high, Josiah’s version transferred such wisdom to Mosaic Law.  Metaphorically, the Tree of Life was the Law, and the Tree of Wisdom was the wisdom which Josiah sought to purge.

Jeremiah 44:18-19 captures the lament of the Queen’s worshipers:

“But since we stopped burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and by famine.”

Indeed, the Queen of Heaven, like Sophia, was Wisdom.  The fact that both were female is not inconsequential.

As a result of Josiah’s Deuteronomic Reform, the Queen of Heaven returned to her place among the angels.  She was replaced by unrighteousness – a new woman.  This is described in 1 Enoch 42

Wisdom found not a place on earth where she could inhabit; her dwelling therefore is in heaven…But iniquity went forth after her return, who unwillingly found a habitation, and resided among them, as rain in the desert, and as dew in a thirsty land…[Chapter 43] I beheld another splendour, and the stars of heaven

Wisdom’s replacement on Earth, in my opinion, can be identified as the whore of Bablyon in the Book of Revelation (by extension, she was the 2nd Jewish temple):

There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns…And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I wondered with a great wonder. And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns.

The woman sat on the same red dragon who attacked the woman clothed in the sun in Revelation 12:

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. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.

The woman who was clothed in the sun was the Queen of Heaven.  She was pregnant and ready to give birth to the messiah.  Interestingly, messiah means “the anointed.”  What was the messiah anointed with?  The answer (obviously) is oil.  But what oil?  The oil from the Tree of Wisdom!*

*Note:  I believe there was a point of contention here.  Some pre-Christians believed the lady represented the Tree of Life, where others (probably those outside of Jerusalem) believed she represented the Tree of Wisdom

In Revelation, the child was born and was taken by God to heaven (Rev 12:5).  There is a correlation between Revelation’s description of the Christ’s mother and the one described by Irenaeus (in reference to Valentinus):

Christ also was not produced from the Aeons within the Pleroma, but was brought forth by the mother who had been excluded from it, in virtue of her remembrance of better things, but not without a kind of shadow.

The mother who was excluded from the Pleroma was Sophia, and she gave birth to the Christ, just as in Revelation, which described the Queen’s role in the preliminary battle in heaven, the dragon who catalyzed the battle, and the subsequent war which would be fought, which would usher in a thousand year peace in the New Jerusalem (Rev 20:2, Rev 21:2).

An instance of a veiled Queen reference comes in John’s Gospel with 153 fish in John 21:11.  Margaret Barker speculates in King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel that this is an instance of gematria, similar to 666 in Revelation, which was a reference to the Hebrew name Nero.  In this case, Barker speculates that the 153 is a reference to “children of a queen”, which is
BNY MLK:  B(2) + N(50) + Y(10) + M(40) + L(30) + K(20) + 1 = 153. 

These children of the queen were referenced in Revelation 12:17, who the red dragon attacked after he could no longer pursue the Queen.

This lady is detectable in Apocrypha, as well.  We glean insight from how her followers saw her in 2 Esdras 9-10, when Ezra encounters, in the field, a grieving woman with ashes in her hair.  The lady was grieving because her son died in the bridal chamber when he was 30 years old.  In 2 Esdras, the lady turns into the New Jerusalem, and her son is revealed to be Solomon’s temple.

This is a striking representation, because if this text has any relation to early Christianity, it means that the Christ was the male Spirit, who would exist in polarity with the feminine Spirit, and they would underlay the temple and the city, respectively.  Consider 1 Corin 3:16 in this context: “Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

Also consider Galatians 4:19:  “My children, with whom I am again in pains of labor until Christ is formed in you”

For Paul, the Christ forms within the children, and those children are God’s temple, and they are surrounded by the Spirit – the community of Christians was the temple and the Christ and the spirit and the city.  In this context, I think Paul was saying that he remembered his time before he was born, when he lived in a higher realm, sent by the unknowable God.  Most conservative Christians would probably disagree with me on this point, though (then again, most people who have investigated these topics will disagree with me on almost everything).

There are other strange manifestations in other Apocrypha, as well.  Consider The Gospel of Peter, where an animated Cross is described coming out of the recently emptied tomb:

And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.

Though this description of the walking Cross (along with the humongous men whose heads reached to heaven) is odd, I believe it is an artifact of an earlier Christianity, where there were Spirits which underlay the temple and the holy city, and those Spirits were prepared to manifest in the material realm when the time was right, and there would be male and female Paracletes who would encapsulate the Spirit and the Christ.

This might describe why the heretic Elxai (who used an apocalyptic text which described a war amongst angels in heaven – and which I presume to be a proto-Revelation), along with his Ebionite, Nazarene, and Nasarene followers, believed the Christ and the Spirit were 96 mile tall masculine and feminine Spirits in the sky.  It is because they were.  Elxai represents the earliest iteration of Christianity, and church fathers Hippolytus and Epiphanius unwittingly let the cat out of the bag, in terms of theological origins.

Jesus Or The Christ?

The point of the presumed earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, was not to highlight the ministry of an eccentric 1st century Judean rabbi; rather, it was to demonstrate the power of the Spirit which descended onto Jesus in the form of a dove after he was baptized.

When we isolate the earliest Christian sects, which in my mind were the Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Carpocratians (AH i.25-26), we see, despite significant theological differences, they all centered around this theme – the Spirit descended onto Jesus. It had not been with him for his entire life, as the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Luke would imply. The Spirit encapsulation was a new and temporary phenomenon in Jesus’s life.

The fact that these groups all used scaled-down versions of the Gospel of Matthew (ie a Proto-Synoptic Gospel), which lacked the virgin birth and resurrection, makes it even more clear that the focal point of the story was the baptism, and the powers it afforded Jesus.  This proto-synoptic Gospel probably resembled Mark as much as it did Matthew;  when you compare church father Irenaeus’s characterization of Cerinthus in Against Heresies i.26.1 and his description about what sort of people were using the Gospel of Mark in AH iii.11.7, the theologies seem like an exact match.  It was later church fathers, notably Epiphanius, who made the explicit case that Cerinthus used Matthew, making Cerinthus parallel to Paul’s Cephas in Galatians – a wrong-headed follower of James who came to reject the practice of eating with the uncircumcised.  According to Epiphanius, it was Cerinthus who looked to be an exact match to Paul’s version of Cephas when he opposed Peter’s eating with the uncircumcised in Acts 11:1-3.

Jesus’s ordinary nature could not have been more clear  than in Mark 3:21, when Jesus’s family considered locking him up because they thought he was out of his mind for casting out demons.

The big question, which I suppose will never be answered satisfactorily in the mainstream is this:  given that the focal point of the earliest Synoptic Gospel was the Spirit, rather than the attributes of the man who encapsulated the Spirit, doesn’t it make more sense that the man in the story was simply a metaphor for any Christian who received the Spirit via baptism?  Rather than a specific person who was active in the 30s?

There is an old saying:  Jesus was either lord, liar, or lunatic.  Of course, this is faulty logic in the form of a false choice.  A more reasonable option is that Jesus was a legend.  The fact that Christianity’s earliest origins seem to have been as a mystery religion (Paul and Justin Martyr explicitly say so) should make us hesitant to believe any of the earliest Christians, because the main point of a mystery religion was to hide or obfuscate internal workings from the outside world.

As the saying goes, there is often some truth hiding in deception.  But does that mean Jesus Christ existed?

Given what seems an almost slavish dependence on the works of Josephus (notably Mark’s references to Theudas, the Egyptian, and Jesus ben Ananias), coupled with the fact that many stories in the Gospel are re-tellings of Old Testament (Septuagint) stories, I am inclined to think that Jesus was a composite of a variety of Judean leaders,  including the most obvious ones in Josephus’s history, and was constructed by Diaspora Nasarene Jews, who were concerned about restoring the version of Judaism (keeping the old way) which was a fixture in Solomon’s temple, and which would have included incense burning, bread making, and wine consumption for the Queen of Heaven.

Why the virgin birth?

There was a schism between Diaspora and Judean Nasarenes at the time the Nasar were evolving into Christians.  One of the rifts was between the Paulinists and the Jamesians.

Revelation 12 was probably the core of the Nasarene philosophy (along with 2 Esdras 9-10).  The point of it was that the Queen of Heaven, the celestial mother of all Nasarenes (Rev 12:17), gives birth to a male Spirit, and it would be that male Spirit’s manifestation on Earth which would restore the Queen to the temple.  Any Christian would have been the brother or sister of any other Christian because they were all sons and daughters of the most high and the Queen of Heaven.

The earliest James followers, presumably the Ebionites, did not believe in the virgin birth.  Yet Paul claimed to have been born from a miscarriage (1 Corin 15:8), which matched a prophesy in the Gospel of Thomas, which told the disciples to be on a lookout for one not born of a woman, despite being told earlier to follow James.

It was the Nazarenes, who resembled the Ebionites, except they believed in the virgin birth and resurrection, who used an altered version of the Gospel of Matthew which contained the virgin birth – this Nazarene Gospel probably looked very similar to extant Matthew.

Matthew’s virgin birth has correlation with the Infancy Gospel of James; again, James is key.  My speculation is that it was James’s followers, the later Ebionites (who the earliest versions believed was the true recipient of the Christ Spirit) who injected the virgin birth into their tradition.  Given the fact that there was increasing hostility between the Paulinists and the Jamesians, as evidenced in Galatians, the Epistle of James, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Gospel of Matthew [as contrasted with Mark and Paul’s Epistles], and others, there was probably a political need to hijack and rewrite various traditions to highlight preferred historical leaders, and to demote adversaries.

This would also explain the mid-2nd century’s increasing polemics against those who did not believe Jesus came to earth “in the flesh”, found notably in Polycarp’s epistle, the Pastorals, Tertullian, and other Heresiologists.  I believe this phantom spirit characterization of the Docetists, by the emerging Catholic pre-Orthodoxy, was at least partially a mischaracterization.  Rather, I believe the victims of the Heresiologists’ attacks, notably Marcion, probably had views which matched Elxai, a leader of Ebionites, Nazarenes, and Nasarenes, who believed the Mother Spirit and Christ-Spirit were 96 mile tall figures in the sky, and the transference of those Spirits into humans was an invisible process preceded by baptism.

Jesus And The Paraclete Walk Into A Bar

The most compelling reason to assume Jesus Christ existed is because so many people believe he did, and apparently did so by the mid-2nd century; however, to paraphrase part of Frank Zindler‘s question to Bart Ehrman at the Ehrman/Price Mythicist Milwaukee debate, “if the Docetists had won the wars of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, we might be debating something else, such as whether there was a historical tooth fairy”.

Zindler’s point was more loaded than the casual observer might appreciate, as the Docetists believed Jesus Christ did not actually appear on earth in the flesh; rather, they believed he was an apparition.  More bluntly, if secular historians were trying to discern the probability that someone (who was not Jesus Christ) existed, and whose historical attributes included those the Docetists gave to Jesus Christ, it would not be at all unreasonable to assume that person did not exist.

A careful historian would not rule out the apparition legend’s existence simply because of this strange attribute, but if this character were not the God and savior in the minds of billions of people worldwide, there would be much less hostility surrounding the debate, particularly towards those who have the audacity to reject this character’s historicity.

My conclusion about Jesus Christ’s historicity is similar to others who reject it, although the strategy I use is probably different.  I assume Jesus Christ was a composite of many historical and non-historical figures.

My particular interest as of late has been to elaborate and speculate on the religious and political underpinnings of the group which gave rise to Christianity: the Nasarenes.  My assumptions are largely based on the works of Margaret Barker, who makes the case that Christianity emerged from a version of Judaism which was less concerned about Mosaic law, and more concerned with Wisdom as spiritually propagated by a feminine angel and the wife of the most high, known to her incense-burning worshipers as the Queen of Heaven.

The speculation of this detail provides remarkable explanatory power.  For instance, the story in Revelation 12, where a woman, clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet bounces back and forth between heaven and earth, escapes the clutches of a celestial dragon who previously ignited a war in heaven, and gave birth to a son who was taken up to heaven by God.  Revelation 12 closes by assuring its readers that those who revere the woman and her son are the true keepers of the law (Rev 12:17); this is a clear allusion to the Nasarenes – the Hebrew term for keep, guard, or preserve is Nasar.  In this context, it is no wonder Christianity and Judaism’s primary schism (aside from the obvious) related to their propping up of Moses.  If Moses’ law was not the centerpiece of Judaism, then what was their ethical and spiritual center?  For the Nasar, it was a spiritually derived wisdom sent from another realm by the Queen.

Church father Epiphanius of Salamis gives insight into the Nasar in his Panarion, where he describes them as a Jewish mystery cult (in other words), living amongst the Jews, practicing their customs, but rejecting the Pentateuch, and believing they have the true teachings of Moses.  Put another way, to the Nasar, Moses’ teachings were inferior to the spiritual wisdom of the Queen, whose days as a centerpiece of Orthodox Judaism, according to 2 Kings, ended with Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform in the 7th century BCE.

The Nasar show up again elsewhere in Epiphanius’s writings, when he describes an Elxai, who lead a collection of Essenes, Ebionites, Nazarenes, and Nasarenes, and whose chief concern appears to be 96-mile tall masculine and feminine Spirits in the sky – the male Spirit was the Christ.

It is my contention that Elxai has much explanatory power when parsing the curiosities of several Christian sects that early church father Irenaeus first described around 185CE, notably the Ebionites.  Many Christian scholars have no trouble presuming that it was the Ebionites who preceded Pauline Christianity, and had in their ranks, among others, James, and those men from Galatians 2, who convinced Cephas to stop eating with the uncircumcised.

Put generically, these Ebionites saw Jesus Christ as less supernatural than Paul did.  But it is in the specifics where the dots begin to align.  Like a similar group of early Christians known as the Cerinthians, the Ebionites believed that a Spirit from heaven descended upon Jesus like a dove after his baptism.  This is detectable in the Synoptic Gospels, which is no surprise, considering that the Cerinthians and Ebionites are both associated with various (perhaps proto) versions of the sans virgin birth Gospel of Matthew; my suspicion is that it was some symbiosis between these groups which resulted in the proto-Synoptic Gospel’s creation.

jesus-baptism

An obvious link between Elxai and the Ebionites already exists via Epiphanius, who wrote that Elxai’s followers included some Ebionites.  But consider the parallels between Elxai’s view, which had 96 mile tall Spirits in the sky, and the Ebionite view, which had the Christ Spirit descending onto the ordinary man Jesus.  The two views are entirely compatible.  In other words, Elxai’s Spirits were sending out signals of themselves to the elect, which we might presume, given the immediately preceding event in the Gospels, were the people who received baptism.

Since we already concede that the Ebionites preceded Paul (he even admits this – Galatians 1:17), and were therefore the earlier Christians, it strikes me that the Gospel story of Jesus was nothing more than an allegory to explain what could happen to those Nasarenes who received proper spiritual initiation:  they would gain magical abilities, their spiritual senses would increase to the point of being able to detect and purge demons within the temple and the synagogues, and they would have deeper insight into the realm of the unknown God.  They would become the Christ.

A reason the specific timeframe was selected for the Gospel story, 40 years prior to the temple’s destruction, was to indicate that the Christ Spirit, which should substitute for the temple, and which would be encapsulated by a human being, had been on earth prior to the temple being destroyed.  This could explain why Jesus cursed the fig tree, even though it was entirely expected that it would not bear fruit during that time of year – this was an allusion to the temple’s spiritual deficiency:  the temple no longer housed the Christ – that job was now assumed by the carrier of the Christ Spirit: Jesus.  Given the fact that the Gospel of Mark generally dates to around 70CE, perhaps one reason for this timeframe would be to give “spiritual proof” that the writers of Mark had received this Spirit after Jesus died, and were therefore, the true inheritors of the Spirit, which later became known as the Paraclete.

The temple’s spiritual deficiency is detectable in Paul’s writings, as well.  For instance, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  He also said that he was “once again in the pains of his childbirth until the Christ is formed within” his followers (Galatians 4:19).  I think it clear that, to Paul, the Christ was likewise the Spirit of the temple, and therefore, the physical temple was not necessary (although it is nearly universally assumed, I do not believe it is clear whether Paul was writing before the temple was destroyed).  This Pauline trope of recalling his own childbirth is remarkably similar to a notion which existed in a sect, very similar to the Ebionites and Cerinthians, which Irenaeus described as the Carpocratians in Against Heresies i.25:

They also hold that Jesus was the son of Joseph, and was just like other men, with the exception that he differed from them in this respect, that inasmuch as his soul was steadfast and pure, he perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God. On this account, a power descended upon him from the Father, that by means of it he might escape from the creators of the world

In the next sentence about the Carpocratians, Irenaeus explains

They further declare, that the soul of Jesus, although educated in the practices of the Jews, regarded these with contempt, and that for this reason he was endowed with faculties, by means of which he destroyed those passions which dwelt in men as a punishment [for their sins].

If we reconsider the lens through which we look at these claims, consider an intriguing speculation:  Paul (or whoever wrote Paul) saw himself as Jesus Christ.  These attributes the Carpocratians assigned to Jesus Christ are just as much a match to Paul as they are to Jesus!  Irenaeus even makes allusion to the Carpocratians using Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

One common Pauline passage used to support Jesus Christ’s historicity (and that Paul must have considered Jesus a human, as well) is Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive our adoption as sons.…

Does this passage really reflect Paul’s views on a human Jesus?  Or is this passage a reference to Paul himself receiving ownership of the Spirit?  Paul was genomenon (manifested/born) from a woman, as is evidenced by his miscarried birth (1 Corin 15:8)  He was also born under the law, in the tribe of Benjamin, as he writes in his letters.  Indeed, this passage reads equivalently when the reader assumes that Paul is talking about himself.

The flip side of this story comes in 1 Corinthians 15 7-8

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one born from a miscarriage (ektroma)

Once again, Paul’s insight into his own abnormal birth (a miscarriage) is directly linked to the Carpocratians, who believed the Spirit-encapsulator would remember details prior to their birth.  The Carpocratians also believed in reincarnation and in the transmigration of souls.  In my estimation, the odds are that Paul’s stories were contributed to by multiple members of the community who saw themselves simultaneously as reincarnations of Paul and the encapsulators of the Christ-Spirit.  I have made the case in another post that a character who shows up in Mark’s Gospel (a gospel which is sympathetic to Paul), named Simon of Cyrene, that character plucked from the field in Mark 15 (the field was synonymous with the New Jerusalem where the Queen of Heaven’s spirit would reside), was one such iteration of Paul (who was the Paraclete – the heretical sect known as the Basilideans believed Simon of Cyrene was the Paraclete).  The Gospel of Matthew, which is explicitly hostile to Paul’s theological system, omits the reference to Simon coming from the field, but leaves him in the story.  As I have argued, the whole point of Simon of Cyrene showing up late in Mark’s Gospel was to close up the loose end Mark put into 9:38-40, where an unnamed demon-caster was doing Jesus’s work for him.  In contrast, Matthew writes that demon-casting will not get anyone priority in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:22), particularly if that person instructs his followers not to follow Moses’s law (Matthew 5:19).

Recall my reference to Frank Zindler’s question at the Price-Ehrman debate.  Zindler referenced the Docetists.  Right or not, the name we tend to associate with Docetism was Marcion, that ship merchant who preserved Paul’s corpus, but rejected other apostolic traditions, such as those of Peter, James, and John.  Marcion was also evidently responsible for the first multi-text canon, which was composed entirely of Paul’s letters.

One rightly wonders:  why would Marcion do that?  What could possibly trigger an early Christian to accept Paul at the expense of apostles who supposedly accompanied Jesus?!?

One solution to this oddity is that Marcion knew the other apostolic traditions were fake, and that the Gospels were allegory.  Perhaps this was part of it.  But how does Marcion fit into the model I have described so far?

In my model, Marcion must have believed Paul was the Paraclete who received the Christ Spirit.  In that sense, the Christ was an apparition: it was not material.  The man who encapsulated it was material, just like in the Cerinthian and Ebionite systems.  Though this assumption deviates from Irenaeus’s and Tertullian’s characterization of Marcion, it strikes me as more economical.

The recipient of the Christ spirit was only half the story.  Recall that Elxai had 2 spirits:  the masculine and the feminine.  One theme that emerges in many of the heretical sects described by early church fathers, is that there was often a prominent female.  For instance, the Carpocratians, whose theology match Paul’s views in not inconsequential ways, had a Marcellina.  The supposed “father of all heretics”, Simon Magus, had a female companion named Helen, who was supposedly a reincarnation of Helen of Troy.  The Montanists, that sect which was obsessed with the “New Jerusalem”, which was located in Central Turkey, had Prisca.  Even Jesus had Mary Magdelaine!  In Against Heresies i.13, Irenaeus notes that Marcus the Magician, who had a penchant to turn water into wine, also had a female companion who was originally the wife of an Asian deacon.

Among other things, this Marcus declared:

…the infinitely exalted Tetrad descended upon him from the invisible and indescribable places in the form of a woman (for the world could not have been borne it coming in its male form), and expounded to him alone its own nature, and the origin of all things…

Irenaeus rejected Marcus, and deemed him a heretic.  My assumption is that Marcus represented the earlier version of Christianity.  The woman who descended was the Queen of Heaven, and along with the Christ, acted as a proxy between the highest heaven/God and the Earth, and (as in the Gospel of Mark and Matthew), the spirit descends on the elect.

Even Paul’s adversary in the earliest days of Christianity, James, seems linked to these more mystical concerns, including the inclusion of the female Paraclete.  Consider the Naassenes, an early Christian group, described by Hippolytus.  The Naassenes revered James, but (unlike the Ebionites) had a tremendous amount of Gnostic influence; in fact, Hippolytus referred to them as the first so-called Gnostics.

According to Hippolytus, the Naassenes claimed to be disciples of Mariamne, who was a disciple of James.  Consider an alternate reading:  The Naassenes were followers of James who saw Mariamne as the Earthly encapsulator of the Queen’s spirit.  Another way of looking at this is that, according to the Gospels, Mary was the name of Jesus’s mother and companion.  Did Mary Magdelaine become James’ follower after Jesus died?  Or was Mary Magdelaine James’ companion the whole time, and the Gospel story assigns to Jesus Christ a collection of attributes from various Paracletes throughout Nasarene history, including James and Paul?  In this light, it is interesting that no such explicit link to a Mary exists in the Paul sects.  In my model, this is because the story of Mary receiving the feminine Spirit came from the Jamesian side of Christianity, not the Pauline side.  And the name of the earliest Jamesian Christians who believed in the virgin birth:  the Nazarenes.

A fragment from the Naassene sermon is below.  One of the details I have noticed since drawing this connection between the Queen of Heaven and early Christianity is how many of these pre-Orthodox references to the mother there are – something which decreased post-Orthodoxy.

From thee, father, through thee, mother, the two immortal names.

Recall my earlier speculation that Paul saw himself, rather than some Judean minister, as the (current) vehicle of the Christ.  Perhaps what we have with the Naassenes is a sect who saw James as Jesus the Christ.  That would explain Paul’s strange statement in 2 Corinthians 11:4

For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough

This notion reemerges in several early Christian texts, not just Paul’s writings, which has the Christ appearing to James prior to appearing to Paul (1 Corin 15:7-8), but also in the Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus tells his followers to go first to James, but to be on the lookout for a potential leader who was “not born of a woman” – this tradition, in my view, was Paul’s motivation to claim he was born from a miscarriage, and also explains references to his recalled child birth pains.  The similar naming between the Naassenes and Nasarenes might be explained by the Hebrew translation into Syriac (although the traditional assumption is that it comes from the Hebrew naas, which means snake).