The previous post in this series presented Couchoud’s argument that Paul’s Christ was a God crucified in heaven, the result of a combination of feverish interpretations of the Psalms and other Jewish scriptures and a projection of Paul’s own experiences of suffering.
In the chapter I outline in this post Couchoud begins by narrating the departure of Paul and all the original Jerusalem pillars bar one. Paul, he says, with the demonstration of the converted gentile Titus before the Jerusalem elders, and the Jerusalem elders themselves, were moving towards a reconciliation at long last that culminated in the decree we read of Acts 15 — that gentiles need only follow a few principles ordained originally for Noah’s descendents plus one or two:
- avoid eating meat offered to idols
- avoid eating blood
- avoid eating things strangled
- avoid fornication (that is, marriages between Christians and pagans)
Couchoud does not know if Paul ever went so far as submitting to this Jerusalem edict, but he does declare that the communities Paul founded in Asia and others influenced by him did ignore it. These were “scornfully called” Nicolaitanes. They continued to live as they had always lived in the faith: buying meat in the market without asking if it had been sacrificed to an idol and tolerating marriages between Christians and pagans.
The authorities at Jerusalem scornfully called them Nicolaitanes, treated them as rebels worse than heathen, excommunicated them, and vowed them to early extermination by the sword of Jesus. (p. 79)
Then came the next turning point in church history:
In the meantime the haughty Mother Church was struck by an earthly sword. In the stormy year which preceded the Jewish insurrection, three “pillars” were taken from Jerusalem. About 62, after the death of the prosecutor Festus and before the arrival of his successor, James, the “brother of the Lord,” the camel of piety, was, together with others, accused by the high priest Ananos as a law-breaker, condemned, and stoned. Kephas-Peter, the first to behold Jesus, perished at Rome, probably in the massacre of the Christians after the fire of Rome in 64. At Rome, too, died his adversary who had in former days impeached and mocked him so vigorously, Paul. Nothing is known of their deaths, save perhaps that jealousy and discord among the Christians brought them about. (p. 80)
In footnotes Couchoud adds
- with reference to our evidence for the death of James that the phrase in Josephus appended to the name of James, “brother of Jesus called the Christ” have been added later by a Christian hand;
- with reference to Christian sectarian jealousy being ultimately responsible for the death of Peter and Paul he cites both Clemens Romanus V (Clement of Rome) and O. Cullmann, “Rev. d’Hist. et de Philosophie relig., 1930, pp. 294-300, as decisive evidence that there was jealousy and discord.
So this left John
As for John, the third pillar, he quitted Jerusalem, as it had become impossible for Christians to live there, and went soon after 64 to Patmos, an isle of exile, not far from Ephesus, where he fulminated against Rome, the harlot, the murderess of the prophets and saints. The rest of the glorious community of Jerusalem was warned by a revelation given to its last prophets to leave the city before the war. They hid in Perea in the Greek commune of Pella (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles., iii. 5.3) and later on established in Basanitide the Ebionite sect which fanatically kept the traditions of James.
So by about 65 all those who had individually seen the Lord — James, Peter and Paul — were dead.
Of those who had beheld him as one of a group, John alone survived. He is the Great Witness, the supreme warrant of the advent of the Lord. It was firmly believed that he would not die until Jesus should come. [John 21:23] He is then the prophet whose authority outweighs all other authority. In him is concentrated the hope and the ground for hope of that body of elect in which Jesus was revealed. He appears as the high priest of the Christians, and, like the high priest of the Jews, he wore a golden pectoral. [Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., v. 24, 3; c.f. Epiphanius, Haer, xxx] He it was who moved the seat of the new religion to Asia Minor and rallied around him the Asiatic churches which forgot the teaching of Paul.
The churches John rallied were ones where Paul had never really gained a foothold — not even in Ephesus. Ephesus was the major one, but then followed (along the road joining them all) Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. John strengthened their faith and consoled them that those anti-Jerusalemite Nicolaitanes would be devoured by the fiery sword of Jesus in the last day of judgement — which was imminent.
Couchoud bases his claim that John the Apostle was the same John as the author of Revelation upon the evidence (“among others”) of Justin who lived at Ephesus about 135 (Dialogue 81).
Thirty years earlier this John had, in the company of his brother James, a vision of Jesus. All the Twelve had shared this vision. But now, on the island of Patmos, the vision appeared to John while he was alone just as Peter and James had seen him, and as Paul also said he had seen him.
John described this vision in prophetic style in the Revelation of St. John the Divine. John thus placed himself in the line of the great prophets of the past. After Paul he becomes the greatest of the Christian prophets.
His prophecy is called rightly an Apocalypse, for its object is to reveal the imminent coming of the Son of Man and the drama of the Day of Doom. These mysteries, which in Paul occupy small space, form the whole of the message of John. (p. 81)
John’s Religious Genius
Couchoud is a poet even in translation of his prose so I cannot resist quoting the following in full from pages 81 and 82:
John’s religious genius is not as profound as that of Paul, nor is his prophetic style so varied, so supple, or so near the heart. Nor in his invention is there anything so startling and affecting as the Cross of Jesus. He creates little that is new, but re-creates with greater intensity the grandiose images of the old Hebrews; for, though he wrote Greek, he thought Hebrew, and his language has a harsh, unyielding stiffness which is foreign to Hellas. On the other hand, his is a Hebrew majesty, compactness, and brilliance of word, a splendour which is over-long-drawn and over-remote, but quick with energy and of concentrated effect. Not his the pity which moves the bowels, but the starkness which grips the imagination. The gifts of a great poet are to be found in this work, where the blast of the trumpet is mingled with the soft notes of the cithara. As an eagle, he soars and pierces with his eye the infinite abyss, heaven and earth open before him in the final cataclysm.
The Jesus poem of which Paul had made a brief but surprising divine tragedy, in which the abysmal dejection precedes supreme exaltation, in John’s hands becomes a pageant of glory, moving to successive triumphs.
Death is the Christ’s first victory. Nothing here of ignominy or tormented agony; a ritual sacrifice made before the beginning of the world, a celestial prototype of the Easter offering, the primordial sacrifice of the male lamb.
This started me thinking. It certainly is the fact that even the Gospel of John does not depict a suffering or humiliated Jesus as we find in Paul. Even in the Gospel of John Jesus is in total control and above all pain and trickery inflicted by mortals.
The Sacrificial Lamb and the Sacrificing Priest
So the sacrifice of the Lamb Jesus before the ages redeems through its expiatory virtue and purifies the redeemed — just like that of the Mithraic bull.
So the blood of the Lamb frees the elect from their sins and whitens their garments. But just as Jesus is a sacrifice so, too, are the brethren, and they, too, must therefore become spotless. Thus they will become the everlasting companions of the Lamb — Rev. 1:3, 7:14, 14:-5. (The notes in square brackets are taken from C’s footnotes.)
Behind the whole of John’s poem is an array of sacerdotal notions. Jesus is at one and the same time the Sacrifice and the Sacrificing Priest, and the holy priest and the hallowed victim are united in a single divine entity. That is why he appears to John as a heavenly priest, wearing the long robe of the Jewish high priest and the gold pectoral such as John wore, the High Priest of New Israel (Rev. i: 10-18):–
I was in the Spirit on the day of the Lord.
I heard behind me a great voice
As of a trumpet, saying:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” [This is not in C’s book — an accidental omission?]
I turned to see the voice that spoke with me.
Having turned, I saw seven Candlesticks of gold
In the midst of the candlesticks one like the Son of Man,
Robed in a garment which fell to the feet
Girded about the breasts with a golden girdle;
His head and his hair white,
Like white wool, like snow,
His eyes like flame of fire.
His feet were like white gold, [Description of Jahweh in Ezekiel i.27]
As though red in the furnace,
His voice as the sound of many torrents. [The voice of Jahweh in Ezekiel xliii.2]
In his hand seven Stars,
From his mouth sprang a keen two-edged Sword, [Like the mouth of the Servant of Jahweh (Isa. xlix. 2). With this sword Jesus will strike the Nicolaitanes (Rev. ii. 16) and the pagans (Rev. xix. 15)]
His countenance was as the sun in its strength.
When I saw Him,
I fell at His feet as dead.
He laid his hand on me, saying:
Fear not; I am the First and the Last. [See Isa. xliv. 6; xlviii. 12. Jesus has the same attributes as Jahweh, thus resembling the Metatron or Little Jahweh, of the Hebrew Book of Enoch (H. Odeberg, Cambridge, 1928), who shares the throne and glory of Jahweh and bears his name (c.f. Exod. xxiii. 21).]
The Living One, and I was dead.
Lo, I live for ever and for ever:
I hold the keys of Death and of Hell.
Before he draws aside the veil to reveal the future Jesus delivers final warnings to the churches of Asia.
Each church has its heavenly double, an angel who is a star in Jesus’ hand, and each receives its share of praise and blame.
The angel of the church of Ephesus (Rev. 2:2-6)
- Has become slack, but . . .
- Earns a tick for declaring to be liars those like Paul who presumptuously claimed to be apostles. John thus has the last word against Paul’s letter from Ephesus to the Corinthians.
- Earns another tick for hating the Nicolaitanes with a holy hate that will save it.
The angel of the church of Pergamos (Rev. 2:14-16)
This church has been contaminated by the Nicolaitans. (The following translation is not Couchoud’s.)
But I have a few things against you,
because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam [The famous seer Balaam of Num. 31:16 became in Jewish legend the archetype of the false prophet (Josephus, Ant. IV, vi. 6). The name Balaam (he has destroyed the people) is related through a play on words to Nicolaos (he conquers the people).]
who taught Balak [He refers to Balak, the king of Moab — Philo, in the Life of Moses i.53-55 says Balaam perverted Balak]
to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel,
to eat things sacrificed to idols,
and to commit sexual immorality.
Thus you also have those
who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. [Paul was indifferent to the eating of meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. viii. 4, 8) which John calls fornication]
or else I COME QUICKLY upon thee [C’s translation]
and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
A prophetess is leading this church into the vile ways and teachings of Paul. As did Paul she claims to know the “deep things of God” — which John calls the “depths of Satan”.
Again not C’s translation, but his commentary is added.
Nevertheless I have a few things against you,
because you allow that woman Jezebel, [That is, a woman who, like the wife of Ahab, entices the faithful to idols. A woman of Thyatira, Lydia, a seller of purple, fearing God, who had lately come to Philippi, was a strong partisan of Paul and his companions (Acts 16:14-15). She is probably the Jezebel here denounced by John.]
who calls herself a prophetess,
to teach and seduce My servants
to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality,
and she did not repent.
Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, [The Bed of pain and death — Isa. 1:11]
and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation,
unless they repent of their deeds.
I will kill her children with death,
and all the churches shall know
that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. [According to Jeremiah 17:10 this is Yahweh. For the Jews the reins were the seat of the passions, the hear that of thought.]
And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira,
as many as do not have this doctrine,
who have not known the Depths of Satan,
as they say, [Paul says, 1 Cor. 2:10, “For the Spirit searcheth all things — yea, the deep things of God.” John says sarcastically, “The Depths of Satan.”]
I will put on you no other burden. [Meaning observance. The decree of Jerusalem (Act 15:28-29), promulgated by the Apostles and Elders of whom John was one, orders the observances to be imposed on converted pagans thus: “For it seemeth good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no other burden than those which are indispensable; that you abstain from meats offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication.” The agreement between the Decree of Jerusalem and Revelation, in the expressions lay a burden and the forbidding of meats offered to idols and of fornication, is striking.]
But hold fast what you have
till I come.
“I lay upon you none other burden” is the divine ratification, from the mouth of the god Jesus himself, of the Jerusalem decree which placed on Christians who were not of Jewish origin no other burden than the three prohibitions as to food and the tabu of fornication. No doubt it is hard to refrain from meant as commonly sold, particularly when the disciples of Nicolaos teach otherwise. Yet all must hold fast to right teaching till the coming of Jesus; then “nothing shall any longer be forbidden” (Rev. 22:3). Till that day the Nicolaitanes must be striven with to the death.