Daily Archives: 2011-12-27 18:33:23 GMT+0000

The earliest gospels 2 — the Gospel of Basilides (according to P.L. Couchoud)

The Gospel of Marcion, continues Paul Louis Couchoud, was fascinating reading but received outside Marcionite churches only after appropriate corrections. The first of these was in Alexandria by the gnostic philosopher Basilides.

The works of Basilides have been lost. We know they consisted of 24 books making up his Gospel and Commentaries. From Hegemonius we know the gospel of Basilides included Marcion’s parable of Dives [the Rich Man] and Lazarus. In Marcion’s gospel this parable addressed the Jews exclusively. The place of torment and place of refreshment (for those who obey the Law and Prophets) were both in “Hell”. Heaven is the bosom reserved only for thoBase who belong to the Good God (who is greater than the Jewish creator god).

Basilides’ gospel did not have Jesus actually crucified. For Basilides, who may have been influenced by Buddhism, all suffering is the consequence of sin, even if for sins committed in a former life.

Basilides taught that Jesus somehow was confused with Simon of Cyrene and it was this Simon who was crucified in his place. Jesus, being supernaturally related to God or Mind was able to change his appearance at will, and so escaped crucifixion and was taken, laughing at how he had deceived mere mortals, to heaven. Thus the Pauline theme of the mocked Archontes/Rulers was maintained, but in the process the crucifixion was denied — a denial we see repeated in the Acts of John and in the Koran of Islam.

So Basilides was extending the original notion found in Marcin’s gospel that Jesus had no real human body.

Basilides is apparently responsible for the institution of the festival of the Epiphany of Jesus and of his Baptism on January 6.

This makes us think that according to Basilides the manifestation of Jesus as a god took place at a baptism similar to the water festival celebrated at Alexandria on January 6, but in honour of Osiris. (ppp. 169-170)

Next post, the Roman reaction: the Gospel of Mark

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The earliest gospels 1 — Marcion’s gospel (according to P.L. Couchoud)

This post follows on from the previous one outlining Couchoud’s thoughts on Gospel origins. It starts with highlights from what he believes (generally following Harnack) Marcion‘s Gospel contained; looks at the next Gospel written apparently by Basilides; then at the way our canonical Gospel of Mark took shape and why, followed by the Gospels of Matthew, John and Luke.

The Gospel of Marcion

The authorship was anonymous. (p. 138)

It was placed with the letters of Paul and a commentary, the Antithesis, as a replacement for the Jewish scriptures.

There is nothing of a connected narrative in it. (p. 139)

It was composed of some sixty anecdotes, or pericopes, detached fragments without any connection between them. (p. 139)

Jesus was not born but descended from heaven and the gospel begins: read more »

Another explanation of Gospel origins from a Christ Myth perspective

Marcion Displaying His Canon
Image via Wikipedia
Edited last paragraph re Mark and Basilides ca 6 hours after original.

As to why a gospel was written about a “mythical” Jesus, here is a take by Paul Louis Couchoud from the 1920’s and published in English in 1939 as The Creation of Christ. (For other thoughts on this theme see discussion comments here.)

Couchoud attributes the first gospel to Marcion.

To make sense of this one must understand that Couchoud dates the letters of Clement of Rome and Ignatius to around 150 c.e. One recalls here the more recent ideas about the Ignatian letters by Roger Parvus. This leaves us with the common observation that “the half century from 70 to 120 is the most obscure period in the history of Christianity” (p. 110).

Couchoud argues that before that gap there was Paul, Jerusalem apostles and prophets. They all lay claim to visions of Christ. The Book of Revelation (dated prior to 70 and the fall of Jerusalem) is the outcome of a prophetic vision of one who is starkly opposed to Paul’s theology and visions. “Paul alone understood that the Son thus revealed was a crucified God.” (p. 132)

Couchoud relies heavily on Harnack’s interpretation of Marcion, an interpretation that has more recently met a trenchant challenge with Sebastian Moll’s The Arch-Heretic Marcion (2010). Moll says Harnack was anachronistically trying to make Marcion too much like an ideal Protestant reformer. But in this post I will let Couchoud have his say from his perspective in the early twentieth century.

Whereas many (including myself) have attempted to argue that the gospel narrative was an indirect response to the crisis of the first Jewish war that witnessed the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce, Couchoud places more emphasis on the events of the second Jewish war — the Bar Kochba rebellion (Bar Kochba being hailed as a Jewish Christ and being responsible for persecutions of Christians) and its suppression by Hadrian who erected a pagan temple on the site of the old in the early and mid 130s.

So of what had Christianity consisted up to this time? Couchoud considers how the Christian scene looked to Marcion: read more »