Author Archives: Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus is the author of this post. Roger is the author of A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Other Apellean Writings and two series of Vridar posts: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius and A Simonian Origin for Christianity. In a previous life Roger was a Catholic priest.

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 4 / Conclusion – Historical Jesus?

The previous post concluded thus:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my revised hypothesis basically adds only two things to Loisy’s scenario: (1) I would identify the above “Christian groups which believed themselves heirs of the Pauline tradition” as Saturnilians. (2) I would identify the above “mystery of salvation by mystic union with a Saviour who had come down from heaven and returned to it in glory” as the Vision of Isaiah. I also said, earlier in this post, that my recognition of the role the Vision plays in the Pauline letters had changed my perspective on a number of early Christian issues. Before closing I would like to say a few things about perhaps the most significant of them: the historicity of Jesus.

Continuing and concluding the series ….

Historical Jesus?

I am now much more open to the possibility that the version of the Vision used by Paul’s interpolators included the so-called “pocket gospel.” The Jesus of that gospel is docetic. He only appears to be a man. Such a Jesus could explain curious Pauline passages such as this one:

Thus it is written: There was made the first man, Adam, living soul; the last Adam lifegiving spirit. But the spiritual is not first, the first is the living, then the spiritual. The first man, being of earth, is earthy, the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, so too are the earthy. As is the heavenly, so too are the heavenly. And as we have borne the likeness of the earthy, we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly… (1 Cor. 15, 45-49)

Commentators say that we have to understand here a resurrected Christ as the second man; that Christ too was first earthy, and became lifegiving spirit by his resurrection. But notice that the resurrection is not mentioned in the passage. And it doesn’t mention a transformation for Christ from earthy to spiritual. We are the ones who are said to be in need of transformation.

Moving on: In the pocket gospel there is not a real birth. As Enrico Norelli explains it:

If the story is read literally, it is not about a birth. It’s about two parallel processes: the womb of Mary, that had enlarged, instantly returned to its prior state, and at the same time a baby appears before her— but, as far as can be determined, without any cause and effect relationship between the two events. (Ascension du prophète Isaïe, pp. 52-53, my translation)

This could explain why, in Gal. 4:4, Jesus is “come of a woman, come under the Law.” The use of the word γενόμενον [genômenon] (to be made/to become) instead of the far more typical γεννάω [gennâô] (to be born) could signal a docetic birth. The Jesus of the Vision comes by way of woman—and since she was Jewish, he thereby came under the Law—but he was not really born of her.

The pocket gospel may actually give us an earlier and more accurate look . . . at what a historical Jesus could have been like.

And, in general, with the pocket gospel as background the interpretation of the crucifixion by “the rulers of this world” in 1 Cor. 2:8 ceases to be an issue. Likewise the improbable silences in the Pauline letters. We can account for why, apart from the crucifixion and resurrection, there is practically nothing in the Paulines about what Jesus did or taught. For the Jesus of the pocket gospel is not presented as a teacher. Not a single teaching is put in his mouth. He is not even any kind of a leader. He is not said to have gathered disciples during his lifetime. All we get is this:

And when he had grown up, he performed great signs and miracles in the land of Israel and Jerusalem. (Asc. Is. 11:18)

These “signs and miracles” need be no more than the kind of bizarre things that, according to the pocket gospel, accompanied his so-called birth. They would be like the curious coincidences that happen to people all the time. But in his case they took on added significance once someone had a vision of him resurrected from the dead. “Hey, I remember once he put his hand on Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick, and it was weird the way she seemed to get better right away.”

In other words, I think the pocket gospel may actually give us an earlier and more accurate look than the canonical gospels at what a historical Jesus could have been like. He was not a teacher or even a leader of any kind. If he went up to Jerusalem with some fellow believers in an imminent Kingdom of God—perhaps a group of John the Baptist’s followers—he was not the leader of the group. Once in Jerusalem he may have done or said something that got him pulled out from the others and crucified. That would have been the end of the story. Except that another member of the group had a vision of him resurrected, and interpreted it as meaning that the Kingdom of God was closer than ever. Jesus thereby began to take on an importance all out of proportion with his real status as a nobody. The accretions began. And the excuses for why no one had taken much notice of him before.

Why Jesus? Why not a vision of a more significant member of the group? Why not a vision of a resurrected John the Baptist? I don’t know. Maybe John was still alive at the time. Maybe Jesus just happened to be the first member of the group to meet a violent end. Hard to know.

And I’m not sure whether, according to Bayesian analysis, such a further reduction of Jesus increases or decreases the probability of his historical existence. But it does seem to me that such an extremely minimal Jesus can reasonably fit the kind of indications present in the Pauline letters. So sadly, I find I must change my affiliation from Mythicist to Agnostic (but leaning Historical).

 

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3

The previous post concluded with

. . . at a minimum, the Saturnilians are addressing the same kind of issues we see in addressed in Paul’s letters. At a maximum, . . . 1 Corinthians could be providing us with a window . . . on the Saturnilian church sometime between 70 and 135 CE.

Continuing . . . .

What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. 

The Real Paul

If in the Pauline letters someone—whether Saturnilus or someone else—has made Paul the recipient and bearer of a new gospel i.e., the Vision of Isaiah, it would mean that our knowledge of the real Paul is more questionable than ever. The widely accepted rule in New Testament scholarship has been to give Paul’s letters the nod whenever their information conflicts with that of the Acts of the Apostles, especially concerning Paul himself. His information is first-person and earlier than Acts. The author of Acts seems to be more ideologically-driven than Paul. So Paul’s account in Galatians 1:1-2:14 of how he came by his gospel and became an apostle is considered more accurate than what Acts says about the same matters. Likewise regarding Paul’s account of how in the presence of James, Peter and John he defended his gospel and received their approval of it. But this preference for the Galatians account of events takes a hit if it was in fact written by someone like Saturnilus who was looking to promote the gospel he had projected onto Paul. What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. Alfred Loisy was one:

The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.

Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this is perhaps secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).

But things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened…

Interpret as we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, he was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief... (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, pp. 126-7)

My hypothesis supports Loisy’s claim that the real Paul was commissioned as an apostle in the same way that other early missionaries were: by being delegated for a mission by a congregation which supported him. And that the real Paul’s gospel was no different from theirs: the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus will be coming to establish it. But if that is the way the real Paul was, why does Acts try to take him down a notch? read more »

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 2

The previous post concluded with

Thus I think we need to look between 70 and 135 both for the author of the Vision and for the one who projected it into Paul’s letters. We are not necessarily looking for two people. There is no reason why one and the same person could not have done both tasks.

Continuing . . . .

The Best Candidate

To my mind easily the best candidate for both tasks is a man whose name is variously rendered as Saturnilus, Saturninus, or Satornilos. A Latin mistranslation of the name in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is believed to be the source of the confusion. The original Greek version of that work is not extant, so there is presently no way to be sure. In this post I will use the first rendering: Saturnilus

Antioch of Syria

The information available on this man consists primarily of two paragraphs in the aforementioned Against Heresies (1.24.1-2). Though meager, I think it is sufficient to establish him as our lead candidate. He lived in Syrian Antioch and founded a Christian community (or communities) sometime within our target period of 70 to 135 CE. Prior to becoming a Christian he was a Simonian. Irenaeus says he was a disciple of Menander, Simon of Samaria’s successor. At some point, however, Saturnilus apparently switched his allegiance. Although Simon and Menander had put themselves forward as Savior figures, it is Jesus who is named as Savior in the teaching of Saturnilus. Alfred Loisy puts it this way:

In many respects, therefore, he (Saturnilus) was a forerunner of Marcion. Though much indebted to Simon and Menander, he, unlike them, does not set himself up as the Saviour sent from on high, but attributes that role to Jesus. Consequently, heretic though he be, we cannot deny him the qualification of Christian, while, from the Christian point of view, Simon and Menander qualify rather for Antichrists. (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p. 302).

Justin Martyr includes Saturnilians among those who consider themselves Christians, though he himself views them as “atheists, impious, unrighteous, and sinful, and confessors of Jesus in name only, instead of worshippers of him” (Dialogue with Trypho, 35). Justin’s doctrinal objection is that “some in one way, others in another, teach to blaspheme the Maker of all things, and Christ, who was foretold by Him as coming, and the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.” According to Irenaeus, Saturnilus believed God to be “one Father unknown to all,” and that the God of the Jews was in reality just one of the lower angels, one of the seven who made the world. Such beliefs are not explicitly present in the Vision of Isaiah but may be implicit. God there is called Father but never maker or creator of the world. In fact, the world is “alien” (Asc. Is. 6;9), and so is the body (Asc. Is. 8:14), and so are the inhabitants of the world (Asc. Is. 9:1). True, the angels of the world are not referred to as its makers either, but they appear to have been in control of it from the beginning and are not afraid to say “We alone, and apart from us no one” (Asc. Is. 10:13). Regarding Jesus, Saturnilus was a docetist, teaching that he only appeared to be a real human being (Against Heresies 1.24.2). As we have already seen, the Jesus of the Vision’s “pocket gospel” was docetic.

Saturnilus’ Simonian past, however, provides us with another connection to the Vision of Isaiah. The main storyline of that writing is an ancient one, going back, as Richard Carrier points out in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (pp. 45-47), to the Descent of Inanna. It is a storyline that has been adapted and adopted many times in history, including by Simon of Samaria and Menander. The points of contact are obvious in what Hippolytus says about Simon’s teaching: read more »

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 1

Nicolas Poussin, “The Ecstasy of St. Paul”

This post revises a hypothesis I proposed a few years ago in the Vridar series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity.” In those posts I argued for a scenario in which Paul was in reality Simon of Samaria, and the seven allegedly authentic Pauline letters were in fact letters of Simon that, in the early second century CE, received a makeover by some proto-orthodox Christians. By means of certain additions and modifications to the letters these people in effect co-opted Simon’s work and turned him into a proto-orthodox Paul. I argued too that the gospel message embraced by the author of the original letters was some form of the Vision of Isaiah (chapters 6-11 of the Ascension of Isaiah).

I had misgivings about the hypothesis even before I finished the series, but two years of mulling it over has left me even less enamoured. I am still quite convinced that the Vision of Isaiah is the correct background for several key passages: 1 Cor. 2:6-9; Phil. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 12:1-10. I have come to doubt, however, that these passages belong to the earliest parts of the letter collection. My changed understanding of 2 Cor. 12:1-10 in particular has led me to think it more plausible that the bulk of the letters was composed not by Simon but by later followers of his who converted to Christianity sometime between 70 and 135 CE. In my revised scenario Paul, not Simon, is the author of the original letters; and the bulk of the additional material — material that turned letters into epistles — was likely composed by a circle of Saturnilians, a community founded by the ex-Simonian Saturnilus of Antioch. Proto-orthodox input consisted of some final sanitizing touch-ups.

This revised scenario bears a definite resemblance to that of the biblical scholar Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) and I acknowledge that a re-reading of his later writings has contributed to my change of heart. Loisy held that only a kernel of the seven allegedly authentic Paulines really went back to Paul, and that the rest consisted largely of stitched-together late first, early second-century materials. He characterized many of these materials as gnostic but preMarcionite. Where I go further than Loisy is in recognizing the role of the Vision of Isaiah in the letters, and in proposing a specific provenance for their incipient gnosticism: Saturnilian Christianity.

Before I explain this revised scenario in more detail I should first review the Pauline texts that show, in my opinion, that their author knew the Vision of Isaiah. It is clear, in general, that the Vision would be a congenial text for Paul’s congregations, for Isaiah is described as receiving his revelation in the midst of a gathering of forty prophets. They look to him for guidance and

And they had come to greet him, and to hear what he said. And they hoped he would lay his hands on them and that they might prophesy and he would listen to their prophecy (Asc. Is. 6: 4-5)

While this was going on

they all heard a door opened and the voice of the Holy Spirit (Asc. Is. 6:6)

Now recall the passages on pneumatic gifts in 1 Corinthians where Paul gives guidance and encouragement to his Spirit-filled congregation regarding the gifts of the Spirit and especially prophecy. In the church at Corinth we are again among a gathering of Spirit enthusiasts. But apart from this general affinity there are three texts in particular in which the Vision of Isaiah shows through.

(One last preliminary: Please note that when I refer to the Vision in this post I am also including the so-called “pocket gospel” as part of it. It is found at 11:2-23 of the Ethiopic [E] and first Latin [L1] versions of the Ascension of Isaiah. For reasons that will become clear as we go along I am willing to accept that it was part of the text that the Pauline interpolators knew.) read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 17: Mark and Proto-Mark

John before Herod; Jesus before Pilate
John and Herod; Jesus and Pilate

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

One problem with accepting Mark as a Simonian/Pauline allegory (see the previous post) is the role it gives to John the Baptist. As it stands canonical Mark seems intent on presenting John as the foreshadower of Jesus. His preaching of repentance foreshadows the preaching of it by Jesus (Mk. 1:15) and then by Jesus’ apostles (Mk. 6:12). The rejection of John’s authority by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders (Mk. 11:27) foreshadows the rejection of Jesus’ authority by the same. John is the end-time Elijah whose suffering and mistreatment foreshadow what happens to Jesus as the Son of man (Mk. 9:12-13). And John’s execution, as recounted in one of longest episodes in Mark (6:17-29), foreshadows that of Jesus.

The story of John is the only section in the gospel which is not specifically about Jesus. Even this, however, is narrated because what happens to John points to the one who follows him — as did the earlier section about John at the beginning of the gospel. John’s death foreshadows that of Jesus: there are even similarities in the stories, since both John and Jesus are put to death by political rulers who recognize their goodness, but who are described as weakly giving in to pressure. (Morna D.Hooker, The Gospel According To Saint Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentaries, pp. 158-159.)

Mark would have us believe that the resemblance between the ministries of John and Jesus was such that “people were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,’” (Mk. 6:14) a sentiment which is also put on Herod’s lips: “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.” (Mk. 6:16)

The Baptist passages contain problems that scholars have recognized for some time. . . . we should remain open to the possibility that the problems were caused by a reworking of the text.

Now, I have a hard time accepting that a Simonian/Pauline allegory would devote that much attention to John. Neither John nor Elijah is ever mentioned in the Pauline letters. There is no indication in the letters that Paul believed Elijah had recently returned and prepared the way for Jesus. Paul reproaches the Jews for their unbelief but never brings into it their failure to accept the preparatory testimony of John the Baptist. If John was an important figure to Paul, I expect that failure would have been a normal part of his upbraiding. But no, Paul seems to have little time for Jewish history or figures, whether recent or not. He skips that and instead connects Jesus with pre-circumcised Abraham.

Must we abandon then the thesis that Mark is a Simonian/Pauline allegory? I’m not yet ready to do that, for it seems to me that there is a decent possibility that the Baptist passages were not originally part of Mark. They do, after all, contain problems that scholars have recognized for some time. The usual way to deal with the problems is to claim that Mark was probably working with various earlier traditions and his weaving of them into his narrative was not always smooth. Perhaps, but since for various reasons the tradition scenario itself is questionable, I think we should also remain open to the possibility that the problems were caused by a reworking of the text. A Simonian/Pauline allegory featuring a Jesus who foreshadowed Simon/Paul may not have been acceptable to a rival Christian. He or she may have reworked it to set Jesus up with a different hero, John the Baptist.

We may be so accustomed to how Mark begins that we fail to realize how strange it is.

So let’s look at the passages in question, the first of which occurs right at the beginning of Mark:

1. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, 2. as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way. 3. A voice crying in the wilderness — Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ 4. John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

We may be so accustomed to how Mark begins that we fail to realize how strange it is. No sooner is Jesus Christ named than attention is immediately shifted to John the Baptist. And the shift occurs not by naming John — that doesn’t happen until verse 4 — but by quoting verses from Scripture. And Mark presents the verses as being from Isaiah, but in fact verse 2 appears to be a combination from Exod. 23:20 and Mal. 3:1. In Matthew and Luke that verse clearly has the Baptist in view, but in their gospels it turns up later as part of a passage often assigned to Q. And in their gospels it is not attributed to Isaiah.

In regard to the misattribution of verse 2 scholars offer various explanations:

Mark may have taken over the combination of texts from Christian tradition — possibly already gathered together in a testimony book (i.e. a collection of Old Testament passages used by the early church) — and perhaps wrongly assumed that the whole of what he was quoting came from Isaiah. Or perhaps he chose to mention Isaiah because it was of special importance to him. Another possibility is that Mark quoted only the passage from Isaiah, and that v. 2 was added later. (Hooker, p. 35)

.

Whose voice?

Thus some scholars acknowledge that verse 2 may be an interpolation. But even if it is, does it really matter much? After all, verse 3, with its “voice crying in the wilderness,” surely does refer to John the Baptist, no?

I’m not so sure. According to Robert Guelich, in all other instances when the expression “as has been written” is used as an introductory formula, it always refers back and never forward in its context (“The Beginning of the Gospel — Mark 1:1-15,” Biblical Research 27; 1982). Unless one is prepared to argue that we are dealing here with an exception, whatever quotation followed the expression should refer back to Jesus Christ mentioned in verse 1, not forward to John the Baptist in verse 4.

read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 16:  Mark as Allegory

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

It has been more than a year since I wrote the previous installment in this series. I have some excuses: new location, new job, and separation from well-stocked libraries. And also, I must admit, something unexpected happened during the break: I started losing interest in the early history of Christianity. So I have decided I had better try to bring this series to a close before I’m tempted to put it off altogether.

I have devoted most of the series to the Pauline letters. By now readers understand my general approach to those. I am still inclined to think that approach is correct, but I can’t say I am really comfortable with some of the particulars. Perhaps I will revisit the letters at some point. For now I want to skip ahead to the part of my theory that addresses Mark’s gospel. For me the biggest question is: where did the public ministry of the Markan Jesus come from? Paul, I have proposed, drew his beliefs about Jesus primarily from some version of the Ascension of Isaiah (see parts 7, 8 and 9). But in both extant versions of that work, and in the speculative alternative I offered, there is either no public ministry for Jesus at all or only one that is described by a single sentence. So it would seem that it was the author of Mark who first composed a public ministry for Jesus. Why did he put it together the way he did?.

Even though what follows is admittedly speculative, to my mind it seems the most likely scenario. In brief, I think the author of Mark was a Pauline Christian and his gospel was an allegory that presented Jesus as the forerunner of Paul.

 

Volkmar’s thesis

The idea that Mark is an allegory about Paul is not new. Gustav Volkmar first argued the case for this in 1857 (Die Religion Jesu) and again in 1870 (Die Evangelien, Oder Marcus und die Synopsis der kanonischen und ausserkanonischen Evangelien nach dem ältesten Text mit historisch-exegetischem Commentar). He was soon followed by others. Carl Holsten, for instance, and Moritiz Herman Schulze “approached the issue from different angles but agreed with Volkmar on the idea that the second Gospel is an apology for Paul by transferring Pauline theology ‘back’ into the sayings and doings of Jesus.” (Heike Omerzu, “Paul and Mark — Mark and Paul,” in Mark and Paul: Comparative Essays Part II — For and Against Pauline Influence on Mark, edited by Becker, Engberg-Pedersen, and Mueller, p. 52).

Volkmar’s thesis ultimately drove  a wedge into German biblical scholarship . . . Werner perceived Volkmar’s work to be in line with other recently published books which treated Jesus as a purely mythical figure.

Volkmar’s thesis ultimately “drove  a wedge into German biblical scholarship; Adolf Jülicher (1857-1938) and William Wrede (1859-1906) both appreciated Volkmar’s work, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) and his student Martin Werner (1887-1964) did not” (Anne Vig Skoven, “Mark as Allegorical Rewriting of Paul: Gustav’s Volkmar’s Understanding of the Gospel of Mark,” p. 14, from the same collection of essays referenced above). In 1923 Werner felt the need to write a book entirely devoted to refuting Volkmar’s views regarding Mark. He argued that Volkmar was guilty of allegoresis and that his work lent support to those who denied the historical existence of Jesus (although Volkmar himself never explicitly went that far).

In the preface to his book, Werner explains his worries about the consequences of Volkmar’s line of thought. Werner perceived Volkmar’s work to be in line with other recently published books which treated Jesus as a purely mythical figure. (Anne Vig Skoven, “Mark as Allegorical Rewriting of Paul: Gustav’s Volkmar’s Understanding of the Gospel of Mark,” p. 25)

Interest in Volkmar’s thesis did subsequently subside, although that may well have been due more to the advent of form criticism than to Werner’s rebuttal:

It has been suggested that Werner’s monograph put an end to the idea of Paulinism in Mark. I would argue that it was not so much Werner’s refutation itself as the rise of form criticism that sidetracked the line of inquiry that Volkmar had initiated. As we know, form criticism concentrated on the individual pericopes and traced their history backwards in search for their Sitz-im-Leben, but it took no interest in the gospels as complete works. It is quite telling that the interest in the relationship between Paul and Mark surfaces again with redaction criticism. Anglo-American scholars inclined toward literary readings like Joel Marcus and William Telford have long advocated for ideas that resemble Volkmar’s readings. (Anne Vig Skoven, “Mark as Allegorical Rewriting of Paul: Gustav’s Volkmar’s Understanding of the Gospel of Mark,” p.26)

dykstra1I have not read the books by Volkmar, Holsten and Schulze. My knowledge of German is so rudimentary that it would take me quite a while to work my way through those volumes. Maybe once I retire. But I have read an excellent book published in 2012 in English that reaches conclusions similar to theirs.  Tom Dykstra, in his Mark, Canonizer of Paul, convincingly presents “the evidence for a literary relationship between Mark and Paul’s letters” (p. 27). He examines this relationship in a number of themes shared by Mark and Paul, especially their defense of the Gentile mission, their emphasis on a crucified Christ, and their discrediting of Jesus’ disciples and family. He argues too that there are allusions to Paul in the main parables and ending of Mark, as well as appropriations of Paul’s language and examples throughout that gospel. Dykstra concludes that Mark has in effect modeled his Jesus after Paul:

Mark deliberately created a literary Jesus whose words and actions parallel the words and actions of Paul. Mark’s Jesus defends the Gentile mission before the fact, in the face of opposition from his disciples, just as Paul defended his Gentile mission in the face of opposition from the ‘pillars,’ some of whom were reputed to have been among those disciples. To make this connection Mark portrayed Jesus leading reluctant disciples to Galilee, visiting other Gentile lands, interacting positively with individual Gentiles, performing miracles of feeding for mixed Jewish-Gentile crowds, insisting that recalcitrant disciples stop preventing children from reaching him, narrating parables, and so forth. (pp. 149-150)

Mark’s portrayal of Jesus was fashioned to provide a divine advance validation for Paul and his teaching

I cannot here do justice to all the parallels Dyskstra uncovers between Mark and Paul. I urge those interested to read his book. I find myself in agreement with much of his analysis. Like him, I think Mark’s portrayal of Jesus was fashioned to provide a divine advance validation for Paul and his teaching. As I see it, however, the Jesus episodes were intended to function more like prefigurations or foreshadowings of Paul. Some of them were intended to be within the reach of any Christian. Others were meant to be fully understood only by members of the Markan community. As an example of the first type I offer Jesus’ eating with Jewish sinners (Mk. 2:16). It likely served to prefigure/foreshadow Paul’s extension of this conduct to meals with Gentile sinners (Gal. 2:12 & 15). Similarly for Jesus’ breaking of Sabbath regulations (Mk. 2:24) and Paul’s extension of this to disregard for observance of all Jewish holy days (Gal. 4:10-11)  Likewise for Jesus’ dismissal of defilement by foods (Mk. 7:15) and Paul’s lack of any fundamental problem with eating even meat that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-7). But, as we will see, there are many other episodes that seem to be deliberately shrouded in secrecy.

This could explain a puzzling feature of Mark

Now in all these cases Paul never tries to justify his conduct by appealing to similar precedents set by Jesus. With Dykstra, I think the reason is because there were no precedents. As I see it, the author of Mark sought to remedy this situation by creating Jesus episodes that foreshadow, prefigure and thereby validate what Paul did and taught. This could also explain a puzzling feature of Mark: “the way it consists of a number of unrelated paragraphs set down one after another with very little organic connexion, almost like a series of snapshots placed side by side in a photograph album” (The Gospel of Saint Mark, by D.E. Nineham, p. 27). To account for this most scholars, including Nineham himself, have recourse to a tradition hypothesis. Mark, they surmise, was probably working with collections of traditional material about Jesus that consisted of essentially independent stories. But it seems to me that the disconnected character of Mark would be explained equally well by Volkmar’s allegorical hypothesis. In this scenario Mark’s primary focus was on Paul, not Jesus, so he had no interest in providing a connected and developed portrayal of Jesus. His focus was on constructing Jesus episodes whose value lay in the various ways they pointed to Paul. (For a good discussion about the problems with the oral tradition theory, see chapter 3 of Dykstra’s Mark, Canonizer of Paul). read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 15:  Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses (continued)

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

Previous post in this series:  A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 14: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses (continued)

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The Apostle, in Gal. 3:7, asserted that “It is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

In Galatians the Apostle apparently viewed the Mosaic covenant as ordained by enslaving angels. If so, Israel was never God’s chosen people.

What, then, ought we make of the contrary claim in Romans 9-11?

And we have seen in the two previous posts that, according to one respectable reading of Galatians, the Apostle viewed the Mosaic covenant as being ordained not by God but by enslaving angels. That would seem to mean that of the “two covenants” (Gal. 4:24) allegorically represented by Sarah and Hagar, God was a party to only one.

It is “you, brothers, like Isaac” who “are children of the promise” (Gal. 4:28). Israel, represented by the child of Hagar the slave woman, was promised nothing. In this scenario it is incorrect to say that Israel was no longer God’s chosen people, for it was never that in the first place.

But even if this interpretation is correct, there are many scholars who think that Paul, for one reason or another, went overboard in Galatians. It is often said that from Romans one can get a better idea of what Paul really thought about the Law.

In Romans, Paul takes the time to explain his views more clearly (or perhaps to state his altered views), and in doing so he backs away from the more negative things he said about the law in Galatians. (Dale B. Martin, New Testament History and Literature, p. 241)

So in this post I will go to Romans and consider what is said there about Israel’s status. The most pertinent section is Romans 9-11. As we have come to expect, it is yet another passage that zigzags.

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Two voices

The voice in much of Romans 9-11 is recognizably the same one that in Galatians is critical of the Law. It insists that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law and, as in Gal. 3:28, it says that applies to both Jew and Gentile:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. (Rom. 10:12)

But at other times we seem to hear a different voice, one that says there are important distinctions after all. It tells us in Rom. 9:4-5 that God gave seven gifts to the Jews. Those gifts they still retain, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). And we learn that God keeps for himself a “remnant” (Rom. 9:27; 11:5) of Israel, and that at some point in the future he will see to it that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). No similar guarantee is extended to the Gentiles. In fact, they are warned to watch their step.

One voice says that “not all who are of Israel are Israel” (9:6). It redefines elect Israel to mean all those called by God whether from the Gentiles or the Jews (9:24). But the other voice still considers Israel “according to the flesh” to be God’s people.

Instead of the Apostle trying “to have it both ways,” it may be that an interpolator had his way with the Apostle’s letter!
chdodd
C.H. Dodd: “Paul tries to have it both ways.”

So what is going on here? Is Paul letting his emotional attachment to his kinsmen cloud his thinking?

From our standpoint, with a far longer historical retrospect than Paul could have dreamt of, the special importance here assigned to the Jews and their conversion in the forecast of the destiny of mankind appears artificial. It is doubtful whether it is really justified on Paul’s own premisses. The fact is that he has argued from the promise to Abraham on two divergent and perhaps inconsistent lines. If the promise means ultimate blessedness for ‘Israel,’ then either the historical nation of Israel may be regarded as the heir of the promise, and Paul is justified in saying that “all Israel will be saved,” or its place may be taken by the New Israel, the Body of Christ in which there is neither Jew nor Greek; but in that case there is no ground for assigning any special place in the future to the Jewish nation as such. Paul tries to have it both ways. We can well understand that his emotional interest in his own people, rather than strict logic, has determined his forecast. (C.H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, pp. 182-183, my bolding)

Perhaps, but in line with my Simonian hypothesis, I would like to consider another possibility. Instead of the Apostle trying “to have it both ways,” it may be that an interpolator had his way with the Apostle’s letter!  If the original author of Romans was Simon of Samaria, he did not view Israel’s failure to believe in Christ as in any way bringing into question God’s fidelity to his promises. The Jews may have thought they entered a covenant with God at Sinai, but Moses mediated that arrangement not on behalf of God, but of the angels who made the world. The proto-orthodox, however, held that God had instituted the Mosaic covenant, and so it reflected badly on him that his chosen people had failed to embrace the gospel. Much of Rom. 9-11 could be the work of a proto-orthodox interpolator dealing with that theological problem.

Let’s see if these chapters can be plausibly untangled along the lines of this hypothesis. read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 14: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses (continued)

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

Previous post in this series:  A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 13: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses

 

Heikki Räisänen, in the preface to the 2nd edition of his Paul and the Law, writes:

There is at least a general agreement that Paul’s view of the law is a very complex and intricate matter which confronts the interpreter with a great many puzzles… [A] vast host of interpreters has felt, and feels, that there are problems—logical and other—in Paul’s theology of the law. (p. xii)

And, continues Räisänen:

Differences come to light when one tries to synthesize the individual observations, which also entails deciding whether various tensions are apparent or real. On this level, very diverse syntheses stand in opposition to each other. Scholars quite often suggest that all previous syntheses are unconvincing—and then bravely offer a brand new one. (p. xii)

quote_begin If Marcion was right, what the letters say about the Law is likely a composite of what two people wrote: the Apostle and a Judaizing interpolator quote_end

But perhaps it is not the complexity of Paul’s view of the Law that has made a convincing synthesis so elusive. Marcion, the earliest known interpreter of the Pauline letters, contended that the text in circulation in his day had been interpolated earlier by someone whose rejection of Judaism was less radical than that of the original author. That means the alleged tampering would have occurred anywhere from 75 to 125 years before the time our earliest extant manuscripts of the letters are dated.

If Marcion was right, what the letters say about the Law is likely a composite of what two people wrote: the Apostle and a Judaizing interpolator who “corrected” them. And if so, a coherent synthesis will forever be impossible. Disentanglement will be needed, not synthesis.

I have been freely playing the interpolation card in this series, trying to see if Marcion’s claim can provide solutions to the puzzles in the Pauline letters. Specifically, I am trying to see if the letters make better sense when viewed as writings of Simon of Samaria that were later interpolated by a proto-orthodox Christian.

In my last post I started looking into the law-related inconsistencies in Galatians and Romans. I suggested that the apparent denial of the divine origin of the Mosaic Law in Galatians 3:19 may be Simon’s work, and the clear exoneration of said Law in Romans 7 the work of an interpolator.

Let’s now go back and take a look at the literary context of the denial. Let’s see if the context can be plausibly untangled into two different positions regarding the Law.

Faith and Works

In Galatians 3 the Apostle begins by reminding his readers that they received the Spirit by faith, not by works of the Law. Their reception of the Spirit and their experience of “mighty deeds” (Gal. 3:5) had been triggered by their faith in the message preached by the Apostle, a message he apparently confirmed by putting before their eyes the writing(s)—the Vision of Isaiah?—in which Jesus Christ was “forewritten as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). Moreover, continues the letter, it is not Abraham’s Law-observant descendants who have been blessed along with him, but rather anyone who has Christian faith. “So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham… those who are men of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal 3:7 and 9).

For all who are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law, for “He who through faith is justified shall live.” But the law does not rest on faith, for “The man who does them shall live in them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree”—that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Brothers, in terms of merely human relations no one annuls even a man’s covenant, or adds to it, once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, “And to seeds,” referring to many; but, referring to one, “And to your seed,” which is Christ. What I am saying is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (Gal. 3:10-18)

So far there is nothing here that could not have been written by Simon of Samaria.

It is the next section that brings in ideas that are hard to harmonize with each other and with the passages above. The attempts to do so, according to J.B. Lightfoot, already numbered in the hundreds when he wrote his 1865 commentary on Galatians (Galatians p. 146).

read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 13: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

Previous post in this series:  Part 12: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (conclusion)

We finally come to the question of how my Simonian hypothesis would deal with the inconsistent Pauline position regarding the Mosaic Law.  Like resurrection, the Law was a subject about which Simon of Samaria’s teaching differed significantly from that of the proto-orthodox. So if the Paul who authored the original letters was Simon, we can expect to find in the canonical versions signs of proto-orthodox intervention aimed at the correction of his errors on that issue.

Most of what the Apostle wrote about the Law was in the context of its relationship to sin and justification. It is thought that Gal. 2:16 is the earliest mention in the letters of justification/righteousness/rectification (dikaioō; dikaiosynē) by faith apart from works of the Law. Teachers— again, apparently connected to the Jerusalem church—were pushing his Galatian faithful to receive circumcision and observe at least some parts of the Law. The teachers were likely preaching a justification that was in some way connected with the Law. The Apostle responded with a letter that put a different twist on this.

 

Justification and Law in the Apostle’s gospel 

Justification becomes easier to understand if God’s beef was with the sinfully proud spirits who ruled the world.

Regarding justification by faith William Wrede long ago pointed out that:

The Reformation has accustomed us to look upon this as the central point of Pauline doctrine, but it is not so. In fact the whole Pauline religion can be expounded without a word being said about this doctrine, unless it be in the part devoted to the Law. It would be extraordinary if what was intended to be the chief doctrine were referred to only in a minority of the epistles. That is the case with this doctrine: it only appears where Paul is dealing with the strife against Judaism. And this fact indicates the real significance of the doctrine. It is the polemical doctrine of Paul, is only made intelligible by the struggle of his life, his controversy with Judaism and Jewish Christianity, and is only intended for this. (Paul, p. 123)

laurenceAscensioIsaiaeVatisBut if justification by faith was not at the center of the Apostle’s gospel, he did see it as at least a nonnegotiable implication. And this makes sense if, as I proposed in posts 7 through 9, the written source of his gospel message was the Vision of Isaiah. For the Vision foretells that preachers will be sent out into the whole world (Ascension of Isaiah 9:17, in the L2 and S versions), but does not say that the Law or Law observance will be part of what they preach. The Law is not mentioned at all in the Vision nor does it say anything about a distinction of Jews from Gentiles. It condemns the spirit rulers of this world and offers a life in heaven to their subjects, but gives no special prerogatives to the Jewish ones. The idea that the message must first be offered to Jews and only afterwards to Gentiles is absent.

One could easily conclude that if the Vision doesn’t require circumcision or Law observance as conditions for liberation from the rulers, it is wrong for preachers of the gospel to require such. Apparently all that is required to benefit from the preached message is to believe it and, while waiting for the imminent destruction of this world, to conduct oneself in a way pleasing to the God who graciously initiated the rescue.

Moreover, in the Vision the sinfulness that is spotlighted is that of the rulers of this world. It is their pride that God forcefully condemns. He sends his Son to

judge and destroy the princes and angels and gods of that world, and the world that is dominated by them. For they have denied me and said: “We alone are and there is none beside us.” (Ascension of Isaiah 10:12-13).

In the Vision men come across not as the guilty, but as the victims. Their plight is to live in a dark world run by rulers whose “envy of one another and fighting…” make it a place where “there is a power of evil and envying about trifles” (Ascension of Isaiah 10:29). The “angels of death” (10:14) keep those who have died locked in Sheol until the Son comes to free them.

In Galatians a similar emphasis has been noted by some scholars:

The redemption is, according to Paul, in a phrase which is brief and yet exact, release from the misery of this whole present world (Gal. 1:4). Every other conception of it, even release from sin, would be too narrow. The character of this present world is determined by the fact that men are here under the domination of dark and evil powers. The chief of these are the flesh, sin, the Law and death. (William Wrede, Paul, p. 92)

For Paul, the problem that needs to be addressed is not so much ‘sins,’ transgressions of divinely given commandments, as Sin, a malevolent enslaving and godlike power under which all human beings are held captive. (Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary, p. 35)

So it may be that the Vision of Isaiah holds the key to a correct grasp of what Paul meant by “justification.” Scholars have always had a hard time explaining that doctrine. A big part of their problem may be their belief that God and men were the parties at odds. Justification becomes easier to understand if God’s beef was with the sinfully proud spirits who ruled the world. In this case the Son’s intervention in the world not only vindicates God vis-à-vis these pretentious rulers, it also vindicates men in regard to them. God, by initiating the destruction of the world and its rulers, has in effect acquitted their subjects. His condemnation of the rulers has freed those they heavy-handedly ruled. read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 12: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (conclusion)

In this series I have been examining passages in the Pauline letters from a particular angle. Marcion claimed that the man who wrote the originals was someone who did not believe the god of the Old Testament to be the supreme God. And the letters, said Marcion, had been interpolated by someone who aimed to Judaize them. These claims combined with certain commonalities between Paul and the infamous Simon of Samaria—a man whose teaching allegedly did place the god who made the world far below the highest God—are what led me to consider whether the author of the original letters could have been Simon. Was the name Paul, i.e., the little one, a name that Simon who claimed to be “somebody great” (Acts 8:9) either at some point adopted himself or had given to him by followers or enemies? And could the many inconsistences in the Paulines have been caused by an early interpolator whose insertions were meant to make the original letters compatible with his proto-orthodox beliefs and more moderate toward Judaism?   

It is with these possibilities in mind that I have been re-reading the letters. I want to separate the apparent zigs from the zags, and then look to see if the zigs are plausible as expressions of Simon’s teaching and the zags as proto-orthodox insertions.

In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body.

 

English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with th...
English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with the beginning of the 1. Epistle to the Corrinthians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This approach will be continued in this post on chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, a passage in which—if my Simonian scenario is correct—I would expect to find proto-orthodox intervention.

For the main subject of the chapter—the resurrection of the dead—is one about which proto-orthodox belief differed from that of Simon. The Father of Gnosticism is said to have taught that man’s spirit is the only part of him that is from the highest God and, as such, is the only part that can survive the coming destruction of this world. Man’s body is the inferior work of the inferior angels who made the visible world and is radically unfit for the highest world.

In contrast, the proto-orthodox held that this world including the human body is fundamentally good, having been made by the one true God, the God spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. The body, as God’s work, possesses a definite dignity, a dignity that can be marred by sin but can also be restored by him.

Thus proto-orthodox resurrection of the dead is resurrection of the whole man, including the body. For the proto-orthodox, denial of the resurrection of the body is the same thing as denial of the resurrection of the dead. And such denial is incompatible with really being a Christian.

For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians … who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians… (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 80)

In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body.

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Initial observations 

Is it plausible that the real Paul would have failed to have his gospel summary make explicit mention that the death was by crucifixion?

I expect that many readers of Vridar are already familiar with Robert M. Price’s article in which he argues that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is not a window… into the earliest days of Christian belief,” but rather a “piece of later, post-Pauline Christianity” (“Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation”, in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery J. Lowder, p. 69 ) The article can be read online at Prices’s website: www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com.

Contradicts Galatians
Among the reasons Price gives for rejecting the authenticity of the pericope is its contradiction of Galatians 1:1, 11-12. In the Corinthians passage the Apostle has apparently been taught his gospel by human predecessors, but in Galatians he says he did not receive it from man. Thus it would seem, as Price points out, that

If the historical Paul is speaking in either passage, he is not speaking in both. (p. 74)

Suspicious Christophanies
Price also has numerous issues with the pericope’s list of Christophanies. And he proposes that in reality verses 3 and 9-11 are

part of an apologia for Paul made by a spirit kindred to the writer of the Pastorals. The writer wished to vindicate Paul’s controversial heresy-tinged apostolate in the eyes of his fellow “early catholics” by doing what Luke did at about the same time: assimilating Paul to the Twelve and James. (p. 90)

I basically agree with Price on the above points and would add a few other observations.

Overlooked crucifixion
For one thing, the gospel summary in the passage simply says

that Christ died (15:3)

Christ crucified
Christ crucified (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

without specifying that the death was by crucifixion.

But earlier in the same letter great emphasis is placed on the manner of the death. The Apostle proclaimed

Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:22)

and insisted that when he was among the Corinthians he

resolved to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

Given the circumstances, is it plausible that the real Paul would have failed to have his gospel summary make explicit mention that the death was by crucifixion?

It is unrealistic to think that the afterlife only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. . . .

The passage would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body like the one the risen Christ has.

Omitted teaching
And at face value the passage would have us believe that the Apostle had previously neglected to tell the Corinthians what their afterlife existence would be like.

The passage does not say that the Apostle had preached the resurrection and that his hearers had not understood it; nor does it reproach them for forgetfulness.

It is important to realize this: the passage does not say that the Apostle had preached the resurrection of the dead and that his hearers had not understood it. Nor does it reproach them with forgetfulness of what he had said about that doctrine.

What it says is that the Apostle had preached the gospel to them—a gospel that included the resurrection of Christ—but it makes no claim that he ever addressed the nature of their own afterlife in any of his instructions. This passage together with the defense of resurrection that follows it would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body that is like the one the risen Christ has. It wants us to believe he had wrongly assumed all of them would deduce that on their own, and so he had never expressly said a word about it.

To me this supposed omission on the Apostle’s part is suspicious. The nature of the afterlife is just too central and important a matter to have been completely left out by him. It is unrealistic to think that it only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. It is the kind of thing that would have come up from the beginning in all kinds of discussions about Christian hopes and expectations.

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A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 11: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (continued)

The previous post in this series was focused on chapters 1 – 4 of 1 Corinthians. I proposed that the theme of the disruptive wisdom at Corinth was eschatological and that it featured an earthly kingdom of God. And I suggested that the points of contact between the wisdom discussion in Corinthians and the earthly kingdom described in the book of Revelation may indicate that the party of Cephas at Corinth had some connection with the Revelation community. I also showed how Paul’s resistance to a reign-on-earth doctrine is compatible with my hypotheses that he was Simon of Samaria and his gospel was the Vision of Isaiah.

This scenario of such widely divergent sexual attitudes peacefully co-existing in the church founded by the Apostle makes me suspicious. My Simonian hypotheses offer an alternative explanation for the juxtaposition . . . .

This post will look at chapters 5 through 7. These abruptly introduce a new subject and present a picture of the Corinthian church that is very hard to accept at face value. Supposedly it was a church composed of Christians whose bizarre ethics somehow combined extreme sexual libertinism (chapters 5 and 6) with strict sexual asceticism (chapter 7)! Not only are some Corinthian Christians going to prostitutes, the community as a whole is apparently boasting about the incest of one their own who has his father’s wife. Yet at the same time some of them are considering a life of virginity. The Apostle has to tell them that it is no sin to get married. And he has to advise those already married not to abstain from sexual intercourse with their spouses.

This scenario of such widely divergent sexual attitudes peacefully co-existing in the church founded by the Apostle makes me suspicious. My Simonian hypotheses offer an alternative explanation for the juxtaposition, one that reasonably squares with the Corinthian controversy as a whole. We are dealing with two authors, not one. The author of the original letter was Simon/Paul; the author of chapters 5 and 6 was the second-century proto-orthodox interpolator. These two chapters express the interpolator’s negative assessment of the Simonian church at Corinth. They interrupt, as I will show later in the post, the original situational continuity that existed between chapters 4 and 7 (whether or not this latter chapter was part of the original letter or just a follow-up response to questions provoked by it).

Chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians ended with the Apostle offering himself as an example to be imitated (1 Cor. 4:16). He promised to send Timothy to the Corinthians “to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:17). But the proto-orthodox disapproved of many of Simon/Paul’s “ways,” and chapters 5 and 6 were inserted to register that disapproval. Whereas he wrote to his flock “not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14), that was not the case with the interpolator. He is blunt: “I say this to shame you” (1 Cor. 6:5).

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The man who reportedly had the father’s wife

Allegory of Divine Wisdom
Allegory of Divine Wisdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter 5 begins by saying that it is “widely reported” that among the Corinthian brethren there is sexual immorality “of a kind unheard of even among Gentiles,” namely “a man has the father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). The command is given to expel the man from the community and to deliver him to Satan “for the destruction of his flesh,” (1 Cor. 5:5). Yet the Corinthian church has apparently not been concerned about the situation. They were even proud of it: “You are puffed up” (1 Cor. 5:2). Their attitude is all the more puzzling in that the Apostle says he told them in a previous letter not to associate with whoremongers, avaricious people, extortioners, idolaters, revilers, or drunks. He offers a belated clarification that he meant brothers who are such, not non-Christians.

I find it hard to accept that there could have been that kind of disconnect between the ethical understanding of the founder of the Corinthian church and his flock. And the reference to an earlier letter could just be a fabricated excuse for the implausible disconnect. Did the Corinthian church really think that it was ok to associate with Christian idolaters and whoremongers but not with pagan ones? I doubt it. The situation described in chapter 5 is not only impractical (as the passage itself concedes: “You would have to go out of the world” – 1 Cor. 5:10), it is also unrealistic. Something else is going on here.

The nature of the “widely reported” incest is that “a man has the father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). That description, it strikes me, is how a proto-orthodox Christian could view Simon’s outrageous claim that his companion Helen was divine Wisdom. To the proto-orthodox, Wisdom was personified as some kind of female consort of God who assisted him with the work of creation:

Does not wisdom cry out? And understanding lift up her voice? She stands at the top of the high places… I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was… When he established the heavens, I was there… When he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep… then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always…. And now, my sons, listen to me. Blessed are they who keep my ways… For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 8)

So when Simon came along and divulged to certain initiates of his that the woman he was taking around with him was divine Wisdom, was he not a man who reportedly had the Father’s woman?

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A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 10: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy

When I finished the previous post of the series, I expected to go on to a discussion of the eschatology in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. But while working on that, I quickly realized that chapters 1 through 4 of the letter should be examined first. They provide some necessary background on the situation in the church at Corinth.

So this post will consider these earlier chapters from the perspective of my hypotheses that the Paul who wrote the Corinthian letters was Simon of Samaria, his gospel was based on the Vision of Isaiah, and his letters were subsequently interpolated (as late as 130 CE) by a proto-orthodox Christian.

I have already discussed 1 Cor. 2:6-9 in part 7 of the series. My interpretation of that passage will be incorporated here into a view of the Corinthian controversy as a whole.

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Disruptive Wisdom in the Church at Corinth

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters in which the Apostle expresses concern about some kind of wisdom that, in his absence, was being put forward by certain Christians at Corinth and was giving rise to factions in the church there. The nature of the troublesome wisdom is unclear but, from a consideration of the entire Corinthian correspondence, it seems to me most likely that it was the product of people laying claim to the gift of prophecy. Its proponents likely believed that their wisdom, like the Apostle’s own (1 Cor. 2:6-9), was revealed by God.

ellisAs we saw above, in the Pauline letters, and especially in 1 Corinthians (2, 12-14), certain believers have gifts of inspired speech and discernment. They are called pneumatics and, broadly speaking, they exercise the role of prophets. Among other manifestations they are said to speak ‘wisdom of God’ (2,7,13) or to be ‘wise’ (3,18; 6,5; cf. 14,29 diakrinein) or to have a ‘word of wisdom’ (12,8) and to speak ‘in knowledge’ or to ‘have knowledge’ or ‘a word of knowledge’ (8,10; 12,8; 14,6). The terms wisdom and knowledge are used of pneumatic gifts in other parts of the Pauline literature and occasionally they appear in tandem, both in Paul and elsewhere. (E. Earle Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity, p. 50)

The Apostle refers to the purveyors of the wisdom as fellow workers, but it becomes clear in the course of his presentation that he views at least some of them as competitors and has serious reservations about whether their teaching is in harmony with the gospel.

That gospel, as I proposed in parts 7 through 9, was likely derived from the Vision of Isaiah, and for the Apostle its truth was confirmed by the divine revelation that he himself had received. He has no comparable assurance for the suspect wisdom. Those pushing it apparently accepted, at least initially, the Apostle’s gospel beliefs, for without that minimal commonality it is hard to see how he could have allowed them to operate at all in his community. And he does say that they were building on the foundation— Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11, 1:23 and 2:2)—that he himself “as a wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10) had laid down in Corinth. He makes clear that use of that foundation is non-negotiable:  “No man can lay a foundation other than the one that is there” (1 Cor. 3:11).  To try to substitute another would in effect destroy the edifice, and “if any man destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that man; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor. 3:17). But building on the right foundation is not enough. What is built on it must be able to survive the coming conflagration and the Apostle seems to doubt that the materials being used by his competitors at Corinth will pass that test.

Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God.

The Apostle’s repeated belittlement of mere “wisdom of word” and “wisdom of man” and “wisdom of the world” seems to be an indirect putdown of what his competitors are teaching. His wisdom is from God. He is not so sure about the source of theirs.

Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:17)

We have not received the spirit of the world but the spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by the wisdom of man, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. (1 Cor. 2:12-13)

We speak wisdom among the perfect, but wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, that hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this world understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’  (1Cor. 2:6-9)

The “wisdom of man,” as the Apostle uses the expression, is an inferior wisdom whose source is merely “the spirit of man that is in him” (1 Cor. 2:11). And the source of the “wisdom of this world” is “the spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2:12), i.e., the ignorant angel who together with his spirit underlings are the “rulers of this world” (1 Cor. 2:6). Later, as the situation further deteriorates at Corinth and the Apostle comes to view the competing wisdom as “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4), he supplies the name of the angel. He is “Satan” who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God.

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The Eschatological Theme of the Wisdom of this World

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A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 9: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel (conclusion)

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This post continues my discussion of the Vision of Isaiah.

It will briefly consider some additional aspects of that writing that make it an attractive candidate as the source Simon/Paul’s gospel.

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An Assembly of Prophets

The Vision of Isaiah gives a significant role not just to Isaiah himself but also to a group of unnamed fellow prophets. Isaiah’s arrival at King Hezekiah’s court is the occasion for a gathering of forty of them who “came that they might greet him, and that they might hear his words, and that he might lay his hands on them, and that they might prophesy and that he might hear their prophecy” (Asc. Is. 6:4-5).

With Isaiah seated in their midst and his higher ranking confreres on his right (an arrangement that matches the Vision’s description of the lower levels of heaven), they hear, together with the king, the door to the heavens opened and the voice of the Spirit (Asc. Is. 6:6). And afterwards they are part of the select group that is allowed to hear Isaiah relate what he saw:

And after Isaiah had seen this vision he recounted it to Hezekiah, and to Josab his [Isaiah’s] son, and to the other prophets who had come. But the officials, and the eunuchs, and the people did not hear, apart from Samnas the secretary, and Jehoiakim, and Asaph the recorder… but the people did not hear, for Micah and Josab his son had sent them out… (Asc. Is. 6:16-17)

. . . it could explain why in Paul’s communities prophets played a prominent role, one second in importance only to that of apostles

The amount of attention and the role given to the prophets have led a number of scholars (Enrico Norelli, Robert G. Hall, Morton Smith, and Michael E. Stone) to surmise that the author was projecting his own community into the time of Isaiah. That is to say, the practices the author describes may well be the practices of his own community. Norelli, for instance, is of the opinion that

the Ascension of Isaiah reflects two phases in the history of a group of prophets who laid claim to a role of very high authority in the Christian community, a role much like the prophets who, gathered around Isaiah, are center stage in chapter 6. (Ascension du prophète Isaïe, p. 74, my translation).

Now if this is correct, and if the Vision was the source of Simon/Paul’s gospel, it could explain why in his communities too prophets played a prominent role, one second in importance only to that of apostles: “God has designated some in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets… (1 Cor. 12:28). Apostles who were also the recipients of revelations from the Lord were prophets too. But their apostolic ministry as itinerant preachers meant that those prophets who did not travel around were, in effect, the highest authorities on site in the various churches. read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 8: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel (continued)

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In the previous post of the series I proposed that the Vision of Isaiah was the source of Simon/Paul’s gospel.

This post will look at the place in the Vision that contains the major difference between the two branches of its textual tradition. Obviously, at least one of the readings is not authentic. But, as I will show, there are good reasons to think that neither reading was part of the original.

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Refer to the previous post for brief discussion of the various Latin and Greek, Ethiopic and Slavonic manuscript versions of the Ascension.
Refer to the previous post for brief discussion of the various Latin and Greek, Ethiopic and Slavonic manuscript versions of the Ascension.

The passages in question are located in chapter 11 of the Vision. In the L2 and S versions the Lord’s mission in the world is presented by a single sentence:

2… And I saw one like a son of man, and he dwelt with men in the world, and they did not recognize him.

In place of this the Ethiopic versions have 21 verses, 17 of which are devoted to a miraculous birth story:

2 And I saw a woman of the family of David the prophet whose name (was) Mary, and she (was) a virgin and was betrothed to a man whose name (was) Joseph, a carpenter, and he also (was) of the seed and family of the righteous David of Bethlehem in Judah. 3 And he came into his lot. And when she was betrothed, she was found to be pregnant, and Joseph the carpenter wished to divorce her. 4 But the angel of the Spirit appeared in this world, and after this Joseph did not divorce Mary; but he did not reveal this matter to anyone. 5 And he did not approach Mary, but kept her as a holy virgin, although she was pregnant. 6 And he did not live with her for two months.

7 And after two months of days, while Joseph was in his house, and Mary his wife, but both alone, 8 it came about, when they were alone, that Mary then looked with her eyes and saw a small infant, and she was astounded. 9 And after her astonishment had worn off, her womb was found as (it was) at first, before she had conceived. 10 And when her husband, Joseph, said to her, “What has made you astounded?” his eyes were opened, and he saw the infant and praised the Lord, because the Lord had come in his lot.

11 And a voice came to them, “Do not tell this vision to anyone.” 12 But the story about the infant was spread abroad in Bethlehem.

13 Some said, “The virgin Mary has given birth before she has been married two months.” 14 But many said, “She did not give birth; the midwife did not go up (to her), and we did not hear (any) cries of pain.” And they were all blinded concerning him; they all knew about him, but they did not know from where he was.

15 And they took him and went to Nazareth in Galilee. 16 And I saw, O Hezekiah and Josab my son, and say to the other prophets also who are standing by, that it was hidden from all the heavens and all the princes and every god of this world. 17 And I saw (that) in Nazareth he sucked the breast like an infant, as was customary, that he might not be recognized.

18 And when he had grown up, he performed great signs and miracles in the land of Israel and (in) Jerusalem.

19 And after this the adversary envied him and roused the children of Israel, who did not know who he was, against him. And they handed him to the ruler, and crucified him, and he descended to the angel who (is) in Sheol. 20 In Jerusalem, indeed, I saw how they crucified him on a tree, 21 and likewise (how) after the third day he and remained (many) days. 22 And the angel who led me said to me, “Understand, Isaiah.” And I saw when he sent out the twelve disciples and ascended.

(M. A. Knibb, “Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by J.H. Charlesworth, pp. 174-75.)

One Substitution or Two?

Most scholars think the L2 and S version of the Lord’s earthly mission is far too brief to be original. The foreshadowing in the Vision expects some emphasis on the Beloved assuming human form as well as some story of crucifixion” (p. 483, n. 56). But instead L2 and S give us what looks like some kind of Johannine-inspired one-line summary: “he dwelt with men in the world” (cf. Jn. 1:14). Those who think the Ethiopic reading represents the original see the L2 and S verse as a terse substitution inserted by someone who considered the original to be insufficiently orthodox.

But from the recognition that 11:2 of the L2/S branch is a sanitized substitute, it does not necessarily follow that 11:2-22 in the Ethiopic versions is authentic. That passage too is rejected by some (e.g., R. Laurence, F.C. Burkitt). And although most are inclined to accept it as original, they base that inclination on the primitive character of its birth narrative. Thus, for example, Knibb says “the primitive character of the narrative of the birth of Jesus suggests very strongly that the Eth[iopic version] has preserved the original form of the text” (“Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by J.H. Charlesworth, p. 150)

Robert G. Hall
Robert G. Hall

It is true that the Vision’s birth narrative, when compared to those in GMatthew and GLuke, looks primitive. But there are good grounds for thinking that the original Vision did not have a birth narrative at all. A later substitution is still a later substitution even if it is a birth narrative that is inserted and its character is primitive compared to subsequent nativity stories. Robert G. Hall sensed this and in a footnote wrote:

Could the virgin birth story have been added after the composition of the Ascension of Isaiah? Even if we conclude that this virgin birth story was added later, the pattern of repetition in the Vision probably implies that the omission of 11:1-22 in L2 and Slav is secondary. The foreshadowing expects some emphasis on the Beloved assuming human form as well as some story of crucifixion. Could the story original to the text have offended both the scribe behind L2 Slav and the scribe behind the rest of the witnesses? The scribe behind the Ethiopic would then have inserted the virgin birth story and the scribe behind L2 Slav would have omitted the whole account. The virgin birth story is, however, very old and perhaps it is best not to speculate. (“Isaiah’s Ascent to See the Beloved: An Ancient Jewish Source for the Ascension of Isaiah?,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 113/3, 1994, n. 56, p. 483, my bolding)

I agree that both the E and L2/S readings at 11:2 could be replacement passages, but I think Hall’s advice not to speculate should be disregarded, for it is his very observations about the Vision that provide some good reasons to suspect that 11:2-22 did not belong to the original text. It is he who points out that foreshadowing and repetition characterize the Vision—except when it comes to the birth story! read more »