Hadrian and Christian Gnosis.
1. The Empowered Nero.
Among the five emperors who, after the fall of the last Flavian, allowed the Senate free hand in legislation, Hadrian occupies the same position as Nero in the line of Julio-Claudian princes. Those five had risen above the embittered mood with which the first emperors observed the movements of the aristocracy with the opening of the constitutional era and had acquired a mental tranquility that allowed them to conceive comprehensive thoughts and plans. The first designated the few months of his reign with the establishment of large charitable and orphanages, the second introduced humanity and serenity into the turmoil of domestic politics, the first Antoninus realized the dream of the Stoics of the wise man on the throne, and Marcus, as a human and ruler, had the law of nature before his eyes.
The middle one in this line, Hadrian, was an encyclopedic mind who wanted to gather everything that the empire contained and moved into his inner self. He wanted to merge nationalities, religions, and the wisdom of philosophical schools in his mind and make himself a mirror image in which the noblest impulses of his time merged into a whole.
Nero’s imagination was occupied with a similar ideal when he wanted to unite the two halves of the empire, which were still opposed despite the political annihilation of Greece and all the conqueror’s eagerness to learn, into a single realm of education and to represent their reconciliation in his own virtuosity. His idea of a humanity above the ancient republic had already shone through the dust of his battlefields to the dictator Julius; the Julians and Claudians after him fought for a future human community in their struggle against the aristocracy, but they still felt and had to show themselves as Romans. And when Nero believed that he could erase the bloody coloring of the previous reigns and merge the East and West of the empire if he appeared as a singer and actor in Greek attire, he brought upon himself the stigma of the un-Roman.
Hadrian was more favorably disposed towards cosmopolitanism. Aside from his talent and training in all aspects of war and peace that set him above Nero, and also aside from a greater maturity of the times for a fusion of nationalities, religions, and schools, he enjoyed the advantage that at the beginning of his reign Romanism was already just a myth that was refreshed in the present only by individual allusions. This was already the case under Trajan. Pliny’s letters and his praise of this prince are full of confessions that Romanism was already an antiquity at that time. In Trajan, for example, appears (Paneg. Cap. 11-12) again one of those “ancients” who gained respect among the peoples outside and won the imperial name among the corpses of the battlefields. His victory (in Dacia) is (Epist. 10,9) most ancient, his attitude in the Senate (Paneg. Cap. 61-76) truly consular and ancient. Nothing can be more ancient and sacred than (ibid. 83) his marital relationship with his wife Plotina.
Nerva also praised Pliny’s appearance in court as an image of antiquity (antiquis simile) in the previously mentioned letter to Pliny (Epist. 7,33), and Pliny himself honored Verginius Rufus upon his death with the obituary (Epist. 2,1) that he was a type of the olden days.
While, in the feeling of the time, old Romanism was left behind and left a gap that awaited filling, Hadrian eagerly took up military service from his fifteenth year. Born in Rome in 76, he descended on his father’s side, Aelius Hadrianus Afer, from a family that had risen to senatorial rank through his grandfather Marullinus and settled in the Spanish colony town of Italicum, named after the nearby Adriatic Sea, at the time of the Scipios. In his tenth year, he lost his father; Trajan, his relative, who took over the guardianship together with the knight Caelius Tatian, kept a close eye on him during his military service and gave him Julia Sabina, granddaughter of his widowed sister Marciana, whom Pliny (Paneg. 84) cannot praise enough for her pure friendship with her sister-in-law Plotina in the Palatium, as his wife. Under the emperor’s protection, he administered the quaestorship, distinguished himself in the Dacian War, became a praetor; as commander-in-chief in Pannonia, he made a name for himself through strict discipline, became consul, then a general under Trajan in the Parthian War, and was a praetor of Syria in Antioch when his imperial relative and patron died in Selinus.
Hadrian combined the bravery and demeanor of a soldier with the gift of eloquence. When he gave a speech before the Senate in Trajan’s name during his quaestorship, he was mocked for his dialect that had been corrupted by his one-sided study of Greek. However, a thorough study of the Latin language brought him to the highest level of perfection and eloquence in it as well.
The foundation of his education was Greek culture, and so he was given the nickname “Graeculus” when he entered society, having been nourished and inspired by Greek literature until the age of fifteen. As Aurelius Victor expressed it, he “absorbed the culture and spirit of Athens and not only made their language his own but also their skills in art.”
He was a master of singing, instrumental music, medicine, geometry, painting, and sculpture.
After his accession to the throne, the court and palace, in addition to the seriousness that the centralization of an active administration spread, took on the appearance of an Athenian school. Philosophers and philologists, rhetoricians and sophists formed a circle of men of thought and language around him, competing with each other to shine before him, and with whom he gladly engaged in a scholarly competition.
On his travels, he had a keen eye for the condition of the provinces and their income. He inspected the military camps from Britain to the Euphrates with the eyes of a military commander and a lower-ranking officer. He, who often marched on foot in full armor or in the garb of an ordinary soldier and contented himself with ordinary soldier’s rations, was a teacher of military discipline by his own example. His skill in the use of weapons gave special emphasis to the exercises he conducted in the camps, as if the enemy were nearby.
Aurelius Victor says of him (in the Epitome) that he brought the civil service, palace administration, and military into the form that, with some changes made by Constantine, lasted until the time of Constantius and Julian. In addition to inspecting and organizing the army, he found time on his travels to argue with philosophers and rhetoricians in Athens and Alexandria and compete for the glory of eloquence, accompanied by an army of architects and builders.
His memory served him well in his dealings with army veterans and in his interaction with capital cities, as well as for the overview of the state finances. He had such a precise knowledge of the empire’s income that he was compared to the most careful housekeeper (Spartian, Hadrian 19).
His mental capacity was equally powerful. He dictated, listened, and chatted with confidants all at the same time.
Hadrian showed the official honor to the Senate by seeking its advice on all important matters, sitting as a judge with them, and participating as an assessor in the proceedings of the consuls. In the city and in the countryside, he always had the first men of the empire around him, dined with them, went out with them, visited sick friends, and attended their festivals (Dio Cassius 69, 7). In conversation, even with the lowest people, he was extremely gracious and did not let those who felt it was beneath the dignity of the throne take away this pleasure of humanity. He was full of playful ideas, rich in witty remarks, one of those princes of whom anecdotes and witty impromptus are told. Inclined to provoke and stir up others, he was also prepared for serious answers, jokes, and pointed remarks. He had his own song ready for a song, his own word ready for a word, everything so prepared in the moment as if he had been ready for such unexpected events (Aurelius Victor, Epitome).
It should also be mentioned that if he incurred just criticism by being too punctual, busy, or moody, he knew how to attract those he had plagued or offended again to himself through evidence of care, sympathy, and nobility (Dio Cassius 69, 5).
One testimony to his humanity is also his legislation in favor of slaves. Thus, he took away the power of masters to kill their slaves and ordered the guilty to be convicted by the public courts (Spartian, Hadrian 16). He abolished the slave prisons (the private prisons of individuals), which sometimes also held free people. The question that had been hovering since Nero’s time and that this prince, despite his good will, had not solved, namely how far the slaves were to be punished for the murder of the head of the household, he answered by saying that only those slaves who had been close enough to the scene of the crime in the house to hear the cries of the attacked master were to be subjected to torture.
He is celebrated as a master of the lyre, as a singer, or as a judge at the competitions on coins because of his participation in the Greek games, and he is depicted wearing Greek clothing. Another time, his mastery of geometry is celebrated, and the coin that bears his likeness on the front bears his ancestor in science, Euclid, on the back. Greek and Anatolian coins proclaim him as the Olympian, Savior of the World and Savior Zeus. The repeated world travels, in which he exceeded Nero’s horizon, earned him the status of that Hercules who traveled the world and bestowed benefits. He appears on coins as Hercules Gaditanus and as the Roman Hercules.
Nero also entertained the idea of traveling to the far east of his empire. His secret fantasies, as Tacitus calls them (Annal. 15, 36), were focused on the provinces of the Orient, especially Egypt. The Annalist does not tell us what attracted the emperor to that distant land of the East; some modern theologians, who believe that the oracle formed in Vespasian’s camp was an ancient legend already spreading in the Orient at Nero’s time, suggest that he may have wanted to explore the mystery of the wonderland from where the ruler of the world was to come. From a secular point of view (especially from Friedrich Buchholz in his previously mentioned studies on Roman history), it is suggested that when the emperor’s generosity towards his “good” people had exhausted the treasury, he had the idea of investigating the Temple treasury in Jerusalem, where (according to Josephus, Antiquities 14, 7, 2, and Tacitus, Hist. 5, 5) the contributions of the Jews and proselytes of Asia and Europe had been pouring in for centuries, for an imminent seizure. The humorous poem, the embellishment of the last months and days of Nero, preserved by Sueton and Dio Cassius, brought into the story the prophecy of his deposition by the soothsayers, but then his domination of the Orient, particularly the royal crown of Jerusalem (Sueton, Nero, cap. 40), or showed him, when he felt abandoned by everyone, finding solace in the maxim, “There’s good money in a skilled trade,” and resolving to earn his daily bread as a zither player in Alexandria (Sueton, loc. cit. and Dio Cassius 63, 27).
However, Nero’s anxiety about the East can be adequately explained by the dominant position that Corbulo held as a military commander and diplomat in the eastern half of the empire. The land of the Nile interested him not only because of its importance to the imperial power but also because of its miraculous river, and he had sent out a military expedition to discover its sources, which, supported by the Ethiopian king and through his recommendation to neighboring princes, had penetrated as far south as the point where the origin of the Nile could be divined from an immense lake (Seneca, Quest. Natur. 6, 8).
In this context, Seneca calls his student a friend of research (veritatis amantissimus). Hadrian earned the nickname of the most curious (curiosissimus). He wanted to know and see everything and get to the bottom of everything. It was not enough for him to associate with the masters of the schools in Athens, who had received a centuries-old tradition there; he was just as attracted to that young scholarly city at the mouth of the Nile, where the science of Greece was intertwined with Jewish monotheism and was now also concerned with the interpretation of a new mystery, the message of the incarnate Logos of Heraclitus and the Stoics.
As he followed the trend of his time towards mystical wisdom by being initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries and introducing their rites to Rome immediately upon his return (Aurel. Victor. Caesares), he was also interested in a movement of spirits that aimed to merge the divine into a universal unity. This simplification of the heavenly nomenclature, favored by the Stoic system, corresponded to the centralization of earthly power in the emperor. In Athens, for centuries, a series of tyrants and absolute rulers had worked on a temple for the Olympian, as the central deity of Hellenism. Pisistratus started the work, Antiochus Epiphanes continued it, Augustus, in conjunction with friendly kings and allied princes, resumed construction; Hadrian completed it. In the same place, he built the temple of Juno and Zeus Panhellenios, under whose images he had himself and his Sabina represented, according to the explanation of the connoisseurs. In Egypt, he worshipped Serapis, a kind of universal deity that had absorbed Egyptian individual gods and Greek light and salvation deities and assimilated them, and his presence in Egypt is celebrated on coins on which he and Sabina extend their hands in greeting to Serapis and Isis. Coins that attest to the establishment of the Serapis cult in his Thracian foundation, in Adrianople, are evidence that he was propagating the Egyptian idol.
He represented the unification of the intellectual main elements of his time in his mausoleum, the Moles Hadriani; Egyptian gloom, Roman seriousness, and Greek elegance are combined in it. His villa in Tibur was also supposed to reflect the universality of his spirit and give a picture of the world as it lived in his inner being in its collection of buildings. The symbols of science, art, and religion, as they were cultivated in Greece and Egypt, were seen here, as he returned from his world travels, to be united. Next to Plato’s, Aristotle’s, and the Stoa’s school halls were the Prytaneum dedicated to Athens’ merits, the Serapis temple of Canopus, and even the terrors of the underworld were represented, and researchers believe they have discovered the remains of an Eleusinian mystery stage.
Recent research among the ruins of Samothrace has led to documents that make it likely that the emperor underwent the initiations there. Accordingly, he would have also included the sanctuary that was worshiped by Philip, the conqueror of Greece, and his Olympias, and which, having been won over by the interest of the Ptolemies, gained the significance for the Hellenic Orient that the initiations of Eleusis possessed for the western Greek world, in his religious combinations. In addition, he associated with magicians and sought their advice; what kind of religious imagery was thus present in his mind!
We now come to the darkest point in the history of the emperor, the gift he made to the world with his new god, Antinous. He himself claimed to have heard from the magicians that an undertaking he was considering would only succeed if someone else sacrificed themselves for him. The historians then tell us that when nobody in his entourage was willing to make this sacrifice, his favorite page, Antinous, who came from Bithynia, offered to do so and jumped into the river on a pleasure trip with the emperor (Spartian. Hadrian 13. Aurel. Victor. Caesares 14).
The population of Alexandria laughed at the emperor and his grief over the loss of his favorite; his claim of the noble motive that led him to his sacrifice was certainly also fabricated. But where did he get the glory with which he adorned the head of the deified youth? In the conclusion of Apuleius’s novel, “The Golden Ass,” the high priestess of Isis promises the hero the initiation into the mysteries of the all-goddess, in which “dedication to voluntary death and the gift of a new life are represented and celebrated.” But where did the poet of the Antonine era get these formulas, which literally recall the threefold initiations of that hero to the secrets of Christian faith and life? They come from Platonic philosophy and Greek mysteries, which also provided the dress for Christian mysteries. But the cult image of Apuleius is a new, unique religion in which Greek, Egyptian, and Christian elements are mixed together. The most powerful formulas in the initiations that the poet’s hero receives are taken from Christian language and testify to the reception that Christianity had among the pagans, who wanted to combine their new and monotheistic monasticism with polytheistic imagery. Thus, Hadrian also wove into the most significant final apotheosis accomplished by imperial Rome through him the motif of self-sacrifice, of which the wisdom schools of Alexandria spoke in its Christian glorification.
The monuments that he dedicated to the memory of his deified favorite’s sacrificial death in a new column city of Egypt, Antinoopolis, in Mantinea, the mother city of the Bithynians, and in Rome itself, were in line with the mystical direction of the world at that time, and the artists exerted themselves once again to achieve the utmost, as they united the soft forms of the boy, Apollonian nobility, and a dreamy, thoughtful expression of the countenance in the statues of the youthful sacrifice.
The renunciation and abnegation demanded by Plato and the Stoics stood in youthful beauty and in Greek-moderated Egyptian seriousness at the main centers of the world when, at the same time, the message of the one who had brought renunciation in the form of humility and under the torments of a slave’s death spread. It was a question of who would triumph.
Perhaps we can get to the real motive that led Antinous to his death by taking another look at the mysteries that, according to the descriptions of the ancient historians, prevailed in the interior of Hadrian, despite all his humanitarianism, and were said to have made him and his surroundings unhappy. According to Dio Cassius (69, 3), “his vanity, which desired to understand every art of peace and war, of the prince and the private citizen, would not have harmed anyone if it had not been for his envy, which persecuted every merit, and cost many people their office and some their lives.” He is said to have killed Trajan’s architect Apollodorus because the latter had once teased him with his paintings in that prince’s room. Spartian (cap. 13) calls him “luxurious and abstemious, miserly and generous, sometimes cruel, sometimes kind.” And Aurelius Victor (Epitome 14) attributes to him a Proteus-like nature in picturesque expressions that changed with its manifold shape, showing itself in vices and virtues according to its own whim and covering a jealous, melancholic, and lustful disposition with the brilliant appearance of abstinence, affability, and kindness with the skill of an artist.
We can probably attribute a whole series of faults attributed to the emperor to malicious exaggeration or gossip. These include the bloody removal of the master of Trajanic buildings, his behavior towards his wife Sabina, who (according to Aurel. Victor, Epitome 14) is said to have recognized his inhumane nature and avoided becoming pregnant to him for the benefit of humanity, as well as his relationship with his aunt Plotina, who, according to Dio Cassius, became interested in him because of their sexual relations and invented the fable of his adoption by this prince.
The contradictions in his character, which are attributed to him by unanimous tradition, are rather explained by his thirst for knowledge and research and by the gap that the most comprehensive satisfaction, which his position and his own powers of perception allowed him, left in him and could not fill. He saw everything, could scrutinize everything to the bottom by virtue of his imperial key, knew everything that the contemporary world could offer, but he was not satisfied. Like his Tivoli villa, he brought together all the beauty, functionality, and mystery of his time in his mind, but all his power was not enough to create a unity from it.
Both the wealth of his knowledge and experience and the skepticism he held toward accumulated knowledge may have made it difficult for his surroundings to interact with him at times. The wise men, philologists, and sophists of the court may not always have had the prudence of the learned friend Favorinus, who wisely gave in to him in a philological dispute and, when others subsequently criticized him for it, replied (Spart. Hadrian, cap. 14) whether he should consider himself more learned than the person who commanded thirty legions.
Perhaps it was also the unpredictable mood swings of a witty and restless knowledge-seeker that sometimes clouded the relationship between him and his wife. He is said to have said himself that, if he were a private individual, he would have divorced her because of her stubborn and sulky character (Spartian, cap. 10). But she still accompanied him on his travels, was with him in Egypt, where her poetic travel remark was found inscribed on a fragment of the Memnon column. She is depicted with him on the coin that shows their mutual greeting of Serapis and Isis. He dismissed (Spart. ibid.) the prefect of the Praetorium Clarus, his secretary Suetonius Tranquillus, and others from their service because they had lost sight of the respect due to her as empress without his giving them a reason for it. It may also be that the prickly moods of the raving fantasist led his darling Antinous to free himself from the burden of sometimes painful interaction by jumping into the Nile.
The darkness that shrouds his adoption is also explained by the impression his nature made on Trajan. Despite all the promptness he showed in every official duty and despite his adaptability to the emperor’s way of life, which enabled him to prove himself as a drinker even in the emperor’s tent, the adoption, which his friends certainly expected at the time of his consulate, did not come. The dutiful, rising man had something carefree in his demeanor and eyes that expressed his certainty of the future and a sense of self that, without being irritating, may not have pleased the emperor. Probably the unassuming carelessness that Hadrian maintained in the Parthian War and in his high position at the time did not make the emperor eager to rush with the adoption. Finally, there was Trajan’s emotional decline and his illness, so that it is likely that Plotina, in the last moments of her husband’s life, elicited from him the acceptance of Hadrian as his son or, since it was important to her not to be left alone in a potential succession war, reported the adoption as having taken place on her own initiative.
Four generals posed a danger to him, some of them hostile: Nigrin, Palma, the so-called conqueror of Arabia, Celsus, and the enterprising Mauritanian Lusius Quietus. The Senate had them killed in Italy. Spartian (ch. 8) names his former guardians Tatian and Similis, the Praetorian prefects at the time, as those who promoted his elevation to the throne. Therefore, suspicion had arisen that these two worthy and noble men had not only urged the Senate to take action out of concern for him but had also exchanged letters with him about the imminent danger. He was at this moment on a military demonstration on the Danube, where he had immediately gone after returning from Asia. He quickly returned to dispel the impression of the bloody execution, swore his innocence to the Senate on oath, swore that he would only punish a senator with the approval of his corporation in the future, and had all the documents concerning tax arrears that the Aerarium and the Fiscus had to collect for the past sixteen years burned on the Forum of Trajan (Spart. Hadrian, 8. Dio Cassius, 69, 8). He also gave the public the satisfaction that Tatian and Similis were persuaded to make room for others for the prefecture of the Praetorian Guard.
In the Senate, such a fierce hatred had gradually accumulated against him that they wanted to deny him the honor of consecration at his death in 138.
His bloody intervention against his sister’s ninety-year-old man, Servian, whom he suspected of aiming for the throne during his long illness, may have contributed to the final escalation of that hatred. But the transformation of the legions into a national militia to guard the borders, the abandonment of Trajan’s enterprises beyond the Euphrates, and the securing of the Dacian colony through border posts and friendly pacification of neighboring chiefs must have displeased the senatorial class from the beginning of his reign. His orders for the reform of administration and justice in the provinces also contradicted the interests of the families who still loved to see provincials as servants who worked for them and accumulated treasures.
2. Hadrian’s letter on religious syncretism in Alexandria.
We would have one of the most interesting testimonies about the philosophical and religious ferment from which biblical Christianity emerged if the letter Hadrian is said to have written about his observations in Alexandria proves to be genuine. We owe the document to Flavius Vopiscus, who includes it in the biography of Saturninus as evidence of the fickleness and unreliability of the Egyptians.
“Hadrian writes to the consul Servian, husband of his sister, whom you praise so highly, that I have studied Egypt thoroughly. Its inhabitants are frivolous, fickle, and inclined to innovations at the slightest rumor. Those who worship Serapis are Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are in fact worshipers of Serapis. There is not a Jewish synagogue leader, a Samaritan, or a Christian presbyter who is not an astrologer or quack. Even the patriarch, when he comes to Egypt, must show his respect for Serapis to please one party and for Christ to please the other.” After mentioning the astonishing activity of the Alexandrians in industry and manufacture, the author of the letter continues: “They have only one God, whom the Christians, Jews, and all the peoples of Egypt worship.”
The latter remark presents no difficulty. Pliny speaks at the beginning of his Natural History (2.5) of the changing and diverse nomenclature of the divine world, in which humanity apotheosizes the benefits and achievements of its own benefactors and promoters. In the midst of this conjectural world, the encyclopedic scholar continues, mortal humanity “has discovered a middle divinity that is in everyone’s mouth all over the world, at all times and in all places: that is, Fortune. She alone is called upon, she alone is accused, held accountable, praised, blamed, and worshiped with insults.” What the philosophical doubter of the Vespasian era calls the deity who lives in everyone’s thoughts all over the world, in the letter of the disgruntled skeptic is a little cruder: the material gain, the money, and in addition to the exchange of worship among the religious parties, a separate matter.
The patriarch who occasionally came to Egypt had to reside in the vicinity, that is, in Judaea? Was it the head of the Sanhedrin, which had been re-established in the province after the Flavian destruction of Jerusalem? But was there in Egypt a direction with which he could fight and yet amalgamate? Let us leave the worship of Serapis aside for the moment and look instead into the seething cauldron in which Mosaism united with the wisdom of Greece, and the enthusiasm of Philonic visions of the salvific Logos was kindled! Anticipating the result of our later discussions, according to which these visions of the mediator were embodied in the belief in the God-man and the Jewish-Talmudic formulas of the Messiah owe their origin only to the contact and conflict between the synagogue and the Christian community, there was an important matter in which the synagogue of that time could and did learn from the spiritual ferment at Alexandria.
Something closely related to the exchange of salvation gods mentioned in Hadrian’s letter, we will soon encounter in Christian Gnosticism. It is the recognition of a common element that has manifested itself in different forms and names in paganism, Judaism, and Christianity. What the seventeenth-century Christian Enlightenment called indifference towards churches and creeds, in the second century manifested as indifference towards religions.
The imperial traveler certainly heard from the scholars with whom he conversed in the lecture halls of Alexandria, men and sects who grouped all religions as elements of a historically connected development in their systems. The masters of the schools of learning probably did not refrain from sarcasm against the half-pagan, half-Jewish, and half-Christian innovators at the pinnacle of their historical constructions, and the emperor, who had been irritated by the activity and intellectual fever of the commercial and learned city, would have taken pleasure in portraying the religious confusion of the schoolmasters there even more crudely. After all, the Alexandrians had even allowed themselves, as Servian had probably assumed based on his assumption, profane mockery of his new god Antinous. Hadrian, who devoted special veneration to Serapis as the god of immortality and eternal judgment, could not think otherwise than that the religious reconcilers had that god in mind as well in their combination of all the godly circles.
Thus, properly understood, the letter corresponds completely to the time and local color of Alexandria at that time. Vopiscus took it from the writings of Hadrian’s freedman, Phlegon, who had written a universal history from the beginning of the Olympiads to the fourth year of Antoninus Pius. Only one circumstance still complicates the decision. The letter was written soon after leaving Egypt, so at the latest in early 133; in the same letter, however, the emperor complains that the Alexandrians, despite their expressions of gratitude for the privileges granted to them, allowed themselves all sorts of mockery of his son Verus after his departure, while this man was not adopted by him until at the earliest in the year 135. Does this addition come from the compiler Phlegon or from a later copyist? That is the question, the answer to which, however, regardless of how it turns out, cannot disturb the harmony of the document with Hadrian’s time and state of mind.
3. Jewish Uprisings and the Age of the Messiah Image.
We know very little about the Jewish uprisings that troubled the last years of Trajan’s reign, or the war that broke out in Palestine after Hadrian’s Egyptian trip and visit to Syria.
The rebellion under Trajan spread across Cyprus, Egypt, and Cyrene. The local Jews rose up against everything Greek or Roman. Dio Cassius (68, 32) is very generous with numbers and estimates the victims of Jewish hatred at half a million. Lusius Quietus is named as the conqueror of the insurgents.
Remembering that Josephus wrote the first edition of his History of the Jewish War in his native language to inform his compatriots beyond the Euphrates who followed the fight for Jerusalem with interest, we can hardly doubt the scope and violence of the uprising. As it had seemed to happen in the last months of Nero and during the internal and external unrest of the following two years around Rome, it seemed again now that the uprising of cities and peoples behind Trajan, as he planned adventures in the Persian Gulf, signaled the end of Rome. The hope of revenge against the armies of the Capitoline God ran through the Jews from their colonies beyond the Euphrates to the settlements on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. In any case, the Jewish communities of Mesopotamia participated in the uprising of the local cities, and their actions and connections with the West gave their local brethren the signal for their participation.
Hadrian, who, as his care for the pan-Hellenic Zeus and Serapis cults shows, was interested in the monotheistic echoes in foreign religions, must have had serious reasons when he struck a blow against the remains of Jerusalem before his last Syrian excursion. He turned the holy site into a Roman military colony; on the Temple Mount, he erected a sanctuary of Jupiter Capitolinus, next to whose statue he had his own image erected. The name of this city was changed to Aelia Capitolina, and the Jews were forbidden to enter it. According to Dio Cassius (69, 12-14), this arrangement was the cause of the war that broke out after Hadrian’s departure from Syria. Spartian (Hadrian. cap, 13) claims that the ban on circumcision also caused the tumult, a note that cannot be confirmed by citing Digesta, lib. 48, Tit. 8, 11, as the provision of Antoninus Pius, which allowed Jews to circumcise only their sons but considered circumcision of adherents of another religion as castration, does not invalidate a supposed prior ban by Hadrian, but only sets limits on the admission of proselytes.
Dio Cassius is again very generous with his numbers, counting hundreds of thousands and even more as victims of the Jewish attacks and battles, hunger, and disease. He describes fifty fortresses and over a thousand significant settlements being set on fire in the long-desolate land. The Talmudic books turn the city of Bether, where the war that erupted around the end of 133 ended due to starvation, into a wonder city that housed an infinite number of people. However, this was only a guerrilla war, which surprised the governor Tinius Rufus in his scattered quarters, and which Julius Severus, summoned from Britain, put an end to by holding his forces together and destroying the individual enemy bands.
The only thing that interests us about this war is an act described in the Talmudic writings. It is the naming that Rabbi Akiba gave to the leader of the uprising. Originally, he was called Bar-Cosiba, but when the rabbi saw him, he immediately recognized him as the “messianic king” who would liberate his people from slavery, and gave him the name Bar-Chochba, “son of the star,” based on Balaam’s saying (Numbers, chapter 24) about the star (Cochab) that would rise in Judah. The Talmudic legend speaks as if there was already a long-standing image of the Messiah in the synagogue, with his features and attributes so firmly established that a hero could be immediately recognized by a connoisseur as the true son of the star and acknowledged by the people as such.
The question of whether the synagogue had long possessed such an image includes the other question of whether the authors of the Gospels worked according to a similar model.
First, I answer that Rabbi Akiba, with his miraculous vision, was himself modeled on the evangelical John the Baptist, who, at their first meeting with Jesus, recognized and admitted that he was the higher and promised one, to whom he was not worthy to loosen the sandals.
How? The son of the star after the son of man, the introducer of the former after the precursor who cleared the way for the latter?
But where did that apostate king of the Talmudic books, that Niktin come from, whose daughter Jochanan ben Saccai saw gathering grains of barley for food after the fall of her house under the hooves of horses, and whom Graetz (in his History of the Jews, 4, 25) lists outright under the name Nikodemus as a person in Talmudic history?
From the fourth Gospel of our canon, he became known to the Jews, and they punished him for his association with Jesus by destroying his wealth and leaving his daughter in such a state of degradation that she had to pick up food from the dirt of the streets. However, this Gospel and its Nikodemus only appeared in the world during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
And where did the life story of the aforementioned Johanan ben Saccai come from? According to Grätz (in his history of the Jews, vol. 4, ch. 11), as recounted faithfully in the Talmudic writings, during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, he belonged to the peace party and tried to persuade the Zealots to surrender the city. The besiegers learned from spies that he was a friend of the Romans, and when he, out of fear of the fanatics, had himself taken out of the city in a coffin, Vespasian kindly received him and was fully won over when he prophesied, based on a saying of Ezekiel concerning the temple, that he would ascend to the imperial throne.
If, as Grätz takes from the Talmudic sources, this Johanan only worked for one to three years in Jamnia, where Vespasian is said to have allowed him to open a school, and then disappeared, the source of his biography only came to light long after, since those details are literally contained in Josephus’s accounts of the Jewish War and his own life. The “bad turncoat” had to come forth with notes about his relationship to the Romans as far as the time of Domitian before the biographical image of the true turncoat could be formed.
At the outset of my investigation of the Gospels (see the essay on “The Messianic Expectations of the Jews in the Time of Jesus,” Supplement to “Critique of the Evangelical History of the Synoptics,” Vol. 1, Leipzig 1841), I freed criticism from conformity with theological apologetics, which had turned its fight with the former into an unproductive squabble. According to Hengstenberg and the earlier advocates of the theory of revelation, the content of Old Testament prophecy and the Gospels is the same, and the life and work of Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. On the other hand, the secular metamorphosis that this belief underwent in the Enlightenment at the end of the previous century invented a dogmatic Messianic image that united the scattered drafts of a favorable turn in the fate of the Jewish people in the Old Testament and under whose influence Jesus himself and the later tradition of his life stood. Strauss, the secular Hengstenberg, popularized this view when he made that Messianic image into a mask that Jesus himself had to wear, upon which the legend completely covered his historical face.
The Enlightenment thinkers who invented this Messianic dogma around the year 1800, partly borrowed from the Talmud, and presented it as the original of Christianity and the evangelical history, appealed to a Chaldean paraphrase of the prophets, which was said to have come from Jonathan, the son of Uzziel, according to the Talmud, a disciple of the elder Hillel. Even scholars of the modern synagogue who, like Zunz in his book “The Liturgical Readings of the Jews,” would like to secure the venerable appearance of antiquity for the public interpretation of the prophetic writings, refer to that paraphrase as evidence that “even before Jonathan, the content of the prophetic books was explained to the public.”
Indeed, in this translation, the “Messiah” appears as a finished image, and in places where it understands them as allusions to the promised one, it expressly notes, “Here the Messiah is spoken of.” But when passages that belong to it are quoted in the Talmud, it is always done with the note “as Rab Joseph translated”; twice this citation formula even receives the reinforcement, “if we did not have his translation of this passage, we would not know its meaning.”
The figure of Jonathan, son of Usiel, fades away before the power of the Talmudic citation formula “as Rab Joseph translated it”, and if Zunz (see above, p. 63) wants to revive the shadow of the last pre-Christian century against the reality of the year 300 AD, when Rab Joseph is said to have flourished, through interpretation, those passages of the Chaldean paraphrase were cited in the Talmud “from Jonathan to Rab Joseph”, we would be faced with a wonder unique in scholarly history. A leading and epoch-making work, which is said to have dominated the circles of the synagogue for four centuries, would only have come before the public under the name of another person who happened to cite it after this period. In addition to this enormous miracle, we would also have to accept the equally adventurous one which the well-known passage of the Talmud wants to persuade us of, namely that the fabulous Jonathan pre-existed centuries before his birth and before the times of the elder Hillel and received his translation from the mouths of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
I will not counter the result of my two-time revision of Gospel criticism with the Jonathan fable of the Talmud and the even more adventurous fictions with which Protestant Enlightenment and Zunz want to make it acceptable to the rationalism of the modern era, according to which the authors of the Gospels, in the spirit of the new community and with the power of their view of the incarnate Logos, conquered the Old Testament, which they used to decorate their image. Rather, the statement that the correspondence between the Old Testament and the fulfillment is a work of the Christian community and its speakers should emerge as the overall result of this work.
Also, the statement that the new community, far from looking at Strauss’s holy tablet and its image of the Messiah, rather revitalized the sayings of their old books for the Jewish circles and made them familiar in dispute and argument with the summary image of a Messiah and created the nickname “son of the stars” for the leader of the uprising at the time of Hadrian according to this image, may only receive its confirmation through that overall result.
For now, I will only remind you of the power and certainty with which the author of the proto-Gospel of Mark, reconstructed from the Gospel of Mark, proceeded in the plastic processing of Old Testament types, so powerfully that he did not need to refer to later writers, notably Matthew, about the correspondence between prophecy and fulfillment. I will now proceed to describe the mental process by which the new community gained the strength to concentrate the Old Testament for the image of their founder.
4. The path to the gospel.
At the time of Hadrian’s death, we come across a milestone that shows that we have been moving in the right direction towards the Gospels from Seneca and his Greek predecessors. This milestone is a gospel document that the Gnostic Marcion had in his possession and cited when he set up his “Antitheses” of the Law and the Gospel. Born in Sinope and coming to Rome, he was won over by Cerdon for the doctrine that the law and redemption come from two gods, whose opposition and struggle were decided by the God of grace in the mission of Jesus against the God of justice.
Tertullian, who published his treatise against Marcion sixty to seventy years later, had a copy of his gospel document in front of him but was so convinced of the apostolic origin of the recently completed canonical collection of Gospels that he could only explain the brevity of that document, which forms part of the present Gospel of Luke, as a deliberate mutilation of the latter. His view became dominant, defended in detail two centuries later by the church father Epiphanius, whose polemical arguments provided us with a series of new insights into the shape of the supposedly heretical gospel document, and persisted until the end of the last century.
It was only Johann Salomo Semler, whose insightful vision had unraveled many important parts of the history of early Christianity, who discovered (see his German edition of Thomas Townson’s treatise on the Gospels, part one, his epoch-making preface “On Marcion’s Gospel,” Leipzig 1783) that Tertullian’s polemic against the crime of Gnostic forgery was just passionate declamation, and that Marcion had used a shorter version of the Gospel of Luke because he had no other available to him. The fiery African achieved nothing with his invective except that we can now form a fairly complete picture of a Gospel that emerged in the last days of Hadrian from his accusations.
Gnostic antipathy had not led Marcion to mutilate the present Gospel of Luke, for his alleged extract consistently testified to the connection between redemption and economy and the God of the Old Testament. Nor had any resonance of the short original Gospel with his Gnostic visions led him to prefer them, for they offered him no confirmation for any of his formulas about the war of the gods between the author of the law and grace.
The Tübingen School of Theology, which took up Semler’s discovery around 1848, abandoned the attempt to secure the old Halle researcher’s find after a few years, not only because doubt about the age of the present Gospel of Luke could eventually have had dangerous consequences for the Church, but also because they could not find their way in the definition of the difference between the original version of the Gospel of Luke and its current revised form with their criteria of the Jewish-Christian and Pauline, which had led them to get lost in their current labyrinth.
However, let us leave aside the formulaic nature of theological criticism for the moment and rather orient ourselves towards the milestone that marks an important stage in evangelical historiography. The statements of Platonic-Stoic renunciation of the world and Seneca’s elevation and completion of the law, which the original Luke of Marcion fused with the Urevangelium, found further development by later evangelical authors, which is preserved in the Sermon on the Mount of the Gospel of Matthew, but not in its original form, already distorted by misunderstandings for which the compiler of the current Gospel of Matthew is responsible. In addition, the Gospel of Luke, as well as that of Matthew, has a childhood story that roots the Gospel in the past and allows the child, to whom the world’s rule belongs, to withstand the machinations of earthly world power. The conclusion is formed by the fourth Gospel with its daring incorporation of Platonic-Philonian formulas into Christian historiography and with its continuation of the world of miracles of the earlier Gospels to the ultimate extreme.
If we do not need more than 20 to 25 years for the development of this later historiography, which is established after the discovery of the Marcionite milestone, then the same period must have been necessary for the attempts to shape the Urevangelium and to develop it up to the original core of the Gospel of Luke. Therefore, 50 years for evangelical historiography in general – a period that is given and necessary and possible only in the history of all nations for the classical period of works of language and the visual arts. At the end of the series, the fourth Gospel forms the transition into the apocryphal, the artificial, and the exaggerated, into which the development of art in all areas tends to degenerate.
The interested reader who has journeyed with me through the Neronian and Flavian ages and observed the works of this time for a new world of faith will also find it historically justified that I completely deviate from the previous derivation of Christianity from an exclusively Jewish development. Until now, the prevailing assumption in the Gospels of the Jewish origin of Christianity has been so firmly established that even secular scholars still adhere to it, at least in the form it had around the year 1800 before the Christian Enlightenment and now received by newer Jewish scholars, according to which the core of Christianity is developed from the wisdom of the national schools of Palestine in the last century before Christ.
However, neither the alleged Hillel, who was said to have been born around 112 BC in Babylon, descended from the line of David, and had become the head of a school in Jerusalem, nor his dispute with his opponent Shammai, who knew nothing of any development of the Law, could offer any satisfaction to the Greco-Roman world, based on the samples which the Talmud claims to be able to provide of the Babylonian’s sayings.
What value could the few worldly rules of prudence, which Talmudic Hillel and his successors put forward, have had for Greeks and Romans who possessed a treasure of wisdom in the insights of their philosophers, in the maxims of Greek tragedy and Attic comedy, in the teachings of Cicero, and in the sayings of Seneca, which engaged the depths of the soul? It is much more certain to assume that the weak approach to a morality beyond external legalism, which can be found in some Talmudic sayings, stems from the contact and conflict with the new Roman and Alexandrian tendencies. However, the decisive fact is that there is nothing in the sayings of Hillel and other supposed fathers of the Talmud about what the Greco-Roman mind sought and demanded from Plato to Seneca, namely, the salvation of world-renouncing, and fleeing from this world.
The new, whose birth and formation can be traced from the beginning of the first century to the end of the second, emerged from the union of Judaism and Greco-Roman wisdom, but the former was given, as it were, the skeleton, while the soul of the new creation came from the West.
The two main workshops where the fusion of the Orient and the Occident took place were Alexandria and Rome. In the former, Judaism was enriched by a combination of the Platonic world of ideas and the Heraclitean logos, and the fleeting theophanies of the Old Testament were given a personal and lasting bearer in the rising and falling logos of the Ephesians, which embodies the unity of the Most High and humanity in itself and enters the human soul. It suffices to recall the attributes of the logos in my work “Philo and Primitive Christianity” (Berlin 1874), where it is described as the bread of life given to the soul to eat, the butler and steward of the divinity, and the one who offers himself to souls as refreshing wine in his unadulterated power.
In Rome, Judaism provided an absolute support to the monotheism which philosophy had known since its transformation from natural philosophy to the mythological world explanation of Anaxagoras and Plato, and through the idea of divine law, it provided a solid rallying point for Greek wisdom, which subjected the fullness of moral rules and principles to an unchanging norm. Here it had a crystallising effect and the rich life elements arranged themselves in the soul, into which it entered as a ferment, under a commanding unity. Doubt, which had long since accomplished its work on the divine world since the intervention of the Stoic and Epicurean schools, received a strict confirmation, and the Christian apologists of the second century no longer needed to invent a new turn against the old gods. The ego, which had been pulled out of the state religion and out of all politics, and above it, the commanding legislator, now formed the only content of the world, and they had to see how to reconcile with each other.
We learn from Horace how many Jews Rome had from the educated world even in Augustus’s time when he (Serm. 1, 9, 69-72) tells of a friend who rushes past him and will not stop to talk, shouting as he runs that today is a special Sabbath and whether Horace also wants to give up ridicule of the circumcised. “I have no religious qualms,” answers the poet, and he: “But I, I’m a bit weaker, one of the many.”
Horace also refers to the success of Jewish proselytizing when he (Serm. 1, 4, 142-143) ends a dispute about rules of life with a reference to the majority, which is on his side, and with which he hopes to draw his friend into his swarm, like the Jews.
And the same Horace became a convert. He, “the careless worshipper of the gods, the doctor of a ridiculous wisdom,” was struck by thunder out of the blue (Carm. 1, 34) and decided to “convert and start his life anew from the beginning.” As evidence of his change of heart, he paraphrases the saying that God humbles the high and exalts the low, that saying of Aesop in response to the question of what Zeus does (Diogenes Laertius 1, chap. 3). But the penitential song of the poet sounds as if he had heard the chariot of Jehovah’s cherubim rolling.
Suetonius tells us of a Christian-tinged riot of the Jews in Rome that led the Emperor Claudius to expel them from the capital. The Chrestus through whom they (Suet. Claud. cap. 25) were incited to unrest, according to the meaning of the imperial chronicler, can be none other than the Lord of the Christian community, since Chrestus (the Kind, the Good) not only occasionally takes the “i” sound as a Roman name (compare Chrestus, Chrestillus, Christilla, Christina, according to Martial’s well-known epigrams), but conversely, according to the testimonies of Tertullian and Lactantius, the names Christ and Christian often received the “e” sound. However, the entire banishment edict of Claudius is struck from the realm of history by Dio Cassius’ sensible report (60, 6), according to which the emperor, after the expulsion measure of Tiberius carried out a quarter of a century earlier, saw the Jews in Rome increase again to such a great number that they could not be driven out of the city without causing unrest, which is why he did not expel them outright and only prohibited the assemblies commanded by their law. Suetonius had only learned of the existence of the Christians in Nero’s Rome through Tacitus’ annals and believed he was justified in assuming that the blow that struck the Jews under Claudius was brought about by the agitation of the new sect founder and ended with the expulsion of the foreign people, by the bloody Christian execution after the fire of Rome. Faced with Dio Cassius’ report and Suetonius’ dependence on the late Neronian saga cycle, we cannot attach any weight to the note in the biblical Acts of the Apostles (18:2).
Indeed, Romans and Roman women who resembled that friend of Horace brought a new life into the Jewish circles of the world city, but the turmoil they ignited took place only internally and only took on its later Christian form after the internal conflagration broke out into flames at the court of Domitian. The Romans, who had learned from Seneca to turn inward, examine its faults, and raise their rules of life to an ideal extreme, sacrificed their national gods to the newer wisdom and took from Judaism its monotheism and ideas of the law in order to join the experiences and rich emanations of their souls at this point of unity. But they also brought into this crystallized world Seneca’s image of the One Fulfiller, who offers himself as a sacrifice in the suffering of the world and lightens the burdened and invites them to himself. And those Romans who, in the rhetoric schools, allowed their national law, the twelve tablets, to be mastered by the higher power of need, soul, love, and nature and took from the monotheistic law the focal point for their new divinations, would they have been ashamed to measure the statutes and customs of their Jewish teachers by the inwardness they brought from the schools of their native and Greek masters?
Thus, the world of commandments of the Old Testament found its criticism among those who clung to its monotheistic fundamental idea.
Meanwhile, in Alexandria, a similar liberation from the law had taken place. As we can see from a warning from Philo, there was already a party in the Jewish circles there that, after grasping the inner meaning revealed to them by the allegorical interpretation of the law, considered itself emancipated from the literal wording of the commandments. For example, Philo speaks of those who, like himself, saw the commemoration of the power of the Uncreated and the divine guarantee for the continuity of the Created in the observance of the seventh day, but saw nothing wrong with doing weekday work on the Sabbath, satisfied with this interpretation. And there were those who, like him, interpreted the commandment of circumcision as liberation from desire and all passions, but declared the observance of the letter of the law unnecessary. Although Philo disapproved of this one-sided adherence to the inner meaning and believed that one must preserve the letter of the commandment together with it, as both together form a whole like body and soul (Migration of Abraham, p. 402 of the Höschel’s edition), there were still many free thinkers who took his spiritualism seriously, threw away circumcision and Sabbath rest as outdated things, and were unlikely to be moved by his careful admonitions to turn back.
With his image of the One who must rise and fulfill the entire destiny of humanity, Seneca had given to the Roman circles who were friendly with Judaism during the time of Domitian a view that they could not derive from the Old Testament scriptures or revitalize them with new features. The paintings of the prophets of an eventual triumph of the chosen people were too nationalistic to free a Roman from his “anxiety,” and the pronouncements of a seer to a distressed ruler or the glorious images of a psalm about the splendor of a royal Jehovah worshipper referred too clearly to a distant past for anyone to see in them a picture of the future.
Instead, in Alexandria, on the other side, which worked for the idealization of the past, the rigid elements of the Old Testament were transformed into visions in which the present and all the future were announced. Here, the material was prepared with which the Senecan image of the One who would fulfill humanity could be filled, individually shaped, and brought down to earth. Here, Philo, through his allegorical interpretation in the letter of the law and in the experiences of the forefathers as well as the lawgiver, demonstrated the Heraclitean and Stoic Logos as the ever-present Revealer, Comforter, and High Priestly Mediator between Being and the soul.
Here, finally, there was a circle of hermits near the commercial and learned city, who also engaged in the allegorical interpretation of the law in their gatherings and were inspired by the wisdom of their teachers. Their devotion, about which I reported in my treatise on Philo after his essay on “the contemplative life”, is described as a state of intense mysticism. Surely the allegorical interpreters, who portrayed to the assembled members, both men and women, the appearance of the Logos in law and history, would not have failed to present him to the congregation as near and present. The round dance and choir singing of the women and men on the main festival after seven Sabbaths, and at the end of the festival the intertwining of both choirs in a common jubilant dance, was to depict the exodus of the ancestors from the house of bondage and the misery of Egypt; will this liberation not also symbolize their departure from the misery of the world, will not the helpful Logos also have been hovering before their eyes at this celebration?
The church historian Eusebius, a contemporary of Constantine the Great, saw in the Therapeutae, as the members are called in the Philonic essay, members of that Christian church which, according to the legend that was formed towards the end of the second century about the authors of the Gospels, was founded by Marcus in Alexandria. Jerome allowed Philo to benefit from the merit he had earned for “praising” the first community in Alexandria, and included him in his catalog of ecclesiastical authors. When the founder of historical criticism, Joseph Scaliger, had demonstrated the mistakenness of Eusebius’s view, scholars in the 17th century divided in their opinions, and some, like Isaac Vossius and Bernard Montfaucon, remained loyal to the father of church history’s view. In more recent times, among others, Grätz (in his History of the Jews, 3, 519) has decided that he regards the essay on the Therapeutae as the work of a later Christian who wanted to glorify ascetic monasticism and secure its higher age through Philo’s authority.
The treatment of this literary question has so far been influenced by practical interests. The ancient Church authors welcomed an alleged testimony to the age of an apostolic Church in the city of the Nile. Scaliger, with his correct resolution of Eusebius’ view, had the side benefit that evidence for the high age of monasticism was taken away from the Catholics. Grätz wants to free the Jew Philo from the reputation of glorifying a Christian-like monasticism.
They have all missed the mark; the essay is old, it depicts not perfect Christians, but Christian beginnings.
There is no formula in the essay “On the Contemplative Life” that cannot be found in Philo’s recognized writings. For example, the “Corybantic” enthusiasm with which the Therapeutae raise themselves up from possessions, homeland, and sensuality to the enjoyment of a blessed life is celebrated with the same formula of “Corybantic” in the treatise “On the Divine Cult”, p. 490. The isolation (μóvwots) also receives the prize before worldly life in the essay “On Abraham”, p. 352, 362, and the true “service”, Jspansía, which says goodbye to worldly pursuits, and the true “Therapeutae”, who extricate themselves from the bonds of kinship and soar up to the Holy of Holies in a storm, where they forget the world and themselves, are described with the same formula that dominates the much-discussed essay, for example, Decalog, p. 760. De Somniis, p. 1140. Indeed, in the enigmatic assertion of this essay that the Therapeutae were represented in many places around the world, that Greece and the barbarian territory participated in the highest good, and that Alexandria was the gathering place for the best Therapeutae from all over the world, the treatise “On Offerings Made by Those Who Have Suffered” gives us the key, since the proselytes who “have emigrated from their homeland filled with false images” are called Therapeutae outright in it, p. 854.
The literary question about the much-discussed essay could at most be limited to whether it might have been authored by a disciple of Philo. In any case, its testimony to the connection of the Alexandrian center with the rest of the Roman world is of historical importance, and it also opens up a perspective on the connection of the religious school and cradle of the Nile city with the related circles of Rome.
Let us now recall the brotherhoods that had formed in Rome, Italy, and in the provinces for the burial of their members. These associations, which also included slaves, were the right place to spread the wisdom of Seneca in the widest circles. Petronius could not have written a line of his Banquet of Trimalchio if this wisdom did not exist within the small bourgeoisie. The master of natural truth drew the substance of his humor and the memories of death and transience, which accompanied the rejoicing and exuberance of the freedmen from the beginning of the banquet to the end, from the reality and the heart of the bourgeoisie. We can conclude from his life story that the death reflections of Seneca were seasoned with the brotherly meals of these associations, and that the images of the Stoic sage of eternal peace after death, which all passed into the Christian funeral service, owe their preservation and transmission in the new community to these memorial services.
These are the associations, circles, and centers that awaited the new way of life and at the same time worked together to shape it. However, to complete this overview, we still need to consider a distinct circle that sought to establish an independent position alongside the Jewish influences of Rome and Alexandria, and deeply influenced the work of both halves of the second century.
5. Christian Gnosticism.
Gnosticism, the elevated faith in knowledge, announces itself at its first appearance with a novel that contains the fundamental principles of its later development. It encompasses heaven and earth, explains the origin of the world, and is at the same time a history of gods and religions. Its protagonist, the Samaritan Simon, according to the accounts of Irenaeus and Tertullian, claims to be the “power of the Most High” and asserts that he has revealed himself among the Samaritans as Father, among the Jews as Son, and among the Gentiles as Holy Spirit. In his company, he had a woman named Helena, whom he had purchased in a brothel in Tyre and whom he carried with him as a witness to his power. In the bosom of eternity, he had conceived her as a representation of his intentions and power; she is his thought and the source of the entire series of the world of appearances, the angels, archangels, and rulers of the world subject to them. However, when she descended into the creation of these powers, who remained ignorant of the supreme source, the divine power was detained, fettered in disgrace, and bound in the flesh. Over the centuries, she appeared in various female forms, including as Helen of Troy, in the most abject degradation as an even lower woman, the same one whom Simon had redeemed from the brothel in Tyre. He himself, the power of the Most High, had taken pity on the world, poorly guided by angels and rulers, bound by their commands, had come to dissolve and disperse the entire earthly existence, and brought grace instead of statutes to those receptive to it, ending all tyranny.
Obviously, this novel suffers from the intermingling of two tendencies that do not want to fit together into a whole. The universal idea of the world and the lost woman of Tyre, Simon’s revelation under the guise of the Son and the redemption of that woman – the shattering of the old commandments and the opening of the Tyrian women’s pen, the general ideas and the personal relationships of Simon clash and resist a durable combination.
Christian Ferdinand Baur (in his work “Die christliche Gnosis,” 1835) believed he could reveal the mystery of this poem by assuming something similar to the Selene, the wife of the Phoenician sun god, in Helena of Simon, and by assuming that the Magus Simon himself was a personification of Schem-Heracles, venerated by the Samaritans, under whose name an opposition to Christianity had arisen on Samaritan soil. Apart from the fact that nothing is known about the veneration of the Phoenician sun god among the Samaritans, nor of a chimerical Oriental wisdom, from whose influence Baur believes Christian Gnosticism arose, the Simonian novel is, in general, a glorification of Christianity.
Already the worthy and learned preacher of the French community in Berlin, Isaac de Beausobre, hit the right point in his Histoire du Manichéisme (2 vols. Amsterd. 1834. 39) when he recognized in the story of Helena a Platonic allegory of the fate of the soul. “La! belle Hélène,” says the famous preacher, “est l’âme,” which Simon, as a Platonist, brought forth from the thought of God. This interpretation, already established in all gnostic systems, is further confirmed by a lost word in that Athos codex, which Emanuel Miller published as the conclusion of the Philosophumena falsely attributed to Origen in 1851 at Oxford, and in which Bunsen believed he could demonstrate a work by Hippolytus. This script, belonging to the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian, repeats the Simonian romance of the two church fathers and drops the word that, according to Simon’s doctrine, it was Jesus who appeared in Judea as a son and (in the gnostic view, apparently) suffered death. (Compare Bunsen, “Hippolyt und seine Zeit.” Leipzig 1852. Volume I, 39). Therefore, it was Jesus who redeemed the captivity of the fallen soul, the thought-birth of the Highest, who fell into the power of the earthly, and it was also Jesus who accepted a Canaanite woman, the Lost of Tyre, as a symbol of man’s idea captured in the material world and turned into his whore, as evidence of his comprehensive redemption in the Simon system.
The later transformation of Simon’s doctrine into the personal novel of his life also passed into the Acts of the Apostles, and the “father of all heresy,” who boasts among the Samaritans as the power of God, is severely warned there when he wanted to buy the power to impart the Holy Spirit for money after receiving baptism from Peter. Tertullian then knows that he had bought the whore of Tyre with the rejected money, and in the extensive novel of Clementine literature, the heretic is then pursued by Peter throughout the world until he meets a miserable end in a miracle contest with the Apostle in Rome.
Scholars have not yet thoroughly addressed the question of how much the filling work of the disciples can be distinguished from the simple work of the masters in the gnostic systems that have come down to us. The Platonic image of the subordinate gods who serve the Father in the work of creating the world and forming humans, and the numerous modifications in which Philo allows his Logos to appear depending on office and task, have provided the material for a category table of the supernatural world and for the image of that fall of the soul down to the lowest world spheres. In the individual schools, wit and imagination have striven to enrich that category table of heavenly ontology and to increase the distance between the primal ground and the worst possible world through the number of intermediary spheres. This is not the place to delve into the inner growth of the systems, and we must content ourselves with describing their fundamental character.
The world, according to Simon, the brothel of the soul that has sunk into matter, made Valentin, the contemporary of Marcion, into a miscarriage, with Wisdom (Sophia), which forms the outermost link in the spiritual realm of the primal ground, giving birth when she presumes to grasp the infinity of that primal ground. This fruit of arrogance, this clumsy being filled with ignorance, sorrow, fear, and anxiety, then becomes the mother of the Demiurge and world creator. According to Saturninus, who is said to have come from Antioch, humanity along with its world, which the powers, the lower creations of the Son who emanated from the unknown Father, brought forth by the fleeting reflection of an upper light image, is a helpless monster.
Valentin provided the most picturesque image of the root of the world and its misery when he set in motion the feeling of lack and insufficiency and the allure of will and desire already in the dramatic unfolding of the highest god. It was a mistake that Sophia wanted to disturb the peace of the heavenly circle with her intention to grasp the infinite, but the will had once been revealed and the intellectual world could not help but throw it out into the void and let its destiny be fulfilled in a world of insufficiency, fear, and despair.
For the Gnostics, paganism and Judaism were on an equal footing with Christianity, and in view of the message of grace, the relative difference between the two lost its significance. Although these bold spirits of the Hadrian and Antonine period acknowledged that pagans had some contact and agreement with the principles of Christianity and praised their books for containing much that is also written in the church, the fragments of the chosen ones’ property, for example, are also found in Socrates, according to Isidore, Basilides’ son and commentator. Carpocrates and his followers placed the image of Jesus among the images of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, according to Irenaeus, because these sages had grasped the Monad and risen above the powers that rule the world and the servants of matter. But these flashes of insight of the wise are for the Gnostics rebellion and protest of inspiration or the heart against paganism and against the chains in which the rulers of the lowest world have forged the soul.
At this point, that indifference could arise, which finds fragments of truth in all forms of religion, and which Simon has given the most striking expression. If one can trust the statements of the church fathers that his disciples had an image of Zeus and Athena in their assembly halls, they would also have seen in these two deities of Greek mythology premonitions and images of their supreme God and the idea that emanated from him.
Hadrian sought unity in the world of gods and in the teachings of philosophical schools, but he was still too much of a dilettante to grasp it. The seriousness of the Gnostics accomplished the great work, and their progenitor Simon, who opened the series of these thinkers at the beginning of the reign of this emperor, made an epochal leap, grouping together the religions and philosophies of his time as local shaped revelations of the One. An unreliable note from Lampridius (in the Life of Alexander Severus, chapter 42) refers to a tradition that Hadrian wanted to build a temple to Christ and include him among the gods. This emperor had not yet reached the level of indifference to religions, and only Heliogabal, raised from a Syrian sun temple to the imperial throne, could conceive of seeing in all religions and their changing symbols the worship of one and the same primal being and uniting the gods of the Jews, Samaritans, and Christians with the sanctuaries of Rome in a common temple as helpers of his supreme deity (Lampridius, Heliogabal, chapters 3 and 7). And the also Syrian emperor Alexander Severus, whom the Alexandrians derisively called the Syrian synagogue chief because of his religious experiments, could then set up in his house chapel alongside the deified emperors the statues of Christ, Abraham, and Orpheus (Lampridius, Alexander Severus, 27-28).
However, the Gnostics of the Hadrianic and Antonine period were by no means inclined to exercise the later tolerance of a Heliogabal towards the Jewish God. They were still in a state of war with him, and their position towards Judaism was oppositional. For Simon, the land of the Jews is only the stage where Jesus was to put an end to the local law and prophetic sayings and free the captive soul from the prison of statutes. According to Karpokrates, Judaism, like paganism, was inspired by the world-ruling spirits and had only the status of a national and regional religion. The angel who ruled the Jews in Saturnin’s system wanted, like the pagan powers, to bind his subordinates to himself and not let them know the unknown father until the Son came, destroyed his work, and freed those who carry the spark of life in themselves. The Jewish God of Basilides had wanted his people to subjugate all other nations and forced the spiritual angelic princes of these nations to resist and wage a general world war, until the unknown God sent his firstborn, the “Nus,” with the message of salvation to prevent the downfall of humanity. Valentin’s Demiurge also acted only for himself. Without being aware of his connection to the upper Sophia, whose miscarriage led to the existence of this world, he proudly proclaimed, “I am God and there is no other but me,” and had his uniqueness proclaimed by his prophets.
The most sharply defined contrast between the two gods was developed by Marcion; for him, the Creator of the intelligible world, the good God, stands opposite the Jewish God and Demiurge as the just God. The Demiurge is harsh, rough, not far-sighted and provident, he only knows this world, is limited by its horizon, and boasts of being the highest and the only one. He has also promised his people a messiah, a violent warrior who would crush the enemies with an iron scepter and transfer world domination to his own people. Therefore, when the Messiah of the Good came and, free from passions, quiet and gentle, entirely love and grace, opened the way for his people to a kingdom that is above this world, the Demiurge was terrified by this revelation of a God unknown to him, and drove his people into battle against the messenger. But in the death of the true Messiah, he served the Good against his will and helped to make the highest, as this world should perish, a model for implementation. Even after the death of the true Messiah, the struggle between the two sides continues; the messenger of the Good draws the rejected, condemned, sinners, and heathens into his kingdom and descends himself into the hell of the Just to redeem its damned from their bonds.
The contrast between both gods was most sharply developed by Marcion, who posited the good God, the creator of the intelligible world, as opposed to the Jewish God and Demiurge, who was just. The latter is harsh, rough, short-sighted, and not provident; he knows only this world, is limited to its horizon, and boasts of being the highest and only one. He also promised his people a Messiah, a violent warrior who would strike down the enemies with an iron scepter and transfer world domination to his followers. Therefore, when the Messiah of the Good came and opened the way to a kingdom above this world, free from passions, quiet and gentle, entirely love and grace, the Demiurge was frightened by this revelation of a God unknown to him and drove his people into battle against the messenger. But in the death of the true Messiah, he unwittingly served the Good and contributed to the fact that the Highest, how this world should die, came to fruition in a model. Even after the death of the true Messiah, the battle between the two sides continues; the messenger of the Good draws the rejected, condemned, sinners, and pagans into his realm and descends himself into the hell of the just to free their damned souls from their bonds.
In this, the Gnostics saw a danger and a darkening of the new message. Convinced of its grandeur and originality, they contradicted the derivation of the message of grace from the author of the old law; hence, the war of gods in their systems and the distance of the Jewish national god from the origin of the divine.
When the Gnostics borrowed their doctrines of the immersion of the soul in the death of this world and its reintegration with the supreme starting point from Plato’s world of images, they did not lead Christianity into a foreign world. Rather, they reinforced their anti-Jewish opposition from the same source from which the new doctrine had drawn its principles of renunciation.
Those church fathers who, in communion with Irenaeus (around the year 200), elevated the exclusively Jewish origin of Christianity to the general dogma, and also the earlier contemporaries who accused the Gnostics of abusing their intellectual freedom for excesses and nocturnal horrors, forgot that the servants of the old gods attributed the same degenerations to them. However, amidst these accusations and confusions of the moment, the asceticism and highly elevated interiority of Gnosis made its way into the contemporary development of the new doctrine during the time of Antoninus Pius. Both in the expansion of the Gospel writings and in the most significant documents of the so-called Pauline literature, the Gnostic asceticism found acceptance, and in the Pauline epistles, that which could be utilized for the community from the mysteries of the Gnostic war of the gods was also made available. In addition, the authors of apologetic defenses of the new doctrine attempted to demonstrate the harmony between the Old Testament preparation of the same and the wisdom of the Greek masters from Heraclitus to Zeno, preparing for the ecclesiastical coup by which the leaders of the community, around the year 200, imposed on their doctrinal treasury the character of Catholic, Universal, All-encompassing, and exclusively valid.
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
- Bruno Bauer’s “Christianity Exposed” now open access - 2024-02-28 02:30:32 GMT+0000
- The Idol of Zionism, the Negation of Judaism — 1904 - 2024-02-23 21:29:36 GMT+0000
- How Moving Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple to the Beginning of the Gospel of John Rebuked the Gospel of Mark - 2024-02-14 03:33:48 GMT+0000