Tag Archives: Simonian Origins

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)

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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.

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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.

quote_begin Instead of the Apostle trying “to have it both ways,” it may be that an interpolator had his way with the Apostle’s letter!   quote_end
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 6: Traces of Helen in the Pauline Letters

In part two of this series I pointed out that some scholars view the presence of so many inconsistencies in the Paulines as due to insertions made to the letters by someone other than their original author. In line with this possibility, I have so far been examining one particular scenario based on certain peculiarities in the early record that seem to conflate Paul with Simon of Samaria.

My hypothesis is that the Paul who wrote the original letters was the first-century Simon of Samaria and that the inconsistencies were caused by insertions to his text by a second-century proto-orthodox redactor. In this scenario the redactor’s aim would have been to turn Simon/Paul into a proto-orthodox Paul and thereby co-opt his letters for proto-orthodoxy.

helena-ennoia
Helen, companion of Simon Magus. Print by Odilon Redon
(http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/gallery/redon/gallery/6/page.html?p=11)

If this scenario is correct . . .

Now if this scenario is correct, one would not expect to find mention of Simon’s companion Helen in the letters as they currently stand. Any clear references to her would almost certainly have been removed or rewritten by the interpolator. And not just because she was so closely associated with Simon and his teaching. The interpolator, as a member of the mid-second century proto-orthodox community, would presumably have shared its desire to limit the influence of women in ecclesiastical matters, a desire that many scholars see reflected, for example, in the following passage from 1 Corinthians:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (vv. 34-35)

quote_begin “These verses in chapter 14 were not written by Paul”

(Bart Ehrman, Forged pp. 244-5).

quote_end

These verses are present in one place or another of chapter 14 in all extant manuscripts that possess the chapter. Nevertheless, there are zigzags that are just too jagged even for many mainstream scholars to harmonize. This is one of them. It is a zag they find too hard to reconcile with other zigs like 1 Cor. 11:5. And it “interrupts the flow of the argument.” Its verses “seem to intrude in the passage.” So it is generally deemed acceptable to hold that “These verses in chapter 14 were not written by Paul” (Bart Ehrman, Forged pp. 244-5).

But although for one reason or another Helen’s name may not have survived the redactor’s eraser, there are Pauline passages that, in my opinion, may still contain traces of her. This post will take a look at some of them.

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