Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Gospel according to Me: the allegorical meanings of Mark's Gospel

If, as I believe, Mark's Gospel (GMark) is a fictional allegory about faith in the spiritual Christ who sacrificed himself to demons in the heavens, then how does this allegory work?

Firstly, these are my assumptions, with follow-up references:
  1. Jesus did not exist; the original Jesus religion was belief in a heavenly being.
  2. Christianity was in its first centuries a mystery religion with secret doctrines.
  3. GMark was produced by a sect closer in theology to the book of Hebrews than to Paul, though opposed to the sect led by Peter and James.
I will now go through GMark, chapter by chapter, summarising as I see them:
  • the main allegorical episodes;
  • their meanings;
  • and texts which corroborate the meaning.

Mark 1
  • John the Baptist is baptising people for repentance and forgiveness from sins in the Jordan River; he proclaims himself only a forerunner: “... I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
  • I would suppose on prima facie grounds that John existed, since he is recorded in a passage of Josephus which betrays no Christian agenda, and which gives a different account of his teaching: "immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions".
  • However, if the passage is a polemical anti-Christian interpolation in Josephus, and John did not exist, then I still suppose it likely that there was at least a Baptist cult that proclaimed John as its founder, and which was a rival to the Christian cult (for who else would have interpolated it?)  Acts 19 likewise features some disciples who were baptised by John, but who haven't heard of the Holy Spirit or been baptised in Jesus' name, so Paul does this for them.  Presumably when Acts was written there were Baptist cultists around who did not believe in Jesus.  This episode in GMark would thus be a polemical allegory of John's subordinate forerunner status below and before Jesus.
  • There may also have been rivalry asserting that Jesus (once he was believed to have been a historical figure) was subordinate to John, since Luke 3 minimises John's role and delays the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus until after the baptism: "when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him..."
  • John is probably presented in GMark as Elijah returned, since Elijah was expected to herald the advent of the Messiah (Mal 4:5).  In Mark 9, Jesus says Elijah has already come.  Jesus says John was Elijah in Matt 11.  John's appearance in Mark 1:6 matches Elijah's in 2 Kings 1:8.
  • When Jesus is baptised by John, the Holy Spirit descends on him, and God announces from Heaven that he is his beloved son.
  • This shows an aspect of what Christian baptism is: the Holy Spirit enters you and you are adopted by God as his son (or daughter).  Romans 8:15: "you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons".
  • Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
  • The heavenly Jesus experienced temptation so as to form a proper counterpart relationship with Christians, who are subject to temptation; like Jesus, you should resist.  Hebrews 4:15: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
  •  Calling the first disciples.
  • They go straight away to follow Jesus' call, because they have faith, like you should have.
  • Jesus exorcises demons and heals the sick.
  • Jesus is your model for doing this yourself.  Paul says Christians have "gifts of healing"; Hebrews mentions "laying on of hands".  Exorcism is not mentioned in the Epistles, but we might suppose it was done due to its prominence in the Gospels, combined with the Epistles' focus on fighting evil spirits, e.g. Ephesians 6:12: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  Jesus "disarmed the rulers and authorities", who are of course the cosmic demon powers, not Earthly rulers.

Mark 2-3
  • Jesus' disciples work and eat on the Sabbath; Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
  • The ethics of the community behind GMark involve the abolition of Torah Law, and its replacement by a vaguer morality of compassion and virtue (see the Great Commandment in Mark 12).  Hebrews 13: "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have..."
  • Appointment of twelve apostles.
  • In GMark, these twelve are representative of the Church leadership whom the sect of the Gospel opposes as faithless hypocrites.  Hence why they fail in their discipleship.  More on this below.
  • A group of twelve appears in 1 Cor 15 as recipients of an appearance (read: vision) of the resurrected Jesus, which was presumably what they or their followers claimed.
  • Jesus' family think he is out of his mind.
  • Probably what Christians' families thought of them when they joined the cult!
  • Jesus says those about him are his mother and brothers.
  • This reflects the Christian cult's use of familial terms for relations between members: not only are they "brothers in Christ" but your inductor in the faith is your "Father in Christ Jesus".

Mark 4-5
  • The Parable of the Sower.
  • The parable itself is about different responses to the Word, as Jesus explains.  However, it can also be used as a guide to the responses of different characters in GMark itself.  For example, the "rocky ground" in which the Word springs up fast, but withers as soon as the hot sun burns it, is an allegory of the Markan story of Peter, whose name means "Rock".
  • Jesus speaks in parables to the public, but explains privately to the twelve.
  • Jesus is modelling how to run Christianity as a Mystery Religion.  The purpose of speaking in parables is to prevent outsiders from understanding: "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”"
  • There is plenty of evidence that Early Christianity had secret doctrines and grades of initiation.  Paul tells his readers to regard the apostles as "stewards of the mysteries of God".
  • Moreover, Jesus is clueing in the reader to the way in which GMark itself is an allegorical representation of a mysterious truth.
  • Jesus stills sea and storm, while the disciples wonder who he is.
  • Obviously, he is the Lord, the image of God, although they are too obtuse, fearful and faithless to understand: "Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven." (Ps. 107)
  • GMark is criticising the Church leaders for lacking faith in Christ.
  • Jesus heals the woman with the discharge of blood, and the daughter of Jairus.
  • These people obtain healing miracles because of their faith: "Daughter, your faith has made you well"; "Do not fear, only believe."  Contrast this faithful response to Jesus with the fearful behaviour of the twelve in the boat: "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"  Mark is showing the faithful, fearless manner in which you should approach Christ.

 Mark 6
  • Jesus is rejected by most in his hometown.
  • The Jews are mostly rejecting their own Messiah, though Gentiles were following him.
  • Feeding of the Five Thousand.
  • Just like Elijah's feeding miracle.  The main allegorical importance, I think, is that even after seeing this miracle, next time there is a crowd to feed (in Mark 8) the disciples still don't know what they are going to do.  They are ridiculously faithless and obtuse.  Jesus asks them there, in a clear reference to the way in Mark 4 he characterised those on the outside: "Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?"  They do not understand the inner truth of what they are seeing; this is a critique of the people they represent.
  • Jesus walks on the water.
  • The twelve still don't recognise in Jesus the God who "trampled the waves of the sea", in the words of ever-faithful Job.  They are "terrified", "astounded", uncomprehending, and "their hearts were hardened".  This is critique of the leaders the Markan twelve represent.

Mark 7-8
  •  Ethical debates with the Pharisees.
  • Jesus asserts the moral, compassionate core of the Torah, while abolishing its ceremonial and ritual rules, just like the community that wrote Hebrews appears to do.  The non-Christian Jews are accused of following the ritual without the compassionate heart that really matters.
  • A deaf man is healed.
  • Also a blind man in Mark 8, and a boy with "a spirit that makes him mute" (as well as epileptic) in Mark 9.  If the paralytic healed in Mark 2 will pass for "lame" then Jesus is shown to heal all the kinds of infirmities predicted to be healed in the Messianic age in Isaiah 35: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy."  These are presumably the healings Christians believed they were doing, or else future expectations for after the Coming of Jesus.
  • Jesus says no sign will be given to this generation.
  • This is strange considering that Jesus' miracles were surely signs of the truth of the gospel.  And Hebrews says "God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles".
  • Peter recognises Jesus as the Christ (i.e. Messiah) but then rebukes Jesus for predicting his own death.
  • Peter is shown as unable to face up to the full implications of Christian faith.  Jesus calls him Satan.  This is a continuation of a damning allegorical critique of his leadership.  Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."  But Peter in Mark 15 will do the opposite, denying Jesus and failing to follow him.

Mark 9-10
  •  Jesus predicts the coming of the kingdom of God within the present generation.
  • Very difficult to understand if GMark was written, as most suppose, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (due to Mark 13:2).  Could that prediction be a fluke?
  • Jesus transfigured on a mountain.
  • It is possible that Peter and the apostolic leaders claimed that Jesus appeared to them on a mountain, for 2 Peter 1 says: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain."  If they claimed to have witnessed such an epiphany, then GMark might here be admitting this but mocking Peter's reaction: "And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified."  Note that they were again caught up in fear, not faith.  Peter suggests doing something mundane that shows he has not grasped what he is being shown.
  • More mistakes by the apostles.
  • When Jesus repeats his prediction of being killed, "they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him."  Again fear and misunderstanding, as the allegorical critique continues.  Then Jesus has to correct them, twice, because they have been arguing about who of them is the greatest, a totally wrongheaded mentality, since the first will be last.  The Church leaders are criticised here as more interested in status than service.

Mark 11-12
  •  Jesus curses the fig-tree, and the Cleansing of the Temple.
  • Richard Carrier cites an explanation for the fig-tree story which wraps around the cleansing of the Temple: the time for the sacrificial cult of the Temple has ended ("it was not the season for figs") and Jesus clears out the money-changers and pigeon-sellers who enabled people to make sacrifices there.  The fig-tree withers like the old dispensation, and Jesus moves into an exhortation to faith and prayer.
  • The Parable of the Tenants
  • Obviously an allegory for the Jews rejecting their Messiah, and Gentiles coming into God's promise of salvation.
  • “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”
  • The new Christian Messianism is not a rejection of foreign rule over the Jews, but a return to God (and liberation from demonic powers).

Mark 14
  • Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus.
  • If the etymological theory of Hengstenberg is right, the traitor's name seems to be as close as you can reasonably get to "false Jew".
  • The Lord's Supper.
  • I suppose this is a simple legendary presentation of the supper instituted by revelation to Paul (and perhaps to other apostles similarly).  Paul says in 1 Cor 11 that he found out "from the Lord" about the supper he instituted "on the night when he was delivered up" ("betrayed" is a tendentious translation; the same verb is used at Romans 8:32 where God "gave him up for us all", so in 1 Cor 11 it may be the same idea of being given over by God for crucifixion).
  • Peter denies Jesus.
  • This completes his fall from grace.  Like the seed dropped on rocky ground, the flowering of his faith withered under the first scorch of persecution.  The rest of the disciples have fled in fear upon Jesus being arrested.

Mark 15-16
  • Jesus does not speak to defend himself.
  • Isaiah 53: "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent..."  Allegorically, Jesus accepted his duty obediently, without demur.  Phil 2: "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death".
  • Barabbas, not Jesus, is released at the request of the crowd.
  • Barabbas ("Bar-Abba" is Hebrew for Son of the Father) is "among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection".  When the crowd calls to free him rather than Jesus, they pick the wrong Son of the Father, and are allegorically choosing the old-style military Messiah who would overthrow the Romans, and rejecting the new-style true spiritual Messiah.
  • Jesus is mocked.
  • Ps. 22 has the forsaken speaker mocked and gloated over.  I suppose this is what early Christians thought the demons had done to Jesus.
  • Jesus is crucified.
  • The crucifixion of Jesus could have been derived from a number of Scriptural passages: "They have pierced my hands and feet" (Ps. 22 in some translations, including the Greek Septuagint in use in New Testament times); "he was pierced for our transgressions"; "they look on me, on him whom they have pierced".  The crucifixion was known from Scripture; e.g. the Greek of Gal 3:1 says before the Galatians' eyes Jesus was "proegraphē" as crucified, a word which normally means "written before".
  • Many of the details of the crucifixion scene come straight out of Ps 22, including Jesus' words, the mocking words directed at Jesus, the dividing of his garments by lots, as well as the piercing of hands and feet.  Not only does this indicate the essential unreality of the details, but also suggests these were thought to be details of the spiritual Jesus' crucifixion, transposed here onto Earth.
  • The tearing of the temple curtain.
  • The old Temple cult has ended.  The sacred route to God now goes through Jesus.
  • Resurrection.
  • Christ's death, burial and resurrection in the heavens were discovered by reading Scripture in a search for cryptic meaning.  1 Cor 15 literally says: "that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he hath risen on the third day, according to the Scriptures..."
  • The angel's message goes undelivered.
  • An apparent angel in the empty tomb tells the women, who have come to anoint Jesus, to tell Peter and the disciples that they will see the risen Jesus in Galilee.  But out of fear the women fail to pass on the message to anyone.  Note that nobody thought he would be resurrected, another damning condemnation of Peter and the twelve.  Both these details allegorically separate Peter and the disciples, and their real-life counterparts, from the resurrected Jesus, perhaps to query whether in fact they had an appearance from him at all.  After all the fear and faithlessness, they hardly deserve one!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The proofs that Christianity was a Mystery Religion

Most people think early Christianity (i.e. before legalisation in the Roman Empire) was a public preaching religion.  In fact, the evidence goes to show that it was a Mystery Religion: its doctrines were secret, only initiates were permitted to be taught them, and there were hierarchical grades of initiation into increasingly majestic mystery doctrines.

All that was publicly preached, I suppose, was a vague preface and promise of the sort of doctrines to be found within, such as were typically given out when Christians wrote for outside audiences as in the Epistle to Diognetus:
For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. ...
If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. ... I minister the things delivered to me to those that are disciples worthy of the truth. For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples, to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them, speaking plainly [to them], not understood indeed by the unbelieving, but conversing with the disciples, who, being esteemed faithful by Him, acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of the Father? For which reason He sent the Word, that He might be manifested to the world; and He, being despised by the people, was, when preached by the Apostles, believed on by the Gentiles. ... When you have read and carefully listened to these things, you shall know what God bestows on such as rightly love Him...
However, the balance between what was exoteric and what esoteric may have changed over time, and this deserves future analysis.

The sources below are referenced by Richard Carrier in On the Historicity of Jesus, and here I pick out the key lines and phrases for proving the point.

The Pauline epistles show that there were different grades of doctrine.  For example in 1 Cor 3:

I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.
Furthermore, 2 Cor 12 shows there are great doctrines that Paul keeps secret:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
There is a hierarchy of members of the Church which corresponds to different stations, gifts, and presumably knowledge:
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  (1 Cor 12)
Christianity being a graded Mystery Religion is presumably why Paul tells his readers to regard the apostles as "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4) and why his wish for his followers is:
that their hearts may be encouraged ... to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2)
Somebody might think Gal. 3:1 is evidence that Christ's crucifixion was "publicly portrayed", but actually the word used is "prographó", meaning "previously written"Presumably Paul had shown the Galatians  Bible passages that revealed Christ's crucifixion; possibly this one or this one or this one.

Hebrews 5-6 also shows that there are different levels of knowledge for different levels of initiate:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

[--Chapter break in modern texts--]

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

It would seem the italicised material are elementary doctrines, and the next material to come are doctrines of maturity.  It is interesting to see the discordance between the end of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6: "you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God" compared with "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity".  It seems this is not a document that flows from one chapter to the next, but rather you either stop with chapter 5 and go over the basics again or you go on with chapter 6 to higher doctrines.  That is redolent of a manual for initiation into rising grades.

Jesus in Mark's Gospel is portrayed as a mysteriarch, and this is most likely because he was placed at the head of a mystery religion:

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4)
Looking at later Church texts, Clement of Alexandria's Stromata 5:9-10 shows Christianity was still a mystery religion at the time of this document (late 2nd century).  For example:
"For I know," says the apostle, "that when I come to you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of Christ;" designating the spiritual gift, and the gnostic communication, which being present he desires to impart to them present as "the fulness of Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery sealed in the ages of eternity, but now manifested by the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all the nations, in order to the obedience of faith," that is, those of the nations who believe that it is. But only to a few of them is shown what those things are which are contained in the mystery. Rightly then, Plato, in the Epistles, treating of God, says: "We must speak in enigmas that should the tablet come by any mischance on its leaves either by sea or land, he who reads may remain ignorant.
And chapter 7 describes the ascent through the hierarchy of the mystery religion, from faith to knowledge to love to inheritance.  It is the light of knowledge that carries initiates through the "mystic stages of advancement" leading to godlike perfection:

...knowledge, conveyed from communication through the grace of God as a deposit, is entrusted to those who show themselves worthy of it; and from it the worth of love beams forth from light to light. For it is said, "To him that hath shall be given:" to faith, knowledge; and to knowledge, love; and to love, the inheritance.

And this takes place, whenever one hangs on the Lord by faith, by knowledge, by love, and ascends along with Him to where the God and guard of our faith and love is. Whence at last (on account of the necessity for very great preparation and previous training in order both to hear what is said, and for the composure of life, and for advancing intelligently to a point beyond the righteousness of the law) it is that knowledge is committed to those fit and selected for it. It leads us to the endless and perfect end, teaching us beforehand the future life that we shall lead, according to God, and with gods; after we are freed from all punishment and penalty which we undergo, in consequence of our sins, for salutary discipline. After which redemption the reward and the honours are assigned to those who have become perfect; when they have got done with purification, and ceased from all service, though it be holy service, and among saints. Then become pure in heart, and near to the Lord, there awaits them restoration to everlasting contemplation; and they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour.

Knowledge is therefore quick in purifying, and fit for that acceptable transformation to the better. Whence also with ease it removes [the soul] to what is akin to the soul, divine and holy, and by its own light conveys man through the mystic stages of advancement; till it restores the pure in heart to the crowning place of rest; teaching to gaze on God, face to face, with knowledge and comprehension. For in this consists the perfection of the gnostic soul, in its being with the Lord, where it is in immediate subjection to Him, after rising above all purification and service.

Faith is then, so to speak, a comprehensive knowledge of the essentials; and knowledge is the strong and sure demonstration of what is received by faith, built upon faith by the Lord's teaching, conveying [the soul] on to infallibility, science, and comprehension. And, in my view, the first saving change is that from heathenism to faith, as I said before; and the second, that from faith to knowledge. And the latter terminating in love, thereafter gives the loving to the loved, that which knows to that which is known. And, perchance, such an one has already attained the condition of "being equal to the angels." Accordingly, after the highest excellence in the flesh, changing always duly to the better, he urges his flight to the ancestral hall, through the holy septenniad [of heavenly abodes] to the Lord's own mansion; to be a light, steady, and continuing eternally, entirely and in every part immutable.

Likewise Hippolytus of Rome's liturgy, the Apostolic Tradition, proves that there were secret doctrines at that time (early 3rd century) reserved for initiates:

If there is anything else which needs to be told, the bishop shall tell it privately to those who receive baptism. None but the faithful may know, and even them only after receiving baptism.

Meanwhile Origen in Against Celsus 3:59-60 (mid-3rd century) straightforwardly compares the Xian mysteries with the Pagan ones:

And when those who have been turned towards virtue have made progress, and have shown that they have been purified by the word, and have led as far as they can a better life, then and not before do we invite them to participation in our mysteries. "For we speak wisdom among them that are perfect."

he who acts as initiator, according to the precepts of Jesus, will say to those who have been purified in heart, "He whose soul has, for a long time, been conscious of no evil, and especially since he yielded himself to the healing of the word, let such an one hear the doctrines which were spoken in private by Jesus to His genuine disciples." Therefore in the comparison which [Celsus] institutes between the procedure of the initiators into the Grecian mysteries, and the teachers of the doctrine of Jesus, he does not know the difference between inviting the wicked to be healed, and initiating those already purified into the sacred mysteries!

Thus it is plainly confirmed by Gospel, Epistles and Church Fathers that early Christianity was indeed a Mystery Religion.

Unreferenced by Richard Carrier, I will add evidence from Roman criticism of Christianity.  Minucius Felix in his Octavius, a Christian apology in dialogue form, makes the critic say:
I purposely pass over many things, for those that I have mentioned are already too many; and that all these, or the greater part of them, are true, the obscurity of their vile religion declares. For why do they endeavour with such pains to conceal and to cloak whatever they worship, since honourable things always rejoice in publicity, while crimes are kept secret? Why have they no altars, no temples, no acknowledged images? Why do they never speak openly, never congregate freely, unless for the reason that what they adore and conceal is either worthy of punishment, or something to be ashamed of? 
The Christian's response to the charge of secrecy is that Christians:
are assembled together with the same quietness with which we live as individuals; and we are not garrulous in corners, although you either blush or are afraid to hear us in public.
This does not give us reason to doubt the charge that they kept their doctrines and worship secret.

Origen responds to the charge of secrecy in Contra Celsus 1:7:
Moreover, since he frequently calls the Christian doctrine a secret system (of belief), we must confute him on this point also, since almost the entire world is better acquainted with what Christians preach than with the favourite opinions of philosophers. For who is ignorant of the statement that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that He was crucified, and that His resurrection is an article of faith among many, and that a general judgment is announced to come, in which the wicked are to be punished according to their deserts, and the righteous to be duly rewarded? And yet the mystery of the resurrection, not being understood, is made a subject of ridicule among unbelievers. In these circumstances, to speak of the Christian doctrine as a secret system, is altogether absurd. But that there should be certain doctrines, not made known to the multitude, which are (revealed) after the exoteric ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and others esoteric. Some of the hearers of Pythagoras were content with his ipse dixit; while others were taught in secret those doctrines which were not deemed fit to be communicated to profane and insufficiently prepared ears. Moreover, all the mysteries that are celebrated everywhere throughout Greece and barbarous countries, although held in secret, have no discredit thrown upon them, so that it is in vain that he endeavours to calumniate the secret doctrines of Christianity, seeing he does not correctly understand its nature.
Thus Christianity had secret esoteric doctrines, although Origen says the basics of the virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection and judgement were well known at that time in the mid-3rd century.  Presumably time and popularity had conspired to undermine the secrecy of these elementary doctrines.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Who wrote Mark's Gospel?

Mark's Gospel has many mysteries, but the greatest may be the question of who wrote it, or rather which form of early Christianity produced it.  GMark seems to confound any attempt to classify it according to any otherwise known form of early Christianity.  For example, it is vehemently critical of Peter and the disciples, yet its respect for the Jewish tradition also marks it as starkly un-Pauline.  If not Petrine or Pauline, then what in heaven's name is it?

Three New Testament Christianities

Let me make my assumptions clear here: I find that there are three early Christian forms which present themselves prominently in the New Testament, which I call Jewish, Pauline, and Proto-Catholic Christianities.  I have previously discussed and defined what I identify as the authentic Pauline and Proto-Catholic Christianities in the heavily edited and interpolated Pauline epistles.  (I also discussed a potential timeline of the development of rival forms of Christianity here.)

Briefly, the epistolary statements defining what I regard as true Pauline Christianity say that conformity with the Jewish Law was incapable of providing salvation: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!  I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain … Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace."  Attempting to comply with the old covenant of the Torah deprived you of the salvation worked by Jesus.

More than that, the Law is an instrument of oppression: "For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression."  That's right: no Law, no sin!  The Torah is something evil: it created sin and mandated the wrathful punishment of death for it.

What Jesus did, on this Pauline Christianity, was not to provide a substitute sacrifice to appease that wrath and thus open the way to reconciliation with the Lawgiver.  The Law was a temporary stop-gap regime that was never a route to salvation:
For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
If the Law were not an instrument of salvation, then Jesus could not have bought humanity's salvation by fulfilling it.  Rather, the Pauline doctrine is that Jesus freed humanity from the Law by dying and being born again.  When a human being is baptised, they are united with the resurrected Jesus.  Since one can only suffer one death, and given that one is united with a Jesus who has already died that once, one cannot die again.  Thus the Law that creates sin and punishes it with death no longer holds that punishment of death over human beings who are baptised into Jesus' death and resurrection.  The Pauline epistles state this doctrine of salvation multiple times:
How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? … Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
This is, in my opinion, the authentic Paulinism: Jesus died under the Law to free humanity from it, as long as they are united with him in death and resurrection.

What is even more curious, is that Pauline Christianity surely envisages the Law as the creation of evil, demonic forces, and not of the God of Jesus.  Note in this regard how Paul says: "Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God."  The other to whom Paul's brothers previously belonged seems to be the power of Sin, but this is a power represented by distinct beings:
"I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. ... Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?"
What guardians and managers, which by nature are not Gods, enslaved humanity under the Law, a regime under which "you did not know God"?  Naturally, these must be evil spiritual beings, demons.  This, then, is Pauline Christianity.

What I see as Proto-Catholic Christianity, on the other hand, is presented in what I hold to be interpolations (later insertions) in the Pauline epistles, which are meant to twist the doctrine originally asserted there.  As I wrote previously, these interpolations assert that the Law was good (although humanity was too weak to follow it sinlessly) and that Jesus saved humanity by fulfilling it:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
That is a perfectly clear statement of a radically different soteriology (theory of salvation) from the Pauline form of Christianity I just described.  Instead of freeing humanity from the Law, Jesus fulfils it.  Instead of the Law being an evil oppression, it is a righteous requirement.  This is Proto-Catholic Christianity, the origin of all modern Christianity (excepting perhaps medieval heresies like Catharism).

Jewish Christianity is presented clearly in the book called Hebrews.  Its doctrine is based on the idea that the customary temple sacrifices are inadequate to purge the Jewish people of their sins.  For how can meagre offerings of roasted meat make proper amends for the disobedience of a nation to its god?  The old covenant is "obsolete" due to its inefficacy, and a new one has arrived.  Jesus is the permanent replacement high priest of this new route to salvation, since he has offered to God the fittingly complete sacrifice of his sinlessly innocent and obedient self as an upgrade on the Jews' feeble barbecued offerings:
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.  Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
The idea has a scriptural foundation in Psalm 40, a version of which is quoted in Hebrews:
Consequently, when [Jesus Christ] came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
(As is normal in the New Testament outside the Gospels, the words attributed to Jesus are quoted out of the Psalms, just as the words of the Holy Spirit are quoted out of a prophetic book in the next source.)

Another quoted source for the doctrine is Jeremiah:
 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
It would seem that Jewish Christians are no longer expected to obey the Jewish Law (Torah).  While they can still fall away by sin, the ethics presented in Hebrews is much vaguer than and independent of the Old Testament commandments:
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have...
(Although, curiously, there appears also to have been a movement to impose the Torah on Christians, as evidenced among other things by Jesus' exhortation in GMatthew: "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.")

Nevertheless, the focus of this Jewish Christianity appears to be entirely on the Jewish people:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.
Thus there are three predominant Christianities in the New Testament: a Jewish Christianity focussed on the Jewish people, in which Jesus' sacrifice propitiates the wrath of God over the Jews' sins against his Law, buying them forgiveness and reconciliation; a Pauline Christianity which regards the Law as a demonic oppression from which Jesus saved humanity by dying and rising back to life, so that by uniting with him you dodge a punishing death for yourself; and a Proto-Catholic Christianity which combines the Pauline concern with humanity as a whole, with the Jewish-Christian belief in the righteousness and divinity of the Law.

Which form of Christianity produced Mark's Gospel?

Mark's Gospel is tricky to pin down to an attitude about the Jewish Law.  Let us look through a few passages that bear on the matter:
Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”  And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”
So Jesus' disciples do not undertake Jewish fasts because they have Jesus with them, although they will fast when he is gone.  This is hard to pin to any of our three Christianities because it seems to both disclaim and recommend fasting.  Jesus' metaphors seem to suggest that his new dispensation should not be patched onto the old one; here is something new.  So if the disciples fast when he is taken away, it will be for a new reason.
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath, a major Torah commandment, is subordinate to Jesus' needs, as also those of David.  This seems to deny its morally imperative force.
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Jesus denies the authority of the Law on kashrut (kosher foods) and does not expect his disciples to be ritually purified before eating.  He instead emphasises behaviour that proceeds from within a person.  Yet he criticises the Pharisees for failing to obey the Torah commandment to honour one's parents.
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."
Jesus is quoting Genesis, although not words spoken by God.  He dismisses the Torah's commandment about divorce as given to the Jews for their hardness of heart.
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
This sums it up: while Jesus clearly reveres the divine tradition of the Jews embodied in the Torah, what he reveres are the essential ethics of love, goodness, charity, integrity.  He dismisses divorce law as invalid because it was given for the Jews' deficit of goodness.  He does not care about fasting, kashrut or ritual purity.  He brings a new wine that is not to be contained in old wineskins.

For me, this situates GMark on the Jewish or Proto-Catholic side, as opposed to the Pauline or Matthean sides.  Jesus is not a "not one jot" Torah enthusiast like Matthew makes him out to be in places.  Nor does he reject the Law as a source of sin, or the imposition of demonic oppressors.  Jesus holds the Law to be divine but inessential.  This mirrors the Jewish Christians' lack of consideration for Torah particulars in favour of the vague brotherly ethics preached in Hebrews, and it is of course also familiar Proto-Catholic territory: respecting the divinity of the Torah without actually following its commandments.

The difficult, however, is that GMark is also deeply anti-Petrine.  Mark's Peter is a disgraceful failure, famously denying Jesus thrice before the cock crew twice.  Despite what Christians would like to believe, there is no restoration of Peter in Mark's story.  Jesus gives him the name "Rock" in Greek not because, as Matthew claims, he is to be the "Rock of the Church", but because he embodies the seed that falls on rocky ground (Πέτρος / τὸ πετρῶδες) in the Parable of the Sower:
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
So Peter's faith starts to grow, but is destroyed by the slightest hint of danger.  At the end of the Gospel, he does not even get the message that the women are supposed to convey from the angel at the tomb: "and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."   Jesus has even gone so far as to call Peter "Satan"Pace Christians who would like to be able to retrieve Peter's reputation in GMark, the Gospel is nothing less than a total destruction of Peter's claim to authority.

Yet Peter has usually been taken to be a leader of Jewish Christianity (by critical historians) or of Catholic Christianity, in concert with Paul (by tradition).  He is criticised by Paul for trying to hypocritically impose Torah demands on Christians:
Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised ... But when Cephas [Peter in Aramaic] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
It would be perfectly understandable for GMark to besmirch Peter's reputation if it were a Pauline document, but it doesn't seem to be so.  What could have led a Jewish or Proto-Catholic, non-Pauline writer to attack Peter (and the rest of the disciples with him, but less prominently) as a disgrace who failed entirely to live up to the faith he ought to have in Jesus?  We should expect this from a Paulinist, who would regard Peter and the disciples as having misunderstood and Judaised the originally anti-Torah gospel about Jesus, which Paul then had to purify and correct.  If the disciples were failures, and Paul's position is ignored, then what would be the channel of transmission of the gospel?  Who holds authority in the Church that produced GMark?  There is nobody in GMark left with his reputation intact to act as a preacher of Jesus' message: "And they all left him and fled."  Yet there is nothing to suggest support for Paul or his doctrine.

This is the biggest mystery of Mark's Gospel, and I don't know what can be said to resolve it.