H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 11)

The Peratae (Part 2) [Detering writes, p.4:] The connection between the Peratae and the Exodus theme is already evident in their name. According to Hippolytus, it derives from the Greek for “cross over/cross through” [Ger. hindurchgehen, < Gk. περαν]. In other words, they considered themselves “those who have crossed over”…   …For the Peratae, the creation is the realm of nothingness and transience. Because all is subject to these characteristics, for the Peratae there is only one way to salvation: man must pass through his demise—which he cannot avoid—even before physical death. [R.S.] The above paragraphs combine two concepts: (1) passing through/crossing over—that is, transcending this material realm of “nothingness”; and (2) doing so before physical death. The former is … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 9)

Simon MagusPart 1 [Dr. Detering writes, p.3:] We encounter another allegorical interpretation of the Exodus motif with Simon Magus, as reported by the church father Hippolytus… The passage gives an analogy between the World Tree and the umbilical cord of the growing fetus in the womb. In Simon’s allegorical thought, the Book of Exodus is symbolic: [Hippolytus writes:] Again, the inscription of the second book is Exodus. Now, they say [Simon Magus] calls the Red Sea blood—and who has been produced, passing through the Red Sea, must then come into the wilderness and taste bitter water. For bitter, he says, is the water which is drunk after crossing the Red Sea; which water is a path to be trodden that … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 7)

The Therapeutae—Pt. 3 Passover and Pentecost Normative Judaism and Christianity view the Exodus—traditionally commemorated by Jews at Passover—as a formative historical event in the distant past. However, one of the principal revelations of Dr. Detering in his article under discussion is that the Christian Gnostics of late antiquity viewed the Exodus as a spiritual ‘crossing over to the other side’—an inner transformation. Interestingly, this latter view was also known to mainline Christians, particularly in Alexandria:      At the end of the second century in Alexandria, however, we encounter a somewhat different understanding of the feast [of Passover], one that focused upon “passage” rather than “passion”—the passage from death to life. Clement of Alexandria describes the Passover as humanity’s passage “from all … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 1)

     The prevailing picture of Christian origins does need to be revised… All New Testament scholars are aware of textual material and historical data that cannot easily be reconciled… Some scholars are also aware that the literary and historical bases for the traditional reconstruction are very, very shaky. The picture itself has not yet budged, however, and will not budge until alternative explanations for the (sometimes very curious) data available are taken up for forthright discussion and evaluation.     —Burton Mack, “All the Extra Jesuses” (Semeia 49 [1990], pp. 169–70.) Some background The above words of Burton Mack are as applicable today as when he wrote them almost thirty years ago. We do need a thorough revision of Christian origins, for the traditional … Continue reading

An experiment: The original Gospel of Mark?—Chp. 5

As noted in the Introduction, two texts of the relevant chapter in the Gospel of Mark are presented here. The first is a short, hypothetical “core”—the first draft of an UrMark reconstructed according to the criteria below. At the bottom of this post is the entire Chapter 5 in the RSV English translation. Both the short and the longer forms of the chapter are color coded. In order to separate out later Catholic accretions from the earlier Jewish Christian “core,” I have employed the following criteria: The criteria used for color coding are discussed here. The resultant color coding is as follows: [Contained in the Hebrew Gospel / UrMark] Green: Possible/probable, or amended in UrMark. STAGE 1: Gnostic. To c. … Continue reading

The early bodiless Jesus—Pt. 4

Outside the familiar terrain of twenty-seven New Testament books lies a vast, virtually unexplored expanse of so-called “apocryphal literature.” The word apocrypha derives from Greek and literally means “from [that which is] hidden” (apo+crypto). Well, let me say up front: the only reason most of this literature is hidden is because the Catholic Church has done everything it could to hide it. In short, these texts contain what is threatening to the Church—what it doesn’t want you to read. The Church’s suppression of the apocryphal literature was pretty successful during the fifteen or so long centuries when European scholarship was either conducted by the Church or approved by it. Increasingly, however, secular modern scholarship has broken the Church’s monopoly on … Continue reading

The early bodiless Jesus—Pt. 3

The spiritual Jesus At an early stage of Christianity, according to the foregoing analysis, Jesus was a spiritual entity. This was a pre-canonical stage, to be dated to the first century CE—before the invention of Jesus the Nazarene and before the writing of the canonical gospels. The spiritual Jesus is evident, for example, in the epistles of Paul, works that do not know Jesus the Nazarene (“Nazarene” or “Nazareth” do not occur even once in the Pauline epistles). As I wrote in NazarethGate (p. 409):           Paul enthuses in his epistles about the spiritual entity he calls singly and severally the “Lord,” “Jesus,” and “Christ.” The entity grants grace, peace, comfort, authority (2 Cor 10:8), will slay the “lawless one” at … Continue reading

Part 3—A revolution in the Synoptic Problem

[Note: This post has been substantially updated.] The so-called Synoptic Problem can be defined as the search for the literary and redactional relationship between the three (obviously) extensively related “synoptic” gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Majority opinion has long favored the “two source theory”: Matthew and Luke primarily drew on Mark, and they also drew on a saying source not available to Mark known as “Q” (German abbreviation for Quelle, “source”). However, ongoing disagreements among New Testament scholars show that the two source theory is not satisfactory to many. Perhaps the biggest sticking point is that the Q source is entirely hypothetical. Despite a veritable library that has now been written about it (e.g., see John Kloppenborg’s massive works), Q is … Continue reading

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 3

Chp. 5: Presenting Jesus as the Crucified One      Dykstra begins this chapter with an important observation: “Another theme unique to Paul is his emphasis on the cross, or more specifically on the crucified Christ over the resurrected Christ” (p. 93). The terminology “crucified Christ” vs. “resurrected Christ” mirrors the two great models of salvation fighting one another for hegemony in the first century: salvation through faith (the “cross”) vs. salvation through gnosis (spiritual “resurrection”). In Pauline thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through faith in his atoning death on the physical cross. In gnostic thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through the acquisition of spiritual gnosis. These are two different religions and two different Jesuses—one material, one spiritual. Paul’s disputes with both … Continue reading

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 1

I recently finished an excellent book by Tom Dykstra, a virtually unknown American writer whose work deserves a careful read by those interested in Christian origins. The title, Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel (OCABS PRESS, 2012) won’t raise many eyebrows. After all, no one questions that the Gospel of Mark postdates Paul. And most would also agree that Markan theology and Pauline theology are in virtual lock-step: salvation comes through belief that we have been saved by the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. That is the so-called Pauline kerygma. Stated baldly, salvation comes through belief (in salvation). Christianity has managed to flourish for two thousand years based on this circular proposition. … Continue reading