Friday, September 5, 2014

The Christ Conspiracy: Alexandria (Chapter 20, pt 1)

Chapter 20 goes on to describe the religious environment of Alexandria, and posits that this is where Christianity emerged. I find the geographical statement itself rather reasonable - Alexandria was an important hub, there were significant numbers of Jews, greeks as well as other gentiles, Philo had been active there which does show some existence of Mystery schools with a Jewish basis. So far so good, right? Well, even here, problems creep into Murdock's reasoning. She posits the existence of a church before Christianity of which Christianity is a further development.

Although such brotherhood and organization are pretended by Christians not to have existed, they are also revealed throughout the New Testament, in which the nascent Christian church is already presented as having, in the words of Taylor, “the full ripe arrogance of an already established hierarchy; bishops disputing for their prerogatives, and throne-enseated prelates demanding and receiving more than the honours of temporal sovereignty, from their cringing vassals, and denouncing worse than inflictions of temporal punishment against the heretics who should presume to resist their decrees, or dispute their authority.” Obviously, such an established institution could not have appeared overnight out of nowhere but was, in fact, pre-Christian.[1,p. 317]
The summary Taylor gives of the church as presented in the NT is rather more vivid than my recollection of these particular narratives. Taylor's description sounds more like it is taken from a high fantasy novel than from the NT. Thrones? "More than the honours of temporal sovereignty"? To me, it sounds like Taylor is trying to pull a fast one on us here, planting an unjustifiedly detailed idea of what is in the NT in our minds. It is surprisingly easy to fall for this kind of deception when reading something while expecting to find something in it.

Concerning this pre-existing organization, Massey says:
The existence of primitive and pre-historic Christians is acknowledged in the Gospel according to Mark when John says, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us.” . . . According to the account in Matthew, before ever a disciple had gone forth or could have begun to preach historic Christianity, there was a widespread secret organization ready to receive and bound to succour those who were sent out in every city of Israel. Who, then are these? They are called “The Worthy.” That is, as with the Essenes, those who have stood the tests, proved faithful, and been found worthy. According to the canonical account these were the prehistoric Christians, whether called Essenes or Nazarenes; the worthy, the faithful, or the Brethren of the Lord.
[1, p. 317] 
It is interesting how the NT suddenly is accepted as valid evidence. Looking at the NT account more generally, it seems rather that this story is presented to impress on the reader just how magic the name of Jesus is. What Massey means by "canonical account" is quite unclear. How did he know these 'Worthy' were an organization the disciples were sent out to? There are so many holes in this paragraph that a Swiss cheese pun would be all the rage about right now.

And Doherty states:
Within a handful of years of Jesus’ supposed death, we find Christian communities all over the eastern Mediterranean, their founders unknown. . . . Paul could not possibly account for all the Christian centres across the Empire; many were in existence before he got there. . . .[1, p. 317]

Previously, Murdock has said Christianity spread slowly [1, p. 7]. Hitchcock says forty communities existed by 100CE[2]. This gives over 30 years after Paul's death for the number to reach forty. This does not seem particularly unbelievable. Things that expand do often expand exponentially, and given that we know Christianity did grow to be one of the biggest religions of the earth, we can assume there have been times of rapid expansion. What with a significantly less tense relation between early Christians and Jews than what often has been posited - see, for instance, The Parting of the Ways by Daniel Boyarin - it is quite possible some of these communities never were independent communities, but rather partially Christian partially Jewish communities, i.e. communities where some Jews or 'Godfearing Gentiles' had joined Christianity.
A form of Christian faith later declared heretical, Gnosticism, clearly preceded the establishment of orthodox beliefs and churches in whole areas like northern Syria and Egypt. Indeed, the sheer variety of Christian expression and competitiveness in the first century, as revealed in documents both inside the New Testament and out, is inexplicable if it all proceeded from a single missionary movement beginning from a single source. . . . Paul meets rivals at every turn who are interfering with his work, whose views he is trying to combat. The “false apostles” he rails against in 2 Corinthians 10 and 11 are “proclaiming another Jesus” and they are certainly not from Peter’s group. Where do they all come from and where do they get their ideas? The answer seems inevitable: Christianity was born in a thousand places, in the broad fertile soil of Hellenistic Judaism. It sprang up in many independent communities and sects ... [1, p. 318]
Alternatively, these reflect mid-2nd century conflicts within the Church, where the authors try to bolster their own authority by retrojecting both their own and their opponents' views into the past, claiming for advocates the early heroes of Christianity.
The existence of “Christian” churches before “Jesus of Nazareth” is also attested to by the author of the Epistle to the Philippians attributed to early Church father “Polycarp” (69?-155?), in which he says of Christ, “For he glories in you in all the churches who then only knew God; for we did not then know him.”[1, p. 318]
Murdock does not refer to the particular chapter and verse in Polycarp's letter, which is her usual way of making the job of critics more difficult. For the quote mining Murdock does here, see this.
The relevant passage in Polycarp's works can be found here. We cannot rely on the capitalization, but this is no problem - it still reads as though the only reasonable referent of 'him' is 'God'.
... but I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended401 in the beginning of his Epistle. For he boasts of you in all those Churches which alone then knew the Lord; but we [of Smyrna] had not yet known Him. I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be ye then moderate in regard to this matter, and “do not count such as enemies,”[3]
Keep in mind that patristic Greek and Latin do not distinguish majuscule and minuscule letters. The original text of this would, had it been written in English, have looked like this:
Capitalizing pronouns is thus done at the discretion of the translator or publisher of the Latin text, and capitalization cannot therefore be used as reliable indicators as to whom is referred to. It turns out that the Latin text is as follows, although modernized with regards to capitals and spaces:
11: 3 Ego autem nihil tale sensi in vobis vel audivi, in quibus laboravit beatus Paulus, qui estis in principio episulae eius. De vobis etenim gloriatur in omnibus ecclesiis, quae dominum solae tunc cognoverant; nos autem nondum cognoveramus. [4]
Let us look closer at how Murdock interprets this passage (an exercise that will show that she has not – again – cared about checking the Latin at all):
The existence of “Christian” churches before “Jesus of Nazareth” is also attested to by the author of the Epistle to the Philippians attributed to early Church father “Polycarp” (69?-155?), in which he says of Christ, “For he glories in you in all the churches who then only knew God; for we did not then know him.”[1, p. 318, ]
"Only knew God", to make it clear, is parsed as "who knew of no-one but God, and did not then know him (i.e. Christ)". In the Latin, however, "only" – solae – does not agree with God in grammatical gender and number. It is plural feminine! We find that there is a plural, feminine word in the text in the same very clause: ecclesia (in the case form ecclesiis, the ablative (identical, as it happens in this declension, to the dative)). So, how are we lead to parse the text as it actually is written?  Thus: "For he glories in you in all the churches who then were the only ones to know God; for we did not then know him". Reading the Latin there as saying anything else is bad translation, and is assuming that Latin works like English - a thing a linguist, as Murdock loves to title herself, would not do.

Thus, all the evidence Murdock presents in favour of this notion - Christianity before Christianity - falls flat on its face.
In addition, the term “Essene” was used not only for the Palestinian sect, but, as Josephus says, there was “another order of Essenes,” and Walker relates that at “the Ephesian temple of Artemis, the melissae were accompanied by eunuch priests known as essenes, meaning ‘drones.’” In reality, there were several groups of “Essenes.”[1, p. 318]
Most research regarding the Essenes seem to point at the "other order" being an organisational difference within the order of Essenes - a hierarchical difference more than a schism. Possibly comparable to monastic orders in catholicism. Also, we will come across an entirely different claim as to the meaning of 'essene' just a few paragraphs down.

I will get back to this later in this post.
These pre-historic Christians were called by Philo not only Essenes but also Eclectics, Ascetics and Therapeuts, who were indeed members of a brotherhood that already had parishes, churches, bishops, priests and deacons long before the Christian era. Headquartered at Alexandria, this Therapeutan brotherhood also observed the same festivals as those of the “later” Christianity, and, like Christianity, pretended to have apostolic founders.[1, p. 319]
Of Christian festivals, quite a few are based on Jewish festivals, so no surprise there. 
Also like the historic Christians, these pre-historic “Christians” used scriptures they claimed were divinely inspired and had colonies at the same places claimed by the historic Christians, i.e., Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse and Thessalonica, as found in the Pauline epistles—all before the alleged advent of Jesus Christ. [1, p. 319]
This description is per Taylor's rendering of Eusebius' rendering of Philo. Taylor gives only "Philo apud Eusebium" - so no reference to which particular work. Which is shoddy sourcing, and bad practice in scholarly sources.

Like “Essene,” the Greek word “Therapeut” means “healer” or “physician,” as in “physician of the soul.” The Therapeuts were, in fact, salvation cultists, but their savior was the “light of the world that every eye can see,” because, also like the Essenes and so many others, they were “sun-worshippers.”[1, p. 319]

We do not actually know the etymology of Essene. Only one suggested etymology has had a comparable phrase found in the Qumran scrolls, viz. 'Osey Hatorah, "doers of the torah". This does not automatically confirm the etymology, but it does weaken the case for the others. The further assertion that the Essenes were sun-worshippers would require back-up. (I am remiss here for not looking up the source for the above claim today, will fix that within the next few days.)

It is possible Josephus picked the word 'essaioi' because of the connotations it had in Greek, and the reasonable phonological similarity - osei <> essaioi are not impossible different. Positing an actual cognateness between the organizations seems fairly unjustified - unless significant convincing evidence is provided.

Doane says of this widespread and well-established brotherhood:
For many centuries before the time of Christ Jesus there lived a sect of religious monks known as Essenes, or Therapeuts; these entirely disappeared from history shortly after the time assigned for the crucifixion of Jesus. There were thousands of them, and their monasteries were to be counted by the score. Many have asked the question, “What became of them?” . . .
In short, they became the Christians, as it was they who created Christianity.[1, p. 319]

Funnily, the exact same claim is previously denied in the same book:
It was not the Essenes who constituted the "Jewish" brotherhood from which Christianity issued but the Syro-Samaritan Gnostic "sons of Zadok", the authors of various Dead Sea Scrolls who were determined to restore their priesthood to its proper place as spiritual leaders of Israel and of all mankind, [1, p. 315]

The disappearance of the Essenes might just as easily be attributed to social changes brought on by the Jewish War - or in fact, attributing it to such changes seems more reasonable than attributing it to them being swallowed up by Christianity or turning into the early Christian community.

[1] D.M. Murdock - The Christ Conspiracy, 1999, Adventures Unlimited
[2] Hitchcock, Geography of Religion (2004), p. 28
[3] Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians XI,
[4] Palmer, David Robert. The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians The  Greek & Latin  Text of the Epistle, verse by verse, with  an  English translation in between, verse by verse.