Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Myths of the Second Century
Having begun the revelation of the myths and fables surrounding the birth of Christianity in my last article it is time to look more in depth at the development of Christianity as to what it has become now. It is a pale reflection of its beginnings and the essential Judaic teachings of its origins were intentionally stripped from it so that it could stand apart and bend to the will of those that controlled its destiny. Men in the Catholic orthodoxy that were not unlike the Rabbis that made a determined effort to mould both their respective religions into something other than intended and most importantly, to their own benefit. These changes were not by accident, were not normal evolution, nor were they done with the best intentions of its worshippers. But what is sadder is that with the wealth of historical information available, so many have not taken the time to read about their Christian origins. Had they merely taken the time and cherished advice of our Karaite sage and founder Anan ben David, they would have recognized that he was not only speaking to those of us that are Karaites but to people of all denominations and religions. His was a warning that to follow blindly is the greatest sin of all because it will do exactly the opposite what it claims it was designed to do. The preaching will be “Do not lead us unto evil” yet the outcome for any religion where it demands blind obedience, advises not to question its teachings or origins, and both assails and condemns any opinion that it deems contrary will do exactly that; it will lead you unto evil! The heritage of Christianity has been the eradication of any opinion that those in power deemed contrary. Silencing the heretics was the norm for hundreds of years. Yet heresy is from the Greek “haerens” which only means an act of choosing. So the execution of the heretics really meant eliminating anyone that wanted to make a free choice and that is the legacy of the rise of Christianity.
A Strange And Unusual Time
From a Karaite perspective what I personally find the most amazing about the second and third centuries AD is that you had two religious sects, both essentially Jewish in origin vying for the title of supreme monotheist but both willing to sacrifice the original teachings of the Torah. Let me explain if this statement has confounded you. Both Rabbanite Judaism and Christianity began writing furiously over this period two centuries to win over the hearts and minds of adherents whether established or new. The Rabbis began writing their Talmud feverishly and the Christians published a plethora of Gospels, both groups specifically designing their books to capture sayings, teachings, and histories, even if the subject material was speculative, inflammatory, and based solely on one’s own personal and therefore far from factual experiences. Whereas the Rabbanites were determined to catalogue their thoughts into one volume, even though it ended up in both a Palestinian and Babylonian version, the Christians made no attempt to consolidate their writings, keeping each manuscript distinct and separate. And therein lay the failure of the Rabbinates to win the race to the publishers and to their respective audience. The Talmud became a massive tome, unable to be finished for several hundred years and therefore never released to be mass circulated to the public and so introspective that it had practically no appeal to anyone but the rabbis themselves who enjoyed reading about their own endeavors, arguments, and congratulatory back patting efforts, whereas the Christian authors were able to circulate their small books quickly, often just as vellum manuscripts, suitable to be read by any individual and with stories bordering on the fantastical and supernatural thus very appealing and capturing an eager readership desiring to read about something other than mundane issues. There really wasn’t any contest when it came down to it. Even though most of these circulating Gospels were to be dismissed and discarded later when the Church decided to canonize the final version of the New Testament, it did so at a time that the general public had already been exposed to the multitude of books and their imaginations captured by the mythological status of the writing. The Talmud which was a never-ending exercise had none of the same mass appeal nor even had it been available early would it have been something the common person desired to read. Yet both of these massive documents, whether Talmud or New Testament had taken their intended audiences far afield from the Laws of Moses and the actual dictates of the Torah or Old Testament. And as I have pointed out numerous times in my articles, both these works of men were constantly in contradiction to the Torah and the teachings of Moses and were intentionally so. Of that as you will see in the next few paragraphs there could be now doubt!
Marcion Versus Montanus
“Who?” is the word you are probably uttering right now. Just two of the most important men in early Christian history and yet the majority reading this will have absolutely no idea who they were and what was their true significance. But both these men were the most prominent leaders in Christianity during the second century AD and shaped the Christianity that we know today. But because they possessed views outside the mainstream Catholic teachings they were later branded as Gnostics even though as I mentioned they were each responsible for giving Christianity its greatest surge in growth and popularity by attaining thousands upon thousands of adherents at that time and providing an ideological framework upon which the Church did build its current concepts thus eventually attaining mass appeal.
As hard as it may be to believe to Messianics and Christians today, during these first two centuries, to refer to the Catholic Church was to imply that those adhering to this view were either Jews or Judaized-Gentiles strongly leaning towards the Old Testament teachings as presented by the Jerusalem Church, initially under James and then his cousin Simon Cleophas. It was the Catholic Church that was entrenched with both these Judaizers and Old Testament exponents. Initially it saw itself as the defender against the rise of polytheistic ideologies that began to permeate the other churches throughout the empire. But as the old adage goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em then join ‘em,” especially when those others were growing faster, stronger and with far more determination than your own congregation could ever accomplish.
Marcion who lived between 130 and 180 AD considered his Church to be the only authentic one. The speed at which Marcion gained adherents was troublesome to the Catholic Church and Irenaeus wrote against them claiming they would eventually fractionate the early Christians beyond a point of recovery. It was not that Irenaeus condemned the teaching of Marcion only that this adversary did them better and in turn had better conversion results than the orthodox Catholics. Marcion’s message was simple. He wanted to build a church that could bring salvation but was not involved in the speculative and mystical ideas that seemed to have taken over the Christian church. Of interest is that Marcion taught that God had two natures. The wrathful, angry God of the Torah, and the kind loving God that had sent Jesus to save the world. But these two aspects of God were always constantly seesawing in what could be viewed as an eternal battle. Perhaps Marcion was familiar with the Yin and the Yang of eastern philosophy but he determined that it was the wrathful side of God that created the world and therefore all material creations were evil. That meant that man was evil as well but the pure side of God loved man and therefore sent part of himself in the form of a phantom body to live amongst man and die in order to save mankind. Quite interesting that the man that accused the traditional church of being too speculative and mystical was in fact the man that provided the spiritual concept of a non-human Jesus to Christianity in the first place. Marcion insisted that the only apostle that understood all of this was Paul and therefore he justified Paul’s abolition of the Law under the excuse that he was serving the Grace. In this manner Marcion claimed that Paul had done away with the wrathful God of the Old Testament and replaced him with worship of only the pure form of God as revealed in the New Testament. Having this narrow perspective meant that Marcion also had a very narrow canon of scripture which included the Gospel of Truth, which was a collection of sayings but not directly from Jesus, the four Gospels although Luke was an edited version, and the Acts of Paul. Hence he claimed that the only scriptures within his church emphasized the mercy of God whereas the Catholic Church was opposed to the teaching of mercy and therefore failed to comprehend true Christianity. Having condemned the material world as evil, Marcion preached that sex was also evil but only those that were Perfect needed to abstain from sex, whereas the rest of the followers could still engage in it and only when they were about to die would they be baptized. Salvation came through the love of God and the Old Testament was negated by this Loving God. As much as this view by Marcion would appear naïve and perhaps even childish, his teaching had a major impact on the Catholic Church and threatened its survival. So much so that Tertulian wrote, “The Marcionites make churches as wasps make nests.” This rapid expansion could not be stopped but it certainly could be absorbed. Catholic leaders met to see which of the Marcionist views should be incorporated into their own doctrines and in so doing they were to markedly reduce the impact by eliminating many of the differences.
Just as threatening were the Montanists which like the Marcionists wanted a return to what they called pure Christianity. Their approach was far more Old Testament, claiming that the Catholic Church was governed by men that had no true sanction by God and therefore their unethical and immoral behavior was not to be tolerated. The only laws that could be considered as truthful were those already passed down by God and his prophets. As you might have noticed, the concepts espoused by the Montanist were not unlike the Boethians and Zadokites of the same time against the Rabbis; in fact these Montanists were very Karaite in their comments. All we know of Montanus is that he appeared preaching in Phrygia around 156 AD. He dispelled the teaching of both the Rabbis and Catholic Church that the age of prophets was gone and that there would be no further prophets. In fact Montanus claimed that he himself was a chosen prophet of God. Montanus’ concept of the Holy Spirit was that it was sent down by God to enter the bodies of his chosen prophets. Therefore any that spoke the word of God were engaged by the Holy Spirit and Yeshua was one such man. Montanus believed that all scriptures were the word of God and therefore he maintained that in his Church all doctrines were acceptable, none were to be repudiated but God’s only requirement was that the followers maintained a high level of morality, fasted regularly, and had strict marriage laws. But as his followers pursued their beliefs, Montanus expected them to abandon the daily world and separate themselves into religious communes. This was in direct contradiction with the Catholic Church that decided its followers should maintain their everyday lives and didn’t need to separate themselves from Roman life in order to become holy.
By the end of the second century it appeared that the Montanists would become the dominant sect of Christianity. The Catholic Church reacted as it had done so many times before, labeling the Montanists as heretics, excommunicating the lot, and condemning their prophets to either banishment or death. This dogma of branding anything that opposed them as heretics was exactly the institutionalized corruption that the Montanists were opposed to. There considerable threat forced those leaders in the Catholic Church to move closer to the reigning powers in Rome. By emphasizing that the Catholic Church supported the Roman authorities and advised its followers to contribute as part of everyday society, they were able to demonstrate the danger represented by a Montanist Church that encouraged its members to withdraw from society and become separate. It didn’t take much encouragement for the Roman authorities to join in the condemnation of the Montanists and use them for their entertainment in the coliseums. Although Christian history will talk about the martyrs fed to the lions and slaughtered in gladiatorial exhibits, it fails to comment that it was Montanists providing this entertainment while a Catholic elite grew closer to the Emperor and 100 years later actually was proclaimed as the one and only Christianity of the Empire.
The Best And Worst
Having survived the century of turmoil and beating back those breakaway sects that condemned it, the Catholic Church, soon to be the State Church of the Empire, recognized that the Marcionists and Montanists had been popular for two entirely antithecal reasons. The first gained popularity by emphasizing the spiritual nature of Jesus and therefore won over the hearts and minds of a people seeking far more than the strict laws that evolved from the Torah.
The latter, the Montanists gained their popularity by emphasizing the freedom of choice, the fact that God intercedes in the world through his prophets and that survival meant separation from the daily life of the Empire. From the general description, they were not very unlike the Jews that still represented a large portion of the eastern populations.
And therein lay the solution that would become the hallmark of the Church for a couple of thousand years. By adopting Marcion’s teachings of the uniqueness of Christianity, the spiritual nature of Jesus and the rejection of all the old laws that were Jewish or Old Testamental they could create a distinct separation between themselves and their original beliefs. And by categorizing the Montanists as nothing more than Christians practicing a Jewish mode of life, they could again emphasize that separation and at the same time focus the Empire’s distrust on any people that were determined to remain separate, especially the Jews. In doing so, the Catholic leaders gained the trust of the Empire and were to eventually to take over the operation of the empire itself in the form of the Holy Roman Empire where the power to invest kings and emperors suddenly lay within their Church.
It was a learning process that would not have been possible if it had not been for the advent of both the Marcionists and Montanists. In a very short time they had gained all the myths and fables necessary to reshape the Catholic Church into the image of bishops; men seeking power at the cost of its heritage. It would have to go through one more phase before the transition was complete. That involved the canonization of the New Testament and finalization of its arrangement with the Empire in the sharing of power. That wouldn’t happen to the fourth century and will be the topic of discussion for the next article.