In recent days I received the following questions, to which I gave my reply in the text below. I am presenting these questions, thanking their Author for having sent them. As they partially relate to the “Dialogue between a Marcionite and a Judaizer”. I decided to address the topic once again.
My query is whether the Gnostics’ views rejecting Yahweh as the Father of Jesus can be reconciled with the whole of the New Testament? Certainly they can be reconciled with John’s Gospel without any difficulty, but what about the rest? What about passages about fulfilled prophecies and quotations or allusions to the Old Testament? Would this not disqualify the other New Testament Gospels?
What about words by Jesus that he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets? Would this not contradict any attempted reconciliation of the Gospels with Gnostics rejecting Yahweh? Because then the law would have been brought by the Demiurge of the Old Testament, and what then?
What about Paul, whom I consider to have been Gnostic, but who wrote favorably about the law, which was not bad? Just the opposite was true. Is it possible to reconcile the Gospels (Luke, Matthew and Mark), Acts, and the letters (Paul, Peter, etc.) with the Gnostic rejecting the Old Testament because Yahweh is the Demiurge? If so, would you demonstrate it? And whether it is possible to reconcile the extra-canonical Gospels such as the Gospel of Judas, Philip, and others, with the now canonical New Testament writings?
And one more question. If one rejects Yahweh as the God of Jesus, is it essential to reject the Old Testament? Because not all Gnostics rejected it, probably because some believed that Yahweh was God of Jesus, especially the Christian judaizing Gnostics. Does a Yahweh-accepting Pagan-Christian Gnostic have to reject the Old Testament?
I heard that you intend to write a third part of your article “Gnostic and Christian”. Perhaps my questions could be helpful.
First of all, the question of the so-called “Old Testament” is not and never was just a matter for the Gnostics alone. As explained in the “Dialogue “, there are two reasons for the removal of the “OT” from the Christian canon, namely, moral and scriptural. The first leads to the rejection of only part of the “OT”, the one that is largely or even completely incompatible with Christianity. The second reason is based on the assumption that only works by Christians should be in the canon of Scripture.
It is also not an issue whether someone “accepts Yahweh”or “rejects” him because it is not possible for us to resolve problems such as “which God is which?”or “which God is a Demiurge?”. Personally I do not attempt to define God (or god with a lowercase letter). What once was, almost two millennia ago, the cause of the dispute as to “which God Christ represents” is an outdated issue. Today there is much less of a tendency to talk of “two different Gods”. We are rather inclined to consider two different interpretations of God. And if so, there is no need to worry about issues of “reconciliation” of the canonical and non-canonical Gospels in this regard.
In general, the whole question of defining God is outsidethe argument. Let us accept simply the fact that Christians differed among themselves from the beginning in terms of defining God, and that this fact can also be shown through the appropriate selection of writings in the canon.
Every Gnostic, non-Gnostic or anti-Gnostic may privately consider such books as “inspired”. He can combine them with other, earlier writings and traditions. Here’s a link to a page written by a Protestant minister, most certainly a “Bible Christian”, who sees the roots of almost the entire history and faith of Judaism and Christianity in ancient Egypt http://www.egyptcx.netfirms.com/ .
As it illustrates, the possibilities of such combinations are limitless. However, we are concerned only with the fact that the “OT”is not Christian, and that there should in principle be no place for it in the canon of our Scriptures. In addition, each believer can maintain his/her own view.
When it comes to the so-called “fulfillment of the OT prophecies”, the “Dialogue” shows selected examples, of how often these interpretations of “prophecy fulfillment” were far-fetched. It should not be forgotten that the “OT”, admitted as a canon in the early church, was based on the “Septuagint”, i.e. the Greek translation, which in some places differs quite significantly from the original Hebrew.
So what if something could be interpreted in the New Testament as a “prophecy fulfilled”? Pre-Christian religions preached much of what was then taken on by Christianity. In Part 2 of the article “Gnostic and Christian” there is the following part of Justin Martyr’s statement:
“And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.”However, “Pagan” traditions were not included in the canon. It is rather we who suggest that they could (eventually) be included there with some of the works from the “Old Testament” – although it would be preferable not to include anything non-Christian, no matter how close it is to the teachings of Christianity.
Paul of Tarsus, a figure we wrote extensively about in the “Dialogue”, on one hand supposedly affirmed the “Law”, on the other however was going as far as to speak of it sometimes with an undisguised contempt, even to call it “garbage”. To some extent this reflects the attitude of the Christos, as has been interpreted in the gospels.
Of the many dialogues of Christ in the Gospels, let us consider the one that is written in the Gospels of “Mark” and “Matthew”:
Mk 7: 24-30:
“And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.
For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, ‘Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the pups’. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the pups under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.”
Mt 15: 21-28:
“Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me,’O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil’. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, ‘Send her away; for she crieth after us’.
But he answered and said,’I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, ‘Lord, help me’. But he answered and said, ‘It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to pups’. And she said, ‘Truth, Lord: yet the pups eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table’. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, ‘O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt’. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
Let’s look at this story a bit closer. Here Christos is initially reluctant to be providing assistance to a woman who is Greek, not Jewish. However, after the only one sentence from the “Pagan woman” he completely changes his attitude. “Mark” provides a shorter version of this story, the author of “Matthew” expanded it on purpose. With him, Christos presents himself even more nonchalantly against the woman than in “Mark”.
Note that initially he ignores her completely, and “the Apostles” even encouraged him to “send her away” At the repeated request he responds in his Judaic insolence that it is not like her to whom he was “sent”. When she asks him again, he becomes even boorish to her ( to a woman with a sick child!), using the metaphor comparing her and her child to animals.
As many would have wanted to say, that it is a very Talmudic attitude, if not for the fact that the Talmud was then not yet written. But there was the “Old Testament”, which could suggest such a comparison just as well.
And here at that moment something happens that turns the whole situation in favor of the Greek woman. With just one sentence, one short retort she pins that “God’s on Earth” shoulders to the ground so quickly and irreversibly, that nothing remains to him but to loudly extol her faith
If you look closely at the anatomy of the Greek woman’s argument, you will notice that it is of the same kind as in the case of Christ’s own expressions in his polemics with the scribes. He knocks them down exactly as she does it with him. Every time he uses an argument so formulated as to correspond with the way of his opponent’s thinking. He does this in order to crush his opponent’s argument and to force him to change his mind or fall silent.
We do not know the chronology of the events described in the gospels. Therefore we are not able to guarantee that these events have taken place in the order they appear in the record.
The conversation with the Greek woman is in “Matthew” in Chapter 15, while the conversation with the centurion (“Pagan” as well, this time a Roman) is already in Chapter 8 (8: 5-10) and on that occasion Christos does not behave nonchalantly and does not try dubious comparisons in order to – as the theologians from footnote 1 would have it – “explore the faith” of the “Heathen” (although in “Luke” 7: 2-9 he decides to help him only when the apostles report that the centurion was sympathetic to the Jews, and built them a synagogue).
In chapter 10, “Matthew” (10: 5-6) Christos sends the apostles only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” and instructs them clearly, not to visit any Samaritan towns. This approach contrasts with the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in “Luke” (10: 30-37). What, then, was Christ’s attitude to the Samaritans? What is more interesting, is that in “Luke” the “sending of the apostles” was not subject to any conditions limiting them only to Israel, and additional information is that they went “everywhere” (9: 1-6). The same thing happens with sending these “Seventy Two ” in “Luke” (10: 1-11). And in “John” in Chapter 4, we read of a good relation to the Samaritans, where Christ also has another conversation with a “Pagan” woman (the one at the well) and tells her about the “water of life”. There he does not make any “fuss” about her not being Jewish…
Whoever the authors of the gospels were, they did not seem to be very discerning in the details, such as Christ’s attitudes to Jews and “goyim” in various situations. So were these attitudes changing?
Let us not forget in this context, Christ’s own words (or just words by the author of the gospel), that prophets are not listened to by their countrymen but by strangers.
Everything therefore points to the fact that he evolved, like all of us, and that he could change his views and become someone else over time.
One can make comparisons with other “prophets” in history.
The “Orthodox” and “Evangelical” Christians tell us that Christos was Judaist for he was circumcised as a Jewish child, went to the temple and observed Jewish holidays.
At about 19 centuries later, Bahaullah was circumcised as a Muslim child, went to a mosque and observed Islamic holidays in Persia. There is not even the slightest doubt that the environment in which Bahaullah lived was much more explicitly Islamic than Christ’s environment was Jewish.
But if today we pose a question “Who was Bahaullah?”, would the answer be “he was a Muslim?” And if a Muslim, then which Muslim: Shia or Babi? Which of the “two Bahaullahs” was all the more real: the Islamic one before 1863 or the more universal one after 1863 as the founder of a new religious movement?
And if you ask about Martin Luther “who was he?” is the answer coming to our minds that he was a baptized Catholic and a Catholic monk, or rather the father of the Reformation?
Christos supposedly said:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5: 17-20)
To a major extent, we have addressed the issue of Jewish law and its conflict with Christianity in the text of the “Dialogue between a Marcionite and a Judaizer”. Here we will look at just a few examples not emphasized in that text, which clearly illustrate how Christos was to “fulfill” these laws, even the “least” among them. Let’s start from the very general and relatively benign statement:
“And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old wineskins; else the new wine will burst the wineskins, and be spilled, and the wineskins shall perish. But new wine must be put into new wineskins; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.”
(Lk 5: 36-39) – also in: Mt 9: 16-17 Christos contrasts here what is new with the old. In one case, the “old” is better than the “new” (wine), the second is just the opposite: the “new” is better (clothing). Either way a new thing is to be retained in the new package. And if you extend that rule to the public life, it is easy to see that new ideas are better to keep in the new law. And quite commonly, this parable is also read by “Orthodox” Christians themselves as a warning not to push a new spirit of the Gospel into old Jewish piety and some of its precepts.
Let us go further: in “Luke” (6: 1-9) Christos mocks the prohibition not to do certain things on the Sabbath, adding that David too, when he was hungry, ate, and gave others to eat the bread that only priests were allowed to eat. He threw a challenge to the Pharisees, asking: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil, to save life or destroy it?”
Let’s go even further. Here are the famous passages in which Christos, responding to accusations of disregard for Jewish traditions, talks about what makes a man “unclean”:
“And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mk 7:14 – 16) „And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” (Mt 15: 10-11)These verses are traditionally explained almost exclusively in the spirit of the few following verses, namely:
“Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” (15: 16-20)
These fragments counter one more regulation with at least equal force: do they not constitute an obvious disregard for the Jewish rules as to what food is “clean” or “unclean”?
No wonder then that
“…then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Mt 15: 12-14)
Pay attention to metaphor once again: “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, will be rooted up.” How in such conditions can we seriously argue that Christos “preserved” or “fulfilled” the traditional Jewish commandments so as to avoid ignoring any of them, even the “least” of them?
No, he was not preserving any of these regulations, he was demolishing them, one after the other. We will not cite all that is recorded in the early Christian writings, we encourage every reader to become familiar with these texts, including those that are not in the canon, to become conclusively convinced.
But each time he was smashing these rules, he was doing it not in a direct manner, but using the intermediate form, as if he was not challenging the regulation, which happened to be discoursed. However, it is this indirect form that each time shows the rule discussed to be total nonsense, sometimes simply ridiculing it…
Exactly the same thing was done by the Greek woman known as “Syrophoenician”. She did not use the phrase of the “crumbs for puppies” and in doing so declare to all and sundry that her child was an animal, or that she is a “dog” (pardon me, a “bitch”) compared to any Jewish woman, did she? She just measured her strength on metaphors against Christ and enjoyed a well deserved victory over him, over his Judaic chauvinism and contempt for human beings.
Yes, his contempt for human beings! Imagine a situation in which one of us (myself for example) and his friends pass by a building, when suddenly a woman is trying to stop us. Let us assume that she is Jewish or Black. And she asks for urgent help for her young child.
I do not even answer her, and when she cries out for us, one of my friends says to me: “Let’s go, for she just won’t stop shouting” to which I say: “I help Whites only…”. Then this woman comes close to us and again asks for help. And in the “spirit of Christ” I drawl the following remark: “Listen, first we need to help children. And such puppies like that kid of yours, come later… “
Given today’s standards, she probably would not reply to me as politely as the “Syrophoenician” did, whom Christos had the honour to meet (Can you imagine if she replied to Christ in today’s “fashion” or threatened to “pull his ears” as once Joan of Arc threatened a certain priest during her trial in Rouen?).
Anyhow, we are talking about the boorishness of Christ, who indeed at some point had to be “born again” in that spirit in which he was talking to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John … Who knows, maybe that is why he spoke about it, because he had already been “born again”, so then he had something to teach others about …
The authors of the Gospels could have been tempted to present Christ’s polemics with his opponents in the best light for him. It is interesting in this context that both the author of “Mark” and “Matthew” noted the “dialogue with the Syrophoenician”, in which Christos suffered such an unambiguous defeat.
This may mean that the story has its roots in an authentic fact. Besides, perhaps Christos had a lot more of such conversations. The speed with which the Greek woman responded suggests that she might have had similar conversations with other Jews before as well.
Let us keep in mind that it was taking place in the area which was still formally subjected to the rule of the Jewish king and his supreme court, the Sanhedrin. It was better therefore not to risk any open confrontation when it came to discourses on religion or relations between Jews and Gentiles. Besides Christos himself was often showing similar caution. And he was not the only one to display it. The New Testament gives us some idea of the atmosphere prevailing there. Here are some randomly selected examples:
“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.” (Jn 7: 1) and then “Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews.” (Jn 7: 13) and “Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?” (Jn 7: 25), or: “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him” (Mt 12: 14).
It is indeed very likely that it was precisely this kind of verbal confrontation, like that with the Greek, that have finally begun to contribute to the gradual change of attitude Christos displayed towards people who did not identify as Jews. Hence this variety of descriptions of his relationship with the Greeks, Romans and Samaritans in the New Testament.
On one hand, he knew about the Jewish ordinances against Gentiles. On the other, sooner or later he had to find out that these “aliens” were people just like the so-called “chosen people”, and did not differ from those “chosen” in any adverse way. Similarly Paul of Tarsus evolved. He also was a Jew. In the end however he abandoned the religious and cultural Jewish segregationism. And praise to him for it!
Now I have no definite plans to write the article “Gnostic and Christian – 3”, even though I am contemplating I might do this in the indefinite future.
We came to know already some “exegeses” of this passage by theologians attempting, like referees in boxing, to raise up the arm of the defeated as if he were someone who supposedly was “leading” this woman to “have a deeper faith. ” Their idea here is to ease an unsympathetic understanding of the scene resulting from translations. Most translations use “dogs” when the original Greek uses the word “kynariois” (“puppies”).
This comparison of “children” and “puppies” was therefore, according to these theologians, to be only a kind of “lenient treatment” suggesting that the Christos did not intend to steer away from the woman, but only wanted to lead her toward a deeper faith.
We have to admit openly that their interpretation does not make any sense to us. First, the woman asked for help for her small child, and for someone who wants to offend, isn’t it more fitting to compare a child to a puppy than an adult dog? Not only that: if the “child” is synonymous with someone who has more faith while a “puppy” is supposed to represent a person with little faith, why would Christos argue that he is sent to people of greater faith?
Do we not read elsewhere words attributed to him, in which he claims he is sent to the “sick” because such need a “doctor”? (Luke 5: 30-32). He would therefore have to cling to the “Gentiles” (or “dogs”) and their children (their “puppies”), rather than dissociate himself from them. In our view, therefore, the interpretation given by the “exegetes” is a simple propaganda kitsch, which was created in case the readers of the gospel found words by Christos too harsh to the Greek woman.