The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Mile Marker

August 3rd, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, history

I’m starting to become overwhelmed (again) with revising my understanding of 1st-4th Centuries CE. On one hand, I can still clearly point to the council of Nicea in 325AD and say that this was the place at which (re-)created Christianity. On the other, I’m completely befuddled regarding which characters were real and which were not, and which words were really written by which real person.

Credit should be given to Constantine for being a brilliant military and political strategist. His education is what many aspire to as “classical”; his tactical tutors were the best; he practiced with real armies against real enemies and became a sterling general. His ambition was equally great. But he was not a man of letters. He was not a philosopher. He was a man of action, and of decision. Although I give Constantine credit for “creating” Christianity, this does not mean that I think he was clever enough to make it all up, but that through his force of will, he was able to co-opt and redefine existing systems to his own ends.

Recently, I found myself stalling out on the research front. I could trace the movements of the larger groups of Jews and various Jewish derivatives from the Second Temple until the 7th Century. Likewise, the development and movements of the myriad Eastern and Mystery cults into the from its founding until the 5th Century could be shown on a map. I speculated that the urban areas with the largest groups of Jews and Hellenized mystery cults would be the places where a sychretization like Christianity could have naturally developed.

Again, until recently, my understanding was that the term “Messiah Cult”, “Mystery Cult” and “Christianity” were all roughly interchangeable during the 2nd and 3rd Centuries, such that Ba’alism, Mithraism, Manichaeism, Serapis worship and Jesus cults were all under the same umbrella. This understanding came from a study of Roman in the first 4 centuries of Empire, in which I discovered Imperial ire to be placed on mystery cults other than Jesus worship in almost every case.

The irony is that I had felt certain that within the history of persecution that I would at least get some sense of how the interfaced with the Roman state. Once I realized that there was almost no actual history of Christian persecution by the Roman state, I began to founder — what was I missing? And now I have it: I was missing the identification and motives of the real authors of the New Testament.

With the meme of the previous three posts in my head, I’ve been able to work my way out of my rut. Let’s assume that some or all of the New Testament was either entirely made up or misappropriated from other sources and heavily redacted, in Rome, sometime between 311 and 323CE. The questions now become: who were the editors and what were their sources?

PRF Brown suggested of Caesarea, author of the first book of Christian History, as being the primary, if not the only, author of the New Testament corpus. I think that it would have been a lot of material for one man to have written in such a short span of time. Rather, I’m beginning to see a team of conspiratorial scholars working at the behest of Constantine.

Our man from Caesarea is still on the list, but with him, I’ll be adding Pamphilius of Casearea, who apparently introduced the Hebrew scriptures to Eusebius, but also worked with him to create a defense of Origen’s work on the Old Testament. Also added is Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was the primary Bishop at the sides of Constantine and Constantine II and who baptized Constantine I at his death.

It’s not clear how much men like Jerome and Epiphanaeus, who wrote after the council of Nicea was a done deal, were aware of the actual history previous to that council’s actions, so one cannot be sure if they were deliberate in their attempt to paint a Christian gloss over history, or if they were simply unable to see history without it.

Regarding the sources, it’s easy to assume that our team of hack writers simply made a lot of it up as they went along. So much of it is reflective of other material, that it’s easy to see how bits of elements common in all the other traditions could have been gathered up for use by the Eusebiuses. Since so many of the real cults and traditions were destroyed in the decades following the establishment of Christianity, it is difficult to imagine what might have been present. One wonders if there had not actually been some Jewish messiah cults that had influenced Eusebius — what were they and what did they teach?

We are told of two predominant “schools” of Christian — one in Alexandria and one in Antioch. Alexandria was famous for its many schools of philosophy, and the Alexandrian school was the host for some of the greatest minds of the early Church and the development of allegorical exegesis of biblical material. The Antiochan school preferred a literal exegesis… but there’s scant little evidence of its impact or students. Lucian of Antioch — about whom we know nothing — was supposedly the instructor for Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius, Maris, and Theognis.

To demonstrate how much easier things are with the expectation that much of the early church history was simply made up by Eusebius, we can understand the school of Antioch as simply a foil to an equally imaginary Alexandrian school and be done with the endless lists of imaginary deans. Eusebius had the education and exposure to made a very nice Christianity. It really seems like the simplest explanation for a lot of it.

Many questions are still unanswered. Did Eusebius write the Gospels from scratch, or did he draw from other sources? What about the Pauline epistles? Were those legitimate communications in any way, or based on a set of legitimate communications? To what degree did Eusebius plunder the works of existing cults to populate his own?

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