Saturday, April 04, 2009

Paul, Passover, Jesus, Gnosticism

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gives us the first extant written account of the Lord’s Supper.

He starts with the well-known phrase, “On the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed…”

But, “betrayed” may well not be the right translation.

Many Greek verbs have three voices — the active and passive ones we know in English, and a “middle” voice, a sort of reflexive voice.

Now, the Greek verb αποδιδωμι looks the same in middle and passive voice. But, it has different meanings.

In the passive, it does mean “betray.” But, in the middle, it normally means “hand over,” as in hand over someone to authorities. A similar meaning is “hand up.”

Critical New Testament scholarship believe this is what Paul means. He never, in the epistles he clearly wrote, talks about a Passion Plot, a Roman arrest, or the melodramatic literary angle of a turncoat named Judas.

That gets us to the first “pseudo-Paul.” In addition to it being quite certain that Paul never wrote the “Pastoral Epistles” of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, which weren’t written until the end of the first century CE, or even early in the second, an earlier pseudo-Paul (or two) is believed to have written Colossians and Ephesians. Relations between these two books are unclear, but both likely were written no later than 30 years after Paul’s genuine books, by someone closer to the Pauline mileau than the Pastoralist of another 20-40 years later.

Well, both Colossians and Ephesians discuss what can certainly be called “esoterica,” whether they are talking about issues that can clearly be labeled Gnostic or not.

In Colossians 2:20, “Paul” tells his readers, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world….” The word in Greek, στοιχειον, is a word with plenty of use in Gnosticism, although it has plenty of pre-Gnostic use as well. As an “elemental principle,” it can be understood as a stage to be overcome by the Gnostic initiate’s battle to return to the All.

So, tying Colossians and 1 Corinthans, did Paul mean that Jesus was actually “handed up” to the “elemental powers”? In other words rather than the soteriology of the Pastoral Epistles, themselves connected with similar soteriology stances of dying-and-rising eastern Mediterranean savior gods, was Paul instead talking about Jesus as a sacrifice to Gnostic powers?

It seems likely. Mystery religions, after all, we know had their own mystery-fellowship dinners, from which it is believed Paul borrowed ideas that he fused into Passover concepts to produce his “Last Supper.”

If that’s the case, the genuine Paul was more a proto-Gnostic than later followers, let alone conservative Christians today, might want to accept.

Also, if that’s the case, pseudo-Paul of Colossians either didn’t understand the genuine article that well, or else thought that others’ interpretation of him had gone too far, or else did understand him well and deliberately reinterpreted him.

How, then, did we get to Mark, the first gospeller, creating the "betrayal" story?

A combination of misreading Paul plus creative reading of the Old Testament, namely something like Psalm 69:22-28, and Psalm 109:6-12.

Peter allegedly took these verses that way in Acts 1.

In Gnostic and semi-Gnostic Christianity, the idea of Judas as Jesus' twin, as in Judas Thomas (Aramaic for "twin") certainly added to Gnosticizing takes on the idea of Jesus' betrayal.

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