In Part III of this series, I pointed out that Mk (The Gospel According to Mark) is not a simple reporting of unadorned facts, but is instead a carefully constructed literary masterpiece. That Mark constructed his gospel carefully was actually known in antiquity. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, in his Detection and Refutation of Knowledge Falsely So Called (still one of the most important sources of information about the “Gnostics,” since Irenaeus had the good sense not to set forth a straw-man argument), gives the traditional stories about the origins of the gospels that were circulating in his day, in the mid-second century CE. One can see that they have undergone some typical legendization. The story about Mark is that he was Peter’s secretary and wrote down what Peter had preached, but “not in the same order”—apparently a memory of the fact that he was not a clerk, copying preexisting materials, but instead a conscious author, taking moral responsibility for what he wrote, which is what Marxsen proved. Later legend said that Mark became Bishop of Alexandrian, apparently an attempt to reclaim the turf taken over by the Marianites—but that is a very different story.
It is easy to get the impression that Mk is much more historically reliable than the very different and incompatible story told in Jn, and that Jn is far more full of theological speculation and elaboration than Mk. But current scholarship (meaning the folks I’ve had the honor and pleasure of talking shop with, although not recently) says that such an impression is wrong. They are equally historical and equally theological. Both have chosen raw materials out of what was circulating and constructed them into a story intended to teach the theology that each of them sincerely believed was true. The major differences between them are largely the result of their having quite different writing styles.
The theologies implicit in the Gospels about what made Jesus the Messiah cannot be reconciled, although the “harmonies,” lumping them all together, describe him as a pre-existent bring who was born of a virgin and then empowered by the Holy Spirit. That’s overkill. Each of the Gospels asserts only one of those traits.
In Mark, the earliest of the canonicals, for example, the theology is “Adoptionist”: Jesus is adopted as the Son of God and becomes the Messiah when he undergoes an enlightenment experience after his baptism. The experience is described as his seeing the heavens open, hearing a voice, and feeling the Spirit enter into him and drive him out into the desert. The experience is subjective; neither John nor anyone else is aware of it. Perhaps the description goes back to Jesus himself, perhaps not. Given that theology, Mark does not need, and gives no hint of knowing about, the concept of the virgin birth. Instead, he presents Jesus’ siblings as being normal brothers and sisters, and he apparently assumes that Jesus had a human father. That Jesus was a gifted faith healer, as Mark makes clear, has nothing to do with whether he was the Messiah. Faith healing is a normal human talent, and the Essenes also forgave sins as a way to do healings.
John, too, knows nothing about a virgin birth. For him Jesus is a pre-existent being who has become human—though John does not give any details about how that might have happened. Jesus’ siblings again are just that, and John too apparently assumes that Jesus has a human father. Jn as we have it is a second edition; so the first edition was probably the second of the canonicals to be written. Jesus’ baptism is not described in Jn, but the Baptist’s reference to seeing the Spirit descend upon Jesus depends on the baptism story as told in Mt. The second edition of Jn would then have to postdate Mt.
The story of the virgin birth thus appears first in Mt, written 50 to 60 years after the lifetime of Jesus. It is then picked up toward the end of the century by Luke, who knew the other three Gospels and who transformed the story into a vehicle for his profound free-will theology. For them, Jesus was Mary’s first-born, and she then proceeded to have other children, perhaps by a second marriage. The belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity arose several centuries later.
At this point we can look at what Mk 1:9-13 says, which is,
Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
As he came up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit, descending like a dove, entered into him. A voice came out of the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
There are three issues here. First, the passage describes the heavens opening and the voice as a subjective experience. Only Jesus was aware of them. The other three gospels legendize this story by having John also be aware of the heavens parting and the voice.
Second, the Greek says plainly into, not upon. Translating the preposition in Mk as “upon” in order to harmonize it with the other gospels is intellectual dishonesty.
Third, why a dove? Is that just a symbol? Did a dove alight on him at that moment? If it did, and that is possible, he would have understood what it symbolized. The dove is usually interpreted as foreshadowing his sacrifice on the cross, since the dove was the cheapest of the possible sacrifices in theTemple. But why was a dove sacrificed to Yahweh at all? Because long before 621 BC, it had been sacrificed to the Queen of Heaven, and was still considered to be sacred to Aphrodite in Greek culture. That dove did not have to symbolize his death. It could have symbolized his dedication to the service of the Queen. We will see more evidence that supports that possibility.
Immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals; and angels were ministering to him.
As I’ve already said, I think the passage overall is describing an Awakening experience. Rejecting it entirely because it cannot be literally true is sophomoric. With his personality transformed, he returned from the wilderness believing that he has been empowered by the Holy Spirit as a true prophet, like John, and began working with John at the Jordan, as is described at the beginning of Jn.
Another relevant passage is a saying recorded in five different passages by Jerome and Origen: “My mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one hair of my head and carried me off to the great mountain Tabor.” Again, this makes sense as metaphorical language trying to describe an Awakening. This saying is vastly important in that Jesus here is identifying the Holy Spirit, which in Aramaic is feminine in gender, as his spiritual mother. There is another saying, that “My mother bore me, but my true mother, the Holy Spirit, gave me life.” In other words, according to the Marianite Christians, Jesus was saying not only that he has both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, but also that his Heavenly Mother, given the symbolism of the dove, is the Queen of Heaven. Perhaps his anger when accused of being possessed by an evil spirit erupted because he considered that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that had empowered him was also blasphemy against the Queen of Heaven. And what was special about Mount Tabor? A quick search reveals that on Mount Tabor was and is the Cave of Melchizedek, the archetypal High Priest. Perhaps part of Jesus’ Awakening involved communing with the spirit of Melchizedek in that cave, thus becoming “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
In Part V, I can turn to further speculations. If Jesus did believe the Holy Spirit to be the Queen of Heaven, how might our evaluation of the “Parables of the Kingdom” change if some of them might have been “Parables of the Queen”? Further, how might that change our understanding of his relationship with Mary Magdalene? I can ask, “If the Father could send His Son, could the Mother have sent Her Daughter?” There are recently established “Neognostic” faith communities that believe She did. I wonder if I can decide that they are right.
More will be revealed.