Way of Essenic Studies
Publication date: Spring/Summer 2012
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, (NRSV) copyright 1989,
Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
When the NRSV notes an alternative translation, and my research determines it to be more accurate than the primary text,
the alternative phrase will be placed in [brackets] and noted A
Copyright 2012, Gott, Springfield, Missouri.
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In the latter half of the second century, Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons described a method for interpreting scripture that was promoted by the Alexandrian “heretics,” Basilides and Valentinias. The method Irenaeus described can be traced to the first century philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, who preceded Basilides and Valentinias. Irenaeus wrote:
“... anyone, on following out their farce to the end, may then at once append an argument which shall overthrow it...”
“... the theories of these men are but a tissue of falsehoods.”
[Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, excerpted from Book 1.9.4-5]
I’ve always loved mysteries and solving riddles, but this quest began, not with a mystery novel, but with the Holy Bible.
One snowy day in January 2000, a vague recollection of Luke’s prophetess Anna just popped into my mind. I couldn’t recall exactly what Anna had done so I grabbed my New Oxford Annotated Bible w/Apocrypha and looked her up: “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.”
Anna was 84. I wondered why Luke found that information important enough to mention.
I had just finished a book by John Michell and another by Bruce Cathie, and thanks to them, I had sacred numbers and formulas rolling around in my head. Why I did it I will probably never know, but I decided to apply one of the values Pythagoras used for pi (22/7) to Anna’s age.
The number that popped up on my calculator screen (264) was in Cathie’s book which is about Unidentified Flying Objects. According to Cathie, “This equation seems to be attempting to relate the manifestation of mass from pure light energy, so it could be said that when the harmonic of 264 is applied to pure light energy, matter-formation is kicked into action.” [Bruce L. Cathie, The Energy Grid, Adventures Unlimited Press, Kempton, IL, 1997, p.162.]
I decided to look for numbers in chapter one; there were six. Once I had them all highlighted, I multiplied them. One of the most sacred of sacred numbers stared at me from my calculator (4320); I stared back, dismayed and astonished. Finding those two numbers in Luke One and Two was puzzling, and the quest to solve that puzzle began. That was twelve years and seven books ago.
Over the years, my search for answers to perplexing biblical questions led me to a shadowy first century heretic known to the early church fathers by just one name: Basilides.
Two Roman historians, Tacitus (c. 56 - 117) and Suetonius (c. 69 - 130), named Basilides as two people from whom Vespasian sought counseling just prior to becoming Emperor of Rome in 69 ACE. According to these historians’ combined texts, Vespasian first sought out his former “freedman” Basilides at the temple on Mount Carmel where he was serving as High Priest. He found an elderly, crippled, and frail High Priest and asked him to predict his chance of success as Rome’s fourth Emperor in less than a year.
Vespasian departed Mount Carmel and sailed to Alexandria. He docked his ship and went to the Temple of Serapis, where he was astounded to find Basilides. Surely, he reasoned, it was just a vision of the High Priest whom he knew to be at a distant location and in ill health.
A third historian, Philostratus (c. 170 - 247), wrote a similar story of Vespasian’s trip to Alexandria in 69 - with one notable exception. Upon docking his ship, Vespasian asked where he might find the philosopher, Apollonius of Tyana. Like Basilides, Apollonius was at the Temple of Serapis. Vespasian went to the temple where he asked Apollonius for his blessing, and where he received it. Philostratus seemed unaware of Vespasian’s meeting with Basilides at the same time in the same place, and Tacitus and Suetonius were unaware of his meeting with Apollo of Tyana.
Bishop Irenaeus verbally attacked Basilides and his blasphemous doctrine and labeled him a heretic. A “freedman and high priest heretic” who had the ability to be in two distant locations at the same time was simply irresistible to an obsessive-compulsive mystery buff. Not to mention Vespasian’s meeting with Apollo of Tyana at the same time and same place!
Along the way I began to see threads in Luke’s stories that matched similar threads in Josephus, Suetonius, Plutarch, the Plinys, and Tacitus - sometimes events, sometimes names, sometimes places. Over the years I’ve been able to unravel most of each of their tapestries, match the threads, tie them together, and reweave a new tapestry of First Century Rome. It still isn’t complete, a few holes remain, but they are small. It is the reconstructed picture - Basilides’ Rome - that we desperately want to share.
When I found Philo hiding in plain sight in the Online Jewish Encyclopedia my work became easier and a lot more fun. Philo gave me a pattern and instructions to follow, and it was that discovery that finally led to Basilides’ historical identity.
My greatest challenge has been finding a way to tell Basilides’ story that would be complete and documented, but easily followed and comprehended by anyone interested in the earliest opposition to what became Orthodox Christianity.
My hopeful solution: Each chapter (excluding 5 and 6) begins with a single question that New Testament scholars have debated for centuries and continue to debate to this day. Basilides’ heresy, reconstructed, tested, and applied to these questions, offers a plausible answer to each of them, and I’ve tried to keep each under 2,000 words.
More important, I think, is what happens during the process. A picture of Basilides slowly comes into focus, and it reveals the mysteries of the man and his companion, and why their lives, their work, and their lasting contributions to the world and to us, would have been permanently erased from history were it not for Philo’s Farce.
PHILO’S METHOD FOR SOLVING ANCIENT ENIGMAS
Philo’s method of interpreting enigmas came to the attention of the Orthodox Church fathers during the formative years of Christianity. Between 175 and 185, Irenaeus the Bishop of Lyons attacked the method, though not by name. He considered it to be a dangerous heresy and its chief promoters, Valentinius and Basilides evil Gnostic heretics. Irenaeus dismissed Philo’s method:
“…collecting a set of expressions and names scattered here and there [in Scripture], they [the heretics] twist them…from a natural [literal] to a non-natural [enigmatical] sense. In so doing, they act like those who bring forward any kind of hypothesis they fancy, and then endeavor to support them out of the poems of Homer, so that the ignorant [non-orthodox] imagine that Homer actually composed the verses bearing upon that hypothesis, which has, in fact, been but newly constructed...” (Emphesis added; Adversus Haereses, 1.9.4).
One of the most important sources for understanding enigmas and how they were used by the ancient writers is Plutarch (c. 40 - 124 ACE). This revealing statement is excerpted from his introduction to Of Isis and Osiris, Plutarch's version of the story of the Egyptian god and goddess:
“… Pythagoras … greatly admired the Egyptian priests, and, copying their symbolism and secret teachings, incorporated his doctrines in enigmas. As a matter of fact most of the Pythagorean precepts do not at all fall short of the writings that are called hieroglyphs …”
“. . . whenever you hear the traditional tales which the Egyptians tell about the gods, their wanderings, dismemberments, and many experiences [i.e. crucifixion]… you must not think that any of these tales actually happened in the manner in which they are related.”
“ … If … you listen to the stories about the gods in this way … you may avoid superstition which is no less an evil than atheism.” (Emphases added.)
Plutarch wrote dozens of essays about important historical characters and events. Some of these historical characters were considered by the people they ruled to be “gods and goddesses.” Most notable of these human representations of gods and goddesses were Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, and their lover and mother of their children, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Yet, in spite of this clear admonition of how “stories about the gods” must not be thought of as “tales [that] actually happened in the manner in which they are related,” modern historians have continued that very mistake and interpreted Plutarch’s stories of the “gods and goddesses” literally.
A similar admonition comes from the person for whom the method is named: Philo of Alexandria. A generation before Plutarch, Philo wrote a similar explanation in an essay, “Every Good Man is Free.” The subject of this paragraph was the mysterious Essenes:
#82: “Then one, indeed, takes up the holy volume and reads it, and another of the men of the greatest experience comes forward and explains what is not very intelligible, for a great many precepts are delivered in enigmatical modes of expression...”
“Enigmas” must not be confused with “allegories,” a rather common mistake among historians and biblical scholars alike. Philo’s method has traditionally been referred to as the “allegorical interpretation of scripture,” when it is, in fact, “rules for the interpretation of enigmatical modes of expression found in scripture and history.”
Philo and Plutarch explained the use of enigmas when writing about the gods and goddesses. Enigmas are similar to allegories, but the difference, although subtle, must be fully understood.
Webster's dictionary (1984) defines allegory as: “A literary, dramatic, or pictorial device in which each character, object, and event symbolically illustrates a moral or religious principle.” Synonyms listed at Webster’s online dictionary for allegory include: fable, parable.
Webster’s online dictionary defines engima as: 1) an obscure speech or writing; 2) something hard to understand or explain; 3) an inscrutable or mysterious person. Synonyms listed for engima include: “mystery, puzzle, riddle, secret.”
Here’s the important difference between an allegory and an enigma:
The solution to an allegory (fable, parable) can be based on an individual’s personal life experiences and can therefore produce a multitude of answers;
The solution to an enigma (mystery, puzzle, riddle, secret) has but one solution and cannot be influenced by an individual’s interpretation. When an enigma is put into writing, it’s creator also provides a specific key that when utilized accurately solves the mystery, puzzle, or riddle. With access to the key, virtually anyone can solve the puzzle and accurately reconstruct the story hidden within the enigma, and all who do so will reach the same conclusion.
The Secret Schools of ancient Egypt and Greece have remained something of an enigma due to their very nature - secrecy. However, Philo of Alexandria gave the secret away by revealing the twenty-one “rules” for solving enigmas. I suggest that after reading through the rules below you flag this page for future reference. When one of these signals is utilized in the quotation being examined, I will note “Philo’s #1-21” with P1; P2, etc.):
(1) the doubling of a phrase;
(2) an apparently superfluous expression in the text;
(3) the repetition of statements previously made;
(4) a change of phraseology;
(5) An entirely different meaning may also be found by a different combination of the words, disregarding the ordinarily accepted division of the sentence in question into phrases and clauses;
(6) the synonyms must be carefully studied;
(7) A play upon words must be utilized for finding a deeper meaning;
(8) A definite [enigmatical] sense may be gathered from certain particles, adverbs, prepositions, etc., and in certain cases it can be gathered even from ...
(9) the part of a word;
(10) Every word must be explained in all its meanings, in order that different interpretations may be found;
(11) The skillful interpreter may make slight changes in a word, following the rabbinical rule, ‘Read not so, but so’ ... Philo, therefore, changed accents, breathings. etc., in Greek words;
(12) Any peculiarity in a phrase justifies the assumption that some special meaning is intended ... Details regarding the form of words are very important;
(13) the number of the word, if it shows any peculiarity in the singular or the plural: the tense of the verb, etc.;
(14) the gender of the noun;
(15) the presence or omission of the article;
(16) the artificial interpretation of a single expression;
(17) the position of the verses of a passage;
(18) peculiar verse-combinations;
(19) noteworthy omissions;
(20) striking statements;
(21) numeral symbolism.
The implementation of these rules requires four simple steps:
1. Identify one or more of Philo’s twenty-one “signals” that precede the enigmatic sections of text (“Striking Statements,” i.e., a Spirit, Holy Spirit, Angel, Angel of the Lord, prophet, or a prophecy);
2. Collect expressions in the text being examined that are identified as an “enigmatical mode of expression” on the basis of one or more of the twenty-one signals (the doubling or repetition of a phrase; a noteworthy omission; the part of a word, etc.);
3. Match the expressions with similar elements found in the Old Testament, the works of Homer, Josephus, the Plinys, Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch, Ovid, or other sources available in the first century, including Paul’s edited letters.
4. Analyze how these matching stories alter the meaning when they are applied to the text that is being examined.
The opening quotation was excerpted from Book 1.9.4-5 of Irenaeus’s voluminous work, Against Heresies:
4) “Of this kind is the following passage, where one, describing Hercules as having been sent by Eurystheus to the dog in the infernal regions, does so by means of these Homeric verses, for there can be no objection to our citing these by way of illustration, since the same sort of attempt appears in both…”
“Now, what simple-minded man, I ask, would not be led away by such verses as these to think that Homer actually framed them so with reference to the subject indicated? But he who is acquainted with the Homeric writings will recognize the verses indeed, but not the subject to which they are applied, as knowing that some of them were spoken of Ulysses, others of Hercules himself, others still of Priam, and others again of Menelaus and Agamemnon. But if he takes them and restores each of them to its proper position, he at once destroys the narrative in question. In like manner he also who retains unchangeable in his heart the rule of the truth which he received by means of baptism, will doubtless recognize the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scriptures, but will by no means acknowledge the blasphemous use which these men make of them. For, though he will acknowledge the gems, he will certainly not receive the fox instead of the likeness of the king. But when he has restored every one of the expressions quoted to its proper position, and has fitted it to the body of the truth, he will lay bare, and prove to be without any foundation, the figment of these heretics.
5. But since what may prove a finishing-stroke to this exhibition is wanting, so that any one, on following out their farce to the end, may then at once append an argument which shall overthrow it, we have judged it well to point out, first of all, in what respects the very fathers of this fable differ among themselves, as if they were inspired by different spirits of error. For this very fact forms an a priori proof that the truth proclaimed by the Church is immoveable, and that the theories of these men are but a tissue of falsehoods. (Emphases added.) [Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1.9.4-5:]
WHERE ARE MICAH AND MATTHEW'S MISSING PROPHECIES?
“There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that
what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled,
‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”
Matthew’s “Nazarene prophecy” is missing from the Old Testament; there is nothing that suggests The Jewish Messiah would be called a Nazarene or that he would come from Nazareth as Matthew curiously claimed. There was, however, an important OT prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, and that prophecy is missing from Mark’s Gospel:
Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem … from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
In his short gospel, the first to be composed, Mark opened with two OT prophecies and continued to recite prophecies throughout his gospel that foretold the return of the Jewish Messiah. Yet this important Bethlehem prophecy is not to be found, a most “noteworthy omission.” [P19]
Mark 1:1-3: The beginning of the good news [of Jesus Christ]A. As it is written [in the prophets]A. ‘See, I am sending my messenger [Gk. angelos] P20 ahead of you, who will prepare your way; P1 [quoted from Malachi 1:3: “prepare the way”] the voice of one crying out in the wilderness; ‘Prepare The Way P1 of the Lord, make his paths straight’” [quoted from Isaiah 40:3].
When reiterating Mark’s opening verses, Matthew (3:3) omitted the word angelos and the quote from Malachi 1:3, thereby removing Mark’s “striking statement” followed by the enigmatical “doubling of the phrase,” “prepare The Way.”
Luke’s reiteration of Mark’s introduction (3:4-6) expanded Matthew’s version but offered nothing that would restore Mark’s “striking statement” (angelos) or the duplicated phrase, “prepare The Way.” Luke did, however, provide the correction to Matthew’s omissions and misinformation in The Acts of the Apostles:
Acts 24:5: “We have, in fact, found this man a ... ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
Acts 24:14: “But this I admit to you, that according to The Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors ...”
According to Luke, Jesus was not called The Nazarene because he came from Nazareth. The Nazarenes were a sect, also known as The Way.
Mark’s enigmatic opening verses can now be seen for what they were: An introduction to the sect of John and Jesus the Nazarenes, known as “The Way.”
If Mark’s text as it is currently known were an accurate and complete translation of the original work, it would mean that Mark failed to include the Bethlehem prophecy, a glaring and critical omission. Four explanations might be considered plausible:
1) Mark did not consider Micah’s prophecy to be significant;
2) Mark anticipated that someone would come along later to expand on his gospel and fill in this omission;
3) Mark forgot about the prophecy;
4) Mark did not omit the prophecy; a redactor modified his gospel in order to support Matthew’s claim that Jesus was called The Nazarene because the family resided for a time in Nazareth.
Options one and two are unlikely: Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy is one of the keys to identifying Jesus as The Messiah, and Mark certainly would have recognized its significance.
That he would rely on someone else to provide this most important prophecy at a later time seems doubtful. Mark surely set out to convey all the prophecies necessary to identify Jesus as the Messiah.
If Mark simply forgot to include it, surely he would have recognized this omission and inserted it himself.
Option four remains, and Micah's prophecy would fit in quite nicely in an early verse of Mark's gospel that also follows one of Philo’s word-clues that signal enigma. Mark 1:8 concludes with the words, “…Holy Spirit”P20 and is immediately followed by:
Mark 1:9: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Mark’s gospel would include Micah’s very important prophecy if just two words in this verse are changed:
“In those days Jesus came from Bethlehem to Galilee…”
It is more likely that the original text was:
“In those days Jesus the Nazarene came from Bethlehem to Galilee.”
Mark could assume his readers would know about the sect of Nazarenes if it traced its origins to the ancient sect in the Old Testament called Nazarites. And Luke spent quite some time demonstrating this connection, adding evidence that he saw the need to repair Matthew’s damage to Mark’s gospel:
Luke 1:11: “And there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord…” Philo’s #20 signal for “clue to enigma coming up” is invoked. The verses that followed were borrowed from the Book of Judges except for one noteworthy omission:
Luke 1:11: “Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord...”
Judges 13:3: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman...”
Luke 1:13: “‘...Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…’”
Judges 13:3: “... and said to her… ‘you shall conceive and bear a son.’”
Luke 1:15: “‘He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”
Judges 13:4: “‘Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean...’”
Luke 1:16: “‘He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.’”
Judges 13:5: “‘...No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a NazariteP19 to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.’”
The one piece of information provided about Samson that Luke omitted when he borrowed from Judges was that Samson was a Nazarite. Therefore, Luke’s “enigmatical mode of expression,” the noteworthy omission, associates John the Baptist with a “Nazarite to God from birth.”
Luke then addressed the baby who would become Jesus the Nazarene:
Luke 1:46-55 is called the Magnificat. It is based largely on The Song of Hannah found at 1 Samuel 2:1-10:
1 Samuel 1:2:1 “My heart rejoices in the LORD…”
Luke 1:46: “My soul glorifies the Lord…”
1 Samuel 2:1: “My heart exults…”
Luke 1:47: “My spirit rejoices…”
1 Samuel 2:1: “…for I delight in your deliverance…”
Luke 1:47: “…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
1 Sam 2:2: “There is none holy like the lord…”
1 Luke 1:49: “…holy is his name….”
1 Samuel 2:7-8; c.f. Luke 1:52.
1 Samuel 2:5; c.f. Luke 1:53.
1 Samuel 2:10; c.f. Luke 1:51.
Hannah was married to Elkanah, but like John and Samson's mothers, she had not been able to conceive:
1 Samuel 1:11: “She made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts ... I will set him before you as a Nazarite P19 until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.’”
Hannah became pregnant and bore a son:
1 Samuel 1:22: “…‘as soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of YHVH…; I will offer him as a NazariteP19 for all time.’”
Hannah and baby Samuel were also Nazarites. Therefore, Luke’s “enigmatical mode of expression” associates Jesus with “a Nazarite for all time” not “a man from the city of Nazareth.” Someone tinkered with Mark's Gospel and inserted a prophecy in Matthew that is without basis and misleading. For two thousand years, we have been taught that Jesus The Nazarene came from Nazareth. As a result, we known virtually nothing about the sect of Nazarenes and The Way.
Chapter Two: "Who Tinkered with Micah and Matthew?" Identifying the man who separated Jesus from the Nazarenes.
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Chapter Three: "When was the God 'YH-Zeus' born?"While Herod was King? At the time of the first census?
Chapter Four: "Was the Anointing 'Sinner' Mary Magdalene?"Or was she the "watchtower of the flock" of Micah 4:8?
Chapters Five and Six: "Let's Take a Break" (historical information on our sources).
Chapter Seven: "Where is Micah 4:8 Fulfilled in Mark's Gospel?" (the first of the four to be written).
Chapter Eight: "Who Was Paul's 'Immoral Man'"?The senseless and tragic executions of tens of millions of condemned "heretics."
Chapter Nine: "Was Paul Persecuting Nazarenes Decades After His Claimed Conversion?"
More Chapters are in progress. Thanks for your interest and thanks for your support.
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