Resistance to Christianity

Chapter 13: Marcus and the Hellenization of Jewish Hermeticism


Irenaeus vituperated the Hermeticist Marc (or Marcus) in his Refutation of So-Called Gnosis,[1] which revealed his sympathies for the contemporary movement of the New Prophecy, many of whose followers perished in the pogroms at Lyon in 177. He mocked the favors lavished upon him [Marcus] by the aristocracy, “the ladies in robes bordered with purple” (a privilege of the senatorial classes) and his propensity for the pleasures of love. True or false, the anecdote that he relayed – so often plagiarized by Inquisitorial reports – carried the reprobation of popular Christianity for the “sins of the flesh”:

“One of our deacons from Asia, badly taken with him, welcomed him [Marcus] into his house. As his wife was nicely made, the charlatan seduced her body and soul, and she followed him for a long time. Finally, and not without difficulty, the brothers converted her. She did not cease being penitent and cried about the outrage that the charlatan had caused her.”[2]

Well versed in gematria – interpretation based upon the numbering of the Hebrew letters – Marcus belonged to the Jewish milieu of Palestine or the Diaspora. He frequented Alexandria, where he was subjected to the influences of Philo, Basilides, and Carpocratus; Asia Minor, which was the birthplace of Elchasaitism and so-called “Montanism”; and Gaul, where Irenaeus fought him.

Marcus renewed ties with the feminine nature of the Spirit (Achamoth or Sophia). This was the meaning of the [rite of] initiation that he practiced, although Irenaeus’ report does not exclude an erotic usage of prophecy, taken up by the faithful of Montan: “After having introduced the germ of Light into the woman that he initiated, he declared to her: [‘]See, grace has descended upon you. Open your mouth and prophesize![’] If she stammered that she didn’t know how to prophesize, he made invocations and repeated: [‘]Open your mouth, say anything, you will prophesize.’”[3] It is pleasing to recall here the original identity of the pneuma and the sperma, and the orgiastic character of the vocal modulations ascribed to the prophetesses of the past.

According to the Elenchos, Marcus reproduced the miracles that the tales of Montanist propaganda diffused concerning Jesus, who went from being an angelos-christos to the Zorro for the poor. Before the faithful, he transformed water into wine, poured it into a small cup that he decanted into a large one, which was miraculously filled to the brim. His priestesses then administered the beverage in the guise of communion.

When the Church of the Fourth Century unleashed its polemic against the New Prophecy and its puritanism (which was called “Encratism”), it calumniously maintained the confusion between Montanism, which accorded certain sacerdotal functions to devoted women, who were sanctified by their virginity, and the cult of Marcus, in which women incarnated the spirit that impregnated bodies through love, a practice that the Church only perceived in terms of “license,” “debauchery,” and “fornication.”

Due to a natural malediction, fanaticism never resists the temptation to expound the doctrines – thus saving them from annihilation – that are the objects of its execration. Irenaeus thus provided precise information about the teachings of Marcus, which were the meeting point between Pythagorean mysticism and Jewish Kabala.

The Sige of which Basilides spoke (the Silence of the Nothing-God) had, according to Marcus, deposited in himself, as in a womb, the germ of the Tetrad or quaternary. In Hebrew, tetrad or quaternary is kolorbas, which the heresiologues transformed into a certain Colorbase, a disciple of Marcus.

The tetrad, an emanation of the Ineffable God, descended from the invisible places in the form of a woman. She revealed to him her proper essence and the genesis of the All.[4]

“In the beginning, when the Apator – unconceivable, without essence, neither male nor female – wanted to render it ungraspable nature graspable and its invisible nature visible, it opened its mouth and emitted the Word (Logos), equal to itself. The Logos placed itself before Apator and showed Apator its essence, because it was the visible manifestation of the Invisible. The pronunciation of the name took place in the following manner: he said the first word of his name, this being:

A P X H
1 2 3 4

“It was composed of four letters. Then he pronounced the second word that was also formed from four letters. Then came the third, which contained ten letters. The following one contained twelve. The pronunciation of the whole name included thirty letters and four words. Each of these elements had its particular letters, its own particular character, its particular pronunciation, its particular aspect, and none of them knew the figure of the word in which it was only an element, not even the pronunciation of its neighbor; through its own sound, it imagined itself pronouncing the All. Because each of them took the sound that was its own for the All, whereas it was only a part of the All, and it did not cease to resonate until, in its emission, it reached the last letter of the last element. After that, the restoration of the All took place when the All became a single letter and heard the single and self-same emission of the voice; according to the Marcosians, the image of this pronunciation was represented by the [‘]Amen[’] that we say together. The sounds formed the substanceless and unbegotten Eon; they were the forms that the Lord called angels and that uninterruptedly see the face of the Father. The common and expressible names of the letter-elements are the Eons, Logoi, Roots, Spermata, Pleromes [fullnesses] and Fruits. As for their individual and particular names, they were – according to Marcus – contained in the name of the Ekklesia. The last sign of the last letter of these elements made its own voice heard; the sound of this voice went out and engendered – in the image of the letters – its own elements; it is from them that the things of our world were made and that engendered those that came after them. The letter itself, the sound of which followed the echo from below, was reprised on high by its own syllable so as to complete the entire name; as for the sound, it remained below, rejected from the beyond. The element itself, from which the sign descended with its pronunciation, was composed of thirty letters, and each of these thirty letters contained in itself other letters, thanks to which the name of this letter was determined; and these last letters, in their turn, were designated by other letters and so on, with the result that their multitude extended to infinity, because each one was spelled in its turn with letters. The following example will make what one means better understood: the letter Λ = Δ Ε Λ Τ Α, which contains five letters: Δ, Ε, Λ, Τ, and Α. These letters, in their turn, are written by means of other letters, and so on. Thus, if the structure of the Delta already breaks down into an infinity of parts, each letter, by engendering others in its turn and by transmitting [en relayant] others, then the ocean of letters of this primordial Element is vast. And if a unique letter is in fact infinite, you will see the abyss full of the letters of the entire name that – following the Sige of Marcus – composes the Propator. The Propator, aware of his incomprehensibility, gave to the elements that Marcus also called Eons the faculty of making each one re-echo its own pronunciation, a single one being incapable of expressing the All.”

Then came the evocation of the Naked Truth, in which each part of the body corresponded to letters, themselves twins of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, the twelve planets, the twelve hours, and the twelve masters (the Archons) of the entities or tutelary powers (daimon):

“After having revealed this, the Tetractys said to him: [‘]I want to show you Aletheia herself; because I have made her descend from the dwellings on high so that you can see her naked and so that you can remark her beauty, so that you can even hear her speak and so that you can admire her wisdom. Look on high:

[‘]her head A Ω
her neck B Ψ
her shoulders and her hands Γ X
her bosom Δ Φ
her midriff E Γ
her belly Z T
her genitalia H Σ
her thighs Θ P
her knees I Π
her legs K O
her ankles Λ Ξ
her feet M N[.’]”

This ancient tradition, probably issued from the Jewish milieu in Alexandria in the First Century, clarifies the remark reprised in the Apocalypse attributed to John: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, said the Lord God, the One who is, who was and who will be the All-Powerful.” (Dubourg has indicated the Hebrew origin of the formula “The One who has been, is, will be”: “Hebrew verbs are not conjugated in the past, present or future (...) but the accomplished or unaccomplished.”[5] For example, the accomplished form of the verb “to say,” MR, means: he says/has said/will say, completely, absolutely; while the unaccomplished form, Y’MR, means it is/was/will be in the process of being said.)

The entirety of the correspondences between the letters and the Eons constituted the plerome. By grasping an eon in its totality, magic allowed action upon the universe. (Manuscript 44 at Nag-Hammadi contained an invocation based upon the vowels. The “symphonia” or song of the seven vowels, each of which represented a planet, allowed one to express, through the various possible combinations, the harmony of the celestial spheres and to exert action upon the stars. [Charles] Fourier later expounded a similar conception. The universe conceived as language gave meaning to Kabalistic and magical investigations.)

By annexing the Logos Jesus, the syncretism of Marcus defined itself as a Christianity and perhaps revealed why an agreement existed in Alexandria and Antioch, towards the end of the First Century or at the beginning of the Second, between the schools of Satornilus, Cerinthus, Peter, James, Thomas and Saul concerning the secret name of the Messiah, the biblical Joshua erected as a symbol of revised Judaism.

The Hellenized version [of Marcosian syncretism] probably referred back to the same calculations that intrigued the esoteric circles to which Essenism gave the tone (cf. the horoscope of the Messiah and the interpretations of the letter Waw or Episemon, the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet):

“When the Tetractys said these words, Aletheia looked at him and opened her mouth to pronounce a word (Logos). This Word became a name and the name was that which we know and say: Christ Jesus. Once this name was pronounced, she immediately returned to a profound silence. As Marcus expected her to say more, the Tetractys advanced to say: [‘]Have you thus considered to be insignificant the Word that you have heard from the mouth of Aletheia? This is not a matter of a name that you have known and have believed that you have possessed for a long time. You have only known the sound; you have not known all of its virtue. Because ΙΗΣΟΥΣ is a name honored by all; it is composed of six letters and it is invoked by all of the appeals.[’]

“The three primordial elements, which compose the three pairs of powers (Pater and Aletheia, Logos and Zoe, Anthropos and Ekklesia) and which, together, yield the number 6, and from which proceed the twenty-four letters, if one multiplies them by four, that is to say, by the Logos of the Ineffable Tetrad, yields the same number as the letters do – that is to say, twenty-four. These twenty-four elements belong to the Unnamable. They are carried by the six powers so as to produce the resemblance of the Invisible. The images of the images of these elements are the three doubled letters Ξ Ψ Ζ that count double, as six letters; so, by virtue of the analogy, one adds them to the twenty-four letters and one obtains the number 30. As the fruit of this calculation and this economics [cette économie], there appears in the resemblance of an image the one who, after six days, climbed the mountain as the fourth and became the sixth, who descended again and was retained in the Hebdomad, being himself the Ogdoad and possessing in himself the complete number of the elements. This number was revealed by the descent of the dove when he came to be baptized. The dove is the omega = 800 and the alpha = 1, because its numeric value is 801.

“It is for the same reason that Moses said that man was formed on the sixth day (the name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ is composed of six letters); this is also why the salutary economics of the Passion was accomplished on the sixth day; it was the preparation by which the last man appeared for the regeneration of the first. The beginning and the end of this economics of salvation was the sixth hour, the hour at which he was nailed to the wood. Because the Perfect Nous, knowing that the number 6 contains in itself the virtue of creation and regeneration, manifested to the sons of the light, by the episemon that appeared in him, the regeneration that is worked by him [...]

“As far as Jesus, here is his ineffable origin: from the first Tetrad, Mother of All, came the second Tetrad in the manner of a daughter; thus the Ogdoad was formed; from it came the Decade. This was the origin of the number 18. Thus the Decade, come to join with the Ogdoad and multiplying it by ten, would engender the number 80, and the number 80, multiplied again by 10, produces the number 800, with the result that the total of the letters, going from the Ogdoad to the Decade, is 8, 80, 800, which is Jesus, because the name Jesus has the numerical value of 888:

Ι Η Σ Ο Υ Σ
10 8 200 70 400 200 = 888.”[6]

[1] Translator: originally written in Greek around 180, and not to be confused with Adversus haereses (“Against Heresies”).

[2] Irenaeus, I, 13, 5.

[3] Ibid., I, 13 sq.

[4] Ibid., XIV, 1 sq.

[5] B. Dubourg, L’invention de Jésus, op. cit., I, p. 245.

[6] Leisegang, op. cit., pp. 227 and 228.


(Published by Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2013. All footnotes by the author, except where noted.)

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