Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
November 13th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Eucharist? Not bloody likely — The Gospels, Didache, Joseph and Aseneth, and Reality “#thelostgospel”

Pollen Comb of Honeybee Hive

Jewish bees? Gentile bees? If they are pollenating, one is Jesus and the other is Mary Maggie-pie. Pollen Comb of Honeybee Hive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before the “lost gospel” was found, Dr. Mark Goodacre had a webpage devoted to the pseudepigrapha tale. You can find it here.

In Wilson and Jacobovici’s book they declare, without regard for logic, that the story in Joseph and Aseneth 16 is the “First Holy Communion Ever.” One would think that this audacious statement would be backed up with well supported facts. One would think…

This is how chapter 16 reads,

And the man said to her, “Bring me, please, a honeycomb too.” 2. And Aseneth said, “Let me send someone my lord, to my family estate in the country and I will get you a honeycomb.” 3. And the man said to her, “Go into your inner room and you will find a honeycomb there.” 4. And Aseneth went into her inner room and found a honeycomb lying on the table; and the comb was as white as snow and full of honey, and its smell was like the breath of life. 5. And Aseneth took the comb and brought it to him; and the man said to her, “Why did you say, ‘There is no honeycomb in my house?’ And lo, you have brought me this.” 6. And Aseneth said, My lord, I had no honeycomb in my house, but it happened just as you said: did it perchance come out of your mouth, for it smells like myrrh?” 7. And the man stretched his hand out and placed it on her head and said, “You are blessed, Aseneth, for the indescribable things of God have been revealed to you; and blessed too are those who give their allegiance to the Lord God in penitence, for they shall eat of this comb. 8. The bees of the Paradise of Delight have made this honey, and the angels of God eat of it, and no one who eats of it shall ever die. 9. And the man stretched his right hand out and broke off a piece of the comb and ate it; and he put a piece of it unto Aseneth’s mouth. 10. And the man stretched his hand out and put his finger on the edge of the comb that faced eastwards; and the path of his finger became like blood. 11. And he stretched out his hand a second time and put his finger on the edge of the comb that faced northwards, and the path of his finger became like blood.

Now that you have read it, let me post it again with portions in bold,

And the man said to her, “Bring me, please, a honeycomb too.” 2. And Aseneth said, “Let me send someone my lord,  to my family estate in the country and I will get you a honeycomb.” 3. And the man said to her, “Go into your inner room and you will find a honeycomb there.” 4. And Aseneth went into her inner room and found a honeycomb lying on the table; and the comb was as white as snow and full of honey, and its smell was like the breath of life. 5. And Aseneth took the comb and brought it to him; and the man said to her, “Why did you say, ‘There is no honeycomb in my house?’ And lo, you have brought me this.” 6. And Aseneth said, My lord, I had no honeycomb in my house, but it happened just as you said: did it perchance come out of your mouth, for it smells like myrrh?” 7. And the man stretched his hand out and placed it on her head and said, “You are blessed, Aseneth, for the indescribable things of God have been revealed to you; and blessed too are those who give their allegiance to the Lord God in penitence, for they shall eat of this comb. 8. The bees of the Paradise of Delight  have made this honey, and the angels of God eat of it, and no one who eats of it shall ever die. 9. And the man stretched his right hand out and broke off a piece of the comb and ate it; and he put a piece of it unto Aseneth’s mouth. 10. And the man stretched his hand out and put his finger on the edge of the comb that faced eastwards; and the path of his finger became like blood. 11. And he stretched out his hand a second time and put his finger on the edge of the comb that faced northwards, and the path of his finger became like blood.

Let me take them in order.

  • Honeycomb is the Torah, the words of God (see Sirach 24)
  • Myrrh, is associated with the Wisdom of God, which is the Torah (See Sirach 24)
  • Shall never die – language connected to Genesis 3.22 and the honeycomb which gives life.

These three things are all connected to the Wisdom tradition of the Jewish and then the Christian people. In this tradition, Wisdom is the Torah and it is the Torah that gives eternal life. Wisdom plays a significant part in deuterocanonical literature, such as Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, as well as in Jewish mysticism and developing Christian theology. You can see this in Hebrews and John. Why are these two latter books so important? Because Wisdom becomes Jesus Christ. If Christians understand Wisdom as Christ (this is apparent in Paul as well), then it is unlikely such an imagery could get so mangled as to produced what is suggested in the “decoded” allegory. Rather, what is better sensed in chapter 16 is a conversion story where one food (or Law) is replaced by another (in this case, a pagan food for the Torah).

But, what about the sign of the cross and the eucharistic symbology? I think it is possible to see a connection there, although we may run into parallelism, which Wilson and Jacobovici have done, if we believe this language is a code. The meal imagery is easily explained as a conversion process, yet, there is a nagging parallel to Christian practices as developed late in the 4th and 5th centuries. How late? Around the time this document was no doubt written.

Possibly, there are two “liturgical” images here:

  • Eucharist
  • Sign of the cross

If you are Orthodox, you will recognize a similarity to the Epiklesis of the Divine Liturgy.  It evolved from the Apostolic Tradition usually attributed to Hippolytus (c. 215). What is most interesting is that the section on the Eucharistic prayer is commonly thought to be a later addition, perhaps even from the 4th century (albeit with earlier layers of tradition). At the time of Hippolytus, however, sign of the cross-as-invocation was still performed upon the forehead (as found in Tertullian). It wasn’t until the 5th century we begin to see the connection between signing the cross on the holy bread and the turning of that bread into the body of Christ:

With regard to other points of theology, we may note that Cyril very strongly insists on the Real Presence and on Transubstantiation, of which he gives a most accurate definition: “That which seems bread is not bread but the Body of Christ; that which seems wine is not wine but the Blood of Christ.” “It is not ordinary bread (ἄρτος λιτός), but the Body of Christ.” “As Christ changed water into wine, so does he change (μεταβάλλει) wine into his Blood.” Christians who receive holy communion become “of one Body and of one Blood with Christ” (σύσσωμοι καὶ σύναιμοι Χριστοῦ) and are “Christbearers (Χριστοφόροι).” Transubstantiation takes place, he says, “by the invocation of the Holy Ghost.”5 The holy Eucharist is a “spiritual sacrifice” and a “sacrifice of atonement.”1

Today, the rite looks like this:

(The Priest signs the Holy Bread with the sign of the Cross, saying quietly:) And make this bread the precious Body of thy Christ:

(The Priest makes the sign of the Cross, saving quietly:) And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of thy Christ:

(The Priest makes the sign of the Cross over both the Holy Gifts, saying quietly:) Changing them by thy Holy Spirit: Amen, Amen, Amen.

Again, we are fluctuating between the 3rd and 5th century, with a date of the 4th century as probable for the inclusion of this specific invocation (over the bread, with the sign of the cross) into the liturgies of the various Sees. But, what does the first images of the Eucharist look like?

If we go to the Synoptics (no earlier than 73 with Mark), we get the image of a traditional Passover seder. Once we turn to Acts (I would place this work into the early 2nd century), the “breaking of the bread” becomes an event to celebrate the growth of the Church. However, if we turn to Paul and 1 Corinthians 11.23–26 (mid 50’s), we see a communal rite, sacred nevertheless, that is supposed to harken back to Jesus. Some could see the revelation of this rite to Paul as a spiritual vision, rather than Paul taking up an already standing tradition. It would be difficult to argue this position, as the meal was already present among the Jews, albeit with different intentions.

The earliest non-canonical detailing about the sacred meal comes from a first century document called The Didache. This preserves the Eucharist like this:

9.1 Now this is how you should engage in giving thanks, bless God in this way.
9.2 First, at the cup, say:
We give thanks to you, our Father,
for the holy vine of David, your servant, which you have made known to us.
Through Jesus, your servant, to you be glory for ever.
9.3 Then when it comes to the broken loaf say:
We give thanks to you, our Father,
for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us.
Through Jesus, your servant, to you be glory for ever.
9.4 For as the broken loaf was once scattered over the mountains and then was gathered in and became one, so may your church be gathered together into your kingdom from the very ends of the earth.
Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.
9.5 Only let those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord eat and drink at your Eucharists. And remember what the Lord has said about this: do not give to dogs what is holy.

The issue with excluding the Didache has somehow preserving a “truer” (code for non-Pauline) Christianity is that we have enough textual studies between Mark and Matthew and Paul to suggest that the Didache (which used Matthew) recognized Pauline Christianity. (See here, here and here to begin correctly the view that the Didache is “Pauline free.”) Note, the Didache does not use code language, allegory, or otherwise. Unlike 4th century eucharistic rites, it doesn’t include the epiklesis or sign of the cross. Rather, follows Pauline order in the wine and the bread.

Before I leave this alone, let me decode “Pauline Christianity.” For many who use this term, it means the pro-inclusion-of-Gentiles into Israel’s covenant. Note what Jacobovici has said,

“Someone might say to me, why are you finding so many great things, why nobody else? I tell you why. Because I’m Jewish, I’m not Pauline—I don’t think inside a Christian box… I’m not a theologian, I’m not a Christian, and I see that in this world you can look at texts with fresh eyes and see new things.”

While I am not going to answer the racist undertones of that statement, let me point out the false dichotomy of such a view. Paul was Jewish. Many of the people he spoke to and wrote to were Jewish. We have scant evidence Paul was overly successful in converting Gentiles. Indeed, whereas the Epistle to the Romans was written to a Jewish and Gentile audience, Paul didn’t establish this community. To be Pauline is to be Jewish. If you look at the language in Joseph and Aseneth as liturgical and then compare it back to the earliest record of the sacred meal (1 Corinthians 11.23–26), you will even see a Pauline influence!2 But, you have to backwards read and treat it as something more than it is. But this goes further. Many in early Christianity still considered themselves Jewish, still used the synagogues, and still, alongside the Rabbis, brought to life new theology. In fact, real scholarship (usually called “the parting of the ways”) reveals a centuries-long relationship between Jews and Christians that aided both peoples. If anything, by comparing the 4th century Christian liturgical development, 2nd Temple Jewish mysticism, and the 5th century Joseph and Aseneth what could be revealed is a confluence of Jewish and Christian mysticism lasting well into Christendom.

What we should see here is the fallacy established by Wilson and Simcha, but also a chance to see either an interpolation of Christian conversion rites into a Jewish story or still yet a novella that contained Jewish-Christian mysticism recognizable to and aiding both Jews and Christians. It is not impossible the imagery of Joseph and Aseneth provided fodder for developing liturgies, or vice versa. What is impossible is to say that this mystical tale known nearly from its inception “is either lost or a gospel” (see here as well) and that it represents the earliest image of the Eucharistic celebration.

  1. Adrian Fortescue, The Greek Fathers (London; St Louis, MO: Catholic Truth Society; B. Herder, 1908), 157.
  2. Why? Because Paul was a Jewish mystic and the Christianity he left us shares an intimate relationship with Jewish mysticism!
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

3 Responses to “Eucharist? Not bloody likely — The Gospels, Didache, Joseph and Aseneth, and Reality “#thelostgospel””
  1. Joel, I see you also think Joseph and Aseneth is a Jewish novella. As a dream and symbols expert and wisdom teacher I I may have a bit more to add. I view the novella as a Hellenistic Jewish Mystical allegory that is obviously divinely inspired. It is profound. If I am grateful to Jacobovici and Wilson for anything it is that they brought this Syrian translation to my attention and made it accessible to everyone. The symbolism of the honeycomb holds a great deal of meaning. The honeycomb is a composite of hexagon cells and as with the Star of David, the hexagram, it points to a mystery of internal unity with the divine aspects of the soul (Son of God and Daughter of God) and to the bridal chamber mystery: Heaven and earth, internal masculine and feminine united. The symbol of the honeycomb and this mystery are connected. Aseneth, goes to the “inner room” and discovers that what the angelic image of Joseph (her divine complement in spirit form) told her is true– the honeycomb now can be found there. Therefore, the mystery is within her and revealed to her through this divine meeting and because of her penitence and and conversion. The inner room perhaps could be equated with Holy of Hollies (bridal chamber) as described in the Gospel of Philip. Just thinking out loud. I am just beginning to do my own interpretation of the text but in no way does this ritualized initiation relate to the Eucharist. J and W assume the blood forms the cross. However, if it was Christian why would the author not just describe the hand movement as forming a cross? It doesn’t. He could be drawing a curved lines. The important element of the description is East and North and West and South.

    I have read the majority of The Lost Gospel and I am left speechless, trying to make sense of all tangental and loose associations in their interpretations.

    I have written my own book titled: Jesus Mary Joseph: The Secret Legacy of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Hope you will read it for its exploration of a number of new discoveries pointing to a Gnostic Mary Magdalene tradition in the Middle Ages.

  2. Mmm… Nuts & Honey!

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