Monday, November 20, 2006

The Round Dance Litany in the Acts of Philip

We know the Round Dance from the Acts of John, sections 94-96. But another version, in the form of a prayer, appears in a copy of the Acts of Philip in the monastery of Mt. Athos, Greece. While these Acts have long been known from a version held by the Vatican, the Mt. Athos copy contains material previously unknown to scholars, including this prayer. Francois Bovon found this material in 1974 and published it, with notes and a French translation, in 1996. A new edition in two volumes, the second a commentary by Frédéric Amsler, also in French, appeared in 1999.
My translation into English from the French of Francois Bovon, Actes de Philippe, 1999, Act XI, Sections 9-10, follows, and then.selections from Bovon's notes and Amsler's commentary. The prayer precedes Philip's
administering of communion to the apostle Bartholemew and a woman named "Mariamne," both of whom accompany Philip in his ministry. To clarify who this woman is and how she is characterized, I summarize the references to her in the Acts of Philip and Bovon's and Amsler's observations. At the end I include Bovon's French translation of Act XI, Sections 9-10.
9. Philip raised his voice -- not that of the body, but of the soul -- and said in his own language and according to the reflection of his spirit:

We glorify you,
you the inexpressible one,
the true one,
the precious and glorious offering.
You are the bread,
the glory of the Father,
the grace of the Spirit,
the clothing of the Word,
purified and vindicated for the centuries,
the good that the many celebrate without knowing it,
the good which vivifies.

You are the offspring of the Father,
who let yourself be enchained in all things,
while waiting to deliver that which is enchained;
who do not eat, who eat and who is eaten;
who offer the word for hearing,
[whereas you are yourself the Word];
who would resort to the bath,
whereas you are yourself the bath;
who dance in the middle of the twelve virgins;
before whom is sung praises in the Eight of the fullnesses;
who adorn and are adorned;
who reside and who are without place, and yet are all things;
the holy temple that one would soil in the temple of abominations;
[who are] there where joy is, and the solemn reunion desired by all;
the lamp that shines in the house, because you are yourself the light.

You are the paradise,
the mystery which remains in the silence,
the intelligence of that which dances in him,
the couch of those who rest.
You are the Word of the Father,
the image of the truth that we have known and contemplated.
You are the hearing that hears by our ears,
you are that which sees by our eyes,
you whom our souls have taken as their support."

10. Having pronounced these words, Philip again gave communion to Bartholomew and Marianne, and they rendered glory to God for the divine communion, while saying with great joy: "Amen, amen, amen."
Amsler: Francois Bovon has already shown how this doxology's literary dependence on the hymn of Christ from the Acts of John (94-96). Eric Junod and Jean-Daniel Kaestli have demonstrated that the hymn accompanied a dance, conceived as an initiatory ritual practiced in Valentinianism. The place that this text occupies in the Acts of John, that of the last meeting of Christ with his disciples, leads these authors to think that the passage instituted a ritual, but a ritual different from the Eucharist.

Here, however, one can observe not only the imprint of Acts of John 94-96, but equally the eucharistic prayer of John (Acts of John 109), which was also of gnostic origin. The author of Acts of Philip XI returns then to a more classic ritual than that of his model. The initial invocation confers a threefold title to Jesus, that of the “priceless and glorious offering,” and the first anaphor states, in the second person singular, “You are the bread.” This is a clear echo of the first words of the prayer of John: “What praise, what word of offering, what act of grace could we pronounce in breaking this bread except only to name thee, Jesus” (Acts of John 109, 1-3). The end of the prayer can equally be seen as echoing the end of John’s, with the verb ginosko (know) and the substantive eidos (image). (My expansion: There John says that in calling on Jesus by such names “we make known thy greatness which at the present is invisible unto us, but visible only unto the pure, being portrayed in thy humanity only,” as the James translation at has it.)

not of the body, but of the soul:
Bovon: This distinction between the voice of the body and that of the soul recalls the distinction made in the Acts of John (103, 106) and by the Acts of Thomas (53) between the eyes of the body and those of the soul. In our passage, the prayer that follows is made mentally or pronounced in a low voice, as the officiant does in the recited parts of the orthodox liturgy.

Bovon: the inexpressible character of Christ corresponds to the fact that Philip raises not the voice of the body, but of the soul.

Bovon: The prayer is being said in the context of the Eucharist (cf. John 6:35). (My expansion: “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger.”)

let yourself be enchained in all things, while waiting to deliver that which is enchained.
Bovon: The two participants echo each other, without designating the same person. The first one refers to Christ; one will notice that it is curiously in the present tense. This implies that Christ accepts a constantly renewed bondage, until the day when he will deliver Adam, the prisoner of hell. We see in fact a reference to the representative of mankind, rather than an allusion to the devil, whom the Book of Revelation says will be released for a time at the end of the millenium (Rev. 20:3). According to this prayer, the deliverance of Adam appears associated with the end of time rather than with Easter morning. It could also be that the prisoner represents both the human being captured by his body or his sin, and the Christ imprisoning himself to deliver him, as proposed by F. Amsler (CCSA 12, ch. 10, #7).

hearing: Bovon: It may be that the expression was more developed originally, on the model of the antitheses of the bath (i.e. baptism) which follows just after: i.e. “who offers the word for hearing, whereas you are yourself the Word.” Both sets of antitheses are clearly inspired by the Acts of John.

who would resort to the bath, whereas you are yourself the bath.
My note, expanding on Bovon’s parenthetical remark above: In the first case, the baptism is from John the Baptist.

Bovon: The choir of the apostles accompanies the dance of Christ (cf. Mt. 11:17, Lk. 7:32).

Dozen virgins.
Bovon: the twelve apostles, not “the twelve on high” of the Acts of John. (But Bovon also refers us to Rev.7:5-8 and 21:12-14, about the elevation of the twelve tribes of Israel at the end of time.)
Eight of the plenitudes.
Bovon: either the achievement of the time (on the eighth day, such as the great eschatological day, cf F Bovon, L'Évangile selon saint Luc, Paris 1991, p. 482; cf. also . Lk 1:59, Acts 7:8, II Peter 2:5, Rev. 17:11, and Rev. 21:20 ), or a spiritual reality, a celestial mythological figure of gnostic type (cf S. Lilla, “Ogdoade,” DECA II, Paris 1990, pp. 1998-2001). Amsler (expanding on Bovon's first alternative): After seven days of the present creation (Gen. 1), a new world will follow, inaugurated by Jesus, the new David, eighth son of Jesse (1 Sam 16:10-13), resussitated on the eighth day, that is to say the first day of the new week (Mt. 28:1).

temple of abominations.
Bovon: this echoes the profanation of the Temple of Jerusalem by Antiochus IV Épiphane, in 167 b.c., and the formula “sacred abomination of desolation” (Dan. 9:27 LXX, loosely cited at Mt. 24:15). In the profaned temple, the presence of Christ, called here “the holy temple,” rests out of reach. (My expansion: Daniel 9:27 in its Greek version speaks of the holy temple profaned and destroyed by the Messiah's opponent. Bovon also cites Dan. 11:31, Dan. 12:11, and Mk.13:14.) Amsler: One could find traces of encratism in the sentence. The encratics certainly did not fail to accuse those who did not participate in their ideal of purity of soiling the Savior. (My note: encratics were ascetics who preached bodily purity and abstinence so that their bodies might be a worthy abode for the Savior. Such a tendency also is suggested at the end of the prayer of John in the Acts of John, which says that Jesus in his “greatness” is “visible only to the pure,” as noted at the beginning of this commentary.)
solemn reunion:
Heb. 12:22. lamp: Lk. 11:33-36; Rev. 21:23. light: Jn. 8:12, Jn. 1:4-5. (Notes by Bovon)

in him:
Bovon: this third person must refer to Christ, in whom or with whom the initiate dances.
Bovon: Jn 1:14. image: Bovon: II Cor. 3:18, II Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15.

our ears, our eyes:
Amsler: Christ dwelling in his followers, whose bodies must thus be worthy of him.

Marianne: This name, transliterated from Greek to Latin letters, is actually "Mariamne." That is the spelling in the Vatican copy, too. She is introduced in Act VIII 2 as the “sister” of Philip. Whether they are meant to be biologically related is unclear; “sister” was a common designation for female disciples traveling with male disciples, Bovon says (quoted at Both Bovon and Amsler identify her with Mary Magdalene. Some of their reasons for this, internal to the Acts of Philip, are in the next section. (My sources for Bovon are his note included in the Wikipedia article on the Acts of Philip and the "awakened woman" site just mentioned.)

The Acts of Philip is not our only source for the name "Mariamne." In the summary of his Refutations of all Heresies (10.9.3), the “Church Father” Hippolytus speaks of a "Mariamne." Earlier, however (5.7.1.), he called her "Mariamme." She was one from whom the Naessenes claimed to have secret teachings, which had come from Jesus to his brother James (Richard Bauckham, ). The "Church Father" Origen also speaks of a disciple called “Mariamme" ( non-canonical texts, a Greek fragment of the Gospel of Mary calls Mary Magdalene "Mariamme." So does the Sophia of Jesus Christ, in the Nag Hammadi collection. (These references are in the Bauckham article. Bauckham holds that "Mariamne" is a corruption of "Mariamme," which is likely a diminutive form of "Mary.")

End comment, Amsler: It would be interesting to know if the total absence of allusion to the blood of Christ implies a communion only with bread, or perhaps one where the second one was of water, specifically salt water (p 354). In a later comment (p. 500) he adds that perhaps Mariamne would take responsibility for this type of communion, given that she is shown in Acts VIII and XIV as exceeding all other members of her sex in virility. To understand more about this suggestion, we need to examine what Bovon and he say about Mariamne in these Acts.

More on Mariamne:

Mariamne is mentioned for the first time in Act VIII. The text relates that when the risen Jesus told the various disciples where they were to go in his service, Philip wept when he heard that he was to go to the Greeks. Jesus at that point had at his sides John and Mary the sister of Philip. The text adds that "It was she in fact who held the register of the country, and it was she who prepared the bread and the salt, and the breaking of bread. Martha, for her part, served the multitude and grieved much. Corresponding to this is the Latin version held by the Vatican: "it was she that made ready the bread and salt at the breaking of bread, but Martha was she that ministered to the multitudes and laboured much” (James translation at, which corresponds to Bovon's translation of it; the French verb peinait corresponds to my "grieved" and James' "laboured"). As it later develops, Jesus assigns Mary the task of accompanying Philip on his journey. The "register of the country" is the record of their destinations, Bovon explains. He says that the duties assigned to her are not found elsewhere, although the apocryphal Ecclesiastical Constitution of the Apostles has an episode in which Christ refuses to empower Martha and Mary to celebrate the eucharist. Amsler, we have already seen, suggests that perhaps Mary will be allowed to administer a eucharist with bread and salt water.

Since Mariamne is with Martha, the implication is that she is the Mary who is the sister of Martha. Amsler says that the text is assimilating that Mary with Mary Magdalene. Bovon, too, identifies her as Mary Magdalene, as I have said. Bovon notes in his edition of the Acts that perhaps "Martha" is simply a new title for Mariamne, as a "new Martha." "Martha" was a proverbial name for women who were commissioned to do humble domestic tasks (Actes de Philippe, p. 241). This Martha is never mentioned again, not even to beassigned by Jesus to go with Philip Mariamne, on the other hand, accompanies Philip throughout his travels and is present at his martyrdom.

In the next sentence of Act VIII 2 Mary notes Philip's weeping when Jesus tells him he is to go to the land of the Greeks. She says, "My Lord Jesus Christ, that displeases my brother Philip." In reply (VIII 3), Jesus says to Mariamne, "I know you are good and valiant in your soul and blessed among women,"-- "bénie parmi les femmes," in Bovon's French. (In the Vatican version she is “chosen among women,” in James' translation, in French the same, élue). "Blessed among women," of course, is the title given to the Virgin Mary in Luke1:42; the Greek participle eulogeo, blessed, is used in both places. Yet this is not the Virgin. Amsler argues that Mary Magdalene was the encratics’ favorite female saint. The Virgin is tainted by her having given birth, the act that traps souls in an impure receptacle. Moreover, they saw Eve as the one who committed the original sin that exiled humanity, and birth from her as that which passed original sin to her descendants, in contrast to Augustine's doctrine that the male seed passed on original sin.

In the next sentence Jesus praises her for being "virile and valiant," unlike Philip, who is "of a feminine mentality." Moreover, she should never leave Philip by himself, because he is impetuous and might return evil with evil. Philip, at this point in the narrative, is weeping, while Mariamne speaks assertively. Bovon notes the valorization of masculinity here and in the rest of these Acts, in the sense of recovering the lost unity of the human being, a sentiment also expressed at Gospel of Thomas 114. There Jesus says, referring to Mary Magdalene: "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males." [].

In Acts of Philip VIII 4, Jesus goes on to tell her to change her clothes, because the summer dress she is wearing is feminine. Bovon comments that she is to wear the clothing of an ascetic, like Philip, remove the signs of her femininity, and take the appearance of a man, in order to accomplish her mission. This of course goes along with the project of making her male in the Gospel of Thomas.

Then Jesus says that she will soon encounter the serpents worshipped by the city they will visit next, Opheorymos, Promenade of Serpents. Jesus cautions Mariamne that it was from friendship with the serpent that Eve received its venom, and enmity developed between her and Adam. Bovon detects a sexual overtone. I see also the suggestion of venereal disease, in that by this venom the enemy is said to have affected Adam and lodged in Cain. In any event, Jesus advises Mariamne to "escape the poverty of Eve." The change of clothes is part of that task. She will later, in Act XI, in fact help defeat the serpents. This undertaking, too, would be more expected of the assertive Mary Magdalene than any other Mary in the tradition.

Then in Act XIV 9:1 we learn that "Philip baptised the men, Mariamne, the women." Bovon says that Mariamne here takes a deaconal function. Acs of Thomas I: 9 likewise attests to the existence of a feminine ministry at the deaconal and even the priestly level (Bovon p. 344).

In the final chapter, the Martyrdom of Philip, the wife of the proconsul of the city comes to Philip for healing. But it is Mariamne who interjects with the promise of salvation rather than Philip (Martyr 9). She is "seemingly equal in her authority to the apostle," Bovon comments. The proconsul comes and has the group arrested and tortured. They strip the men nude, but when they try to do the same with Mariamne, a cloud of fire surrounds her, so that no one can go near her. in the Mt. Athos Text, more strangely, her body turns into a shining "châsse" (reliquary, or the eye of a needle, according to my dictionary) of glass (Martyr 21). This is an epithet of the Virgin Mary from late antiquity, Bovon says, signifying both Noah's ark and the ark of the covenant. Seeing this fire, Philip calls upon God to use it against his enemies. The apostle John suddenly arrives in the city and is taken to Philip. John reminds him not to return evil with evil. Presumably Jesus has arranged this, since he had already talked about Philip needing support on this issue in Act VIII. Maramne resumes her normal shape, and in the Vatican version they all remind Philip of the Lord's suffering, when he could have taken vengeance but did not. Philip says he has to hear it from Jesus. So the Lord comes, saying the same thing. Philip is still adamant. Because of this fault, Jesus says Philip will suffer forty days after death before entering Paradise. As for Mariamne, he says that her physical end will be in the Jordan River. Bovon observes that this prediction is not consistent with other accounts of her legend. Philip is crucified upside down, but the city is converted, and Mariamne and Bartholomew build a church on the site. They each go to their appointed destination, and the story ends.

The character of Mariamne here corresponds closely to that of Mary's Magdalene in other ancient apocryphal accounts. I have aready mentioned the Gospel of Thomas. There Peter says :""Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." And Jesus replies, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven" (
Peter's animosity to Mary's assertiveness appears specifically in the Pistis Sophia, where he says she talks so much nobody else has a chance ( Jesus simply ignores him.

In Ch. 5 of the Gospel of Mary, while all the other disciples are weeping after Jesus's death, Mary urges them to be resolute. At Peter's request, because "we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman," she relates a special teaching Jesus gave her in a vision .Peter then discounts what she says. "Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?" ( Another disciple, Levi, defends Mary and her special relationship to Jesus; he seems to carry the day.

The Gospel of Philip also asserts Jesus's special relationship with Mary ( It says that Mary was the one called his "companion," and adds that Jesus "loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth."

Mariamne's presentation in the Acts of Philip is consistent with these accounts, in a way that does not fit any other Mary in ancient Christianity.
Bovon's French translation

I will end with the French translation from the Greek, of Actes de Philippe XI, 9-10, by Francois Bovon

9. Philippe éleva la voix -- non celle du corps, mais celle de l'âme -- et dit dans sa propre langue et suivant la réflexion de son esprit: Nous te glorifions, toi l'indicible, le véritable, l'offrande précieuse et glorieuse. Tu es le pain, la gloire du Père, la grâce de l'Esprit, le vêtement de la Parole, purifié et justfié pour les siècles, le bien qu'un grand nombre célèbre sans le connaître, le bien qui vivifie.

Tu es le rejeton du Père, qui te laisses enchaîner en toutes choses en attendant de délivrer celui qui est enchaînée; qui ne manges pas, qui manges et qui es mangé; qui offres la parole pour lécouter; qui as voulu recourir au bain, alors que tu es toi-même le bain; qui danses au milieu de la Douzaine de vierges; devant qui l'on chante les louanges dans la Huitaine des plénitudes; qui pares et qui es paré; le résident et le sans lieu et qui, pourtant es toutes choses; le saint temple que l'on a voulu souiller dans le temple des abinations; là où est la joie, la réunion solennelle désirée de tous; la lampe que brille dans la maison, car tu es toi-même la lumière.

Tu es le paradis, le mystère qui demeure dans le silence, l'intelligence de celui qui danse en lui, la couche de ceux qui reposent. Tu es la Parole du Père, l'image de la vérité que nous avons connue et contemplée. Tu es l'ouïe qui entend par nos oreilles, tu es celui qui voit par nos yeux, toi sur qui nos âmes ont pris appui."

10. Ayant prononcé ces paroles, Philippe à nouveau donna la communion à Barthélemy et à Marianne, et ils rendirent gloire à Dieu pour la communion divine, en disant avec une grande joie: "Amen, amen, amen."


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