Archive for September 2014

Apollos: International Man of Mystery   8 comments


The new term is approaching and I am very glad to start it with a post on some recent readings I made on a very interesting figure from my country.

When it comes to investigating the origins of Alexandrian Christianity, two famous statements come to the mind of every scholar: Harnack’s famous statement that the “worst gap” in our knowledge of early church history is in Alexandria[1] and Walter Bauer’s explanation that this is because the origins were heretical.[2] Even after all these decades and the enormous contribution dedicated to the matter, these two statements are still legitimate.

It’s true that ambiguity is sometimes explained by embarrassing history. I was reading recently about the modern history of Egyptian Jews while I was in Cairo and realised that their history was written from one perspective-the Orthodox/Rabbinic one-despite the fact that the majority of the Jews of Egypt were Karaites. The Karaites, an ancient and unorthodox Jewish sect, were poor, pretty much like their Egyptian fellows… they used to sell primitive goods like beans and cloth while posh Rabbinic Jews of European origins and with names ending with “-stein” owned banks and infrastructure projects. The posh minority represented the pluralistic Judaism of post-Mohamed Ali Egypt  in the narrative of the great and prosperous Egyptian minority.

However, the orthodoxy/heresy dichotomy discussed by Bauer made scholars focus too much on whether Egyptian Christianity was Markan or Gnostic. A recently published book by Thomas Oden summarises the good case for Mark’s early presence in the formative period of Christianity, and of course the presence of Jewish Christian or forms of Gnosticism in the earliest attested Gospels in Alexandria (the Gospel of the Hebrews and of the Egyptians) cannot be denied.[3] But this dichotomy is certainly misleading and cannot explain the plurality of the spectrum of Alexandrian Christianity as simply Alexandrian Judaism.

Now, the most legitimate question is: where is the Christianity of Clement and pretty much all the later prolific Alexandrian figures coming from? Two facts must be mentioned:

1- It was not necessarily Markan or Gnostic, but it definitely engaged with Philo’s literature.

2-The earliest known Christian figure from that region  was actually Philonic.

The question should become: what happened to the Philonic Christianity that was the earliest (in our records) and had the biggest impact in forming Alexandrian Christianity?

Here arises the figure of Apollos, an “Alexandrian by birth”[4] who was instructed about Christianity in Alexandria.[5]

Borrowing the title of one of Austin Powers’ movies, Apollos is certainly an “international man of mystery.”  He is international because we know about him as a traveller between Jerusalem and the Minor Asia cities in which he apparently resided. He was also a man of mystery for two reasons: the first reason is the fact that he was introduced by both Luke and Paul as a charismatic character with high intellectual standing and influential presence.

If Jerome’s report preserves any truth, he became a bishop at some point… yet we have nothing of his sermons nor probably his writings. Several scholars aimed to attribute the letter to the Hebrews to him, from Martin Luther to Zhan (who made an interesting case) but though plausible they remain simply suggestions.[6] He was also a man of mystery because of his Philonic background which influenced his preaching about the mysterious wisdom that was attacked aggressively by Paul.

Indeed, his collision with Paul as we know from 1Cor. overshadowed him and limited his influence in the predominantly Pauline churches of Asia Minor. Luke’s unrealistically claimed that Apollos only knew the baptism of John but this was, as Käsemann correctly suggested, probably meant to compromise the orthodoxy of his profile.[7]

The scantiness of information about this figure makes it difficult to infer too much about Philonic Christianity in Alexandria. Even worse, his early emigration from Alexandria makes him less likely to represent any later development in its history. However some substantial remarks must be made:

1- Apollos received his Christianity from a Philonic community and perhaps he encountered the mighty Philo himself if he was exposed to Philonic Judaism in his youth. This means that a Philonic Christian community was formed at an extremely early stage in the womb of Alexandrian Judaism that was in strong contact with Jerusalem.

2- Apollos represented Philo’s worldviews baptised and practiced in his zone of influence , including in Corinth. This included  Philo’s teachings on wisdom, creation (double creation) and practices like the prominent role of women in the congregation, as in the Therapeutae; Philo’s ideal community.[8]

3- Philo’s Christianity, represented by Apollos, was problematic. It was certainly unwelcomed by Paulinists. Perhaps if Apollos remained in Alexandria he would have had a bigger and more memorable impact instead of being entrapped in Paul’s net. Despite that, Paul seemed to be less confrontational with him: is it because he knew well how strong Apollos was? Or because Apollos’ case was not entirely bad? I would think that it is the first and the second is a consequence to it. This appears from Paul’s changing tones between his explicit allusions to Apollos and his treatment of Apollos’ ideas and practices in his congregation.[9]

The question then becomes: what happened to Apollos’ Christianity in Alexandria and the areas he preached in?

It certainly survived in Alexandria and we don’t need to prove its massive impact on Alexandrians. But there is a gap which the epistle of Barnabas or later work of Silvanus might fill, yet not enough really.  Undoubtedly, Paul’s introduction to Alexandria negatively affected the case of a Philonic Christian origin of Alexandrian Christianity to some extent and amplifying Mark did not only overshadow earlier Gnosticism, as Bauer believed, but also Philonic origins, even if Philo’s tools dominated Christian Alexandria.

As for Asia Minor, it is not difficult to imagine Paul’s impact on the definition of Orthodoxy there. Yet there remains an important question: could Johannine Christianity be the answer to these questions?  This is a question I would love to tackle in recent scholarship, especially after the weekly meetings my supervisor Joan Taylor assembled in our department to study the text of Papyrus Egerton 2.


The new term is about to start and I’m already excited!



July 2014, On the way back from Cairo to Cambridge



[1] A. von Harnack, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums (4th ed.; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1924) vol.II, P.706

[2] Orthodoxy and Heresy p.45

[3] Cf. Harnack Expansion of Christianity 305-7, Bauer op. cit.46. For the Gospel of the Egyptians see Clement’s Strom. III.9: 63, 13:93. For the Gospel of the Hebrews see Strom. II.9

[4] according to the reading in codex D Alecandreu_j tw~~~~~|~ ge&nei (Acts 8:34)

[5] Acts 18:25, codex D reads: “oj hn kathxhmenoj en th patridi ton logon tou kuriou.” Indeed, Bauer believed that Christianity must have been present in Alexandria at an early stage due to the fact that it had a strong Jewish community, which makes the character of earliest Christianity Jewish (p.46-7).

[6] On Apollos’ possible authorship of the episle to the Hebrews see Thiele, R. A., 2008. a Reexamination of the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, unpublished thesis, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee et al.

[7] Käsemann, E., 1964. Essays in the New Testament Themes, London: SCM Press. p.136-48

[8] Cf. Taylor, J. E., 2004. ‘The Women “priests” of Philo’s De Vita Contemplativa: Reconstructing the Therapeutae,’ in Fiorenza, E. S. et al. (eds.), 2004. On the Cutting Edge: The Study of Women in the Biblical World, p.118

[9] against me Cf. Mihaila, C., 2009. The Paul-Apollos Relationship and Paul’s Stance toward Greco-Roman Rhetoric, London: T&T Clark International. The most comprehensive study on Apollos is Dickerson, P. L., 1998, Apollos in Acts and First Corinthians, an unpublished thesis, University of Virginia

Posted September 10, 2014 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized