The fact that Clement of Alexandria adopted the name “Titus Flavius Clemens” implies approval of the original Titus Flavius Clemens. So it’s no surprise that Clement allows good Christians to be wealthy. Clement cites the Gospel of Mark as primary among the synoptics. These two details are consistent with the picture I paint in The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text.
The man who became Clement of Alexandria was born a Gentile c. 150 CE. He converted to Christianity and took the name “Titus Flavius Clemens” in honor of the real Titus Flavius Clemens (“Clemens”). That man was a Roman aristocrat whose wife had patronized the Roman congregation, which had naturally remembered Clemens as a Judean sympathizer. (This scenario is strengthened if, as Cassius Dio later says, Domitian had used the pretext of “atheism” to condemn Clemens to death.) Most likely, Clement chose this name because Clemens had been the most prominent male Gentile associated with the Jesus movement–at least, on the Egypt-Rome axis. The young man who was now known as “Clement” was probably also well-to-do—his writings suggest broad education. Clemens was an obvious role model.
Clement of Alexandria wrote on a variety of subjects and his work is worth reading for a variety of reasons. I note here two points of interest in connection with the theories I propose in The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text.
Clement of Alexandria exonerated the wealthy
First, Clement replaced his birth identity with Clemens’s identity when he took Clemens’s full name. To endorse, in his own person, a continuation of Clemens’s identity, Clement must have thoroughly approved of Clemens. Clement must have known more about Clemens’s life than the church’s treatment of him as a Gentile convert and (possibly, by Clement’s time) a martyr for his faith. Clement certainly knew that Clemens was rich, and a member of the imperial family.
People who met Clement and heard his name must have asked if Clement wanted to be wealthy like Clemens, and was that compatible with Christianity. Perhaps this explains why Clement wrote a treatise on the question of whether or not a rich man should give away his riches, “Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved?” In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells the rich man in the Temple (Mk 10:21): “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” In his treatise, Clement explains at length that riches should be understood allegorically, and it was all right to be wealthy. This point of view makes Clemens’s wealth irrelevant to living a good Christian life.
Clement of Alexandria saw the Gospel of Mark as primary
Second, when Clement quotes this episdoe and surrounding material, he quotes the Gospel of Mark. “V. These things are written in the Gospel according to Mark; and in all the rest [the other gospels] correspondingly; although perchance the expressions vary slightly in each, yet all show identical agreement in meaning.” Although the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are longer and have infancy material, Clement sees the Gospel of Mark as primary.
It is interesting here that a person who knew Clemens’s real history saw the Gospel of Mark as primary over the other synoptics. I suspect that Clement also knew the circumstances of the composition of the Gospel of Mark. It may be possible to infer more about Mark’s world from a close reading of Clement’s works.
revised December 27, 2020, October 31, 2021