Clement of Alexandria and Titus Flavius Clemens

The man who became Clement of Alexandria was born a Gentile c. 150 CE, and converted to Christianity. He took the name “Titus Flavius Clemens” in honor of the real Titus Flavius Clemens (“Clemens”), a Roman aristocrat who is known to history as a Judean sympathizer, and died c. 96 CE. Most likely, this choice was made because Clemens had been the most prominent male Gentile in the Jesus movement. 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 have only just begun to read them. I note here two points that are of interest in connection with the theories I propose in The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text.

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 his status as a Gentile convert and (at least arguably, by Clement’s time) a martyr for his faith. (Clemens died in 95 or 96.) Clement must have known that Clemens had been rich, a member of the imperial family.

People who met Clement and learned his name must have asked if Clemens’s wealth was compatible with Christianity, and if he wanted to be wealthy like Clemens. Clement’s assumption of the identity of a rich man is probably 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?” After all, Jesus explicitly 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.

Second, when Clement quotes this story and surrounding material, he, interestingly, 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 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. After all, in my book I propose that Mark wrote a play and the narrative text based on it that we know as the Gospel of Mark, on behalf of Clemens and his wife, Flavia Domitilla.

revised August 22, 2020

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