Jane Wright's "Browning's Honeycomb" (Essays in Criticism: A Quarterly Journal of Literary Criticism 63, : 275-97) draws attention to Browning's interest in the materiality of texts and poems in the opening lines of "A Death in the Desert." Wright is intrigued by the final line of the poem with its puzzling shift in tense ("But 'twas Cerinthus
that is lost").
Written for Cerinthus's birthday, this poem evokes, at first, the destiny the Fates sang when he was born.
Indeed, the elegy begins with a request to the boar, to save Cerinthus from the same fate as Adonis:
Sulpicia then imagines herself and Cerinthus making love, in the wilds of nature, in front of the hunting nets.
For when Valentinus [sic!], Cerinthus and Ebion and the others of the school of Satan were spread over the world, all the bishops came together to him (convenerunt ad illum) from the most distant provinces and compelled him to write a testimony.
Nor does Eusebius' source show any signs of a controversy about who wrote the Fourth Gospel, or a concern with Cerinthus or any other heretics, both of which lay at the basis of the charges of Gaius and the Alogi.
Jerome: `John, the apostle whom Jesus most loved, the son of Zebedee and brother of James the apostle, whom Herod, after the Lord's passion, beheaded, was the last one to write a Gospel, at the request (rogatus) of the bishops of Asia, against Cerinthus and other heretics and especially against the then growing doctrine of the Ebionites, who asserted that Christ did not exist before Mary.
The denials of the divinity of Christ by nineteenth-century critics like Strauss and Renan, which is Browning's context for this poem, were long preceded by the first- and second-century teachings of Cerinthus and the Ebionites about the "double nature" of Jesus.
The writer here echoes Gibbon's comment that Cerinthus' followers believed that Jesus of Nazareth was merely "the best and wisest of the human race": [Cerinthus read and mused; one added this: "If Christ, as thou affirmest, be of men Mere man, the first and best but nothing more,-- Account Him, for reward of what He was, Now and for ever, wretchedest of all.
(2) In the later part of his speech, with surprising severity, the apostle admonishes his followers of the terrible spiritual death that is the inevitable consequence of the intellectual rejection of God and God's love, a theme later picked up by the impersonal narrator in the last half-line of the concluding parenthetical interpolation, "But't was Cerinthus
that is lost" (l.