Sunday, November 11, 2012

Marcionitism: the Fuzzy Dawn of Christianity [Part Four]

Of course there is one real obstacle to our understanding that Marcionitism was a direct development from Alexandrian Judaism - everything else that has ever been written about the tradition.  Bart Ehrman sums up our over-simplified interpretation of the tradition claiming that "Marcion seems to have hated Jews and everything Jewish."  One prominent dissenter to the chorus is Joseph Tyson of Southern Methodist University.  After a lengthy demonstration Tyson rightly notes that "it is simplistic to judge Marcion as anti-Jewish on the grounds of his attitude toward the Hebrew Bible. Apparently he agreed both with Jews and proto-orthodox Christians that the books in this collection were divinely inspired. Nor did Marcion question the historical accuracy of these writings or their prophetic power. On these points, Marcion’s interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures would be consonant with Jewish interpretations."

Tyson is only scratching the surface of 'Jewish traits' in Marcionitism.  As he notes Marcion "would agree that the Hebrew prophets predicted the coming of the Messiah and that this figure was not Jesus ... He saw in these writings, especially in Torah, something that fell beneath the teachings of Jesus and Paul, and the contrasts were so extreme that, although he accepted the divine origin of the Hebrew Bible, he concluded that the God who inspired these Scriptures was not the God revealed in Jesus Christ. These observations suggest that we should more carefully describe Marcion’s attitude toward Jews and Judaism. It is not sufficient simply to say that he was anti- Jewish, although he was certain that the morality he saw in the Hebrew Bible was deficient."

We for our part have effectively proved that the Marcionite conception of redemption was dependent on the mystical interpretation of the Pentateuch in Philo's Alexandrian Jewish community.  This should not be at all surprising to anyone as the description of the Marcionite 'dualism' in Irenaeus, Hippolytus and other early writers bears a striking resemblance with the writings of Philo.  To this end it should be obvious that people like Bart Ehrman suffer from not only a lack of imagination but an oversimplified notion of what 'Judaism' was in the second century.  As we see from rabbinic literature there was a clear transformation of the very concept of 'Judaism' after the Bar Kochba revolt.  In a previous age the judgement of a figure like Elisha ben Abuyah was considered authoritative; in the new age of Antoninus he was degraded to that of a heretic and his beloved student Meir not only had to give up former beliefs but even his own name.

Marcionitism is best understood as a proto-Christianity which made explicit Christianity's roots in Hellenistic Judaism.  It wasn't so much that Marcion 'hated' Jews and Judaism but rather represented a lost and formerly authoritative 'Judaism' which was now classified among the 'Christian sects.'  There is a very close parallel between the persons of Marcion and Aquila the translator.  Not only did both men hail from Sinope in Pontus, one is described as a Christian who borrowed from the Jewish anti-Christian polemic, the other a Jew borrowing from the Christian anti-Jewish polemic.

The truth is that at one time 'Judaism' and 'Christianity' were not clearly defined concepts.  When Aquila is said to have declared that circumcision was not authoritative because it was included among the Ten Commandments, he is saying something which sounds explicitly Christian.  Indeed a very similar argument appears in the mouth of Jesus during the dispute over divorce in Mark chapter 10.   Nevertheless it would be foolish to claim that Aquila is 'speaking like a Christian' as the later rabbinic tradition makes clear that the understanding that only the Ten Commandments were divinely inspired went back to the earliest Jewish authorities.

In a very similar manner we should understand that Marcionitism was drawing from a Jewish tradition that was no longer considered authoritative.  Indeed it had disappeared to such a large extent that contemporary Church Fathers often did not regard Marcionite belief as specifically 'Jewish.'  The claim for instance that Marcion 'depreciated' or 'hated' the Law of Moses by claiming only the Ten Commandments came from God, was undoubtedly first used by the Pharisees against their Sadducean rivals.  Both communities were 'Jewish' of course.  It would be impossible to accuse the Sadducees of 'hating Jews and Judaism.'  The argument against their tradition rested solely upon the implications of those beliefs when they fell into the hands of the enemies of the tradition.

The notion that Yahweh was the one God of the Jewish people was particularly effective in promoting the superiority of the Jewish religion over its pagan rivals.  In Philo's age it was likely both the 'kind god' and the 'good god' were kept secret from the common Jewish believer.  All that the average Jewish covert was likely told was that he should fear Yahweh.  Only an elect few ever had any idea that there was a separate power - ὁ χρηστὸς θεός, the kind god - who came to Jacob at Bethel and freed him from his servitude, his devotion to the just Lord promising him aeonic life.

The point of course is that the Marcionite system was entirely in keeping with the Jewish beliefs of Philo's Alexandrian community.  We have simply allowed only one interpretation of what 'Judaism' is to misguide our understanding of Marcion's alleged hostility toward Jews and Judaism as such.  What scholars have not been explain adequately is how two absolutely contradictory portraits of Marcionitism exist side by side in our earliest sources.  It will be our contention that Irenaeus was our earliest and most important witness to Marcion (we will leave aside the issue of Justin's apparent references to a later part of this study) and that he is an absolutely inconsistent and unreliable witness.

Indeed one can almost characterize his testimony as schizophrenic.  In the earliest part of the Against Heresies for instance it is absolutely clear that the 'unknown God' of Marcion is his 'good god' the heavenly Father.  Irenaeus tells us that Marcion's teacher Cerdo "taught that the God proclaimed by the law and the prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the former was known, but the latter unknown; while the one also was righteous (δίκαιον), but the other good (ἀγαθὸν)." [AH 1.27.1]  This is clearly a standard juxtaposition between the figures of the Jewish god (Yahweh) and the Christian Father god.

It is important to note that everything that follows about Marcion was clearly added after the original edition of Irenaeus's work which was known to the author of the Philosophumena, whom most people identify as Hippolytus.  Hippolytus copies the section we just cited about Cerdo the teacher of Marcion word for word but gives an entirely different account of Marcion, one which actually agrees with things Irenaeus says in Book Three of Against Heresies.

We read again in the Philosophumena - "but one Cerdon himself also, taking occasion in like manner from these (heretics) and Simon, affirms that the God preached by Moses and the prophets was not Father of Jesus Christ. For (he contends) that this (Father) had been known, whereas that the Father of Christ was unknown, and that the former was just, but the latter good."  It is worth noting that everything that follows this common material to both Against Heresies and the Philosophumena does not agree with one another.  It is very strange then to have these two catalogs of Christian sectarian groups mostly agree and then suddenly depart from one another.  Yet it suggests a common source was reworked, perhaps even Justin's lost Syntagma.

What is equally noteworthy is the fact that Cerdo almost appears at the end of Book Seven of the Philosophumena.  In Against Heresies the account of Marcion immediately follows Cerdo, in the Philosophumena Marcion precedes the account of Cerdo.  It is also worth noting that the order of the commonly held material never contradicts one another:

  1. the account of Simon and Helen (AH 1.23.2b - 4;Phil. 6.14, 15)
  2. the account of Saturnilus (AH 1.24; Phil. 7.16)
  3. the account of Carpocrates (AH 1.25; Phil 7.20)
  4. the account of Cerinthus (AH 1.26.1; Phil. 7.21)
  5. the account of the Ebionites (AH 1.26.2; Phil. 7.22)
  6. the account of the Nicolatians (AH 1.26.3; Phil. 7.24)
  7. the account of Cerdo (AH 1.27.1; Phil. 7.25)
  8. the account of Tatian and the Encratites (AH 1.28; Phil 8.9,13)
When you actually look at the two surviving heretical catalogs - Against Heresies on the one hand and the Philosophumena on the other - under a microscope it is actually quite impossible to argue that the latter is reliant on the former.  To this end, the only conclusion we can come to is that both are dependent on some lost syntagma which did not make explicit mention of the Marcionites.

It is important to reinforce that the core material naturally follows from 1 - 8 in both accounts without contradiction save only in one instance - the Philosophumena has the report about the heretical followers of Valentinus and Marcus immediately follow the account of Simon Magus.  Against Heresies by contrast begins with the Valentinians (AH 1.1 - 12), Marcosians (ibid 1.13 - 21) and then suddenly begin again and start with the original heretic Simon (ibid 1.23 - 24) after a section which sounds something like the beginning to the original treatise (ibid 1.22).

No one has ever properly explained why Against Heresies starts with an account of the Valentinians rather a chronological starting point like the heresies which came from Simon.  Yet this surely proves that even though both Against Heresies and the Philosophumena go back to some original heretical compendium (undoubtedly Justin's lost Syntagma), the Philosophumena is actually closer to the original text.  The author clearly has Justin's Syntagma in front of him as well as one or several of what Photius calls 'lectures' of Irenaeus on the subject of the heresies and has incorporated them into his work.

Just as we can be certain that the original Syntagma of Justin did not mention Marcion by name.  It likely did not name either Valentinus nor Marcus as heretics.  This is not surprising as Justin has kind things to say about Valentinus.  Moreover the common text had to have been established after the publication of Hegesippus's Hypomnemata as this is the source of the material about Carpocrates.  Since Hegesippus's historical narrative is explicitly dated in its original form to the tenth year of Antoninus Pius (147/148 CE), the commonly used Sytagma of Justin necessarily originates from some period after 150 CE.

Yet we can further date the original heretical catalog behind Against Heresies and the Philosophumena by noting the important reference to Tatian and the Encratites (i.e. early celibate monks).  It is difficult to believe that Justin himself would have condemned his student Tatian.  More mention would surely have been made of this by later Church Fathers.  Indeed there is good reason to suppose that after the common mention of Cerdo (see above) the original syntagma of Justin merely made a most general reference to the existence of various heretical groups before coming to a close.

To this end it is important to note that the Against Heresies - after inserting the new information about Marcion from some other source - goes on to mention word for word the following:

Many offshoots of numerous heresies have already been formed from those heretics we have described. This arises from the fact that numbers of them--indeed, we may say all--desire themselves to be teachers, and to break off from the particular heresy in which they have been involved. Forming one set of doctrines out of a totally different system of opinions, and then again others from others, they insist upon teaching something new, declaring themselves the inventors of any sort of opinion which they may have been able to call into existence. [AH 1.28.1]

The Philosophumena similarly has a very similar parallel section here.  Both accounts carefully introduce the 'Encratites,' emphasizing that the sect 'seems' to be orthodox on the surface but that it is has really borrowed ideas from the aforementioned heresies.

The manner in which the topic of this last heresy is introduced is so cautious it seems each author has attempted to rework Justin's original reference to 'many other' heretics into a condemnation of his pupil Tatian without Justin having said it.  It is important to also noted that the Philosophumena does make mention of a heretical group headed by a 'Justin.'  It is important to note that this group appears before the common section material cited here (Phil. 5.17 - 23).  Indeed the reference to Justin comes right before the main body of the reference to his syntagma.

The point here is clearly that the Marcionite narrative was not originally a part of the original narrative that became Against Heresies and the Philosophumena.  We can confirm this by looking at a third text - Against All Heresies attributed (falsely) to Tertullian - where indeed there is almost no reference to Marcion and all the antinomian beliefs later attributed to him are wholly attributed to Cerdo.  It is here, immediately after the account of Valentinus and Marcus we read:

To this is added one Cerdo. He introduces two first causes, that is, two Gods--one good, the other cruel: the good being the superior; the latter, the cruel one, being the creator of the world. He repudiates the prophecies and the Law; renounces God the Creator; maintains that Christ who came was the Son of the superior God; affirms that He was not in the substance of flesh; states Him to have been only in a phantasmal shape, to have not really suffered,but undergone a quasipassion, and not to have been born of a virgin, nay, really not to have been born at all. A resurrection of the soul merely does he approve, denying that of the body. The Gospel of Luke alone, and that not entire, does he receive. Of the Apostle Paul he takes neither all the epistles, nor in their integrity. The Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse he rejects as false.

After him emerged a disciple of his, one Marcion by name, a native of Pontus, son of a bishop, excommunicated because of a rape committed on a certain virgin. He, starting from the fact that it is said, "Every good tree beareth good fruit, but an evil evil," attempted to approve the heresy of Cerdo; so that his assertions are identical with those of the former heretic before him.

After him arose one Lucan by name, a follower and disciple of Marcion. He, too, wading through the same kinds of blasphemy, teaches the same as Marcion and Cerdo had taught.  Close on their heels follows Apelles, a disciple of Marcion, who after lapsing, into his own carnality, was severed from Marcion.[Against All Heresies 6]

In a manner that cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence, the account which immediately follows Cerdo in the Philosophumena follows the exact same order - Cerdo(n), Marcion, Luc(i)an and then Apelles:

But one Cerdon himself also, taking occasion in like manner from these (heretics) and Simon, affirms that the God preached by Moses and the prophets was not Father of Jesus Christ. For (he contends) that this (Father) had been known, whereas that the Father of Christ was unknown, and that the former was just, but the latter good.

And Marcion corroborated the tenet of this (heretic) in the work which he attempted to write, and which he styled Antitheses. And he was in the habit, (in this book,) of uttering whatever slanders suggested themselves to his mind against the Creator of the universe.

In a similar manner likewise (acted) Lucian, the disciple of this (heretic).

But Apelles, sprung from these, thus expresses himself, (saying) that there is a certain good Deity, as also Marcion supposed, and that he who created all things is just. [Phil 7.14, 15]

Clearly then it is not merely a matter of the accounts here being a parallel expansion from an original lost text but - more importantly - that we see the tradition did not contain an account of Marcion.  The antinomian beliefs later associated with him were clearly transferred from Cerdo.  The idea that Marcion was a radical dualist was added to the tradition later, likely no earlier than the dawn of the third century.

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