Sunday, October 24, 2010

Marcion in the Kebra Negast

Here's a reference to Marcion I bet most of you didn't even know existed.  It appears in the Kebra Negast, the most important work in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after the Bible. The text appears almost at the end of the work. The reference comes from Budge's translation (1932):

the king of Rome … shall transgress and provoke God to wrath in the faith. The faith which we have ordered and laid down shall a king transgress who shall come in Rome, and there shall be associated with him a certain archbishop, and they shall change and pervert the word of the Twelve Apostles, and they shall cast it aside in the desire of their hearts and they shall teach what they wish … and when they have destroyed the faith the vanquisher and the enemy from the king who shall not guard the faith … shall make war upon him and defeat him, and it seems to me that his name is Marcion the Apostate. And the king … whose name is Irenaeus (Harênêwôs) shall conquer him, and the king shall carry him away, together with his horse, and by the will of God the horse on which the vanquisher of the enemy shall be stirred up and shall go into the sea and perish therein. But the nails shall shine there in the sea until Christ shall come again in great glory upon a cloud in heaven, together with power.

It is worth noting that both Amharic and Ethiopic have convoluted word order and subordination of phrases and clauses, quite unlike other Semitic languages but not the same as in Indo-European languages either.
I suspect that Wallis Budge was being careful when he did this translation. The compiler of the Kebra Nagast has copied a text which itself is a long quotation with annotations by a high church official or secular ruler. These annotations have been put in italics in my interpretation below. Wallis Budge did not see this. The text quoted by the ruler or prelate was in the form of a prediction. The prelate used it for his own purposes. But I think the prediction itself to be a prophecy made up by the ruler or official himself and attributed to some ancient sage. Here is my editing. Please put this on your blog.

The king of Rome …. will transgress, provoking God to wrath, in [matters of] the faith. [[ANNOTATION. The faith which we have ordered and laid down]]. (A big giveaway here of the secondariness and falseness of the doctrine being promoted!). A king will transgress, a future king in Rome, and there will be associated with him a certain archbishop (A very important reminiscence of the founder of Christianity being both a secular king and a religious leader), and they will change and pervert the word of the Twelve Apostles and cast it aside according to personal whim and teach whatever they like. (Meaning many will still reject the newly invented doctrine of Irenaeus and preserve the original). When they have destroyed the faith, [[ANNOTATION. The king that does not keep to the faith]], the vanquisher, the enemy [[ANNOTATION. Of the king that does not keep the faith]], will make war on him and defeat him [[ANNOTATION. It seems to me that the latter (the one defeated) is Markion the apostate. The king’s name (the name of the king that defeats him) is Irenaeus]]. The king will conquer him, and carry him away on his horse. By the will of God the horse [[ANNOTATION. On which is the vanquisher of the enemy]] will take fright and run into the sea and perish therein. (This explains why there is no record of any Roman emperor called Irenaeus). But the nails (the horse-shoe nails, all that is left of horse and rider, because inanimate) will shine there in the sea till Christ comes again in great glory on a cloud in the heavens, together with power. (Thus proving Irenaeus and his secular imperial patron right, even though the followers of the original doctrine, called Marcionites, have in fact not gone away).

There have been various attempts to explain away the reference as somehow having something to do with events during the reign of the Emperor Marcian (392 – 457) but this doesn't make sense.  Those who put forward this thesis can never properly identify the figure of Harenewos as a contemporary of the Eastern Roman Emperor. 

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