Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On the Political Motivations of Irenaeus's Complaint Against 'Those of Mark'

I know most of my regular readers are shaking their heads wondering - "why he is so interested in what language Irenaeus wrote?  It could be Polish for all I care."  Some might even be question my agenda - "because he is Jewish he wants to turn Irenaeus into a Jew."  No that's not my point at all.  My real agenda is to go back to my central point about the identity of the Marcionites.

You see if - as most scholars acknowledge - chapters 22 onward represent a later addition of Justin's Syntagma - then we have a very curious situation where Irenaeus DID NOT originally mention the Marcionites.

This is a very curious situation because we see in the period IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING Irenaeus 'Marcion' because a veritable OBSESSION among the Church Fathers.  Not only did Tertullian 'write' a parallel five volume work 'against Marcion' ('write' because the same corruption as we noted is present in 'Irenaeus' and his 'Five Books Against All Heresies' are explicitly referenced in the opening lines of the five 'against Marcion') but everyone else seems to suddenly reinforce the existence of 'Marcion' and 'Marcionites.'

Yet Irenaeus strangely only wrote a treatise 'Against the Valentinus' (see Tertullian's preservation of the original form) and one 'Against the Marcosians.'

I have been toying with the idea that IF Irenaeus wrote originally in Aramaic THEN all the references to 'the Marcosians' could derive from Aramaic gentilic plurals associated with Mark.  This (as we noted before) was a theory first developed by my friend Professor of Ruaridh Boid formerly of Monash University and goes as follows:

Hebrew MRQ + YWN + IM = "those of Mark"
Aramaic MRQ + YWN + I = "those of Mark"

Pronunciation is Mar-qi-yo-ni-yim and Mar-qi-yo-ne

The forms of names of sects can vary from author to author and from ms. to ms. Thus the Dositheans are called Dosithaioi, Dosthenoi, and so on. You will see that (the Samaritan chronicler) Abu ‘l-Fateh. uses a sources that had Dosthenoi, since he calls the Dositheans Dostan or Dustan (a collective plural form in Arabic). The translations of the Greek sources hardly ever give this kind of information. I have on order the first vol. of the critical edition of the Greek of Epiphanius, which is the vol. with the information on the Marcionites. When I have this to hand I will let you know what forms are used. I think I might see, as well as the expected Markionitai or Markionaioi, the form Markonaioi. I really should do the same with the name of Markion in Irenaeus, to see whether Markon occurs.

The point here is that if we go back to the original description of the 'Marcosians' we see that the report begins with the identification of the sect as being headed by Μάρκος [AH i.13.1] although considerable variation exists between Epiphanius's and Hippolytus's texts that Harvey puts the whole section in brackets.

A little later in the section Irenaeus reports with apparent horror that a woman devoted to Mark expresses her thanks to him (και ευχαριστει Μάρκω) for imparting grace (χάρις) to her [AH i.13.3] While Irenaeus goes on to mention various sacramental curiosities associated with the text it is clear that this is a very structured ecclesiastic community - Hippolytus specifically mentions that they have a 'bishop.' [Ref. vi.37]

Now with regard to this complaint of Irenaeus regarding whether Mark has the authority to dispense grace and prophesy consider for a moment what the Alexandrian tradition consistently says about St. Mark establishing the subsequent Patriarchs of his See.

Peter, the seventeenth Patriarch of Alexandria specifically references Mark as a "father most honourable, you evangelist of the only-begotten Saviour, you witness of His passion, you did Christ choose, who is the Deliverer of us all, to be the first pontiff and pillar of this See ... [you] who are approved as the author and guardian of all preceding and subsequent occupiers of this pontifical chair, and who, holding its first honours, art the successor not of man, but of the God-man, Christ Jesus." I can't shake the impression that this expression of Mark as a DIRECT SUCCESSOR of Jesus - not through Peter or with any reference to Peter at all - is what has really got Irenaeus's goat, so to speak.

Notice that Peter still references Mark's apprehension of knowledge DIRECTLY from Jesus and moreover his status as DIRECT successor of Jesus. There are various surviving Coptic rituals which confirm Mark as the source through which the Christ-soul is imparted into the world. One of the most obvious is the manner in which Copts AFTER the loss of the Episcopal throne of St. Mark continues to use a skull of the Evangelist in order to ordain his future successors.

I see DIRECT parallels with this situation and the claim which emerges from the Marcionite in Adamantius's Dialogues who says that 'Marcion' is the episkopos through which all Marcionite bishops receive their authority.

The rest of the reference to Μάρκος in the section repeat the same idea. Irenaeus emphasizes that "the gift of prophecy is not conferred on men by Mark" [AH i.13.4], that "God sends His grace from above possess the divinely-bestowed power of prophesying and then they speak where and when God pleases, and not when Marcus orders them to do so" [ibid] and most interesting that "if, then, Marcus, or any one else, does command,--as these are accustomed continually at their feasts to play at drawing lots, and to command one another to prophesy, giving forth as oracles what is in harmony with their own desires,--it will follow that he who commands is greater and of higher authority than the prophetic spirit, though he is but a man, which is impossible." [ibid]

What is so interesting about the last reference is that it not only mentions 'prophesy' (προφητεία) and the giving forth of 'oracles' but says that Mark 'commands'(κελεύω) the spirits as if he were God. Moreover the reference to 'others' (ἄλλος) who similarly 'command' at a sacred meal (δεῖπνον) is reminiscent I think of what was originally present in the Marcionite text of 1 Cor 11.22 - the 'Lord's supper' (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον).

The followers of Mark apparently associate their gathering with Mark rather than what Irenaeus thinks is proper - i.e. an exclusive devotion to Jesus.

I can't shake the feeling that this otherwise unknown δεῖπνον where people gather and prophesy is connected to Philo's description of the Therapeutae (who Eusebius connects again with St. Mark). Philo writes of a 'president' (πρόεδρος) who seems to command all the members of the mixed assembly (Irenaeus references BOTH men and women in the Marcosian assembly but later seems to focus only on the women apparently because the presence of women was more scandalous).

We are told that both at their weekly gatherings and on special occasions a senior member of the group or the president himself provides a festive exposition and “inquires into some question (ζητεῖ) in the Holy Scriptures or solves (ἐπιλύεται) one previously raised by someone else” (Cont. 75).

Strictly hierarchical structures characterize Therapeutic table-talk. The president of the group speaks only when absolute silence prevails. His exposition is not addressed to equals, but rather to an audience “not similarly clear-sighted” (75). The members of the group are not expected to argue with him, but rather to try and follow the course of his exposition (77): They listen with ears pricked up and eyes fixed on him always in exactly the same posture, signifying comprehension and acceptance by nods and glances, their praise of the speaker by cheerfulness and slightly turning their faces, their perplexity by a gentler movement of the head as well as the finger-tip of their right hand.

Applause and acceptance rather than open discussion inform this sympotic setting. Obviously not in a position to argue with the speaker, the members of the group may only aspire to imbibe his words. This is not only true of the special occasions, when the president himself addresses them, but also of the weekly Sabbath meals, when a senior member expounds the Torah. Then too, Philo stresses, the Therapeutae are exposed to a didactic discourse, which they accept silently, indicating their “praise by looks or nods” (31). The Therapeutic symposium was a very stern affair indeed—no trace of frivolity or jokes. Plutarch, who appreciated an atmosphere of humorous playfulness at the symposium, would hardly have identified this as such.

Perhaps we should take up Plutarch's (Quaest.Conv. 1.1 614A cf. A. Kovelman, Between Alexandria and Jerusalem (Leiden 2005) 67–100) distinction between serious Alexandrian Jews and their more frivolous brethren in the Land of Israel. (source for the above paper by Maron Niehoff)

In any event it is worth noting that the title πρόεδρος was subsequently used within Christianity for leading officials in the church, such as "bishops," and from at least the fifth century of "patriarchs" specifically (cf. Lampe 1968: 1144-1145).

While it is impossible to say how far back the use of the term 'president' goes back in Alexandrian Christianity there certainly was a parallel figure in the synagogue which pre-dated Christianity.

If we go back to Irenaeus's description of the Marcosians it is very interesting to see him reference the 'playing of lots' (κλῆρος) at this meal too. The word κλῆρος is connected very early with the establishment of the clergy (indeed the word κλῆρος now in modern Greek means exactly this - 'clergy'). The idea goes back to a practice where God was understood to determine the outcome of important decisions so 'the lot' was used at the division of the land of Canaan among the serveral tribes (Num 26:55; Num 34:13), at the detection of Achan (Josh 7:14, Josh 7:18), the election of Saul to be king (1Sam 10:20f), the distribution of the priestly offices of the temple service (1Chr 24:3, 1Chr 24:5, 1Chr 24:19; Lk 1:9), and over the two goats at the feast of Atonement (Lev 16:8).

In my mind it is unmistakable that Irenaeus's complaint again is that those established by Mark are not set up by God but rather those associated with Mark 'playing' lots as men. I find it very interesting that the existing texts of Irenaeus go out of their way NOT to declare the obvious context of his complaint - viz. that only the Roman Church has the power to ordain the head bishops in Sees under its control. The argument that anything done in the name of Mark without 'Peter' was invalid undoubtedly is a POLTICAL argument.

I don't see how people can read this material without seeing that Irenaeus's objections are entirely exaggerated. One imagines that the representative of St. Peter in Rome was making much the same case into the last century ...

To be continued

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