Monday, June 7, 2010

On Justin's Witness of Marcion

I received an email over the weekend from someone who apparently enjoys reading this blog. The reader asked me to enter a discussion on the FRDB forum about my observation the surviving evidence suggests there never was a heretic named 'Marcion.' The reader's opponent in the forum maintains that:

Justin Martyr's First Apology is deemed to have been written BEFORE "Against Heresies" by Irenaeus so it does not make much real difference at what chapter Stephan Huller thinks "Against Heresies" ends.

Well, I don't generally like to join these discussion groups. I find them very confrontational and generally populated by grumpy, old men with too much time on their hands. Nevertheless I thought the point about Justin Martyr's Apology was actually quite a valid point.

Does Justin really witness the existence of Marcion?

Justin the son of Priscus of Neapolis is a very interesting figure. Justin was a Samaritan who was educated after the Hellenic fashion and was converted to Christianity from Platonism. Surviving material associated with the Dialogue with Trypho would date that conversion to shortly after the bar Khochba rising (see Dial.1, 108; Ap. i. 31).

There can be no doubt that Irenaeus, Tertullian and other Church Fathers pointed to Justin as a shining example of a wholly right believing individual. There is little doubt that Tatian - another enigmatic figure - was a disciple of Justin. But why on earth should anyone accept the claim that Tatian 'fell' from Justin's orthodoxy simply because those claiming 'another Justin' say so? I can't think of a more convincing witness for the beliefs of Justin than such a devoted student. I am even suspicious that Hippolytus's heretic 'Justinus' might well be Justin Martyr.

The texts associated with Justin from Catholic sources are so obviously corrupt it is embarrassing to even hear people PRETEND otherwise. The Dialogue with Typho IS A MESS. Ideas start and then stop and then resurface again chapters later and then chapters later again each time with different interpretations of the same scripture.

However I don't mean to take up too much time with these things so let's move on to the original question.

There is a reference to 'Marcion' in the First Apology of Justin. But what is the Apology? To whom was it written? As Robert M. Grant writes that Justin:

composed his Apology now divided into two parts. The work is addressed to Antoninus Pius and his two adopted sons. Its date may be given by Justin's insistence on eternal fire for the wicked, for in the year 156 Polycarp of Smyrna, favorably received at Rome the year before, was burned alive after threatening his judge with "eternal fire." Justin's essay begins with the demand to investigate accusations and explains what Christians believe and do. The so-called "second apology" looks like a continuation of the first, perhaps with more emphasis on the philosophy espoused by the future emperor Marcus Aurelius.[The Anchor Bible Dictionary v. 3, p. 1133]

As a scholar of Irenaeus and the Catholic circle in Rome the reference to Polycarp's martyrdom is a red flag. I have already uncovered that the Martyrdom of Polycarp tradition was developed by this circle with the background of Lucian of Samosata's ridiculing of their master's death. With the reference to Polycarp on the one hand and Marcion on the other, there has to be a suspicion that the tradition which 'preserved' the Apology was active in arrange its message.

Now I strongly suspect that there is an original authentic core to the Apology. I also happen to believe that the reference to 'Marcion' is dropped right in the middle of that section which begins with - what is now - a very muddled statement about the very purpose of Justin's letter to the Emperor. We cite the section in more or less full (most translators have had to make adaptations to the first paragraph because of yet another orthodox addition which I decided to remove to avoid their necessary re-workings of the material):

And that this may now become evident to you that whatever we assert in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ ... and that before He became a man among men, some, influenced by the demons before mentioned, related beforehand, through the instrumentality of the poets, those circumstances as having really happened, which, having fictitiously devised, they narrated, in the same manner as they have caused to be fabricated the scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions, of which there is neither witness nor proof--we shall bring forward the following proof.

In the first place, because, though we say things similar to what the Greeks say, we only are hated on account of the name of Christ, and though we do no wrong, are put to death as sinners; other men in other places worshipping trees and rivers, and mice and cats and crocodiles, and many irrational animals. Nor are the same animals esteemed by all; but in one place one is worshipped, and another in another, so that all are profane in the judgment of one another, on account of their not worshipping the same objects. And this is the sole accusation you bring against us, that we do not reverence the same gods as you do, nor offer to the dead libations and the savour of fat, and crowns for their statues, and sacrifices. For you very well know that the same animals are with some esteemed gods, with others wild beasts, and with others sacrificial victims.

And, secondly, because we--who, out of every race of men, used to worship Bacchus the son of Semele, and Apollo the son of Latona (who in their loves with men did such things as it is shameful even to mention), and Proserpine and Venus (who were maddened with love of Adonis, and whose mysteries also you celebrate), or AEsculapius, or some one or other of those who are called gods--have now, through Jesus Christ, learned to despise these, though we be threatened with death for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impossible God; of whom we are persuaded that never was he goaded by lust of Antiope, or such other women, or of Ganymede, nor was rescued by that hundred-handed giant whose aid was obtained through Thetis, nor was anxious on this account that her son Achilles should destroy many of the Greeks because of his concubine Briseis. Those who believe these things we pity, and those who invented them we know to be devils.

And, thirdly, because after Christ's ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honours. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome:--

"Simoni Deo Sancto,"

"To Simon the holy God." And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him. And a man, Meander, also a Samaritan, of the town Capparetaea, a disciple of Simon, and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art. He persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his. And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. And he, by the aid of the devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe, and to assert that some other being, greater than He, has done greater works. All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians; just as also those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, have yet in common with them the name of philosophers given to them. And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds--the upsetting of the lamp, and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh--we know not; but we do know that they are neither persecuted nor put to death by you, at least on account of their opinions. But I have a treatise against all the heresies that have existed already composed, which, if you wish to read it, I will give you.

But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution. And as the ancients are said to have reared herds of oxen, or goats, or sheep, or grazing horses, so now we see you rear children only for this shameful use; and for this pollution a multitude of females and hermaphrodites, and those who commit unmentionable iniquities, are found in every nation. And you receive the hire of these, and duty and taxes from them, whom you ought to exterminate from your realm. And any one who uses such persons, besides the godless and infamous and impure intercourse, may possibly be having intercourse with his own child, or relative, or brother. And there are some who prostitute even their own children and wives, and some are openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy; and they refer these mysteries to the mother of the gods, and along with each of those whom you esteem gods there is painted a serpent, a great symbol and mystery. Indeed, the things which you do openly and with applause, as if the divine light were overturned and extinguished, these you lay to our charge; which, in truth, does no harm to us who shrink from doing any such things, but only to those who do them and bear false witness against us. 

And again, lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers. But whether we marry, it is only that we may bring up children; or whether we decline marriage, we live continently. And that you may understand that promiscuous intercourse is not one of our mysteries, one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission might be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch. For the surgeons there said that they were forbidden to do this without the permission of the governor. And when Felix absolutely refused to sign such a permission, the youth remained single, and was satisfied with his own approving conscience, and the approval of those who thought as he did. 

In short, there is absolutely no way to make Chapter 26 - the material which introduces Simon Magus and Marcion into the narrative - fit the rest of the argument.  Indeed what often gets lost in all of this 'excitement' over finding a reference to heretics is the fact that Justin was addressing the ruler of the world.  His purpose was to argue on behalf of Christianity and to differentiate it from contemporary pagan practices.

So let us ask how is it possible that the educated author of this letter puts forward a ridiculous accusation that the Romans worship Simon Magus based on the evidence of a statue which - as we know know - referenced an Etruscan god Semo Sancus (the inscription is shown above left)?  Indeed how could a Samaritan have mistaken Semo for the Hebrew name Shimon?  And moreover why would anyone introduce a questionable accusation about Romans worshiping a Samaritan heretic into such a serious epistle?

The answer of course is that there was an authentic letter buried within all the later additions.  Like all surviving material preserved through the Catholic tradition, one cup of wine is mixed with ten cups of water.  Yet I think if the reader looks at the beginning of this separation of the wheat from the chaff in the surviving material what lays buried within the existing text is an apology of the bizarre practices of the Alexandrian Christian tradition in the age - viz. ritualized castration.

We must remember the context of the age - Antoninus banned castration.  The Emperor was clearly suspicious of contemporary Christian practices that likely went back into the late first century.  I think that with Simon Magus and Marcion DISTRACTS us from this reality.  That's why they were introduced IN THIS PARTICULAR SECTION by a later editor.

Let's by honest.  How many of you have noticed the Alexandrian Christian castration reference and the over-arching 'apology' that Christianity isn't a degenerate mystery religion?  I bet most of you just flipped (or scrolled) down to the bits about 'Simon' and 'Marcion.'  That's after all how the later editors DESIGNED the material.

UPDATE: I decided to go on and look at the second reference to Marcion in the Apology and it betrays all the signs of a later addition that were present in the first reference appearing in an ongoing rejection of paganism.  We read:

But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they [the demons] heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain. 

The prophet Moses, then, was, as we have already said, older than all writers; and by him, as we have also said before, it was thus predicted: "There shall not fail a prince from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until He come for whom it is reserved; and He shall be the desire of the Gentiles, binding His foal to the vine, washing His robe in the blood of the grape." The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discoverer of the vine, and they number wine [or, the ass] among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven. And because in the prophecy of Moses it had not been expressly intimated whether He who was to come was the Son of God, and whether He would, riding on the foal, remain on earth or ascend into heaven, and because the name of "foal" could mean either the foal of an ass or the foal of a horse, they, not knowing whether He who was foretold would bring the foal of an ass or of a horse as the sign of His coming, nor whether He was the Son of God, as we said above, or of man, gave out that Bellerophon, a man born of man, himself ascended to heaven on his horse Pegasus. 

And when they heard it said by the other prophet Isaiah, that He should be born of a virgin, and by His own means ascend into heaven, they pretended that Perseus was spoken of. And when they knew what was said, as has been cited above, in the prophecies written aforetime, "Strong as a giant to run his course," they said that Hercules was strong, and had journeyed over the whole earth. And when, again, they learned that it had been foretold that He should heal every sickness, and raise the dead, they produced Aesculapius..

But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically. And this, as the prophet foretold, is the greatest symbol of His power and role; as is also proved by the things which fall under our observation. For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community. For the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it: diggers and mechanics do not their work, except with tools which have this shape. 

And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross. And so it was said by the prophet, "The breath before our face is the Lord Christ." And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols on what are called "vexilla" [banners] and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly. And with this form you consecrate the images of your emperors when they die, and you name them gods by inscriptions. Since, therefore, we have urged you both by reason and by an evident form, and to the utmost of our ability, we know that now we are blameless even though you disbelieve; for our part is done and finished.

But the evil spirits were not satisfied with saying, before Christ's appearance, that those who were said to be sons of Jupiter were born of him; but after He had appeared, and been born among men, and when they learned how He had been foretold by the prophets, and knew that He should be believed on and looked for by every nation, they again, as was said above, put forward other men, the Samaritans Simon and Menander, who did many mighty works by magic, and deceived many, and still keep them deceived. For even among yourselves, as we said before, Simon was in the royal city Rome in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and so greatly astonished the sacred senate and people of the Romans, that he was considered a god, and honoured, like the others whom you honour as gods, with a statue. Wherefore we pray that the sacred senate and your people may, along with yourselves, be arbiters of this our memorial, in order that if any one be entangled by that man's doctrines, he may learn the truth, and so be able to escape error; and as for the statue, if you please, destroy it.

Nor can the devils persuade men that there will be no conflagration for the punishment of the wicked; as they were unable to effect that Christ should be hidden after He came. But this only can they effect, that they who live irrationally, and were brought up licentiously in wicked customs, and are prejudiced in their own opinions, should kill and hate us; whom we not only do not hate, but, as is proved, pity and endeavour to lead to repentance. For we do not fear death, since it is acknowledged we must surely die; and there is nothing new, but all things continue the same in this administration of things; and if satiety overtakes those who enjoy even one year of these things, they ought to give heed to our doctrines, that they may live eternally free both from suffering and from want. But if they believe that there is nothing after death, but declare that those who die pass into insensibility, then they become our benefactors when they set us free from sufferings and necessities of this life, and prove themselves to be wicked, and inhuman, and bigoted. For they kill us with no intention of delivering us, but cut us off that we may be deprived of life and pleasure.
And, as we said before, the devils put forward Marcion of Pontus, who is even now teaching men to deny that God is the maker of all things in heaven and on earth, and that the Christ predicted by the prophets is His Son, and preaches another god besides the Creator of all, and likewise another son. And this man many have believed, as if he alone knew the truth, and laugh at us, though they have no proof of what they say, but are carried away irrationally as lambs by a wolf, and become the prey of atheistical doctrines, and of devils. For they who are called devils attempt nothing else than to seduce men from God who made them, and from Christ His first-begotten; and those who are unable to raise themselves above the earth they have riveted, and do now rivet, to things earthly, and to the works of their own hands; but those who devote themselves to the contemplation of things divine, they secretly beat back; and if they have not a wise sober-mindedness, and a pure and passionless life, they drive them into godlessness.

And that you may learn that it was from our teachers--we mean the account given through the prophets--that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials God at first formed the world, spake thus: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and it was so." So that both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses. And that which the poets call Erebus, we know was spoken of formerly by Moses.
And the physiological discussion concerning the Son of God in the Timoeus of Plato, where he says, "He placed him crosswise in the universe," he borrowed in like manner from Moses; for in the writings of Moses it is related how at that time, when the Israelites went out of Egypt and were in the wilderness, they fell in with poisonous beasts, both vipers and asps, and every kind of serpent, which slew the people; and that Moses, by the inspiration and influence of God, took brass, and made it into the figure of a cross, and set it in the holy tabernacle, and said to the people, "If ye look to this figure, and believe, ye shall be saved thereby." And when this was done, it is recorded that the serpents died, and it is handed down that the people thus escaped death. Which things Plato reading, and not accurately understanding, and not apprehending that it was the figure of the cross, but taking it to be a placing crosswise, he said that the power next to the first God was placed crosswise in the universe. And as to his speaking of a third, he did this because he read, as we said above, that which was spoken by Moses, "that the Spirit of God moved over the waters." For he gives the second place to the Logos which is with God, who he said was placed crosswise in the universe; and the third place to the Spirit who was said to be borne upon the water, saying, "And the third around the third." And hear how the Spirit of prophecy signified through Moses that there should be a conflagration. He spoke thus: "Everlasting fire shall descend, and shall devour to the pit beneath." It is not, then, that we hold the same opinions as others, but that all speak in imitation of ours. Among us these things can be heard and learned from persons who do not even know the forms of the letters, who are uneducated and barbarous in speech, though wise and believing in mind; some, indeed, even maimed and deprived of eyesight; so that you may understand that these things are not the effect of human wisdom, but are uttered by the power of God.

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