Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Does Philo Witness Marcion?

I am back from an extended vacation in which I had the opportunity to actually enjoy reading books again. One of the authors I spent a great deal of time reading was Philo, who, I have often noted here, seems to have knowledge of the Markan heretics and especially their use of Pauline material.

I know this might sound crazy to most of my readers. After all we 'know' that 'Paul' never traveled to Alexandria. But I have argued at length here that there are good reasons for believing that the letter which is called 'the first letter to the Corinthians' is actually a Catholic reworking of a Marcionite text originally identified as 'to the Alexandrians.'

That Pauline texts resemble Philo's writings has long been noted but what I am suggesting here has not. I think that that Philo bears witness to the primacy of the Marcionite recension of the Pauline writings and in particular the Marcionite interpretation of the scripture we identify as 1 Corinthians 9:9 but which was undoubtedly identified as 'to the Alexandrians' by the followers of Mark (Marqione as we have already noted is an Aramaic gentilic collective plural meaning 'those of Mark').

Now I don't want to get sidetracked by all the assumptions about the period that Marcion was active. The bottom line is that it is the Catholic sources - and in particular Irenaeus - who fix the date of Marcion's activity in the middle of the second century. Clement by contrast says that Marcion became a Christian in the early apostolic period.

Indeed even if modern Catholic apologists become adamant about dating Marcion in the second century period there are clear signs that the 'Marcion' encountered by Polycarp belonged to a tradition which must have included a distinct collection of Pauline writings and interpretation which stretched back to the first century.

'Marcion' is our earliest authority on the Pauline writings. This should certainly mean something (but it doesn't). Nevertheless to make up for lost time, let's attempt to make sense of the Marcionite interpretation of our 1 Cor 9:9.

Epiphanius alludes to Marcionite variants in this section which are also found in Catholic MSS. We read:

[1 Corinthians 9:9 is] given in an altered form. In place of, ’in the Law,’ he [Marcion] says ’in the Law of Moses.’ [Eusebius Pan 42,11,8]

So all that we can acknowledge is that the Marcionite text read:

For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned?

ἐν γὰρ τῷ Μωϋσέως νόμῳ γέγραπται· οὐ φιμώσεις βοῦν ἀλοῶντα. μὴ τῶν βοῶν μέλει τῷ θεῷ

It should be self-evident that the Marcionites DID NOT have most of the rest of the material which surrounds 1 Cor 9:9. This was undoubtedly developed by a Catholic editor to provide ANOTHER context for the obvious depreciation of the traditional Jewish interpretation of the Law.

It should be acknowledged that there was a very well established position within Judaism that Deuteronomy (the book cited here) was written only on the authority of Moses. In other words, it was not written by God. Abraham Heschel (Heavenly Torah) has developed a fascinating study of this understanding in the rabbinic literature which can be read here.

Heschel also provides us with an earlier view which argues that the Sadducees and the Samaritans emphasized that God only wrote the ten utterances (commandments). I happen to think that this was the original Christian point of view.

In other words, in some sense 'Marcion' (or Mark) can be understood to be arguing that the Law of Moses was imperfect because it did not come from God but Moses. God would only care for the creation made after his image - man - whereas the Law of Moses reflects an interest in human concerns like the welfare of animals. This is clearly reflected in the surviving fragmentary information about the Marcionite exegesis of 1 Cor 9:9:

But he wanted divine authority. What was the use, however, of adducing the Creator’s, which he was destroying? It was vain to do so; for his god had no such authority! [The apostle] says: ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn,’ and adds: ‘Doth God take care of oxen?’ Yes, of oxen, for the sake of men! For, says he, ‘it is written for our sakes.’ Thus he showed that the law had a symbolic reference to ourselves(…)” [Against Marcion V.7]

Megethius the Marcionite ”I will demonstrate that the Apostle mentions [the ancient prophets] in many places(…) ”Who tends a flock, and does not get sustenance from the milk? Surely I do not say these things by human authority, for does not even the law say these things? In the law of Moses it stands written, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing’. Surely God is not concerned for oxen? Rather, does he not certainly speak for our sakes? It is written for our sakes, because the ploughman ought to plough in hope.” [Dialogue 1.22]

Once we become aware that there was an early tradition which identified 1 Cor 9:9 as criticizing 'the Law made by Moses' for its interest in the well being of animals one can perhaps see Philo's awareness of this position at the time he was writing On the Virtues:

But these men have established these enactments with reference to human beings, but this lawgiver of ours, going beyond them all, extends his humanity even to brute beasts, in order that ... we being accustomed to practise all the things ordained in his laws, may display an excessive degree of humanity, abstaining from pursuing any one, or even from annoying them in retaliation for any annoyance which we have received at their hands, and that we may not store up in secret our own good things, so as to keep them to ourselves, but may bring them into the middle, and offer them freely to all men everywhere, as if they were our kinsmen and our natural brothers.

Moreover, let wicked sycophants calumniate the whole nation as one given to inhumanity, and our laws as enjoining unsociable and inhuman observances, while the laws do thus openly show compassion on even the herds of cattle, and while the whole nation from its earliest youth is, as far as the disobedient nature of their souls will admit of, brought over by the honest admonitions of the law to a peaceable disposition. And our lawgiver endeavours to surpass even himself, being a man of every kind of resource which can tend to virtue, and having a certain natural aptitude for virtuous recommendations; for he commands that one shall not take an animal from the mother, whether it be a lamb, or a kid, or any other creature belonging to the flocks or herds, before it is weaned. And having also given a command that no one shall sacrifice the mother and the offspring on the same day, he goes further, and is quite prodigal on the particularity of his injunctions, adding this also, "Thou shalt not seethe a lamb in his mother's Milk."{Ex 23:19} For he looked upon it as a very terrible thing for the nourishment of the living to be the seasoning and sauce of the dead animal, and when provident nature had, as it were, showered forth milk to support the living creature, which it had ordained to be conveyed through the breasts of the mother, as if through a regular channel, that the unbridled licentiousness of men should go to such a height that they should slay both the author of the existence of the other, and make use of it in order to consume the body of the other. And if any one should desire to dress flesh with milk, let him do so without incurring the double reproach of inhumanity and impiety. There are innumerable herds of cattle in every direction, and some are every day milked by the cowherds, or goatherds, or shepherds, since, indeed, the milk is the greatest source of profit to all breeders of stock, being partly used in a liquid state and partly allowed to coagulate and solidify, so as to make cheese. So that, as there is the greatest abundance of lambs, and kids, and all other kinds of animals, the man who seethes the flesh of any one of them in the milk of its own mother is exhibiting a terrible perversity of disposition, and exhibits himself as wholly destitute of that feeling which, of all others, is the most indispensable to, and most nearly akin to, a rational soul, namely, compassion.

I also greatly admire that law which, like a singer in a well-trained chorus, is perfectly in accord with those which have gone before it, and which forbids a man to "muzzle the ox which treadeth out the Corn."{Deuteronomy 25:4} For it is he who, before the sowing was performed, cut the furrows through the deep-soiled plain, and prepared the field for the operations of heaven and for the labours of the husbandman; for the latter, so that he might sow it at a seasonable time, and for the other, that the deep bosom of the earth might receive its bounty displayed in gentle showers, and in consequence might treasure up rich nutriment for the seed and dispense it to it gradually until it should swell into the full ear and bring its annual fruit to perfection. And, after the corn is brought to perfection, then again the ox is necessary for another service, namely, for the purification of the sheaves, and the separation of the chaff from the genuine useful grain. And since I have explained this distinct and humane command respecting the oxen which tread out the corn, I will now proceed to speak of that one which relates to the animals which plough, which is also of the same family; for the lawgiver also forbids the husbandman to yoke the ox and the ass together in the same plough for ploughing, {Deuteronomy 22:10} considering in this not only the difference of nature between the two animals, because the one is clean, while the ass is one of the unclean beasts, and it is not becoming to bring together animals which are so utterly alienated, but also because they are unequal in point of strength, he takes care of that which is the weaker, in order that it may not be oppressed and worn out by the greater power of the other. And, indeed, the ass, which is the weaker animal, is driven outside of the sacred precincts; but the more vigorous beast, namely, the ox, is offered up as a victim in the most perfect sacrifices. But, nevertheless, the lawgiver neither neglected the safety of the unclean animals, nor did he permit those which were clean to use their strength in disregard of justice, crying out and declaring loudly in express words, if one may say so, to those persons who have ears in their soul, not to injure any one of a different nation, unless they have some grounds for bringing accusations against them beyond the fact of their being of another nation, which is not ground of blame; for those things which are not wickedness, and which do not proceed from wickedness, are free from all reproach.
[On the Virtues 140 - 149]

The point of course is that when you look at things from a Marcionite perspective it is very easy to see how the 'sycophants' of Philo's On Virtues may well have been Christian followers of the Apostle. The argument clearly must have originally been that the true God would necessarily exclusively have an interest in his people.

Got to go to sleep right now, but I hope someone 'gets' where I am going with this one ...

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