Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Marcionite Interest in the Virginity of John the Disciple of Jesus

Some of you who follow this blog may be asking yourselves after my last post - how do we know that the Marcionites took an interest in John the disciple? What suggestion is there that he was made a eunuch or came to embody the ascetic ideal of the Marcionite sect? Well there is a statement in the writings of Ephrem (whose information about the Marcionites is the best of all the Church Fathers given the influence of the sect in Edessa into the fourth century). Ephem says quite explicitly:

And that thou mightest know that this is so, the Maker sanctified Moses and sent him to Egypt, and since Moses wished to take his wife with him by force, He (i.e. the Maker) constrained him by means of an angel to send her back, that He might show how pleasing holiness is to Him. And the Stranger also acted likewise towards Simon (Peter), although he did not compel him ; and (the fact) that he did not compel him, was it because it did not [become] Him to compel, not only because He is good but also because He is not our Creator ? And again, when the People [of Israel] had been sanctified, He did not allow them to approach the holy mountain because they were turning again to married life; but the People were standing at a distance, and Moses the holy was speaking, and God was answering with a voice. And again, the disciples also were standing in silence [at the Transfiguration], and Simon only was speaking. And perhaps thou wilt say, Was there not among them John, a virgin, and were not all his companions holy? (But I reply, Nay—) for here (i.e. at Sinai) also were not the People holy in relation to the Maker ? And Joshua was a virgin, and he (i.e. Moses) was brought in with Joshua only. Lo ! here also it is found that Isu resembles the Maker; for the Maker sanctified the chief of His prophets, and Isu sanctified the chief of His apostles.[Ephrem Against Marcion Book 1 from Prose Refutations of Mani, Marcion and Bardaisan. Transcribed from the Palimpsest B.M, C. W. MITCHELL, volume 2 (1921) p. 95, 96]

The only reason that Ephrem would have thought that the Marcionites would bring up John's virginity here is because he knew that they were quite vocal about their interest in it. I am going to shoot Baarda an email and see what the word for 'virgin' is here and whether it can be translated another - STRONGER - way.

The point is that my basic understanding that the Marcionite gospel of Mark might have introduced the idea of a secret initiation of John the disciple (cf Secret Mark) who in turn might have been Jesus the Lord's eunuch Christ is a possibility which is very much alive.

Some addition curious references to "John the virgin" in Ephrem's writings. In a few words Ephrem shows Christ as the second Moses, who said 'The Lord will raise you up another prophet like me' (Deut. 18: 15),

who will give you your fill of bread in the desert. 'Like me', who walked on the sea, and was seen in seen in the cloud, and freed his Church from circumcision, and appointed John the virgin instead of Joshua bar Nun, and delivered to him Mary his Church, as Moses delivered his flock to Joshua, so as to fulfil that 'like me'.(EC 12,5 Syr pp 78 - 80; Arm. 161]

This interpretation is unusual. Mary is made a type of the Church, yet by using the comparison with Moses' entrusting the community of Israel to Joshua, Ephrem seems to neglect the fact that it was as mother that Jesus gave Mary to John. He implies rather that it was in order that John might be the Church's spouse as Christ's representative, a figure applied also to bishops

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.