Sunday, September 5, 2010

Marcion and the Gnostics [Part Three]

There is an undeniable relationship between this lost υπομνηματα cited in writings of Christian authors like Irenaeus, Eusebius and Epiphanius and Celsus's report on contemporary controversies in the Christian community in Rome. So what was the reason why all these different individuals employed this historical text? It was certainly the earliest Christian chronicle. Yet I think it was also the first 'expose' as it were - a remarkable piece of journalism where one Christian was accusing an entire Church of engaging in absolutely abominable acts. This is certainly one very strong reason why Celsus's was attracted to the text. His attack against those calling themselves gnostikoi immediately became all the more credible as he was citing from Christian sources.

It is difficult to determine how accurate the original information in this υπομνηματα really was. There are some important differences between Origen's report about Celsus's use of the material and what was known to Irenaeus, Eusebius and Epiphanius. While Celsus mentions the existence of the 'Harpocratians of Salome' he does not seem to explicitly connect all the reports originally associated with the Carpocratians in the original text. Origen never makes the connection between Celsus's report and the material in the υπομνηματα and neither again Irenaeus's five volume work, nor to Hippolytus's Refutation of All Heresies nor with any other syntagma which might have mentioned this sect. Origen interestingly doesn't even correct Celsus with regards to his identification of the sect as 'Harpocratians' instead of Carpocratians.

There are other curiosities in Origen's reporting as well. The actual name of the sect in the original text cited by Eusebius is Μαρκιανισταί. Origen produces instead Μαρκιωνιστων but adds clearly the name Marcion to explain the original reading. Yet the original source Celsus was producing must have read very much like Eusebius's υπομνηματα - a list of names of sects without much in the way of explanation:

From them sprang the Menandrianists, and Μαρκιανισταί, and Carpocratians, and Valentinians, and Basilidians, and Saturnilians. Each introduced privately and separately his own peculiar opinion.

It is interesting to note that an almost identical list of names appears in our surviving copies of Justin Martyr's Apology:

Yet they style themselves Christians, just as certain among the Gentiles inscribe the name of God upon the works of their own hands, and partake in nefarious and impious rites. Some are called Μαρκιανοί, and some Valentinians, and some Basilidians, and some Saturnilians, and others by other names; each called after the originator of the individual opinion, just as each one of those who consider themselves philosophers, as I said before, thinks he must bear the name of the philosophy which he follows, from the name of the father of the particular doctrine [Apology 35]

The passage has been recognized by Marcovich and Otto to derive from the υπομνηματα. So if all the manuscripts likely read 'those of Mark' why did Origen effectively go out of his way to provide another reading entirely that had nothing to do with Mark? I think it has everything to do with the υπομνηματα being the original source for Clement's discussion in To Theodore about the relationship of the Carpocratians to the secret gospel of St. Mark.

Email with comments or questions.

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