Monday, October 25, 2010

Rabbinic Encounters with the Marcionites

The Babylonian Talmud tells, "A certain sectarian asked Rav Idit, 'The Torah says, "He said to Moses, 'Ascend to the Lord'"!' (Exodus 24:1). If it was God talking, why didn't it say, 'Ascend to Me'? He replied, 'This refers to the Angel Metatron, whose name is like his Master's.' According to the Jerusalem Targum, Michael, the Angel of Wisdom, said to Moses, 'Ascend to the Lord.' [BT Sanhedrin 38b but see also Genesis Rabbati p. 28]

Nahmanides interpreted R. Idit's remark to mean: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Ascend to Metatron.'" R. Idit replied to the sectarian "that the scripture was referring to the angel who showed Israel the way on the earth. But Moses replied that we would not accept him even in the capacity of guide, as it says, 'If Your Presence does not accompany us, do not make us leave this place' (Exodus 33:15)— we accept no emissary except for the Divine Name.

Ibn Ezra and Maimonides both stressed that Moses actually met the highest god face to face in Exodus 24.1 but the sectarian position continued to have witnesses especially into the later period.

Rabbi Nathan bar Samuel the Physician interpreted, "Then [one] said to Moses, 'Ascend to the Lord'" (Exodus 24:1) as follows: "The Active Intellect said to Moses, 'Ascend through your well-formed thought to the Lord." And the author of Meor ha-Afelah wrote, "Scripture calls the divine effluence which reaches the prophet's intellect from the Active Intellect ... him' (Numbers 7:89)— as we wrote elsewhere, from the utterance which proceeded from the Lord was formed an angel, directly, without mediation of an angel, 'face to face.'"

R. Hayyim ibn 'Attar interpreted similarly: '"He would hear the Voice addressing him' (Numbers 7:89) — as we wrote elsewhere, from the utterance which proceeded from the Lord was formed an angel, which would speak to the the prophet. This is how I have interpreted every occurrence of the word lemor in connection with divine communication. Here, too, the 'voice' speaking to him refers to a voice created for the purpose by the Holy and Blessed One."

Views were preserved that Moses received various things from angels. "Moses' prayer was a variant of the Divine Name which he learned from Zagzagel, the rabbi and scribe of the heavenly realm." And R. Hayyim Vital wrote, "Know that when Enoch died [sic/], he was at a higher level than Moses, for he was Moses' teacher; he is the angel Zagzagel. He attained the level of hayyah, but Moses only attained neshamah. But the Messiah will achieve yehidah."

I don't there are many people who will appreciate this understanding and tradition - Christians don't have a clue what Judaism is, nor Jews earliest Christianity. But the idea is clearly reinforcing the original ground of Marcionitism refracted through the distorting lens of Irenaeus, Ephrem and the Church Fathers dependent on them.

The Marcionite tradition was seen by Jews as a Jewish sect. The connection is always present. Of course one could argue that was is being described here isn't 'Marcionitism' but a Jewish sect which came to many of the same conclusions as the Marcionites.  Even if this were true, what the evidence shows is an underlying Jewish context for Marcionite ideas.  The Church Fathers have not explained the Marcionites; they have instead merely found a convenient way to write them off by implying antinomian tendencies in the group which weren't original there.

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