Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The 'Unspeakable' Revelation of Marcion and Secret Mark

I have always believed that it is indeed possible for us to come to terms with alternative paradigms for Christianity. The problem is quite simple: the two parties that promote 'certainty' - i.e. the atheists and the pious - effectively suck all the air out of the room.

The Marcionite tradition stands out as an understandable tradition because it is so straightforward and sensible. The apostle wrote the gospel. The gospel made Christianity. No one else matters except perhaps as foils to his 'unspeakable' revelation from heaven.

I have never succeeded at learning yoga or Eastern meditation but I am a firm believer that all meaningful knowledge begins with us quieting our inner voices. Stop telling the text what it should say and you'll be amazed at what you'll hear.

The same is true with this very simple and straightforward Marcionite paradigm.

The apostle has an unspeakable revelation. Forget everything you think you know about the 'apostle Paul' and his story in the Catholic scriptures. When you go into a Chinese restaurant you should try to drink tea and use chopsticks.

The unspeakable revelation in 2 Corinthians 12 has to be the original context of the apostle's 'authority' to write the gospel (at least according to the Marcionite paradigm). If the gospel is a holy book - even the second Torah - it can't be grounded in a mundane collection of facts. It had to framed by a revelation. Various statements in the Church Fathers confirm that the Marcionites did just that.

Eznik of Kolb even says that Marcion himself claimed to have had the same revelation as is attributed to 'Paul' in the Catholic scriptures. There's something to think about for a lifetime. Did the Marcionites even have a 'Paul'? Was Marcion the Marcionite apostle? As Irenaeus notes Marcion even claims to have a 'part' (partem) in the gospel. (AH 3.11.9)

In the end it is enough to just spend our time dwelling on the Marcionite construct for the revelation of the gospel. Where did it occur? Under what context could this Marcion have had the revelation of 2 Corinthians chapter 12?

The path out of this wilderness, I suspect, is to follow the thread of logic that Marcion is a diminutive form of Mark. Hilgenfeld seemed to think so and his work is so superior to von Harnack's, it is unfortunate that his views rarely get the attention of modern scholars.

There are any number of reasons why the name Marcus might have been preserved in its diminutive form but the possibility that Mark might also have been Jesus's beloved child disciple is certainly one of them. The vision of 'little Mark' naked but for a sheet in the Passio Petri Sancti is certainly important here. It occurs in the context of Peter's impending martyrdom 'in imitation' of the evangelist in his sacred martyrium in Alexandria, the holiest place in Christian Egypt.

We will have to leave this question unanswered for a moment and move on to the obvious parallels that the idea of the apostle receiving a 'revelation' has with the experience of the prophet Daniel. Daniel was very close to the Marcionites. Ephrem reports the Marcionites compared their devotion to prayer with the example of Daniel. Daniel was a eunuch and Marcionites had either a eunuch priesthood or at the very least a great number of eunuch among their presbytery. The Dialogues of Adamantius demonstrate the Marcionite interest in interpreting the prophesies of Daniel. Theodotian the famous translator of Daniel is said to have been a Marcionite. All strange features of a sect which is often said to have been 'hostile to the Law and the prophets'

But then again Daniel is not counted among the prophets by the Jews ...

What is indeed so very, very unusual also - and mostly overlooked by scholars - is how the description of Daniel's first 'revelation' in Dan 2:19 - 24 seems to bear such an uncanny resemblance to the gospel if not the original gospel revelation. Let's look at the LXX version of the material.

The story goes something like this. The Babylonian king has a dream which all the wise men in his kingdom can't solve. He is about to kill them but then just as suddenly Daniel is privileged to receive a heavenly revelation:

Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night; and Daniel blessed the God of heaven, and said:

May the name of God be blessed from everlasting and to everlasting: for wisdom and understanding are his. And he changes times and seasons; he appoints kings and removes them, giving wisdom to the wise, and prudence to them that have understanding; he reveals deep and secret matters; knowing what is in darkness, and the light is with him. I give thanks to thee, and praise thee, O God of my fathers, for thou hast given me wisdom and power, and hast made known to me the things which we asked of thee.

Δανιηλ καὶ εἶπεν εἴη τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ θεοῦ εὐλογημένον ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος ὅτι ἡ σοφία καὶ ἡ σύνεσις αὐτοῦ ἐστιν

καὶ αὐτὸς ἀλλοιοῖ καιροὺς καὶ χρόνους καθιστᾷ βασιλεῖς καὶ μεθιστᾷ διδοὺς σοφίαν τοῖς σοφοῖς καὶ φρόνησιν τοῖς εἰδόσιν σύνεσιν

αὐτὸς ἀποκαλύπτει βαθέα καὶ ἀπόκρυφα γινώσκων τὰ ἐν τῷ σκότει καὶ τὸ φῶς μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν

σοί ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων μου ἐξομολογοῦμαι καὶ αἰνῶ ὅτι σοφίαν καὶ δύναμιν ἔδωκάς μοι καὶ νῦν ἐγνώρισάς μοι ἃ ἠξιώσαμεν παρὰ σοῦ καὶ τὸ ὅραμα τοῦ βασιλέως ἐγνώρισάς μοι

καὶ ἦλθεν Δανιηλ πρὸς Αριωχ ὃν κατέστησεν ὁ βασιλεὺς ἀπολέσαι τοὺς σοφοὺς Βαβυλῶνος καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ τοὺς σοφοὺς Βαβυλῶνος μὴ ἀπολέσῃς εἰσάγαγε δέ με ἐνώπιον τοῦ βασιλέως καὶ τὴν σύγκρισιν τῷ βασιλεῖ ἀναγγελῶ

As Craig Evans notes this material seems to have inspired the material common to Matthew 11:25:

I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes (v. 25)

Jesus' prayer seems to be a counterpoint to Daniel's prayer: "He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding ... To Thee, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for Thou hast given me wisdom and power; even now Thou hast made known to me what we requested of Thee" (Dan. 2:21, 23). Jesus' prayer parallels these components, but in reverse order (ie, Matt. 11:25 = Dan. 2:23 + 21) and in an opposite sense: Daniel thanks God for giving wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the understanding; Jesus thanks God for withholding wisdom from the wise and understanding, giving it instead to babes [Bible Knowledge p. 235]

Evans also notes that the specific epithet 'Lord of heaven' employed in the gospel here also comes from Daniel (Dan 5:23).

The only new thing that the gospel narrative introduces is the idea that God has revealed this knowledge to 'children' or a 'child.' Who is this child that has received this revelation? Evans follows the standard interpretation that 'babes' represent the unrefined juxtaposed against the sophisticated (here 'the wise'). Yet does this really make any sense? The idea here is clear not that God will give to babes but that God has already given to children or a child. Clearly those who will come after the ministry of Jesus will be likened to children because Jesus has already set up this comparison. Yet it is interesting to note that Origen emphasizes that Jesus wasn't speaking of a generic 'child' or 'children' here and elsewhere but the beloved disciple identified as John in most reports.

Yet clearly if John the author of the gospel is meant the reference cannot be to a revelation which leads to the composition of the second Torah for these words are never included in the canonical gospel of John. But could Mark have been meant? The Alexandrian tradition has always taken Mark and John to be interchangeable names of the same disciple. Of course the seemingly obvious objection to this line of reasoning is that the saying doesn't appear in canonical Mark.

But did it at one time?

I'm sure that many people with think I am engaging in fanciful speculation until they realize that Irenaeus does indeed confirm that in his day the section was indeed undoubtedly found in Mark. For Irenaeus matter of factly notes that:

For the Lord, revealing Himself to His disciples, that He Himself is the Word, who imparts knowledge of the Father, and reproving the Jews, who imagined that they, had [the knowledge of] God, while they nevertheless rejected His Word, through whom God is made known, declared, "No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whom the Son has willed to reveal [Him]." Thus hath Matthew set it down, and Luke in like manner, and Mark the very same; for John omits this passage. They, however, who would be wiser than the apostles, write in the following manner: "No man knew the Father, but the Son; nor the Son, but the Father, and he to whom the Son has willed to reveal [Him];" and they explain it as if the true God were known to none prior to our Lord's advent; and that God who was announced by the prophets, they allege not to be the Father of Christ. [AH 4.6.1]

Wherever the material borrowed from Daniel 2:22 is cited it is immediately followed by the words identified by Irenaeus in his original copies of the gospel of Mark. The one follows the other in Matthew and - as we shall now demonstrate - also in Luke:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." [Luke 10:21,22]

The point of course is that there can be no doubt that the whole section was at one time present in copies of Mark in Irenaeus's day but subsequently removed.

It is worth noting also that Irenaeus also references the first part of the section being in a 'gospel of Mark' - i.e. a heretic of the same name various Church Fathers claim to have followers in all parts of the Empire. Could Mark the heretic really be the Alexandrian St. Mark? And could this gospel be a longer version of the canonical text which was also at once the gospel of the so-called Marcionites? It is difficult to prove this all in a single post but it is worth noting that Irenaeus's chapter on the heretical gospel of Mark makes reference not only to this saying supporting the reading just cited but also a ritual baptism ritual at the very same part of the narrative where the Mar Saba adds its infamous initiation.

Again let's stick to our original topic. Irenaeus introduces the heretical gospel of Mark as one which was 'secret' and more significant one which seems to be related to the 'unspeakable' revelation of 2 Corinthians chapter 12. The section begins:

Besides the above, they adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth [AH 1.20.1]

And then after referencing a number of passages from that secret text Irenaeus concludes with the statements that the followers of this heretic Mark:

adduce the following passage as the highest testimony, and, as it were, the very crown of their system:--"I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes. Even so, my Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knoweth the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him." In these words they affirm that He clearly showed that the Father of truth, conjured into existence by them, was known to no one before His advent. And they desire to construe the passage as if teaching that the Maker and Framer [of the world] was always known by all, while the Lord spoke these words concerning the Father unknown to all, whom they now proclaim. [ibid]

This is the very same argument which is used in AH 4.6.1 in relation to the material which immediately follows this reference and which Irenaeus claims originally was found in the gospel of Mark.

The obvious question now is why isn't this section of material now found in the canonical gospel of Mark? Are people ready to admit that even as orthodox a figure as Irenaeus testifies to the fact earlier copies of the Gospel of Mark appeared 'fuller' than what we see now. They once had this narrative and quite possibly others like the ones testified to in the Letter to Theodore.

Indeed we can strengthen the association of this heretical sect associated with Mark and the Alexandrian tradition of Clement of Alexandria a great deal. Philip Schaff and a number of other scholars have noticed that Clement employs the very same Marcosian text condemned by Irenaeus as heretical. If one text associated with heretical Mark or the heretical Markan tradition

can be associated with Clement why not another? Why not the 'hidden and spurious' and ultimately secret Gospel of Mark of Alexandria written through an unspeakable revelation given to the apostle?

There is so much more we could say ...

Email with comments or questions.

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