Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The 'Other' Gospel in the Marcionite Tradition

One of the principle reasons it is so difficult to figure out the Marcionite sect is that it is impossible to get a bearing on how the sect changed over time.  All things change, just ask Voltaire.  So it was undoubtedly with the Marcionites.  The big unanswered question for all of us who study the 'Marcionite phenomenon' is what were some of the key milestones in the evolution of the tradition?   Did the Marcionite identitiy and character change over time?  We will likely never have a satisfactory answer to that question.  But that doesn't mean that we can't piece together at least some of the lost history. 

We know for certain one important detail about the Marcionite understanding of the history of the Church - the earliest part of that tradition had to have been rooted in the Apostolikon (or in our terminology 'the epistles of St. Paul').  Now there is no doubt that many of the same epistles in the Marcionite canon were identified by different titles (what we identify as 'to the Ephesians' was for the Marcionites 'to the Laodiceans').  The Marcionite epistles also did not contain the same historical information as the later Catholic MSS (Origen reports that the Marcionite Epistle to the Romans ends after 14.23).  This means that a large amount of pseudo-historical information about 'Paul' was not endorsed by the sect.

Nevertheless with all of that said it is impossible to deny that the Marcionite understanding of ecclesiastical history was developed around a single event - their apostle's conflict with Peter at Jerusalem.  This is old news of course for most people who have studied the tradition.  Yet the new wrinkle I want us to consider is that Marcionitism might simply represent the unrepentant belief in the authority of the 'secret gospel' - the text which Clement seems willing to conceive was written after 'Peter and the disciples' preached the gospel at Rome. 

What do I mean by 'unrepentant'?  I think most of us who have thought about this discovery have always felt there was something artificial about the formulation:

As for Mark, then, during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge

I don't mean 'artificial' in the way those arguing the document is a fake use the term.  What I mean is that all of us who take the existence of a secret Gospel of Mark seriously inevitably think that the canonical text is a shortening of the longer Alexandrian original.  Why then does Clement make this absurd formulation that Mark wrote a gospel somehow connected with Peter and then a fuller gospel after his death?

I happen to think that Clement is attempting to find compromise between the original Alexandrian position that the 'secret gospel' is the original written text and the Roman position that canonical Mark is the true witness of Mark.  In other words, there must have been 'unrepentant' Marcionites (i.e. 'followers of Mark') who said 'fuck you' to Irenaeus and the Roman establishment - but Clement wasn't one such individual.  He and his future disciple Origen became crypto-Marcionites - i.e. to openly embrace the Catholic doctrines while continuing to perpetuate their doctrines in secret.  This compromise undoubtedly became more difficult when the first Catholic overseer Demetrius set foot in Alexandria.  But I think this is proper context to understand is going on in To Theodore. 

The original Alexandrian position which as I have noted was identical with 'pure' Marcionitism was a radically different vision of Christianity.  The first thing we should note is that it all came the vision given to one man - 'the apostle.'   We should be careful before we simply just project our inherited assumptions about 'the apostle' on to this tradition which did not accept the historical claims of the Acts of the Apostles and much of the rest of the Catholic canon.   We should not for instance simply assume that the Marcionites identified their apostle as being named Paul.  Irenaeus already says that they likely didn't (AH 3.14.4).  Even in the Catholic tradition 'Paul' isn't the apostle's birth name.  There is also a nexus of information that we have shown makes it very likely that the apostle was known by the name 'Mark' at Alexandria. 

Let's leave all these other issues at the side for the present moment and merely note that 'pure' Marcionites went out of their way to deny that any disciples named Matthew or John wrote gospels in the apostolic period.  The Marcionite says that the gospel they preached was 'unrecorded.'  It would be tempting to say that the Marcionites must have held that none of the disciples ever wrote a gospel.  Yet this is not necessarily the case.  There is a clear sense that the apostle accused Peter and those with him at Jerusalem of 'Judaizing' the gospel message.  Does this mean that mean that the Marcionites thought Peter was reponsible for the 'other gospel,' the 'different gospel' of Galatians chapter 1?  It isn't easy to determine anything from the available evidence.

Now I am very aware that people are going to say that we have learned to interpret 'gospel' to mean oral preaching.  But since the Marcionites clearly believed that when the apostle says 'my gospel' or 'the gospel of Christ' he meant 'the gospel of Mark' (which begins with similar words) our interpretation of his mention of 'another gospel' might also be incorrect.  He might have meant another written gospel.  Indeed even Origen seems open to the possibility that the apostle might have written a gospel and explicitly confirms the idea that he used and was familiar with a gospel which began with the opening words of Mark - viz. "the gospel of Christ ..."

So where do we begin?   Let's start by at least acknowledging that Irenaeus's notion that Mark was subordinated as Peter's gospel writer follows a pattern in the Catholic scriptures.  In Acts for instance we Mark as 'John Mark' who was deliberately subordinated to Peter and Paul.  There is also Irenaeus explaination that "after their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter." [AH 3.1.2]  Now the gospel associated with Mark is co-opted into Peter's gospel.  The Alexandrians still resist this claim so one would imagine that it would only have been stronger in antiquity. 

Yet must Irenaeus's motives be conceived in a purely negative light?   His apologists certainly identified him as a 'peacemaker.'  Couldn't Irenaeus have been trying to unite the Church under Roman authority?  As such this effort to suborindate Mark might have represented a parallel Roman effort to Clement's attempt to find some common ground between their respective traditions.

Now there must have been individuals who identified with traditional Alexandrian authority who resisted these reforms.  These people should be identified as 'unrepentant' or 'pure' Marcionites.  What I want to start to examine of the repeated statement in the anti-Marcionite writings that the Marcionites acknowledged that there were two gospels - their own and a 'Judaized copy' which seems to be associated with Peter at Jerusalem.  If the Marcionites claimed that their apostle already had a written gospel at the time he was writing Galatians then the 'other' gospel must also have been a written gospel.  Indeed the lost 'gospel of Peter' might well have been the original written gospel.   This would help explain a lot of anomalies in the Marcionite text and would ultimately reconcile the slightly different explanations of how the gospels were written by later Patristic writers.  

Now a few things have to be admited right off the bat.  The Marcionites certainly represented this 'gospel of Peter' as a false gospel.   Yet we have to consider it might have been 'false' because the Marcionites (or Mark himself) disagreed with its message.  The Petrine text might well have been the first gospel nonetheless. 

Another problem we are faced with is that we don't know exactly when the Marcionites claimed that the apostle wrote his gospel.  There are a few clues in the writings.  The first is that the account of the 'unspeakable revelation' (2 Cor 12.4) which the Catholic texts deliberately garbles was understood to be given directly to Mark himself (Irenaeus 3.14; Eznik of Kolb). In other words, it was a description of some transformational event which ultimately led to the writing of the gospel.  Yet when the Marcionites understood this event to have occurred is still a mystery. 

The second clue that we have available to us is what he says in 1 Corinthians which - as already noted - bears a striking resemblance to Clement's formula in the Letter to Theodore:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified ... My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of man, but on God's power. Yet we do speak a wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. [1 Cor 2.1-7]

The apostle speaks of 'proclaiming' a simple version of the gospel, perhaps openly, to people before finally establishing the 'hidden gospel' referenced in To Theodore.  It is difficult to say when this gospel writing took place but there are clues in the anti-Marcionite writings that it happened after the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE.  We will examine these later. 

For the moment I think it might be fruitful to suggest that even these texts weren't just ambiguous to us but all who read the writings of the apostle.  They were so obscure in fact that all subsequent historical traditions developed their narratives from its inherent ambiguity.  The author of Acts can argue that 'Paul' and Peter somehow reconciled at Antioch.  Yet how could the two gospels be reconciled with one another?  That was far more problematic. 

While Irenaeus couldn't go so far as to claim that Paul's gospel was one and the same with Peter he could develop the idea that Mark - a now wholly subordinated figure developed from the apostle's original name - ended up becoming Peter's interpreter and writing a gospel 'according to Mark' which was really 'of Peter.'  Clement being aware of this construct and avoiding confirming or denying it by merely saying that "during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings."  The argument that the secret gospel was only written after "Peter died a martyr" is interestingly the very timeframe in which Irenaeus suggests that canonical Mark was written. 

The point we are suggesting here is that we shoudl imagine Irenaeus and Clement, the Roman and Alexandrian traditions layering accounts on top of each others public interpretation of the historical information contained in the Apostolikon.  It isn't at all clear whether Peter ever wrote a gospel but the Clement's claim that Mark wrote one for him is clearly an attempt to find some compromise between the two texts claiming to be 'the gospel of Mark' in the late second century.   What is Clement's compromise?   I think it is to avoid the implications inherent in the 'pure' Marcionite position that the apostle rejected the gospel of Peter.  The answer lies in this (and related reports in Against Marcion):

They allege that in separating the Law and the Gospel Marcion did not so much invent a new rule as refurbish a rule previously debased. So then Christ, our most patient Lord, has through all these years borne with a perversion of the preaching about himself, until, if you please, Marcion should come to his rescue. They object that Peter and those others, pillars of the apostleship, were reproved by Paul for not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospela—by that Paul, you understand, who, yet inexperienced in grace, and anxious lest he had run or was running in vain, was then for the first time conferring with those who were apostles before him. So then if, as still a neophyte, in his zeal against Judaism he thought something in their conduct called for reproof, their indiscriminate associations in fact,1 though he himself was afterwards to become in practice all things to all men—to the Jews as a Jew, to those under the law as himself under the lawb—do you allege that that reproof, concerning conduct and nothing more, conduct which its critic was afterwards to approve of, must be supposed to refer to some deviation in their preaching concerning God?

On the contrary, in respect of the unity of their preaching, as we have read earlier in this epistle, they had joined their right hands, and by the very act of having divided their spheres of work had signified their agreement in the fellowship of the gospel: as he says in another place, Whether it were I or they, so we preach.  Also, although he writes of how certain false brethren had crept in unawares, desiring to remove the Galatians to another gospel, he himself shows clearly that that adulteration of the gospel was not concerned with diversion of the faith towards another god and another Christ [AM  21]

As long as we keep our inhereted assumption about when this confrontation with Peter took place (i.e. the apostolic age) the Marcionite paradigm remains an enigma to us.  However I will demonstrate good reason to think that this confrontation with Peter took place much later than most people think.  The likelihood was indeed that those associated with Peter were first to write a gospel and then the Alexandrian gospel of Mark developed from this lost original text.  Yet there is all ahead of us.  It is imperative first that we go through all the literary references of what the Marcionite historical paradigm actually was first ...

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