Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reconciling the Initial Hostility Against the Gospel of John With Clement's Reconstruction of Historical Events in the Early Church in To Theodore

I have done some initial investigations to see whether my theory that Secret Mark might in fact be the Marcionite gospel might have something going for it. I am pretty confident that it does. There is a lot of evidence that I will bring forward over the next few weeks including a number of references in Tertullian to develop the connection with Clement's portrait of the emergence of Secret Mark even further.

It is interesting to note that I find more support for the idea in the writings of Origen than I do with his teacher Clement. The problem might be with my understanding of Clement's terminology. More on that later.

As a kind of mental note (hypomnema) to myself and those reading this blog, I am also starting to formulate how Irenaeus's eventual introduction of the fourfold gospel might reflect familiarity with the same original historical paradigm. In other words, the Marcionites and the Catholics might have seen the same basic historical pattern - i.e. that what we would call the 'synpotics' were created in the apostolic period and that a 'more spiritual' gospel was created in a subsequent age. Where they differed was of course on which gospel should properly be defined as this pneumatikoteron euangelion - (Alexandrian) Mark or the (original) Gospel of John.

As C Clifton Black notes of the description in To Theodore that "with his characterization of the Alexandrian recension of Mark as 'a more spiritual Gospel' (pneumatikoteron euangelion) one might compare Clement's similar evaluation of John as a pneumatikon euangelion" (HE 6.14.7). Yet it is important to note that the text Eusebius cites as having Clementine authorship - i.e. the Hypotyposeis - is explicitly rejected by Photius of Constantinople. Indeed that Photius's student Arethas did not include the Hypotyposeis in the surviving collection of Clement's writings speaks volumes. Moreover a number of recent studies of the contents of the Hypotyposeis have confirmed Photius's original suspicions focusing in part on the Hypotyposeis's insistance that Peter and Cephas were two different individuals (when Clement says they were the same person).

If we assume then that the Hypotyposeis were not written by Clement but by a much later Alexandrian Christian - perhaps Theognostus of Alexandria (c. 260 CE) - and thus reflecting a different understanding than that of the Letter to Theodore. I would even argue that the author has adopted the ultimately foreign idea that the Gospel of John is properly defined as the 'spiritual gospel.' Perhaps by this time already the Secret Gospel had disappeared. We should quote the original section in Eusebius for some perspective:

To sum up briefly, he [Clement] has given in the Hypotyposes abridged accounts of all canonical Scripture, not omitting the disputed books, — I refer to Jude and the other Catholic epistles, and Barnabas and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter. He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name. Farther on he says: “But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.”

Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:

The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel. This is the account of Clement.

I think it is safe to say that the Hypotyposeis actually presents the gospel of John in the role that Secret Mark must have originally held within the Alexandrian tradition. Origen's treatment of the Gospel of John in his commentary can be read to have a similar recognition, albeit Origen has not went completely over to the idea that John is the 'hidden gospel' referenced in 1 Cor 2.6 and 2 Cor 4.4.

I would tentatively argue that the disputes over the authenticity of the Johannine canon that are first witnessed in Rome and later spread to Alexandria have something to do with this idea that John 'replaced' Secret Mark as the 'final' gospel revelation. Without getting too much into my thoughts on the subject, there are clear instances where Gaius of Rome seems to be rejecting John on the basis of its disagreement with Mark. My suspicion would be that the Gospel of John was originally associated with Polycarp and that he was the unnamed prebyter who came from Alexandria with a fraudulent copy of the 'hidden gospel' of the community and ended up adding numerous periscopes, altering the structure of the narrative and freely rendering the original. Polycarp's gospel would have resembled the Diatessaron (a mix of synoptic and so-called Johannine material). The raising of Lazarus would for instance be a deliberate reworking of first addition to Secret Mark (LGM 1) mentioned in to Theodore.

My guess again would be that it was Irenaeus who separated the narratives so as to make John appear less like a synoptic gospel (and thus mute the argument that contradicts their accounts). Irenaeua also argued that John was a separate historical figure from Mark. That way the two gospels could be reconciled. To this day the Alexandrians (and virtually everyone else) identify Mark with John Mark. By making Polycarp's John a separate figure from Alexandrian St. Mark the canon could ultimately be reconciled. This would also explain Clement's strange statement in To Theodore that whatever gospel the Carpocratians (in Rome) were promoting, it was not held by Alexandrians to be the true gospel of Mark - i.e. Polycarp's John was not St. Mark of Alexandria.

Irenaeus's 'peacemaking' with regards to the canon would then ultimately have run along the 'John who was also called Mark' fault line. I suspect also that the proper dating for To Theodore would be very early - i.e. before Irenaeus's composition of the material which now forms the Third Book of Against Heresies (c. 185 CE).

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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