Saturday, December 4, 2010

Did the Marcionite Preserve a 'Secret Gospel' Alonside Their 'Curtailed' Public Gospel?

Regular readers of my blog know that I think that I have solved the mystery of Clement's 'secret gospel' first mentioned openly in the recently discovered Letter to Theodore from the Mar Saba monastery near Bethlehem.  Clement was a crypto-Marcionite.  So was Origen and so was Origen's benefactor Ambrose.  Indeed I believe that 'Marcionitism' is Marcan Christianity and it derived its origins from Alexandria.  That's why there was a 'letter to the Alexandrians' in the Marcionite New Testament canon - a letter which I have argued was the Marcionite 'to the Corinthians.' 

Now I know that this might sound radical to some.  After all, it 'challenges' our most cherished beliefs developed from the canonical books including the Acts of the Apostles.  Yet the Marcionites didn't accept the authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles.  I think that Clement and Origen learned to go along with the Catholic canon.  That's why I call them 'crypto-Marcionites.'  There have always been 'crypto-Jews' and 'crypto-Christians' even 'crypto-Muslims.' 

Whenever there is a persecution against members of a religious order there are bound to be those who hide their affiliation or go along - at least superficially - with the dominat orthodoxy.

It never made sense to me why Clement and Origen take no pride in being Alexandrian Christians.  They never extol their apostle Mark.  Indeed there almost never declare their devotion to the man that brought Christianity to Alexandria and the world.  It has been argued that this is because St. Mark's relationship with Alexandria was 'invented' at a much later date.  I don't buy it.  Why don't I buy it?  Because I come from a family of crypto-Jews.  I know that people go along with the dominant orthodoxy to save their skin. 

In any event, it was so fortuitous that I spent the last twenty years of my life thinking about Marcionitism.  The Marcionite paradigm comes second nature to me.  I am extraordinarily familiar with all or at least most of the mostly hostile references in the Church Fathers.  I know that the Marcionites knew that their apostle declares that he wrote the first gospel.  He refers to it as 'the gospel of Christ' in his letters.  We have shown that Origen takes these words to be a variant of Mark 1:1. 

The argument that the Marcionite gospel was a version of the Gospel of Mark is made explicit in the seventh book of the Philosophumena.  I don't have to explain why Irenaeus isn't telling us the truth when he claims that the Marcionite gospel is a corrupt Luke. 

But for the record I think that the canonical Gospel of Luke was deliberately developed to counter Marcionitism.  I am not the first to suggest this. 

What I am the first to suggest is that the 'mystic' (or 'secret') gospel referenced in Clement's Letter to Theodore was known to the Marcionites.  The idea that the Marcionites possessed a 'proevangelium' in addition to their publicly disseminated gospel has been known since the discovery of an anonymous Syriac commentary in 1915.  And then there is the Marcionite interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:6,7. 

While we do not have any explicit confirmation of what that interpretation was, it's like coming home early and catching your wife in bed naked with another man.  You can't prove that his penis was actually inside of your wife but what else could have been going on?

In the same, since the Marcionites believed that the apostle who wrote the first letter to the Corinthians openly declares that he wrote a gospel, the discussion in chapter two can only be about his production of two gospels - one which publicly promoted the 'faith' doctrine about Jesus crucified and another which was a mystic text developed on behalf of the 'perfect.' 

While there is almost no direct evidence for how the Marcionites interpreted 1 Corinthians chapter 2 we do have a short paragraph in the third century Latin Church Father Tertullian's 'correction' of whatever that original Marcionite interpretation was.  It isn't much.  There is very little specific information about how the Marcionites interpreted the material except the following:

And so throughout this passage he makes it plain which God's wisdom he is speaking among them that are perfect - his in fact who has taken away the wisdom of the wise, and made the prudence of the prudent of none effect, who has made foolish the wisdom of the world, by choosing its foolish things and ordaining them for salvation. This wisdom which he says was kept secret is that which has been in things foolish and little and dishonourable, which has also been hidden under figures, both allegories and enigmas, but was afterwards to be revealed in Christ who was set for a light of the gentiles by that Creator who by the voice of Isaiah promises that he will open up invisible and secret treasures. For that anything should have been kept hidden by that god who has never done anything at all under which one might suppose he had hidden something, is incredible enough: he himself, if he did exist, could not have remained hidden: far less could any mysteries of his. The Creator however is himself as well known as those mysteries of his which in Israel ran in open succession, though in the shade in respect of what they signified, mysteries in which was hidden that wisdom of God which in its own time was to be spoken among those that were perfect, but had been ordained in the purpose of God before the ages. [Tertullian Against Marcion 5.5]

Now there isn't much that is interesting here.  Tertullian follows a predictable pattern of correcting the Marcionite belief that Christianity introduced a god higher than the Creator here and elsewhere.  Yet there is one thing that did catch my eye.

In the original material in 1 Corinthians it is the apostle himself who says that he only introduced the 'secret gospel' after a simple 'faith' text was established with the community.  No this is not explicitly stated in chapter 2 but I think it follows from the general sense of the words:

And so it was with me, brothers when I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human 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. ... [but] we do, however, speak a message of 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 declare God’s secret wisdom, a mystery that God destined for our glory before time began.

Whoever wrote these words addressed them to the community before the New Testament was established.  In other words, it was only after someone - presumably the apostle himself - collected a number of such addresses that the 'canon' was established. 

It seems difficult for me to believe then that much time had expired between the introduction of the 'secret gospel' and this literary reference to its establishment in the Christian community.  The present letter was established to explain this other 'secret wisdom' ('wisdom' being a word which had long been associated with Torah) that was created some time after the original 'just Jesus crucified' publicly disseminated gospel was introduced.  This is why the Letter to the Corinthians appeared first in the Muratorian canon and why Tertullian makes clear why the Letter to the Corinthians appeared first in the Marcionite canon (the misconception that scholars have had about Galatians appearing first has to do with New Testament of the person who wrote the original text of Against Marcion cf. Against Marcion 1.1). 

Indeed I think that the Muratorian canon's statement that the Marcionites had a Letter to the Alexandrians in their canon should be read alongside the understanding that the author of this material (Victorinus of Pettau?) had that Corinthians should be placed first in the Apostolikon.  In other words, I found reasons to believe that our canonical 1 Corinthians was not identified by this name among the original Marcionites.  It was the Letter to the Alexandrians.  It's preeminence in the Marcionite canon finally demonstrates not only that the Marcionites were from Alexandria - but more significantly - that all Marcionite communities, despite having this public gospel immediately followed by a letter to the Alexandrians made it clear that the 'just Jesus crucified' narrative was only part of the story.  It was a mere 'introduction' to the meaning and significance of Jesus's crucifixion. 

There was another 'secret gospel' preserved in Alexandria reserved for the 'perfect.'

Indeed, is it too much to already speculate that the abrupt ending of Mark has something to do with this statement that "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified"?  In other words, it was the public gospel of the Marcionite community which cut off the narrative at this point.  Similarly it is interesting to remember Tertullian's surprise at the 'suddenness' of many features of this public gospel.  Tertullian says that the gospel began suddenly with the words found in Luke 4 - "Marcion premises that in the fifteenth year of the principate of Tiberius he came down into Capernaum, a city of Galilee—from the Creator's heaven, of course, into which he had first come down out of his own.1 Did not then due order demand that it should first be explained how he came down from his own heaven into the Creator's? For why should I not pass censure on such matters as do not satisfy the claims of orderly narrative (cf. Luke 1.2), always tail off in falsehood?' [AM 4.7]
It isn't just that the publicly disseminated 'Gospel of Christ' had an abrupt beginning and end, Tertullian keeps emphasizing that any outsider observer would feel that 'something was missing' from its order.  Tertullian adds also that "yet again how can he have obtained admittance into the synagogue, appearing so suddenly, so unknown, no one as yet having certain knowledge of his tribe, of his nation, of his house, or even of Caesar's census." [AM 4.7]  And again, since there was no reference to John baptizing Jesus Tertullian writes "from what direction does John make his appearance?  Christ unexpected: John also unexpected. With Marcion all things are like that: with the Creator they have their own compact order." [AM 4.11]

What I am asking is whether there were a number of deliberate features of the Marcionite Gospel of Mark which made it obvious to readers - especially after reading 1 Corinthians 2.1 - 9 - that there was a 'fuller' text in Alexandria, a mystic gospel which filled in all the details that were left incomplete in their present form.  Again, we shouldn't fall into the trap of accepting that the Marcionite gospel was a corrupt or shortened form of our canonical Gospel of Luke.  This was Irenaeus's genius.  The Marcionite gospel was a deliberate and obvious shortened version of the secret gospel of Mark.  It was done more or less openly and with the words of 1 Corinthians 2:6,7 there to guide the initiates.  This is why as William's notes, most of the Marcionite 'variants' or disagreements with readings in Luke actually agree with western readings of Mark.

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