Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How 11QMelkizedek Proves Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt that the Marcionite Gospel Began With Jesus's Supernatural Descent into the Jerusalem Temple

I know many of you are wondering, "why did we change the focus of his blog over the last two posts from arguing that the Letter to Theodore shows that Mark developed his gospel narrative from the Book of Joshua to a discussion of why we should believe that the Marcionite gospel began with a supernatural descent of Jesus to 'beth shida' (= the temple of Jerusalem)?"  The answer to this question is quite simple.  I have always noted that various traditions identify or intimate that the Marcionite gospel was the 'truer form' of the Gospel of Mark.  As long as we limit our discussion to the manner in which 'Secret Mark' resembles canonical Mark we will get nowhere fast because the Letter to Theodore tells us so little about that relationship.

The answer as I see it is to develop comparisons between 'Secret Mark' and other texts which are supposed to be or inferred to be related to canonical Mark such as the Marcionite gospel.  This claim is not only made in the Philosophumena but as I have noted it is implied in Irenaeus (AH 3.11.7) as well as the fact that 'Marcion' itself is a 'subform' (or nebenform as von Harnack terms it) of the Latin name Marcus.

Now I don't mean to rehash this theory that I have discussed a number of times here at the blog.  It is enough to say that because the Marcionite gospel was clearly related to the synoptics and the synoptics generally to a gospel originally written by 'Mark' that one can use the information we can develop about it to help our understanding of a purported more original form of the gospel of Mark (so Koester and others).  Indeed when we really think about it, any theorizing about ur-gospels necessarily implies that the canonical gospels represent not a pristine preservation of first century material but rather a specifically second century (and more probably late second century redaction) of more original material that was 'more Jewish' in nature (presumably because the earlier Christian traditions were closer to an original community of Jewish disciples).

To this end we have now gone beyond speaking of a particular 'brand' of the gospel (i.e. a text associated with a particular second century sectarian group) to the question of why 'the gospel of Jesus' was identified as a gospel as such.  This question is never satisfactorily answered by New Testament scholars because I would argue that the very terminology in question - i.e. εὐαγγέλιον - cannot be made into a sensible literary genre if you limit yourself to the Greek language.  The gospel was more than a 'greeting' or a story about 'good news' that Jesus brought to the world.  In order to distinguish itself from the Torah it had to be argued to be equal to or in fact better than the existing Law of Israel.

If one supposes that the gospel was written in an age when the temple was about to be destroyed or had already been destroyed, it is difficult to accept that the text was 'just' a historical narrative.   The Marcionites of course emphasized that the end of the Law was the beginning of the gospel.  The Church Fathers who report this phenomenon to us of course do not help us understand why the Marcionites thought that.  They present us instead with a caricature of the Marcionite tradition.  The Marcionites are presented as typical antinomian heretics - i.e. they 'hate' the god of the Jews, they 'hate' the Law and prophets - and so 'falsified' a Gospel and Apostolikon (= the so-called 'letters of Paul') to reflect their views.

The problem with this point of view is manifold, the most obvious being that the Marcionites represent our oldest interpretation of the gospel and the first systematic exposition of the Apostolikon.  To argue that what is oldest necessarily must be a reaction against what only appears later merely because it is our inherited beliefs that are historically secondary is absolutely unscientific and not worthy of consideration by serious scholars (or at least those scholars that aren't simply motivated by 'defending' the inherited suppositions of their ancestors).  There has to be a reason why it was that the Marcionites thought that the gospel announced the end of the authority of the Law and the prophets.  The idea that it might have something to do with the very term 'gospel' (εὐαγγέλιον) is as good a place to start as any.

I happened to have been reading a wonderful book by Stephen Hultgren, assistant professor of theology at Fordham University entitled Narrative Elements in the Double Tradition: A Study of Their Place within the Framework of the Gospel Narrative (BZNW 113; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2002). I really think that Hultgren is very sincere in his attempts to reconcile the Gospel of Jesus with the earliest known Jewish exegeses of scriptural material - i.e. the Qumran material. One discussion dominates all others in his book, that which he describes later in the book as:

the jubilee theme in Mark 6.1-6a and Luke 4.16-19, the gospel tradition seems to have brought together Isa 52.7 and Isa 61.1-2 as a framework for understanding Jesus' ministry (cf. Acts 10.36, 38), similar to the way in which these texts were brought together in 1 IQMelch. 16 In his inaugural sermon in Nazareth (see Luke 4.18-19) Jesus identifies himself (in the words of Isa 61.1 -2) as the one who has been anointed to "bring good news to the poor" (ευαγγελισασθαι πτωχοις) and again the saying at Matt 1 1.5//Luke 7.22 Jesus counts the evangelizing of the poor (πτωχοι ευαγγελιζονται) among the signs of the eschatological age (with further citations of and allusions to Isaiah). Finally, the concepts of the kingdom and of the gospel for the poor come together in the first beatitude (Matt 5.3//Luke 6.20) where Jesus promises the kingdom to the poor.

And in what follows Hultgren pays special attention two lines in Isaiah:

Isa 52.7: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings (מְבַשֵּׂר/LXX εὐαγγελιζόμενος), who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good (מְבַשֵּׂר טוֹב/LXX εὐαγγελιζόμενος ἀγαθά) who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns" (מָלַךְ אֱלֹהָיִךְ/LXX βασιλεύσει σου ὁ θεός)

Isa 61.1: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to proclaim good news (לְבַשֵּׂר/εὐαγγελίσασθαι) to the poor...."

I happen to think that Hultgren has basically got it right. The 'Gospel of Jesus' developed from terminology associated with the Jubilee year (which interestingly disappeared from Judaism in the early rabbinic period). The gospel isn't a greeting it is an announcement of the coming of the Jubilee year which we see in what is claimed to be a Nazareth synagogue at the beginning of the ministry narrative in Luke chapter 4.

As Hultgren notes, a number of scholars have attempted to derive the term εὐαγγέλιον from the Aramaic besorta:

If this material is authentic, Jesus may have understood himself in terms of the herald of Isa 52.7 and 61 . 1-2. Peter Stuhlmacher, "The Theme: The Gospel and the Gospels," The Gospel and the Gospels (ed. Peter Stuhlmacher and tr. tr. John Vriend; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) and, in the same volume, Otto Betz, "Jesus' Gospel of the Kingdom," 59, 68, 70, 74, attribute the conjunction of the concepts "gospel/evangelize" and "the kingdom" to Jesus' own proclamation, and they even attribute the noun "gospel" (Aramaic besorta) to Jesus himself. The only evidence that they adduce for the use of this word as an absolute noun ("the gospel") in Semitic idiom, however, is the Targum on Isa 53.1

On the other hand William Horbury (Herodian Judaism and New Testament Study 2006) notes that just before the new religious year i.e. "28th Adar is remembered in an essentially pre-Mishnaic Aramaic text as the date when (probably after the death of Antiochus IV) 'good news (besoretha tabetha) came to the Jews, that they should not depart from the law' (Megillath Taanith, 12)"

In other words, at first glance we see a contradiction where one early tradition - i.e. 1 IQMelch. 16 - connects the term 'besorta' with the proclamation of redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) from the Law and in the other - i.e. Megillath Taanith - uses the terminology to confirm the traditional authority of the Law and prophets. Which is the more accurate? I think Horsbury's dating of the Megillath Taanith is unrealistic. Most obviously the 12th of Adar is designated as "Trajan's Day," and the 29th of that month as "the day on which the persecutions of Hadrian ceased" (comp. Brann in Monatsschrift, 1876, p. 379) which clearly implies that it was not the product of the Herodian period but something much later. In other words, it represents an attempt in the age of Antoninus to define Judaism away from tradition associations of the Jubilee as ushering in a new messianic age.

To this end I think that Hultgren's work in Chapter Four of his book is especially significant to our purposes for it is here that he demonstrates that the Nazareth synagogue episode goes to the heart of why the 'Gospel of Jesus' is called a gospel. Jesus enters into a synagogue in Nazareth, he notes, in order to announce the coming of the Jubilee. This is why the text is called a gospel says Hultgren:

The insertion of Isa 58.6 into the text from Isa 61.1-2 is not accidental. The "acceptable year of the Lord" to which Isa 61 . 1-2 refers is the Levitical year of jubilee, as described in Lev 25.8-S5.53 According to this law, liberty (ἄφεσις) was to be proclaimed in Israel, which meant (among other things) the release of debt and of indentured servants. This jubilee motif of "release" is responsible for bringing together Isa 58.6 and 61 . 1-2 in the present text.54 Both passages in Isaiah contain the word "release" (ἄφεσις). Thus the citation of Isa 58.6/61.1-2 in Luke 4.18-19 seems to be based in exegetical traditions that understood Jesus' ministry in terms of the jubilee year of release.

This is confirmed by a look at Lev 25.10. There the law stipulates that in the jubilee year, each Israelite "will return to his property and to his home" (ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ ἀπελεύσεσθε)." Jesus' return to his hometown in Mark 6.1 (ἔρχεται εἰς τὴν πατρίδα) and the explicit naming of Nazareth in Luke 4.16 (καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς Ναζαρά) represents Jesus's fulfillment of the Jubilee law. Therefore the view that the tradition about the Rejection at Nazareth was spun out of the proverb of Mark 6.4 and parallel ("a prophet is not without honor except in his home country") must be rejected. The Nazareth pericope is rooted in a tradition that saw Jesus' return to his πατρίς as the fulfillment of Jubilee law.

Now in 11Qmelch (11Q13) the Qumran community brought together Lev 25, Isa 52.7, and Isa 61.1-2, among other texts, to describe the redemptive work of Melchizedek in the end times. The "first week of the jubilee that follows the nine jubilees" (11QMelch 2.7) is called the "year of favor for Melchizedek" (cf. Isa 61.2) (2.9). At that time Melchizedek will destroy the power of Belial and bring the exiles home (2.6, 13). It is the day of peace about which Isaiah wrote (Isa 52.7): "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces salvation, saying to Zion, Your God reigns." (2.15 - 16) Furthermore, at the end of the tenth jubilee will be the day of atonement, when atonement will be made for all the sons of light and for the men of the lot of Melchizedek (2.7-8).

The conjunction of these biblical texts is illuminating for the present discussion. The gospel tradition has brought together the very same texts to understand the significance of Jesus' ministry that the Qumran community brought together to describe its eschatological expectations. We have already seen the the conjunction of Lev 25 and Isa 61.1-2 in Luke 4.16-19. That the Christian tradition also brought together Isa 52.7 and Isa 61.1 to understand Jesus' ministry is clear from Acts 10.37, Peter's speech in Cornelius' house. There Peter says that God "proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ" (cf. Isa 52.7) whom God anointed with the Spirit (cf. Isa 61.1). And Jesus went about "healing (cf. Isa 61.1) all who were oppressed by the devil." In addition, the narrative summaries of Matt 4.23; 9.35 and Luke 4.43; 8.1-3, where Jesus' ministry is described as "preaching the gospel of the kingdom," probably also reflect the influence of Isa 52.7 (perhaps in conjunction with Isa 61.1, since healing is also mentioned in Matt 4.23; 9.35, and Luke 8.2). Thus the gospel tradition seems to have viewed Jesus' ministry in terms not unlike 11QMelch: Jesus' return to Nazareth, his πατρίς, inaugurated the final jubilee in which evil would be destroyed.

hus it is no accident that Matthew and Luke place Jesus in Nazareth at the beginning of his Galilean ministry. They reflect a common, narrative-exegetical tradition that they do not know from Mark but that is apparently embedded in the gospel framework, according to which Jesus, anointed by the Spirit (cf. Isa 61.1) at his baptism returned to his πατρίς and there identified himself as the herald of Isa 61.1 and proclaimed the "year of the Lord's favor," the year of jubilee. The quotation of Isa 58.6/61.1-2 in Luke 4.18-19 establishes a clear narrative connection between Jesus' baptism and his subsequent ministry. Since the citation of Isa 58.6/61.1-2, with its allusions to the jubilee year, is deeply integrated into the framework of Luke's Nazareth narrative (ie, it forms the narrative context for the return εἰς Ναζαρά in 4.24 in accordance with Lev 25:10), removing the citation from Luke's narrative would destroy its very structure. The citation must be original to the tradition. All of this is strong support for the view that Luke's narrative framework here (and therefore probably also Matthew's), with the baptism followed by a return to Nazareth, is traditional, not redactional. That is, Luke did not transpose the visit to Nazareth from its Markan position.

In this respect, Mark's placement of the Nazareth pericope later in the ministry (6. 1-6a) looks distinctly secondary. Mark 6.1 (εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ) preserves a remnant of the exegetical tradition that is found in fuller form in Luke 4.16 - 19, and one is tempted to suggest that Mark's narrative framework here has suffered displacement. Of course, it is impossible to know this with certainty. But Gaboury's structural analysis suggested that Mark's Nazareth pericope may have once come at the beginning of the Galilean ministry. Even if we do not accept his source theory, the striking parallelism between Mark 1.21-22 and 6.1-6a may support this theory [p. 227 - 230]
Hultgren's analysis is very astute. His point is clearly that the opening section of Luke's account of the ministry of Jesus develops from an expectation in what must have been a very influential messianic text found at Qumran. As such, because of the fact that Luke can be read as a fulfillment of a pre-existent messianic Jubilee expectation, it must preserve the opening lines of the account of the ministry of Jesus.

Of course I think Hultgren is on to something but during my phone conversation with him today I got the distinct impression that he doesn't want to press on and take this understanding to the next level. For I suggest to him, why don't you investigate the arrangement of the Marcionite gospel which is essentially argued to be both an older form of Luke and Mark in some way? Why don't you investigate the Samaritan tradition's understanding of the tradition associated with the Jubilee? Admittedly I am calling out of the blue and he doesn't know who I am. But I am sure that even if he knew these things it would have made an impression on him. This is because I saw that he is an ordained minister and judging from my phone conversation isn't interested in completely overturning the accepted paradigm about the manner in which the gospels were developed and accept that the Marcionite tradition was actually the source behind both Mark and Luke.

For the question of course which he never tackles is the actual logistics behind the manner in which canonical Mark could have 'changed' an original beginning to the gospel which made reference to Jesus appearing at a house of worship and announcing the messianic Jubilee? What possible could have prompted the editor(s) of canonical Mark to depart from perhaps the most important 'fact' associated with Jesus's ministry - i.e. where and how it began? Just to think about this utterly baffles the mind. Imagine an account of how and when of the beginning of American Declaration of Independence being altered and buried in a subsequent narrative in the middle of a reworked text. The implications of course would be that both Luke and Mark were using an original text which implicitly had more information than now appears in canonical Mark. Indeed elements of Luke had to have been known to the editors of Mark but kept out of the final redaction of the text.

Now don't get me wrong. I agree with all these ideas. What I am complaining about of course is that scholars like Hultgren stop at the point things get dangerous with their inherited faith basically shutting down their mind, not allowing them to probe into the historical darkness. If canonical Mark derives from a common ancestor text shared with Luke the consistent reports that the Marcionite gospel is both earlier than canonical Mark and Luke isn't so crazy. Yet here's what really bothers me about the implications of Hultgren just leaving his formulation at the point where 11QMelch is connected as being 'behind' the opening of the gospel of Luke.

It is absolutely untenable that someone could have been using 11QMelch as a template for the gospel and then substituting the appearance of Jesus at Nazareth supposedly for the messianic figure of the Qumran text at Jerusalem. This is just a non-starter. I know Christians now have this romantic notion that Jesus appearing in some supposed fishing village is a 'radical new vision' of traditional Jewish messianic understanding. But I think the assumption here is usually that what we are dealing with is 'oral traditions' about the coming messiah which essentially could be rearranged any way that the evangelist wanted. In other words, that it is allowed a certain creative license on the part of something arranging a narrative like that of the gospel.

Now that Hultgren has essentially uncovered correctly that the reason Luke chapter four introduces us to Jesus ministry in a way that deliberately imitated 11QMelch its impossible to argue that the identification throughout of an appearance at Zion (i.e. Jerusalem) could have been substituted for an insignificant Galilean village. This especially after we have uncovered that the Marcionite gospel actually began with a heavenly descent into the temple of Jerusalem (= bethsaida). 11QMelch not only twice references Isa 52.7's understanding that the mevasser (= the gospel bringer) proclaims salvation to Jerusalem (= Zion) which is a declaration of the kingdom of God (= 'Your God reigns') but the figure of 'Melchizedek' who appears throughout was always understood by Jewish tradition to be a high priest of Jerusalem (= Salem). Indeed not only does the text becomes fragmentary when the mission to Zion is explained:

Z[i]on i[s] ... those who uphold the covenant, those who turn aside from walking in the ways of the people But "Your el[o]him [is Melchizedek, who will save? them from] the hand of Belial. And as for that which he has said, "You will blow the [signal-ho]rn in the [seventh] m[onth] Lev 25:9] ...

The short fragment has yet another Jerusalem layer thrown on top of it when the author also draws material from the prophesy of the destruction of the temple from Daniel chapter 9 (11QMelch 18)

My point is clearly that the original text was clearly reworked in two different ways. Hultgren rightly notes that in Mark the offending original fulfillment of 11QMelch was pushed back to chapter 6 of the narrative and stripped of much of the original content. Nevertheless the beginning of Luke has to be acknowledged to also be something even worse. The Marcionite gospel's original understanding of a Jerusalem appearance (shared still interestingly by John chapter 2) has been completely transposed to an insignificant little Galilean town with the original context of Jesus association with the temple of Jerusalem and the Jews (= Melchizedek) being refashioned into Nazareth as his πατρίς as noted in Hultgren's book.

In other words, there is another layer which necessarily reveals the Marcionite substratum to all gospels, which Hultgren refuses to strip away owing to the consequences to his inherited faith.

More to follow ...

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

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