Monday, May 30, 2011

Where the Canonical Gospels Originally Developed as Centos?

As a researcher dwelling on the fringes of scholarship I am afforded a freedom that well respected academics lack. So it is that when I read Morton Smith's summary of Robert Grant's observations about parallels between Secret Mark and Irenaeus's testimony about a heretical 'cento' gospel I was able to turn around the argument into something new. Smith rejected Grant's position - i.e. that 'Secret Mark' might have been created from a patchwork of lines from the canonical gospel - because it basically took Irenaeus's testimony at face value. In other words, Irenaeus said that the heretics 'reused' stones from the existing canonical mosaic in order to fashion a new gospel which reflected their heretical views and both men see this as the only possibility at play here. Yet I can't help see that Irenaeus might be revealing to us how he developed the canonical set from the Alexandrian longer gospel original.

Indeed, as most of us know, Irenaeus is the first Church Father to witness anything to do with the shape of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (even Eusebius's citation of Papias is filtered through the agency of Irenaeus). The world before Irenaeus is a world without the same canonical set which he must be thought to have edited. Irenaeus has to be considered the most likely candidate to have been the final editor of our existing New Testament canon (this even though Trobisch prefers his alleged master Polycarp). Why isn't it considered at all likely that Irenaeus (and/or Polycarp) might have been involved in 'moving the stones' from the Alexandrian longer gospel of Mark?

All of this is old news for regular readers of this blog. The topic is picked up at various internet discussion groups related to the Bible. The new wrinkle of course is our adaptation of Grant's ideas with respect to the Homeric cento to the gospel writing process. In case any of my readers don't know what a cento is I cite the following from Wikipedia:

The term comes from the Latin cento, a cloak made of patches; and that from the Greek κεντονιον. The Roman soldiers used these centones, or old stuffs patched over each other, to guard themselves from the strokes of their enemies. Others say, that centos were probably used for the patches of leather, etc, with which their galleries or screens, called vineae, were covered; under which the besiegers made their approaches towards any place. Hence centonarii, the people whose business was to prepare these centos.

The cento originated in the 3rd or 4th century. The first known cento is the Medea by Hosidius Geta, composed out of Virgilian works, according to Tertullian.

Ausonius (310–395) laid down the rules to be observed in composing centos. The pieces, he says, may be taken either from the same poet, or from several. The verses may be either taken in their entirety, or divided into two; one half to be connected with another half taken elsewhere. Two verses should never be used running, nor much less than half a verse be taken. In accordance with these rules, he made a cento from Virgil, the Cento Nuptialis.

It should be noted that the Wikipedia article is incorrect on several points. The actual original Greek term was κέντρων (so Lewis) and Liddell Scott notes that this is a "piece of patch-work, rag, Bito 55.4, Herasap.Gal. 13.1044, Sch.Ar.Nu.449; perh.pen-wiper, POxy.326 (i A.D.): hence, copy of verses made up of scraps from other authors, Eust.1099.51, 1308 fin."

The point of course, before we go any further in our analysis of the important testimony of Irenaeus, is that one can immediately imagine that if the canonical gospels were developed originally as centos would have needed very little in the way of justifications as this was a very popular form of literary imitation. While it is true that centos were originally used exclusively with respect to poems and poetry, the testimony of Irenaeus makes explicit that gospels (which are the furthest things removed from lyrical compositions) were indeed conceived as centos in the late second century. They were clearly also identified as 'hypomnemata' (cf. Justin).

Most important of all to our preliminary discussion is the fact that Clement of Alexandria's Stromateis are explicitly referenced as a 'patchwork' of 'notes' (hypomnemata) perhaps reflecting a broader understanding within late second century Christianity.

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