Monday, July 11, 2011

My Thanks to Professor Markus Vinzent for Making Me Realize Something I Hadn't Seen Before About the Opening of the Marcionite Gospel

The Rabbis said: the messiah's name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted." (Sanhedrin 98b).

R. Joshua b. Levi met the prophet Elijah standing by the entrance of R. Simeon b. Yohai's tomb. He asked him: 'Have I a portion in the world to come?' Elijah replied, 'when thou art worthy thereof.' R. Joshua b. Levi said, 'I saw two, but heard the voice of a third.' He then asked him, 'When will the Messiah come?' — 'Go and ask him himself,' was Elijah's reply. 'Where is he sitting?' — 'At the entrance of Rome.' And by what sign may I recognise him?' — 'He is sitting among the poor lepers: all of them untie [them] all at once, and rebandage them together, whereas he unties and rebandages each separately, before treating the next, thinking, should I be wanted, it being time for my appearance as the Messiah I must not be delayed through having to bandage a number of sores.' So he went to him and greeted him, saying, 'peace upon thee, Master and Teacher.' 'peace upon thee, O son of Levi,' the leper messiah replied. 'When wilt thou come Master?' asked he, 'To-day', was his answer. On his returning to Elijah, the latter enquired, 'What did he say to thee?' — 'peace Upon thee, O son of Levi,' he answered. Thereupon Elijah observed, 'He thereby assured thee and thy father of a portion in the world to come.' 'He spoke falsely to me,' he rejoined, 'stating that he would come to-day, but has not.' Elijah answered him, 'This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will hear his voice. (Sanhedrin 98a)

One of the real bright spots in my life these days is that Professor Markus Vinzent of King's College London is actually considering some of my ideas about Marcion. I really thought these thoughts were going to perish with me in my lifetime but ... who knows?   That's the absolute best thing about life - you never know.  Maybe someone will take seriously my conception of a 'Jewish Marcion.'  Maybe, just maybe.

I mean it never made sense to me the degree to which Marcion takes seriously the Jewish scriptures and indeed other Church Fathers acknowledge that he was more Jewish than the Catholic tradition. What is it Tertullian says? "Our heretic [Marcion] must now cease to borrow poison from the Jew--"the asp," as the adage runs "from the viper." [Against Marcion 3.4] This statement is by no means an isolated one. It really comes down to the fact that modern scholarship - or scholarship of any age for that matter - can't reconcile the two portraits of Marcion which emerge in the Church Fathers.

In any event, Vinzent is reconstructing the beginning of the Marcionite gospel and I have always started from the macroscopic level rather than getting buried in the minutae. I begin with the idea that 'beth saida' the place which Ephrem tells us the Marcionite gospel places the first narrative isn't a city at all but a code name which means 'house of demons' (= the temple of Jerusalem) which develops from the standard Jewish interpretations of Ecclesiastes 2:8.

The problem I have always had is that fishing villages aren't found on elevated mountain tops or hilltops. The story of the healing of the leper assumes that the people of the synagogue pass through Jesus (because he is bodiless spirit) and ultimately fall off a cliff. As such something about the reconstruction of the narrative as we have it just isn't kosher.

To this end, I have argued that the Marcionite gospel - like the Gospel of John - begins with an appearance of Jesus at the Jerusalem temple where - among other things - he ends up predicting its destruction and healing apparently a young leper. It is worth noting that the Diatessaron has John chapter 5 (i.e. the healing of the paralytic in Jerusalem) immediately follow the healing of the leper. The fact that certain 'spirits' are associated with pools of water is interesting enough on its own as they recall the central details of the 'house of demons' narrative with respect to Solomon (i.e. that he 'imprisoned' certain demons in pools to give power to his temple). Yet it can't escape notice that the place of the 'water spirits' is often identified in early manuscripts of John as 'beth saida' (its name is given variously in the manuscripts as Bethesda, Bethzatha, Bethsaida, and Belzetha).

All of this of course points to the fact that I think that something in the opening narrative of the original gospel has been utterly broken apart and recast. In the healing of the leper narrative it is Jesus who 'stretches forth' his hand to touch the leper while in the close parallel of

καὶ σπλαγχνισθεὶς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ ἥψατο καὶ λέγει· θέλω, καθαρίσθητι.

In the closely related healing narrative in chapter five of Mark chapter 3 it is the man with the withered hand who does the stretching forth:

καὶ περιβλεψάμενος αὐτοὺς μετ’ ὀργῆς, συνλυπούμενος ἐπὶ τῇ πωρώσει τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν, λέγει τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ· ἔκτεινον τὴν χεῖρα. καὶ ἐξέτεινεν, καὶ ἀπεκατεστάθη ἡ χεὶρ αὐτοῦ.

In some texts of Mark Jesus is 'angry' (for no apparently reason) with the leper also. In a number of early Irish manuscripts instead of the Old Latin reading et venit ad eum leprosus deprecans eum (which essentially agrees with Bezae = 'and there came to him a leper beseeching him') we find leprecans which seems to be a corruption for an old Irish word meaning 'of little body.'

It is worth noting that Jerome records that was yet another variant in the Jewish Christian gospel during his discussion of Matt. 12. 13:

In the Gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use (which I have lately translated into Greek from the Hebrew, and which is called by many (or most) people the original of Matthew), this man who had the withered hand is described as a mason, who prays for help in such words as this: 'I was a mason seeking a livelihood with my hands: I pray thee, Jesus, to restore me mine health, that I may not beg meanly for my food.'

Of course only a handful of people who have ever examined Jerome's translation of the original Aramaic have ever had any knowledge of the original Jewish language of the time. If they did, they would have immediately realized that 'mason' or 'architect' in Jewish Aramaic ארדיכלא literally means 'slave of the palace' or 'slave of the temple.' Is it any wonder then why the later gospels were changed away from this reference to an ἀρχιτέκτων in the gospel?

Come on people! It's impossible that you don't see why the apostle comes blurting out in his first epistle announcing:

Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσαν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ. (1 Cor 3:10)

We have already demonstrated that this passage was rendered quite differently in Clement of Alexandria's New Testament:

"According to the grace," it is said, "given to me as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation and something else is built thereon with gold and silver, precious stones." Such is the gnostic superstructure on the foundation of faith in Christ Jesus. But "the stubble, and the wood, and the hay," are the additions of heresies. [Strom. 5.4]

Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον τέθεικα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ χρυσίον καὶ ἀργύριον, λίθους τιμίους

The point my friends, is that here is yet another example of the apostle of the Marcionite tradition being fully aware of the heretical gospel. He is citing from it and saying 'I am that ἀρχιτέκτων who is mentioned at the very beginning of the gospel. Indeed am I engaging in too much speculation when we see the crowds taunt the Christ within the synagogue:

Isn’t this the τεκτων (carpenter)? Isn’t this Mary’s son? (Mark 6:3)

That τεκτων is likely a corruption or shortening of ἀρχιτέκτων all of which goes back again to the original scene at the 'house of demons' involving the redemption of a particular 'slave of the house'?

It is well established that the Marcionites interpreted the pericope involving the 'tempting' of Jesus with respect to having brothers and sisters in a completely different way than the Catholics. While Luke 8:19 - 20 reads:

Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

The Marcionite version clearly resembled what appears in our canonical Mark for it adds 'Who is my mother and my brethren?', not recorded by Luke, but present in Matt. 12: 48 and Mark 3: 33.

The point of course is that the Lukan narrative goes out of its way to also add the business about Jesus's mother and brothers actually being outside the building. This resolves the central ambiguity of the original Marcionite narrative - namely that the author (Marcion) has deliberately constructed a story where everyone mistakes who the real messiah is, the so-called 'gospel secret.'

The clear resolution to the mystery is to assume that the Jews - in the manner of Peter - mistake Jesus for claiming to be the Christ and so wrongly crucify him. The real Christ of course is the 'slave of the house' (= the ἀρχιτέκτων) who eventually establishes the Church at Alexandria after the destruction of the temple. It is because that this narrative was so central to the original Church - i.e. of the Marcionite faith - that the story was developed into so many variations.

It is worth noting the following examples of likely developments from the original fragmented narrative.  The first being the notion that:

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee (Matt 4:12)

It should be acknowledged by now that John the Baptist was a wholly fictitious character completely unknown to Jews and Samaritans outside of Christian sources.  He and his alleged 'water immersion ritual' are completely unknown to the Marcionite gospel. John the beloved disciple undoubtedly was an actual figure in the original narrative and this John's status as a 'slave of the palace' at the beginning of the gospel likely becomes transformed into the Catholic gospel understanding that 'John was imprison.

So too must we also confront the uncanny similarities between the original narrative regarding the 'slave of the palace' and what we read with respect to:

a centurion came to him, asking for help. 'Lord,' he said, 'my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.' (Matt 8:6)

This story immediately follows the leper narrative in Matthew and it just doesn't past the mustard in terms of credibility.  To begin with Jesus has just started his ministry how is a Roman soldier already knows he's the Lord?  Moreover the theme of a sick 'servant of the house' seems to be borrowed from what has been taken out of the leper narrative.

Theodore of Mopsuestia notes that the servant "uses the word boy here to indicate his house servant. Luke shows this clearly, calling him his 'slave' or 'servant.' (MKGK 109) Also it is worth noting that the healing places the same emphasis as the Marcionite interpretation of the leper narrative - i.e. by the power of the word:

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment." (Matt 8:13)

There isn't even so much as a citation of the material in Tertullian's anti-Marcionite treatise - he just mentions it in passing and offers up a hypothetical question which Marcionites might ask if they had the passage:

Likewise in his commendation of the centurion's faith, it is not likely that the statement that he had not found so great faith even in Israel should have been made by one to whom Israel's faith was of no concern. Nor could it become his concern from then onwards, that a faith which was still immature —not to say non-existent—should receive from him either approbation or preference. But, why might he not have used for an illustration faith in a different god? Because in that case he would have said that such great faith had never existed in Israel, whereas what he did say was that he ought to have found so great faith in Israel: for he had come in expectation of finding it, being Israel's God and Israel's Christ, and would not have criticized it except as one who had the right to demand it and search for it. An opponent would have preferred to find it as he did find it, for he would have come rather with a view to weakening and destroying it, not so as to approve of it." (Tertullian AM 4:18)

Again there are assumptions here about the Marcionite faith among scholars which are simply not borne out by the evidence. There is no proof that the Marcionites shared the Catholic interest in spreading the faith to the Gentiles and non-believers. In fact, everywhere we turn we find that the Marcionites themselves appealed their message to Jews and Jewish proselytes.

We should also take note of the fact that the Matthean version of the healing of the man with the withered hand is particularly interesting as it not only radically reshapes the original Jewish Christian narrative (on which it was supposedly based) but nevertheless retains apparently a clear sense that the healing of this particular individual had deep messianic significance:

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12:9 - 21]

The strange thing about this reference of course is that while Catholic interpreters assume that this is a 'fulfillment prophesy' about Jesus, a number of things about the the narrative seem strange.

The first and most obvious thing to note is that the original Hebrew uses the term abd (= slave, servant) which is of course the first part of term ארדיכלא.  Another difficulty is why exactly this material is applicable to Jesus.  In what sense for instance did God 'put his Spirit on Jesus'?  The idea is clearly that the Holy Spirit is being placed on a human being.  Moreover the original Hebrew makes it absolutely clear that the figure here cannot be Jesus the Son of God or any heavenly being.  One wonders if the original sense of the passage was applied not to Jesus but the slave (abd) being healed.

In the end I really think I am on to something here. I will now have to go through Clement's various references to the material cited here. There is always some reason to suspect Clement knows more than he let's on about the Marcionite faith, undoubtedly because Alexandria was the original home of Marcionitism.

Nevertheless it is well established that the rabbinic tradition developed its 'leper messiah' from Isaiah 53. Raphael Patai cites a continuation of this leper messiah narrative in the circle of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement:

One day the rabbi was riding with a young student. He stopped his wagon at the hut of an old leper, horribly affected by the disease. The rabbi climbed down and spent a great deal of time with the poor man. When he returned to the wagon and recommenced his journey, the puzzled student asked the rabbi who it was that the rabbi had visited with. The rabbi replied that in every generation there is a Messiah who will reveal himself if the generation is worthy. The leper he had been meeting with was that Messiah, but the generation was not worthy, so the Messiah would depart. (Quoted in The Messiah Texts, by Raphael Patai, page 31.)

The point is that there can only be one source for the leper messiah concept - Jewish exegetes struggling with Isaiah 53. They either saw the messiah's sufferings as leprosy or split the Messiah in two, one a sufferer and one a conqueror. The Hebrew words in Isaiah 53:4, stricken (nagua) and smitten (mukkay) are interpreted as referring to a leprous condition. Either word can refer to being stricken with a disease, yet they need not be understood in that way, much like our English work "stricken" can refer to stricken with disease or just simply stricken, as with a fist.

The point that is often overlooked is that Tertullian for some reason applies Isaiah 53 to the Nazareth healing incident (= Bethsaida) when he notes:

In fine, he (Jesus) did himself before long touch others, and by laying his hands upon them - hands evidently meant to be felt — conveyed the benefits of healing, benefits no less true, no less free from pretence, than the hands by which they were conveyed. Consequently he is the Christ of Isaiah, a healer of sicknesses: He himself, he says, takes away our weaknesses and carries our sicknesses." (Isa 53 ) For the Greeks are accustomed to write 'carry' as equivalent to 'take away'. That promise in general terms is enough for me at present. Whatever it was that Jesus healed, he is mine. [AM 4:8]

In the end it is strange that Tertullian would apply Isaiah chapter 53 to the Nazareth healing narrative. It is impossible to connect the leper messiah figure to Jesus - so how then is Jesus the suffering servant?

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