Thursday, August 4, 2011

What Happened to St Mark? - Alexandrians in Palestine in the Third Century

Getting back to the work at hand (thanks Greg) I can't help but see that the influx of Alexandrian Christians into Palestine in the late second and third centuries is the last piece in a puzzle regarding 'Marcion.' Of course Marcion is not identified explicitly with Alexandria. Yes to be sure there was a 'letter to the Alexandrians' in the Marcionite canon. Yet it was Apelles and the gospel of Luke which were traditionally identified with Alexandria. Marcion was always associated with Pontus, the province by the Black Sea.

I have to admit folks this association has proved to be problematic for me for over twenty years. I've had various failed attempts at explaining it away including:

  • some confusion over 'the sea' and Marcion's association with seafaring
  • something rooted in an original association between Christianity and the cult of Serapis (where Serapis originated in Pontus)

The question has always been - why is there an association between Marcion and Pontus?  The obvious reply from conservative scholars being - why shouldn't we accept that there really was a Marcion from Pontus.  Let me give you my five minute answer to that objection.

The Marcionite Church was an absolutely real historical phenomenon.  There is evidence to suggest that Marcionites lasted until the rise of Islam and likely beyond in remote regions of the world.  Nevertheless there is never a mention of a place where Marcionitism was headquartered.  To be sure, Bauer makes a convincing argument that Marcionites so dominated the landscape of Osroene that they had 'exclusive rights' to the name 'Christian.'  Catholics were related to calling themselves 'Palutians' (a term which I believe comes from the Aramaic term meaning 'refugee' rather than the tradition explanation - i.e. there really was a St. Palut).

Yet saying that Marcionites outnumbered all other Christians in the lands beyond the eastern borders of the Roman Empire isn't the same thing as arguing that Edessa was the traditional headquarters of Marcionitism.  I think that the reason Catholics were called 'refugees' in the third century was because they quite literally were fleeing persecution.  Yet the story in the Acts of Archelaus demonstrate that Marcionites felt an obligation to help the victims of Roman oppression.

I think that the reason why the Chronicle of Edessa identifies 'Marcion' as arriving in the city c. 138 CE was because Marcionitism arrived with fleeing refugees from Palestine in the immediate aftermath of the Bar Kochba war.  Almost overnight it would seem this 'brand' of Christianity became the official voice of the faith in Osroene.  Yet what was left behind?  The Church Fathers supposedly continued to witness Marcion and Marcionites into the third century.  What was the legacy of Marcionitism within the Roman Empire?

I can't help but believe that the existence of a Letter to the Alexandrians in the Marcionite canon points to a fundamental distinction between the original home of the Christian faith - i.e. Alexandria.  The Catholic canon, tied as it was with Polycarp, moved through Asia Minor to Rome.  The canon reflects this - not only in terms of 'letters of Paul' directed to cities in Asia Minor, Greece and Italy - but also in terms of the inclusion of Acts.

The Marcionites and the followers of Tatian interestingly did not seem to accept the deutero-Pauline letters (I think the reports that the followers of Tatian accepting 'Titus' is a mistake for the letter of the same name which is preserved in Latin and called 'Pseudo-Titus' in Wilhelm Schneemelcher's edition).  Yet Acts is clearly the door through which the Catholic edition of the Pauline letters walked into the world.  The Marcionite churches rejected Acts and clearly rejected the traditional names of cities addressed by the apostle (Ephesians for Laodiceans).  The Letter to the Alexandrians must also have been a similar substitution and I have surmised that the name must have been substituted for 'to the Corinthians.'

Indeed the Marcionite canon clearly began with 'to the Alexandrians' and thus reflected the original primacy of Alexandria as the original See of Marcionitism (the equivalent of Rome or Antioch for the tradition of Simon Peter).  Not only does the Muratorian canon reflect the Corinthians first canon but scholars have mistaken the Galatian first order in Tertullian as a reflection of the Marcionite canon.  It certainly was not and there are clear signs in Tertullian's argument that the ordering was the equivalent of Corinthians first (Ephrem demonstrates that the Semitic Church - the people writing the original material borrowed by Tertullian - had a variant ordering of material in the Pauline canon with Galatians first).

I have always believed that Tertullian Books Four and Five derive from an original treatise written by Theophilus (and referenced in Eusebius's Church History) where the author - Theophilus - used a Diatessaron (cf. Jerome for the association of Theophilus and such a 'harmony') and the Galatian first ordering of Pauline material.  Tertullian's reworking of that material (likely already translated into Greek) introduces the idea that the Marcionites put Galatians first because of its anti-Jewish slant.  Justin (and likely Tatian and the rest of the Encratites were no less 'anti-Jewish').

When we burrow through the surviving anti-Marcionite material it is impossible not to see that Alexandria must have been the original See of the tradition.  When the Philosophumena already makes the connection between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Marcion, Origen the concept of an 'enthroned Marcion' and Adamantius the notion that Marcion was the original episcopus of the Marcionite tradition - it is impossible not to see the beginnings of a deliberate substitution of 'Marcion' for Mark throughout the reporting on the tradition.

The manner in which this occurred has already been noted - the Aramaic marqiyone = 'those of Mark.'  We have already seen how the term 'refugee' in Aramaic likely became associated with a pseudo-historical personality (= St. Palut).  Similarly we see by the time of Epiphanius the Aramaic terms with respect to 'the poor' and 'hidden power' develop into the heresiarchs 'Ebion' and 'Elxai.'  'Marcion' developed through a similar back-formation.

The thing we have to recognize of course is that there were persecutions of this original Alexandrian tradition of St Mark which leads to the exodus into Palestine and subsequently resentment on the part of the original Semitic Christian faith in Syria.  The Greek speaking Alexandrians were likely called marqiyone (a term associated still with the formerly dominant Christian faith in East later called 'Marcionites' (i.e. 'those of Marcion').  Yet the original terminology certainly meant 'those of Mark.'

Irenaeus likely passes on to us one of those reports - undoubtedly preserved in Aramaic - in chapters 13 - 21 of Book One of his Against Heresies where the sect is associated with Mark.  Yet by the time Irenaeus's original lectures were assembled into the five volume Against Heresies the figure of 'Marcion of Pontus' was also introduced - viz. "Marcion of Pontus succeeded him (i.e. Cerdo), and developed his doctrine." [AH 1.27.2]

I can't help but believe that the same person who added 'Marcion of Pontus' to Justin's Apology (the original terminology in the Apology is 'those of Mark') is also responsible for the introduction of 'Marcion of Pontus' references in the final edition of Irenaeus.  The link has already been explored in a previous post - viz. Irenaeus's apparent reference to an 'Against Marcion' by Justin which never existed.  It is also worth noting that the first book of the assembled collection of lectures by Irenaeus is universally regarded as being related to the 'syntagma' against all heresies referenced in Justin's Apology:

But I have a treatise against all the heresies that have existed already composed, which, if you wish to read it, I will give you.

ἔστι δὲ ἡμῖν καὶ σύνταγμα κατὰ πασῶν τῶν γεγενημένων αἱρέσεων συντεταγμένον, ᾧ εἰ βούλεσθε ἐντυχεῖν, δώσομεν

The editor clearly knows of a treatise associated with Justin which forms the backbone of the work associated now with Irenaeus.

Why have Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Tertullian all modify an original text spuriously associated with Justin? As Markus Vinzent has demonstrated there are clear signs that Justin might well have used a gospel very much like the Marcionite text. There may have been more similarities than differences in terms of their respective traditions (this certainly seems to be the case with respect to Justin's student Tatian). Yet more significantly I think a third century editor of the second century material was attempting to distinguish between 'Mark' and 'Marcion' because perhaps a new 'modified' form of Alexandrianism had already been developed by the time the editor was writing in the mid third century.

Indeed Justin points to the ultimate exemplification of this transformation:

Ambrosius, at first a Marcionite but afterwards set right by Origen, was deacon in the church, and gloriously distinguished as confessor of the Lord. [Justin Lives 56]

In our next post we will try to use this evidence of a third century editing of original second century material to argue for a possible identification of the historical model for Marcion.

Email with comments or questions.

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