Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Did the Marcionite Gospel Look Like? [Part One]

have spent a lot of time at this blog talking about 'Secret Mark.' Yet something about my last series of posts rekindled an age old interest in the Marcionite gospel. I have been thinking about Marcion since I attended university. Strangely, I only took a single course on Christianity during my time at York University. In many ways the study of early Christianity outlasted many of my other interests (philandering, music, carousing etc.). I have taken the time to learn a few ancient languages since those days in my own spare time. The end result being now that I have come full circle to the problem of Marcion and my unique interest in connecting the preferred gospel of Clement of Alexandria to the so-called 'Marcionite text.'

I don't think I want the arguments in favor of identifying 'Secret Mark' with the Marcionite text to dominate the discussion. I think it should be enough to develop what will at times seem to be a cursory discussion of the shape of the Marcionite gospel. I happen to think that most of the previous studies have fallen victim to the presuppositions of the scholars. Rather than developing specific arguments for identifying the Marcionite text with Secret Mark I would instead like to always reference back to the idea if a given section in the so-called Apostle's gospel (Markus Vinzent's terminology) more closely resembles Mark rather than Luke (or even Matthew).

I think regular readers of this blog are already aware that I have a very unique reconstruction of the beginning of the Marcionite gospel narrative. I am convinced that Jesus came down from heaven to what is called 'Bethsaida' in Ephrem's commentary on the Diatessaron. I have already noted the origin of this term from Ecclesiastes - it is a coded reference to the temple of Jerusalem (i.e. 'the house of demons). Markus Vinzent has already acknowledged the theoretical plausibility at least of this general reconstruction. I also point my readers to the recent post where we note how Ecclesiastes is the second most likely Biblical text to be identified by Clement of Alexandria as 'scripture' after the gospel.

Yet I had to set up some kind of strategy to navigate through the material. As a result I ultimately decided upon using the list of references in Epiphanius's Panarion as the template. There are of course problems with using Epiphanius as one's main source for information about any topic. Nevertheless it is hard to dispute that Epiphanius is our greatest single source of information regarding the various readings of the Marcionite New Testament. At the very least it is as good a place to start as any.

The first Marcionite reading that appears in Epiphanius's list - organized to correspond to the narrative in canonical Luke - is the equivalent of Luke 5:14:

καὶ αὐτὸς παρήγγειλεν αὐτῷ μηδενὶ εἰπεῖν, ἀλλὰ ἀπελθὼν δεῖξον σεαυτὸν τῷ ἱερεῖ καὶ προσένεγκε περὶ τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ σου καθὼς προσέταξεν Μωϋσῆς εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

And he charged him to tell no man but go and shew thyself to the priest and offer for thy cleansing according as Moses commanded for a testimony unto them

The thing which becomes clear from reading what Epiphanius writes and what appears in Tertullian's Against Marcion 4.9.9,10 is that instead of "εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς" the Marcionite gospel read "unto you." There is no known variant like this in Mark or Luke in this place but Luke 21:13 does have:

ἀποβήσεται ὑμῖν εἰς μαρτύριον.

It shall turn for you a testimony

apobesetai * B D 579; (NEB) RV Tisch UBS Weiss WH apobesetai de 2 A K L W G D Q Y 0102 1 13 33 565 700 892 1241 1424 Byz vg sin cur pesh hark; Bover HF HG Lach Merk Soden [Treg] Vogels apobesetai gar c ff2 i l r1

I want to go back to the significance of this reading in a moment but there is something far more pressing for us to consider. We should notice that Tertullian's reading is actually a verbatim citation of Matthew 8:4 not Luke. Matthew 8:4 reads:

καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ὅρα μηδενὶ εἴπῃς, ἀλλὰ ὕπαγε σεαυτὸν δεῖξον τῷ ἱερεῖ καὶ προσένεγκον τὸ δῶρον ὸ προσέταξεν Μωΰσῆς εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

The important thing to see here is that Tertullian or his source and the Marcionite ultimately agree on the ending of the sentence - i.e. that it was 'a testimony to you' and not our received text 'a testimony to them' (i.e. the priests). Yet Tertullian's point is that Marcion erased the word 'the gift' which doesn't appear in either Luke or Mark. As we read:

As far as concerned avoidance of human glory, he told him to tell no man: as concerned the observance of the law, he ordered the proper course to be followed: Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift which Moses commanded. Knowing that the law was in the form of prophecy, he was safeguarding its figurative regulations even in his own mirrored images of them, which indicated that a man who has been a sinner, as soon as he is cleansed by the word of God, is bound to offer in the temple a sacrifice to God, which means prayer and giving of thanks in the church through Christ Jesus, the universal high priest of the Father. This is why he added, That it may be to you for a testimony—no doubt by which he testified that he did not destroy the law but fulfilled it, a testimony that it was he and no other of whom it was foretold that he would take upon him their diseases and sicknesses [AM 4:9]

The point then is that Tertullian's gospel isn't Luke. We shall see this time and time again throughout our analysis. I have long argued that Tertullian had never even seen a Marcionite gospel. He was just copying out someone else's report, a source which I have long noted had to have been based on a Diatessaron (i.e. a so-called 'gospel harmony' which was originally conceived as the original single, long gospel of Christianity especially in the east.

The point again is that Tertullian and his source agreed with the Marcionite text in terms of the 'as a testimony unto you' but disagreed with 'the gift' (τὸ δῶρον) which Epiphanius explicitly says 'Marcion removed' (Scholion and Refutation 1):

Even if you remove the word, "gift," it will be evident, from the word, "offer," that he is speaking of a gift.

What is behind all of this? I don't think the Marcionite gospel narrative was actually referencing the proscription in the Pentateuch about how lepers should be examined by the priest. This was developed by the Catholic editors as a distraction. I will have more to say about this later but it has long caught my attention that the words resemble what God says to Moses about the tabernacle providing a witness against the people of Israel:

ἐκεῖ ἐν σοὶ εἰς μαρτύριον [Deut 31:26 LXX]

Indeed even closer to the instruction of Luke 21:6 is what appears at the very end of the Book of Joshua after he records all things in the Book of God's instructions:

καὶ εἶπεν Ἰησοῦς πρὸς τὸν λαόν ἰδοὺ ὁ λίθος οὗτος ἔσται ἐν ὑμῖν εἰς μαρτύριον ὅτι αὐτὸς ἀκήκοεν πάντα τὰ λεχθέντα αὐτῷ ὑπὸ κυρίου ὅ τι ἐλάλησεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς σήμερον καὶ ἔσται οὗτος ἐν ὑμῖν εἰς μαρτύριον ἐπ' ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν ἡνίκα ἐὰν ψεύσησθε κυρίῳ τῷ θεῷ μου

Joshua said to all the people, "Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against you, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God."[Joshua 24:17]

Needless to say I think the healing of this particular individual - someone who Tertullian says was very important to the Marcionite community - was a lot more important than the Catholics were letting on. More on that later.  It is enough to note that Tertullian's original discussion of this section of the Marcionite gospel strangely obsesses about their understanding that whatever happened in this narrative led to the destruction of Israel:

This is why he added, That it may be to you for a testimony—no doubt by which he testified that he did not destroy the law but fulfilled it, a testimony that it was he and no other of whom it was foretold that he would take upon him their diseases and sicknesses. This entirely adequate and necessary interpretation of that testimony Marcion, in subservience to his own Christ, seeks to discount under the pretence of consideration and gentleness. For, says he, being kind, and knowing besides that every man set free from leprosy would follow out the observances of the law, he for that reason ordered him to do so. What after that? Did he continue in kindness, that is, in permission to observe the law, or did he not? If he continued being kind, he can never become a destroyer of the law, nor can he be taken to belong to that other god, since there is a cessation of that destruction of the law on account of which it is claimed he belongs to the other god. If he did not continue being kind, subsequently destroying the law, then it was false witness that he afterwards lodged with them at the healing of the leper: for he became a renegade from goodness, in that he destroyed the law. So he is now evil, as a subverter of the law, if he was kind while allowing the law to be kept. Yet even by his act in once allowing obedience to the law, he gave assurance that the law is good. For no man gives permission for obedience to an evil thing. It follows that in the one case he was bad, if he allowed obedience to a law which was bad, and in the other case worse, if he came as the destroyer of a law that was good. Moreover, if his command to offer the gift was contingent on his knowledge that every man freed from leprosy would make that offering, it was also in his power to have issued no command for an act which he knew would take place without it. Also in vain has he come down as with intent to destroy the law, when he makes concessions to keepers of the law. What is more, since he was aware of the habits of those people, he ought to have taken precautionary action to turn them away from it, if that was the reason for his coming. Why then did he not keep silence, and let the man obey the law without prompting? In that case he could be thought to have made some concession to his tolerance. Instead of which he adds even his own authority, strengthened by the weight of that testimony— testimony of what, unless of enforcing the law? Truly it makes no difference in what way he confirmed the law, whether as kind, or as disinterested, or as tolerant, or as inconstant, provided, Marcion, that I drive you from your position. So then he has commanded the law to be fulfilled: in whatever sense he gave this command, he can in the same sense have stated the principle, I am not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it.d What good then did it do you to excise from the gospel a sentence which remains there still? You have admitted that he did for kindness' sake something which you deny that he said. So there is proof that he said it, because he did do it, and that it is you that have excised the Lord's words from the gospel, and not our people that have foisted them in. [Against Marcion 4.9]

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