Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Towards Making the Case that Most Scholarship on Early Christianity is Stupid

I have been working on a new paper that I am writing with the hopes of publishing it in an academic journal.  I haven't been posting much here because I have been rather busy at my day job which leaves me only a few hours a day to work on the monograph.  The subject of the article will be my contention that Clement's New Testament canon is related to the Marcionite New Testament canon.  For readers of my blog this is of course nothing new.  Yet it is quite a different thing trying to put together a coherent argument with the limitations of a journal publication in mind.

As always I want to do too much with it.  When it comes to writing papers, I sometimes feel like a prisoner entering a bordello.  I have for so long abstained that I want to do it all.  I am not in the 'business' of writing papers either.  I am not trying to make a name for myself, further my career.  The only thing that is staring me in the face is my own mortality to be quite frank.

On the one hand I don't know why any of these things should matter.  Will anyone read my little paper even if I manage to get it published?  Probably not.  And it's not like I have the power to stop the full locomotive of scholarship from its general propulsion in what I often thing is the wrong direction.  So why spend the two hours a day I have to enjoy live writing the monograph?

I guess the ultimate reason is that Marcion has always mattered to me.  It is difficult to explain.  I suppose on some level, I always thought that Christian theology is senseless and that it couldn't have always been so.  In a strange sense I guess, I have always been a rationalist trapped in a foolish body.

There are days that I am so elated with my discoveries that it quite literally gets me through the day with a big grin on my face.  I am never so sure how things will turn out so perhaps just getting something published might one day develop into something I hadn't quite predicted ahead of time.  Who knows.

In any event, the more I look at Ulrich Schmid's study of the Apostolikon (= the Marcionite version of the Pauline letters) the more I can poke holes at his thesis.  The paper is starting to take shape as a critique of his methodology and I am really worried about that because I really like Schmid as a man.  He was so nice to me I don't like the idea of falling in the trap of each successive generation of scholarship having to make a name for itself by taking aim at established truths.

Here's the basic dilemma though.  Schmid rejects the Dialogues of Adamantius as hopelessly corrupt but someone fails to see that Tertullian's Against Marcion isn't much better.  Just look at the introduction and you see we have have a third century document which went through at least four rewrites to get the current form.  There were clearly more than one author presumably more than one text of the New Testament.  The text has been translated from Greek to Latin (and I presume there was an original Syriac text).

Yet even beyond this Schmid - and everyone else before and after him - is taking the text as something it isn't.  Against Marcion is not a 'study' of the Marcionite New Testament.  It is a polemic where the author is denigrating an opposing tradition.  There is no 'purity' here.  The text hasn't put on gloves to avoid contaminating the evidence.  There are Catholic readings mixed in with Marcionite readings and likely the Old Syriac edition of the New Testament too (from the original author).  How then can Schmid hope to preserve a line by line account of the Marcionite Apostolikon?

I think I learned something from doing much the same thing with Clement of Alexandria's writings (even though this by comparative standards is a much 'purer' study at least theoretically because it is the study of Clement's citations of the New Testament rather than alleged citations of this material from the writing of an opponent whose writings survive in another language!).  I have to hold myself back from describing the whole endeavor of Schmid and others as utterly stupid if only because these men have spent so many years of their lives on these projects and they are such nice people.  Nevertheless the whole endeavor at least is stupid.

There are so many examples of why it is stupid to think that Tertullian and Epiphanius preserve for us anything more than a common anti-Marcionite textual tradition.  We see the same thing emerge with respect to citations of Hegesippus's Hypomnemata in authors stretching from Irenaeus to Epiphanius.  I am always losing things.  Usually I throw something by accident in the garbage and then I have dump out the bag in order to retrieve it.  I usually find the thing I am looking for but by the time I pull it out of the garbage it has liquid, coffee grinds, noodles and the like attached to it.

If I lost a sandwich in the garbage and decided it was worth digging through to retrieve it, would I think it would be a good idea to eat again with all sorts of other foul things all over it?  Why then does it make sense to people to piece together the precious Marcionite New Testament from a Latin translation of an original polemic which changed hands several times?  The original report was probably less than reliable.  It wasn't a 'study' for crying out loud any more than Mein Kampf should be counted a 'study' of the Jewish sojourn in Europe.

I think I have found a much better way to piece it all together ...

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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