Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Most Scholarship On Marcion is Worthless [Part Three]

I know that I am going to lose all of my readers with this now predictable discussion about how stupid Marcionite scholarship is. Yet I can't help myself, I guess. This topic is so important to me that I literally find my fingers hammering away at the keys without me knowing what I am going to write.

I am supposed to be working on a paper arguing that the collection of Pauline letters used by Clement's Alexandrian Church were related to - or one and the same with - the Marcionite Apostolikon.  I think I have a good chance of getting it published.  And yet there is a 'but ..."  What is the problem?  Well, to begin with I  know I have to spend the first part of the paper examining or at least acknowledging I have a firm grasp of what has been written on the subject before me.  This means I have to reference Schmid's Marcion und Sein Apostolos which I gave a positive review a few years back at this blog.

I still like the book.  I still admire Schmid's technical abilities, his methodology.  The problem is that I have seen the light.  I know now truth.  I can only liken it to comparing the first time that I had sex and the time I did it with the most beautiful exotic dancer I ever knew and will likely ever meet.  The girl I first did with was probably better looking - at least in the light, I guess. Dana le nuit, tout chat son gris.  

The problem is there that what I experience on my first sexual encounter wasn't sex.  I don't what you want to call it.  I only knew what all the fuss was about one fateful afternoon when I innocently ate some Pizza Hut pizza with a fully dressed woman I had seen naked the night before.  If you go through your whole life never having done it with a woman born on the wrong side of the tracks, you're missing out understanding the whole culture of the 'wrong side of the tracks.'

My point here is that this whole way of understanding Marcion goes along in a predictable way.  It was established by Protestant theologians at the turn of the twentieth century and beyond.  They all think they are engaging in 'piecing together' the Marcionite canon.  But's just an incredibly stupid and futile effort.  It was like the kind of nocturnal rituals that lead to middle class babies.  Yes this is sexual procreation but it isn't the kind of activity which leads to murder, stealing and ending up in jail.  In order to understand that you have to meet a woman whose mother and mother's mother and mother's grandmother were again born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Now I don't mean to belabor the point but Schmid and Clabeaux can engage in this kind of nonsense because at bottom - as they say on the wrong side of the tracks - no one gives a fuck about any of this.  Marcion?  The Apostolikon?  None of this matters to anyone save for perhaps a couple thousand people in the whole world.

So it is that most of this nonsense is written in German.  This limits the two thousand people that might be interested in Marcion down to like fifty people.  Von Harnack's massively tome is only available in English in the worst possible translation.  So there is this kind of bizarre subculture of people who were erudite to read German, care about Marcion and bother to follow Schmid through an argument that is based essentially on complete nonsense.

I was just reading Clabeaux's book this afternoon and in many ways its worse - or maybe it only seems worse because it's in English.  I can't appear to be part of the 'elite' group of German-literate Marciophiles.

Clabeaux begins by noting that the Marcionite prologues aren't really Marcionite.  He mentions that this yet another example of a Galatians-first canon.  He is very familiar with the sources.  Again, I can only respect someone who knows more about Ephem of Syrus's citations of Pauline material.  Yet the part the book goes right down the drain again for me is when Clabeaux essentially starts to pretend that Against Marcion is a 'study' of the Marcionite Apostolikon.

In our previous post, we literally took the time to cite the first section of Book Four and Book Five from Tertullian's Against Marcion in order to say "hey, Schmid, Clabeaux and everyone else who has ever said or published something about Marcion - look at the evidence. There is no place - anywhere - where Tertullian makes reference to having the Apostolikon in front of him."  Why then is any of this 'a study of Marcion's Apostolikon'?

Now if it isn't a study of Marcion's Apostolikon - what the hell is Book Five?  This is the million dollar question - one that rarely gets asked often enough.  What the fuck are Books Four and Five of Tertullian's Against Marcion?  The author goes through the various letters of the Pauline corpus in a Galatians first canon.  He makes reference to variant Marcionite readings.  Doesn't this necessarily mean that he is engaging in a study of the Marcionite Apostolikon.  Nein, nein, und tausand mal nein!

This is a very dangerous place to slip up.  Against Marcion Books Four and Five do not represent a 'detailed study' of the Marcionite New Testament.  It is in fact a most curious literary phenomenon.  It is the original author (whoever that was) using the canon familiar to him to disprove the Marcionite interpretation of Christian scripture referenced through some Marcionite work (probably the so-called 'Antitheses') which the author might have had in front of him or probably better yet - knew in condensed form.

The Against Marcion series is itself represents 'commentary upon commentary.'  Each successive generation of editors read what the previous generation said and attempted to 'improve upon' the original argument with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  But the text is a muddled mess.  I am not so sure for instance that the readings which Clabeaux points to as being shared by Ephrem's Old Syriac text is even a reflection of the contents of the Marcionite canon or whether it is just the original author rambling to himself (or rambling in the direction of anyone whose ear he might catch) to disprove the Marcionite faith.

The style of writing here actually resembles Irenaeus most of all.  This is why I am so utterly convinced that the core narrative here originally came from Irenaeus's hand.  I will have more about this in a previous post. The point that we should focus on is the shared manner in which Irenaeus and Against Marcion Books Four and Five apparently make reference to readings and interpretations which the author(s) disagree without actually having the whole of the heretical New Testament in front of him.  Look at the manner in which Irenaeus's disposes of the interpretation of the so-called Marcosians in Book One of Against Heresies:

Besides the above, they adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth. Among other things, they bring forward that false and wicked story which relates that our Lord, when He was a boy learning His letters, on the teacher saying to Him, as is usual, "Pronounce Alpha," replied [as He was bid], "Alpha." But when, again, the teacher bade Him say, "Beta," the Lord replied, "Do thou first tell me what Alpha is, and then I will tell thee what Beta is." This they expound as meaning that He alone knew the Unknown, which He revealed under its type Alpha.

Some passages, also, which occur in the Gospels, receive from them a colouring of the same kind, such as the answer which He gave His mother when He was twelve years of age: "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" Thus, they say, He announced to them the Father of whom they were ignorant. On this account, also, He sent forth the disciples to the twelve tribes, that they might proclaim to them the unknown God. And to the person who said to Him, "Good Master," He confessed that God who is truly good, saying, "Why callest thou Me good: there is One who is good, the Father in the heavens;" and they assert that in this passage the AEons receive the name of heavens. Moreover, by His not replying to those who said to Him, "By what power doest Thou this?" but by a question on His own side, put them to utter confusion; by His thus not replying, according to their interpretation, He showed the unutterable nature of the Father. Moreover, when He said, "I have often desired to hear one of these words, and I had no one who could utter it," they maintain, that by this expression "one" He set forth the one true God whom they knew not. Further, when, as He drew nigh to Jerusalem, He wept over it and said, "If thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace, but they are hidden from thee," by this word "hidden" He showed the abstruse nature of Bythus. And again, when He said, "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, and learn of Me," He announced the Father of truth. For what they knew not, these men say that He promised to teach them.

But they adduce the following passage as the highest testimony, and, as it were, the very crown of their system:--"I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes. Even so, my Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knoweth the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him." In these words they affirm that He clearly showed that the Father of truth, conjured into existence by them, was known to no one before His advent. And they desire to construe the passage as if teaching that the Maker and Framer [of the world] was always known by all, while the Lord spoke these words concerning the Father unknown to all, whom they now proclaim. [Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.20.1]

Now tell me, oh people who are so convinced that we can simply put together the Apostolikon by means of Tertullian and Epiphanius - is Irenaeus here citing verbatim from the heretical gospel?  Can we literally just cut and paste these readings into a book somewhere and simply close the door on the question of what was found in the Marcosian gospel?  Most important of all - did Irenaeus have in front of him a copy of the Marcosian gospel in order to make reference to this material?

I put forward that Irenaeus had no respect for his opponents so he felt no need to be faithful to their original textual material.  Sometimes he cites from a saying he heard somewhere come out of the mouths of heretics - loosely rather than accurately.  He might have engaged in debates and discussions with heretics.  Perhaps he might even once have held a heretical canon in his hands. The point however is that Irenaeus has so little respect for his opponents that he takes no effort to be faithful to their tradition.  He can cite from his own canon in one breath and from that of his enemies in the same breath.  There is no possible way to distinguish here any more than in Tertullian's fourth generation Latin translation of a corrupt literary tradition.  It really is that bad.

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