Tuesday, December 13, 2011

After Twenty Five Years of Thinking About Marcion I Think I Have Finally Come to Some Sort of Conclusion About Him

I don't know how it is going to be when I die.  My son keeps asking me about death and I don't know what to tell him.  In any event, I sometimes wonder what kind of memories are going to go flashing passed my eyes.  I doubt very many of these images will involved getting laid - not because it happened so rarely (even though that's true enough) - but because you don't think about things like that when you're dying.  I wonder whether any of the moments of illumination while developing my this present thesis about Marcion will be present then.

As much as I hate to admit it publicly I do think there is some 'greater purpose' to learning about the revelation of divine truths.  I don't know what that 'greater purpose' is.  I have always been struck by that line in the Social Network where the Mark Zuckerberg character says 'we don't even know what it is yet.'  My life has had a lot of that in it.  I have never figured out why knowing about Marcion matters, I just know that it somehow does.  Does that make sense?

There is something like 'truth' - an imaginary light coming out of a coffin (to use a movie metaphor) - whenever I think about Marcion.  I have never been a particularly religious person.  My parents developed into very serious atheists as I was growing up.  I don't know why I am so interested in revealing the stone crypt where Marcion is buried has always been important to me.  The important thing is that I have put off finishing that article on Marcion because I am starting to see what twenty five years of research have led me to realize about this mystery figure.

I think it all comes down to Celsus.  I am finally becoming quite certain that Celsus is the original source for the 'invention' of Marcion.  It took me this long to wrestle with the material but I think it has all come down to whether Hegesippus was borrowing from Celsus or Celsus from Hegesippus. Once I resolved this question the whole question of Marcion came together for me.

Let's start with some context for my regular readers.  There once was this early Christian historical work called the Hypomnemata of Hegesippus.  A hypomnema is a kind of unfinished work which is sometimes translated as 'memoir' but the ancient meaning goes deeper than that.  It often meant a kind of memory aid that served as the first draft of a finished treatise.

In any event, this early Christian work is associated with a figure named Hegesippus which is clearly a corruption of the name Josephus (= Joseph).  The historical work at least covers the period of time between Jesus's ministry all the way down to 147 CE which happened to be the seventy seventh year since the destruction of the Jewish temple.  Yet there was somehow also a later addition - a reference to Marcellina the follower of Carpocrates coming to Rome written during the reign of the Roman Pope Eleutherius, (whose reign is usually dated to the period 174 - 189 CE).

The difficulty for me is that somewhere along the line I abandoned my early dating of Celsus's Ἀληθὴς Λόγος (= True Word) to the same period.  I was heavily influenced by Chadwick and because of my abandonment of my original dating of the anti-Christian text to a much later period I couldn't resolve the last obstacle for my thesis regarding Marcion.

You see Jerome seems to 'mistake' Marcellina the Carpocratian for the first Marcionite missionary in Rome.  Many others have noted that that the names 'Marcion' and 'Marcellina' are strikingly similar - both are diminutives of the name Mark.  There are similarities in the idea of them visiting Rome in this period and corrupting the Church during the episcopate of Anicetus.  Lawlor correctly noted that Epiphanius seems to have been using the original text of Hegesippus's Hypomnemata to give us better information than Irenaeus on the event.  Yet Celsus also seems to be aware of the same details and according to Origen he cites makes mention of both 'Marcionites' and 'Marcellians' as well as various other heretical groups who have become famous from the works of Irenaeus and those who were influenced by him.

My dilemma again was figuring out whether the addition to Hegesippus's Hypomnemata was taken from Celsus or Celsus knew and was using the Hypomnemata.  As I said Chadwick's dating of Celsus to 178 CE made them rough contemporaries.  Yet I happened to be reading John Granger Cook's The interpretation of the New Testament in Greco Roman Paganism (2000 Mohr Siebeck) and I finally found enough bits and pieces to rescue my original belief that Celsus's True Word was certainly the original source of the report used by Hegesippus.

Cook begins by acknowledging that Celsus 'is virtually an anonymous figure.' Yet the question quickly becomes whether or not this Celsus is the Epicurean philosopher of the same name who flourished during the reign of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius.  Origen certainly thinks so and extends the productivity of this Celsus down to the early years of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus's joint rule of the Empire.  It was to this Celsus that Lucian of Samosata's Alexander the False Prophet.  The scholiast on Lucian also identifies this Celsus with the author of the True Word.  It is worth noting that this Celsus also wrote extensively against magic and corresponded with Galen who in turn seems to have been familiar with Christians.

Without getting into all the reasons why I think Origen and the scholiast are correct we have to acknowledge that the major reason why others have doubted their identification is that the author of the True Word appears as a Platonist.  Origen gives a number of possibilities to explain why Celsus seems to have abandoned Epicureanism in writing this treatise and first on the list is that being an Epicurean would weaken the effectiveness of his argument.

In any event, it is important to merely acknowledge that Cook mentions 160 CE as a possible date for the publication of the True Word.  However Origen's testimony and internal evidence from Origen's refutation of that original text broadens the possible dating to any time during the reign of Anicetus (= 150 - 167 CE).  Indeed given that fact that Celsus is the source of the addition of the Marcellina the Carpocratian's visit to Rome in this period, it would seem the original editor of the Christian history wanted to include an important bit of information that was left out of that work.  After all Hegesippus was alleged to have come to Rome and delivered the Hypomnenata to the Church in the very same period.  How could he have omitted to have referenced Marcellina?

By restoring the early dating of Celsus the most important thing happened to my understanding of Marcion.  I finally see why it is that so many works 'Against Marcion' emerge in the late second century and into the third century.  Most scholars have simply assumed that Marcion must have been a widely influential figure that so many texts were written against him.  Yet I would argue that they were only reacting to the influence of Celsus's anti-Christian tome.  They were all trying to distinguish the true Christian tradition from the 'heresy' of Marcion.

In other words, Celsus is the starting point for the idea that the Marcionites were hostile to the Creator (= Logos).  His treatise was written to defend the 'True Logos' against the Marcionites who he argued were hostile to Him/It.  Justin and Irenaeus and the like were all reacting to and developing ways of distinguishing Christianity from the arguments of his text.  These texts were developed in Greek and Syriac.  Even Justin seems to have developed a few.  But the point we must never lose site of is that we can no longer simply say that because all our sources say similar things about the beliefs and practices of the Marcionites necessarily means there actually was a sect of this nature.  The ultimate ground of the 'Against Marcion' genre was Celsus's True Word.  All surviving traditions were very much influenced by his mode of argument.


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