Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Next Chapter in the Myth of Jesus Christ [Part Four]

That this apostle established the 'first edition' of a definitive collection of his own writings makes a lot of intuitive sense.  This is something that writers have always down throughout the ages.  Yet the Catholics and Marcionites disagreed as to what was contained in this apostolic codex.  The Catholics - quite oddly - argued that the original Pauline codex (at least implicitly) was comprised only of letters written by the apostle to a number of churches.  Scholars still have in their possession a number of old codices which preserve the essential Catholic 'testimony' of Paul and it demonstrates what an absolutely unworkable suggestion this really is.  Paul certainly did not write the Epistle to the Hebrews, the two letters to Timothy, the letter to Titus or the letter to Philemon.  These were either forgeries or written by someone else an misidentified as a work of this apostle.

So the Catholic codices of Pauline writings cannot possibly be understood to have been established by the apostle himself.  Yet if the Catholics preserve an utterly incorrect understanding of the make up of his original codex, one would think that it should at least be possible that the Marcionites might have a better idea here.  These 'heretics' claimed that the codex established by the apostle was quite literally built around his gospel.  His letters were only the accompaniment to his meisterwerke as it were - the Gospel of Christ.

In other words, the Marcionites claimed that the original New Testament was simply the codex established by this apostle, which contained a gospel followed by a number of letters. The Catholics bitterly denounced the idea that Paul ever wrote a gospel - this even though there a number of references to 'my gospel' even within our collection of his letters. Indeed the simple straightforwardness of Paul's role in the Marcionite New Testament (= a first edition of an author's own work) contrasts sharply with the confusing state of affairs in the Catholic tradition.

Not only does Paul not mean 'my gospel' when he says 'my gospel' in his own letters, the Catholics were very sluggish in coming up with a plausible explanation for what happened to this gospel.  An explanation of sorts was eventually forthcoming whereby 'gospel' here doesn't mean 'written gospel' but some kind of preaching which was eventually set into written form by Luke on behalf of Paul.  While this explanation appears at the very beginning of the third book in a five volume series written by Irenaeus against the heresies, it is amazing to see how tentatively Irenaeus beings forward this suggestion in the main body of the work.

One can see from earlier sections of this treatise and from other lectures of Irenaeus preserved in Latin by Tertullian that it was originally claimed that Marcion simply seized a copy of Luke and rashly attempted to mold it into his Pauline gospel.  It is only in the main body of Book Three of Against Heresies - usually dated to the turn of the third century, that Irenaeus even attempts to explain why we anyone should believe that Luke was the gospel of Paul.  Irenaeus says that the canonical Acts of the Apostles presents Luke - rather than Mark - as the apostle's beloved disciple.

While many people are likely still thinking to themselves - 'okay, where is the rational argument here?'  - this is quite typical of Irenaeus.  Irenaeus has a perplexing style which just lays out what you are supposed to believe and then a few paltry scriptural references are set alongside it to help make it go down better.  What makes this explanation even more implausible is that Irenaeus acknowledges throughout that the people he is addressing deny the authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles.  As such Irenaeus isn't even attempting to convince his opponents.  He knows that they think that Acts was a forged text filled with lies and inventions developed by the Catholics to pull the wool over people's eyes.  Indeed the claim that Luke was a companion of the apostle was explicitly denied by the Marcionites.

Yet keeping the Marcionite perspective in mind one can take a second look at the claims of Irenaeus and look at them as a complex web of lies developed to undermine the original codex of Christianity.  If the story about Paul picking Luke over Mark was used by the orthodox to help solidify the Gospel of Luke as the Pauline gospel - the text Paul references as 'my gospel' in his own letters - shouldn't we also take a look at the rejection of Mark too as part of the over all strategy.  The critical line in question appears in Acts chapter 15 where a disagreement allegedly emerged with Paul's disciples in Jerusalem which led to Barnabas and Mark abandoning his ministry.

It is very important for us to remember that Acts chapter 15 revisits the same incidents described in the Pauline Epistle to the Galatians but provides additional - and certainly 'invented' - information to compliment that narrative.  Indeed there are good reasons to believe that the Marcionite version of the Epistle to the Galatians ever had these historical details whatsoever - in other words, these are made up stories on top of made up stories.  But to what purpose?

It is very important to see that Irenaeus is establishing the fact that the Gospel of Mark is not the text mentioned in the writings of Paul but instead the Gospel of Luke is.  We see this by the way Irenaeus layers Acts 15 on top of the confrontation in Jerusalem described in Galatians chapter 2 with the words:

If, then, any one shall, from the Acts of the Apostles, carefully scrutinize the time concerning which it is written that he went up to Jerusalem on account of the forementioned question, he will find those years mentioned by Paul coinciding with it. Thus the statement of Paul harmonizes with, and is, as it were, identical with, the testimony of Luke regarding the apostles.  But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John who was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, "we came to Troas;" and when Paul had beheld in a dream a man of Macedonia, saying, "Come into Macedonia, Paul, and help us," "immediately," he says, "we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, understanding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel unto them."

The assumption here is that Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles and thus was always with Paul while Mark was rejected.  The inference that Irenaeus later draws as noted is that Luke is the true witness to the beliefs of Paul.  Yet if we start to open our eyes to the manner in which the Marcionites certainly viewed our canon, we can start to see that the material was subtly arranged to dislodge an original identification of the Gospel of Mark as the text which the apostle identified as his gospel.

It isn't just that Mark leaves Paul in this narrative, in Acts 13:13 we know that John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas during Paul's first missionary journey too.  Andrew Criddle at least has proposed a pun which Latin-speaking Christians might have seen that Mark should be called murcus (= deserter, coward) and not marcus.  Yet Irenaeus makes reference to the second desertion of Mark for a very specific reason   He goes on in the section just cited to connect the visit to Troas with the reference in 2 Timothy which makes reference to the codex.  We cannot overstate the significance of Irenaeus's leaving all these pieces in the New Testament canon of the Catholic Church and then hinting to his readers the story that emerges when they are all put together.

Irenaeus continues to skim through the remaining chapters of Acts noting that Luke stayed with Paul all the way to the end of the apostle's lengthy sojourn in Rome which concludes the narrative.

As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: Demas has forsaken me, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. [2 Timothy 4:10-11] From this he shows that he was always attached to and inseparable from him. And again he says, in the Epistle to the Colossians: Luke, the beloved physician, greets you. [Colossians 4:14] But surely if Luke, who always preached in company with Paul, and is called by him the beloved, and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him (Paul), as has been pointed out from his words, how can these men, who were never attached to Paul, boast that they have learned hidden and unspeakable mysteries?

What we should pay careful attention to here is that the reference to Luke being 'here with' the apostle is the very request for the codex which eventually form the Catholic 'first edition' of his writings.  It is unclear whether the gospel will be included in the set.  What is clear is that this will be - according to Irenaeus's conception - the gospel according to Luke written on behalf of the authority of the apostle Paul.

Irenaeus goes out of his way to spell out that Luke was present with Paul writing a gospel on his behalf while Mark was away somewhere else not writing the gospel for Paul.  The words in 2 Timothy chapter 4 are especially significant:

(Timothy) do your best to come to me quickly,  for Demas, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.  Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my book, especially the parchments.

At long last we can see the tentative steps that were laid out in advance for the new formulation that would rock the third century.  Luke wrote the gospel of Paul rather than Mark.  The obvious inference that we can draw from this of course is that the Marcionites identified Mark rather than Luke as the true gospel of the apostle - something explicitly mentioned by Irenaeus's student Hippolytus in his writings.

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