Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Christians, Jews and Marcion

So let's suppose for a moment that Marcion derives from a voluntary association of individuals associated with 'Mark.'  This makes sense in a certain abstract level.  After all if Mark wrote the gospel and - less certainly - established the liturgy that it would be his association rather than one in the name of his god, Jesus.  Of course the main stumbling block to this understanding is that we think Christians should be called individually as χριστιανός.  Why do we think that?  Habit nothing more.

Indeed as has long been noted the term 'Christian' derives ultimately from Latin rather than Greek.  That's strange because we wouldn't expect many members of the new association would speak Latin.  Greek certainly and also Aramaic.  But Latin was the language of the Roman state.

The problem of how Χριστιανός came to be the accepted designation of the new religion has always been open for interpretation.  There are many similar 'Latinisms' in the existing gospel of Mark.  But now that we have begun to seriously question whether Christianity might have been established in the early second century at the time of the translation of Aquila's Greek text of the Old Testament the idea that these 'Latinisms' may have crept into the religion in the second century should be seriously examined.

If Χριστιανός isn't strange enough, there is another term which appears in the letters of Ignatius which is related but even more unusual -χριστιανισμός.  It is strange to hear Ignatius, a supposed early bishop of Antioch make reference to 'the Christian way of life' at the beginning of the second century.  Not only is the word based on the Latinized Greek χριστιανός, there is something bizarrely formal about the terminology.

Steve Mason has noted that the closely related term Ιουδαισμος (= Judaism) rarely makes its way into texts before the second century CE.  When it does make an appearance it almost always occur within Christian texts - in other words, it is a companion to the already existing χριστιανισμός.  As Mason notes with respect to 2 Maccabees:

in Jewish literature and its proliferation in later Christian literature, that we seem to have only three options. (Perhaps I am missing some.) Either (a) the author of 2 Maccabees coined Ioudaismos to mean Judaism and experimented with it, but the experiment did not catch on until the Christians revived it; or (b) it did catch on, but by some fluke it does not surface in any other literature of the period, though it was in wide use; or (c) the author of 2 Maccabees did not use Ioudaismos to mean Judaism as a system, but something else. Later authors found no comparable occasion to use it until the Christians Paul and Ignatius, whose authoritative status prompted later Christians to find ways of using it.

Daniel O McLean offers up another possibility - 2 Maccabees should be thought to have been written in the second century perhaps even by a Christian writer.  But what about the possibility that the term developed only as a result of a concerted Roman effort to define Christianity and Judaism as separate traditions?

I know there are many who are shaking their heads right now?  Of course Judaism and Christianity are separate traditions?  One believes in Jesus Christ the other does not.  Yet I think that there is ample evidence which suggests that in the early second century - in the very age that 'Marcion' and Aquila were active - there  was a hybrid religious tradition which could be defined as both.  I needn't get into proving that Marcionitism was this historical second century religion.  My point is simply that χριστιανός and χριστιανισμός developed as conscious efforts to define the religion of Jesus as something separate from ιουδαισμος and - more importantly to bury the previous existence of a religion associated with Mark.

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