Thursday, October 25, 2012

Marcion and Aquila [Part Three]

Most of the literature which deals with the 'objection' that Marcion had to the Jewish god is quite stupid.  The bottom line is that we quite simply do not know what was going on 'behind the scenes' which led to this reporting in the writings of the Church Fathers.  True, there is a recurring sense from Irenaeus and his associates that something that Marcion 'taught' about the Creator was very unflattering.  Nevertheless this doesn't mean that what has been preserved of this original teaching among later testimonials is accurate.

Let's consider a typical passage from Tertullian's On the Resurrection of the Flesh.  This work survives in Latin but I have long argued that Tertullian often translated or loosely rewrote original treatises written in Greek.  Against Marcion is made up similar 'reworkings' of original and much early Greek polemics against Marcion.  In chapter fourteen of On the Resurrection of the Flesh Tertullian clearly develops an original Marcionite argument which develops from his description of the Creator as merely 'sufficient' or ἱκανός in Greek.

In the previous chapter Tertullian has introduced what he considers 'scientific' knowledge about the existence of an Arabian bird called the Phoenix which has apparently died and comes back to life before men's eyes.  Tertullian closes the previous chapter by asking "why must men die once for all, while birds in Arabia are sure of a resurrection?"  In chapter fourteen Tertullian transitions his argument noting not only "the divine energies which God has displayed as much in the parables of nature" (i.e. the Phoenix) by noting that we too "began with the dignity of the flesh, whether it were of such a nature that when once destroyed it was capable of being restored."

This is the main point of Tertullian's treatise - God is capable of transforming the inferior flesh given to man into something better.  So he continues in the present chapter:

we pursued an inquiry touching the power of God, whether it was sufficiently great to be habitually able to confer this restoration on a thing which had been destroyed. Now, if we have proved these two points, I should like you to inquire into the (question of) cause, whether it be one of sufficient weight to claim the resurrection of the flesh as necessary and as conformable in every way to reason; because there underlies this demurrer: the flesh may be quite capable of being restored, and the Deity be perfectly able to effect the restoration, but a cause for such recovery must needs pre-exist. Admit then a sufficient one, you who learn of a God who is both supremely good as well as just —supremely good from His own (character), just in consequence of ours.

Most scholars of course get sidetracked by the end of the section where a familiar theme in the anti-Marcionite writings comes up - Marcion's 'division' of the godhead into two powers.  According to Marcion there are two gods, a 'good' god Jesus and 'just' god who is the Creator.

Yet there is another idea in the passage which doesn't get as much play among scholars because they haven't noticed it before.  Throughout the passage there is Aquila's translation of the Hebrew term in Genesis 17.1:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El Shaddai; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.  Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Aquila famously translated the name 'El Shaddai' as 'sufficient (ἱκανός) god' but the name seems to have scandalized Christians.  The preferred manner of translating the epithet is 'God Almighty.'  Yet there is a consistent exegesis in the earliest rabbinic authorities to agree with Aquila - namely that the name is composed out of two words sh שֶׁ- and dai- דַּי - which roughly translate as “that which is enough” or "sufficient."

Any one who has ever read the various treatises against Marcion has noticed that there is a frequent charge that Marcion 'excluded' Abraham from ever having met the Christian god.  The clear sense must have been that Marcion understood Abraham to have met an inferior divinity, one who is 'sufficient' or 'able' but not 'perfect' - whether following Aquila or the existing Jewish understanding of the name 'El Shaddai' is not clear.  If we revisit the original discussion in Tertullian above it is clear that the Church Father is obvious challenging the identification of the Creator as merely 'sufficient' (ἱκανός) - i.e. not the god who actually 'perfects' the human condition from its original weakness.

Tertullian notes that the claim that "the flesh may be quite capable of being restored, and the Deity be perfectly able to effect the restoration" is said by the Church Father to be "sufficient and as conformable in every way to reason."  Furthermore he implores Marcion to "admit then a sufficient one" is capable of carrying out this miracle and "you who learn of a God who is both supremely good as well as just."

How is it then that Christianity originally understood a superior god to have perfected not only the creation but also the Creator?  A hint may be found in the original First Letter of Clement of Rome as cited by Clement of Alexandria:

Love joins us to God, does all things in concord. In love, all the chosen of God were perfected. Apart from love, nothing is well pleasing to God. Of its perfection there is no unfolding, it is said. Who is sufficient (ἱκανὸς) to be found in it, except those whom God counts worthy (αξιος)?

ἀγάπη κολλᾷ ἡμᾶς τῷ θεῷ, πάντα ποιεῖ ἐν ὁμονοίᾳ.  ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ ἐτελειώθησαν πάντες οἱ ἐκλεκτοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ· δίχα ἀγάπης οὐδὲν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ. τῆς τελειότητος αὐτῆς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐξήγησις, φησί. τίς ἱκανὸς ἐν αὐτῇ εὑρεθῆναι, εἰ μὴ οὓς ἂν αὐτὸς καταξιώσῃ ὁ θεός [Strom. 4.18]

It is very curious that the rabbinic tradition specifically states that the full translation in Aquila for El Shaddai was αξιος καί ἱκανὸς (Genesis Rabba s 46, Kittel Theological Dictionary p. 379).  One even wonders whether 1 Clement at its core was even written by someone named Clement.  Perhaps it goes back to another second century figure related to either Marcion or Aquila or both.

It is also worth noting that while Genesis 17.1 is missing in the Hexapla we are told that Exodus 6.3 Aquila had ἐν θεῷ ἱκανῷ for the Hebrew בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י. The reading is cited in Eusebius, Demonstration of the Gospel but the context will certainly help the reader understand why we might consider this translation 'Marcionite:

Aquila says, "And I was seen by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a sufficient God," clearly showing that the Almighty God Himself, Who is One, was not seen in His own Person; and that He did not give answers to the fathers, as He did to Moses by an angel, or a fire, or a bush, but "as a sufficient God": so that the Father was seen by the fathers through the Son, according to His saying in the Gospels, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." For the knowledge of the Father was revealed in Him and by Him. [Demon. Ev. 5.13]

Is the reader starting to get where I am going with this?  'The sufficient god' was so designated because he was not the Almighty God.  He was a lower power - perhaps equivalent to the early Alexandrian Christian notion of the Father and the Son.

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