Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Reader of this Blog Asks - 'How Do We Know That Marcion Held Jesus to be a God?"

My first reaction to this question was "of course we know that!" But as with everything regarding the third and fourth hand information in the Church Fathers it is a good thing to take a second, third and fourth look at our presuppositions. Indeed I am going to keep this post going as a series as the original inquiry is quite nuanced. The reader notes that "it seems any of the Docetics would by default hold that Jesus was God as God could not mingle with matter." He adds that "an angel could also be in appearance" and points to Justin's reference as an angel. The question then seems to be whether Jesus was a God or an angel.

The overall impression (and we have to acknowledge that we are dealing with 'impressions' rather than 'facts') in the various reports from the Fathers is that the Marcionite Jesus is not the Father.  The sense from Celsus is that he at once 'a Son.'  Indeed there is no reason to believe that the Marcionite tradition did not include the figure of 'the Son' as  there was certainly the Father.  Could 'the Son of God' have been a wholly human figure?  It is certainly possible that some tradition somewhere acknowledged a human 'Son of God.'  Celsus intimates that 'some Jews' accepted the figure of the 'Son of God' (although Origen accuses him of inaccuracy).

As I noted I will go through the various sources starting with Irenaeus (I have always suspected that Irenaeus added the Marcion references to Justin but that's another story) in order to discern how palpable the understanding of 'the god Jesus' is.  It is worth noting that again in the most abstract sense, as the Marcionite tradition certainly understood the Father to have been perfect (cf Mark 10) all subordinate divine beings would necessarily seem 'less perfect' and thus more like angels.  Indeed the idea of 'gods' (i.e. Father and Son) seems to run into difficulty with all powerful, all knowing, absolutely perfect Father god.

The rabbinic tradition of course has a similar conception of a second god starting with Philo.  Yet even here it is very rare that this figure is ever identified as a second God for the reasons identified.  Let us consider the Angel of the Presence [literally Face], Mal’akh ha-Panim מלאך הפנים which is the vehicle of creation in some texts within the Rabbinic system and the agent of creation in some other systems. Qirqisâni attributes this opinion to the Maghâriyah مغاريه meaning cave-people or people whose writings were found in caves. Note that the preposition “by” in the phrase of the Nicene Creed, taken from the opening of John’s Gospel, “by whom all things were made” doesn't mean “he made all things” but rather “by means of whom all things were made”. Current translations of the Nicene Creed and John’s Gospel substitute “through” for “by” to try to exterminate this prevalent Evangelical heresy. (The Greek preposition is “dia”).

We should also consider the fact that the name Israel is in the form of the name of an angel (they nearly all end in “-el”) and Jacob is said to have been given this name after wrestling with the angel at Bethel, as a sign of his angelic status. It is also said that his other name is Ya’akov-El. (Bethel being on Mt. Gerizim or according to another opinion at Balata at the foot of the mountain. This other opinion is reflected in the name مرج البهاء for the meadow).

Indeed if the most straightforward path is inevitably the correct path (an assumption I inevitably follow by instinct) a difficult to resist argument presents itself in the idea of Jesus as the 'sufficient god' of Aquila (= El Shaddai).  Of course there are difficulties which must be recognized.  This goes against what scholars have long believed about Marcionitism and its 'hatred' for this Jewish.  Nevertheless at the very least we can argue that Aquila's translation/understanding must be at the heart of the heretical understanding of 'the Christian god not known to the Jewish Patriarchs.'  Eusebius makes this explicit.  It would only cause us to assume that the heresiologists of the Church were developing arguments from or according to hearsay and exaggeration at times.

It is worth noting that when Clement says that Jesus was with Moses in the Burning Bush or when the apostle identifies Jesus as leading the Israelites through the Sea, there can be no doubt of the identification of Jesus with that angel.  The question has always been - and this comes from Hippolytus's description of the Basilideans - whether Jesus was something connected to but ultimately separate from the Logos.  I think the analogy Basilides used was that of the smell of the oil even once the oil is taken away.  In any event a very interesting question.

UPDATE - Irenaeus's account of Cerdo, the alleged precursor to Marcion demonstrates the borrowing from Aquila perfectly " He taught that the God proclaimed by the law and the prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the former was known, but the latter unknown; while the one also was righteous, but the other benevolent."  In other words, it is the Father who is unknown.  My guess is that Jesus was an invisible power who at times was present in the Creator but understood to be something ultimately separate from him.  Somehow the crucifixion fit into this paradigm and martyrdom in general - i.e. the hidden power that was Jesus was fused to the soul and left the physical being dead below.  Now to find evidence to back this up.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.