Monday, November 26, 2012

Another Observation About Christian Forgery in the Ignatian Canon

It is amazing the degree to which people tend to brush off the fact that the Ignatian letters were augmented, one, two, three - possibly even four times.  If we stick to the least controversial thesis - i.e. that the long text represents a systematic augmentation of the short - it is important to note how shrewd the forger was.  This was not some innocent little attempt to 'add' some 'random thoughts' to the original material.  The person counterfeiting the material did so with a conscious awareness about what was deemed 'possible' for Ignatius to know about contemporary historical heretics.  For instance since the generally acknowledged 'time line' of when heretics appeared (from Irenaeus) assumed that Valentinus and Marcion appeared after the Trajanic period, the forger - while throwing in countless names of heretics - always avoids those two.  So it is that we hear allusions to his knowledge of 'Ebionites and 'Nicolatians' and Simon Magus and his disciples but no Marcion and Valentinus.

Think about that for a moment.  This was not an 'innocent' forgery (an oxymoron if I ever heard one but frequently invoked nevertheless).  The person counterfeiting this text was orthodox and had a specific agenda to reinforce the 'accepted' orthodox worldview.  But why?  Again think about this.  He heaps name upon name attempting to prove essentially that Ignatius was opposed to all these heretics.  Why?  Was it that there was some doubt that Ignatius was orthodox?  No that doesn't seem likely.  Or was it that Ignatius's orthodoxy was well established and the author instead wanted to condemn the Ebionites, Nicolatians and Simonians?  No, that too doesn't make sense owing to the fact that it is well known that these sects had mostly died out by the time the forgery was manufactured (early third century?).

So now we are in a bit of a quandary?  Why did this forger forge the long epistle?  In some respects the answer is more obvious.  When for instance we see him attack Ignatius's original Sabellian tendencies one could argue that the forger was trying to establish what was now 'orthodox' in the earliest age possible.  But why add these silly references to already dead (or perhaps even, non-existent) heretics and heresies?  Maybe the author was trying to reinforce an entire worldview which was utterly non-existent.  What I mean by that is, maybe Ignatius is being shaped into a witness for 'orthodoxy' as such - i.e. the entire worldview of the Catholics in the second century.  That is, not just for the existence of a certain belief system, no just for the condemning of specific 'heresies,' not just the existence of an entire apostolic tradition and New Testament scriptures - but all of it together.  In other words, that the story of 'acceptable Christianity' up until that moment in time.

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