Friday, November 9, 2012

Marcionitism: The Fuzzy Dawn of Christianity [Part One]

As readers will have noticed yesterday, this is a research blog.  I post things as I uncover them.  There is very little rhyme or reason other than a line of inquiry.  Part of my hope is of course to entertain the fifty or so readers that come here more or less daily.  But there is something more to my regular output.  Unlike other 'biblioblogs' I am less interested in being 'timely' than what Nietzsche coined - that of being 'untimely.'  As long as there is Google search there are researchers.  Perhaps one day these messages in bottles will reach individuals who are in a position to change our understanding of the origins of Christianity.

I hold almost nothing as being 'set in stone' with regards to early Christianity other than (a) a core cast of characters including 'Jesus' (b) the fact that the gospel narrative was set in the generations which preceded the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and most importantly that traditions of Marcionitism is the proper context for understanding the earliest gospel.  Of course, defining 'Marcionitism' is no easy thing.  The early Church Fathers weren't just partisans they can often be demonstrated to be loose with the facts regarding their adversaries.

The most reliable witness to the Marcionite faith has to be considered to be Clement of Alexandria.  The least reliable is Tertullian of Carthage.  Clement demonstrates no discernible malice toward members of the tradition.  He openly refutes their message but at the same time demonstrates the most important characteristic for a reliable historical source - indifference.  Tertullian on the other hand is the worst witness on any subject because he demonstrates him to be a loose copyist and translator of previously existing reports.

The Holy Spirit was judged by Tertullian to be 'already within him' so he doesn't feel the need to be loyal to his original sources.  He changes the facts (as judged by the changes made to a common source in Against Marcion Book Three and Against the Jews).  If we could find the original Greek texts behind Book One, Book Two (Theophilus of Antioch), Book Three (Justin Martyr) and Books Four and Five (Irenaeus) we would quite certainly ignore the manipulated Latin 'translations' made by Tertullian.  Yet these originals are probably lost to us so we are stuck with these poor quality 'knock offs.'

What can be discerned at this present moment is the unmistakable sense that Marcionitism was related to proto-Christianity at Rome and Alexandria.  Schmid has already argued for a relationship between the Old Latin text of the letters of Paul and the Marcionite Apostolikon.  Clement not only references the Alexandrian collection of letters by its Marcionite name (= Apostolikon) but moreover demonstrates consistent agrsement with the known Marcionite readings.

This pairing of Rome and Alexandria back to some common underlying connection with Marcionitism has a profound echo with what we know about the Gospel of Mark.  Two forms of the gospel are known to have developed - an original shorter 'Roman text' and a longer, more mystical 'Alexandrian version.'  It is unclear whether the Roman Marcionite community knew about the existence of the longer text in Egypt but the presence of Marcellina the Carpocratian in the city during the reign of bishop Anicetus (c. 150 CE) argues for the use of that text outside of Egypt.

At the same time the Muratorian canon's allusion to a Marcionite epistle to the Alexandrians reinforces the significance of Alexandria to the tradition.  It is very significant that the names of cities who received the apostle's 'apostolic' letters (i.e. epistles written immediately following a visit) were different in the Marcionite canon.  This implies that when the Catholics renamed the material they did so according to regions where Catholic presence was strong (i.e. the name change from the Epistle to the Laodiceans to the Ephesians).  This point reinforces a pattern already evidenced in the Ignatian correspondences namely an interest and attachment to Ephesus and surrounding regions in Asia Minor.

It is difficult not to also see a connection between the struggle between Quartodecimans and Marcionites coinciding with the coming of Polycarp to Rome.  In other words there was a pre-existent Marcionite Apostolikon, a collection of addresses to cities which were reflective of sectarian strength.  Alexandria was certainly included in this list because Alexandria and Egypt were critical to the tradition.  At some point in the latter half of the second century this Marcionite canon was appropriated by someone who hoped to redefine Paul as a non-sectarian figure.  The argument was made that he was misrepresented by the Marcionites.  He was subsequently redefined in a manner which made him more palatable for Quartodecimans.

Part of that definition was clearly to change the context of the term 'Apostolikon.'  The term clearly originally meant 'correspondences to communities recently visited by the figure known as Paul in the Catholic tradition.'  The Catholic editor of the collection changed the name of some of these letters simply because there were no  orthodox community at the time he was editing (= Alexandria).  Yet more significantly we should also see that the Acts of the Apostles was introduced not only to redefine the person of 'the Apostle' (= Paul) but also to change the meaning of the word 'apostolic.'

The idea that this 'Paul' worked together with other 'apostles' was simply untenable for traditional Marcionites.  This is why Irenaeus, the obvious final editor of the new canon, spends so much time in Book Three of Against Heresies making the case not only for the existence of an apostle named Paul but also the very framework of the Acts of the Apostles which was utterly rejected by the old guard in Rome as well as Alexandria.  The figure known as 'Paul' owing to Irenaeus's repeated insistence was originally identified as both 'Evangelist' and 'Apostle' in the Marcionite community.  He had a much more pronounced role in early Christianity than can be allowed or even comprehended by those who are 'stuck' in the editorial emendations of Irenaeus.

It is perhaps the lasting legacy of these reforms that Paul is never to be identified as an 'evangelist' outside of refutations of the Marcionites (who held him to be such).  At the same time, Mark is only identified as 'an evangelist' but never 'an apostle' outside of his native see of Alexandria (where he is always identified as 'the apostle').  This strange simultaneous 'divorcing' of the office of 'evangelist' from Paul and 'apostle' from Mark finds mutual echo in the identification of each as the 'companion' of Peter.  Both Mark and Paul are identified as completing the gospel of Peter.  It all depends on which source(s) you are reading.

Perhaps even more decisive to identifying 'the Evangelist' and 'the Apostle' as representing severed halves of an established post-Resurrection figure is re-translating both terms back to Hebrew or Aramaic.  For both the mevasser (Isaiah 52.7) and the shaliah (Deuteronomy 18:15-22) are messianic figures.  To imagine two separate figures - one the 'evangelist' (or many evangelists) and another the 'apostle' (or many apostles) - completely obliterates the original Hebrew notion of one redemptive figure associated with both of these names.  When we add the Jewish interest in a figure called the menachem (= Paraclete) and the Marcionite identification of this title with their apostle (Origen Homilies on Luke).  We see repeated reinforcement of the notion that the Catholic editor de-emphasized the original significance of 'Paul' in the original Marcionite culture of Christianity.

Even a superficial reading of the so-called Acts of Archelaus corrupt as it has been preserved through reworking and translation from its original Aramaic to Greek and now barbarous Latin still underscores the original point.

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