Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Second Century Council of Ancyra Helps Explain Why the Collection of Pauline Letters Once Began With Galatians

First impressions mean a lot.  I am not always right about everything or even most things but often times my first impressions are meaningful.  As many of you know I grew up in Toronto knowing little about Christianity - basically no more than Italians went to Catholic school and ended up wearing funny costumes when they grew up (Toronto has the largest population of Italians outside of Italy and I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood).  Yet when I was in university I stumbled upon the person of Marcion and the idea of a falsified canon and the problem has stayed with me ever since.

While Christians typically don't care much about the 'problems' in the basic paradigm of their religion, they show even less attention to the oddities of lost forms of Christianity like Marcionitism.  Why does Tertullian imply that 'Galatians' of all texts should come first in the Marcionite canon?  It is an impression 'confirmed' explicitly by Epiphanius in the Panarion?

As I have already noted the problem stayed with me for most of my life.  A few observations have helped me navigate myself through the thickets.  The first is that I have come to the conclusion that the reason Tertullian and Epiphanius's reporting presents such an uncanny resemblance is that they went back to the same source.  There are clear 'Irenaeanicisms' in Books Four and Five of Against Marcion (the disappearance of the negation at the heart of Galatians 2:5 being the most obvious - viz. "we did give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you").

In any event part of the reason that I don't do much reporting on the conclusions of Schmid and Clabeaux at this blog is that I think they have been misled by the agreement of Tertullian and Epiphanius.  Like most scholarship it is comforting to have such a limited 'problem' with respect to the textual variations in the Marcionite canon - that is until we remind ourselves that the Philosophumena tells us that the Marcionite gospel was an expanded gospel of Mark (an impression confirmed by Epiphanius's testimony of Apelles the disciple of Marcion), Ephrem tells us that the Marcionites renamed Nazareth Bethsaida, the fact that Eznik gives the impression the conclusion of the Marcionite gospel looked like a Diatessaron (with readings from all four gospels) and on and on we go.

As I have noted many times here the bad thing about professional scholarship is that people have to get paid to do it.  It's like anything - being a butcher, a plumber, a prostitute etc.  If I ask my friend to come over and fix my sink and he can't do the job it's different than if I hire someone to do it.  The profession is presumed to have expertise and so - in the case of the fragmentary information about the Marcionites and other heresies it is presumed - when we turn the paradigm upside down - that if people are being paid by a university they must have mastery over the subject matter, and so to have 'expertise' there must be a firm body of evidence to have mastery over.

In the case of Marcionitism of course when you read the works of Schmid and Clabeaux for instance you can see how arbitrary the decision is about what constitutes 'the body of evidence.'  Schmid for instance says that the Dialogue of Adamantius (De Recta Fide) is unreliable and basically worthless.  That may be certainly be true.  We might not be able to separate the wheat from the chaff for instance.  But Schmid's conclusions that the Marcionite canon of the Pauline letters wasn't that different from our own is almost completely attributable to the limitations that he placed on his original control group of evidence (i.e. Tertullian and Epiphanius).

To this end, when we step out of the limiting paradigm of allowing the superficial agreements of Tertullian and Epiphanius determine everything about the Marcionite canon we stumbled on to an important fact first pointed out to me by Daniel Mahar.  The canon of Ephrem's Semitic Christian community (= the Palutians) began with Galatians.  The question then becomes - given the carelessness and faithlessness of Patristic scholars to their original sources, was the 'Galatians first' claim about the Marcionite canon something that was explicitly reported in their original source (i.e. Irenaeus) or was it inferred owing to the anomalies in his reporting (i.e. that his Against Marcion assumed a 'Galatians first' order).  I strongly suspect the latter.

An example of this sort of intellectual sloppiness is found in the fact that Dionysius of Alexandria's original report of Sabellians in Pentepolis leads to Basil and others (via Eusebius's Church History) to attribute Sabellius was from Libya.  The Church Fathers do this sort of thing all the time and I strongly suspect that the Galatians first ordering assumed by Epiphanius is one such an example.  Epiphanius is one of the worst offenders in this respect (also note that Tertullian is never struck by the oddness of the Galatians first Marcionite assuming of course that it ever existed).

All of this leads us to the inevitable conclusion that the Galatians first canon was adopted not only the fourth century Palutian community of Ephrem but also by Irenaeus and the original community of Polycarp (as they were undoubtedly one and the same).  Why would the Church of Polycarp have placed Galatians first?  One can't help wonder if Polycarp's experience at the Council of Ancyra in Galatia might have had something to do with it.  Long before I learned about this historical event from the Syriac chronicles I always noted that our Paul was not the Marcionite Paul.  The traveling 'visionary' who gets into trouble with Jews, who enforces strict standards of orthodoxy and condemns 'heresy' sounds more like a portrait of Irenaeus's Polycarp than the apostle of the very same heresies.

Also important to this idea is the fact that the long autobiographical reference at for the first two chapters of Galatians is almost never referenced in any of the Marcionite variants.  Tertullian starts to make reference to the Marcionite canon at the end of chapter two and so does Origen (preserved now in Jerome's Commentary).  A shortened letter to the Galatians is explicitly noted in Jerome where - as is well known - the ending is curtailed.  Yet if the ending was shortened why doesn't the complete silence regarding any Marcionite references to the first two chapters of Galatians testify to a similar curtailment.

My suspicion then would be that the Church of Polycarp - or perhaps even Polycarp himself - reworked the letter now called 'to the Galatians' in light of his rejection by the Council of Ancyra.  There are so many themes which come into play here.  Paul coming before the 'pillars of the Church,' intimations of a 'hypocrisy' on the part of its leaders, Paul's 'subjection for a time' in order to spread the message of Christ, and then a curious claim that despite reports to the contrary Paul the rejected apostle had actually been given the right hand of ministry by the leadership the apostle had formerly rejected.

Another interesting point to consider is the manner in which the understanding that Paul had witnessed a Paraclete to come after him - i.e. a semi-messianic figure - is at the heart of the dispute in the Acts of Archelaus.  In this case, the argument is picked up by Mani in the third century.  Nevertheless the ultimate rejection of Mani at Osroene is interesting because of its reference to 'Galatians' as a title of Christian believers.  The Syriac Palutians undoubtedly comes from pelet = refugee cmp the important concept of galut in rabbinic Judaism = exile.

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