Thursday, November 15, 2012

What is the Actual Relationship Between Marcion and the Pontus? [Part One]

I have always found the claims about Marcion being from Pontus problematic.  Yes to be certain there were many Jews in the region (indeed where WEREN'T there Jews in Antiquity - they were the modern equivalent of the German tourist).  Also Aquila is said to be from the Pontus and in particular Sinope and some sort of a relationship does exist between Marcion and Aquila.

Yet to accept that Marcion was from this place that was 'behind God's back' makes it very difficult to explain how 'Marcionitism' was so widespread and influential at the time of Celsus's witness.  In other words, even if you take the story of Marcion's 'bribing' of the Roman Church late in the Antonine period seriously, you'd still have to explain why Celsus saw signs of Marcionitism everywhere in the Christian landscape.  Was Celsus misled by exaggerated claims in Justin's syntagma?  The manner in which Celsus references the influence of Marcionitism is unlikely to have been influenced simply by a single work.  Indeed if Origen thought that Celsus relied entirely on an orthodox Church Father (= Justin) how can he argue at the same time that Celsus's information is inaccurate?

Tertullian makes reference to the Church of Rome returning Marcion's large 'bribe' in the Antonine period.  It is hard to imagine that Marcion had an overnight influence on Christianity given Celsus's reporting and the general sense of the early heresiological writings of the Church Fathers.  Marcionite influence was widespread and deeply ingrained.  If we imagine that the reference to the 'returning of the bribe' only represents a symbolic turning away from the 'pernicious doctrines' of the sect, it would have to be agreed that the influence was there long before Celsus, long before the syntagma which defined the tradition as heretical and indeed long before our earliest historical reference to the sect.

To this end, it is hard to square this influence with 'the coming of a heretic from a remote corner of the world' like the Pontic region.  To be certain we already hear about a precursor to Marcionitism - a certain Cerdo who according to Irenaeus "came to live at Rome in the time of Hyginus who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession" (c. 136 - 140 CE).  It is important to note that the Philosophumena does not contain the reference to the Roman episcopal succession list found in Against Heresies.  This is significant given the fact that the list derives its origins from Hegesippus and this material was only incorporated into Irenaeus's argument in Book Three which was written sometime after (a) the original syntagma of Justin and (b) Book One of Against Heresies.

To this end we must acknowledge that the 'historical certainty' of the exact dating of Cerdo's arrival in Rome must be questioned.  We must also note that there is no statement of where Cerdo came from which is unusual.  The various statements in the Church Fathers make clear that Marcion allegedly learned his doctrine from Cerdo.  But since Marcion only came to Rome during the reign of Anicetus (again only according to Irenaeus's use of the Roman succession list of Hegesippus) the logical inference is that this apprenticeship could have only started once Marcion arrived in Rome.

Under this scenario we would have to imagine that all the events associated with the emergence of Marcionitism happened - as they say - 'bang, bang, bang' or in rapid succession.  Cerdo came to Rome c. 140 CE.  Marcion became his student upon his arrival c. 150 CE.  Marcion bribed and had his bribe returned by the Roman Church sometime thereafter but nevertheless the influence of Marcionitism spread like wildfire indeed to such an extent that (a) Justin wrote his syntagma against the sect (b) Celsus came across the work and the influence of Marcionitism wherever he was writing from (we must recognize that there is absolutely no agreement about where Celsus composed his True Word) and finally (c) most importantly Marcionitism became an illegal 'voluntary association' (see Against Celsus Book One).

To uphold the claim that all these things happened in exactly this way strikes me as eerily similar to the logic that Republicans were espousing before the election.  You have to imagine an unrealistic scenario which is particularly favorable to the claims of contemporary 'orthodoxy.'  The more likely scenario is that 'Marcionitism' was established very early in the history of Roman Christianity (hence the similarity in readings from both the Old Latin and Marcionite editions of the Apostolikon).  Moreover Clement of Alexandria specifically identifies Marcion's 'conversion' as happening when 'Simon heard the preaching of Peter' which implies an extremely early date for his heresy.

Indeed if we take the evidence of all the texts dependent on the 'syntagma tradition' associated with Justin as basically one tradition with a lot of individual variation (i.e. Against Heresies, the Philosophumena, Against All Heresies) it is striking to see how Clement's testimony stands apart from the syntagma's claims.  First and foremost Clement nowhere mentions the connection between Marcion and the Pontic region.  This is extremely significant.  Moreover Clement never identifies Marcion as learning his heresy from any other teacher.  According to Clement basically Marcion's error was reading too much Plato.  Finally and most decisively Clement identifies Marcion as being the earliest and most original of all the heresiarchs, being an elder during the reign of Hadrian when all the others were mere pups as it were.

Clement's testimony clearly acts as a needle to the big over inflated balloon of the syntagma based reporting. Indeed when we take a second look at all the information which comes from the syntagma (at least loosely) we have to ask - if the syntagma was so certain about the details about Marcion why do Against Heresies, the Philosophumena and Against All Heresies present such radically different portraits of Marcion.  Against Heresies claims about Marcion corrupting Luke are not found in the Philosophumena which argues instead that Marcion expanded the gospel of Mark.  How can this be reconciled?

Indeed while scholars stay inside of the basic agreement which exists between Tertullian's Against Marcion Books Four and Five and Against Heresies, there is irrefutable evidence that Tertullian was simply copying out previously existent testimony about Marcion from earlier authors.  The most likely scenario - given Irenaeus's explicit testimony that he wrote an 'Against Marcion' is that Books Four and Five came from his hand making the 'agreement' with the statement about Marcion corrupting Luke in Book One of his Against Heresies hardly surprising and much less convincing with respect to the real Marcion of history.

It is also typically ignored that pseudo-Tertullian's Against All Heresies identifies Cerdo - not Marcion - with the corruption of Luke.  While scholars typically gloss over the testimony the fact that another mutation of the original syntagma leads to a completely different result raising serious questions about the tradition.  We read:

To this is added one Cerdo. He introduces two first causes, that is, two Gods--one good, the other cruel: the good being the superior; the latter, the cruel one, being the creator of the world. He repudiates the prophecies and the Law; renounces God the Creator; maintains that Christ who came was the Son of the superior God; affirms that He was not in the substance of flesh; states Him to have been only in a phantasmal shape, to have not really suffered,but undergone a quasipassion, and not to have been born of a virgin, nay, really not to have been born at all. A resurrection of the soul merely does he approve, denying that of the body. The Gospel of Luke alone, and that not entire, does he receive. Of the Apostle Paul he takes neither all the epistles, nor in their integrity. The Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse he rejects as false.

After him emerged a disciple of his, one Marcion by name, a native of Pontus, son of a bishop, excommunicated because of a rape committed on a certain virgin. He, starting from the fact that it is said, "Every good tree beareth good fruit, but an evil evil," attempted to approve the heresy of Cerdo; so that his assertions are identical with those of the former heretic before him.

If Marcion only inherited a shorter version of the gospel in relation to Luke, Marcion cannot be accused of being a 'castrator' of the gospel narrative.  This specific claim is now determined to be idiosyncratic to Irenaeus and thus of limited historical value.

Indeed given the fact that 'Cerdo' is identified as being a pre-existent figure in Rome relative to Marcion's coming to the city at some point during the reign of Antoninus Pius the most logic assumption has to be that (a) there was a Marcionite tradition of some sort where (b) Cerdo was its authority figure, bishop in Rome.  Given the fact that Against Heresies is written from the Roman perspective as it were (at least the 'orthodoxy' of the late second century) and its explicit interest was to diminish the authority of the Marcionite tradition it would not be surprising to see the 'spelling out' of the relationship between Cerdo and Marcion (i.e. teacher and student) in the various 'offspring' of the original syntagma.

Nevertheless there is one more fundamental difficulty which is rarely addressed by scholars which should be noted.  Given the fact that Hegesippus clearly wrote his original treatise in 147 CE (= 'the tenth year of Antoninus Pius') and this original text was clearly 'updated' at a later period while Hegesippus was still at Rome why is there no mention of either Cerdo or Marcion?  One can perhaps argue that some of the obvious parallels between Marcellina and Marcion in terms of their names, their coming to Rome and the manner in which Jerome identifies Marcellina as a Marcionite missionary might excuse Hegesippus's failure to mention Marcion.  But what about Cerdo?  Surely if Cerdo was a heretic at the time and already established in Rome Hegesippus would have written about him.

The only solution to this difficulty of course is to assume that the historical Hegesippus either did not or could not identify Cerdo as a heretic - either because (a) he thought Cerdo was orthodox or at least not worthy of being classified as a heretic (b) because Cerdo was so influential that Hegesippus's standing with the Roman Christian community would be compromised or (c) because there was no Cerdo or there was no Cerdo in Rome at the time. In any case there is enough evidence here to have serious doubts about the traditional model which relies on an extremely unreliable and self-contradictory 'syntagma' tradition which is over reliant on the specific 'Irenaean' branch of the original and ever changing syntagma manuscript.

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