Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Proper Formula for Reconstructing the Marcionite Gospel

Step 1: We stop using Tertullian Against Marcion Book Four as the basis to our reconstruction of the Marcionite gospel

Tertullian never claims that he is presenting us the Marcionite gospel.  He is clearly only attempting to attack alterations he claims Marcion made to his text - an argument which superficially appears to assume corruptions to the Gospel of Luke but as we noted, if we dig deeper into the document there is a more original argument which suggests alterations made to a Diatessarion.

Step 2: We should instead rely more heavily on the material from Epiphanius's Panarion.

Unlike Tertullian, Epiphanius actually tells his readers that he knows what the Marcionite gospel looks like and he is giving them an idea of what it said.  He writes that "some years ago, to find what falsehood this Marcion had invented and what his silly teaching was, I took up his very books which he had mutilated, his so-called Gospel and Apostolic Canon. From these two books I made a series of extracts and selections of the material which would serve to refute him, and I wrote a sort of outline for a treatise, arranging the points in order, and numbering each saying one, two, three (and so on)" and then again "I went through all of the passages in which it is apparent that, foolishly, he still retains against himself these leftover sayings of the Saviour and the apostle" and further more that he will "present the material from his own Gospel which is contradictory to his villainous tampering."

Step 3: We should stop pretending that either Tertullian or Epiphanius tells us exactly what the Marcionite gospel looked like.

Epiphanius says it quite explicitly in the last section.  He is saying he will only "present the material from his own Gospel which is contradictory to his villainous tampering so that those who are willing to read the work may have this as a training-ground in acuity, for the refutation of the strange doctrines of his invention."  In other words, Epiphanius is freely admitting that what is being presented here is not 'the Marcionite gospel in toto.'  He only gives a general sense of what is going on - undoubtedly through the same common source material as Tertullian.  So what has Epiphanius done differently?  I think he has sifted through the original source material and distilled some useful illustrations of Marcion's heretical text.

Step 4: We have to acknowledge that the Marcionite gospel had no reference to Jesus's baptism by John

Epiphanius will only tell us the most generic information about the shape of the gospel - i.e. "mutilated as it is, without beginning, middle or end, it looks like a cloak full of moth holes" and perhaps more importantly:

At the very beginning he excised everything Luke had originally composed—his 'inasmuch as many have taken in hand,' and so forth, and the material about Elizabeth and the angel's announcement to Mary the Virgin; about John and Zacharias and the birth at Bethlehem; the genealogy and the story of the baptism.  All this he cut out and turned his back on, and made this the beginning of the Gospel, 'In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar,' and so on.

The fact that there is absolutely no reference to Jesus's baptism by John is essential to make sense of this gospel.  The same idea shines forth in various sources but most importantly when Tertullian writes in Against Marcion 4:11 that John first makes his appearance at the story of the dinner in Luke 5:27 - 39 where Tertullian remarks:

From what direction does John make his appearance? Christ unexpected: John also unexpected. With Marcion all things are like that: with the Creator they have their own compact order. The rest about John later, since it is best to answer each separate point as it arises.

The idea that the Marcionite gospel had no reference to Jesus being baptized is significant because it is the first sign that essential details are missing from the text.

Clearly the orthodox based their idea that Marcion 'cut' things from his narrative on something substantial.  It is hard to imagine the story of Jesus without John the Baptist and it would appear that the Marcionites knew who John was as he appears in this narrative as well as the question which comes from his disciples in the next chapter.  The point then which emerges from all of this is that the orthodox claim that the Marcionites 'cut' things from their gospel can't be a complete lie.  Since the charge that Marcion 'cut' things from his gospel is consistent among the early Church Fathers let's assume that there is 'something to it.'  Yet let's also assume that the orthodox twisted this 'fact' to their advantage. In other words, it's easy to accuse a well known loose woman of adultery.

The fact however that the Marcionite gospel existed in a cut form does not necessarily prove the rest of the contention of the Church Fathers - i.e. that they mutilated Luke or an already existing Catholic gospel   Instead we should take a second look at the statement of Tertullian's Prescription Against the Heresies where he says that the heretical gospel was based on Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians that his gospel appeared in two forms - an openly circulating text which promoted faith (= the gospel of Marcion) and then another text based on knowledge which embodied 'secret wisdom.'  The Against Marcion tradition could under this scenario be based on a figure like Justin Martyr arguing from the position of the longer secret gospel, that 'the gospel of Marcion' misrepresented the context of the fuller text.

Step 5: Tertullian's Against Marcion has moved material from its original position in both the Marcionite gospel and the gospel of the person who wrote the original treatise (i.e. the Diatessaron).

This became clear when we looked at the manner in which Tertullian's treatise knew that Luke 11:27 ('Blessed is the womb') appeared just before the Question About Jesus's Mother and Brothers Luke 8:19 - 22.  Someone split the reference and then moved the 'Blessed is the womb' commentary to another part of Against Marcion.  But this also happens to fit 'perfectly' with the appearance of the Gospel of Luke which never existed when the original treatise was written.  One could argue of course that a second editor of the original Diatessaron-based arguments of Against Marcion merely arranged the 'Blessed is the womb' comments to where it appeared in Luke.  However there are other signs that this second edition of Against Marcion actually influenced the creation of Luke.

As we noted in another post the manner in which David's example is employed to justify Jesus's actions on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1 - 11) certainly come from the imagination of the author of the treatise.  He is not citing the gospel of Luke:

A plausible answer is based upon the Creator's written document and on Christ's intention, as by the precedent of David who on the sabbath day entered into the templeb and prepared food by boldly breaking up the loaves of the shewbread. For he too remembered that even from the beginning, since the sabbath day was first instituted, this privilege was granted to it—I mean exemption from fasting. For when the Creator forbade the gathering of two days' supply of manna, he allowed it only on the day before the sabbath, so that by having food prepared the day before he might make immune from fasting the holy day of the sabbath that followed. Well it is then that our Lord followed the same purpose in breaking down the sabbath—if that is what they want it called.

This strange argument is compounded by the fact that the original material in 1 Sam 21:3 does not mention that this happened on a Sabbath.  The example seems only to serve of the fact that the anointed of God can do whatever they want.

The greater point however is that in the original text being used by Tertullian the reference to David did not appear.  The author was just drawing from an example in the scripture to justify the bald reference to Jesus breaking the Sabbath by feeding his disciples.  Nevertheless by the time Luke was created the very argument employed by this original author (who clearly lived before Luke) is drafted into the narrative as a way of explicitly shutting down the heretical implications of the story.  It is most likely then that Irenaeus is the author of the second edition of Against Marcion and the gospel of Luke.  Notice also his defense of Luke in Book Three of Against Heresies.  The gospel of Luke is explicitly anti-Marcionite in its construction.  It developed hand in hand with an anti-Marcionite treatise.

Step 6: If the baptism of John was missing from the gospel of Marcion but were still an assumed part of Marcionite Christianity then there were other familiar narratives which were 'cut' from the Marcionite gospel.

Here is where our tradition preference for Tertullian's Against Marcion has cost us dearly.  If we look at Epiphanius's text two massive excisions are noticeable:

  1. the Beatitudes (Luke 6:17 - 49)
  2. the Parables (Luke 8:1 - 18)

The fact that these sections are absent in Epiphanius does not necessarily mean that they weren't present in the gospel of Marcion.  Nevertheless it is worth noting that the Beatitudes are missing from Mark.  This can serve as a model for understanding some of the missing sections in Epiphanius's account of the Marcionite gospel.  The gospel of Marcion was a cut gospel just as our canonical gospel of Mark is identified by Clement, Augustine and the author of the Acts of Titus as an abbreviation of something longer.  The consistent to mark as being the one of 'curtailed dactyl' may well come from the same tradition as daktulos is a literary unit of measure.

To this end it is difficult to resist Hilgenfeld's identification of Marcion as a diminutive form of Mark.  But in this case however what we are ultimately talking about are two gospels - Mark and 'lesser Mark.'  In modern parlance 'X' and 'X-lite.'  One can't help wonder whether the apostle's statements that:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest be in the wisdom of men, but on power of God.  Howbeit we speak wisdom among those that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.  But we speak the secret wisdom of God in a mystery which none of the princes of this world knew. [1 Corinthians 2:1 - 8]
The point of course then is that according to our interpretation there were two gospels associated with the apostle and the Marcionite community.  The 'gospel of Marcion' of course originally meant 'the lesser (gospel of) Mark.'  The full gospel of Mark was not our canonical text but the one referenced in the Philosophumena as being Mark with addition mystical bits added.

It must have been very easy to confuse the Marcionite gospel and canonical Mark because both Mark and Luke were artificially constructed to approximate the original gospel of Marcion and ultimately obscure its existence.  In short - 'little Mark' is at the heart of the Catholic gospel formulation.  Matthew was constructed as the gospel Mark was developed from; Luke was consciously constructed as the source of the Marcionite gospel; John embodied the concept of 'secret' or 'mystic' gospel.  These are all shadows or caricatures of the original gospel formulation known to the Marcionites and Clement of Alexandria.

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