Thursday, April 4, 2013

What About the Marcionite Readings With No Patristic Attestation?

If a tree falls in the forest, a Canadian singer once sang, does anyone hear it?  The answer - obviously - is, yes.  There aren't always witnesses to a crime; information don't always get passed on for future posterity.  But New Testament scholarship has this absurd way of unconsciously assuming that what we know is absolute knowledge about anything.  Why?  Because human beings are terribly insecure people.  It is probably a biologically conditioned instinct.

It is nature - not reason - which makes me think that my son is the most beautiful child in his class.  It is habit - not truth - which makes me assume that my wife and I must love each other given how long we have stayed together.  I can still remember being a young man, when I had much stronger ideals, when I wasn't certain about anything.  I was almost paralyzed with self-doubt.  As I got older I learned, as a matter of survival, to posit something, anything in order to attain that most important of life affirming principles - momentum.

Once you start moving at a certain speed you can absorb bumps in the road without being reduced to a standstill.  Nevertheless, like all things in this world, there is a cost for being a body set in motion.  You start to lose objectivity.  Indeed I got my drivers license when I was almost twenty years old.  As soon as I started driving I got to places quicker and it became another 'thing' which increased my sense of momentum. Yet only when you stop do you actually see life as it is.

In the same way, then scholars have a decision when they look at the allusions to 'the gospel of Marcion' or 'Marcion's collection of Pauline letters' in Tertullian and Epiphanius.  They can pretend that what is represented here 'is' the gospel and the collection of Pauline letters, or they can admit that there are probably plenty of other gaps in our knowledge base - undoubtedly hundreds if not thousands of variants big and small.

Our other sources on Marcion make this absolutely plain, yet scholars generally pretend that we really do know the shape of the Marcionite gospel or their collection of Pauline letters.  Why is this so?  Because scholars are bodies set in motion.  They are 'going places.'  They have things to do, places to see, goals to accomplish.  Scholars have to publish things in order to stay relevant and often - employed.  Marcionitism is the new frontier in scholarship but because of the unique set of problems associated with it, I am not sure that I want that many new papers published on the subject.

Marcion, above all else, demands stillness and deep contemplation.  Something I am not sure this field properly develops in its young recruits.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.