Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Six]

Looking for Luke

If we accept for the moment that Mark was a historical person who really did compose at least a single gospel if not two, it also becomes necessary for us to search out a tradition associated with the evangelist.  Of course, the fact that the Catholic tradition has consistently argued that no such tradition ever existed has prejudiced the minds of scholars ever since.  Why search for something which contradicts our inherited presuppositions?  However such a claim can be judged to represent mere 'idle speculation.'  Markan primacy forms the basis for the surviving Coptic tradition of Egypt.1  Why are the cultural myths of one branch of Christianity more or less believable than those of another?

When all is said and done, it is undeniable that there is an entrenched cultural prejudice against the forms of Christianity which were preserved outside of Europe.  For one, it makes scholars think too much about thinks they would like to have taken for granted. The fact the earliest attestation for this 'Markan tradition' is found in the Letter to Theodore is also problematic.  To portray Morton Smith, the discover of the document as a represent homosexual hoping to bring down the Church has obvious resonance within the American evangelical community.  But the Letter to Theodore is, as Thomas Oden has already noted, is centrally fixated not on homosexuality but on the existence of a Markan tradition at Alexandria.2 

When the heretics made their outlandish claims about the secret Gospel of Mark, Clement brings forward the fact that Alexandria represents the continuation of the Markan tradition.  This tradition as Ilaria Ramelli points out must have existed at one time in Rome as well.3  Nevertheless by the time Clement wrote the Letter to Theodore - most likely in the early years of the third century - Alexandria was the only place that perpetuated the evangelist's legacy.  The fact that Clement's student Origen does not identify himself as a member of this 'Markan tradition' any longer does not argue against its existence at this early date.  The Alexandrian tradition clearly put forward a claim of unbroken succession as late as Eusebius's Church History, which most scholars agree was written at the end of the third century.4

There are many other signs of an ancient 'Markan legacy' at the dawn of the fourth century.  Arius's association with the Church of St Mark, the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Peter of Alexandria in 311 CE, the Arian appeal to Dionysius as attested in the writings of Athanasius.5  All of these arguments attest not only to the existence of an unbroken succession in the third century dating at least to the time of Demetrius of bishops after St Mark, but more importantly of a struggle within the Church to subordinate this tradition.6  There was clearly more to the struggle against 'Arianism' than merely the 'recent popularity' of ideas associated with a heretic named Arius.  The aged presbyter of the Church that bore the evangelist's name was in fact the living personification of St Mark for individuals living not only in Egypt but around the Roman world. 

The idea that a heretical 'bishop of Mark' could have existed clandestinely within the greater Church is explicitly attested by the Philosophumena.  It is implied also by the testimony of Clement of Alexandria, a Church Father who has been identified having an association with this very same 'heretical Markan tradition' by countless scholars since the nineteenth century.  There are verbatim citations of Irenaeus's report about the Markan heresy found in Book Six of Clement's Stromata.7  The major difference is that what Clement cites as 'official teachings' in Alexandria is condemned by Irenaeus as heresy from his encounter with Markan heretics in his native Gaul.

There was a time in the intellectual history of the West where Jews were not deemed to be reliable witnesses about their own religion - this in spite of the fact that they were part of a living Hebrew tradition of exegesis and their Gentile overseers were limited to Greek translations and commentaries.  We face the same cultural apartheid when prominent scholars continue to ignore and even disparage the Coptic veneration of St Mark.  Moreover despite the protests by early Christian groups that the 'Acts of the Apostles' was a blatant forgery, the text is still used uncritically to develop our reconstruction of the earliest period Christianity. The Act of the Apostles ignoring of Alexandria only reinforces the traditional oversight of Egypt as an important influence on the religion. 

Indeed if there is one thing that we should change about the traditional approach to earliest Christianity is the fact that we stop pretending that documents like Acts were developed out of a duty to truthfulness.  As Joseph Tyson has recently shown it was rather developed as part of a greater effort to marginalize Marcionism or as we would define it - one of the early branches of Markan Christianity.8  To this end, we should be cautious about having the triumphant Christian religion of the late third and early fourth century determine what texts are now available to us.  We should never forget that we have only one pseudo-historical witness for the development of Christianity (the Acts of the Apostles) and only one adulterated historical source for our understanding of what happened to Jewish people in this age (Josephus).9

Moreover as the New Testament scholar David Trobisch has noted the New Testament as a highly integrated canon of writings was consciously developed as a unified witness to the apostolic authority of the Church.10  These are not several independent witnesses to the same phenomena - i.e. the origin of Christianity - but rather several highly edited and reworked testimonies developed to make it seem as if one Holy Spirit spoke through a number of individual witnesses.  Trobisch has tentatively suggested Irenaeus's teacher Polycarp of Smyrna as the redactor of this 'final edition' of the New Testament.  We will argue instead that we can only be certain that the process involved Irenaeus.11

In the end our conclusions are only as reliable our information and the bottom line is that when approached uncritically, the information preserved in ecclesiastical sources is not very good.  For example Feldman has clearly proved that Eusebius of Caesarea's fingerprints are all over the so-called Testimonium Flavianum found in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, book 18 - i.e. the famous testimony where this Jew secretly confesses his admiration for Jesus.12  In short, there is no reason to assume that anything said by Josephus is an unadulterated witness to the beliefs of a first century Jew.  In the same way, the Acts of the Apostles do not represent the beliefs and practices of first century Christians but rather little more than a reaction against the authority of the Mark at the time of its composition - i.e. in the middle of the second century.13

We should notice at once for instance that John Mark - already identified as Mark in the late second century composition De Recta in Deum Fide - is presented as the witness to both the 'Petrine' and 'Pauline' traditions.  This cannot be accidental as we have already seen Mark was originally understood to have written the gospels later associated with Peter and Paul.14  According to the original formulation these two gospels were simply known as something like 'little Mark' and 'secret Mark' or perhaps 'Mark speaking on behalf of Peter' and 'Mark speaking on his own authority.'  The Catholic author of Acts - perhaps as Trobisch suggests to be identified as Polycarp of Smyrna15 - was the first to suggest 'Paul' as ultimately distinct from Mark. 

If this new paradigm was introduced to the world it was challenged only with the introduction of 'Luke.'   We should understand this introduction not only in terms of an addition of a gospel of this name into the New Testament canon but also of the person of Luke being thrust into Acts by Polycarp's student Irenaeus.  To this end, it should be observed that near the end of the second century, there was a reaction against Markism, one which re-formulated Acts original understanding of John Mark as the witness of the twin pillars of the Roman Church - viz. Peter and Paul.  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what prompted this revaluation.  However it is clear that by the publication of the material in the Third Book of Against Heresies (c. 180 CE) Luke was added to Acts as the ultimate arbiter of the true faith of the Church. 

The idea that Luke is the ultimate authority on the teachings of Paul is a mantra is repeated over and over again against the Marcionites in Irenaeus.  Nevertheless there are signs that this was not the original formulation of the community to which Irenaeus's belonged.  Celsus, writing at the time of Irenaeus specifically references an augmentation of the canon from a 'threefold' to a 'fourfold' gospel collection.  Irenaeus while being the first Church Father to argue for a 'gospel in four' betrays at least a few occasions where it might be possible to see he original adhered to a threefold canon - that is one which reflected the Trinity rather than the four winds.16

When Luke was added to the canon this change completely transformed the 'balance of power' within the Church.  Gone was the idea that Mark witness and wrote gospels associated with Peter and Paul.  At once Mark was only associated with Peter and Luke is used to redefine Paul.  To this end it is down right fascinating to watch Irenaeus develop his argument for Luke as the ultimate authority on the Marcionite apostle.  We should note that the argument is born out of the claim that John Mark was rejected by Paul in Acts chapter 15.  So Irenaeus writes:

But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John who was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, "we came to Troas;" and when Paul had beheld in a dream a man of Macedonia, saying, "Come into Macedonia, Paul, and help us," "immediately," he says, "we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, understanding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel unto them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we directed our ship's course towards Samothracia." And then he carefully indicates all the rest of their journey as far as Philippi, and how they delivered their first address: "for, sitting down," he says, "we spake unto the women who had assembled;" and certain believed, even a great many. And again does he say, "But we sailed from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to Troas, where we abode seven days." And all the remaining [details] of his course with Paul he recounts, indicating with all diligence both places, and cities, and number of days, until they went up to Jerusalem; and what befell Paul there, how he was sent to Rome in bonds; the name of the centurion who took him in charge; and the signs of the ships, and how they made shipwreck; and the island upon which they escaped, and how they received kindness there, Paul healing the chief man of that island; and how they sailed from thence to Puteoli, and from that arrived at Rome; and for what period they sojourned at Rome. As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. 

Clearly Irenaeus's reading of Acts assumes Lukan authorship of the text.  This may seem natural for us.  However for a believer in Syria or the Near East who continued to use a single gospel harmony often called a Diatessaron down to the fourth or fifth century, this association would not be so obvious.17

To this end, we should think that Irenaeus's arguments were directed at members of the Church who had accepted an older version of the Acts of the Apostles - perhaps even the original autograph edition of Polycarp of Smyrna - which made the identity of the author of Acts somewhat ambiguous.  Indeed one should suspect again that the author was understood to be John Mark and that moreover John Mark was similarly insinuated to be the author of the Diatessaron.  This understanding makes especially sense given the existence of an Alexandrian 'gospel harmony' associated with Ammonius Sacca.18  Indeed as William Petersen notes the 'Gospel of Mark' cited by Clement in Can the Rich Man be Saved is clearly a 'harmonized gospel' - "he asserts that here he is quoting the Gospel of Mark. Well, if that is so, then Clement's Mark is not our Mark today."19

This is not the place to develop an extensive argument for 'secret Mark' as the same Alexandrian gospel harmony but it is worth noting that the second addition to Mark referenced in to Theodore mirrors a parallel insertion in the Arabic Diatessaron.20  It is enough to say then that John Mark's association with the single long gospel harmony type of text posed a problem for Irenaeus's 'gospel in four' formulation.  Luke on the other hand seems to sanction the existence of other gospels beside his own when he declares at the beginning of his writing - i.e. "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you."

To this end, the original pre-Irenaean Acts of the Apostles may have crept into Alexandria owing to its reinforcement of the original authority of John Mark.  In spite of difference of opinion about the historicity of the apostolic Church, Mark could be viewed as 'head' of the subsequent unity of the Church in the post-apostolic period.  Under this set of assumptions Clement of Alexandria might have tolerated the use of the material and cited Acts in his writings.  He nevertheless 'cherry picks' his use of Acts and according to the great German scholar Hans von Campenhausen only cites the work ten times in his voluminous writings.21

To this end we may say that while Clement ultimately recognizes the Lukan authorship of Acts in his Stromata Clement never acknowledges any of the proof texts that Irenaeus uses for Lukan primacy.  Clement does not know any of the 'we' passages presented by Irenaeus and others as confirming Luke's authorship of Acts and his intimacy with Paul.  Yet more importantly, no one besides Irenaeus is ever identified as using Acts 15:35 - 41 or any of the 'we' material.  Indeed Irenaeus is so actively involved in promoting this material against complete silence from everyone else alive at the time he was writing that it is impossible not to believe that it was he who added the 'Lukan layer' to a pre-existent 'pseudo-Markan' witness.22

To this end we must conclude that Irenaeus added Luke and effectively forced tacit acknowledgement of his new Lucian edition of scriptures.  Before we get into the details of how this was accomplished let us remind ourselves that Luke was not only added to Acts but also the very epistles of Paul.  Once again we must remind ourselves that these same epistles were likely originally identified with Mark - albeit secretly.23  Luke's emergence as 'the ultimate witness' for the Pauline canon is once again established to effectively sever the association of Mark with Paul - an association which seems to be even recognized by Irenaeus's beloved Roman episcopal list alongside the identification of 'Peter and Paul' as the heads of the Church.24

The underlying point here is that Irenaeus represents an evolution in Catholic understanding of Paul beyond that which was originally developed by his master Polycarp.  So it is that immediately following our last citation from Against Heresies, Irenaeus points also to Luke's presence in closing portions of the Catholic epistles of Paul:

That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: "Demas hath forsaken me, ... and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me." From this he shows that he was always attached to and inseparable from him. And again he says, in the Epistle to the Colossians: "Luke, the beloved physician, greets you."

Irenaeus's conclusion from this relationship is utterly predictable:

But surely if Luke, who always preached in company with Paul, and is called by him "the beloved," and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him (Paul), as has been pointed out from his words, how can these men, who were never attached to Paul, boast that they have learned secret and unspeakable mysteries? 

No one should doubt for a minute that these additions were not present in earlier editions of the Pauline letters.  They represent a 'further refinement' of the Christian move away from its traditional association with Mark. 

To this end, we should see that Luke was planted in our existing Catholic canon to reinforce the very points that Irenaeus raises in his discussion.  In other words, Luke was invented in order to box the Markan tradition further into a corner.  This understanding represents little more than an extension of Trobisch's understanding of the function of the canon in his magnum opus the First Edition of the New Testament.  For instance Irenaeus's specific reference to 2 Timothy happens also to one that figures prominently in Trobisch analysis:

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.  I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.  When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

The 'plant' here is not only the idea that Luke rather than Mark was again understood to have the final word on Paul's beliefs but moreover that Luke was given exclusive authority to establish the Pauline canon of holy writings.  In short - that the Gospel of Luke is now at once 'the gospel of Paul.'25

For previous generations, as the Philosophumena clearly witnesses, the Gospel of Paul was according to Mark.  The Marcionites also did not accept the authority of the Pastorals - their low opinion of these texts as forgeries being born out by modern scholarship.  This planted information necessarily comes from these spurious texts.  Yet this is not the only ideas planted in the text.  It should be noted that the Praescriptione also uses the Pastorals and Timothy in particular to disprove Paul's association with a secret gospel.26  Indeed the usefulness of forgery to undermine pre-existent doctrine has simply been greatly undervalued and greatly underestimated by New Testament scholarship. 

Moreover with this understanding intact we should also take note of Irenaeus's specific effort to use Luke's authority to attack "these men, who were never attached to Paul, boast that they have learned secret and unspeakable mysteries."  This is almost certainly a reference to the baptismal practices associated with the "secret gospel" sometimes identified as 'according to Paul' and other times 'according to Mark.' After citing the contents of the Gospel of Luke which must have been also found in the heretical 'gospel of Paul' - i.e. Secret Mark - Irenaeus goes on to demand that "these men must either receive the rest of his narrative, or else reject these parts also. For no persons of common sense can permit them to receive some things recounted by Luke as being true, and to set others aside, as if he had not known the truth." 

It should be noted however that Irenaeus's demand is clearly not without a palpable threat.  The Marcionites are specifically mentioned now as well as the Valentinians offering out an olive branch saying that if "they feel compelled to receive the remaining portions" of Luke beyond what now appears in their gospel "also, then, by studying the perfect Gospel, and the doctrine of the apostles, they will find it necessary to repent, that they may be saved from the danger."  This reference to 'danger' - periculo - is a word which derives from periculum a Latin legal term which can mean "action, suit, writ of judgment or sentence."  There was a specific legal threat that Irenaeus was referencing one that we will be discussing shortly. 

For the moment however it is worth focusing our conversation on the transfer of authority from Mark to Luke in the pages of Irenaeus.  Most people are unaware of the actual meaning of 'acta' - as in 'Acts of the Apostles.'  It was used to describe  official texts of ancient Rome, written or carved on stone or metal. Usually acta were texts made public, although publication was sometimes restricted.  There were special acta of municipal, legal, or military content.  Acta was also the term used for the laws themselves, primarily those promulgated by the emperors.  The opening words of Acts make clear that the original title was not 'the Acts of the Apostles' but rather 'the Acts of the Lord.'27  It was a decree which needed to be recognized in order to gain admittance into the Catholic fold. 

It is enough to note here that not accepting the gospel of Luke has a 'danger' associated with it for the community of Mark no less than not recognizing the Catholic understanding of Paul as developed in the Lukan material.  Irenaeus goes on to say immediately after his threat that:

But again, we allege the same against those who do not know the apostle Paul: that they should either reject the other words of the Gospel which we have come to know through Luke alone, and not make use of them; or else, if they do receive all these, they must necessarily admit also that testimony concerning Paul, when he (Luke) tells us that the Lord spoke at first to him from heaven: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? I am Jesus Christ, whom thou persecutest;" and then to Ananias, saying regarding him: "Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name among the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him, from this time, how great things he must suffer for My name's sake." Those, therefore, who do not accept of him, who was chosen by God for this purpose, that he might boldly bear His name, as being sent to the forementioned nations, do despise the election of God, and separate themselves from the company of the apostles. For neither can they maintain that Paul is not an apostle, when he was chosen for this; neither can they show Luke to be lying when he relates the truth to us with all diligence. For perhaps also on account of this that God has caused most of the gospel to be revealed through Luke such as all hold to be indispensable, in order that all, following his subsequent testimony which contains the acts and doctrine of the truth and having the unadulterated rule of faith, may be saved. His testimony, therefore, is true, and the doctrine of the apostles is open and steadfast, holding nothing in reserve; nor did they teach one set of doctrines in private, and another in public. 

Anyone reading these words with a knowledge of the existence of a secret gospel of Mark becomes aware that Luke is supposed to be this text's replacement.  We hear of a doctrine of the apostles which is not 'secret' represented not once, but twice, in the concluding sentence. 

There is then an uncanny parallel between the Marcionite reluctance to identify their gospel as "according to Paul" as we see in Clement's Letter to Theodore with respect to the name Mark.  We are repeatedly told by Tertullian that the Marcionites refuse to explain who or what 'Paul' is in their tradition.  "I desire to hear from Marcion the origin of Paul the apostle ... will you please tell us under what bill of lading you accepted Paul as apostle, who had stamped him with that mark of distinction, who commended him to you, and who put him in your charge?"  The implication is clearly that, as with the Catholic system 'Paul' or Paulos is not his real name, but the reason he is identified by this name is a great secret which is not to be revealed to outsiders.28

It is worth noting that the language of the opening section of the Fifth Book of Tertullian's Against Marcion bears uncanny resemblance to what we just saw in Irenaeus.  Where as Irenaeus states that - "they cannot contend that Paul is not an apostle" (neque enim contendere possunt Paulum non esse Apostolum) Tertullian's accusation against the Marcionites is "and do you then deny that Paul is an apostle?" (tu ergo negas apostolum Paulum?)  It is also to be intimated from both sources that the Marcionites denied that their apostle was originally named Saul as in the Acts of the Apostles.29  Moreover, it can be asserted that exactly like the Markan tradition of Alexandria as evidenced by Clement's Letter to Theodore, Tertullian makes clear that "Marcion attaches to his gospel no author's name" and again "even if Marcion had introduced his gospel under the name of Paul in person, that one single document would not be adequate for our faith." 

Putting this all together we arrive at the inescapable conclusion that the original tradition of Mark was a 'crypto-faith.'  In other words, when Irenaeus had gained the confidence of Commodus after a period of persecution it was in the interest of Christians to get on board the Catholic express.  To this end, just as Tertullian rightly acknowledges the Marcionites denying the names "according to Paul" or Luke for their gospel, the Philosophumena knows that their text is really "according to Mark." Irenaeus in Book Three of Against Heresies seems to indicate the Gospel of Luke as the replacement text of 'secret Mark.'30

The tradition seems to recognize the key to understanding the writings associated with Clement and most likely those of his associates - "they deny that they have so received, but they have learned that always they should deny."  In other words, this author in particular seems to be aware of the truth about the Marcionite tradition.  Irenaeus managed to penetrate their veil of secrecy and developed specific conditions for their re-admission into the greater Christian community.  That door was explicitly marked 'Luke' or 'Lucian' as we can see from other evidence from Clement's writings. 

It is worth remembering that Clement seems to identify 'Luke' as more than the author of Acts and the Gospel that bears his name.  For Clement made clear in his Hypotyposeis again, just before the reference we cited from Eusebius earlier about the circumstances of Mark's authorship of the gospel, it is said that:

the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. 

These words have received a great deal of attention from scholars.  The implication is clearly that 'Luke' is a figure who not only wrote a gospel for Paul and corrected Acts but also edited the letters of Paul.  S. G. Wilson, following Moule and A. Strobel, has successfully argued that Luke is the actual author of the Pastorals, basing their arguments on language and style as well as common theological interest.  

Clement's argument then likely goes back to an understanding of what Luke represented in the contemporary world - namely the author of a systematic corruption of the original Christian tradition founded on the authority of Mark.  Why then did Clement tolerate Acts and other Lukan texts?  It is important to repeat Irenaeus's threat to heretical traditions cited earlier - "si autem et reliqua suscipere cogentur, intendentes perfecto Evangelio, et Apostolorum doctrinae, oportet eos poenitentiam agere, ut salvari a periculo possint." "If, on the other hand, they feel compelled to receive the remaining portions of Luke also [beyond their heretical gospel], then by studying the perfect gospel and the doctrine of the apostles they will find it necessary to repent, that they may be saved from the periculum" - that is a written draft of a judgment to be read by the judge to the parties.

Almost every honest Christian writer from antiquity recognized the difference in writing style from Hebrews to the other canonical epistles.  Isidore of Seville even identified the presence of 'Latinisms' as are found in the Gospel of Mark.31  It is important to note that Latinisms are also present in Luke and even Matthew.  The assumption again is that the hand of an editor is betrayed throughout the most important books of the New Testament. 

Yet there is a further piece of evidence from Eusebius's citation of Clement's Hypotyposeis which makes explicit the Alexandrian authors low estimation of Acts.  Immediately following Clement's last statement about Luke's authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews he adds an explanation about why Paul should have originally written to an audience of Jews or Jewish converts:

since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance 

One would have expected an early Church Father to cite the understanding in the Acts of the Apostles that Peter would be the apostle to the Hebrews and Paul that of the Gentiles.  Instead Clement understands that Paul put himself on the same level as Jesus whom he identifies as the original "apostle to the Hebrews."  While Clement initially says that Paul avoided writing to the Hebrews "our of respect for Jesus" the fact that he ends up carrying out this formerly forbidden act, demonstrates that Clement understands Paul in the manner of the heretics - as a second Jesus.32

The point then is that Clement only superficially adapted his heretical Alexandrian point of view to the dictates of Rome.  It is plain to see that when the Lucian canon was introduced Clement hypocritically employed the material in order to avoid the 'dangers' with which Irenaeus threatened his community.  Again, ut wasn't just that the Gospel of Luke was the 'replacement edition' for secret Mark - i.e. the fuller expanded edition of 'little Mark.'  We should begin to see that there originally was a 'Lucian' edition of the entire New Testament including what we might call the 'proper edition' of the Epistles of Paul.

It is worth noting that Origen knows of a tradition that Luke's full name was Lucius - "because names are sometimes given in the native form and sometimes in the Greek or Roman one."  Origen even goes so far to reference the tradition of 'Lucius' from Romans 16:21.  Origen identifies 'those of Lucian' as a group alongside the Marcionites and Valentinians who corrupted the integrity of scripture.  But Lucian in Latin means 'belonging to Lucius.'  All of which takes us back to a speculative guess as to origin of this previously unknown disciple - the collection of writing was undoubtedly developed to associate it with the Emperor of the time Lucius Aurelius Commodus.  

It is unlikely that we will ever know with any degree of certainty why Irenaeus picked the name 'Lucius' to go with the official canon of the Church.  But there is the intriguing possibility that it coincided with the strange effort of the Emperor Commodus to name all important things in the world after himself.  Not only was there a month of 'Lucius" but as Lamprinius notes Commodus had "an insane desire that the city of Rome should be renamed Colonia Commodiana. This mad idea, it is said, was inspired in him while listening to the blandishments of Marcia."  Indeed the report here is only partially correct.  For numismatic evidence reveals that the entire name of Commodus was adopted including Lucius - we read "Colonia Lucia Antoniniana Commodiana."

Was the Christian canon officially named after Lucius at the same time that Rome was renamed?  There seems to be a lot of circumstantial evidence to support this assumption.  It is worth noting that among Irenaeus's most curious identifications of Luke is that of a 'priest.'  He notes "according to Luke takes up God's priestly character" and goes on to develop an identification of Luke along these lines.  Commodus was admitted into the college of priests as a young boy and is specifically identified as a veiled priest plowing with two oxen commemorating his renaming Rome after himself in this coin dated to 190 CE.  Up until that time Commodus preferred the name Marcus, but in the last two years of his reign he switched back to Lucius.

If we assume that Irenaeus developed the Lucian corpus sometime during the reign of Commodus (177 - 192 CE) one may suppose that Marcia's efforts in the twilight of Commodus's rule betray a similar purpose?  Moreover is it possible that 'Irenaeus' - a figure we know absolutely nothing about beyond his name - was in fact Marcia the Christian mistress of Commodus.  One possible clue is the close association between that exists between Irenaeus and his student Hippolytus, with Hippolytus being a masculine form of the name of Queen of the Amazons - a well attested title of Marcia.33  Irenaeus also takes an unusual interest in women throughout his writings - not merely among the heresies but also the strange understanding that 'the Queen of the South' would re-appear in the contemporary age.

Whether or not Irenaeus was actually Marcia or merely associated with this influential woman, it has always been perplexing where Irenaeus's authority originated.  He seems to have been present in Rome but conferred with Victor the bishop of Rome not merely as an equal but in fact as a superior.  The Philosophumena portrays Victor's closeness with Marcia; one almost wonders whether the description of Irenaeus's 'peacemaking' efforts with respect to abating Victor's anger with the churches of Asia Minor is a mirror image of this relationship.  In the end, the existence of a canon which bore the name of Commodus is mirrored by Marcia's efforts in the last years of the Emperor's life.  Whether or not this comes down to mere coincidence of history is another one of those things that cannot be answered with the exactness we might desire. 


15 Professor Trobisch answers the intriguing question is a paper called “Who Published the Christian Bible?” delivered at the January 2007 “Scripture and Skepticism” conference (Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion). The answer has been hidden in plain sight, but it has also been, like the light from Nietzsche’s distant star, on its way for a long time. First, C.F.D. Moule, A. Strobel, Stephen G. Wilson, and Jerome D. Quinn all contributed to the theory that Luke-Acts share a single authorship with the Pastoral Epistles. (One may modify this thesis to suggest that the author of Acts and the Pastorals was the redactor of an Ur-Lukas shared with Marcion, not the author who worked up Luke from Mark and Q.). Hans von Campenhausen suggested, quite plausibly, that the author of the Pastorals was Polycarp of Smyrna. Combine these theories and you end up with Polycarp as the author of Acts and the Pastorals (as well as, I would add, of the Pastoral Stratum of interpolations in 1 Peter and the Pauline Corpus, and even as Bultmann’s Ecclesiastical Redactor of John). 
17 cf. Tertullian Against Marcion 5.1 "I desire to hear from Marcion the origin of Paul the apostle." 

Email with comments or questions.

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