Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Eric W. Scherbenske on the 'Antitheses' as a Text at the Head of One of Two Marcionite Codices

The Antitheses' concern for an intended initiate audience provides the linchpin for the argument that Marcion composed the Antitheses to function as an introductory text. Tertullian, our primary source for the Antitheses, explicitly indicates that he understood the Antitheses to function as an introductory work designed to instruct readers in Marcionite theology and interpretation by identifying this work as the “first document” (in summo instrumento) through which his disciples are “initiated and made obstinate in this heresy? The phrase in summo instrumento contains considerable ambiguity and could refer to the “main,” “head,” “most important,” “chief,” or “first document,” depending on the preferred translation. If we are to understand the description of the Antitheses as a “first document,” this may even supply evidence that it not only functioned as an introduction but perhaps was an introduction prefaced to Marcion's scripture. Tertullian's descriptions of the Antitheses may corroborate such a hypothesis:

But now we advance another step onward challenging, as we claim and thus even are about to prove, that the very gospel of Marcion has been adulterated. For clearly he assembled everything that he labored on, even setting up beforehand (praestruendo) the Antitheses, for this [purpose]: that he might establish a difference between the Old and New Testament, in the same manner his Christ separated from the creator as of another God and alien to the Law and Prophets. Clearly, for that reason he erased whatever was contrary to his judgment, as though conspired with the creator [and] interwoven by his [i.e. the creator's] defenders; but those agreeing with his judgment he retained.42

While I have translated the word praestruo with the deliberately neutral “set up beforehand,” Ernest Evans's translation “prefix” is apt and in accordance with the possible prefatory quality of Marcion's Antitheses that I am tendering here.43 Tertullian's designation of the Antitheses as head document (summo instrumento) coupled with his use of praestruo, suggest that the Antitheses may have in fact physically introduced Marcion's corpus.


I have suggested that Tertullian's descriptions of the Antitheses may reveal that this tract not only isagogically introduced, but physically prefaced, his scriptures. This hypothesis requires additional consideration of the physical format that Marcion's scriptures and Antitheses may have taken. The absence of these texts complicates this proposition, so any conclusions must remain tentative and conjectural. Such problems notwithstanding, I think there is evidence to conclude that Marcion's foundational texts (i.e. his Evangelion and Apostolikon) were likely transmitted in codex form— though the possibility that both of these texts were in the same codex with the Antitheses remains unlikely.

As mentioned in chapter 1, early Christians preferred the codex for scripture. Indeed, Roger Bagnall has recently reinforced that the adoption of this format for public Christian scripture goes beyond merely being a preference: “It is a rule.”44 Our earliest and some of the best preserved early Christian manuscripts take the form of the codex: for example, '"P52, P46, P64+67”, P4, P66, P45 and P75 to list simply the most important ones. While the general methods and motives of dating early Christian manuscripts have been critiqued recently,45 these papyri codices are roughly contemporary or somewhat later than Marcion's floruit in the mid—second century.46 Usually dated around the beginning to the mid—third century P46 (a single quire codex of Paul's letters, including Hebrews and likely without the Pastorals), P75 (a single quire codex of Luke and John) and P4 (a codex of Luke copied by the same scribe who copied the codex of Matthew preserved in P64+67)47 offer a particularly useful comparison, since these manuscripts preserve in codices the same texts as Marcion's scriptures—albeit with the addition of Hebrews and and John in the case of P46 and P75, respectively. We have thus direct and roughly contemporaneous evidence for the transmission of the texts of Marcion's scripture in codex form. This is not to mention the use of the single or multiquire codex for scripture earlier in the second century to later in the third: for example, the fragmentary P52, a multiquire codex of John P66 and a multiquire codex of the four gospels and Acts P45. While we should not assume that Marcion was any different from other early Christians in preferring and utilizing the codex, there is evidence beyond merely circumstantial.

Indirect testimony for the exemplar and subsequent transmission of Marcion's Corpus Paulinum also suggests his use of the codex. In his discussion of the rise of the codex and what publication may have proved so instrumental for widespread Christian usage, Harry Gamble offered a strong argument that the earliest recoverable edition of Paul's letters was issued in a codex.48 Even more important for reconstructing the physical format of Marcion's scriptures, Gamble argued that this early edition in codex format was then utilized by Marcion.49 Given early Christian predilection for codices, we have no warrant to assume that Marcion would have jettisoned this format, if his exemplar was so transmitted. But even more conclusive is the remarkable stability of the order of Marcion's edition of Paul's letters. Tertullian and Epiphanius both relate that Marcion's Apostolikon was ordered as follows: Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 and and 2 Thessalonians, Laodiceans (i.e. Ephesians), Colossians, and Philippians—with Philemon alternatively located after Philippians or Colossians by Tertullian or Epiphanius, respectively.50 The enduring longevity and stability of Marcion's order (and contents) for almost two centuries is difficult to explain without positing the codex format to instantiate and preserve it. Indeed, one of the codex's fundamental effects was the stabilization and perpetuation of ordering patterns—a stability difficult to achieve when to achieve when editions were issued in multiple rolls and a feature that contrasts with the many Corpus Paulinum arrangements that have been preserved. There is then strong circumstantial and direct evidence to support the conclusion that Marcion used a codex for his edition of the Corpus Paulinum. While there is little reason to think that his edition of the Evangelion would have differed in this regard, we have no firm evidence one way or the other, and any conclusions must remain at the level of supposition.

The problem of the physical format of Marcion's ancillary paratexts (i.e. the Antitheses and Marcionite prologues) compounds that of his scriptural text, and a corollary to the issue of format is their possible physical placement in the same codex as his scriptures. It also must be acknowledged at the outset that, as Bagnall apprises, early Christian preference of the codex for scripture did not translate into its adoption for other early Christian writings more quickly than within the larger society.52 Aside from heresiological descriptions of the Antitheses and what can reasonably be inferred from codicological evidence based on related early Christian texts, any conclusions regarding the Antitheses' physical format must remain tentative and conjectural. I have already noted the anonymous Syriac source that possibly described Marcion's Antitheses as a proevangelium and Tertullian's reports that the Antitheses served as the “main /first document” (in suninio instrumento) that were “set up before hand”/“prefixed” (praestruendo) so that his disciples may “be initiated” (initiantur) in the faith; presently I will also discuss how Tertullian informs that Marcionites “display” (praefiero) the Antitheses. But the Antitheses' scale presents a fundamental problem for reconstructing the format and placement of this work; put simply we do not know the extent of Marcion's Antitheses. Sebastian Moll concludes from Tertullian's reports that this work may have had a catechetical purpose (a reading consistent with my hypothesis of the Antitheses as isagogic) and for this reason would most likely have been relatively short.53 This does not seem improbable, but Moll's claim that the Antitheses contained only antithetical statements and nothing else (e.g. brief directive exegeses, short discussions of doctrine, or principles on which such Antitheses were based) must remain an open question.54 If this tract was short, it could have easily been bound along with the Gospel of Luke or the Corpus Paulinum in a single quire codex. Two specific examples illustrate that, even if it was considerably larger, this would not have precluded its inclusion in a codex either with Marcion's Evangelion or Apostolikon: both P75 and P46 contain the works found in Marcion's Evangelion and Apostolikon alongside additional tracts (the Gospel of John and Hebrews, respectively) in a single quire codex.

Based simply on codicological considerations, if the Antitheses were of modest size, it likely could have easily been bound with his scriptures, probably the Evangelion, but interpretation of the references to the Antitheses is not so straightforward. I noted above that where Tertullian stated that Marcion “set up beforehand the Antitheses,” Evans translated praestruendo as “prefix.” Moll dismisses this reading and instead thinks that “the term praestruendo is probably rather to be interpreted as another way of saying that Marcion composed the Antitheses 'in advance' in order to protect his Gospel?55 There is no reason to object to this interpretation on grammatical or philological grounds, but to my mind when this reference is viewed alongside the numerous others that intimate that the Antitheses had an introductory function, Evans's translation seems quite plausible. That this introduction may have been prefaced to Marcion's Evangelion also accords well with the forementioned anonymous Syriac description of Marcion's book as a proevangelium.56

The absence of physical evidence for such introductory paratexts in the second century, however, presents a serious problem to such a hypothesis. Many of the earliest Christian manuscripts are fragments or fragmentary; those earliest single-quire codices that are not fragmentary often are missing their outer leaves and, consequently, the pages where such introductory texts would be found.57 Since documentary evidence for prefatory texts in the second and third centuries is unsurprisingly incomplete and sometimes fragmentary, we must turn to later manuscripts. Transmitted there are two series that may have very early origins: the so-called anti-Marcionite prologues to the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John and the Marcionite prologues to Paul's letters. While the anti-Marcionite character of the former has been subjected to serious scrutiny, Helmut Koester reckons that the earliest part of the prologue to Luke may have originated around the end of the second century.58 The transmission history of the Marcionite prologues provides equally important evidence: in later manuscripts these texts are always found (in codices of course) physically prefaced to the epistles. This placement accords well with their transmission under the rubric of argumenta, the Latin equivalent of hypotheses. Setting aside their possible connection to Marcion, they can be traced back to the third century; if the Muratorian canon alludes to them, perhaps into the second.59 If the Marcionite prologues should be traced back to Marcion or a Marcionite source (as De Bruyne argued and I reaflirm below), they also offer an analogue for Marcion's possible deployment of the Antitheses. With due acknowledgment of this reconstruction's hypothetical quality, these prologues to Paul's letters and that to Luke (whether Marcionite, anti-Marcionite, or unrelated in any way to Marcion) provide early, likely second-century, parallels for the possible physical deployment of the Antitheses.

Marcion's order, exemplar, and other early Christian manuscripts bolster the case for his use of the codex for his scripture, with the Evangelion (if our reading of Tertullian and other sources is accepted) possibly prefaced by the Antitheses. This interpretation receives support from an offhand reference to this work where Tertullian discusses Marcion's letter60 and claims that the Antitheses “extend” /“display” (praefero) his theology.61 This letter is not to be confused with accusations that Marcion forged a letter to the Laodiceans or Alexandrians reported in the Muratorian canon;62 rather, this letter was allegedly composed by Marcion himself.63 Tertullian's reference to this letter in book four of his Adversus Marcionem is particularly important since it relates that, while this letter's authenticity may be disputed by Marcion's followers, the Antitheses are acknowledged as authentic. In order to prove that Marcion represents a heretical deviation from his allegiance to the original Christian message, Tertullian argues: “What now if, in contrast to his own letter, the Marcionites deny his faith first belonged to us? What if they do not acknowledge the letter? They clearly acknowledge (fatentur) and even display (praeferunt) Marcion's Antitheses. My proof from these suflices.”64 While this passage raises many issues, most important for our argument that the Antitheses was an isagogic (and possibly prefatory) text is Tertullian's offhand comment that “they clearly acknowledge and even display this text."65 Interpretation of this passage hinges on the meaning of the word praeferunt, translated neutrally above as “display”; alternatively, it could be translated as “they offer” or “they place before” in order to capture the prefatory aspect of this verb more precisely.66 Whatever the translation, praeferunt supports connecting the Antitheses to the isagogic genre: “they offer” aligns nicely with the catechetical aspects of the Antitheses designed to guide readers into Marcion's foundational texts through his interpretation; “they place before” reinforces the possible prefatory aspect of the Antitheses suggested by multiple passages in Adversus Marcionem;67 even the neutral “they display” connotes a prominent and public introductory role for this tract. In fact, when coupled with the description that Marcion “set up the Antitheses beforehand (praestruend0)”68—it should be recalled here that Evans translated praestruendo as “prefix”—the use of praeferunt strengthens the argument that this work served as an elementary work designed to introduce his canon.

While it is not necessary to insist that the Antitheses could only function isagogically if prefaced to Marcion's Evangelion, this passage from book four of Tertullian's Adversus Marcionem speaks to the importance of the Antitheses for transmitting Marcion's foundational precepts. In this respect, we ought to situate Tertullian's statement that Marcion's followers praeferunt the Antitheses alongside the report that Marcion composed this “first document” so that his followers might be “initiated and cemented” in the faith. These descriptions reveal that this work established a proper Marcionite hermeneutic for understanding Marcion's faith and canonical texts. This pedagogical (or catechetical) aspect of the isagogic genre identified in the Antitheses would undoubtedly have been a great desideratum for spreading the faith through Marcion's ambitious (and obviously highly successful) evangelic campaign. Ascertaining the genre of the Antitheses thus yields important insights into Marcion's foundational work: by utilizing established conventions of isagogic texts in order to lay out and transmit his theological goals, Marcion implicitly conveyed his understanding of the Antitheses' purpose and how he imagined they would be received by those encountering them (most likely neophytes, catechumens, and fellow adherents to Marcion's interpretation of Christianity).[Eric W. Scherbenske, Canonizing Paul 78 - 83]

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