Monday, July 7, 2014

Everything Scholars Teach About the Marcionite Recension of the 'Antithetical Section' of 1 Corinthians 15 is Hopelessly Inaccurate Because its Reconstruction is Difficult and Scholars Have Little Imagination

There is an extremely important testimony in the writings of Celsus (c. 177 CE) where it is clear from Origen's response that the Marcionite concept of the 'third heaven' is connected with the Hebrew concept of 'the heaven of heavens' (as we just saw in Eznik of Kolb).  Let's start with the reference in Book Six of Contra Celsum:

Celsus in the next place alleges, that "certain Christians, having misunderstood the words of Plato, loudly boast of a 'super-celestial' God (τὸν ὑπερουράνιον θεόν) thus ascending beyond the heaven of the Jews."

In no uncertain terms the 'certain Christians' mentioned here are to be identified with the Marcionites.  This same terminology emerges in Tertullian's arguments against the Marcionite interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:47:

Yet even in substance choic men and heavenly can by no means be dissevered when once the apostle has described them as men. For even if Christ alone is truly heavenly, nay even super-celestial (supercaelestis), and yet is man, as being flesh and soul, and as far as this condition of the substances goes is in no degree distinguished from the choic quality, it follows that those who after his fashion are heavenly must be understood to have been declared heavenly not on the ground of their present substance but on the ground of their future splendor.

Tertullian's point is to disagree with the Marcionite understanding of Jesus as a super-celestial man and the accompanying argument that his substance was also 'super-celestial.' 

Before I continue on with Origen's discussion of the Hebrew terminology 'heaven of heavens' I would like to take a moment to bring up something discussed in Schmid's book.  Schmid notices that Tertullian's discussion of 1 Corinthians transliterated Greek terms (for example his use of choicus for χοϊκός which appears throughout the section).  Schmid then points to Evans statement in his translation of De Resurrectione

supercaelestis (and again below) and superterrenorum are needlessly precise translations of ἐπουράνιος, ἐπίγειος, for which Latin Vulgate is rightly satisfied with caelestis, terrestris

I am quite certain that when we make a careful examination of the context of the statement in Tertullian, the author is actually making reference to a textual variant that appears in place of ἐπουράνιος in our Catholic texts in the Marcionite original. 

In other words - and this is key I believe for understanding the motivation for the Catholic 'correction' of the Marcionite recension - when Celsus makes reference to the Marcionite interest in Jesus as τὸν ὑπερουράνιον θεόν he is demonstrating that he had before him the variant text of 1 Corinthians.  This is not at all surprising given that he cites several variant readings from the Pauline epistles.  Origen consistently claims he 'misunderstands' the material properly preserved in the Catholic edition.  However I think the difference here is quite significant especially given what we know of the echoes of the Marcionite understanding from other sources - especially Eznik, Ephrem and the Nag Hammadi writings. 

I believe we can tentatively substitute ὑπερουράνιος for every or at least some of the instances we find ἐπουράνιος in the famous 'antithetical section' in 1 Corinthians 15.  I am not sure what the original reading of all the material was, but let us consider what we know for certain with respect to the Marcionite reading:

1 Corinthians 15:45b - ὁ ἔσχατος ὁ Κύριος εἰς πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν
1 Corinthians 15:47b - ὁ δεύτερος ὁ Κύριος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ

In other words, it is generally assumed that because of our Catholic text that Adam was somehow 'first' and then 'the second the Lord from heaven.'  But I have to admit that I - as a non-Christian who has no particular attachment to any of this material - have struggled with making sense of this argument. 

Knowing that the Catholics did indeed corrupt the original Marcionite text one would have expected something closer to the Philonic understanding that Adam came after the creation of the world (which was anthropomorphic in shape) or perhaps after the Logos.  Instead we read the bizarre understanding that Jesus was made after Adam or perhaps appeared after Adam in chronological history.  Yet I can't escape the sense that Celsus provides us with the original dichotomy which is key to unlocking the original Marcionite 'antithesis' - one which was so dangerous that Irenaeus effectively reshaped the canon and indeed the original controversy known from the time of Celsus. 

The basic idea in Marcionitism was that the Lord from heaven (ὁ Κύριος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ) - i.e. Jesus - was known to the Jews but 'the super-celestial god' (τὸν ὑπερουράνιον θεόν) - i.e. his Father - was not.  As I have noted many times here Jesus was the Jewish angel Eesh.  He was from 'heaven' but above him there was a being whom the apostle saw when he ascended up to the 'heaven of heavens' - i.e. the third heaven.  This is at the heart of the discussion in Celsus reflecting the original Marcionite understanding which is never quite explained in the Church Fathers because - it should be noted - the basic understanding continued in Alexandrian writers such as Origen

So when we go back to the original 'antithetical' section in 1 Corinthians 15:48 - 49 I wonder whether the original sense of the Marcionite section read something like:

καὶ οἷος ὁ ὑπερουράνιος, τοιοῦτοι καὶ οἱ ἐπουράνιοι, καὶ καθὼς ἐφορέσαμεν τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ τοῦ ἐπουρανίου, φορέσωμεν καὶ τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ ὑπερουρανίου.

and as is the super-heavenly one, so also are those who are of heaven, and just as we have borne the image of the heavenly one, so shall we bear the image of the super-heavenly one.

I just don't see how anyone when confronted with the necessary logic of Marcionitism can deny that this must have been the original readings - in spite of the fact that we have only the most fragmentary evidence in favor of their existence. 

In any event it is important to note - going back to our original discussion of Celsus - that Origen replies to the pagan that 'super-celestial' goes back to 'heaven of heavens' in the Hebrew scriptures:

By these words, indeed, he does not make it clear whether they also ascend beyond the God of the Jews, or only beyond the heaven by which they swear. It is not our purpose at present, however, to speak of those who acknowledge another god than the one worshipped by the Jews, but to defend ourselves, and to show that it was impossible for the prophets of the Jews, whose writings are reckoned among ours, to have borrowed anything from Plato, because they were older than he. They did not then borrow from him the declaration, that "all things are around the King of all, and that all exist on account of him;" for we have learned that nobler thoughts than these have been uttered by the prophets, by Jesus Himself and His disciples, who have clearly indicated the meaning of the spirit that was in them, which was none other than the spirit of Christ. Nor was the philosopher the first to present to view the "super-celestial" place; for David long ago brought to view the profundity and multitude of the thoughts concerning God entertained by those who have ascended above visible things, when he said in the book of Psalms: "Praise God, ye heaven of heavens and ye waters that be above the heavens, let them praise the name of the LORD." I do not indeed, deny that Plato learned from certain Hebrews the words quoted from the Phoedrus, or even, as some have recorded, that he quoted them from a perusal of our prophetic writings, when he said: "No poet here below has ever sung of the super-celestial place, or ever will sing in a becoming manner," and so on. And in the same passage is the following: "For the essence, which is both colourless and formless, and which cannot be touched, which really exists, is the pilot of the soul, and is beheld by the understanding alone; and around it the genus of true knowledge holds this place." Our Paul, moreover, educated by these words, and longing after things "supra-mundane" and "super-celestial," and doing his utmost for their sake to attain them, says in the second Epistle to the Corinthians: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are unseen are eternal."

Now, to those who are capable of understanding him, the apostle manifestly presents to view "things which are the objects of perception," calling them "things seen;" while he terms "unseen," things which are the object of the understanding, and cognisable by it alone. He knows, also, that things "seen" and visible are "temporal," but that things cognisable by the mind, and "not seen," are "eternal;" and desiring to remain in the contemplation of these. and being assisted by his earnest longing for them, he deemed all affliction as "light" and as "nothing," and during the season of afflictions and troubles was not at all bowed down by them, but by his contemplation of (divine) things deemed every calamity a light thing, seeing we also have "a great High Priest," who by the greatness of His power and understanding "has passed through the heavens, even Jesus the Son of God," who has promised to all that have truly learned divine things, and have lived lives in harmony with them, to go before them to the things that are supra-mundane; for His words are: "That where I go, ye may be also." And therefore we hope, after the troubles and struggles which we suffer here, to reach the highest heavens, and receiving, agreeably to the teaching of Jesus, the fountains of water that spring up unto eternal life, and being filled with the rivers of knowledge, shall be united with those waters that are said to be above the heavens, and which praise His name. And as many of us as praise Him shall not be carried about by the revolution of the heaven, but shall be ever engaged in the contemplation of the invisible things of God, which are no longer understood by us through the things which He hath made from the creation of the world, but seeing, as it was expressed by the true disciple of Jesus in these words, "then face to face;" and in these, "When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part will be done away."

The Scriptures which are current in the Churches of God do not speak of "seven" heavens, or of any definite number at all, but they do appear to teach the existence of "heavens," whether that means the "spheres" of those bodies which the Greeks call "planets," or something more mysterious. Celsus, too, agreeably to the opinion of Plato, asserts that souls can make their way to and from the earth through the planets; while Moses, our most ancient prophet, says that a divine vision was presented to the view of our prophet Jacob,--a ladder stretching to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, and the Lord supported upon its top,--obscurely pointing, by this matter of the ladder, either to the same truths which Plato had in view, or to something greater than these. On this subject Philo has composed a treatise which deserves the thoughtful and intelligent investigation of all lovers of truth.

After this, Celsus, desiring to exhibit his learning in his treatise against us, quotes also certain Persian mysteries, where he says: "These things are obscurely hinted at in the accounts of the Persians, and especially in the mysteries of Mithras, which are celebrated amongst them. For in the latter there is a representation of the two heavenly revolutions,--of the movement, viz., of the fixed stars, and of that which take place among the planets, and of the passage of the soul through these. The representation is of the following nature: There is a ladder with lofty gates, and on the top of it an eighth gate. The first gate consists of lead, the second of tin, the third of copper, the fourth of iron, the fifth of a mixture of metals, the sixth of silver, and the seventh of gold. The first gate they assign to Saturn, indicating by the 'lead' the slowness of this star; the second to Venus, comparing her to the splendour and softness of tin; the third to Jupiter, being firm and solid; the fourth to Mercury, for both Mercury and iron are fit to endure all things, and are money-making and laborious; the fifth to Mars, because, being composed of a mixture of metals, it is varied and unequal; the sixth, of silver, to the Moon; the seventh, of gold, to the Sun,--thus imitating the different colours of the two latter." He next proceeds to examine the reason of the stars being arranged in this order, which is symbolized by the names of the rest of matter.

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