Thursday, July 24, 2014

Here's Why Scholarship Dates Marcion to the Middle of the Second Century (In Spite of the Fact that the Marcionites Themselves Probably Identified Marcion as Living in the First Century)

Why should anyone care when the heretic 'Marcion' lived?  I seem to care a lot about this problem.  Why am I so interested in Marcion?  I suppose the answer has something to with a fascination with ontology 'the study of the nature of being.'  Ever since I went through puberty I was fascinated with what happens after we die.  Not in the mystical 'spirit world' sense.  Just simply what happens to our legacy here on earth. 

I had no living 'heroes' growing up.  I always believed, perhaps naively, that the great artist has the ability to give meaning to existence - the product undoubtedly of being too deeply involved with one of those dead idols of my youth, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

I can still remember my grade ten Italian-Canadian history teacher dismissing my interest in this philosopher.  'Give me a break,' he smirked, 'you're reading Nietzsche?'   No I didn't just read Nietzsche at that tender age.  I inhaled Nietzsche into my very soul.  Perhaps it had something to do with a lack of a real father figure in my life.  I don't know. 

In any event, in due course Nietzsche gave way to an equally impassioned interest in Patristic literature by way of the second century pagan critic of Christianity Celsus of who-knows-where.  Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon Marcion and the rest is history I suppose. 

I think I disliked organized Christianity for the same reasons as Nietzsche.  I don't think you can be good by merely following the rules.  But then again Kierkegaard noticed the same thing.  Gradually, little by little, by studying the Church Fathers I came to earn my intellectual independence from my German philosopher friend.  I became less and less impressed by his knowledge of early Christianity and in that way, I ceased to adore Nietzsche and eventually learned to forget him.  Nevertheless the influence would always be there.

I think subconsciously Marcion became for me the epitome of the Nietzschean artist who creates a new table of values.  Of course all of this is rather curious because one does not readily associate Christianity with Nietzsche.  Nevertheless there was something very Nietzschean about Marcion.  When I came to make the connection between Marcion and Mark the identification became strong still. 

For the moment at least let's go back to the problem we started working on in our last post - when can we say with any degree of certainty that Marcion lived?  We should start I believe with the arguments developed by a 'real scholar' for a moment, and those put forward in particular by Joseph Tyson, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.  In one part of his work on Marcion he asks whether Tertullian's dating of Marcion to 144 CE - should be accepted as historically accurate?  He writes:

Drawing on this reference in Tertullian, Harnack concludes that the year 144 C.E. must originally have referred to some important date in the history of the Marcionite church. He is precise in calculating the time period as extending to the second half of July 144, and he writes: "This can only be the year of Marcion's final break with the church and the founding of his own church on the basis of the new scriptural canon." But it does not seem legitimate to take Tertullian's comments as if they were meant to supply accurate biographical information about Marcion. In line with the concept of the late development of heresy, Tertullian's purpose was to show that Marcion's teachings did not come to light before the time of Antoninus Pius and that Marcion was "an Antoninian heretic, impious under Pius."

Hoffmann is correct in observing that "Tertullian's calculation is not offered, therefore, in the interest of supplying biographical information, but rather in order to prove that Marcion's teaching did not arise before the middle decades of the second century. Obviously, however, if the Marcionites had accepted this reckoning, as Tertullian claims, there would be no need for such proof. The only possible conclusion is that the Marcionites themselves posited a much earlier date for the founding of their church and, accordingly, for the teaching of Marcion." Unfortunately we have no way to document Hoffmann's claim that the Marcionites had an earlier date for the founding of their church.

There is, however, an intriguing reference just following the statement of Clement of Alexandria quoted above. Clement says that the heretics allege that "Valentinus was a hearer of Theudas. And he was the pupil of Paul. For Marcion, who arose in the same age with them, lived as an old man with the younger [heretics]." The statement about Marcion clearly does not represent Clement's views. The claim must, however, have been known in the third century as an allegation voiced by Marcion's supporters. It is likely that it represents a Marcionite reaction against the proto-orthodox conception about the late appearance of heresy, and heresy, and it inspires no greater confidence than do Tertullian's and Clement's calculations.

It is worth noting, however, that Clement's only means to refute the Marcionite claim is to reassert his views about the priority of truth to error. Even if it seems appropriate to be dubious about the claims of Marcion's followers, there are good reasons to believe that his dates were somewhat earlier than those posited by Irenaeus and Tertullian. References from the early Christian writers are inconsistent, confused, and biased.

Hoffmann's comments are apt at this point: "Tertullian's elaborate calculation like Irenaeus' genealogy and Clement's ambiguous chronology must be seen in this light. It is an attempt to counteract the effects of a tradition according to which Marcionism had developed much earlier than in the times of Antoninus. Certain they are that Marcion did not converse with apostles: but they are far from certain about the facts of his life. Did his heresy erupt under Hadrian (Clement) or under Antoninus (Tertullian)? Was he a member of the church at Rome under Telesforus and a heretic under Hyginus (Tertullian), or a follower of Cerdo under the reign of Anicetus (Irenaeus)?" [Joseph Tyson Marcion and Luke-Acts p. 28]

I think this is a very good introduction to the problem with relying on Tertullian for biographical information about Marcion.  But I have to admit, Tyson wimps out - perhaps deliberately - when it comes to the proper dates from Marcion.  Indeed he never really answers the question.

Now this is the most important part about being a respected academic I guess - stay away from strange opinions.  I know full well that many living scholars don't follow these rules.  Yet I think that each academic limits himself to only a handful of seriously weird opinions a year.  In this case Tyson just wasn't willing to stick his neck out on the line. 

With respect to the dating of Marcion while Tyson does mention the curious opinion of Clement of Alexandria he avoids mentioning completely that associated with Marutha of Meparkat, Mesopotamia who goes one step further - saying that Marcion not only lived in the apostolic age but was himself the head of the apostles.  I don't know why Tyson doesn't mention Marutha.  Perhaps he forgot his testimony or - as I just said - maybe he limited himself deliberately to only a handful of strange opinions and even fewer appeals to strange ancient texts. 

Whatever the case may be it might be worth taking a second look at Clement's testimony which Tyson mentioned.  We read Clement declare:

For that the human assemblies which they held were posterior to the Catholic Church requires not many words to show. For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero. It was later, in the times of Adrian the king, that those who invented the heresies arose; and they extended to the age of Antoninus the eider, as, for instance, Basilides, though he claims (as they boast) for his master, Glaucias, the interpreter of Peter. Likewise they allege that Valentinus was a hearer of Theudas. And he was the pupil of Paul. For Marcion, who arose in the same age with them, lived as an old man with the younger [heretics]. And after him Simon heard for a little the preaching of Peter.

The subject of the section is not merely 'the heretics from the time of Hadrian' but in fact a discussion of two ages from which prominent Christians are known to have developed and thus it is extremely important for our present discussion. Clement's point is to demonstrate that merely 'human assemblies' (ἀνθρωπίνας συνηλύσεις) were posterior to the Catholic Church. This is underscored by the fact that "the [age of] apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero." This apostolic period is contrasted with the "time of Hadrian" when most - but not all - the heresies arose.

Thus we should understand Clement to be saying that these two periods act as bookends to the life of Marcion. Furthermore the statement "Marcion who arose in the same age with them" (Μαρκίων γὰρ κατὰ τὴν αὐτὴν αὐτοῖς ἡλικίαν) applies to the aforementioned age of the apostles just as the second clause in the sentence - "lived as an old man with the younger" (γενόμενος ὡς πρεσβύτης νεωτέροις συνεγένετο) connects us back to the "times of Hadrian" and the next sentence "After him Simon heard for a little the preaching of Peter" (μεθ' ὃν Σίμων ἐπ' ὀλίγον κηρύσσοντος τοῦ Πέτρου ὑπήκουσεν).

There is no other way to read this material in my opinion. There are two ages delineated here - 'the apostolic age' and the 'times of Hadrian' associated with the 'Catholic Church' and the 'heresies.' The fact that Marcion is made to span the two ages is puzzling in the sense of it contradicts our assumptions regarding the unbridled hatred of the Church Fathers for Marcion. But the text says what it says.

Tyson acknowledges that Clement's report (a) derives from the Marcionites and (b) makes the sect much older. But again he doesn't seem to be aware of Marutha and doesn't cite him throughout his book. He also goes out of his way to avoid tackling the exact meaning of the text.  Nevertheless we can confirm our suspicions by citing a number of prominent authorities on Patristic literature to get our answer:

The words relating to Simon, Σίμων ἐπ' ὀλίγον κηρύσσοντος τοῦ Πέτρου ὑπήκουσεν, are evidently foreign from the purpose of Clement. He is insisting that the heretical teachers appeared after the apostolic age. But, according to the word in question, Simon is represented, not as a heretic who appeared after the apostolic age, but as contemporary with St Peter ; while, if their connection with what precedes by μεθ' ὃν be retained, he is at the same time affirmed to have succeeded Marcion. [Andrews Norton, The Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels Part 2 p. 50]

Similarly the great Morton Smith declares:

Trying to prove the Catholic Church older than the heresies, Clement says that, after Marcion, Simon Magus was for a short while an auditor of Peter's (III. 75. 18-76. 1). Since this is clearly false the passage has to be emended, and a number emended, and a number of scholars have conjectured that Μαρκίων should be corrected to Μάρκος; cf. Stahlin, ad loc, who rejects this emendation but marks the text as corrupt. [Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark p. 83]

another source notes:

Clement of Alexandria (Strum. vii. § 107) alone seems to have an inkling that there was something wrong. He puts Simon after Marcion, and yet refers in the same breath to his acceptance of Peter's preaching. [Hugh Chisholm, Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 entry Simon Magus]

similarly according to Smith and Wace:

It is more difficult to deal with a passage of Clemens Alex., which has much puzzled his commentators. Having stated that it had been alleged that Valentinus had been a hearer of Theodas. a disciple of Paul, he goes on to say that Marcion being of the same age lived with these as an elder with younger, after whom Simon heard for a little the preaching of Peter. In all the early anti-heretical treatises Valentinus is placed before Marcion, who is here not only made his elder contemporary, but is even made to precede Simon Magus.

and again P C Sense notes:

I hardly think Clement of Alexandria could have been mistaken about the date of the latter. He tells us distinctly that he- was after Marcion, and that he heard the preaching of Peter (Strom., vii. 1 7).

Of course once the reader accepts that Clement learned from the Marcionites that their leader lived in the first century - a situation confirmed by Robert Eisler's reconstruction of a fourth or fifth century prologue to the gospel of John developed at length more recently by Professor Markus Vinzent of King's College London - how far are we from the conclusions of Marutha of Meparkat, Mesopotamia, that Marcion not only lived in the apostolic age (as per Clement) but was himself an apostle and more - the head of the apostles? 

Some might through up the objection that Marutha can't be taken seriously because he was only writing in the fifth century.  But as C K Barrett notes:

About AD 400 the Marcionite church was still active in Mesopotamia; it may be assumed that it was in possession of its sacred literature and that the Marcionite NT and the Antitheses were current and were read both by Marcionites and by and by those who entered into controversy with them. Among the latter was a local bishop, Marutha of Maipherkat (Maipheracti, Martyropolis, Tagsit). His work confirms what is otherwise known of Marcion's NT [Acts Volume 2 p. xlviii] 

Moreover Adolph von Harnack notes of the general milieu in the East was very closely related to Marcionitism generally:

The primitive Jewish Christian substratum of Syrian Christianity comes out even in Aphraates ; it confirms the opinion that during the brief initial epoch of Christianity in Eastern Syria (of which we know nothing), the converts were principally drawn from converted Jews. One very remarkable trait is that of sexual asceticism (derived from Tatian, of course, not from Judaism). Baptized persons are not to marry ; any one who desires to marry is to abstain from baptism, for baptism is a spiritual marriage with Christ. Burkitt (p. 126) rightly speaks of " a deliberate reservation of baptism for the spiritual aristocracy of Christendom " (cp. also his conclusions upon the b'nai Q'yama). This standpoint goes far beyond that of the Novatians, but it is quite in keeping with that of Eustathius of Sebaste ; it denotes a common Oriental type of primitive Christianity, which probably was focussed at Edessa (cp., however, the account of the preaching of repentance at Caesarea Cappadocia in Socrates v. 22). A doctrinal and practical position of this kind must have made it difficult to oppose the Marcionites, who were numerous in Eastern Syria, for they too refused to baptize any except unmarried persons. From the works of Ephraem and the heresy-catalogue of Maruta of Maipherkat (Texte .u. Unters., xix. I, 1899) we can judge how heresies swarmed in Eastern Syria and Persia even in the third century. — Monasticism entered Mesopotamia at latest under Constantine, thanks to Mar Awgin [Eugenius] ; cp. Butler's Lausiac History of Palladius (1898), p. 218, and Budge's Book of the Governors, p. xliv. Mar Awgin came from Egypt ; he was a pupil'of Pachomius and subsequently a friend of Jacob of Nisibis. He founded a monastery in the mountains near Nisibis. He died in 363, after living for more than thirty years in this monastery, which possibly was founded, as later Syrian witnesses assert, before 325 AD
And again as Ioan P. Culianu notes "from the IVth century Marcionism disappeared in the West and became the target of attacks by Eastern Christian apologists, mainly Syrians like Adamantius, Aphraates, Ephraem, Maruta, Isidore of Pelusium, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, but also Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis on Cyprus, and the Armenian Eznik of Kolb. On Marutha providing information corroborated in other sources."

But perhaps the best reason we should take seriously the suggestion that Marcion was, as Marutha says, held to be 'head of the apostles' is as Robert Smith Wilson notes he consistently gives us good and reliable information about the sect:

Maruta also refers to Marcionite hymns or psalms : ' They have also composed hymns (or psalms) different from David's which they recite in their prayers.' With this we can compare the end of the Muratorian fragment : ' Arsinoi autem seu Valentini vel Miltiadis nihil in totum recipimus, qui etiam novum Psalmorum librum Marcioni conscripserunt.' According to Maruta this corpus of new psalms is of Marcionite origin ; according to the Muratorian fragment it is from Valentinus and the other Gnostics.

Could it be that the Marcionites not only held Marcion to have lived in the first century but was himself 'the head of the apostles'?  I certainly think so. 

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