Sunday, July 6, 2014

On the Marcionite Concept of Three Heavens

The Marcionites held fast to the idea that there were three heavens.   Eznik clearly identifies this as the abode of the Father.  But far more significantly he makes clear that the Marcionites developed their understanding from the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch:

But first, where did Marcion get the idea of three heavens? It was because Moses said two heavens, but as the sectarians wander in all things, so also in this (point) because one said ten heavens, another seven, Marcion three, and, they want to establish their error in scripture, because these books often speak of 'the heavens' and 'the heaven of heavens.' When the sectarian are by no one restrained, iquite apart from the holy books the wander; and then, that is why they are at risk in the holy books they take refuge. For we find 'heaven' and 'heaven of heavens' in (our) Scripture. But it is because in the Hebrew language one can not say 'heaven,' as in the Syriac language (it says) no water, or sky, but a plural said. And there it is evident that by the Septuagint (it was) translated (well) in Greek, they say: 'From the beginning God made heaven and earth,' showing (that question) of a (single) heaven, and in the Syriac language, as we can not say heaven, it says: 'From the beginning God made the heavens and the element earth element.' Although we can not say the singular skies, however, saying hain, that is to say, 'element,' the translation states as part of the sky. In addition, the firmament, which is separated from water, the Septuagint translated heaven where it is obvious that the sky above and the sky are two indoor air, and not three or more." [Eznik Refutation, Marcion 7]

The system of three heavens is attested in Jewish sources: in T. Levi (α) 2:6–10; Midr. Pss. 114:2; and 2 Cor 12:2 and Apoc. Sedr. 2:3–5, where visionaries arrive to the third heaven, and no higher heaven is mentioned.  For the Apocalypse of Sedrach it is probable that the third heaven is the highest, since there the visionary can “speak to God face to face” (2:4).  The three stages of the as- cent probably also appear in 1 En. 14 (the fiery wall of 14:9 and two concentric houses in 14:10–17).

Bousset traced the threefold celestial system back to the Persian model of the three firmaments with the Paradise located above them.469 Zoroastrians believed that a just soul crosses three levels (even called “heavens”) in order to reach the highest divine realm. The scheme may even be older, since although the typical ancient Near Eastern systems normally had only one heaven, Enuma Elish has more than one level above the sky, and the three heavens system (parallel there to three terrestrial surfaces) is also attested among other multicelelstial systems systems in Mesopotamia (see Akkadian texts in KAR 307 and OA 8196). Some interpret the biblical expression, shamayi h'shamayim ; “heaven of heavens [in dual. tant.]” as referring to the Babylonian conception of the celestial realm divided to “the upper,” “the middle,” and “the upper heavens” inhabited by Anu (cf. the terminology of T. Levi 2:7, 3:1, and 3:4 below).

This is clearly the logic of the Marcionites as laid out by Eznik.  With respect to וּשְׁמֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם it may refer to two or three heavens understood as “heaven of heaven” or “heaven of heavens” (Deut 10:14; 1 Kgs 8:27; Neh 9:6; Ps 148:4; 2 Chr 2:5; 6:18).482 Thus it was interpreted by R. Yehudah bar Ilai: “There are two heavens, as it is written, 'Heaven, heaven of heaven, earth and everything in it, all belong to God' [Deut 10:14]” (b. Hag. 12b; cf. Deut. Rab. 2.32 (6:4); Midr. Pss. 114:2 knows of both variations: the concept of two heavens based on Ps 68:34(33): “who rids upon the heaven of ancient heaven,” and the alternative view that there are three heavens, referring to “the heavens [understood as dual] and the heaven of heavens [above them]” of 1 Kgs 8:27.

Heaven is mentioned several times in the first chapter of Genesis. It appears in the first verse as a creation of God. His dividing the light from the darkness in verses 4 and 5 this has been interpreted as the separation of heaven into two sections: day (God's throne) and night (where our universe is contained). In verse 8 heaven refers to the atmosphere over the earth in which birds fly, and in verse 14 it's the setting for the celestial lights, later identified (verse 16) as the sun, moon and stars. Shamayi h'shamayim (םשמיה שמי or "Heaven of Heavens") is mentioned in such passages as Genesis 28:12, Deuteronomy 10:14 and 1 Kings 8:27 as a distinctly spiritual realm containing (or being traveled by) angels and God. 

3 Baruch has the same concept.  As noted earlier the stages of Enoch's tour in 1 En. 14:8–18 can also be interpreted according to this model: heaven, “house,” and the second “house” with the Throne corresponding to the supercelestial realm. In the Ethiopic Apoc. Pet. 17 Jesus ascends to the second heaven with Moses and Elijah (however, there are may be more heavens). The scheme most similar to this understanding of 3 Baruch is brought in the Nag Hammadi Apocryphon of James, where disciples follow Jesus through the first two heavens and are not allowed to the third.

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