Wednesday, November 19, 2014

15. Irenaeus was not a disinterested 'scholar,' his opinions should not be blindly trusted

that Irenaeus testimony is "often quite untrustworthy" [Skinner, International Critical Commentary p. 141] is a vast understatement.  Sense describes him as a 'dishonest' writer [A Critical and Historical Enquiry Into the Origin of the Third Gospel p. 43] and commenting on one of his falsifications notes:
Here the unfairness and roguery of Irenaeus in short quoting the passage become apparent. The first clause of the verse is couched in coarse language unbecoming the disciple of the Lord, whose language elsewhere is decent. The first clause of the verse is alien to the subject which the disciple of the Lord is discussing, viz., that of Antichrists. These two considerations alone, apart from others, justify me in pronouncing this clause to be an interpolation, which in all probability Irenaeus knew to be a forgery, if he was not the forger himself. [p. 115]
Stuart George Hall more recently argues that Irenaeus was known as a "fixer" or 'fraud' to many of his contemporaries [Hall Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church p. 61]

Irenaeus was above all else a successful propagandist for his own imagination.  He created a scenario where four gospels 'together' = the true gospel.  It was as much a way of rejecting rival traditions even more that it was an explanative too with respect to textual criticism.  Irenaeus assumes as his starting point that the four canonical gospels were associated go back to four of the earliest possible witnesses.  While he cannot find a single authority to back up his claims that the four should be taken as one gospel, it is even more surprising that he can't find a near contemporary witness for the specific gospel forms he put together to make up his fourfold canon.

For instance Polycarp isn't cited as a witness for 'according to John' nor are there any Johannine references in Polycarp's only known letter.  Indeed the established authorities in Rome, a contemporary of Irenaeus and someone likely associated with the production of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, rejects the gospel as spurious.  The same situation seems to be associated with the claims about 'according to Luke' in relation to the 'anonymous' Pauline gospel of the Marcionites.  Yet there is an even clear example of Irenaeus's eyebrow raising efforts to 'back up' the existence of his particular gospel texts.

In the case of 'according to Matthew' he sets up as his 'ur-gospel' a text which he derived out of his own imagination, or better yet a deliberately false reading of his predecessor Papias of Hieropolis:
that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour 
These words have been demonstrated time and again (most recently Watson) to be misrepresentations of Papias's statement regarding Matthew collecting 'sayings of the Lord.'  No one can honestly claim that this 'sayings collection' witnessed by Papias was our gospel according to Mark.  As we just there were also questions raised about his introduction of the gospel according to John, the gospel according to Mark and finally the gospel according to Luke.  Irenaeus merely set up four 'shortened' texts to correspond with four heretical communities in the late second century Church.  His purpose was clearly to foster greater ecumenism in a manner very similar to the Mishnah within the Jewish community, a text which was codified at the very same time.

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