Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Creation of Locusts in Exodus: What Did the Marcionites Really Believe?

We have been examining the statement of the anonymous Marcionites in Tertullian's Against Marcion Book One Chapter 17:
one work is sufficient for our god ; he has delivered man by his supreme and most excellent goodness, which is preferable to [the creation of] all the locusts.
Almost everyone who has ever studied this statement has taken it for granted that the Marcionites 'must' be juxtaposing 'their' god - Chrestos, the good god - against 'the Jewish god,' the god of justice.  The reason for this is that the statement happens to come in the context of a consistent juxtaposition between the 'two gods' of the Marcionite system.

Yet there is a difficulty here that not even I had considered before.  The LXX, the Greek translation of the Pentateuch, differs from the surviving Hebrew text in assigning the creation of locusts in the Book of Exodus to Moses rather than 'God.'  The situation is confirmed by Philo in the first century who notes:
Such, they say, were the punishments inflicted by the agency of Moses alone, the plague, namely, of hail and thunderstorms, the plague of locusts, and the plague of darkness, which rejected every imaginable description of light. Then he himself and his brother brought on one together, which I shall proceed to relate ... The remaining punishments are three in number, and they were inflicted by God himself without any agency or ministration of man, each of which I will now proceed to relate as well I can. [Vita Mos 1.126, 130]
The question then emerges - if indeed the original Marcionite reference is to the Exodus narrative and not to 'locusts' in general (which in my mind seems certain) - how accurate is Tertullian's implicit assumptions about the Marcionites juxtaposition 'the just god' or the 'god of the Jews' creation of locusts with the salvation of the Christian god or - if you will - 'the good god'?

If Marcion used the LXX he could have assumed that the 'just god' was still behind the locusts.  Indeed Philo assumes as much in his narrative.  Yet could there have been a Moses vs Jesus dynamic in the original statement?  This seems at least to be confirmed by the lengthy statement in the Acts of Archelaus - a work written during a time of Marcionite ascendance in Osroene (modern southern Turkey/Iraq/Syria/ISIS land).  Indeed already in the earliest Samaritan literature there is a tendency to view Moses as living substitute for Yahweh. He is for instance called 'the man of God' in a manner that I have supposed 'Jesus' represents for his god, the Father.

In other words, was the original argument of the Marcionites more sophisticated than previously recognized?  Was the Marcionite point that Moses was to his god 'Yahweh' what Jesus was to 'Elohim' or the Father?  This seems at least to be implied by another statement in Tertullian's anti-Marcionite work:
On that other occasion also God made himself little even in the midst of his fierce anger, when in his wrath against the people because of the consecration of the (golden) calf he demanded of his servant Moses, Let me alone, and I will wax hot in wrath and destroy them, and I will make thee into a great nation. On this you are in the habit of insisting that Moses was a better person than his own God—deprecating, yes and even forbidding, his wrath: for he says, Thou shalt not do this: or else destroy me along with them. Greatly to be pitied are you, as well as the Israelites, for not realizing that in the person of Moses there is a prefiguring of Christ, who intercedes with the Father, and offers his own soul for the saving of the people. But for the present it is enough that the people were granted even to Moses in his own person. Also, so that the servant might be in a position to make this re- quest of his Lord, the Lord made that request of himself. That is why he said to his servant, Let me alone and I will destroy them, so that the servant might forestall this by his prayer and his offering of himself, and so that you by this might learn how much is permitted to one who has faith, and is a prophet, in the presence of God.
In this manner then, if the argument holds up, Moses being the living representation of Yahweh finds a parallel in Jesus's embodiment of Elohim/the Father.  More significantly perhaps, Moses's ignorance of the god above him, is paralleled by Yahweh in the gnostic lore.

I wonder then whether it was argued that Moses - like Yahweh before him - encountered his divine twin (= Elohim) - but strangely assumed that 'he was the only one' (allegedly because of his 'arrogance).  Indeed it is important to note that if Irenaeus's assumption that Ezra rather than Moses wrote the Pentateuch was widespread in early Christianity, then we would escape the 'trap' of assuming that Moses 'knew' of two powers in heaven while he was engaged in the Exodus.  He simply encountered a serious of divine manifestations unaware of the exact nature of the beings manifest before his eyes.

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