Saturday, January 8, 2011

R Casey's Demonstration that at Least Some Marcionites Used Both a Curtailed Gospel and a 'Fuller' Diatessaronic Gospel


ONE of the best known pieces of early Armenian theological literature is the apologetic and controversial treatise of Eznik of Kolb, bishop of Bagrewand. The work was composed 445-448 A.D. and survives in a single manuscript of the late thirteenth century and has passed through successive editions since the first printing at Smyrna in 1762. Its original title is unknown and its printed divisions rest on critical conjecture, but its general place and purpose are clear enough and an ingenious analysis of both has recently been made by Professor Louis Maribs of the Institut Catholique in Paris. It contains an exposition of Christian theology with special reference to the problem of theodicy and a detailed refutation of the current theological errors with which the author was especially familiar.(1)

The fourth book of this work deals with Marcionite theology and begins with a brief exposition of the system to the refutation of which the bulk of the discussion is devoted. Scholars have for the most part been interested in this section as a possible clue to Marcion's own thought, though it has been generally recognized that the system as a whole represents a later sectarian development. The main points of difference between it and the evidence of Tertullian and others who knew Marcion's writings at first hand have been adequately stated by Harnack in his monograph of Marcion.(2) There remain, however, some critical problems in Eznik's brief exposition which are worth further consideration and it is proposed here to examine some of these and to direct attention to the system as it stands rather than to its possible implications for earlier stages of Marcionite theology.

Eznik's account contains a description of the powers which control the universe and the way in which the world and man were created and the problem of salvation and its solution. The world is made up of the earth or matter, personified as Hyle, and three heavens. In the topmost of these heavens lives the Stranger, the deity who ultimately saved mankind. In the second lives the God of the Law; and in the third the "hosts" of the God of the Law. Hyle inhabits the earth and is called the Power of the Earth.

The world was made by the God of the Law in union with Hyle, but after it was finished the god returned with his hosts to rule the heaven, leaving Hyle with her sons to govern the earth. After his return, however, he observed that the world he had created was beautiful and it occurred to him to create for himself a man. So he went back to Hyle and said, "Give me of thine earth and of myself I am giving soul, and let us make man in our likeness." Hyle gave him earth and he breathed soul into it and Adam emerged a living and breathing creature and received his name from the fact that he was fashioned from earth. The creator then made Adam's wife and placed them in the Garden and they received his commands as children. Here difficulties arise, and the first act of the drama of redemption opens. Having made Adam, the creator perceived that he was a noble and worthy creature and considered how he might steal him from Hyle and attach him to himself. He therefore took him on one side and said, "I am God and there is no other and thou shalt have no other god but me. But if thou shouldst have any other god but me, know that thou shalt die." At the mention of death Adam was terror-stricken and began gradually to separate his soul from matter, i. e. to withdraw from Hyle's influence.

Hyle soon observed that Adam no longer heeded her customary advances and realized that she had been betrayed by the creator. So she said to herself, "The water of the spring has been troubled at the source. What is this? Adam has not yet reproduced and he has been stolen from me in the name of his deity. Since then he has ceased to keep pact with me, I shall make many gods and fill up the world with them so that he may inquire which is God and not find out." She then made many idols which she called gods and the name of the Lord of Creation was lost in the number and his worship neglected in favour of Hyle's creations. This angered the god so much that he seized each soul as it departed from the body and cast it into the pit of hell.

Adam was consigned to Gehenna for eating of the Tree of Knowledge and his descendants similarly for 2900 years.(3) At this point a new act begins. The Stranger, the good god of the topmost heaven, looked down and observed the torments to which men were subjected and resolved to help them. He therefore resorted to a strategy to beat the God of the Law at his own game and sent his son to earth in the likeness of a servant (Phil 2 7) and in the form of a man. He did all manner of good works, healing the sick and raising the dead, and in this way roused the envy of the Lord of Creation who crucified him. After death he passed into hell and rescued those who were there, because hell was not accustomed to receive the living, and the death of the good god's son was simulated, not real, so that he could break down hell's gates and lead the imprisoned souls to his father in the third heaven. This angered the Lord of Creation greatly and he rent his garment and tore the veil of his temple and darkened his sun and clothed his world in darkness and sat in mourning.

Then Jesus descended again, but this time in the form of his divinity, and accused the Lord of Creation of his death. The god was dismayed as he had not known until then that any other god existed, but Jesus said to him, "I have a case against thee and no one shall judge between us but thine own law which thou has written ... Didst thou not write in thy Law that he who kills shall die and they shall shed the blood of him who sheds blood? ... Now thou hast delivered thyself into my hands so that I may kill thee and shed thy blood as thou didst kill me and shed my blood. For I am more righteous than thou and I have done great kindness to thy creation." And he recounted all the kindnesses he had done. At this the Lord of Creation was confounded, and, pleading ignorance of the Stranger's existence, offered as amends to give Jesus all those who would believe in him to go wherever he wished. Jesus then departed and appointed Paul to proclaim the news that "we are bought with a price (1 Cor 6.20) and that all who believe in Jesus have been sold by the Righteous to the Good God."

However diverse the influences may have been which affected Eznik's polemical discussion of Marcionite theology and practice, there can be no-doubt this initial statement was derived in one piece from an anterior source. Eznik himself marks it off by the observation at the close of his exposition that all Marcionites were not familiar with this system, and though all would claim that the Stranger had bought them with a price, some did not know how or why. Furthermore the manner of quotation and the character of the quoted bit is unambiguous. Like Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria, Eznik attributes the reported theology to the founder of the sect, but quotes it indiscriminately by "he says" or "they say." The sense and sequence of construction is also not perfectly smooth or consistent so that the grammar has sometimes to be understood from the general sense rather than the particular context.

Finally there can be no doubt that the charge to Jesus by the Good God is quotation and not summary, for there is a sudden change to direct discourse and the god says, "Thou shalt cure their lepers and quicken their dead and open the eyes of their blind," etc. From these indications it may be assumed that the underlying document was one of those brief but systematic statements of sectarian theology which were popular among Gnostic theologians of the second and third generations and of which there are several examples in Hippolytus V and Irenaeus I.

There can also be little doubt that the language of this source was Syriac. In his introductory essay to Mitchell's edition ofSt. Ephraem's Refutations Burkitt remarked: "It is very likely that Eznik's account is not so much an original description of the Armenian Marcionites known to him as a translation from some early Syriac writer."(4) An examination of the Armenian text completely confirms this conjecture. Apart from several minute but suggestive points of style two facts are decisive

(a) In the story of creation Adam's name is explained from the circumstance that he was created from the earth. The Armenian reads, "For this reason Adam received his name, because he was made from earth" (i kawoyn), which brings out the point no better than the English. But the Syriac doubtless read that Adam received his name because he was created men adamtha.

(b) We know from Burkitt's study of St. Ephraem "that the Syriac-speaking Marcionites used a different transliteration of the name 'Jesus' from the orthodox. The ordinary Syriac for 'Jesus' is yeshu (pronounced 'Isho' by Nestorians but 'Yeshu' by Jacobites) which is simply the Syriac form of the Old Testament name Joshua. This form Isu was used not only by the orthodox but also by the Manichees. It was therefore a surprise to find that Ephraim in arguing against Marcionites, and certainly in part quoting from their books or sayings, uses the form Isu, a direct transcription of the Greek 'Iesou (or 'Iesous)." A similar argument can be applied mutatis mutandis to the text of Eznik which in this section presents, instead of the usual xxxx the singular form Arm. xxbhunL, a transliteration of Syriac-Marcionite Isu

The rationale of Eznik's Marcionite myth is transparent. The notion that the universe was divided into three heavens and the earth was not a characteristic of any sect but was one of a number open to adoption by various theologies. Its choice by the Marcionites was doubtless determined by 2 Cor 12 2. The story of creation is, as Eznik himself notes, an adaptation of the cosmology of Genesis, which means in practice an alteration of Gen 1-2 to fit a somewhat different theory of the origin of things. The figure of the Stranger is familiar from the earlier sources. Marcion called him ho agathos and ho xenoos, and these characteristic designations recur in both Ephraim and Eznik. The Just God or Lord of Creation and God of the Law, as he was called, is likewise an integral part of Marcion's own theology.

The question of Hyle is more complicated. Marcion apparently regarded matter as an impersonal substance, evil by nature but devoid of personal qualities, and his disciples in general followed his opinion, so that when an evil personality was introduced, it was either by importing the devil with the scheme (as with Megethius, Adamantius Dial. I, 3) or by regarding the creator as evil. Among the Marcionites known to Eznik and Ephraim, however, Hyle was a mythological figure, based to be sure on an abstraction, but possessed of individual character and temperament. She was called the "Power of the Earth" for she reigned over it and the world was made through union with her. She supplied the earth from which Adam was made and operated through his fleshly nature, tempting him to lust, a temptation which he suppressed at the creator's threat of death.

Enraged at being cheated of Adam she invented idols and originated polytheism. After this the struggle with the creator for the control of human destiny passed from her hands to the Stranger's, but in the early stages of the myth she is the Lord of Creation's principal rival. Like the Valentinian Sophia, however, her character is ambiguous, for she is not fundamentally a creature of the imagination but of philosophy and is not really mythology at all but symbolism. This confusion of genres appears clearly in Eznik's meaningless observation that she was associated with the creator in essence and in the point of her story. Her conflict with the God of the Law represents man's struggle with the flesh and perpetuates Marcion's distaste for sexuality and prejudice against it. In religion preoccupation with matter leads to gross idolatry; hence Hyle is the inventor of images and of the notion that they are gods.

The account of redemption is different both in plot and motivation from earlier Marcionite systems. For Marcion the theory of the two gods was an answer to the problem of theodicy and he included among the evils occasioned by the creator's stupidity and "righteousness" a large number of the difficulties and injustices of human life. The theory in Eznik's source is much simpler and much inferior. The creator's wrath is caused by idolatry with its covert return to Hyle's control and is expressed by his indiscriminating edict of damnation. The moral and speculative issues which so deeply concerned Marcion drop from view and are replaced by a crude and pointless invention.

Jesus' appearance on earth was "in the likeness of a servant and in the form of a man" (cf. Phil 2.7). Jesus' death was a real though not an ordinary death and did not interfere with the continuance of his life. His father, the Good God, said to him when sending him to earth, "At thy death thou shalt descend into hell, and shalt release them thence, for hell is not accustomed to receive the living in its midst; but after the crucifixion 'thou shalt be like the dead'." In his accusation of the creator Jesus also remarks, "Now hast thou given thyself into my hands that
I may kill thee and shed blood as thou didst kill me and didst spill my blood."

The most curious feature of Eznik's account is the device by which salvation is effected. In the Apologists of the second century salvation consisted primarily in the victory of Christ over the demons who troubled mankind, and from Origen on the notion was populara mong Greek theologians that Christ had deceived the devil into supposing him a human being and thus stole away the souls he had imprisoned. This view appears to have been taken over by the Syrian Marcionite and adapted to their scheme. Like Marcion these heretics appear to have held no peculiar views about the devil but to have assimilated a popular chapter of demonology from their orthodox environment.

The dialogue between Jesus and the God of the Law in which the superior righteousness of Jesus is emphasized and the Torah evoked as the judge in the case is novel and ingenious. The notion that all who believe in Christ were released by the creator and taken to the realm of the Good God is a constant feature in Marcionite thought, as well as Paul's predominant role in proclaiming the good news. "We are bought with a price," seems to have been the most common expression of this hope among Eznik's sectaries, known to many who were ignorant of the theological refinements of particular systems.

One point is worth raising in connection with the Scriptural authority recognized by the Syrian Marcionites. Burkitt in his study of Ephraim's quotations remarked that there is no trace of Marcion's peculiar edition of Luke in his writings and that his quotations were most probably derived from the Diatessaron.(6) This seems to have been the case among the heretics themselves.In Eznik's account when the creator becomes angry at man's defection to idolatry he tears his garment and the veil of his temple, darkens his sun and cloaks his world with darkness. All these gestures contain patent references to the Passion narrative.

In Luke, however, the high priest does not tear his garment nor is the Temple veil rent, but the eclipse of the sun is peculiar to Luke.(7) All these features, however, occur in the Diatessaron. The quotations must belong to Eznik's source for their exegesis is quite peculiar to its system. We must, therefore, reckon in the East with a form of Marcionism which found the popularity of Tatian's harmony too great to be set aside. That this was not true of all Syrian Marcionites appears from the Syriac spurium on the Parables extant in an Armenian version and attributed to St. Ephraim.(8) It may be that a Marcionite version of the Diatessaron was issued to meet the need of Eznik's group,(9) but it is at least certain that the Diatessaron and not Marcion's much mutilated version of Luke was the starting point.

The later portions of Book IV are devoted mainly to a refutation of Marcionite theology, but occasionally points of teaching or practice are raised which do not appear in the earlier section. It is by no means certain that these notices were derived from the Syriac source underlying IV.1, but some agree sufficiently with it or with Ephraim to make it probable that they apply to the same sect. Eznik knew of Marcion's edited gospel,(10) but this is not proof that the Marcionites of IV.1 employed it. The penitential discipline of the Marcionites he found particularly objectionable,(11) as well as their vegetarianism.(12) They proposed, "From the time of our baptism we abstain from flesh-food and from marriage,"(13) but like other Christians they found theory simpler than practice and solved the problem of sin after baptism by penance. Eznik, however, finds this inconsistent with their theological premises, for the Good God who saves them will in no case punish, so why engage in useless attempts to appease a wrath which ex hypothesi could not arise in the divine breast?(14)

Abstinence from meat, he says, is absurd among people who continue to drink wine (15) and the motive for sexual ascetisicm is wrong. Among Catholics it applies only to religious, and arises not from any depreciation of marriage as such.(16) But the Marcionites object to marriage and reproduction in principle. Some of this detailed information may have come from Eznik's source in IV.1, but it is unlikely that all of it did. It is more probable that the scattered notes on Marcionite exegesis were derived from it. This is especially true of the list of contrasted passages from the Old and New Testaments in IV. 12, for the latter are found with one exception in Matthew and the Diatessaron but
not in Luke.

The result of this investigation has been to discover in Eznik IV clear evidence for the use of a Syriac Marcionite source emanating from the circles with which St. Ephraim was acquainted and agreeing in all essential points with their theology and usage. Their myth is a modification of the Marcionite system of a kind characteristic of epigoni and sectarian development. The speculative freshness and sensitiveness of the early phase of thought has been lost, and a cruder, simpler, more pictorial view has replaced it. Like the earlier Marcionites they appeared as practicing Christians with peculiar ascetic notions and habits, but unlike them they followed the traditional Scriptural authority of their surroundings and retained the Diatessaron as their gospel. It would seem natural that the group had gained some ground in Armenia, since they are treated by Eznik as a living issue, but if so the probabilities are that they, like many Armenian Catholics of their time, employed Syriac as their theological language.

[R. Casey, “The Armenian Marcionites and the Diatessaron,” JBL 57 (1938)]

1'L. Maries, Le De Deo d'Eznik de Kolb connu sous le nom de "Contre les
Sectes," Paris, 1924.
2 A. Harnack, Marcion:D as Evangelicumv omf remdenG ott( Texteu nd Untersuchungen,
45), 2te Aufl., Leipzig, 1924, *372.
4 C. W. Mitchell, S. Ephraim's Prose Refutations 3 (Text and Translation
Society), cxviii.
5 F. C. Burkitt, "Notes on Valentinian terms in Irenaeus and Tertullian,"
JTS, XXV, 64; R. P. Casey, "Two Notes On Valentinian Theology," HTR'
XXIII, 282, 287.
6 S. Ephraim's Prose Refutations 2, cxviii.
7 Eznik's text xawarecaw zaregakn implies the reading rKoTlerO?6X7 Los,
in agreement with the Diatessaron and with Marcion's Luke. Harnack, *236.
8 J. Schtifers, Eine altsyrische antimarkionitische Erkldrung von Parabeln
des Herrn, (Neutestamentliche Abhandlungen, 6, 1-2), Miinster 1917, 208.
9 Strong arguments for the existence of an Armenian version of the Diatessaron have been advanced by F. C. Conybeare, "An Armenian Diatessaron?" JTS, XXV, 232, and P. Esabalean, Tatian's Diatessaron and the First Translation of the Armenian Gospels (The National Library, 142) (In modern Armenian), Vienna, 1937; cf. JBL, LVII, 95.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.