Monday, August 04, 2008

BIBL 5203 Lesson 3:
Marcion's Bible

I'm fascinated by the second-century heretic, Marcion. There's so much I wish I knew, much of which has been lost to the ravages of time (barring some discovery like those of the mid-twentieth century at Nag-Hammadi and Qumran). For instance, it would be absolutely fascinating if a copy of Marcion's Bible were still extant, not least for what it could teach us about the reception of Luke's gospel and Paul's letters both among Marcion and his party as well as among the "orthodox" writers who opposed him (viz., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian).

Ever since Walter Bauer (of BDAG fame) published Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum [1934; ET: Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, trans. and supplemented by Robert Kraft and Gerhard Kroedel, 1971], scholars have been wrestling with and contesting the ways that "orthodoxy" and "heresy" were constructed in the early church (and in its modern critics) and the way(s) this construction has masked the diversity that certainly characterized earliest Christianity (as is evident throughout the NT itself). Though the narrative of a unified, homogenous church in the first century (or even the first decades) was/is in dire need of deconstruction, some critics have gone too far, I think, in suggesting that "orthodoxy" and "heresy" are only discursive constructions imposed in later centuries.

What fascinates me most, I think, about Marcion's Bible is how Marcion could understand the story of Jesus apart from a framework that is made up almost completely by Hebrew biblical traditions and their reception in Second-Temple Judaism. How could Marcion have projected his narrative about Jesus (whatever the specific contours of that narrative) on the Jew Jesus? At every turn in Luke's gospel Jesus' story is an expression of Israel's story, from the angelic annunciation of Jesus' birth through his teachings and activities (esp. the healings and exorcisms) and especially his death and resurrection. I expect that some would claim Marcion didn't see (or project) his story of Jesus in the story of the Jew Jesus because he excised all the explicitly Jewish elements of Luke's gospel and Paul's letters. But this excision followed after he came to his understanding of Jesus, which would have been developed in the light of Luke's and Paul's stories of Jesus.

Here is one instance, then, where Bauer's thesis of the contemporaneous origins of orthodoxy and heresy falters: Marcion's canon is clearly later than and derivative of Luke's and Paul's earlier writings. This isn't to deny that a major component of heresiological discourse still remains the marginalization of previously acceptable ideas and practices as "heretical," but it does suggest the likelihood that heresiology is never merely discourse. Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian surely enjoyed the support of a significant portion of the "Christian" non-élite when they argued against Marcion's theology and his canon; in other words, these three writers (and especially Tertullian!) weren't simply constructing "orthodoxy" as something other than Marcionism. This is especially interesting, I think, because (as I argued here re: Irenaeus) these heresiologists were just as committed to understanding "Christianity" in terms of its relation to "Israel" ("Judaism"?) as they were to defining "Christianity" in contrast to "Judaism"!

On a more theological/pastoral level, perhaps, I wonder how prevalent Marcionite ideas are in the church today. It seems to me that a number of the teachings against which Ireneaus and Co. rail so passionately actually inform a lot of contemporary Christian practice today. How many of us avoid the Hebrew Bible in our own spirituality/theologizing? Even when we do read the Old Testament, how many of us are unable to read, say, Gen. 3.15 or Isaiah 53 on their own terms and without immediately reducing these texts' value to how easily they can be indexed to a passage in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John? And how many of us perceive, whether explicitly or subconsciously, a disjunction between God as he's portrayed in the Hebrew Bible and how he's portrayed in the New Testament? For all the danger of writings such as Tertullian's Adversus Iudaeos, real as they are, we should also appreciate that Tertullian — like Justin and Irenaeus before him — were wrestling with the question of Christian-Jew relations rather than denying them outright.

It seems to me, eighteen centuries after Tertullian, the church would do well to once again take up the struggle with the question and not allow itself to contentedly continue the anti-Judaic thinking and praxis advocated by Marcion and continued, in modulated if not in moderated form, by his "orthodox" opponents.

I have included below samples of Irenaeus's and Tertullian's writings against Marcion that specifically address his bibliology (cf. Early Christian Writings [HT: Thanks to Tom Thatcher]).

Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, 17:
Now this heresy of yours does not receive certain Scriptures; and whichever of them it does receive, it perverts by means of additions and diminutions, for the accomplishment of it own purpose; and such as it does receive, it receives not in their entirety; but even when it does receive any up to a certain point as entire, it nevertheless perverts even these by the contrivance of diverse interpretations. Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of its meaning as it is by a corruption of its text. Their vain presumptions must needs refuse to acknowledge the (writings) whereby they are refuted. They rely on those which they have falsely put together, and which they have selected, because of their ambiguity. Though most skilled in the Scriptures, you will make no progress, when everything which you maintain is denied on the other side, and whatever you deny is (by them) maintained. As for yourself, indeed, you will lose nothing but your breath, and gain nothing but vexation from their blasphemy.

Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, 39:
These were the ingenious arts of spiritual wickedness,” wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have to wrestle,” as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered. And therefore they possess influence, and a facility in thinking out and fabricating errors, which ought not to be wondered at as if it were a difficult and inexplicable process, seeing that in profane writings also an example comes ready to hand of a similar facility. You see in our own day, composed out of Virgil, a story of a wholly different character, the subject-matter being arranged according to the verse, and the verse according to the subject-matter. In short, Hosidius Geta has most completely pilfered his tragedy of Medea from Virgil. A near relative of my own, among some leisure productions of his pen, has composed out of the same poet The Table of Cebes. On the same principle, those poetasters are commonly called AHomerocentones,” Acollectors of Homeric odds and ends,” who stitch into one piece, patchwork fashion, works of their own from the lines of Homer, out of many scraps put together from this passage and from that (in miscellaneous confusion). Now, unquestionably, the Divine Scriptures are more fruitful in resources of all kinds for this sort of facility. Nor do I risk contradiction in saying that the very Scriptures were even arranged by the will of God in such a manner as to furnish materials for heretics, inasmuch as I read that “there must be heresies, which there cannot be without the Scriptures.”

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.3.1–2:
1. Such, then, is the account they give of what took place within the Pleroma; such the calamities that flowed from the passion which seized upon the Aeon who has been named, and who was within a little of perishing by being absorbed in the universal substance, through her inquisitive searching after the Father; such the consolidation [of that Aeon] from her condition of agony by Horos, and Stauros, and Lytrotes, and Carpistes, and Horothetes, and Metagoges. Such also is the account of the generation of the later Aeons, namely of the first Christ and of the Holy Spirit, both of whom were produced by the Father after the repentance [of Sophia], and of the second Christ (whom they also style Savior), who owed his being to the joint contributions [of the Aeons]. They tell us, however, that this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed by the Savior through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it. This has been done as follows. The thirty Aeons are indicated (as we have already remarked) by the thirty youars during which they say the Savior performed no public act, and by the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Paul also, they affirm, very clearly and frequently names these Aeons, and even goes so far as to preserve their order, when he says, “To all the generations of the Aeons of the Aeon.” Nay, we ourselves, when at the giving of thanks we pronounce the words, To Aeons of Aeons” (for ever and ever), do set forth these Aeons. And, in fine, wherever the words Aeon or Aeons occur, they at once refer them to these beings.

2. The production, again, of the Duodecad of the Aeons, is indicated by the fact that the Lord was twelve youars of age when He disputed with the teachers of the law, and by the election of the apostles, for of these there were twelve. The other eighteen Aeons are made manifest in this way: that the Lord, [according to them,] conversed with His disciples for eighteen months after His resurrection from the dead. They also affirm that these eighteen Aeons are strikingly indicated by the first two letters of His name [Ihsou~v], namely Iota and Eta. And, in like manner, they assert that the ten Aeons are pointed out by the letter Iota, which begins His name; while, for the same reason, they tell us the Savior said, “One Iota, or one tittle, shall by no means pass away until all be fulfilled.”

3. They further maintain that the passion which took place in the case of the twelfth Aeon is pointed at by the apostasy of Judas, who was the twelfth apostle, and also by the fact that Christ suffered in the twelfth month. For their opinion is, that He continued to preach for one youar only after His baptism. The same thing is also most clearly indicated by the case of the woman who suffered from an issue of blood. For after she had been thus afflicted during twelve youars, she was healed by the advent of the Savior, when she had touched the border of His garment; and on this account the Savior said, “Who touched me?” C teaching his disciples the mystery which had occurred among the Aeons, and the healing of that Aeon who had been involved in suffering. For she who had been afflicted twelve years represented that power whose essence, as they narrate, was stretching itself forth, and flowing into immensity; and unless she had touched the garment of the Son, that is, Aletheia of the first Tetrad, who is denoted by the hem spoken of, she would have been dissolved into the general essence [of which she participated]. She stopped short, however, and ceased any longer to suffer. For the power that went forth from the Son (and this power they term Horos) healed her, and separated the passion from her.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.8.2–3:
2. Then, again, as to those things outside of their Pleroma, the following are some specimens of what they attempt to accommodate out of the Scriptures to their opinions. They affirm that the Lord came in the last times of the world to endure suffering, for this end, that He might indicate the passion which occurred to the last of the Aeons, and might by His own end announce the cessation of that disturbance which had risen among the Aeons. They maintain, further, that that girl of twelve youars old, the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, to whom the Lord approached and raised her from the dead, was a type of Achamoth, to whom their Christ, by extending himself, imparted shape, and whom he led anew to the perception of that light which had forsaken her. And that the Savior appeared to her when she lay outside of the Pleroma as a kind of abortion, they affirm Paul to have declared in his Epistle to the Corinthians [in these words], “And last of all, He appeared to me also, as to one born out of due time.” Again, the coming of the Savior with His attendants to Achamoth is declared in like manner by him in the same Epistle, when he says, “A woman ought to have a veil upon her head, because of the angels.” Now, that Achamoth, when the Savior came to her, drew a veil over herself through modesty, Moses rendered manifest when he put a veil upon his face. Then, also, they say that the passions which she endured were indicated by the Lord upon the cross. Thus, when He said, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He simply showed that Sophia was deserted by the light, and was restrained by Horos from making any advance forward. Her anguish, again, was indicated when He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;” her fear by the words, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me;” and her perplexity, too, when He said, “And what I shall say, I know not.”

3. And they teach that He pointed out the three kinds of men as follows: the material, when He said to him that asked Him, “Shall I follow Thee?” “The Son of man hath not where to lay His head;” C the animal, when He said to him that declared, “I will follow Thee, but suffer me first to bid them farewell that are in my house,” “No man, putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven” (for this man they declare to be of the intermediate class, even as they do that other who, though he professed to have wrought a large amount of righteousness, yet refused to follow Him, and was so overcome by [the love of] riches, as never to reach perfection) C this one it pleases them to place in the animal class; C the , again, when He said, “Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God,” and when He said to Zaccheus the publican, “Make haste, and come down, for to-day I must abide in thine house” C for these they declared to have belonged to the spiritual class. Also the parable of the leaven which the woman is described as having hid in three measures of meal, they declare to make manifest the three classes. For, according to their teaching, the woman represented Sophia; the three measures of meal, the three kinds of men C spiritual, animal, and material; while the leaven denoted the Savior Himself. Paul, too, very plainly set forth the material, animal, and spiritual, saying in one place, “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy;” and in another place, “But the animal man receiveth not the things of the Spirit;” and again: “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.” And this, “The animal man receiveth not the things of the Spirit,” they affirm to have been spoken concerning the Demiurge, who, as being animal, knew neither his mother who was spiritual, nor her seed, nor the Aeons in the Pleroma. And that the Savior received first-fruits of those whom He was to save, Paul declared when he said, “And if the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy,” teaching that the expression “first-fruits” denoted that which is spiritual, but that “the lump” meant us, that is, the animal Church, the lump of which they say He assumed, and blended it with Himself, inasmuch as He is “the leaven.”

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