Marcion’s date

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by Neil Godfrey

For all the shortcomings of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s work on Marcion, Marcion, On the Restitution of Christianity, the one point he stressed and that was central to persuading me of the strong possibility that Marcion should be dated much earlier than is traditionally done, even as early as the opening decades of the second century, was a comment in the writings of Justin Martyr. Justin, writing in the middle of the second century, expressed some dismay that Marcion was “even now still” active and influential in the world. The clear implication is that it was surprising to see Marcion still preaching even at that late date.

Sebastion Moll in his 2010 book The Arch-Heretic Marcion knocks out that argument for an early date.

Finally, there is one passage in the work of Justin which has made some scholars believe that Marcion must already have been active before 144/145. In his Apology (ca. 153 – 154), Justin states that Marcion “has made many people in the whole world speak blasphemies” [Adv. haer. I.13,3] and that he is “even now still teaching”. . . .

Justin’s statement that Marcion is “even now still” teaching becomes understandable if we take a look at the preceding sections of the Apology. According to Justin, all heretics were put forward by the demons after Christ’s ascension to heaven. He then mentions Simon, Menander and Marcion, of whom the first two are of course long dead already. The reason for Justins’ surprise that Marcion is still teaching  is not his impressively long heretical career, but the fact that he is still active so long after the demons had put forward the other heretics. (p. 39)

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  • pearl
    2011-11-07 08:50:21 UTC - 08:50 | Permalink

    Okay. I’m taking “a look at the preceding sections of the Apology, and I find early on:

    ”And, thirdly, because after Christ’s ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honours.”

    And these are the men discussed, all in the same section:

    “There was a Samaritan, Simon,…”

    “And a man, Meander, also a Samaritan,…”

    “And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive,…”

    It’s not clear to me how soon “after Christ’s ascension into heaven” that “the devils put forward” Marcion.

    • reyjacobs
      2011-11-07 20:38:30 UTC - 20:38 | Permalink

      “And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive,…”

      The “who is even at this day alive” obviously refers to Marcion and Marcion alone. Moll’s theory is the worst sort of special pleading.

  • Steven
    2011-11-07 10:04:48 UTC - 10:04 | Permalink

    I have been studying the issue of when Justin penned his First Apology and think the 144/145 date is must to late.

    First we find that at the turn of the Twentieth Century there was a wide range of opinions as to when Justin wrote his 1st Apology. According to F. Kenyon the Encyclopedia Britannica assigns a date of 138-140, this date, Kenyon argued, was too early based on Justin’s reference to Felix in Chapter 29. He claimed that this Felix could have been none other than Lucius Munatius Felix who according to some Greek papyrus held by the British museum, was the Roman Perfect of Egypt after M. Petronius Honoratus. This Honoratus, according to a papyrus held in Berlin, was the Perfect of Egypt from 148 until he was replaced by L. Munatius Felix, thus Justin could not have written his 1st Apology before 148. This date is further penned down by the Catholic Encyclopedia because one of the Oxrhynchus papyri reports that Felix took over as the Perfect of Egypt on September 13, 151.

    The problem, in my opinion, with this date is the assumption that the Felix referred to by Justin could be none other than Lucius Munatius Felix. One need only take a cursory glance at a book of Roman names to find that the cognomen Felix was a fairly common name in Greco-Roman antiquity. This, combined with the fact that we do not have a complete record of who served as Perfect in Egypt during the Second Century, means that we need to check to see if the text provides any other clues as to when it was written.

    Fortunately, the reference to Felix is not the only reference to a datable event recorded in the text. Justin, in the greeting refers to the Imperial audience he is addressing, informing us that the Apology was sent, “To the Emperor Titus Aelius Adrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Caesar, and to his son Verissimus the philosopher…”. Given the fact that Antoninus Pius ruled as Emperor from 138 to 161 the mention of his name is little help in establishing a date for when Justin wrote. It is the reference to the name Verissimus that lets us know the text was written in 138-139 since Verissimus was a nick-name give to Marcus Aurelius by Hadrian. I am able to pin the date down precisly to 138 because Marcus Aurelius was named Caesar and junior Emperor under Antoninus Pius in 139 and Consul in 140. Given the fact that Justin does not refer to Marcus Aurelius by his official title of Caesar or consul he must have been writing before 139. This date is supported by Justin’s reference to the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132-135) as a recent event, which would not have made sense if Justin was writing 15 to 20 years after the fighting had stopped. Nor am I the only one who believes the 1st Apology should be dated 138-139. According to E.C. Blackman, Ernst Barnikol also argued for the Apology being dated to 138-139.

    Now if one accepts both the possibility that the 1st Apology was written in 139 and that Marcion was indeed an Old Man when Justin wrote then Marcion must be dated much early than the date Harnack and other assign him based on the writing of Tertullian etc.

    This earlier date for Marcion is supported by Clement of Alexandria’s cliam that, “…Marcion, who arose in the same age with them, live as an old man with the younger [heretics]” (Clement; The Stromata Bk 7 ch 17). Now given that that the them Clement is referring to is Basilides and Valentinus one can assume Marcion was an old man between 136 and 140.

    • 2011-11-07 19:17:22 UTC - 19:17 | Permalink

      Also the fact that Justin says Marcion has persuaded “many in every nation” — hello, if Marcion began just a few years before Justin wrote this (as the Catholic dating requires) then there is no way he could have had such a great success. Just to found one church in one area takes a few years (see Acts). If Marcion has established churches in “every nation” then the dude must be really freaking old.

    • 2011-11-07 22:37:54 UTC - 22:37 | Permalink


      This sounds fair enough, but, as you say, Justin does indeed mention that “one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch” (Ch. XXIX). (Note that the proscription of genital mutilation, including circumcision and castration, was a novelty, which had only recently been introduced by Antoninus Pius.) If Felix is not identical to Lucius Munacius Felix, then who is he?

      You may be correct in your assumption that “the cognomen Felix was a fairly common name.” But this does not change the fact that, in the list of governors of Roman Egypt, there is only one Felix; see


      In 138 CE, Gaius Avidius Heliodorus was governor of Egypt. In my opinion, Moll has a very strong case.

      • pearl
        2011-11-08 03:10:16 UTC - 03:10 | Permalink

        I admit ignorance here. Was the prefect of the province Egypt necessarily the same position as “governor in Alexandria”, the city? In other words, is this a description of a prefect of Roman Egypt residing in Alexandria, or of an administrator of the city, Alexandria? “Governor” is such a general term.

        “As a province, Aegyptus was ruled by a prefect instead of the traditional senatorial governor of other Roman provinces.”

      • pearl
        2011-11-08 14:42:41 UTC - 14:42 | Permalink

        Okay, another long shot to consider. The Wikipedia chart of prefects shows Marcus Petronius Mamertinus serving as prefect in Egypt from 133-137 and Gaius Avidius Heliodorus from 137-142. However, when one clicks on their linked names in the article, it becomes apparent that there is dispute as to dates of service for Heliodorus. 137-142 or 138-140? Was there another prefect for at least part of a year, 137-138?

        Also, mention of “Antinous, who was alive but lately,” in the same Chapter XXIX brings to mind Hadrian rather than Antoninus Pius. I’ve read that Hadrian also forbade circumcision.

        • 2011-11-08 17:30:06 UTC - 17:30 | Permalink


          Thanks for stimulating suggestions. One book to consult is Andrea Jördens’s recent professorial thesis, “Statthalterliche Verwaltung in der römischen Kaiserzeit” (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2009), which features a list of the Roman prefects of Egypt and the dates they ruled:


          “It will remain a standard work on the praefectus Aegypti and on Roman provincial administration.”

        • Steven
          2011-11-08 20:40:56 UTC - 20:40 | Permalink

          This issue of when each person reigned and the gasps between their reigns is one of the reasons I cliam that we don’t have a complete record of the Roman Governors of Egypt.

          • 2011-11-08 22:49:02 UTC - 22:49 | Permalink


            The source material is impressive. For instance, 31 independent sources (papyri etc.) are listed as evidence that Lucius Munatius Felix reigned as prefect from 149 to 154. Likewise, 24 sources are listed as evidence that Gaius Avidius Heliodorus reigned as prefect from 137 to 142. (As to the question of “gaps,” it seems reasonably clear that Heliodorus was inaugurated as prefect in September 137, and that he left office in June 142. See Bastianini’s paper, p. 288.)

            So why should we believe in an as yet unknown Felix?

            The standard reference is

            G. Bastianini, “Lista dei Prefetti d’Egitto dal 30a al 299p.” In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 17 (1975), 263-328


            Corrections are found in

            G. Bastianini, “Lista dei Prefetti d’Egitto dal 30a al 299p. Aggiunte e Correzioni” In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 38 (1980), 75-89

            J. Modrzejewski, “Papyrologie juridique.” In: Studia et Documenta Historiae et Iuris, vol. 47 (1981), 425-590; p. 551

            • Steven
              2011-11-09 10:29:25 UTC - 10:29 | Permalink

              I belive that their might have been another Felix other than the Lucius Munatius Felix because Felix was an extremely common name in Rome. Further Justin is not claiming the Felix he is referring to is the governor at the time he is writing rather he is reporting something that happened in the past. We also find in chapter 29 that mentions Felix a reference to Hadrian’s deceased and deified lover, Antinous, who died in October of 130 being referred to as someone, “…who was alive but lately…” Now unless you are thinking that in the ancient world 18 + years was considered lately then we must postulate that their must have been a Felix ruling in Alexandria before Lucius Munatius Felix was made prefect of Egypt in 148-149. Though I do leave open the possibility that L. Munatius Felix might have been governor of Alexandria before he was made Prefect of the whole of Egypt.

              • 2011-11-09 20:31:07 UTC - 20:31 | Permalink

                In Ch. 29, Antinous is said to have been alive but lately (“Antinoou tou nyn gegenemenou”). What is meant by “lately” depends on the context. We should begin by creating a timeline.

                In Ch 23, the focus is on Jesus. Justin seeks to show that the teaching of Christ and the prophets is alone true and is older than all other writers. In Chs. 24-29, Justin discusses the foolishness of allowing charlatans such as Simon Magus and Menander and misbelievers such as Marcion to go unguarded. As discussed by Moll, it becomes evident that Jesus, Simon Magus, and Menander, who all lived in the first Christian century, are seen as figures of the past, whereas Marcion is described as a man of the present. Antinous, represented as a point on this timeline, clearly belongs to the more recent past.

                Note also that the Antinous cult is described as a thing of the past: “Antinous … whom all were prompt, through fear, to worship as a god.” This adds to the impression that Justin is writing some years after Hadrian’s death in 138, after which year the cult was gradually suppressed.

                There can be few early Christian writings for which the internal evidence with regard to the date is as massive. According to Leslie William Barnard, Justin would have written his First Apology somewhere between 151 and 155, “which would agree with the internal evidence of the work” (Introduction to the first and second apologies, Paulist Press, 1997, p. 11).

              • pearl
                2011-11-10 04:30:50 UTC - 04:30 | Permalink

                Steven: “Further Justin is not claiming the Felix he is referring to is the governor at the time he is writing rather he is reporting something that happened in the past.”

                Michael: “Note also that the Antinous cult is described as a thing of the past: ‘Antinous … whom all were prompt, through fear, to worship as a god.’”

                Yes, Justin is reporting events that happened in the past. How far in the past is the question. Decades ago, several years ago, last year, last week, yesterday?

                Michael’s contextual approach is excellent, but interpretations can vary. Just some ideas:

                Chapter 23 sets up the argument against “scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions, of which there is neither witness nor proof”.
                Chapter 24 begins “In the first place [we furnish proof]…”
                Chapter 25 – “And, secondly,…”
                Chapter 26 – “And, thirdly,…”
                He has lined up the varieties of heathen worship, false gods, and magicians that have existed, describing how the devilish “other”, the heretics, came to be.
                Chapter 27-29 – “But as for us, we have been taught…” Justin then continues to describe Christian teachings followed by present Christians before jumping back into the past in subsequent chapters.
                Chapter 29 talks about how present Christians “live continently”. Justin offers a current example from “a short time ago” to substantiate this. And then he offers a contrasting example of Antinous, “who was alive but lately.”

                Timing is interesting here. It seems that a fairly current example of approval of living continently would be appropriate. “A short time ago” appears to indicate very recent past in Justin’s first example. The example of Antinous then is offered for comparison. If Justin is trying to counter scandalous reports still plaguing Christians, a comparison within a tighter timeframe might seem to pack a stronger punch, rather than using an occurrence from twenty or twenty-five years ago. Justin does make the point that Antinous “was alive, but lately.” Then again, the story of Antinous is well-known and perhaps current enough if considering a longer timeline (as proposed by Michael). As far as describing ”a thing of the past,” both Antinous’s death and formation of the cult occurred (at least a few years) before Justin wrote his Apology (whether one espouses the earlier or later date of composition). Considering though that Hadrian died in 138, the beginnings of suppression of the Antinous cult would offer a much timelier example of consequences of “origin”, in addition to Antinous’s death earlier, rather than dredging up memories of an old cult no longer active many years later.

                We do still have the issue of the petition in the first example being presented to Felix the governor. Lucius Munatius Felix existed. We do not have evidence that I’m aware of that another “Felix” was governor in Alexandria. But that point is disputed here by others in connection with other points regarding timing in this Apology.

              • 2011-11-10 19:31:10 UTC - 19:31 | Permalink

                Thanks to Pearl for these helpful comment. Undoubtedly, the evaluative criteria for determining what is recent and what is not are open to discussion. But I remain unconvinced that Felix, the prefect of the Roman province, might have been a different person than the Felix known to us from 31 different papyri.

                The situation is reminiscent of the problem faced by the apologists who seek to harmonize the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. The census mentioned in Luke 2:2 was conducted in 6 CE, but this date is not compatible with the notion that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BCE. Hence, apologists make Quirinius governor of Syria on “an earlier occasion,” or they claim there might have been “another Quirinius” in play as well! But there is no room for it. It is well documented who occupied the post in Herod’s time, and it was not Quirinius.

                Similarly, it is well documented who reigned as prefect of Egypt in the 130s CE, and it was not Felix.

        • pearl
          2011-11-09 07:10:46 UTC - 07:10 | Permalink

          Michael, thanks for sharing all your references and thoughts. Steven and rey, thank you for sharing your research and ideas.

          I am still curious about some loose ends, in addition to those mentioned by commentators here, such as whether there is any reasonable case for alternate possible dates of Heliodorus service from 138-140, and why Antinous, who died in 130, would be considered “alive but lately” almost 20 years later. I don’t usually think of 20 years ago as in the recent past, but then again maybe Justin did.

  • 2011-11-07 19:09:47 UTC - 19:09 | Permalink

    “The reason for Justins’ surprise that Marcion is still teaching is not his impressively long heretical career, but the fact that he is still active so long after the demons had put forward the other heretics.”

    That is total BULL CRAP.

    • 2011-11-07 19:11:01 UTC - 19:11 | Permalink

      Moll must just be another shill for ‘orthodoxy.’ His book should be burned.

      • 2011-11-08 13:34:14 UTC - 13:34 | Permalink

        Book burning is SO medieval.

        • 2011-11-20 10:03:38 UTC - 10:03 | Permalink

          So is Moll’s belief that it is a “fact” that the church at Rome “refunded” Marcion’s “donation” when he became “heretical”. This is scholarship? Is this rube not aware that there are three versions of the story? One in which Marcion is a bishop seeking to buy a second jurisdiction, one in which he was excommunicated for having premarital sex and tries to buy back fellowship–in both of which the church at Rome never accepts his money to begin with–and then the one Moll believes is a “fact.” This Moll guy is right out of the middle ages!

  • Dave Sabatene
    2011-11-16 07:45:17 UTC - 07:45 | Permalink

    The Marcion issue is highly confusing. Look at it this way, if despite mentioning Marcion’s heresy Justin doesn’t even hint at a Paul or epistles, this would raise the question as to why after all the years of activity of Marcion Justin doesn’t even make mention of them in the Apology. It’s not enough to rely on the passing comment that Justin had written a whole book against Marcion. So from the period of Justin until the official date of the writings of Irenaeus the entire corpus (virtually) of the epistles had to come into existence along with at least 4 gospels and Acts — a period of approximately 40 years, which is a very short window.

    Not only that, but if there really was an Apostolikon that contained the epistles that had been altered of their Judaic references, this would mean that someone ELSE had had access to all of them long before Marcion and had methodically “doctored” them. Or if this weren’t true, but the “proto-Orthodox” took his epistles and doctored them afterwards, one must wonder who a central authority was SO EARLY in the emergence of Christianity to be able to alter the epistles and get them accepted and standardized (long before there was a true central organization) ALL by the end of the 2nd century in time for Irenaeus to talk about them….

    UNLESS these historical chronologies are incorrect. Pray tell, why is it acceptable to question the authorship and veracity of the epistles and gospels themselves but NOT of the writings of “Irenaeus” and Tertullian??! It would seem just as likely that the book on heresies was not written at the end of the 2nd century but by someone else who later attributed it to Ireneaeus, long into the 3rd century. The commonly held scenarios of events in a mere 40 year period just make no sense if taken at face value.

    • 2011-11-16 19:15:11 UTC - 19:15 | Permalink

      I do not recall the source(s), sorry, but I have read scholarly expression(s) of the possibility that the author Justin was a literary persona for a later author. This is always a possibility. And then we have the strong possibility (even probability) of scribal insertions, deliberate or happenstance, cumulating into the original text over time.

      It has been argued, for example, that the passages in Justin addressing the “Memoirs of the Apostles” are discretely self-contained units and as such must be considered strong candidates as possible interpolations.

      Anyone familiar with the New Testament will, on reading Justin, be struck with not a few passages that loudly echo passages from Paul’s epistles to the Romans and Corinthians. John is also echoed.

      Questions, questions.

      I tend to speak of Justin’s works as products of the mid-second century but in the back of my mind I always acknowledge that I really have no substantial reason for doing so.

      • Dave Sabatene
        2011-11-16 23:06:11 UTC - 23:06 | Permalink

        Why would the focus be more on Justin than on Irenaeus and Tertullian and the belief that! Irenaeus suddenly had all the canonical texts before him when Justin had none only 40 years earlier?

        Presumably a later interpolater would have referred to gospels by name in Justin and made mention of the “beloved Paul”.

        Yet who tell us that the otherwise unknown Irenaeus wrote against heresies so early?

        What if Irenaeus and Tertullian were composites assembled a century later?

        • 2011-11-17 08:56:06 UTC - 08:56 | Permalink

          I used Justin as an example because I have read Justin’s works several times and studied quite a bit about his works but I don’t know Irenaeus or Tertullian to the same extent at all. I assume that in some measure the same principles would apply to these names, too.

          I really don’t know enough about I and T and the external references to their texts to comment, sorry. Maybe some on FRDB or ChristianMysteries will be able to help.

    • 2011-11-20 10:05:39 UTC - 10:05 | Permalink

      “The Marcion issue is highly confusing. Look at it this way, if despite mentioning Marcion’s heresy Justin doesn’t even hint at a Paul or epistles, this would raise the question as to why after all the years of activity of Marcion Justin doesn’t even make mention of them in the Apology.”

      Because he’s supposedly writing to the Emperor on behalf of Christianity. It makes sense for him to mention the existence of heretics–maybe even the names of a few–but not to get into the nitty gritty of arguments about various competing Christian canons. Duh.

      • 2011-11-20 10:09:07 UTC - 10:09 | Permalink

        A secondary reason is Justin’s tradition obviously doesn’t have or recognize Paul. Justin can’t mention Paul as his own apostle–for he believes only in the 12, which is why there is no mention of Paul in the Apology or in the Dialogue with Trypho. And there is no need to mention Marcion’s fictional apostle–for so Justin would think of him–because he’s fictional. And what need is there to bore the Emperor with that issue–whether Paul is real or fictional? I don’t believe Justin really is writing for the Emperor. He’s writing for other Christians, the whole apology to the emperor thing being a ruse, but to some extent he has to keep up the ruse.

      • Dave Sabatene
        2011-11-20 18:39:10 UTC - 18:39 | Permalink

        If Justin didn’t want the authorities to know his opinions about hereti, then who did Irenaeus supposedly think would read his book, or Tertullian for thst matter? Did they have disclaimers saying that imperial leaders were not to read their writings?

  • Dave Sabatene
    2011-11-17 22:14:43 UTC - 22:14 | Permalink

    How is it that Justin claims Marcion is still teaching heresy without Justin even mentioning ONCE in the Apology the name Paul or a single epistle?! Especially since Justin *supposedly* wrote against him? The traditional narrative of the Marcion episode is as full of holes as Swiss cheese.

    • Dave Sabatene
      2011-11-17 22:20:33 UTC - 22:20 | Permalink

      And then supposedly in the same city of Rome a mere 40 years later the proto orthodox of Irenaeus had almost all epistles and four complete canon gospels with no explanation of where they all were for an entire century?! With veneration of Paul who prior to Irenaeus was not mentioned but simply adopted from Marcion though Justin knew nothing about it ?!

      • Dave Sabatene
        2011-11-17 22:35:00 UTC - 22:35 | Permalink

        Sorry, I forgot to mention Acts, which also suddenly appeared within that very narrow period of 30 to 40 years EVEN if it was meant as a challenge to Galatians. Who got all this stuff organized and presented so quickly? Most epistles, Acts and 4 canon gospels all basically thanks to Marcion that are not even mentioned by Justin Martyr. Furthermore, the very idea that as early as the mid second century a book on heresies against the very new proto orthodox makes absolutely no sense. If Tertullian ‘s writings against Marcion were a major product of the beginning of the third century then how could it be that Marcion’s own contemporary in an entire Apology doesn’t mention Marcion’s Apostolikon book of his gospel and the epistles even a single time?
        And if Justin’s writings were written much later, then why did the interpolater resist referring to the Memoirs as named gospels and to the name of beloved Paul?!

  • Dave Sabatene
    2011-11-18 01:48:32 UTC - 01:48 | Permalink

    Looking over the 5 “books” of Tertullian about Marcion, I can’t help wondering who the author was writing for? Not the average Joe or man in the street. Furthermore, if I didn’t know that the tradition ascribes these five articles about Marcion to the end of the 2nd century, I would sure say they were written a century or more later. Is Tertullian writing for an emperor? Who is he trying to convince? Masses of ordinary people who are attracted to Marcionism? Those who FUND the various religious sects in Rome? This type of writing definitely sounds like it was written at a more advanced stage when the proto-orthodox were in much greater control of things. Not in the 2nd century, that’s for sure.

  • Michael W. Nordbakke
    2011-11-18 02:09:10 UTC - 02:09 | Permalink

    Dave wrote, “How is it that Justin claims Marcion is still teaching heresy without Justin even mentioning ONCE in the Apology the name Paul or a single epistle?!”

    Explicit citations from Paul are absent from Justin’s writings. However, allusions to Romans and Galatians are found in his Dialogue with Trypho, a somewhat later work than the First Apology. Chapters 95 and 96 of the Dialogue seem to be partly based on Galatians 3. Oddly enough, Justin sometimes quotes the Jewish scriptures as they are translated in Romans 2-4 and 9-11 rather than in the LXX.

    In answer to the question as to why Justin avoids citing Paul, many writers argue that Justin’s main purpose is to convince Trypho of the truth of Christianity. Since Paul’s authority is not accepted by non-Christians, Justin would not help his cause by mentioning the apostle. Therefore, instead of citing Paul, the author appeals to the Jewish scriptures, which he and Trypho mutually hold in respect. Justin may have found the Pauline arguments useful without wanting to cite them literally from Marcion’s canon. (A possible chronology is as follows: Acts, ca. 135 CE; Galatians/Romans, ca. 140 CE; Dialogue with Trypho, ca. 160 CE.)

    A peculiarity of Moll’s book is that the author refers to the New Testament as if the Athanasian canon had already been “emerging” long before Marcion:

    “Marcion radically changed the (emerging) New Testament according to his doctrine, not only by limiting it to a very small number of texts, but also by cutting out passages within the remaining ones…” (p. 82).

    Moll ignores the fact that Marcion’s canon constitutes the earliest example of a specifically Christian canon.

    • Dave Sabatene
      2011-11-18 03:57:36 UTC - 03:57 | Permalink

      Either way, it still remains a mystery as to why then Justin in his Apology would not cite anything about a Paul or epistles even a single time if old Marcion was who Irenaeus and Tertullian are claimed to have said he was, UNLESS the so-called battle against the heretics and these writings did not emerge for a long time!

    • Dave Sabatene
      2011-11-18 04:01:43 UTC - 04:01 | Permalink

      Allusions aren’t good enough. As a matter of fact I would like to see explicit citations even in Irenaeus from the gospels and epistles, but certainly in Justin, because allusions are usually sayings that can be floating around and find their way into an epistle too

      • Michael W. Nordbakke
        2011-11-18 06:36:16 UTC - 06:36 | Permalink

        It is undoubtedly true that the history of Christianity up to ca. 250 CE lies very much in the dark. Regarding Tertullian, an unknown amateur scholar (Ignacio Zubillaga) once wrote an interesting essay called “Did Tertullian Really Exist? Did Cyprian? Did Hippolytus?”

        According to Zubillaga, fourth-century events from the era of Diocletian and Constantine can be traced in the writings of these allegedly third-century Fathers of the Church. Zubillaga’s essay used to be available at GeoCities, but unfortunately it is no longer online.

  • 2011-11-18 06:50:19 UTC - 06:50 | Permalink

    It was quite normal for names of opponents to be not mentioned, let alone their sources. We can’t expect Justin’s surviving works to be like those of Irenaeus. We don’t know what Justin said in his lost works. Maybe they contained ideas the orthodox did not see fit to preserve. We just don’t know.

    • Roger Parvus
      2011-11-19 03:07:16 UTC - 03:07 | Permalink

      In the earliest mention of a Pauline letter collection, it is in the hands of a Simonian named Cerdo who came to Rome shortly before Marcion’s arrival there. It may be that the proto-orthodox church of Rome (including Justin) and Marcion first learned of the existence of a person named Paul and his letters through Cerdo. If so, that would not have been the sort of thing to inspire confidence in someone like Justin who clearly did not have a very favorable opinion of Simon of Samaria and his followers. If Justin suspected the letter collection brought to Rome by Cerdo was in fact Simonian in origin, would he have used it?

      The idea that the letters were actually Simonian in origin may not be as farfetched as it sounds. For there is another early document that – like Justin – mentions Simon but not Paul: the document that underlies the pseudo-Clementines. And in chapter 17 of the pseudo-Clementine Homelies there is an apparent reference to an incident related in the letter to the Galatians: the contest at Antioch (Gal. 2:11). And in the Homelies it is Simon–not Paul–who says Peter is “condemned.” Hmmm.

      There are other similar oddities in the early record. For instance: Epiphanius apparently found in Simon’s writings an allegorical interpretation of an expression that is currently found in one of the Pauline letters. Epiphanius accused Simon of distorting the meaning of Paul’s letter, just as he distorted the rest of the Scriptures. But according to the usual scenario, Simon and Paul were supposedly contemporaries, weren’t they? Why would Simon have been quoting as authoritative the letter of a contemporary of his? Moreover, a contemporary who—again, in the usual scenario—was his competitor for Gentile converts? Why would Simon—who claimed to be somebody “great”—quote as an authority Paul, the “little” one? Is it not more likely that Simon was explaining one of his own expressions? If “Pauline” letters were later put together from Simonian materials (by Cerdo?), it is easy to see how Epiphanius might later think Simon was guilty of allegorizing “Paul.”

      If the “Pauline” letters were originally Simonian, I expect the proto-orthodox Roman church would have initially hesitated in deciding what to do with them. Some, like Justin, just refused to use them. Others decided that if they modified the letters in a few places and wrote an acceptable biography for their author (accomplished by the Acts of the Apostles in the 150s), the letters could safely be used. Marcion too who, according to the early record, came under Cerdo’s influence, was won over by the letter collection. But he too had to make some changes to them. Simonians did not totally reject the Old Testament. They interpreted it allegorically, especially the book of Genesis. Marcion was convinced that the Father of Jesus was a previously unknown and alien God who was completely distinct from the God of the Old Testament. So Marcion would have had to edit from the letters anything that did not square with his alien God doctrine. For centuries afterward the proto-orthodox and Marcionites would accuse each other of doing violence to the letters. I suspect that they were both guilty of that offense, but that the original culprit was Cerdo or some other Simonian.

      • C.J. O'Brien
        2011-11-19 04:00:08 UTC - 04:00 | Permalink

        If the “suitable biography” was written at Rome at that late date, why would it not have included Paul’s martyrdom? It seems to me that it would have been a crucial ingredient for suitability at that time and place.

        • Roger Parvus
          2011-11-19 07:19:44 UTC - 07:19 | Permalink

          I think it was Paul’s orthodoxy, not his martyrdom that was the first concern for the proto-orthodox. I don’t think they were particularly interested in filling in all the details, whether in regard to Paul or even in regard to Jesus and the gospels. They wisely left a lot of their options open. No need to commit on lesser issues. Look how even later on they were not concerned with all the contradictions that existed between the four gospels that ultimately passed their screening! What was all-important and non-negotiable for the proto-orthodox was that the Father of Jesus had to be the Creator of this world, the God of the Old Testament. And that God had to be not just the supreme God, but the only God. If you could come up with bio for “Paul” or Jesus that make them orthodox on those issues, you probably could have got a hearing from them. No need to limit yourself to one entry, and please feel free to be creative. Borrowing freely from the Old Testament is especially encouraged. But make sure whatever you submit is orthodox as defined above. Simonian entries will be subject to editing!

          I am of the opinion that the proto-orthodox Roman church came into existence in the 130s as a reaction to Simonianism. Some Roman Gentile God-fearers (and/or perhaps Jewish proselytes) were offended by the blasphemous claims made by the Christians of that time who all belonged to some variety of Simonianism. What the proto-orthodox found offensive was that Christians relegated the God of the Old Testament to an inferior status. He was just one of the angels who created this inferior world. He was not the supreme God. So Roman proto-orthodoxy was formed to create a new type of Christianity, one in which Jesus would be the Son of the Creator of this world, the Son of the one true God who speaks in the writings of the Old Testament.

          One indication that proto-orthodoxy was a latecomer to the Christian scene is the fact that neither Justin nor 1 Clement (which I date to the 140s) provide names of predecessor Christians belonging to the CE 60 to 130 time period. That period is a big hole, a gap which they try to fill by vaguely appealing to “those the apostles left in charge, and those who they in turn left in charge.” But no names are provided. Surely if Roman proto-orthodoxy had some kind of previous history, names would have been given of at least some of their leaders and prominent people. Even mediocre and non-descript types would have been made into examples by legend along the lines of what we see later on in Christian history. In contrast, Justin knows the name of Simon’s successor: Menander.And he knows of Basilides and Saturninus who, Irenaeus later acknowledges, were pupils of Menander. So the proto-orthodox provide us with a line of succession for the Simoninans, but –-until the time of Irenaeus–not for the proto-orthodox. As I see it the “Pauline school” that scholars like to appeal to but can’t provide names for had Menander, Basilides and Saturninus as teachers.

      • Dave Sabatene
        2011-11-19 04:52:12 UTC - 04:52 | Permalink

        Thanks Roger. Your scenario assumes that although a historical Jesus and even mainstream Paul did not exist, a Simon did exist as “Paul”. It also assumes that Justin knew about the epistles, and that the apologists’ storyline about Marcion is basically accurate. But isn’t this based on speculation?

        • Roger Parvus
          2011-11-19 05:57:18 UTC - 05:57 | Permalink

          Yes. But do you know of a scenario that is not speculative? I am arranging the existing pieces of the puzzle in a new way that seems plausible to me. But yes, I realize that others arrange them in other speculative ways. And I hope you are aware that your own proposal that all the writings of Justin, Irenaeus and Tertullian were actually composed in the third century is more than a tad speculative!

          • Dave Sabatene
            2011-11-19 06:27:28 UTC - 06:27 | Permalink

            It actually may not be so speculative because of certain issues. The primary issue is that Justin never actually mentions a single thing about a Marcion apostolikon despite the fact that he was a contemporary supposedly of Marcion. Yet a bare 40 years later Irenaeus supposedly tells us about four gospels and Paul and his epistles, as if the reader takes for granted what he’s talking about. Furthermore, the claims of Tertullian who goes into more detail than Irenaeus tells us that the epistles were always around with no evidence. And Marcion proceeded to change them because according to Marcion there must have been one central handler who altered the epistles in a uniform way by adding Judaic references.
            This scenario is totally illogical. Add to that the tendency of scholars to take Tertullian and Eusebius as the “gospel truth. ”
            What appears to me is backdating books into the second century. Does it make sense that someone would be writing for some unknown LITERATE audience about heresies in the second century? At least Justin wants to write only to an emperor. If someone were forging Justin they would have thrown in some things identifying the 4 sacred gospels and beloved Paul. Something.
            Ergo, I am forced to conclude that neither the epistles nor the gospels were known constants and the folks writing epistles had different beliefs than the gospel authors, though they may have emerged independent of the gospels but simultaneously, but as competing teachings.

            • 2011-11-20 10:19:05 UTC - 10:19 | Permalink

              Obviously Paul isn’t mentioned by Justin because Paul is an invention of Marcion as are the original versions of the Pauline epistles. That’s why Tertullian and Ireneaus have a problem with Marcion’s shorter version of Paul’s epistles later on. By the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian, the catholic church has taken Marcion’s invention–the Pauline epistles–and added lots of material to them. They now need the originals–Marcion’s edition–to disappear. They further need to forge texts quoting Paul which they can retroject into the 2nd century BEFORE Marcion in order to ‘prove’ that their longer edition of the Pauline text is pre-Marcion when in fact it is post-Marcion. For this reason they forge the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp as well as 1st Clement.

              • Dave Sabatene
                2011-11-20 18:34:10 UTC - 18:34 | Permalink

                Who was the central Catholic authority calling the shots in the second century!!

              • Roger Parvus
                2011-11-20 23:46:39 UTC - 23:46 | Permalink

                “…Paul is an invention of Marcion as are the original versions of the Pauline epistles.” (reyjacobs)

                In addition to the apparent Simonian possession (Cerdo) of the Pauline letters prior to Marcion, another problem I have with the contention that Marcionites wrote the Pauline letters is that the letters do not mention a teaching, miracle-working, disciple-gathering Jesus. I know one can always fall back on the old argument that the whoever wrote the letters was not really that interested in the teachings, miracles, disciples and life of Jesus, but I find that argument even harder to accept in the case of the Marcionites. For it seems beyond question that the Marcionites possessed a gospel with a teaching, miracle-working, disciple-gathering Jesus. So if they invented the Pauline letters, why did they not put some of those items in them. If Jesus’ teaching, for example, about good-fruit-from-a-good-tree and new-wine-doesn’t-go-in-old-wineskins was so important to Marcion, why not make his new Paul explicitly write about it?

                I think it makes more sense to see the material in the Pauline letters as being originally Simonian. The author of the original material didn’t mention a teaching, miracle-working, disciple-gathering Jesus because that part of the Jesus story did not exist at the time he wrote. It could have been as late as CE 130 before someone (a Simonian, I would argue) wrote the first gospel that had a teaching, miracle-working, disciple-gathering Jesus.

                I do acknowledge, though, that Marcion’s understanding of the letters was quite close to their original meaning. There are tenets of his that coincide with what Simonians held. For instance, in isolation it would be very hard to tell whether the following text is Simonian or Marcionite:

                “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being;’ the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren; flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:42-51)

                In this passage man is perishable because he was created that way. His creator made him “from the earth,” “of dust,” and he is “flesh and blood.” He has a physical body, and because of that it is perishable, and will be sown in dishonor and weakness. That is Simonian doctrine but one that Marcion also adopted. Both of them blamed the God who created man for his materiality and perishability. And for both of them that guilty God was the God of Jews.

                [Of course, most biblical scholars are convinced the author of the letters was orthodox in his beliefs about God and so they immediately “correct” the text. The idea is that Paul must have been orthodox (doesn’t the Acts of the Apostles vouch for it? and aren’t there passages sprinkled here and there throughout the letters that show Paul was orthodox?), so an orthodox sense should be imposed on the passage. To do that, the scholars bring sin into 1 Cor. 15:42-51. What Paul really meant was that God created man imperishable but, because of man’s sin, he was punished by being made perishable. Do you see sin mentioned in the passage? I don’t. But that doesn’t stop Alan Segal, for instance, from making this comment on the text:

                “As Paul connects his own conversion with his resurrection in Christ, it is a resurrection that brings the salvation of God and a return to the pristine state of humanity’s glory before Adam’s fall” (my emphasis; Segal’s “Paul the Convert,” p. 65). The passage says nothing about “Adam’s fall,” but surely it must have been that that caused man’s perishability because, as Segal points out, twenty verses earlier in the chapter it says “by a man came death.”

                The Roman proto-orthodox church had no need to eliminate Simonian taint from every single tainted passage in the letters. It was enough for them to establish a guiding principle: Paul is orthodox. They established that principle by composing the Acts of the Apostles and making modifications here and there in the letter collection. As long as readers and scholars keep that guiding principle before their eyes, they won’t be led astray by so many passages in Paul’s letters that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Whether it is Paul referring to the God of the Jews as “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians; or saying that the Law was given by stoicheia angels in Galatians, or accusing the Jews of “angel-worship” in Colossians, their faith will be protected from Simonian stain as long as they always remember that the author of the Pauline letters was orthodox. ]

              • Dave Sabatene
                2011-11-20 23:57:09 UTC - 23:57 | Permalink

                Who were the Roman church and when did they do all this in a uniform manner? Was it between the time of Justin and Irenaeus over a period that is traditionally held to be around only 40 years??

              • 2011-11-21 06:27:46 UTC - 06:27 | Permalink

                I am currently grappling with Walter Schmithal’s pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism in “Gnostics in Corinth”. Still attempting to get my head around Simonian teachings and the subsequent discussion of the different types of “Christ” injection into this ‘system’.


              • Roger Parvus
                2011-11-22 00:16:48 UTC - 00:16 | Permalink

                As I recall, Schmithals analyzes Simon’s “Apophasis Megale” and concludes that it is in fact a pre-Christian Gnostic system, no? If it was, it would apparently belong to the time before Simon came to believe in a Son of God who was crucified. In Acts of the Apostles Simon is described as having been active as a teacher in Samaria before becoming a Christian. It says that Simon, before he ever became a Christian, was revered by many in Samaria as “the Great Power of God.” I realize that the reliability of Acts is minimal, but I point this out as one possible indication that Simon had already embraced or developed a Gnostic system before his Christian days. So the question I am grapple with is: Could the person responsible for the system in the Apophasis Megale have later gone on – under the influence of about twenty years of new beliefs in a crucified and resurrected Son of God — to write the kind of material that is in the Pauline letters?

                In regard to trying to get your head around Simon’s pre-Christian system: In volume 1 of Francis Legge’s “Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity” there is a chapter on Simon Magus that discusses his “Apophasis Megale.” I have found it useful on some points. If you have access to it, perhaps the different presentation of a different author will be helpful.

              • Dave Sabatene
                2011-11-22 00:25:21 UTC - 00:25 | Permalink

                Where does Philo’s description of the Logos as “son of God” fit into this picture? Ironically he wrote early in the first century yet the gospel mentioning the Logos came after the Synoptics.
                And although it is argued that the epistles preceded the gospels, Justin only mentioned gospel stories.

              • 2011-11-22 08:54:00 UTC - 08:54 | Permalink

                Thank for reminding me of that book. I do have it — picked it up in a random bookstore but because it is over-size I had set it aside and forgotten it. It is also online: http://www.archive.org/stream/forerunnersandri009053mbp/forerunnersandri009053mbp_djvu.txt

              • Roger Parvus
                2011-11-23 01:53:24 UTC - 01:53 | Permalink

                “Where does Philo’s description of the Logos as “son of God” fit into this picture?” (Dave Sabatene)


                Besides the obvious (i.e. Philo did not claim the Logos had been crucified and resurrected), there is another crucial difference the systems of the two men: Simon’s system relegated the Creator God of the Jews to the status of one of the lower angels; in Philo’s Logos system the God of the Jews is the one and only supreme God..

                In Simon’s system a supreme God made the higher worlds, while lower angels – among which was the God of the Jews – made this lower visible, material world. As the work of the lower angels, this world is fit only to be ultimately burned up. Its defectiveness is intrinsic, and is not due – as the Old Testament would have it – to man’s sin. The same lower angels turned on the higher power [Sophia – wisdom] who made them and imprisoned her in a series of human bodies. And Simon taught that they are also the ones who made the Law, making “whatever enactments they pleased, thinking by such legislative words to bring into bondage those who listened to them” (Hippolytus 6,14). Simon’s followers taught basically the same. Thus according to Saturninus “The world and everything in it came into being from seven angels, and man also was a creation of angels… The God of the Jews… was one of the angels; and because all the archons wanted to destroy the Father, Christ came for the destruction of the God of the Jews and the salvation of those who believe in him” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” 1, 24, 2). Likewise Basilides “presents Nous [mind] originating first from the unoriginate Father, and Logos [word] originating from him, then from Logos Phronesis [prudence], from Phronesis Sophia [wisdom] and Dynamis [power], from Dynamis and Sophia the powers, principalities and angels who are also called the first, and by them the first heaven was made. From their emanation other angels were made, and they made another heaven like the first… But those angels who possess the last heaven, which is the one seen by us, set up everything in the world, and divided between them the earth and the nations upon it. Their chief is the one known as the God of the Jews…” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,’ 1,24,3).

                As you know, I think Christianity was predominantly Simonian until around 130 when some Roman God-fearers and/or Jewish proselytes decided to attempt to change it. They could not let Christianity’s insulting and blasphemous estimation of the God of the Jews continue unchallenged. They started a new type of Christianity, one that had the God of the Jews, the Creator of this world, as the Father of Christ. The next time you read proto-orthodox writings (e.g. Justin Martyr, 1 Clement), notice how frequently they refer to God as the Maker or Creator of all things. It was deliberate. It was necessary in order to remake Christianity.

                And if, as I have proposed in other posts, the Pauline letters were put together by a Simoninan from Simonian material, the proto-orthodox would have had to either refuse to use them (apparently Justin’s position) or make changes that would turn them into orthodox missives. Ultimately – especially after the composition of Acts of the Apostles – it was this second way of dealing with the letters that won out. I’ll finish with one illustration of how this was done:

                J. C. O’Neill, in his “Paul’s Letter to the Romans,” identifies Romans 1:18 through 2:29 as an interpolation. He sees the interpolation as having originally been “ a traditional tract which belongs essentially to the missionary literature of Hellenistic Judaism… a straightforward example of the arguments employed by Greek-speaking Jews scattered in communities throughout the Hellenistic world, now under Roman rule, who were trying to convert their Gentile neighbors ” (p. 54). But “the language in which the argument is expressed is unlike Paul’s usual language in both vocabulary and style…” And “it is very hard to see how the argument would fit into the train of thought so strikingly begun in 1:1-17” (p. 41). The “the line of argument is irrelevant to his immediate purpose.” It “puts forward ideas that take not the slightest account of the most pressing issues dealt with in Romans.” (p. 53)

                If O’Neill is right (and I think he is), the next question is: Why did someone insert this section right in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans? O’Neill suggests that “it seemed an obvious supplement to Paul’s argument to point out that refusal to worship the Creator led to immorality” (p. 41). But I would argue that it was more than an innocent, casual supplement. It was the means by which to turn the Simonian author of the letter, right from its beginning, into a proto-orthodox Christian. It was the means to establish in the reader’s mind from the outset that the author embraced the orthodox Jewish belief that the Creator of this visible world is God. Here how the interpolation begins:

                “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. EVER SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD HIS INVISIBLE NATURE, NAMELY, HIS ETERNAL POWER AND DEITY, HAS BEEN CLEARLY PERCEIVED IN THE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened” (my emphasis).

                The interpolation colors the way readers will understand the rest of the letter and the other letters in the collection. It tells the reader loud and clear that that Paul held proto-orthodox beliefs regarding the Creator of the material world. And with that established, any leftover traces of Simonianism in the letters will be harmless. When Paul in 2 Corinthians, for instance, uses the expression “god of this world” for the God of the Jews, readers will automatically take it to be a reference to the devil. And when Paul, in Colossians, accuses the Jews of “angel-worship,” readers will assume he must be referring not to the Jews but to some unknown kooky sect that observed the Sabbath. Why? Because Acts of the Apostles and proto-orthodox passages sprinkled throughout the Pauline letters vouch for his orthodoxy.

              • Dave Sabatene
                2011-11-23 04:22:00 UTC - 04:22 | Permalink

                Hi, Roger. I will reread your posting again, thanks. However, it seems that the whole direction of this is built on very scant and unreliable information on someone named Simon Magus and Simonianism, in the same vein as little is known traditionally about “Paul” or for that matter about “Jesus.” Aside from taking the writings of ancient apologists with a huge grain of salt as we have discussed.

              • 2011-11-23 19:38:23 UTC - 19:38 | Permalink

                Roger, I don’t have the time I’d like to bring myself up to speed with this question as quickly as I’d like — let alone refresh my memory on what I have read in past years — so can only go one small step at a time.

                Is your view similar to that of Hermann Detering?

                I am trying to recall where I read a small bibliography of scholar(s?) who have (recently?) argued that the Pauline epistles are far more in tact (relatively few interpolations) than many scholars dealing with Marcionism have traditionally thought. Do you know who this/these authors are?

                As you probably know I am making blog notes as I try to get on top of Schmithals’ discussion of pre-Christian Christ gnosticism and am beginning with his argument that the Simonian gnosticism as described by Hippolytus was earlier than the type of Simonian gnosticism you have described here. I welcome contrary views to what I am outlining in those posts. As I said, I am slowly trying to get back on top of some of the issues here and am quite prepared to eventually learn that I will turn my back completely on the Schmithals’ argument in the future. But before I can do that I want to be sure I grasp it first – though any contrary views in the meantime will be most useful.

              • Roger Parvus
                2011-11-24 04:23:05 UTC - 04:23 | Permalink


                Simply put, I’m exploring the possibility that much of the material in the Pauline letters may be Simonian in origin. Some parts would go back to Simon, some perhaps to his successor Menander, and some (the deutero-Paulines?) to an even later Simonian (Saturninus? Or Basilides). I am wondering if what mainstream scholars usually refer to as “the Pauline school” that wrote the letters was in reality the leaders of the Simonian communities that existed from 50 to 130 CE. As part of this scenario a Simonian (Cerdo?) at some point gathered together some materials (letters, instructions, responses to questions, etc.) belonging to his community, put them into a ten letter format, and made to them any name changes that would be needed to conceal their true provenance. When the letters came to the attention of the proto-orthodox church at Rome, some (Justin) recognized what they were and ignored them. Others realized that — with a few further changes – the letters could be co-opted for proto-orthodoxy.

                I am not sure if Hermann Detering’s view differs from the above. It would seem so, if I am understanding correctly the writings of his that are available on his website. He seems to hold that the Pauline letters were written by Marcionites. Yet I notice that Robert M. Price, in his “The Pre-Nicene New Testament,” describes Dr. Detering’s position differently. He writes:

                “Does this identification mean that some Christian authors occasionally used Simon Magus as a satirical mask for Paul as Baur thought? Or does the identification go deeper? Was the historical Paul actually Simon? Hermann Detering and Stephan Hermann Huller think so. This would certainly explain the business about Simon being the father of heresy and Gnosticism because it would mean the same as Tertullian’s famous description of Paul as the ‘apostle of Marcion and the apostle of the heretics.’ The earliest Paulinists we know of, including the earliest to write commentaries on his epistles, were Marcionites and Gnostics. As the church fathers make them the whelps of Simon, the Gnostics themselves claim to hail from Paul. Detering and Huller turn Baur’s position on its head; instead of Simon being a polemical mask, Paul is the orthodox, sanitized version of Simon, a kind of ventriloquist dummy for orthodoxy once Simon and his letters had been co-opted by the emerging Catholic Church.” (pp. 34-5).

                So if Price’s description of Detering’s (and Huller’s) position is accurate, that “Paul is the orthodox, sanitized version of Simon” and “Simon and his letters were co-opted by the emerging Catholic church,” then, yes, our views appear to be basically the same. (By the way, Robert Price has a book due out in February entitled “The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul.” On one of his podcasts he indicated that one issue the book will address is this relationship between Simon of Samaria and Paul.)

                In regard to the bibliography of authors who discuss the extent of interpolation in the Paulines: I’m sorry but I have not heard of that. One observation I would like to make though, is that if the authors of the original material in the letters were Simonians, many of the quotes from the Old Testament in the letters could have been part of that original material, not interpolations. Simon’s “Apophasis Megale” used some verses from the Old Testament to support his system. Unlike Marcion, most Gnostics did not have a problem with using the book of Genesis, and incorporating pre-Mosaic figures like Seth, Enoch, and Melchizedech into their system. I see no reason why Simon or an early Simonian could not have written the parts of the Paulines that concern pre-circumcision Abraham and his salvation by faith. In contrast, a Marcionite could not have written those passages. If they were in the original letters, Marcion would have had to cut them out. (I realize, of course, that those who are proponents of Marcionite authorship of the letters argue that all positive references to the Old Testament in the letters are later proto-orthodox interpolations. That would mean a very considerable amount of interpolation. And to my mind, such a large amount of Old Testament insertions would have been overkill. Wouldn’t just a few interpolated passages praising the Old Testament have been sufficient for a proto-orthodox interpolator to make his point?)

                In regard to Schmithal’s “Gnosticism in Corinth:” The type of Simonianism that I described in my post is also largely drawn from Hippolytus’ description of it. But what scholars –including Schmithals – do is recognize that the first part of Hippolytus’ description contains quotes from Simon’s “Apophasis Megale.” Then, Hippolytus goes on apparently to describe Simon’s subsequent Christian development of his system, and even some development that occurred among his followers after his death.

                The “Apophasis Megale” has no Christian content. That is why I pointed out in a previous post that it seems to belong to Simon’s pre-Christian career, before he came to believe in a Son of God who had been crucified. I will have to dig out my copy of Schmithal’s book (still packed from a recent move) to refresh my memory. But as I recall, his analysis of Simon’s pre-Christian Gnostic system is restricted to an examination of the “Apophasis Megale.”

                Your blog notes bring out many good points and I am reading them with interest. I think, for example, that Schmithal’s comment is on target that “In the framework of the system of the Apophasis, of course, this claim (to be the Great Power of God) cannot be meant in an exclusive sense. Nevertheless one must describe the Simon of the [Apophasis], using the traditional concepts, as redeemer or, better, as revealer, even if his self-consciousness is not different from that of men in general who have stamped their [power] into an [image/εικων].” I too doubt that Simon went around claiming in an exclusive sense that he was the Great Power of God. Just as I think he did not go around later and claim to be “in Christ” in an exclusive sense. I expect that after he came to believe in a crucified and risen Son of God, he saw himself as a chosen apostle of Christ to the Gentiles but yet still sharing with those who believed in his message the mystical being “in Christ.” His claim to divinity is probably to be understood in the sense that Gnostics generally made such claims, though he no doubt did stake out some special, singular role for himself in regard to it.

                But like the Jesus figure in the Mark’s allegorical Gospel, he did not go around loudly proclaiming “I am God.” That is likely just proto-orthodox caricature. And their real objection to Simon was that his system put this visible world and its creators – which would include, as is clear from the Old Testament, the God of the Jews — at the bottom of the barrel. In Simon’s defense, he was clearly an “equal opportunity” insulter; for Greeks could hardly have been pleased to learn from him that he had found their Helen working in a brothel in Tyre! (I think, by the way, that Helen turns up as Magdalene in Mark’s Gospel. The meaning of the root word of ‘Magdalene’ is ‘tower.’ In his exposition of Simon’s teaching, Epiphanius quotes Simon as saying, “And she it is who is now with me, and on her account have I descended. AND SHE WAS LOOKING FOR MY COMING. For she is Thought, called Helen in Homer. And it was on this account that HOMER WAS COMPELLED TO PORTRAY HER AS STANDING ON A TOWER…” [my emphases]. In Mark’s Gospel, Magdalene the ‘tower’ woman “looks on from afar” Mk. 15:40. And in Luke’s Gospel it says she had been possessed by seven demons. Simon is vague as to the number of creator angels who held Helen (Sophia) captive. Saturrninus is precise: the number of creator angels was seven.)

                I notice too you included in your notes this verse from the Apophasis Megale: “One who is now small will then become great.” I wonder if this, in a nutshell, was the inspiration behind the connection between Simon the “Great One” ( = Megas) and the name Paul, the “small one” (= Paulus). And if it is the reason why whoever receives a “small one” in Christ’s name, receives Christ; and whoever receives Christ, receives the One who sent him (Mk. 9:37). And the reason why the kingdom of heaven is like the smallest of seeds that becomes the largest of plants (Mk. 4:31-32). I wonder.

      • 2011-11-20 10:37:45 UTC - 10:37 | Permalink

        “In the earliest mention of a Pauline letter collection, it is in the hands of a Simonian named Cerdo who came to Rome shortly before Marcion’s arrival there.” (Parvus)

        What is this earliest mention?

        • Roger Parvus
          2011-11-20 20:20:58 UTC - 20:20 | Permalink

          What I should have said is that in the writings of the proto-orthodox heresy hunters Cerdo is the earliest individual who is described as having a collection of Pauline letters. In chapter 6 of Pseudo-Tertullian’s “Against All Heresies” it says regarding Cerdo that “The Gospel of Luke alone, and that not entire, doe he receive. Of the Apostle Paul he takes neither all the epistles, nor in the integrity.” Then shortly after that: “After him (Cerdo) emerged a disciple of his, one Marcion by name, a native of Pontus… He… attempted to prove the heresy of Cerdo; so his assertions are identical with those of the former heretic before him.”

          A number of other anti-heretical writings blame Cerdo as being the one who corrupted Marcion’s faith at Rome. And they claim that Cerdo was a Simonian. He was from Antioch which was the base of Simon’s successor Menander. And Menander’s pupil Saturninus was also active in Antioch. It is unclear whether Saturninus was still alive when Cerdo left Antioch for Rome, but Justin’s mention of Saturnilians seems to indicate that the sect was at least still in existence around 150.

        • M. W. Nordbakke
          2011-11-21 12:59:26 UTC - 12:59 | Permalink

          Regarding Cerdo, does anybody know if this is a Latin name? If so, the meaning of the word is “craftsman.” The word “Demiurge” is Greek meaning “craftsman.” Might there be a connection? (Cerdo allegedly taught that there are two gods, a lower Demiurge and the supreme God.)

          Is Irenaeus the earliest writer to mention Cerdo? If so, one may suspect that Irenaeus invented him in order to derive Marcion’s heresy from an earlier one. Theologically, Cerdo makes the impression of being Marcion’s twin brother.

          • 2011-11-21 22:11:09 UTC - 22:11 | Permalink

            Or possibly the name was a title, not unlike Simon’s name being changed to Peter?

            • M. W. Nordbakke
              2011-11-22 00:32:09 UTC - 00:32 | Permalink

              Cerdo might indeed be an epithet. This reminds me of Harnack’s hypothesis that Marcionite Christians could have used the term “Peregrinus” to describe themselves; cf. Lucian’s character, Peregrinus Proteus. “Peregrinus” (meaning “stranger”) would have been an allusion to the “Stranger God,” i.e., Marcion’s God:


              Alternatively, Cerdo might be a double pun on the words “fox” (Greek) and “craftsman” (Latin). I just realized that Mr. Stephan Huller, too, questions the historicity of Cerdo:

              “Was there an Ebion the head of the Ebionites? Was there an Elxai who was the head of the Elxasites? What about Marcion’s teacher the ‘fox’ (Cerdo)? Of course not. But these things make their way into our collection of ‘heresies’ because they all sound absolutely exotic, shocking and tantalizing.”


            • M. W. Nordbakke
              2011-11-22 03:52:40 UTC - 03:52 | Permalink

              Apparently, the fox (Greek: cerdo) is a fitting animal to embody heresy:

              Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom (Song of Songs 2:15).

              [Jesus] replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal’ (Luke 13:32).

              See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I, Ch. 31.

    • 2011-11-20 10:12:46 UTC - 10:12 | Permalink

      “Maybe they contained ideas the orthodox did not see fit to preserve. We just don’t know.”

      In Tertullian’s book 5 Against Marcion he plays with the argument:

      “I want Marcion to show me where he got this apostle of his who is not mentioned in the gospels. It seems that Christ lacked foresight in calling Paul after his death by way of necessity rather than deliberation!”

      Is this not the very argument Justin used in his lost work against Marcion? For Justin doesn’t recognize Paul as Dave Sabatene keeps pointing out. Tertullian seems to be half-quoting Justin, but Tertullian must include disclaimers for Justin’s argument like “I ask this as if I were a new disciple” and so on, whereas Justin would have been entirely serious.

  • Dave Sabatene
    2011-11-18 06:57:39 UTC - 06:57 | Permalink

    Then it remains a mystery why he wouldn’t even allude to such a major opponent even a single time or to distortions in the use of the epistles and gospels! If the later officialdom in say the 4th century censored someone on their side, then what’s to preclude them from forging materials to make them appear to be older than they actually were?! At the very least we can say that the new orthodox were messing with texts!

  • 2011-11-24 10:06:36 UTC - 10:06 | Permalink

    @ Roger above, re http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/marcions-date/#comment-20608 (within comment #8 and dated 24th– that space is too narrow to continue a conversation).

    I have been moving away from the idea that Paul’s letters had a Marcionite origin and am beginning now to wonder about this Simon character. I had always suspected he was originally a personification or invention. Maybe I was throwing up my hands in despair at all the many Simon’s in Mark’s Gospel and elsewhere. It seemed Simon was a name to be played with symbolically in Mark’s gospel. I have tended to ignore looking too deeply at Simon since most of the information about him is so late, but regardless of the person, I am now interested in the ideas that appear to have preceded Christianity while also being related to Christianity in some way.

    It may also be worth noting Luke’s interest in explaining the origins of names. Was his little tale about the naming of John the Baptist intended as an answer to other ideas then prevalent? And is his story of the naming of Paul also aimed at other notions of the origin of this name and person? As you say, it is interesting that the name “small” does resonate in much gnostic literature.

    • Roger Parvus
      2011-11-28 22:21:54 UTC - 22:21 | Permalink

      “I have tended to ignore looking too deeply at Simon since most of the information about him is so late, but regardless of the person, I am now interested in the ideas that appear to have preceded Christianity while also being related to Christianity in some way.” – (Godfrey)

      To figure out the true origin of the Pauline letters we are pretty much limited to working with clues from later Christian literature. For, yes, most of the information about Simon is late, but arguably the earliest information about the proto-orthodox also dates to about the same time. It is only around CE 140 that we really begin to see what Christianity consisted of. The same Justin whose writings throw some light on the proto-orthodox also mentions Simon, Menander, Basilideans, Saturnilians, Valentinians and Marcionites, and is outraged that these people call themselves Christians. Justin would have us believe that his type of Christianity can trace itself back to the twelve apostles. But if so, who among the people of his persuasion stood up to the earlier heretics Menander, Basilides and Saturninus after the death of the twelve? He makes no mention of any earlier proto-orthodox defenders of the faith in the CE 60 to 130 time period. Was there no one from his camp worthy of mention who took on these heretics and tried to refute their errors? From Justin’s writings one might get the impression that Menander, Basilides and Saturninus had the field to themselves until Justin converted and took it upon himself to oppose them.

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