2013-10-14

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 4: Excursus on Marcion, Valentinians, and the Pauline Letters

by Roger Parvus

I have devoted my two previous posts to the part of my hypothesis that concerns the Pauline letters:

  • The earliest parts of the original collection of Pauline letters were written between CE 50 and 130 by Simon of Samaria and his successor, Menander.
  • Simonians were secretive, so the collection was likely intended for their use only.
  • But by the early 130s some proto-orthodox Christians came to know of it and, by making certain additions and modifications, attempted to co-opt it for proto-orthodoxy.

But at this point I expect that those who have read Robert M. Price’s book The Amazing Colossal Apostle are wondering: What about Marcion and gnostics like Valentinus? Didn’t they or their followers contribute something to the Paulines? Or, at least, weren’t they the targets of some of the proto-orthodox interpolations in the letters? Price would answer “yes” to these last two questions. His hypothesis is that:

The Pauline epistles began, most of them, as fragments by Simon (part of Romans), Marcion (the third through sixth chapter of Galatians and the basic draft of Ephesians), and Valentinian Gnostics (Colossians, parts of 1 Corinthians, at least). Some few began as Catholic documents, while nearly all were interpolated by Polycarp, the ecclesiastical redactor who domesticated John (as Bultmann saw it), Luke (as per John Knox), and 1 Peter, then composed Titus and 2 Timothy. (The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 534)

One immediately noticeable difference between our hypotheses is that I hold, as argued in the previous post, that the original letters to the Ephesians and Colossians were written by the Simonian Menander, not Marcion or a Valentinian. To me, the passages that Price sees as Marcionite or Valentinian in these letters can just as plausibly be identified as Simonian. The theological development present in them is nothing that could not have already occurred within Simon’s communities in the generation after him, and thus before either Marcion or Valentinus are thought to have been active. Forty years—say, from CE 60 to 100—seems like plenty enough time for that development. And if so, the proto-orthodox interpolations could have been inserted with Simonians in view.

The proto-orthodox reworking of the letter collection could have been a fait accompli by the time Marcion and Valentinus went to Rome in the late 130s.

To illustrate my point, let’s consider some specific instances.

Ephesians

Price, in his commentary on Ephesians, writes:

The first anti-Marcionite interpolation we can detect is in verse 1:7a, “the one by whom we have received release through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses.” In Marcionite soteriology, the death of Jesus was a ransom, manumitting the enslaved creatures of the demiurge, not a sacrifice for sins. The same problem occurs in 2:5 where another insertion, “even with us dead in trespasses, vivified us along with Christ—and by his favor you have been saved,” attempts to correct Marcionite belief. Verse 2:1 likewise contains an anti-Marcionite interpolation, “then dead in your trespasses and sins.No one was in trouble with the Father for having transgressed the commandments of the demiurge. (pp. 444-445 — Bolding added)

In regard to verse 2:5: I have already explained in my previous post how I would account for the realized eschatology expressed by “vivified us along with Christ.” This is not a doctrine the proto-orthodox interpolator would have added. It is rather a teaching of Menander that the proto-orthodox redactor allowed to remain in the text because it was rendered harmless by other offsetting insertions. Nor do I see the words “and by his favor you have been saved” as an interpolation. As already noted in my first post, Irenaeus clearly says that salvation by grace was a teaching of Simon of Samaria.

I do agree with Price that some tampering has occurred in the three verses in question. Specifically, I agree that the references to forgiveness of sin and trespasses have been added. These belong to proto-orthodox soteriology which put forward the death of the Son as an expiatory sacrifice or atonement for sin. But I’m not convinced these insertions were made to combat Marcionite belief. They could just as plausibly have been added to correct Simonian error. For ransom soteriology was not created by Marcion. In the extant proto-orthodox heresiological writings, the earliest figure to have a ransom soteriology attributed to him is Simon of Samaria.

priceParvus1Simon taught that he was in some way inhabited by the Son who had previously appeared to suffer in Judaea. And as a new manifestation of that Son, he had come in search of his lost First Thought, Helen. He came in order to free her from the world-making angels who, by holding her captive, had prevented her from returning to her home above. The moment of her actual release from that captivity was apparently tied by Simon to his purchase of her from a brothel:

She [Helen] lived in a brothel in Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, where he [Simon] found her on his arrival… And after he had purchased her freedom, he took her about with him… For by purchasing the freedom of Helen, he thus offered salvation to men by knowledge peculiar to himself (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19).

Thus it appears that, because the salvation of Simon’s followers from this world and its makers was modeled on the salvation of Helen, theirs too was sometimes referred to as a purchase, ransom or redemption:

The dissolution of the world, they [Simonians] say, is for the ransoming of their own people (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19; my bolding)

Notice that the “ransoming” here is not a payment that will be made when the world is dissolved. It is not a payment made to anyone. It is simply release from this world. And from its makers, as comes through in the parallel passage of the Against Heresies:

Therefore he [Simon] announced that the world would be dissolved and that those who were his would be freed from the rule of those who made the world. (1, 23, 3)

The sense, then, of “ransom” appears to be release from those who keep one from returning home. That being the case, I would retain “the one by whom we have received release” in Eph. 1:7a as authentic, but reject the remaining words of the verse (“through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses”) as an interpolation. The purpose of the interpolation was to make to make the “release” look sacrificial and expiatory much along the lines of so many passages in the proto-orthodox Letter to the Hebrews.

The use of the word “blood” in the interpolation had an additional proto-orthodox benefit—an anti-docetic one. A real sacrifice requires real blood, not the mere appearance of it. So connecting the “release” with blood also counters Simon’s teaching that the Son of God, at his first entry into the world, had merely appeared to be a man and merely appeared to suffer. But note again how there is no need to see Marcion as the docetic opponent targeted by 1:7a. He was not the first Christian docetist. The proto-orthodox heresy-hunters give that distinction to Simon of Samaria.

Colossians

Price rightly recognizes that the Letter to the Colossians “is Gnostic, pure and simple” (p. 469). But I am not convinced that he has correctly identified the particular gnostics who wrote it. He begins his commentary with this observation about the letter’s second verse:

We are prone to take the phrase “God the Father” (1:2) for granted, forgetting that such things are not mentioned for nothing in these ancient, polemical documents. No, the reference sounds Marcionite or Valentianian, a specification to avoid confusion with God the Creator, the Hebrew God. (p. 470)

God the Father: Marcionite/Valentinian or Simonian?

Sufferings of Christ: Christ did not suffer, according to Simon; but in his successor, Menander, he did complete his sufferings.

I agree that we cannot take the phrase “God the Father” for granted, but I question whether its presence in this gnostic letter points to Marcionite or Valentianian authorship. For Simon, already in his Apophasis Megale, had taught that the highest God was above the world-making angels and had become Father through his generation of divine Powers:

But neither was he denominated Father before this [power generated by him] called him Father. (Refutation of All Heresies 6, 13)

And in Simon’s teaching about the fall of his First Thought, the highest God is again referred to as a father:

This Thought, leaping forth from him and knowing what her father willed, descended to the lower regions and generated the angels and powers by whom this world was made. But after she generated them, she was held captive by them because of envy, for they did not want to be considered the offspring of anyone else. For he [her father] was entirely unknown to them… She suffered all kinds of humiliation from them, so that she did not run back upwards to her father(Against Heresies, 1, 23, 2, my bolding)

Simon’s “unknown Father” teaching was apparently maintained by the next generation of his followers, for it is included in Irenaeus’ summary of the teaching of both Menander (1, 23, 5) and Satornilus:

Satornilus, like Menander, teaches one Father unknown to all… (1, 24, 1).

So I am not prepared, without further evidence, to identify the gnostic author of Colossians as a Marcionite or Valentinian. And when I survey Colossians for that evidence, I see instead that a Simonian author would be a better fit. I have argued that point in my previous post. Here I will just add one more example, the notoriously puzzling 24th verse of Colossians 1:

Now I am rejoicing in my sufferings on your behalf, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of his body that is the church.

quote_begin From a Simonian perspective, it was not that someone else was completing the Son’s suffering; it was the Son himself, in Menander, who was completing what the Son himself had previously started. quote_end

To me, this verse makes best sense coming from a Simonian, not from a Marcionite or Valentinian. For both Marcion and Valentinus were concerned to make the sufferings of the crucified Son something more than a sham. As Price notes regarding Marcion, he

taught that Jesus had a celestial body that suffered in some way in payment for the manumission of Jehovah’s creatures, freeing them to become children of Jesus’s Father instead. (p. 388)

But even the slightest real suffering of Christ’s body, whatever its nature, would have had infinite value, as the suffering of the Son of God. And so it would seem almost blasphemous to claim that any suffering of his—no matter how small—was somehow inadequate and needed to be completed by someone else.

There was an early Christian, however, who taught that the Son, at his first coming, had not really suffered at all. The Son had deliberately just gone through the motions, apparently in order to trick the powers-that-be into wrongfully crucifying him. That is, Simon of Samaria was said to have taught that suffering was totally lacking for the Son. He had only appeared to suffer:

For when the angels misgoverned the world, since each of them desired the primacy, he came for the reformation of affairs. He descended transformed and made like the powers and authorities and angels, in order to also appear as a man among men, though he was not a man, and to appear to suffer in Judaea, though he did not suffer. (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 3)

Now notice that in Col. 1:24 it is not said the Christians in general complete the missing afflictions of Christ. And it is not said that apostles in general complete them. The one who completes them is the author of the letter. It is a task that belongs to him personally. And if, as I maintain, that author was Menander, it would make good sense of Col. 1:24. As a follower of Simon he believed that the Son, at his first coming, had only appeared to suffer. When the Son took up residence in Simon, he began to supply an element that was missing from his first visit: real suffering. Through Simon’s apostolic labors the Son began to make up for something he had deliberately left out the first time. And now the Savior was present again in Menander.

To me, it seems plausible that Menander could view his imprisonment as some kind of completion of the Son’s missing sufferings. From a Simonian perspective, it was not that someone else was completing the Son’s suffering; it was the Son himself, in Menander, who was completing what the Son himself had previously started.

Galatians

It is not just Marcionite or Valentinian authorship of Ephesians and Colossians that I would contest. I am not convinced that Marcionites or Valentinians composed any part of the ten-letter Pauline collection. I see no clear indications in it of any distinctively Marcionite or Valentinian doctrine, not even in the letter to the Galatians.

quote_begin Dr. Price holds—rightly, in my opinion—that chapter 4 of Romans is the work of Simon/Paul. But he ascribes authorship of the core of Galatians (chs 3-6) to Marcion. . . [Though ch 3] consists of the same basic argument . . . quote_end

Dr. Price holds—rightly, in my opinion—that chapter 4 of Romans is the work of Simon/Paul. But then he goes on to ascribe authorship of the core of Galatians (chapters 3 through 6) to Marcion. Now, the third chapter of Galatians consists of the same basic argument as Romans 4: justification by faith. And it is hard to see how Marcion could have subscribed to that argument as it stands, for involving as it does an earlier Old Testament figure, it would seem to mean that Marcion’s Stranger-God was not a complete stranger to mankind after all. If Marcion wrote chapter 3 of Galatians, his unknown God appeared previously to at least one man, Abraham.

Price is, of course, is aware of the problem. He writes:

Simonian influence is also discernible in the treatment of Abraham as proof and precedent that salvation lies outside the Torah. This must have been the main argument of the missionary who persuaded King Izates of Adiabene, Abraham’s ancient region, to embrace Judaism without circumcision. Which deity did Marcion mean to picture in portraying the promise to Abraham and his spiritual progeny? I should think he intends to show the one who was to be revealed as the Father of Jesus Christ. Granted, Abraham would not have known the difference, and Marcion would not have supposed he would, since it was only as of the advent of Jesus that mankind was told of the Alien God. (p. 423)

And Price is also aware that

Jerome and Tertullian both attested that Marcion changed verse 14 [of Galatians 3], “that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” to “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Obviously, this was to omit all reference to Abraham…” (p. 423).

Price’s tentative explanation for this is to attribute the deletion of Abraham to later Marcionites:

… I suspect we may be at the mercy of the subsequent scribes who were more Marcionite than Marcion, who no longer understood the importance of Abraham. Scholars from Adolph von Harnack onward have warned us that we may not have Marcion’s own text in the patristic accounts, but rather that of his disciples. (p. 423)

quote_begin To me, the passages about the faith of Abraham in both Romans and Galatians make sense as a Simonian teaching, but not as a Marcionite one. quote_end

To me, the passages about the faith of Abraham in both Romans and Galatians make sense as a Simonian teaching, but not as a Marcionite one. Simonians appealed to parts of the Old Testament as authoritative. They seemed to have cherry-picked the Old Testament and resorted to allegorical interpretation of it, especially the book of Genesis. Simon, in the exposition of his Apophasis Megale system, gives an allegorical summary of the five books of the Pentateuch. And he quotes verses from the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Marcion, on the other hand, appears to have made a clean break with the Old Testament, refusing to use it in any positive way to support his teaching. Any use of it by him was apparently limited to “ad hominem” argument. There is no indication in the extant record that he made exceptions for any parts of the Old Testament, not even the Genesis account of Abraham. Nowhere do we find recorded that, according to Marcion, the Father of Jesus had in fact spoken to at least one man prior to the descent of Jesus into this world.

According to Price, Galatians 3:1-24

reads naturally as a Marcionite attempt to separate the Torah as an alien factor, a monkey wrench cast into the works, from the plan of salvation based on promise and the proper response to it: faith… The Law could not have been God’s idea, but rather an invention of the angels. Here is the seed form of the Marcionite doctrine of the Torah, given to the world not by the God of Jesus Christ but rather by lesser spiritual entities. (p. 422 — Bolding added)

But to this I would respond: the seed form of Marcionite doctrine apparently goes back to the first century, to Simon of Samaria. And since it is present in seed form in Galatians, that letter makes more sense as Simon’s work.

And I would add too that the allegory that follows in Galatians (Hagar and Sarah) makes better sense as Simon’s composition. It is the kind of strained allegory for which he was notorious, an allegory by means of which “Simon got what interpretation he pleased, not only out of the writings of Moses, but also those of the pagan poets” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19). Marcion, on the other hand, is said to have eschewed allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament.

GalatiansSimon1

Marcion’s Discovery?

One reason Price takes Marcion as the author of Galatians is

the striking comment of Tertullian in Against Marcion that Marcion nactus epistolam Pauli ad Galatas: “Marcion has discovered Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians” (p. 411).

Latin definition for: nanciscor, nancisci, nactus

to get, obtain, receive, meet with, stumble on, light on, find

But I’m not sure much of a case can be built on this. For “nactus” can just simply mean “having got; having obtained.” Ernest Evans, in his translation of Tertullian’s book, translates the verse as: “Marcion has got hold of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.” And when Tertullian, just two paragraphs later, deals with Marcion’s views of other Scriptures, he does so by referring to Marcion’s laying of hands on them:

In fact it was only when Marcion laid hands [Latin: intulit manus] upon it [the Gospel of Luke], that it became different from the apostolic gospels, and in opposition to them. (Against Marcion 4, 5)

and

So then, since it is evident that these too [the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and John] existed in the churches, how is it that Marcion has not touched [Latin: attigit] them as well, either to correct if falsified, or to acknowledge if correct? (Against Marcion 4, 5)

For Tertullian, heretics have no right to the Church’s sacred writings (see his On the Prescription of Heretics). And when they come into possession of them, they inevitably mishandle them. They corrupt whatever they touch. It was apparently no different with Marcion and Galatians. Notice how the verse in question ends:

For Marcion, nactus Paul’s epistle to the Galatians… strives hard to overthrow the credit of those gospels which are the apostles’ own and are published under their names, or even under the names of apostolic men, with the intention no doubt of conferring on his own gospel the repute which he takes away from those others. (Against Marcion 4, 3)

Two more reasons to question whether Marcion claimed to have discovered Galatians:

  1. Furthermore, to take “nactus” in the sense of “discovered” seems unlikely for another reason. If Marcion had really claimed to be the discoverer of Galatians, I expect Tertullian would have made more than a passing reference to it. In his five-volume work against Marcion, he is eager to contest Marcion’s claims at every step. Surely, writing half a century after Marcion was active, it would have been easy for Tertullian to deny Marcion’s supposed claim unless it was firmly and universally recognized as true. But nowhere else in the extant record is there any whisper about Marcion being the discoverer of Galatians.
  2. One other aspect of this discovery scenario makes me uncomfortable too. If Marcion wrote the core of Galatians but claimed only to have discovered it, would this not—as Price suggests—put him in the same league with Hilkiah who “discovered” Deuteronomy and Joseph Smith who “discovered” the book of Mormon? I am reluctant to put him in that company. To me, he comes across as a refreshingly open and honest character. At a time when so many Christians were engaging in outright forgery, attempting to pass off their writings as belonging to an earlier time, his Antitheses stands out as an honest, straightforward critique put forward in his own name. He did not attempt to pass that work off as a long lost book of Paul. Or even as divinely revealed to him by Jesus or Paul.

Other Difficulties
.

quote_begin If Marcion wrote parts of the Paulines, why didn’t he bring the Gospel tradition into them as support for his contentions? quote_end

Finally, by making Marcion “responsible for significant portions of the epistolary text” (p. 225) including the core of Galatians, Dr. Price gets into other significant difficulties. For “the epistles are quite innocent of the Gospel tradition of sayings and deeds by an earthly Jesus” (p. 225). So if Marcion wrote parts of the Paulines, why didn’t he bring the Gospel tradition into them as support for his contentions?

Dr. Price addresses this problem by proposing a different accounting of Gospel origins, one that he finds attractive but that I myself find hard to accept:

It is my opinion that Marcion’s scripture contained only epistles, and no Gospel. His followers added proto-Luke (or ur-Lukas) later on… Marcion not only possessed no Gospel but knew nothing of our Gospel tradition. (pp. 224-225)

And:

There were no Gospels for him [Marcion] to include in his new scripture, only epistles which showed no sign of acquaintance with any Gospels. On the other hand, Marcionites seem to have had a role in the production of the Gospels. Mark’s Gospel, for instance, holds what can hardly be called other than a Marcionite view of the buffoonish twelve disciples and a Gnostic view of secret teachings which, despite their privileged position, the twelve simply did not grasp. (p. 226)

I am reluctant to adopt this as a solution to the absence of the Gospel tradition from Paul’s letters. A better solution is available. If, as I maintain, the original collection of Pauline letters consisted of Simonian material, they could have been written before the composition of a gospel that featured a wandering, preaching, miracle-working, disciple-gathering Jesus. If the original letters were written by Simon and Menander, the collection of them could have been completed by around CE 100. And, consequently, there would be no need to post-date the earliest canonical gospels until after Marcion’s arrival on the ecclesiastical stage.

quote_begin An early 2nd century Simonian origin for Mark’s Gospel . . . can account for “the buffoonish view of the twelve disciples.”

And Mark’s “gnostic view of secret teachings” is better explained by a Simonian provenance than a Marcionite one.

quote_end

I will be laying out my own hypothesis regarding Gospel origins in subsequent posts in this series. But for now let it suffice to say that I will argue an early 2nd century Simonian origin for Mark’s Gospel. Such an origin can account for “the buffoonish view of the twelve disciples.” And Mark’s “gnostic view of secret teachings” is better explained by a Simonian provenance than a Marcionite one. Simonians were both gnostic and secretive. But Marcion, on the other hand, was somewhat restrained in his embrace of gnostic ideas. And he was not secretive in the least. As Price himself acknowledges elsewhere in his book:

Marcion taught this openly, not as a privately held secret that would be known only to a few chosen ones. His intent was to found a public institution. (p. 246)

It was likely this openness, at least in part, that so worried the proto-orthodox. No longer were the blasphemies of Simon going to be passed on only among members of a bunch of secretive sects. With Marcion they went public.

Marcion converted at Rome?

Now both Dr. Price and myself see Marcion as a real threat to the mid-second century Roman church. But my position differs from his in that I think Marcion only became a force to be reckoned with after his break with that church. I am inclined to think that Marcion became a convert to Christianity at Rome. Tertullian says that it was in the first warmth of faith (“primo calore fidei” – Against Marcion 4, 4) that Marcion made his large donation to the Roman church. Adult converts would have been nothing unusual at that time. The heresy-hunters Justin and Tertullian themselves both converted to Christianity as adults. Conversion would also explain why Marcion became Cerdo’s pupil and not vice versa.

Marcion simplified Simonianism?

And Marcion’s status as a new convert would explain his simplification of Simonian doctrine.

  • The Simonian cherry-picking of Old Testament verses and elaborate allegorical interpretation of them were not embraced by Marcion. This avoidance of complication strikes me as something that a new convert would be drawn to. Converts often like to have clearly delineated what they are expected to believe and practice. It is easy to see how someone who had not grown up with the Old Testament and allegorical interpretation of it might be daunted and want to make the whole thing less arbitrary and more manageable.
  • And Marcion apparently reduced the multiple world-making angels down to a single one: the Creator God.
  • And the higher God who, according to Simon, was unknown to the world-making angels becomes—in Marcion’s system—unknown to absolutely everyone before Jesus revealed him.
  • Thus no sparks of divine fire in man’s spirit for Marcion. He makes man entirely the work of the World-Creator. Man’s spirit no longer returns home; instead it goes to the home of a God who previously was a complete Stranger.

To me, these changes make better sense as the work of someone who came late to Simonianism and never fully grasped or appreciated its complexity.

Anti-Marcionite Interpolations in the Paulines

Now this is not to say that Marcion was a lightweight. He wasn’t. He was wealthy. That’s always a big help. And he apparently had organizational ability—another big plus. And he apparently practiced what he preached. Many people are drawn to sincere ascetic types like Marcion. And no doubt his cutting loose of Christianity from the Jewish Scriptures also appealed to many, especially after the recent defeat of the Jews in the CE 132-35 war. For all these reasons I think the proto-orthodox felt genuinely threatened by Marcion’s new version of Christianity.

One of the ways they responded to that threat was by using a tactic they had already used when they reworked the Simonian collection of letters around CE 130: interpolation. It was a tactic they were to use repeatedly during the next few centuries. Interpolation was a particularly convenient form of forgery, for it quickly and easily provided authority for one’s own views and disproved those of competitors. Bart Ehrman, in his book Forged, observes that “Nothing generated more literary forgeries in the names of the apostles than the internal conflicts among competing Christian groups” (p. 183). Since Marcion was such a formidable opponent, I would be surprised if the proto-orthodox had refrained from using forgery and interpolation in their struggle against him.

quote_begin Such short and simple insertions as Gal. 4:4 and Rom. 1:3-4 are all that is needed to effectively undercut Marcion’s Christianity. . . They could have been added any time after Marcion’s break with the Roman church. quote_end

The two Pauline letters that Marcion relied on most to make his case were Galatians and Romans. Both of these currently contain some good interpolation candidates. There is, for example, Romans 1:3-4 which describes the Son as:

descended from David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead…

Regarding these verses Dr. Price writes:

He [Marcion] did believe a Jewish messiah king, descended from King David, would appear and satisfy Jewish expectation, but this was not Jesus Christ. Nor did Marcion accept the Jewish-Christian notion that Jesus had become God’s son by adoption. For Marcion, Jesus simply appeared on earth one day, already an adult and with a celestial body. A Catholic redactor has tried to counteract all these features of Marcionism to sanitize the epistle for Catholic use, and he wastes no time in doing so: right at the beginning! (The Amazing Colossal Apostle p. 254)

I agree. I agree too with his assessment of 4:4 in Galatians:

The expression in 4:4 which reads literally, “born of a woman, born under the law,” is a Catholic gloss intended to refute Marcionite belief that Jesus descended fully grown from heaven. Otherwise, why mention it at all? Only in this case could it be remotely appropriate to affirm the most elementary fact about a person: he was born! Someone is denying it, so it is no longer uncontroversial. (p. 426)

Such short and simple insertions as Gal. 4:4 and Rom. 1:3-4 are all that is needed to effectively undercut Marcion’s Christianity (though I suspect there are others). They could have been added any time after Marcion’s break with the Roman church.

A Closing Recommendation

In the last chapter of The Amazing Colossal Apostle Dr. Price writes:

The result is that in the end we stand, almost uncomprehendingly, before a pile of literary scraps. Like researchers studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, magnifying glass in one hand and pincers in the other, we are doing our darnedest to lend some order to a pile of flaking puzzle pieces. (p. 534)

Dr. Price has indeed lent some order to the Pauline scraps. I heartily recommend his book. It is filled, as are all his books, with amazing insights. I have learned much from him. So I hope readers will not get the wrong impression from this post. What I would like them to take away from it is that we very much see eye to eye on the larger issues. Where we disagree is on the relatively minor issue of the role of Marcionites and Valentinians in the production of the Pauline letters.

In my next post I will, again with help from Dr. Price’s book, inspect a few more Pauline passages.

17 Comments

  • EmmaZunz
    2013-10-14 17:36:50 UTC - 17:36 | Permalink

    This is well argued. A big problem for me was that Price’s Marcion has to believe in a mythical Jesus, and docetism arise later in the Marcionite tradition, but from what we are told, it seems Marcion himself was a docetist. Your theory makes better sense as it gives us mythical-Jesus Simonian originals and does not commit us to revising what we think Marcion’s faith was about.

  • Giuseppe
    2013-10-16 12:24:34 UTC - 12:24 | Permalink

    Thus no sparks of divine fire in man’s spirit for Marcion.

    Dr. Price is really impressive when he argues that every preacher was in every respect a Christ by his own law. From this I am inclined to think that not only Simon of Samaria, but also his followers tended to self-identify, following his example, with the Son, in some way.

    I’m really curious about what you write on the First Gospel. The general trend, however, is to reduce everything to Judaism of the first century or at most to the Essenism, even with regard to any midrashic allegory. About, however,

    “the buffoonish view of the twelve disciples”

    I would like (also) to know: what is the position of the Consensus on this? I mean, is this point recognized by most as yet indecipherable and enigmatic? Their ”solutions” are only, more or less, apologetical harmonizations ?

    I know that Neil cited, for example, the solution offered by Rikki Watts, based on Isaiah’s New Exodus, but I can not decide if it solves that point of ”buffoonish view” :

    Watts, for example, is able to identify a very cogent explanation for Mark’s portrayal of the disciples as blind till the end from a source that he can explicitly and directly identify as one used by the evangelist. That is surely a stronger argument than a hypothetical opposition to a branch of Christianity identified with the Twelve.

    source:
    http://vridar.org/2012/07/25/marks-unclean-bartimaeus-and-platos-honoured-timaeus/#comment-29022

    thank you,
    Giuseppe

    • John
      2013-10-17 01:42:43 UTC - 01:42 | Permalink

      Guisseppe,

      I don’t know if it could be the answer to your question, but the disciples-as-blind-men issue makes me think of the passage in the Damascus Document that says that after the root of planting sprang forth from Israel and Aaron, “they mediated over their sin and they knew that they were guilty men, and they were like the blind groping in the Way twenty years.”

      Even though I like MacDonald’s idea that Mark in general and the ‘blind’ disciples dynamic in particular are modeled on Homer, I’m starting to suspect that Mark also knew (of) the Damascus Document, so I wonder if his presentation of the disciples as blind could have something to do with this passage.

    • Roger Parvus
      2013-10-17 19:32:37 UTC - 19:32 | Permalink

      Giuseppe,

      There is no consensus explanation for GMark’s negative portrayal of the Twelve. And that is because there is no consensus regarding the genre of GMark. Is it history? Theology? Catechesis? Allegory?

      As I stated in part 1, I think GMark is a reworked version of a Simonian allegory about Simon of Samaria. The public ministry of its Jesus is an allegory about Simon’s public ministry. So I would agree with Price that the Twelve are portrayed as buffoons for a polemical reason. But whereas he sees the polemics as Marcionite, I think they are Simonian. That is, the Twelve are portrayed negatively because they claimed to be disciples of the crucified Son of God, yet failed to recognize him or embrace his teaching when he came back among them in the person of Simon.

      I will get into this later in the series.

      • 2013-10-19 01:33:53 UTC - 01:33 | Permalink

        Aha! In the Gospels folks have a tough time recognizing the risen Jesus.
        (“Is Paul the Beloved Disciple?” was fun to read!)

  • 2013-10-16 21:57:09 UTC - 21:57 | Permalink

    How do the autobiographical bits of Galations fit into this view? They’re usually taken as our best insight into Paul, so if he’s not the author, how does the persecution of The Church, the sojourn in Arabia and the Jerusalem Council fit with Simon (or even Menander) as the author?

    This is certainly an interesting exegesis of the Pauline corpus, and given that we only really (with the possible exception of 1 Clement) have letters attested as a corpus, it’s not unreasonable to suggest they could have been tampered with early on.

    I’ll look forward to your analysis of the gospel, for as I’ve mentioned, I’m disinclined to accept a very late date for them – despite being myself fairly late (Mark 70-75, Luke c 100, Matthew pre-Luke and John post-Luke).

    • Roger Parvus
      2013-10-17 19:36:20 UTC - 19:36 | Permalink

      Jens,

      I’ve been working on my next post and it’s a little more than half completed. It was going to be about some passages from 1 Corinthians and Philippians. But your question has led me to change my plans. In part four I started discussing Galatians, so at this point I guess I really should address its “autobiographical bits” too. It will provide a good example of how the proto-orthodox interpolator of the letter went about changing its real author, Simon/Paul, into his new, proto-orthodox Paul.

      So the next post will consider chapters 1 and 2 of Galatians from the perspective of my hypothesis.

  • 2013-10-19 10:03:19 UTC - 10:03 | Permalink

    Looking forward to this, Roger!

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  • Dale
    2014-03-02 14:18:19 UTC - 14:18 | Permalink

    Hi Roger,

    You speak of the secretive nature of the Simonian churches in contrast with the openness of Marcion, which the proto-orthodox community considered a greater danger. This makes me wonder what the public face of a typical Simonian church was like. What did it make public and what did it keep secret? Did it appear the same as the proto-orthodox churches to the public, but had a set of secret teachings it only shared with certain initiates? It almost sounds to me like you are saying that Simon and his followers never came out directly against the OT or suggested that Jesus’ Father was not the God of Israel, but that Marcion had no interest in keeping his beliefs secret and decided to bring his real beliefs out in the open.

    Thanks again for your great insights.
    Dale

    • Roger Parvus
      2014-03-03 00:03:57 UTC - 00:03 | Permalink

      Hi Dale,

      I wonder too what the public face of a typical Simonian church was like. I expect that it made public the writing that was its gospel, which—as I discuss in posts 7 through 9—was likely the Vision of Isaiah. That would mean it publicly preached that the events prophesied for the last times by the Vision had been fulfilled. The Son had recently descended incognito, been crucified, and had risen back to his Father in heaven. Heavenly robes, crowns and thrones are stored up in heaven for those who believe the Vision.

      But I’m less confident that the Simonian church immediately and fully divulged its particular interpretation of the Vision to prospective converts. That is, it may have held back its beliefs that the highest God in the Vision was not the God of Israel and that the OT was largely inspired by the lower world-making angels. The proper time for making those known may have depended in part on whether the prospective convert was a Gentile, a Gentile God-fearer, a Jewish proselyte, or a Jew.

      There are at least two items of Simonian belief that I doubt were preached or immediately made known to prospective converts: Simon’s claim to be a new manifestation of the Son and his claim that Helen his companion was the recently freed Holy Spirit. These two items, I expect, were part of the “solid food” that could only be given to chosen pneumatics, and certainly not to the “sarkic” or “infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1-2).

      In regard to Marcion: I don’t think he ever was, strictly speaking, a Simonian. I suspect that the only collection of Simonian letters he knew were ones that had already been re-worked by a proto-orthodox Christian. They had Paul’s name on them as their author. And by the time Marcion came on the scene, there were already written gospels that featured a Son with a public ministry. Marcion came to believe that some serious tampering had occurred both in regard to the Pauline letters and to the Jesus figure of the gospels, but I don’t know that he ever clearly grasped how Christianity arose and what had happened to it since its birth in the first century. But, in any case, none of the proto-orthodox anti-heretical writings accuse Marcion of holding secret doctrines. He openly proclaimed that the Father of Jesus was neither the God of Israel nor the source of inspiration for the OT.

      • Dale
        2014-03-03 03:40:56 UTC - 03:40 | Permalink

        Roger,

        Thanks for your reply. I’m surprised to hear you say that you don’t think Marcion “ever was, strictly speaking, a Simonian.” Even if his copies of the Pauline letters had already been re-worked, his doctrine still reflected the early teachings of Simon, didn’t they?

        I also wanted to ask you about the use of the name Paul on the letters. I know you think this is part of the later editing of Simon’s original letters. But isn’t it possible that Simon actually began using the name Paul, just as Acts portrays a similar change from Saul to Paul? Like you, I am a fan of Robert M. Price and have been reading his Amazing Colossal Apostle. Price makes the connection between Simon Magus and the magician Elymas in Acts 13. Saul wins the battle and Elymas is struck blind (just as Saul had been). The governor Sergius Paulus is converted, and from that moment Saul is called Paul (Acts 13:9). In that context, it seems that he takes the name Paul from Sergius Paulus, either to commemorate the victory or to honor his new patron. If Elymas was really Simon, then it is possible he really did convert this governor of Cyprus and took his name. So the use of the name Paul on these letters would be original. Do you think any of this is possible?

        Thanks,
        Dale

        • Dale
          2014-03-12 21:20:55 UTC - 21:20 | Permalink

          Roger,

          Still anxious to hear from you on this question of the name Paul. Let me know if my reasoning was unclear. I can take another shot at explaining my thinking.

          Dale

          • Roger Parvus
            2014-03-12 22:40:07 UTC - 22:40 | Permalink

            Hi Dale,

            I apologize. I somehow missed seeing your comment when it was posted.

            To your questions:

            1. As I noted in the post above, there are some significant differences between the teaching of Simon and Marcion. See the section “Marcion Simplified Simonianism?” And I think Marcion, like most second century non-Simonians, believed that Jesus was historical and not just an allegorical representation of Simon’s gospel versus that of the Jerusalem church.

            2. I’m inclined to think the substitute name ‘Paul’ was given to Simon in Simonian circles. As I wrote in part 1 of the series:

            “My hypothesis is that Paul was originally a substitute name for Simon of Samaria. It was likely chosen by Simon’s later followers when, out of reverence for the given name of their founder, they began to use substitutes.”

            and

            “The contrast between Simon who claimed to be ‘someone great’ (Greek: megas) and Paul whose name means ‘small’ (from the Latin: parvulus) seems more than coincidental. Simon, in the extant fragments of his Great Announcement (his apparently pre-Christian Apophasis Megale), claims, as in Acts 8:10, to be the Power of God that is called Great. And he explicitly says that ‘if its imaging be perfected and generated from an indivisible point, the small shall become great’ (my emphasis). What makes this interesting is that in some manuscripts of Josephus, the account of Simon the magician (who may well be our Simon) contains the name Atomus, meaning ‘indivisible,’ instead of Simon (Antiquities of the Jews 20.7.2).”

            As I see it, Acts account of the conversion of Sergius Paulus is another of its elements that should be filed under “fiction”.

            • Dale
              2014-03-12 23:52:56 UTC - 23:52 | Permalink

              Roger,

              I agree that the contrast between Paul (small) and Simon “the great” seems too much of a coincidence. If this was the intent behind the name, it seems natural for me to think that the name originated with Simon’s enemies to insult him.

              But I am trying to follow your concept of Simon’s followers thinking of him as “indivisible” and choosing to use the name Paul (small). Do you think this name was used to remind his disciples that, though he started out small, too small to be divided (indivisible), he has since become great because of God’s blessing? That the use of the name Paul (small) was not an insult, but a reminder of the transforming power of the gospel?

              Thanks,
              Dale

              • Roger Parvus
                2014-03-13 13:13:30 UTC - 13:13 | Permalink

                Dale,

                If Simon was unusually small either in height or girth, I would not be surprised if his enemies made fun of that. That may be what is behind 2 Cor. 10:10: “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak…’”

                But there are theological ways Simon could have turned to his advantage a weak bodily presence and any insults that targeted it. Did not God choose “the weak of the world to shame the strong” and “the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something” (1 Cor. 1:27-28)? If the weakest are God’s favorites, why not glory in weakness? “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30); things like being so light and small that he could be lowered in a basket! (2 Cor. 11:33)

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