Category Archives: Couchoud: Creation of Christ


2012-02-04

Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question

by Neil Godfrey

Professor Markus Vinzent has posted on his blog  Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question, an article that directs readers to a re-consideration of the ideas of Paul Louis Couchoud that I have recently been outlining here. Past scholarship has always taken for granted the claim of Irenaeus that Marcion found and edited an existing Gospel. Professor Vinzent finds only two exceptions in the literature to this view and one of them is Couchoud.

And there is the poet Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879-1959), professor of philosophy and scholar at the Ecole Normale, Paris who, very different from Vogels’ Germanic cautious suggestion, developed a full ‘outline of the beginnings of Christianity’ in his The Creation of Christ (excerpts, a good summary and comments can be found here), based on the idea of a Christ-myth which was turned into a historical Gospel-narrative by Marcion in the years 128-129. And although scholars may rightly reject most of the wild speculations of Couchoud, a critical reading of him is extremely rewarding. He knew his sources and he was prepared to unearth and make fresh and unorthodox connections which even today can inspire serious scholarship. Why has scholarship not picked up the question of Marcion’s authorship – irrespective of whether one agrees or disagrees on it?

Couchoud’s view is debatable (see, for example Roger Parvus’s remarks at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/pre-christian-beginnings-of-christianity-couchoud/#comment-22543) but I fully concur with Markus Vinzent’s observation:

And although scholars may rightly reject most of the wild speculations of Couchoud, a critical reading of him is extremely rewarding. He knew his sources and he was prepared to unearth and make fresh and unorthodox connections which even today can inspire serious scholarship.

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2012-02-03

Earliest divisions in the Christian movement (Couchoud continued)

by Neil Godfrey

I liked this novel better than Couchoud's "Divisions" chapter. I suspect it gives some more realistic aspects of these early Christian years.

Unfortunately this is not my favourite chapter in Couchoud’s book The Creation Of Christ. But I’ve set myself a target and I have to get through this one to finish the book, so here goes. (The series is archived here.) (I personally suspect the stories in Acts are inspired more by Old Testament and Classical analogues than historical reminiscences, and motivated more by anti-Marcionite/pro-Catholic interests than disinterested archival dedication — though not totally bereft of historical re-writing at points here and there, but this post is for Couchoud so I’ll get out of the way for now.  Except to say I believe Earl Doherty’s model is a much more satisfactory explanation for the “riotous diversity” that characterized what emerged as “earliest Christianity”.)

But one point in C’s favour is his attempt to synchronize what he reads in Paul and Acts with political events in the broader empire.

Once again any emphases etc in the quotations is my own.

Couchoud says the apparitions of the Lord Jesus can be dated (via the writings of Paul) to the beginning of the reign of the reputedly “mad” Roman emperor Caligula  — 37-38 c.e.

These visions, he continues, all occurred in Palestine. Paul’s was the exception — and it was subject to doubt among his critics. (The last of the visions, according to Paul — says C — is to be dated 14 years before his own journey to Jerusalem, i.e. around 51 – 52 c.e.)

Of these visionary experiences, Couchoud suggests they conferred on the Jerusalem pillars a unique status:

They conferred on the community at Jerusalem and on its chiefs, Kephas, James, the Twelve, an unequalled title and right to decide all that might be postulated in the name of the Lord Jesus.

We know the names of some of these earliest visionaries: read more »


2012-02-02

The Swarming of the Prophets (A.D. 40 — A.D. 130) — Couchoud contd.

by Neil Godfrey
English: Apostles receive the gift of tongues ...

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The previous three posts in this series covered section one of P. L. Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ : An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity that was headed The Apocalypses (168 B.C. – A. D. 40):

  1. Pre-Christian Foundations
  2. John the Baptist and the Foundation of Christianity
  3. First Signs of Christianity

These posts covered the first seven chapters and the foreward.

The next section is headed The Prophets (A.D. 40 — A. D. 130). The chapters here are titled:

  • The Swarming of the Prophets (an introduction to the remainder of the section)
  • Divisions
  • Struggles and Sufferings of St. Paul
  • The Crucified God
  • The Sacrificed Lamb

Following this Couchoud addresses the development of the Gospels, and it was in the midst of that section that I began this series of posts.  It is interesting to look at how Couchoud imagined Christian origins, but it is only an overview leaving many details tantalizingly unexplained in the depth some of us would like. The subtitle does say “an outline” after all. I have my own questions and disagreements with aspects of Couchoud’s arguments and others have commented with their own on this blog. That does not detract from much that is of interest in his views, and I try to keep many of my own thoughts to myself as I outline Couchoud’s outline.

The Swarming of the Prophets

This is an introduction to the remainder of the section covering the period from 40 to 130 c.e. All the quotations are from pages 39 to 41 and all bold type, emphasis etc is mine.

The theme of this chapter is the origin of the key concepts “gospel” and “church assemblies, the make up of those early churches and the nature and results of the zealous expectation of the end of the age. read more »


2012-01-31

The First Signs of Christianity: Couchoud continued

by Neil Godfrey

Couchoud thought that John the Baptist epitomized and popularized the Jewish hopes for a coming Judge from Heaven — as shown in my previous post in this series (the entire series is archived here).

Christianity was born of the travail of the days of John. The Baptist gave it two talismans with which to bind souls:

  1. the advent of the Heavenly Man in a universal cataclysm,
  2. and the rite of baptism which allowed the initiates to await, without apprehension, the Coming of the Judge.

(p. 31, my formatting)

At first the teaching spread like wildfire but without John’s name attached to it as its IP owner.

Before long the teaching became enriched with various kinds of additions. First among these additions were new names for the Heavenly Man: Lord, Christ, Jesus.

Lord as a title was derived from Psalm 110:1

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

To whom could this have been addressed? Surely not to the Messiah, the Son of David, waited for by the Pharisees. David would not have called his son “my Lord.” It must have been to the Son of Man who, according to the Revelation of Enoch, was placed on the throne of his glory by God Himself. (p. 31)

Since David as an inspired prophet makes it clear that the Son of Man is enthroned at the right hand of God and calls him Lord. So believers could also call the Son of Man their Lord.

(Note that the title “Son of Man” was used as a Greek expression, too. Think of Christianity as moulded very largely by Greek speakers.)

Christ, Christos, “is a somewhat barbarous translation of the Hebrew word which means consecrated by unction, Messiah.” read more »


2012-01-30

John the Baptist and the foundations of Christianity (Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey

In the next chapter of this series we read the view that John the Baptist was a key figure in sparking the movement that became Christianity. Couchoud takes the date for John from Josephus — that is, towards the end of Pilate’s office in 36 c.e. Couchoud believes strongly that there was a fervent expectation among the Jews for a divine messianic deliverer. John was part of this popular hope when he came preaching the coming of the heavenly Messiah figure to judge the world. John’s message was thus fed by the tradition we read of in the above works (Daniel, Enoch, Moses).

Zechariah 13:3 had said there would be no more prophets but John was not afraid to don the prophet’s mantle and take their place. John did not create an image of the Heavenly Man but delivered threats against those who this figure would judge:

O generation of vipers,  [ Pliny, Nat. Hist. viii. 59, 1 — the viper was believed to be the only snake that could bury itself in the earth – metaphor of those who think they can hide from the wrath of God ]
Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance,

Do not to say to yourselves,
We have Abraham to our father:
I say unto you that God is able
Of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.  [ “stones” = Aramaic abenayya; children = Aramaic benayya ]

Already the axe
Is laid unto the root of the trees:
Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit
Is hewn down and cast into the fire.

He that cometh after me
Is mightier than I,
Whose shoes I am not worthy to untie:
I baptize you with water,
He will baptize you with wind and fire: [ the context of the next verse explains the meaning of wind and fire; the word “holy” before wind (same word as spirit) was a Christian addition and foreign to the context ]

His fan is in his hand,
To purge thoroughly his floor,
And gather his wheat into his garner;
But he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

The urgency of this message (taken from Luke and Matthew) leaves no room for delay. The judgement from this heavenly Son of Man figure from the Book of Enoch is about to befall. read more »


2012-01-29

Pre-Christian Foundations of Christianity (Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey

Having traced Couchoud’s argument for the development of the New Testament it’s time I returned to the beginning of his two volume work, The Creation of Christ, and outline his views on the development of Christianity itself. (The entire series is archived here.)

I once posted links to pdf version of Couchoud’s opening chapters:

Foreword (approx 2.2 MB pdf)

Apocalypses (168 b.c. – a.d. 40)

I. Preliminary (approx 1.8 MB pdf)

II. Profaned Temple (approx 2.2 MB pdf)

III. The Dream of Daniel (approx 3.3 MB pdf)

IV. Revelations of Enoch (approx 6.7 MB pdf)

V. Revelations of Moses (approx 2.8 MB pdf)

I will comment on only a few aspects of some of these chapters. Read them — they are not long — to understand Couchoud’s argument for the background to Christianity and the references to much of what is below. I will only address a few points here.

These chapters are an overview of the pre-Christian development of the Jewish concept of the heavenly Son of Man figure. Daniel begins the process with a clearly symbolic figure, but later apocalypses turned that symbol into a more literal Heavenly Man. read more »


2012-01-28

2 Peters, 1 Jude and 2 Revelations: the first New Testament (Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey

Apocalypse of Peter

Continuing the series archived at Couchoud: The Creation of Christ – – – (Couchoud argues that our “editor” – Clement? – compiled 28 books, one more than our current 27 that make up our New Testament and this post concludes the section where Couchoud discusses the origin of our New Testament books.)

The perfect balance of the New Testament still stood in need of a counterweight. Just as the tale of Peter counter-balanced that of Paul in Acts, so the letters of Paul required as counterpoise letters from the Twelve.  There were already in existence a letter by James and three by John.  To make up seven, our editor produced two letters by Peter and one by Jude, John’s brother. (p. 305)

I don’t know if Couchoud here means to suggest “the editor” wrote these epistles himself. I find it difficult to accept the two letters attributed to Peter are by the same hand given what I have come to understand of their strikingly different styles, but let’s leave that question aside for now and cover what Couchoud’s views were as published in English 1939.

1 Peter

This epistle is said to have been a warrant for the Gospel of Mark. (Maybe, but some have suggested the name of Mark for the gospel was taken from this epistle. If it were a warrant for Mark one might be led to call to mind the unusual character of that Gospel. Its reputation had been tinged with “heretical” associations.) In the epistle Peter calls Mark “my son” and is supposed to be in his company in Rome, biblically called “Babylon”. The inference this leads to is that Mark wrote of the life and death of Jesus as learned from the eyewitness Peter. This coheres with Justin’s own naming of the Gospel “Recollections of Peter” in his Dialogue, section 106.

The letter is “a homily addressed to baptized heathen of Asia Minor at the time of a persecution.” Its teachings can be seen to be of the same category as those addressed in the earlier discussions by Couchoud – typical of Clement and anti-Marcionite . . . read more »


2012-01-23

The Pastorals, a remedy for a grave defect in Paul’s epistles (Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey

My Couchoud series posts (outlines of his work discussing the beginnings of Christianity, The Creation of Christ) are archived here. This post continues the series.

The churches in Clement’s day, and in particular the Church of Rome, were governed by Elders. Paul, of course, knew of no such institution. The heads of the various churches in his day were the Prophets.

This grave defect had to be remedied, so our editor manufactured three new Epistles. For that he made use of another remnant — a letter of simple news addressed to Timothy by Paul from Nicopolis to Epirus. Out of this little thing he made three: two letters to Timothy and one to Titus; and the second letter to Timothy was Paul’s testament written at Rome. (p. 304)

He took a single letter and broke it into three parts that became the Pastorals, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Note the repetitions. Paul has forgotten a cloke at Troas on his way from Miletus to Nicopolis. He has escaped his enemies at Ephesus and thanks his friends by Timothy. read more »


2012-01-22

Epistle to the Galatians — Couchoud’s view

by Neil Godfrey
English: Map of the Letters of Galatia

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This post continues notes from Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ — all posts are archived in Couchoud: Creation of Christ.

Paul-Louis Couchoud, by the way, gets several nods in W. O. Walker’s Interpolations in the Pauline Letters (so, more than once, does Hermann Detering) — See the GoogleBook–Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. From there do a word search in the left margin search-box for “Couchoud” and see the full list of references in that work. (I only mention this for the benefit of anyone who may have run across Dr James McGrath’s or any other scholar’s ignorant scoffing of Couchoud in response to posts in this series. Some scholars can address figures the views of one like Couchoud with the dignified civility expected of public intellectuals.)

Couchoud only skims the surface of conclusions from his more detailed publication, La Première Edition de St. Paul (Premiers Ecrits du Christianisme, 1930). Hermann Detering has posted an online version of this work on his site. So what is outlined here are conclusions, not arguments.

In a footnote in The Creation of Christ Couchoud lists what he believes are the “touch-ups” (editings) an editor (Clement of Rome?) has made in the original letter to the Galatians: read more »


2012-01-21

Paul’s Letter to the Romans – the creation of the canonical edition according to Couchoud

by Neil Godfrey
English: page with text of Epistle to the Roma...

Page with text of Epistle to the Romans 1:1-7: Image via Wikipedia

I continue here the series covering Paul Louis Couchoud’s argument for the creation of the canonical New Testament literature from the 1939 English translation of his The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity. The series is archived here — scroll to the bottom for the first posts where the overall purpose for which the literature is covered, along with when and why and why Couchoud suspects Clement of Rome as the editor (and author) responsible.

The guiding principle for the structure was Marcion’s “canon” that began with a Gospel and included ten letters of Paul.

Background: In brief, Marcion was a prominent leader of a form of Christianity that (at least until recently) has been generally believed to have rejected totally the Old Testament and taught that Jesus came down from heaven to preach about an Alien (unknown) God who was all love and higher than the Jewish God of the law and judgment. Marcion claimed Paul as his sole apostolic authority in opposition to the other apostles who never understood Christ’s message. Couchoud argues that a Roman church elder (he suspects Clement) attempted to unite the diverse Christianities represented by competing Gospels (such as Marcion’s Gospel, Matthew, John, Mark) bringing them all together through the themes expressed in Luke and Acts (his own creations, though Luke was largely a re-write of Marcion’s Gospel) except for the intolerable Marcionite views that had to be countered.

Couchoud has covered the creations and compilation of the Gospels and Acts, and now comes to the orthodox versions of the Pauline letters. Marcion had selected Galatians as the most appropriate for the introduction of Paul’s thought; “Clement”(?) preferred Romans as the one most potentially adaptable as a frame of reference for the “correct” reading of Paul’s corpus. (Marcion had placed it fourth.) This would leave nothing more to do than revise a few details here and there in the other letters.

This editor enlarged Romans to twice its original size. (Couchoud mainly follows Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion’s thought, Gospel and epistles. I have begun posting elsewhere Sebastian Moll’s revision of Harnack’s basic premis in his 2010 work and must post more on that in the future. I keep with Couchoud’s thoughts here.) Massive additions were: read more »


2012-01-20

Couchoud on Acts of the Apostles

by Neil Godfrey
English: Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul

Ananias restoring the sight of Paul: Image via Wikipedia

I’ll try to complete Paul-Louis Couchoud’s explanations for the second century productions of the canonical New Testament literature starting here with his discussion of Acts. For those who enjoy the stimulation of new (even if old) ideas to spark fresh thoughts, read on.

I left off my earlier series on Couchoud’s thoughts on Gospel origins with his argument that the Gospel of Luke was the last Gospel written and was primarily a response to Marcion. The final remarks in that post were:

On the Emmaus Road Marcion had Jesus remind the travellers that Christ must suffer. Luke goes further and adds that Jesus began with Moses and taught them all that the Prophets said must happen to Christ.

Marcion’s Gospel closed with the words:

Thus it was that the Christ should suffer,
And rise again from the dead the third day
And that there be preached in his name
Repentance and remission of sins to all the nations.

Luke saw what was not said so added:

These are my words that I spoke
While I was yet with you;
How that all things must needs be fulfilled as it is written
In the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms of me.
Then opened he their mind
To understand the Scriptures.

Thus Jesus’ final teaching links up with the first. Marcion is refuted. The Old Testament and Gospel are not in opposition. The Gospel is found in the Old Testament.

Recall that it was Couchoud’s suspicion that the real author of this Gospel and its companion, Acts, was Clement of Rome. So to continue on from there:

Acts of the Apostles – and of the Holy Spirit

First recall that Couchoud sees Luke’s masterpiece innovation as the Holy Spirit. It was this that Luke introduced for reasons of political control: read more »


2012-01-03

The earliest gospels 6(c) – Luke’s Gospel (Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey
Evangelist Luke writing, Byzantine illuminatio...

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Continuing the series archived here: (I have also marked the name Josephus in bold for easy reference for any interested in the study of Luke’s use of Josephus.)

Irenaeus is the first to speak of Luke as the author of our Gospel and Acts dedicated to Theophilus (Haer. iii.1,2). Before Irenaeus we read in Colossians 4:14 of a Luke with the epithet “the beloved physician” having been interpolated into the original; and in the fictitious 2 Timothy 4:11 we read “Only Luke is with me.” Following

is an outline explication of the Gospel of Luke from Couchoud’s perspective of it having been composed around 142 c.e. by Clement of Rome.

The prologue refers to a number of Gospels and Acts already in existence and leads readers to infer that the author is collating his information from these earlier sources while also being in a unique position to offer more authoritative insights and a more coherent narrative of the whole.

With an acrobatic leap he passes from the fine style of a Greek rhetor to that of Biblical narrative. (p. 275)

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea,
A certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah:
And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

And they were both righteous, walking before God
In all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren;
Both were well stricken in years.

Couchoud then outlines the narrative we know from Luke 1:8-38 and that I won’t repeat here. read more »


2012-01-02

The earliest gospels 6(b) – Luke (à la Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey
Polski: Toruń, kościół św. Jakuba, obraz Zesła...

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Continuing with the series archived here.

Couchoud suggests that the author of the Gospel we attribute to Luke may quite likely have been Clement of Rome. But he sees the contribution of this person as of far greater significance than the simple composition of the works we know as Luke and Acts. First, however, the outline of Couchoud’s views of who this major author was. This p.ost should be read in conjunction with the previous one, 6(a).

The popular Shepherd of Hermas written about this time (mid second century) informs us that it was Clement’s duty to send to the other churches the edict of remission of sins which the prophet Hermas learned of in a vision:

Clement will address it to the other towns for he is charged with this duty. (Hermas Vis. 2.4)

The prophetic work of Hermas indicates that prophets were strongly influential in the Roman Church, most likely with wielding power as the Spirit whimmed them. When their authority was replaced by Elders it is suggested that Clement kept his old office as a Church Secretary and increased his authority. He may even have been one of the persons Marcion debated against when in Rome. Clement clearly had some importance among the ruling Elders when he (presumably) wrote his letter to the entire Corinthian Church admonishing them to restore the rule of the Elders they had deposed, “no doubt in order to vest authority in the bishop alone, and to wrest that Church from the Marcionite enemy.”

He was probably born a gentile. He was widely read in Greek and Latin literature and the Hebrew Bible in Greek translation, as well as the Book of Enoch and other Jewish apocryphal and apocalpytic writings. He also knew the works of Philo and Josephus. read more »


2012-01-01

The earliest gospels 6(a) – on the cusp of Luke (à la Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey

Now this time I might add more detail than usual since I find Couchoud’s views on the Gospel according to Saint Luke (at least as covered across several posts here and not necessarily confined to any one in particular) not very distant in many respects from the notions I have been thinking about, though not entirely without the support of a few scholarly publications. I had not realized when I began to share these few chapters of The Creation of Christ that the author continues on to discuss the creation of the Book of Acts and the remainder of the New Testament epistles after Paul’s. It’s an interesting read. I have to share those thoughts in future posts, too. The complete series of these posts is archived here.

Back to Marcion

Couchoud returns at this point of his discussion to Marcion. He imagines a setting where Marcion is seeing the Syrian churches (with their Gospel of Matthew) and the Asian churches (with their theology of John) all opposing him. According to one account when Marcion visited Ephesus the author of the Gospel of John rebuked him as the Deceiver and Antichrist. When he visited Smyrna the bishop Polycarp rebuffed him with the words, “I recognize thee as the first-born of Satan.” Paul, meanwhile, had long since consigned the great apostles themselves to Satan (Irenaeus, Haer. iii. 3-4).

Marcion, with followers as widespread as Africa (Carthage), Gaul (Lyons) and Rome itself, hoped to reverse the mounting conflicts in the East by securing Rome’s approval of his doctrines. Rome’s Christians, like Marcion’s, had no time for Jews and celebrated “Easter”, as did Marcionites but unlike “John’s” churches in Asia, at a time other than the Jewish Passover. Both Rome’s devotees and Marcion’s fasted on the Jewish sabbath (allowing for a typo in the translated work of Couchoud) to spite the Jews. The Roman Gospel of Mark was as neo-Pauline as was Marcion’s and differed from Marcion’s only in respect to the identity of the highest God. read more »