Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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 reconsideration 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 /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.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

13 thoughts on “Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question”

  1. “And also scholars may rightly reject most of the wild speculations of Couchoud,…”
    Shouldn’t it read “And although scholars…”
    Just to show that I read this stuff.

    In fact, I went to the original blog, and read the whole thing. I found it depressing reading. One thing is for sure, Couchoud was a wonderful writer compared to this professor.
    I would suggest an adult class for remedial academic writing to remind him that clarity is the primary virtue of good writing, even academic. Elegance comes as a bonus, as exemplified by Couchoud.

    And I find it a bit unfair that this German writer is plucking all the feathers for his own cap about spotting Couchoud. When already in 1946 the English writer Archibald Robertson had been the first to draw the attention to Couchoud’s iconoclastic views that Marcion had originated his own Evangelion. In addition, Archibald Robertson was a polished writer who was immediately understandable. Both Couchoud and Robertson certainly were good examples of how to make commentary on religion exciting to read.

  2. Yeh, but I’m quoting a blog post and we can all forgive one whose first language is not English. I have corrected the word in the original so as not to give an unfair impression of Professor Vinzent.

    (Sometimes direct word for word quotation can actually be misleading. I once copied verbatum all the words of a recorded speaker — including all his um’s and ah’s — and it was such a faithful reproduction that was a quite wrong and offensive reproduction. Including all the um’s and ah’s in a printed text made him look completely stupid. And the speaker was in reality anything but stupid to anyone listening to him. Removing them completely transformed the text to a more accurate reflection of the speaker.)

    1. Sure, we all forgive. It’s clear that the “also” is a quotation of the original. In fact you’ll find two cases of this “also = although” in the blog. And the rest makes for atrocious reading. But when you’re a professor, you have access to students, and it is so easy to ask one of them to proofread the stuff for a test as to whether the student is able to understand it.
      It is mind-boggling that English universities are happy with this caliber of writing. It just shows you that pre-WW II writers had some basic class, and something got lost after the war, which probably is classical education. We no longer have the same mind-set as people like Couchoud or Archibald Robertson.

      Just a side question about that “Word-Wide Church of God”. Was that the same cult that Bobby Fisher joined in the States and to which he contributed 10% of his winnings as a chess player, only to find out that he had been cheated, after which he lost any trust in any form of religion and anything else for that matter?

  3. Neil: “Past scholarship has always taken for granted the claim of Irenaeus that Marcion found and edited an existing Gospel.”

    Perhaps what is being overlook re the question of Marcion and gLuke is the possibility that an early, or ur-Luke, did not contain the birth narratives re 6.c.e. – and maybe not even the ‘about 30 years old’ in the 15th year of Tiberius. The ahistoricists/mythicists should not be tying themselves down to the standard view of the gospel story – that it has always centred on the 15th year of Tiberius. Particularly, as it seems, the standard view is that gLuke was the last of the canonical gospels. The question really is – what was the JC storyline prior to gLuke and it’s 15th year of Tiberius setting?

    The 15th year of Tiberius is the final setting for the JC storyboard. The earlier setting was 21 c.e. Pilate can be dated from 19 c.e. And it’s that crucifixion story in the 7th year of Tiberius, in 21 c.e. that gLuke was endeavouring to set aside. Once ur -Luke, with it’s attempt at moving the crucifixion of JC story to the 15th year of Tiberius was on the cards, so to speak – the window was open, for someone like Marcion, to ‘escape’ the Judaizers and create his non-Jewish Jesus. He would be able to claim that he had the original gLuke – and that those who preferred the additional gLuke updates were Judaizers. Marcion took one cherry from the basket, that 15th year of Tiberius, and failed to notice that, as one swallow does not a summer make, that one date could not stand alone in support of a later crucifixion of JC story. New birth narratives were necessary. Additional updates to gLuke were necessary – in order that the JC storyboard – a storyboard with a long history – would not be cut loose from it’s Jewish origins. The JC storyboard had a new setting in the 15th year of Tiberius – a setting that strove to update the story not negate that story’s Jewish origins. Marcion took an update and turned it into an origin story.

    (The gospel of John has a JC not yet 50 years at the crucifixion under Pilate. The gospel of Mark brings in the Antipas and Herodias story – most likely based and reworked around the earlier, about 6 c.e., divorce story of Archelaus and Glaphyra. (JtB appearing before Archelaus in the wonder-doer story in Slavonic Josephus). The gospel of Matthew, without JC being a young child during the rule of Archelaus, allows the JC story to be dated anytime during the rule of Herod the Great. gLuke, by setting the gospel JC story in the 15th year of Tiberius, has accomplished a major rewrite of the developing JC storyboard – and requiring some backwards editing…..
    Slavonic Josephus: Birth narrative prior to the 15th year of Herod the Great, 25 b.c. Producing a crucifixion of a JC, not yet 50 years old, in the 7th year of Tiberius in 21 c.e.)

  4. No. Marcion had no need for birth narratives.

    Neil, it’s necessary to get away from gLuke’s 15th year of Tiberius. That dating needs to be put on the shelve for a while. gLuke is considered the last of the canonical gospels – therefore, there was a period of time without the 15th year of Tiberius having any relevance for the JC storyboard. The mythicists say – don’t read the gospels into Paul. So, likewise – don’t read a later gospel, gLuke, back into the earlier gospels. The one constant is Pilate – who can be dated from 19 c.e., Josephus being ambiguous – thus allowing for an earlier JC storyboard re a crucifixion story in the 7th year of Tiberius in 21 c.e. (Eusebius and the Acts of Pilate and it’s crucifixion story in the 7th year of Tiberius in 21 c.e.) An old JC story given an updated, modern, setting, by gLuke.

    Think of gLuke as a work in progress. Marcion manages to get hold of the first draft, an ur-Luke – the original. He uses this against those who support the final gLuke. But gLuke is not the originator of the JC story but it’s developer. ur-Luke is developed from earlier JC stories. Without taking on board the earlier JC storyboard and it’s continued development with gLuke, Marcion’s ur-Luke type gospel is a floating abstraction – going nowhere. It cut the cord to Jewish history and paid the price. The historicists won the day – and are still doing so. No, of course not, re the gospel JC being a historical figure. History, Jewish history, won the day. Without that, the gospel JC story had no legs to travel far. Perhaps something some mythicists need to take on board 😉

    1. I sense this is exciting and insightful, but I’m afraid I got lost (probably because of all the abbreviations, g, ur, über, post, etc..) and missed the point.
      Can somebody who’s smarter and who got it summarize the key point in a few lines so that I can absorb it?
      Still pining for Couchoud’s lucidity or Robertson’s clarity who both spoil their readers and made you feel you could understand their finest points.
      Is it implied that Marcion had spies in the Luke household who stole the first draft of the manuscript while luke was asleep and didn’t notice it was gone, until the Evangelion appeared in the local manuscript shop, which reminded Luke of the task being unfinished, and started again from memory or using Marcion’s text? Is that it, or something else?

      1. G = Gospel, so gLuke or GLuke = Gospel of Luke, GMark = Gospel of Mark, etc. It’s a handy one to use if it is thought a good idea to avoid confusion over whether one is talking about the presumed author or the Gospel itself that is known by that author’s name.

        Ur — it being an ancient Sumerian city helped me suss out its right meaning in the wrong way when I first encountered it; it’s German for “proto”, “primitive”, “original”: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ur-

  5. Oh, dear………

    There are two major questions regarding Marcion and gLuke. 1. Did he mutilate the gospel of Luke by removing content. 2. Did Marcion originate, write, the gospel of Luke ; thus requiring the orthodox to ‘improve’, to harmonize, that gospel with the orthodox JC story, when seeking to absorb, incorporate, his followers into the ‘church’.

    1. The mutilating issue requires that gLuke was always the same gospel we have today. It rules out a development within that gospel.

    2. For Marcion to be the originator, or writer, of the gospel of Luke, requires that the 15th year of Tiberius was in some way meaningful for him. Alternatively, he closed his eyes and put the tail on the donkey – ie, this dating is arbitrary.

    To clear Marcion from charges of mutilation it’s only necessary to postulate a gLuke that went through stages of development. One can deny his authorship of the gospel of Luke by demonstrating that the 15th year of Tiberius had meaning within the whole context of the JC storyboard. Outside of that context, the 15th year of Tiberius is meaningless. It has no relevance.

    Basically, the idea is that gLuke was composed in stages. An original draft that was later developed. A draft in the sense of first copy of a work in progress. No Marcion spies in gLuke’s household!

    The contradictions within the work suggest three versions of gLuke.

    1. The original draft, ur-Luke, starts from 3:1, (Pilate only) and does not have the ‘about 30 years old’. What that ‘first edition’ did was move the crucifixion date away from the earlier (21 c.e. date) to the 15th year of Tiberius, 29/30 c.e. This is the Marcion version.

    2. A second edition gave the age of JC to ‘about 30 years’ during the 15th year of Tiberius. What that does is place the nativity of JC around 1 b.c. In effect, negating the nativity date associated with an early crucifixion date, the 15th year of Herod the Great, 25 b.c. This edition probably added the list of rulers to 3:1,2. Thus, setting out a 70 year time frame in which this gospel story is set. (40 b.c. to 30 c.e.). 70 years of history that the gospel writer found to be relevant.

    3. A final edition of gLuke, places a nativity in the time of Quirinius, about 6 c.e. What that does is move the crucifixion date further along to 36 c.e. (JC being ‘about 30’ years old.)

    Three crucifixion dates for the JC storyboard, 21 c.e. (Acts of Pilate via Eusebius), 29/30 c.e. and 36 c.e. Obviously, if one goes along with a historical JC then all this is irrelevant. If, however, one is interested in JC as a literary creation – then storyline developments are of interest.

    How did Marcion get hold of a copy of gLuke’s original draft edition? People keep and use stuff even if it’s out of date. Wherever he got it, he chose to keep that version set in stone. That other versions were available to him is indicated by his belief that a Judaizing attempt had been undertaken.

    “This fundamental conviction was at the very heart of the Marcionite movement, the idea of re-establishing what had been falsified. Marcion was convinced that there had been a great Judaising conspiracy going on in the world aiming at perverting the Gospel by pretending that Christ belonged to the Creator. ” Sebastian Moll: The Arch-Heretic Marcion.

    Was Marcion obsessed with conspiracy theories – or did he have a trump card in his hand – a copy of ur-Luke?

  6. Curiously, with what maryhelena was saying with those dates, (25B.C. to 19A.D.), in real terms that would mean we’re talking about Judas the Galilean, founder of the zealots and the only Galilean rabbi we find founding an entire new stream of Judaism that century outside of all the NT accounts

  7. I’m a plain old ordinary person just trying to nut all this out from a real evidence perspective. Coming to terms even with the idea Marcion wrote what was really the very first New Testament which wasn’t identical to the one we have now has been a shock, but one I’m adapting to. Likewise, even being brought up Christian, I have to recognize that before Eusebius the Testimonium Flavium wasn’t really there in Josephus…but half a dozen descriptions of Judas the Galilean/Gaulonite were. It’s even easy for a layman like myself to note that Eusebius mustn’t have liked the descriptions of Judas the Galilean too much, because the Testimonium Flavium takes up the space we would have expected tor read of Judas the Galilean’s death, most likely by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate…around the 19-21A.D. mark.

    What major streams are missing from the current NT? Judas the Galilean’s Fourth Philsophy/Zealots and the Essenes. The Fourth Philosphy are technically Pharisee, looks like the Shammai school…but the Essenes look more to have an allegorical God/God-man/man different from Judas the Galilean to promulgate.

    Then you have all these Plato and Greek philosphy ideas: a cosmic cross from Plato. A first cause (the Good God?) and a Logos (from Plato again, via Philo) and a Demiurge that’s credited with being the Creator god of the Israelites…and in a variation of stuff extant even with the Sumerian idea of the god of the flood being a lesser god, the Demiurge to everyone except Jews is a lesser entity.

    It’s not that hard to work out when you think about it.

    One historical, but NOT identical to the one we’ve all been led to believe about…the other purely allegory.

    Add some salt, do some syncretism…voila.

  8. Of course Marcion did not use any canonical ghospel, as they had not come into being by then.

    Robert Price finally severed the Gordian knot by assuming that Marcion used no gospel at all (in the sense that became the popular definition when the Catholic canon was cemented).

    However, the fake gospel is still important as a few passages agree with reading variants of later manuscripts of the Gospel according to St Luke.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading