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