Tag Archives: Ignatius

How Ignatius Cut Christianity Off From its Jewish Roots

(updated 2 hours after first posting)

This post is a distillation of the chapter “Why Ignatius Invented Judaism” by Daniel Boyarin in The Ways That Often Parted: Essays in Honor of Joel Marcus. It covers the same questions addressed by Roger Parvus (see sidebox) but with a different hypothesis.

Roger Parvus posted a series on Vridar arguing that the letters of Ignatius were in fact composed by a follower of a breakaway sect from Marcionism. Roger’s thesis builds upon ideas advanced by earlier scholars that the letters of Ignatius show signs of the teachings of someone closely related to Marcionism, such as Apelles, a former disciple of Marcion. Roger also revisits and develops an idea that first appeared a century ago in scholarly publications that the author of the original letters was in fact that colorful character Peregrinus, the subject of a satire by Lucian.

The essence of Boyarin’s view is that Ignatius

a. used the term that we translate as “Judaism” to refer to any attempt to link gospel details to the Old Testament; and that

b. the gospel of Jesus Christ stood as true without any reference to Old Testament prophecies or scriptures.

This idea throws an interesting perspective on thesis we have at times addressed on this blog that the canonical gospel characters, events and sayings were constructed out “midrashic” or intertextual interpretations of Old Testament books and that their symbolic meanings were subsequently lost by those Christians who became the foundation of the Church we know today. Can the epistles of Ignatius be viewed as an early stage of that misunderstanding and loss of the original meaning of our gospels? (These, of course, are my questions, not those directly raised by Boyarin.)

Boyarin begins by comparing Paul’s and Ignatius’s respective uses of the term “Judaism” (Ioudaismos). For Paul it meant performing certain practices, not an institution. Thus when Paul writes

and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions (Gal. 1:14 NASB)

Daniel Boyarin

he means the “practice of Jewish ways of loyalty to the traditional doings of Jews” that Josephus described as

the ancestral [traditions] of the Ioudaioi (τὰ πάτρια τῶν Ἰουδαίων – A.J. 20.41)

It does not mean an abstract category of “a religion”. It means performing practices, customs, rituals, etc. It is the counterpart of what Thucydides complained that Plataeans were doing when they were “Medizing” — that is, “forsaking their ancestral traditions” (παραβαίνοντες τὰ πάτρια, Thucydides, P.W. 3.61.2), copying the customs of the Medes. (I am only presenting the main idea: Boyarin’s justification for this interpretation is a lengthy discussion of Galatians passages than I have outlined above.)

For Paul, it was the Jewish law that stood against the gospel. For Ignatius, however, gospel stood in opposition to Jewish scriptures.

Old Fables/Myths

At one point Ignatius equates “heterodoxy and old myths” with this Judaizing of his heretics:

Be not deceived by heterodoxiai nor by old fables, which are useless. For if we continue to live until now according to Ioudaismos, we confess that we have not received grace” (Magn. 8.1).

Could such fables possibly be connected with Jewish Scriptures here? Ignatius links them with “Judaizing”. Ignatius continues from the above passage to speak positively of the prophets, but he used the fact that they were persecuted (Magn 8:2) as evidence that they were on his side (Barrett, 237). In the Pastoral epistles we likewise read of the association of Judaism with mythology — Titus 1:14; I Timothy 1:4; 4:7; II Timothy 4:4). Ignatius appears to criticize the “Judaizers” for “mythologizing” the Scriptures: i.e. either reading them literally (Barrett, 237) or midrashically (my suggestion).

Gospel versus Scriptures

The first Christian to make that declaration, as far as we know, was Marcion. (Boyarin doubts that Ignatius took the idea from Marcion but Parvus argues that that was exactly where the idea ultimately derived.) The key passage is in Ignatius’s letter to the Philadelphians: read more »

Gospel According to Ignatius

I should have included a column for the gospel according to Ignatius in my earlier post on the Gospel according to the Ascension of Isaiah. Better late than never:

read more »

Final of “Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius”: Tackling New Questions

Links to all posts in this series are collated at: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius

This post continues from The (Apellean) Gospel of Peregrinus and concludes the series.

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.


In posts two through six I showed why Peregrinus should be regarded as the author of the so-called Ignatian letters. In posts seven through eleven I argued that he was an Apellean Christian.

In this post I will tie up some loose ends, adding some thoughts regarding the date of his letters, and taking a somewhat speculative last look at his community, the Apelleans.


Apelles: Canvas Poster Print

Contents of this post


  • Terminus ante quem
  • Terminus post quem
  • ca 145 CE?
  • Or late 130s?


  • Between Irenaeus and Origen
  • How did he come by the letters?
  •  The evidence pointing to Theophilus of Antioch


  •  Basis of the Gospel of John?
  •  Gnostic threads in the Gospel of John
  •  Opposing views of the world in the Fourth Gospel
  •  Why the Gospel’s hostility to the Jews and Judaism
  •  Why no Passover or Baptism in John’s Gospel
  •  The missing Ascension in the Fourth Gospel
  •  Identifying the Paraclete (the mysterious witness to Jesus) : The Holy Spirit or Paul?
  •  Identifying the Beloved Disciple: Paul?
  •  Paul not a persecutor
  •  Paul (“little one”) the boy disciple?
  •  Paul or John?
  •  Affairs at Ephesus and Smyrna


  •  Identifying the woman taken in adultery?
  •  Returning to the fold




Using the chronological indications that Lucian provides in his sketch of Peregrinus, the year of the would-be martyr’s arrest can only be very roughly pegged to have occurred sometime between 130 and 150 CE. read more »

The Ignatian Letters Written By A Follower Of Apelles? (Part 1)


This post continues from The Author of the So-Called Ignatians was an Apellean Christian

Links to all posts in this series are collated at: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius



When I presented my first contention — that the real author of the Ignatians was Peregrinus — I argued that a proto-Catholic editor/interpolator later, probably around 200 CE, made changes to the letters to disguise Peregrinus’ authorship. To make the letters acceptable for use by his church he had to remove the apostate Peregrinus from them.

In the last two posts I have begun to argue my second contention:

That the branch of Christianity to which the author of the letters belonged was Apellean.

If this second contention is correct, it is to be expected that the proto-Catholic editor/interpolator had also to make some doctrinal modifications to the letters. For although Apellean beliefs, compared to those of Marcion, were definitely closer to those held by the proto-Catholics, some would have still been unacceptable, especially to the proto-Catholic church of the year 200. Doctrinal positions had hardened in the 50 years that had passed since Peregrinus wrote the letters. The church was becoming more dogmatic as is evidenced by the appearance of the so-called Apostles Creed sometime toward the end of the second century.

Thus the need for occasional interventions in the letters to make them safe for proto-Catholic consumption.

The changes made to remove Peregrinus from the letters were often remarkably careless. We will see that some of the doctrinal corrections were careless too. read more »

The Author of the So-Called Ignatians was an Apellean Christian


This post continues from The Teachings of Apelles, Marcion’s Apostate

All posts so far in this series: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius



From this survey of the teaching of Apelles it can be seen how closely his doctrine matches the combination of beliefs exhibited by the author of the letters. The most straightforward way to account for this is to conclude that their author, Peregrinus, was an Apellean.

Explanatory power of the thesis read more »

The Teachings of Apelles, Marcion’s Apostate


This post continues from An Unusual Mix of Beliefs in the Letters of Ignatius Peregrinus

All posts so far in this series: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius



In my previous post I called attention to the assortment of unusual beliefs held by the author of the so-called Ignatian letters. That assortment and the description of his Judaizing and docetic opponents have convinced me that he was a follower of Apelles, and that the churches he addressed in his letters were Apellean.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with that little-known early Christian and his sect I will start by reviewing what the extant record says about them.


Marcion’s Deserter

Apelles, the founder of the Apelleans, was at first a disciple of Marcion. If, as is thought, he was born early in the second century, he could have been Marcion’s disciple as early as the 120s, assuming Marcion was already actively proselytizing at that time. It is not known how long Apelles was associated with Marcion, but at some point he broke with him and adopted doctrinal positions that were at odds with those of his teacher. Tertullian says the break was sparked by Apelles’ rejection of Marcion’s rigorist teaching regarding celibacy:

Apelles . . . deserted Marcionite chastity and withdrew from the presence of his most holy master to Alexandria. Returning after some years, he was in no way improved except he was no longer a Marcionite. (On the Prescription of Heretics, 7).

Their differences went beyond the issue of celibacy, however, and the split was likely not an amicable one. Apelles abandoned Marcion’s dualism and returned to belief in one supreme God. He repudiated Marcion’s docetism, emphatically insisting on the real and non-phantasmal nature of Christ’s body. From Marcion’s canon he retained only the Apostolicon, replacing Marcion’s Gospel with one of his own. He did continue to view the Old Testament negatively, and in a way his position in regard to it is, as will be seen, even more negative than Marcion’s. But on the other hand, Origen concedes that Apelles

did not entirely deny that the Law and the Prophets were of God (Commentary on Titus).

In breaking with Marcion, Apelles adopted new beliefs that unquestionably moved him closer to doctrinal positions held by the proto-Catholics, but his new beliefs still differed from theirs in significant ways. No complete exposition of his teaching has survived. Tertullian wrote a treatise against the Apelleans but it is no longer extant. However, the early record does contain enough information to permit at least a partial reconstruction of what Apelles taught. Elements can be found in the following:

  • Tertullian’s On the Flesh of Christ, On the Prescription of Heretics, On the Soul, and an extant fragment of Against the Apelleans (Migne’s Patrologia Latina, 42, 30, n. 1)
  • Pseudo-Tertullian’s Against All Heresies
  • Hippolytus’ The Refutation of All Heresies
  • Origen’s Commentary on Titus and Against Celsus
  • Eusebius’ History of the Church
  • Epiphanius’ Panarion.

For my quotes from the Panarion I will use the translation by Frank Williams in his The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Quotes from the other sources are either my own translations or those of the Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. read more »

An Unusual Mix of Beliefs in the Letters of Ignatius Peregrinus


This post continues from Writing Ignatius into History (How the Peregrinus thesis solves many problems)

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.

All posts so far in this series: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius




In my previous posts I have presented my case for identifying Peregrinus as the real author of the so-called Ignatian letters. That case—if I may say so myself—is a strong one. And going forward, when I speak of the author of those letters it should be understood that I am referring to Peregrinus.

I want now to continue on to the second part of my theory and identify, from other passages in the letters, the branch of Christianity that was his.

To make that identification it is indeed the letters and not TDOP that must be examined, for Lucian simply calls Peregrinus a Christian. If he is aware that there were different types of Christians he doesn’t show it. He does not devote much of his treatise to what Christians believe, and the only Christian beliefs he mentions are ones that would apply to many of the various types:

They still worship the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. . . The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. (TDOP 11 & 13, Harmon)


The unique assortment of beliefs expressed in the letters can be closely matched with the known beliefs of one particular Christian church that existed in that same time period.


In contrast to TDOP, the seven letters provide information about their author’s beliefs that is more detailed. And the letters show that he and his confreres subscribed to many beliefs that were not held by proto-Catholic Christians, at least not in the combination that is found in the letters. I think the distinctive combination of those beliefs can reveal to which brand of Christianity Peregrinus adhered. The original letters, assuming I am correct in my identification of Peregrinus as their author, were written sometime between 130 and 150 CE, for based on the information provided by TDOP the arrest of Peregrinus almost certainly fell within that period. I will argue that the unique assortment of beliefs expressed in the letters can in fact be closely matched with the known beliefs of one particular Christian church that existed in that same time period.

In this post I will make a start by looking at some of the peculiar beliefs found in the letter collection. read more »

Writing Ignatius into History (How the Peregrinus thesis solves many problems)


This post is a continuation of Making Sense of the Letters and Travels of Ignatius (Peregrinus?)

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.

All posts so far in this series: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius



So far I have called attention to the many similarities between Peregrinus and the author of the so-called Ignatians.

Failed explanations for the similarities

I have explained that, to account for the similarities, it is not enough to simply claim that Lucian, for his portrait of Peregrinus, probably borrowed from Ignatius.

Ignatius of Antiochie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is not enough, for instance,

  • to say with William Schoedel that “Lucian (as Lightfoot and others have suggested) probably had Ignatius in mind when he wrote the following concerning Peregrinus: ‘They say that he sent letters to almost all the famous cities more or less as testaments, counsels, and laws; and he appointed … certain of his companions as ambassadors. . .  for the purpose, calling them messengers of the dead and couriers of the shades . . . ” (Ignatius of Antioch, p. 279). . . .
  • Or to say with Allen Brent that “Lucian, as he describes Peregrinus, endows him with many of the characteristics of Ignatius as typical of an imprisoned Christian martyr.” (Ignatius of Antioch – A Martyr Bishop and the origin of the Episcopacy, p. 50).

That explanation doesn’t work. That kind of borrowing by Lucian would only have compromised his ridicule of Peregrinus. He couldn’t have expected to convincingly expose Peregrinus by substituting a lot of characteristics from someone else, especially when he was writing so soon after the demise of his target. People would have noticed that his portrait was false.

More convincing explanations

But I have also now shown that the letters themselves contain puzzling features that point to a different explanation for the similarities. The similarities exist because the letters were in fact written by Peregrinus, but the puzzles exist because changes were later made to the letters to disguise his authorship.

Fortunately, with help from TDOP, enough telltale traces of the true provenance of the letters remain so that the puzzles can be solved.

  • Authorship by Peregrinus provides a more convincing reason for the urgency of the request that Ambassadors of God be sent from Asia to Antioch.
  • And that request for Asian Ambassadors matches up with the presence of Asian delegates in Syria who, according to Lucian, helped, defended and encouraged Peregrinus.
  • My theory also provides a more convincing reason for the request that a most God-pleasing council be convoked.
  • And it can plausibly reconstruct the circumstances of Peregrinus’ arrest and detect the route that was originally in the letters.
  • It can give a definite meaning to the otherwise vague expression “May I have the joy of you.”
  • Moreover the theory can explain, for instance, why the name of Polycarp is not found in the letter to the Smyrneans, but is found awkwardly lodged in another letter.
  • And why, for instance, only in the so-called letter to Rome is there no mention of a bishop, presbyters and deacons.
  • And it can explain the ‘filtering out’ that has occurred in the church addressed by that letter.

Other lesser anomalies find similarly satisfying solutions.

And, of course, since Peregrinus at some point became an apostate, there is an overall plausible reason why a later Christian would have needed to disguise the letters if he wanted to use them.


Second Century Witness — or Lack Thereof — to an Ignatius of Antioch

My theory can explain too, why the name ‘Ignatius’—with a single questionable exception to be considered shortly—is nowhere to be found in any second-century Christian writings outside of the letter collection itself. read more »

Making Sense of the Letters and Travels of Ignatius (Peregrinus?)

This post is a continuation of Invitations to Watch a Martrydom: The Letters of Ignatius (or Peregrinus). . .

In my previous post I argued that the so-called letter to Polycarp was originally a letter from Peregrinus to the man who, after restoring order in the church of Antioch, had been installed as that church’s new bishop. The letter was one of three that the prisoner wrote after learning that the dissension in the church in Antioch had come to an end.

In the other two letters (those addressed to Smyrna and Philadelphia) he urgently requested that Ambassadors of God be appointed to go to Antioch to rejoice with that church.

In the so-called letter to Polycarp, on the other hand, there is an urgent request for the convocation of a most God-pleasing council and, in connection with it, the appointment of a Courier of God.

This most God-pleasing council, I maintain, was convened in Antioch— not Smyrna—and it is one and the same with the gathering mentioned in Lucian’s TDOP* that drew delegates “even from cities in Asia to succour, defend and encourage” the would-be martyr Peregrinus.

* TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.


(added by Neil)

Two sets of letters

The letter to the Romans

Originally written to the church at Antioch

The route

Problems with traditional reconstructions

The Peregrinus hypothesis removes these problems

A plausible reconstruction

The Peregrinus hypothesis removes difficulties found in the letters

A telltale expression

A phrase seen as relatively insignificant by commentators is shown to occur consistently in a certain context and accordingly adds weight to the hypothesis that the letters were originally written by Peregrinus on his way to Antioch.


Two sets of letters

The letters to Philadelphia, Smyrna and to Polycarp purport to have been written from the port city of Troas while the prisoner was waiting to board ship. But, as we will see shortly, they were probably written while he was waiting at a different port.

The other letters in the collection—to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome—were written before the prisoner knew the outcome of the in-fighting at Antioch. Because the four letters in this group would have been written at least a few days before the three letters in the other group I will refer to them, for the sake of brevity, as set 1 and will call the others set 2.

The set 1 letters were written in Smyrna during a stop there by the prisoner’s military escorts. The bishops of three of the churches addressed by those letters—Ephesus, Magnesia and Tralles—had traveled, accompanied by a few other members of their flocks, to visit with the prisoner at Smyrna. The letters written to their churches were likely carried back by them when they made their return trips. I see no serious reason to question that these three letters were in fact addressed to the churches they purport to address. I cannot say the same about the other set l letter: Romans.


The Letter to the Romans

The message of the letter to the Romans is loud and clear. It is basically a sustained plea: “Don’t try to get me released, for I want to die for the Name.” read more »

Invitations to Watch a Martrydom: The Letters of Ignatius (or Peregrinus) continued

This post is a continuation of Solving a Puzzle (or four) in the Letters of Ignatius: The Christian Years of Peregrinus

IN MY PREVIOUS POST I argued that the Asian delegates to Antioch mentioned in the letters to Philadelphia and to Smyrna should be identified as being part of the Asian delegations that, according to Lucian, were sent to encourage Peregrinus when he was imprisoned by the governor of Syria.

The author of the letters was Peregrinus, I maintain, and when he wrote them he himself was being led in chains to Antioch for imprisonment and— he hoped—martyrdom.

And having heard that the recent factional turmoil in the church of Antioch had ceased, he wanted the churches in Philadelphia, Smyrna and other cities in Asia to appoint delegates to go Antioch for his martyrdom.


THIS POST will inspect the other letter that he wrote after learning that peace had been restored in the Antiochene church.


That letter is the letter to Polycarp, and although it was written at the same time as the letters to Philadelphia and Smyrna, it differs from them in several significant particulars. As will be seen, these differences are the clue to its true character.

Solving the many puzzles of this letter will confirm that the would-be martyr was indeed being led to Antioch, not Rome.


The Letter to Polycarp

Polycarp is identified as the bishop of Smyrna in the letter addressed to him but, strangely, not in the letter to the Smyrneans that was written at practically the same time.

. . . one would never guess that the two men had just parted.

The prisoner wrote the two letters just a short while after his departure from Smyrna, having visited with Polycarp and his church during his stop there. Yet, from the kind of advice contained in the first five chapters of the letter to Polycarp, one would never guess that the two men had just parted. One could legitimately wonder why they didn’t discuss the material in those chapters when they talked face-to-face presumably just days before. And the advice to Polycarp regarding his responsibilities to the members of his church who are widows, or married, or slaves (IgnPoly 4 & 5) looks like advice for a newly installed bishop.

It looks like most blessed Polycarp has been forced into a text where he was not originally present.

read more »

Solving a Puzzle (or four) in the Letters of Ignatius: The Christian Years of Peregrinus


This post is a continuation of The Letters of Ignatius: Originally Written By Peregrinus?

In my previous post I showed that Peregrinus, as described by Lucian, bears great resemblance to the man who wrote the letters commonly ascribed to Ignatius of Antioch, and I proposed that the reason for their similarity is that the real author of the letters was Peregrinus.

In his adult life he was first a Christian, but later abandoned Christianity to become a Cynic philosopher. So, some of the similarities noted are those that existed between those two periods of his life.



According to Lucian, what characterized Peregrinus was that he “always did and said everything with a view to glory and the praise of the multitude.” (TDOP 42, Harmon).

And his glory-seeking was already clearly present in his Christian days when the governor of Syria freed him because he realized that Peregrinus “would gladly die in order that he might leave behind him a reputation for it.” (TDOP 14, Harmon). So I see it as quite plausible that many of the ways he pursued glory as a Cynic would be similar to the ways he pursued it earlier as a Christian.

Publicity letters

When, as a Cynic, he sought to die a fiery death, he sent out letters to publicize the event. Earlier, I maintain, when he sought to die a martyr’s death as a Christian, he sent out letters too, among which are the seven so-called Ignatians.

Bestowing titles on his messengers

As a Cynic enamored of death, he gave titles to the messengers who spread the news of his upcoming leap to glory. I submit that the similar titles present in the letter collection are an indication that earlier, as a Christian enamored of martyrdom, he had already engaged in that practice. The specific titles were different, of course, because of the difference in his affiliation. But the very idea of giving titles to the messengers is the same.

Desire to imitate the gods into the invisible realm

And as a Cynic he proclaimed his desire to dissolve into thin air via fire so as to imitate Heracles. To this would correspond his earlier proclamation, as a Christian, that he desired to be visible no more, and to be — courtesy of a painful execution by the Romans — an imitator of the passion of his God.

A new name

And, as I see it, his adoption of new names to mark important moments in his life was not something he only began once he became a Cynic. No, the greeting at the head of each of the seven letters from “Ignatius who is also Theophorus” shows that it was already there during his Christian period. His becoming a prisoner in chains for Christ was one of those moments that called for a new name. (In a later post I will come back to this and look more closely at the name he took to mark the occasion).


An Objection

One could object at this point that Lucian did not appear to notice the specific parallels I have indicated between Peregrinus the Christian and Peregrinus the Cynic.

read more »

The Letters of Ignatius: Originally Written By Peregrinus?

This post is a continuation of The Letters of Ignatius: Originally Written By a Follower of an Ex-Marcionite?




My first contention is that the real author of the Ignatians was Peregrinus Proteus. Before examining the letters themselves it will help to first review what is known about him.

Almost all of our information about him comes from Lucian of Samosata’s satire, The Death of Peregrinus. (I will indicate quotes from this work by the abbreviation ‘TDOP’ and will use the translations of either A. M. Harmon or Lionel Casson).

Lucian was a contemporary of Peregrinus. They were at one point passengers on the same ship. And Lucian was present at Peregrinus’ spectacular self-immolation. He considered Peregrinus to be a charlatan and a vain publicity seeker. We need to keep that in mind and be aware that to some extent Lucian’s portrait of Peregrinus may be a caricature. However, Donald Dudley’s assessment is representative of that generally held by scholars, that

though one must always suspect Lucian’s imputation of motives, somewhat more reliance can be placed in his mere statements of fact… It is therefore a fair assumption that the main outlines of Peregrinus’ career as given by Lucian are trustworthy. (A History of Cynicism, pp. 171-172)


Peregrinus is thought to have been born at the beginning of the second century. His hometown was Parium on the Hellespont.

Parium on the Hellespont

Of his early life little is known. After the death of his father—a death neighbors suspected the son had caused by strangulation—Peregrinus imposed on himself a sentence of banishment from Parium and took to the road.

A wandering we will go

The name ‘Peregrinus’ means ‘wanderer,’ and it is possible that it was not his given name, but rather a name he chose for himself when he began his self-imposed exile. Later, at other turning points in his life, he assumed other names (Proteus and Phoenix). Lucian mockingly calls him “He with the most names of all the Cynics.”

Onward Christian soldier

During his wanderings Peregrinus visited Palestine and became a Christian. He soon attained a position of authority among them, becoming their “prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many…” (TDOP 11. Harmon).

Locked up read more »

The Letters of Ignatius: Originally Written By a Follower of an Ex-Marcionite?

In 2011 Roger Parvus posted a series here arguing that the letters of Ignatius were in fact composed by a follower of a breakaway sect from Marcionism. Roger’s thesis builds upon ideas advanced by earlier scholars that the letters of Ignatius show signs of the teachings of someone closely related to Marcionism, such as Apelles, a former disciple of Marcion. Roger also revisits and develops an idea that first appeared a century ago in scholarly publications that the author of the original letters was in fact that colorful character Peregrinus, the subject of a satire by Lucian.

Since then, Roger has nuanced some of those posts, and I also have learned a little about more effective ways to present lengthy posts in a relatively quick-and-easy-to-follow layout on a blog page. So I will be posting a new series of the revised version of Roger’s posts over coming months. I will also add another easy-reference index page in the right-hand margin similar to the one I have set up for Earl Doherty’s responses to Bart Ehrman.


I am genuinely grateful to Neil for allowing me to present on his blog a series of posts explaining my theory about the letters commonly attributed to Ignatius of Antioch. It should be understood that his permission does not imply that he concurs with the theory or any part of it. These posts will be a condensed, revised version of the main arguments contained in my self-published book A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and other Apellean Writings.

In particular I will argue

Author: Peregrinus

Religion: follower of Apelles (ex-Marcionite)

Reviser: an unknown proto-Catholic

  1. that the seven Ignatian letters that comprise the middle recension were originally letters written by Peregrinus c. 145 CE,
  2. that he was an Apellean Christian i.e. a follower of the ex-Marcionite Apelles, and
  3. that later, towards the end of the second century, the letters were modified by a proto-Catholic Christian.
The authenticity of the letters has been questioned by many in the last three hundred years . . . Christian pseudepigraphical writing was not rare.

By way of preliminaries I would first point out that the kind of scenario I am proposing for the letters should not be dismissed out of hand. The authenticity of the letters has been questioned by many in the last three hundred years.

And it is a fact that there exist versions of them that are acknowledged as spurious by all (e.g. the longer recension of the letters) and that early Christians at some point composed entire Ignatian letters that all scholars recognize as spurious (e.g. the letters of Ignatius to Mary; and to Hero; and to the Tarsians). It is likewise a fact that already in the second century many Christians, with perhaps the best of intentions, were engaged in less-than-straightforward literary efforts. Christian pseudepigraphical writing was not rare and even produced works that made it into the New Testament.

The scenario I am proposing for the Ignatians is similar. I am proposing that some letters written by Peregrinus were later reworked, so that the lofty sentiments they contain would be safe and suitable to inspire other Christians facing persecution by the state. read more »

Debating the Place of the Ignatian Letters in Christian Origins: Doherty & Parvus

I and many other readers have been interested in Roger Parvus’s alternative explanations for some aspects of Earl Doherty’s arguments. Roger has posted a detailed comment on Earl’s Part 12 Response to Bart Ehrman but I am repeating it here as a post in its own right. Where Earl argues that the incipient docetism addressed in the Ignatian letters is best explained as an early variant of the emerging belief that Christ came down to earth, Roger finds the simplest explanation in the Ignatian letters being written as a reaction against Marcionism — but not an “orthodox” reaction. Rather, Roger has argued that the Ignatian correspondence originated in the major Marcionite schismatic movement led by Apelles.

Before posting Roger’s comment in full here is the outline of Earl’s argument in Part 12:

  • Are the Ignatian letters forgeries?
  • What does “truly” mean for Ignatius:
    • anti-docetism?
    • historical fact?
  • Ignatius knows no Gospels, even in 110 CE or later
    • implications of this
      • This is the year 110 (or later if the letters are forgeries) in Antioch, a stone’s throw from the Syrian-Galilean region where Jesus conducted his ministry, where the evangelists Mark and Matthew wrote (Matthew is commonly dated c.80 CE with a suggested provenance in Antioch itself!), and yet the bishop of that city does not possess a copy of a written Gospel?
    • rumours of an allegorical tale interpreted as history
      • [This can be explained if] Mark was originally written as a piece of symbolism, not meant as history, and it took . . . decades for the story’s basic features to filter out to the surrounding Christian world, through rumor and missionary contact, through expansion and redaction of the story in other nearby communities, eventually to be accepted by some as historical fact — particularly those who would have found it appealing and useful.
    • no teachings of Jesus, no miracles,
    • no apostolic tradition
      • Not only does Ignatius not possess a copy of a Gospel, he also argues from a position which lacks a few other things. One of them is apostolic tradition, another is an appeal to simple history within his faith movement: the argument that “Christians have believed these things for generations.”
  • Why did docetism arise in Ignatius’ time?
    • two reactions to the historical Jesus
      • The whole issue of docetism is a perplexing one. Why, whether here or in a developing gnostic community, would it suddenly appear after almost a century of traditional belief in an historical Jesus, during which no one voiced any objection to believing in a divine son of God who had actually suffered in flesh, who actually partook of human nature?
      • The traditional view of docetism sees it as a sudden about-face by certain Christian teachers and thinkers, the complete rejection of a presumably universal view of Jesus held for three-quarters of a century as a human being born of a human mother and suffering in human flesh. What would explain this throwing of the Christian faith train into reverse?
      • The solution is to realize that prior to the end of the first century, no one had believed the opposite. Christ was a heavenly figure who suffered, died and rose in the spiritual dimension. But at precisely the time when the first idea that Christ had been on earth arose (largely through an evolution within the Q sect and a misunderstanding of the Gospels which grew out of it) we find the first objections to a human Jesus, a philosophically-based resistance but one dependent on the new claim that the heavenly Son of God had been on earth in a human incarnation.
      • This is why a type of docetism could arise in a ‘traditional’ Christian community (of the Pauline type) which had nothing to do with Gnosticism, and why it had not arisen earlier. It is why Ignatius cannot appeal to traditional belief, because both outlooks — an historical Jesus and a docetic Jesus — are of recent vintage, competing on the same level playing field.
  • A Christ myth in Ignatius’ Ephesians

Roger Parvus’s response

As some Vridar readers are aware, my own theory is that the original author of the so-called Ignatians was Peregrinus and that he was a follower of the ex-Marcionite Apelles. And I think the two groups of opponents in the letters should be identified as Marcionites and proto-orthodox Christians—Marcionites, of course, being the docetic adversaries, and the proto-orthodox being the Judaizers.

I hold that Peregrinus wrote the letters in the early 140s with his execution at Antioch in view—a martyrdom that was thwarted when he was instead released by the governor of Syria. Peregrinus’ subsequent apostasy from Christianity rendered his letters unusable by Christians. That changed when later, toward the end of the second century, a proto-orthodox Christian made modifications to them, turning them into letters of “Ignatius.” (Those interested in a fuller exposition of the theory can find it on this Vridar site in a series of posts entitled “The Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius of Antioch”).

Earl Doherty makes some excellent observations regarding the Ignatians. He has noticed not just one but several peculiarities that, to my knowledge, have been overlooked by patristic scholars. I maintain, however, that my theory can plausibly account for the curious features. They in fact confirm the identifications I have made above of the principal parties involved.

Here’s what I mean:

1.  Non-gnostic docetism

Earl points out

that Ignatius is also dealing with an issue of docetism, although it seems not to be within any gnostic context . . .  and no other doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism contribute to raising his ire.

To me this feature is an additional confirmation that the prisoner’s docetic adversaries were Marcionites. Marcion’s system lacked many doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism. It didn’t include, for example, the many divine emanations that were a part of so many Gnosticisms. Or, another example, the fallen sparks of divinity in man. Earl is aware of this Marcionite peculiarity. On page 293 of his book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man he writes: 

Ironically, the most famous ‘Gnostic,’ Marcion, almost fails the Gnosticism test, since he lacked more than one essential feature of that generality.

But perhaps because Earl dates the Ignatians to no later than the third decade of the second century, he appears not to have considered the possibility that the docetists in question were Marcionites.    read more »