February 16, 2020
Episode 84: Other Gospels and Alien Gods: Marcion of Sinope
[N.B: the picture we used as the thumbnail for this episode is not meant to be Marcion; it’s Tertullian, the anti-Marcion!]
Valentinus might take the prize as the most hated ‘heretic’ of the second century, but close behind him in the race for the prize of ‘biggest perceived threat to proto-orthodox Christianity in the second century’ is Marcion of Sinope.
Marcion, a prominent member of one of the early generations of Christians (he was born c. 85 CE), came to Rome from Asia Minor in the 130’s, and was active in the Christian community there for a while … until, in the year 144, he was excommunicated. He then set off on his own trajectory, teaching a Christianity quite different from the proto-orthodox teaching.
What was this Christianity, and why was it such a threat? And what can we say about Marcion’s ‘Bible’, the earliest-known collection of canonical Christian scriptures? Expect demiurgy, radical transcendence in dialectic with a cosmic creator-god, Pauline fervour, and internal power-politics in second-century Christianity.
Works Cited in this Episode:
- Irenæus of Lyon: AH I.26 1-15.
- Justin Martyr: Apol. 26.5 1 and Apol. 58.1–2.
- Ps-Hippolytus on Marcion’s views (which he says are really drawn from Empedocles the Pythagorean): VII. 29–31.
- Origen, Comm. in Rom. II. 9,460–2.25.
- Tertullian: Marcion edited Luke’s gospel to fit his own theology: Adversus Marcionem 4.6.2.
- We quote translations from Lieu 2015, q.v. below.
- G.W. Butterworth, trans. Origen: On First Principles. Harper Torchbooks, New York, NY, 1966.
- Jason D. BeDuhn. Marcion’s Gospel and the New Testament: Catalyst or Consequence? Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2017 [a controversial strong reading of the evidence for Marcion’s influence on canon-formation in early Christianity].
- Adolf von Harnack. Marcion: The Gospel of an Alien God. Labyrinth Press, Durham, NC, 1990 [an old but important study of Marcion].
- Andrew Hayes. Justin Against Marcion: Defining Early Christian Philosophy. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2017.
- R. Joseph Hoffman. Marcion, on the Restitution of Christianity : An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century. Scholars Press, Chico, CA, 1984.
- John Knox. Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL 1942.
- Judith M. Lieu. Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2015.
- Andreas Lindemann. Paulus im ältesten Christentum : das Bild des Apostels und die Rezeption der paulinischen Theologie in der frühchristlichen Literatur bis Marcion. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 1979.
- Antti Marjanen and Petri Luomanen. A Companion to Second-Century Christian “Heretics”, volume 76 of Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae. Brill, Leiden/Boston, MA, 2005.
- H. Clifton Ward. ‘Marcion and His Critics’. In Paul M. Blowers and Peter W. Martens, editors, The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation, pages 366– 382. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2019.
Demiurgy, Esoteric Christianity, Esoteric Hermeneutics, Gnosticism, Heresiology, Marcion
February 17, 2020
Fabulous. A biblical literalist, yet an esotericist. The originator of the christian canon (a distinctly Pythagorean idea), yet a rejector of the entirety of the old testament.
A disciple of Empedocles? Perhaps because of his narrative of Strife and Love (old and new testament). Or, perhaps his itinerant preaching.
Re: the resurrection of the body. This weird ideatakes on a different meaning, for me, after listening to the Stoic episodes. The stoics described the body as that which is causal. Even the soul or the divine spirit or God — if it *matters* (it can cause effects) it is considered corporeal. So, resurrection of the body need not involve zombies, per se.
The piece of Marcion I don’t understand: if he believes that the god of the old testament exists, why doesn’t it remain necessary to deal with this hugely powerful creator god? Can’t he still smite, if left unappeased?
Also, how was it possible that the gospel of John wasn’t in his new testament?? He considered John spurious, then? Wow.
February 24, 2020
Wow, Irenaeus on Marcus is just so good.
“When first the Father, the not even the One, beyond all possibility of thought and being, who is neither male nor female, willed that
His ineffability should come into being, and His invisibility take form, He opened His mouth and uttered a Word, like unto
Himself; who, appearing before Him, became the means of His seeing what He himself was-namely Himself appearing in the form of His own invisibility.”
I came across this quote in the highly recommend “mystery of the seven vowels” by Jocelyn Godwin. I love his work!
February 24, 2020
Yes, all good stuff, but we must remember that Marcion and Marcus were, tragically, two completely different people.
February 24, 2020
Lol. Ok, fair enough. Let me take a stab to connect them, at least. Marcion denied continuous revelation — Marcus sold it by the glass. Still, Marcion may have agreed with Marcus’ statement about the ineffable oneness. That philosophical concept of a Oneness God vs a single person god (or Trinity) is major a theme in orthodoxy/heresy.
But, one heretical problem with a Oneness God is that it philosophically requires complex intermediaries (like the valentinian Aeons) to produce a god like the old testament personality god. To avoid that complexity, Marcion simply threw out the old testament god. The ineffable oneness is the connecting narrative that connects the over-the-top theatrics of Marcus to the staid, failed-orthodoxy of Marcion.
I really didn’t expect “against all heresies” to be such fun reading. But I should recognize the genre — the prude against the prurient gives an excuse to describe the prurient in great detail.
September 18, 2020
I admit that I’m not caught up completely yet on all released episodes, but I’m wondering at this juncture why, having covered the ‘gnostics,’ there is no in depth discussion of the canonical gospels themselves or of Revelations for that matter? It seems these are of the most esoteric documents in the chronology of this period and that John of Patmos could be investigated as being somehow connected to Philo. What could be more esoteric and pertinent to the development of the West than Revelations…
September 18, 2020
Bloody good points, Mitchell.
I have been thinking about this; we talk about Rev. in episodes on apocalyptic, of course, but that still doesn’t give it its due …. but what I think is even more essential is to cover the esotericism in the Pauline epistles to the Corinthians and the Messianic Secret in Mark! Am thinking about interviews in this connection. To avoid the ‘canonical esoteric’ is indeed unconscionable ….
Update 2022: Thanks for the suggestion, Mitchell! It took a couple years, but we now have:
The Esoteric New Testament, Part III: John and Apocalypse
The Esoteric New Testament, Part II: Paul and the ‘Mysteries’
The Esoteric New Testament, Part I: The Gospel of Mark
As a special bonus to apologise for being so rubbish as not to have done these episodes in the first place, I did a special episode on the question of `Jesus the magician’ as well.
October 1, 2020
It is very tempting to bring this up and I know its very controversial but how about Secret Mark of Morton Smith but I guess you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.
October 1, 2020
We go down that rabbit hole in the special episode on Clement’s texts, after Episode 90.
October 2, 2020
My bad, I didn’t look ahead. I’ll look forward to it.