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.

Unknown 3rd-century fragment of Luke (P. Oxy. 2383), thought by some to be a fragment of Marcion’s Gospel. Image courtesy wikipedia.

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:

Primary:

  • 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.

Secondary:

  • We quote translations from Lieu 2015, q.v. below.
  • G.W. Butterworth, trans. Origen: On First Principles. Harper Torchbooks, New York, NY, 1966.

Recommended Reading:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Themes

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