Marcion Revisited

The boilerplate biography for Marcion includes the following:  he was a heretical, mid-2nd century Sinope (northern Turkey) native who rejected the God of the Old Testament, and elevated the Apostle Paul above all the other first-generation apostles; Marcion’s “bible”, which was purported to be the first multi-text Christian canon, was composed of Pauline letters – all extant letters except the so-called Pastorals, a detail which amplifies the critical consensus that the Pastorals are indeed forgeries.

 *A depiction of Marcion harassing Polycarp with his Satanic disposition

Another generally-accepted presumption is that Marcion was a consumer of a scaled down version of Luke’s Gospel and that he believed Jesus Christ was not composed of physical flesh.  This phantom-view of Jesus was called Docetism, and is referenced in the Acts of John, which has John walking next to Jesus, remarking that his feet left no prints in the sand (Acts of John 93).

The earliest (extant) reference to Marcion was in Justin Martyr’s first apology to Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, circa 155 CE; in his apology, Justin complained that Marcion’s sect was not persecuted by Rome, but his own sect was.

A point of intrigue is that the Apostle Paul, Marcion’s Apostolic focal point, was likewise accused and presumed to be friendly with Rome (at least via his Herodian alliances).

Dissonant Timeframes

A curious detail emerges when contrasting Justin’s first apology with Irenaeus’s c 182 Tome, Against Heresies.  Irenaeus puts Marcion as active in the mid-150s (AH iii.4.3); however, Justin’s characterization indicated that Marcion’s theology had spread across all nations in the Roman empire, a trajectory which would have been impossible to accomplish within a few years; a more economical presumption based on Justin’s proposition and the speed of travel and information dissemination at the time, is that Marcion had been active for decades by the time Justin complained about him.  This presumption is corroborated in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata 7.17, which purports that Marcion was active with several other heretics, including Valentinus, but was much older than his contemporary heretics.

The Polycarp Connection

One of the earliest prominent members in the Johannine (John-centric) tradition is Polycarp of Smyrna.  This link is obvious from a number of perspectives.  For instance, Smyrna (Izmir) is geographically close to Ephesus, which is traditionally considered “ground zero” for Johannine Christianity.  More to the point, Polycarp was purported by Irenaeus to have received instruction from the Apostles in his youth (AH iii.3.4); this Apostolic succession, coupled with Irenaeus’ claimed seeing of Polycarp in his own youth, is presumably what gave Irenaeus his later authority in the church (of course, it is no great leap to be skeptical of such timeframes and relationships).  In Against Heresies iii.3.4, Irenaeus gave an anecdote about Polycarp encountering Marcion; in this encounter, Polycarp accused Marcion of being “the first-born of Satan”.  Irenaeus gave this anecdote in the sentence immediately following the anecdote of the Apostle John running from Cerinthus in a bathhouse in Ephesus.  Irenaeus was aware of both Polycarp and Justin (AH iv.6.2), who were both hostile to Marcion.  One wonders, given similar timeframe, geography, Roman preoccupation, and hostilities, if Polycarp and Justin knew each other; indeed Robert Grant in Greek Apologists of the Second Century argued that Justin’s apology was in response to the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

In another tradition, relayed at the end of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, it was “our brother, Marcion” who played a role in disseminating the story of Polycarp’s martyrdom (Martyrdom 20:1), but, in the story, it was from Irenaeus’s manuscripts that the story was assembled (Martyrdom 22:2).

The Peter Connection

The late 2nd century bishop, Serapion of Antioch, made brief reference to Marcion.  In his reference, Serapion claimed that Marcion used a “mostly Orthodox” text purported to be written by Peter.  In contrast to (staunchly defended) tradition which has Jesus Christ’s apostles writing the Gospels and epistles, Serapion wrote “But those writings which are falsely inscribed with [the earliest apostles’] name, we as experienced persons reject, knowing that no such writings have been handed down to us”.

Consider a speculation:  The Gospel of Mark, which lacks a virgin birth and was used by Gnostic Christians, is rooted in Petrine traditions, as Mark was the supposed interpreter for Peter.  Marcion is the diminutive version of Mark, meaning “Little Mark”.  It is more than a little curious that Marcion supposedly had a Petrine Gospel and was also presumed to have a Luke-like Gospel which lacked a virgin birth.  Could this Gospel mentioned by Serapion be the same one mentioned by Irenaeus?  If so, then a subsequent speculation is that the appropriate Gospel linked to Marcion is not Luke; rather, it should be Mark!

The Peter connection does not end there.  Consider Marcion’s favorite Apostle, Paul.  In 1 Corin 15, Paul brags that Christ’s revelation to Cephas (Peter) preceded his own.  In other words, Paul delighted in being the last Apostle to receive revelation; this bears striking resemblance to the Gospel of Mark 9:35, which has Jesus telling the 12 apostles that the real first apostle will be last; to the Basilideans, who according to various church fathers used the Gospel of Mark, the last Apostle who received the Christ from Jesus prior to his crucifixion, was Simon of Cyrene (AH i.24.4), who Acts of the Apostles puts as proselytizing to the Greeks in Antioch with Barnabas and a Herodian ally around the time of Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 13:1).  This is a fascinating parallel, as Paul’s pre-Christian persona seems to be that of the Herodian Saulus, who mistreated Jerusalem citizens during the same timeframe.

In Acts of the Apostles 10, Peter spends time with a Simon of Joppa, and subsequently has a vision where the heavens opened and the Lord told him to ignore Jewish dietary laws.  This is in stark contrast to Paul’s description of Peter, which had him rigidly adhering to rules set forth by “men from James” in Galatians 2:11-13.  In Acts 11, when Peter returns to tell his fellow Christians in Jerusalem the good news about the updated dietary guidelines, he’s met with resistance because he ate with uncircumcised Gentiles.  According to Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion 28.2.5), the person who gave the most resistance to Peter’s update was Cerinthus, who has his own links to the Johannine community, as he was purported to be the author of Revelation and the Gospel of John (and of course, scared John out of the bathhouse in Ephesus).  Cerinthus, like Marcion, was a native of Asia.  An intriguing detail in this mix is that Marcion’s purported teacher, Cerdo, shared the same name prefix as Cerinthus, which is also similar to Cephas.  Indeed, this Cerdo might be the same historical person as the 4th Alexandrian Pope, Kedron, who was said to have been baptized by St. Mark, and was martyred under Trajan’s rule.

To be continued.

Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

6 thoughts on “Marcion Revisited”

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