Figures and Movements of Early Christianity
Without Marcion’s writings, excluding a fragment from his antithesis, it is difficult to discern whether his use of Jewish scripture to solve for gaps in Christianity represents respect for Jews and their religion or if it was making use of relevant documents to support his version of canon. Data for which there is a broad consensus in its legitimacy must be used to defend this papers interpretation.
These references being: (1) the defining factor of Marcion’s beliefs, Harnark states as insisting that the gospel “be free from all Judaism”; (2) critiques of Marcionism by various authors, though this paper will primarily use that of Tertullian; and (3) the time at which Marcion was active in the Church, the middle of the second century not to long after a number of Jewish revolts. While the timeline is contested, the timeline used is widely accepted and supported by Tertullian; generally asserting that 144 was critical to the Marcionite church and may mark its break from the Roman church. This date matches Justin’s testimony, near to after 150 that Marcion “is even now still teaching…” and that he has influenced people “across the whole human race.”
First, on the issue of Gnosticism, Harnack questions why Marcion appears to have had no interest in pagan mythology, philosophy, mysticism, or gnosis; which is in stark contrast to other traditional practitioners of Gnosticism: “An explanation offers itself which I have for a long time entertained in silence since I cannot prove it: Marcion—or rather, his family—came from Judaism….” Harnack offers several different explanations for Marcion’s conversion: several early Christians were Jewish converts; Marcion did not share in the Jewish perception of the Messiah; he turned to Christianity because of his resentment of Judaism; or, Marcion had a profoundly religious experience pushing him away from Judaism. As highlighted by Harnak, there is little surviving evidence of Marcion’s ethnic identity; so, to use it as an explanation for his possible anti-Judaic beliefs is groundless. Regardless, as Marcionism clearly does not uphold the values of Gnosticism, classifying Marcion as Gnostic as an explanation for why he is not anti-judaism [as Jonas suggested] is unfounded and will be addressed later.
Stephen Wilson better addresses the limitations of knowing little of Marcion’s background; he found it “important to state the obvious: Marcion’s teaching, in general, contains a profound denigration of Judaism,” but added that there is little evidence that Marcion was anti-Jewish; the difference being that anti-judaism has to do with the Jewish religion while anti-jewish has to do with the Jewish people. Wilson states “Marcion’s dispute was not with the Jews as such but rather with [as he saw them] Judaizing Catholic Christians,” [so his dispute is with those who attempt to link the two religions] leading to the conclusion that both Marcionism, regardless of Marcion’s ethnic background, and Catholicism are based in the denigration of Judaism.
Joseph B. Tyson has summarized Marcion’s relationship with the Jewish Bible:
Inevitably he [Marcion] would judge the religion that was based on these writings as inferior to his own. But apparently he would not question its legitimacy or its right to continue after the appearance of Jesus. He would pity Jews as being kept under the control of the God of creation, but he would regard their expectation of a Messiah as fully conforming to the writings of the Hebrew prophets. Further, his insistence on literal interpretation would, as Tertullian himself observed, create a significant compatibility with Jews.
The contention that Marcion did not question the “legitimacy” for Judaism or the “right” of the religion to continue is misplaced. It created the distinction between the creator God and the unknown God, Marcion is vocalizing the idea that the Jewish God is illegitimate; which is not to say that Judaism is illegitimate just that the Jewish people faith is misplaced. Thusly, allowing for the Hebrew Bible to be used as support for Marcionism. Tyson and Harnack both believe that Marcion acts as a biblical theologian who literally interprets all scripture. This literal interpretation, which both adopts and rejects the Jewish God, Tyson states, “potentially created a bond of understanding between him and Jews that his opponents could not have achieved.” Considering that the interpretation of Jewish scripture at the time was varied and in no way literal, it is an odd argument because Marcion’s interpretation of the Hebrew would not have been shared by the masses. Marcion’s exclusion of the Hebrew Bible from the Marcionite canon, even if used as supporting evidence, creates a clear distinction between Judaism and Christianity [through Judaism]. The distinction being fronted by excision of all things Jewish from the church; Tyson highlights the desirability of “a clear demarcation between Christianity and Judaism.”
The argument that the Marcionite movement was anti-Judaic can be made based on the pattern by which the Gods are distinguished through Marcion’s teachings and canon – specifically his theory that the gospel was re-judised after the death of the apostles. Following his re-jusdiasing theory, Marcion would have been dissatisfied with the Roman Churches acceptance of the Septuagint and its assertion of continuity with Jewish tradition. The only other [somewhat] logical explanation for Marcion’s decision to exclude Jewish writings from his cannon is founded in post hoc, fallacious, argumentation; so, the former is more likely as it is evidence rooted and will be discussed later with comments by critics of Marcion. The question becomes, where does Marcion’s hostility toward including anything Jewish in the Christian Church come from?
Harnack’s solution is that Marcion is theology was formulated in isolation from contemporary Christian gnostic thought. He distanced Marcion from a gnostic interpretation demiurge [which has been used to justify Marcion as a gnostic thinker], maintaining that Marcion’s interpretation of the discontinuity of the Gods “proceeded from different presuppositions, from the Old Testament, from biblical Christianity, from Paul.” This notion that Marcion is motivated singularly his by interpretations of Paul is to say that Marcion’s only exposure to Christian theology was through the Pauline Letters, understood God only as loving, then was exposed to the wrathful God of the Old Testament is unlikely; but as the theory of ‘Marcion the exegate’ it is echoed by Tyson. Tyson advances the idea that Marcion’s literal interpretation of the Hebrew Bible spoke to his respect for it, believing that it was “divinely inspired,” and his criticism “was not directed to its authority but to its morality.” The line of logic here is flawed, Tyson conflates Marcion’s respect with acknowledgment of legitimacy outside of his canon. Yes, the Hebrew Bible was divinely inspired, but it was inspired by a God that Marcion believed was inferior and unworthy of Christian devotion, which exudes disrespect for Jewish beliefs.
Marcion did not question the historical accuracy or prohetics of Hebrew scripture because it was consistent with his own canon, which allowed him to use it as supporting evidence at a time where ‘evidence’ was limited and varied. Marcion would agree with the Hebrew prophets that a Messiah was, but it would not be Jesus, as seen in his interpretation of Isaiah [especially 7:14 and 8:14]. Marcion’s critique of the Hebrew Bible was directed at its morality rather than its historical authority. Based on morality, Hebrew writings fell beneath those of Jesus and Paul. This observation makes the distinction between Marcion’s anti-Judaism and anti-Jewish tendencies necessary. Ultimately, He believed the creator God was oppressing the Jews and pity them. The perceived lack of morality and contrasting Gods are enough to justify the exclusion of Jewish writing from the Marcionite canon even though they are still necessary to legitimize it.
Tertullian references the success to the Marcionite Church by asserting that Marcionism had spread to the whole world. Which compels the assumption that a Christian church free of all things Jewish appeals to a substantial number of Christians and may have been the reason for conversion; as Tertullian asserted that Marcion ‘converted’ those already Christian to Marcionism. The appeal of a Jewish free church stems from two places; (1) resentment toward the Jewish people for seemingly chronic instability caused by war and (2) a need for explaining the discrepancies between the life promised by God and the lives they were living.
Before the rise of Marcionism, the Jewish people lead three major rebellions against the Roman Empire; the First Jewish–Roman War [66 – 70 CE], the Kitos War [115–117 CE], and the Bar Kokhba revolt [132–136 CE] which Christians were not supportive of. Wars created instability and uncertainty for anyone affiliated with the Roman Empire, not just those directly involved in the conflict. Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans banned Jews from Jerusalem [excpt to attend Tisha B’Av]; this included Christians because at the time Christianity was not recognized by Rome as a distinct religion.
Tertullian explains how Marcion thought about God: If God is good, you ask, and has knowledge of the future, and also has power to avert evil, why did he suffer the man, deceived by the devil, to fall away from obedience to the law, and so to die?… God must be assumed to be neither good nor prescient nor omnipotent: because inasmuch as nothing of that sort could have happened if God had possessed these attributes of goodness and prescience and omnipotence, it follows that it did happen because God is devoid of these qualities.
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Without Marcion’s writings, excluding a fragment from his antithesis, it is difficult to discern whether his use of Jewish scripture to solve for gaps in Christianity represents respect for Jews […]