Markus Vinzent's Blog

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Where did Jesus appear: Judea or Galilee, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Betsaida?

Dear Stephan,
thanks for your comment on the translation of Marcion's opening, and I also went back to your blog to read, again, through all the fascinating discussion related to your theory about Bethsaida asf. I think, we simply have to acknowledge that from what I have seen so far, the beginning of Marcion's Gospel is one of, if not the most difficult part with regards to a potential reconstruction. If the rest were of the same complexity, one would better give up. Now, from reading on in the text, it becomes slightly clearer what might (or might not) have been part of the opening. I have long thought about the Isa. 61:1 quote, and also thought about what has been written on your blog - especially in the light of Luke 7:20-3, and I certainly will have to rethink it, when commenting on this latter passage. Unfortunately, the earliest testimonies about the beginning of Marcion's Gospel are incoherent. Now what to prefer from the choice that we have? The savest option, and that seems to me to be a hermeneutical rule of interpretations is: What does our oldest sources say? (Oldest being Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, if we follow the accepted theories; I, in addition, always also check the Synoptics - as, if my theory proves to be right, these would be our earliest readers, editors and, hence, sources for Marcion. But not to end in a circular argument - I only use this step as a final test, not as part of the working out of the text). Having gone for the oldest source-texts, I then look sceptical at what our sources repeat, but is not mentioned by the oldest sources, but could derive from our (canonical) gospels, as I reckon that - as already in Justin - those texts exert some influence (and even more later on). It looks to me (again, needs detailed further work) as if Tatian has used Marcion's Gospel, but also canoncial gospels.
To come back to your proposal with Betsaida. I fully agree that, given the previously mentioned premises, this is a vital option for the identification of Jesus' location of appearance, especially with your ingenious interpretation as 'House of the Demons'. If this came from the Diatessaron, it would not be late, but early, and could, indeed be by Marcion. I agree, it would fit well the content, of what he writes, and also harmonizes with some other witnesses (Irenaeus included) who believe that according to Marcion, Jesus appeared in Judea. And perhaps we need to leave it with this. I have excluded Galilee, also Nazareth - as this information may have been added into our sources by reliance on the Synoptics, but, more importantly, I have left out of the main text any location, because of the conflicting sources, but I will add Betsaida and your description of its potential meaning into my commentary. Why I am reluctant in putting Betsaida into the main text is solely the thought that, if Marcion did, indeed, have Betsaida in his Gospel, why do we have such conflicting evidence precisely with regards to the location. One counter-argument against this of which I can think of might be against the weight of the canonical writings later. And yet, as you still rightly write, Irenaeus still dared to report that according to Marcion the Lord came down into Judea. Maybe a potential solution is that Irenaeus is right (especially as it goes against the Synoptics), and that the Diatessaron with its Jewish background, also knowing of Luke's suggestion, decided to combine Marcion's Judea and Luke's Galilee and turned it into the city which you have then rightly identified as Jerusalem, the place of the 'temple', built by the demons.


  1. I think your work is invaluable even without delving into my esoteric reworking of the Marcionite reference to Bethsaida. Your work is so much more important than what I do which is to engage in a lot of speculation really. I do this principally because I have a lot of freedom with respect to my relationship with Christianity (i.e. I don't need to 'pin things down' per se). I am not part of the industry that peer reviews works in order to make sure that the published material is infallible.

    What I like about my theory is that it solves two curiosities about the gospel that have always bothered me.

    Where the Jews get the idea that Jesus announced that he would destroy the temple during the trial portion of the narrative? The surviving manuscript evidence just seems to gloss over the whole incident going back to stereotypes about Jews and their testimonies being unreliable. But there is a consistent identification of Jesus as anti-Jewish in the rabbinic literature. The identification of him as Balaam etc.

    All I can say is that there is a palpable sense that whoever edited the existing gospel material was uneasy about the question of whether Jesus said "I am able (or 'willing' or perhaps 'I will' originally in the Marcionite text) to destroy the temple" or something to that effect. There are examples in Tertullian of reworking Jesus's original statement about 'destroying the Law and the prophets' (from memory). But nothing in the Patristic writings about Marcionites having Jesus declaring his wish that the temple be destroyed which I think is only natural for Marcionitism.

    The Gospel of John certain does (with its needlessly ambiguous phrasing) but the context seems to imply that it was made right at the beginning of his ministry which agrees with my tentative (and wholly speculative reconstruction) of the Marcionite gospel.

    It also seems to fit with the use of Daniel 9:24 - 27 in the Little Apocalypse. Once again an informed reader knows that the context of the reference is the destruction of the temple and so in a vague sense again Jesus is again saying "I (= God) will destroy this temple" but it's not really tied to a historical event.

    Even Origen's discussion of the destruction of Jerusalem in the Homilies on Joshua seems strangely muted. The clearest spokesperson for the theological position that would have celebrated the destruction of the temple is the Protomartyr Stephen in Acts. This speech is the most sensible thing in the whole book. It has to be older than the Acts of the Apostles. At least one Samaritan scholar I know has connected it to the elusive Dosithean sectarian group.

  2. I don't mean to drone on here on a seemingly endless tangent but it is also interesting that both the normative positions on the destruction of the temple (i.e. of Judaism and Christianity) are utterly ambiguous and nonsensical. The Jews utterly incomprehensibly argue that because the temple was destroyed the sacrifices had to end. But why? The Pentateuch says nothing about the need for a building. Similarly what is the position of the Church Fathers on the destruction. It too is utterly incomprehensible. Did Jesus want the temple destroyed and why? What was his role in establishing sacrifices and then 'changing his mind' (as Celsus writes) and then abolishing them?

    While it is speculative I imagine that the Marcionites would have had a very simple position - i.e. Jesus said 'I will destroy the temple' the Jews rejected him then he wiped them out along with their temple. Now the question for me is (and again I admit I am in a very minority position here) is whether the Marcionites actually believed that Jesus was the Creator (i.e. the one who established the system of sacrifices) who then repented of his error or whether the Marcionites really held he was a complete stranger to everyone (i.e. the Stranger god).

    The reason for this is that - if we go back to the 'house of demons' reference -

    (a) there is a standard accusation that the Jews fell away to the worship of demons/angels/heavenly watchers and so Jesus might have been called a stranger because he had become alienated FROM THEM i.e. John 1:10,11
    (b) that the temple was particularly offensive because it was a permanent structure which went beyond the flimsy metaphor of the impermanence of the material world embodied in the desert tabernacle (i.e. the position of Stephen and the Dositheans)
    (c) that the tripartate godhead of the Marcionite system known to us from later sources isn't a simple duality, that the Creator is distinguished from the Devil and seems to experience or express metanoia through the crucifixion.

    I always wonder how reliable the reports of the Church Fathers are. I wonder whether the central image of God on the cross for the Marcionites was the Creator's self-sacrificial/self-abnegating metanoia which is paralleled by the destruction of his own house (the temple of Jerusalem) and the conflagration of the world itself - all things created by him and through him.

    If everything associated with the Creator ends up imploding on itself through his divine act of self-immolation the Cross might finally become an understandable (Marcionite) theological concept. The hostile Patristic response to this understanding (i.e. of the Creator committing suicide essentially out of a love for the trapped souls in the world) also becomes comprehensible.

    Again this all mere speculation. Sorry for taking up so much time with it here.