Markus Vinzent's Blog

Friday, 1 July 2011

Marcion's Healing of the Leper

Dear Stephan,
your comments are anything but time consuming, on the contrary - it needs queer thinking in a field which is so cluttered with apology and for all of us so remote through sheer hundreds of years of apologetic distortion. Whether to trust a source, never any trust, but detective eyes. Alliance to institutions? None, sheer looking for understanding. Which is difficult enough. Now what you write about the Creator and the Cross is highly interesting, to deep for me to come up with a short answer. I don't have one, yet. From Marcion's Gospel which I am about to restore at best as I can and the sources allow, I am impressed, how intelligent and lucid it is, perhaps the most thought through of all, except John, but certainly better thought through than Mark or even Matthew, and Luke seems often simply helpless how to deal with it. Extraordinary to see that nobody had attempted a comparative reading of Marcion's Gospel with the others. Let me come back to the destruction of the temple. I have not come to the temple, yet, but I was struck by the pericope on which I am working now (known as the Healing of the Leper, but characterized by Marcion as the story of the companion in misery and hatred), where Marcion says that the Lord asked the healed to present himself to the priest and bring the offering for his cleansing, 'as Moses commanded, that it may be for a testimony to them'. Isn't that astonishing? Even Tertullian is struck. But he is even more struck (and argues, of course, against it) that Marcion's reason for stating this is that he contrasts Christ's God with that of Elisha who's servant is less than the master himself. Different with Christ's God - Christ has the same standing as God, there is no hierarchy between him and God. This Christ is of the same gentleness and clemency as God himself. That is why he even accepts that the one who is healed can carry on with his customary duty, note: his Jewish duty, commanded by Mose! What I like with your speculative thinking (and what could we achieve without in these difficult fields), is its creativity, based on and corrected by evidence. Let us see what the further reading of Marcion's Gospel will reveal. Already now, I have learned so much, and I am sure, this text will tell us more about him.


  1. Sorry I haven't been focused on anything save for going through seventeenth and eighteenth century documents for the last week and half. Didn't see that someone is actually interested in my nonsense.

    I have a way of speaking tangentally which annoys most people but when you bring this up I have always thought that the passage as it now stands makes no sense from the Marcionite perspective and in fact can be argued to have been developed against their original interpretation.

    The idea is that somehow this is an ALLUSION to Leviticus 13:49 and 14:2 which is strange on a number of levels. First and foremost, it is used by the orthodox to prove that Jesus taught his followers were still 'under the Law' (something strangely contradicted in other healing narratives and clearly opposed by the Marcionites).

    I have always thought that since this is the earliest healing narrative it must have special significance for the Marcionite and Tertullian hints at as much when he says right at the beginning of the section:

    Sed quoniam attentius argumentatur apud illum suum nescio quem suntalaipwron, id est commiseronem, et summisou&menon, id est coodibilem, in leprosi purgationem, non pigebit ei occurrere et inprimis figuratae legis vim ostendere, quae in exemplo leprosi non contingendi, immo ab omni commercio submovendi, communicationem prohibebat hominis delictis commaculati, cum qualibus et apostolus cibum quoque vetat sumere; participari enim stigmata delictorum, quasi ex contagione, si qui se cum peccatore miscuerit.

    It is clear that some significance was placed upon this person healed by Jesus. Yet I think the line which immediately precedes this reference helps clarify which scriptural passage 'showing a witness' unto the Israelites must have been connected with.

    For Tertullian says just before this line (and I will cite the English translation for the benefit of your readers) that Marcion must have had the Great Song (Deuteronomy 32) in mind rather than the material from Leviticus. We read:

    Now I have already postulated, in opposition to the Antitheses, that Marcion's purpose is in no sense served by what he supposes to be an opposition between the law and the gospel,
    because this too was ordained by the Creator, and in fact was foretold by that promise of a new law and a new word and a new testament.

    Yes to be certain the Marcionites put forward an opposition between law and gospel. But this hardly anything new in Jewish messianic expectation for a 'new Torah' or 'heavenly Torah' (as opposed to the manmade Torah of Moses).

    I would argue that Tertullian is doing what he always does - arguing that there is a way out of a dichotomy which the Marcionites never put forward. The way out of course is that Deuteronomy 32 already predicts the coming of something better.

    After all the lead up to the song is clearly echoed in the material in the gospels. Deuteronomy 31 begins with the idea that in spite of Joshua bringing the Israelites into the promised land that a time will come where they will sin and divine favor will be taken away from them:

    this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant. And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware. [Deut 31:19 - 21]

  2. Then we find the two forms which are cited in Tertullian and Epiphanius with respect to the Marcionite gospel reading:

    Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.

    For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?

    Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended. [Deut 31:26 - 30]

    The point would be of course that if the original context of the narrative was not a confirmation that Jesus followed Moses's instructions about the healing of diseased people (i.e. Leviticus 13:49 and 14:2). The material must have been corrupted to say that this particular individual - the one Tertullian describes as a συνταλαίπωρον and συμμισούμενον with Marcion and especially significant to the Marcionite doctrine - as the second Moses who fulfilled the expectations of Deuteronomy 32 - i.e. the returing Moses/messiah Ta'eb figure who would testify against their falling away from the true God and the true religion with their temple.

    Indeed we must remember that the Torah placed beside the tabernacle is supposed to be the substitute for the original presence of Moses (i.e. Moses is saying 'I'm going but this will serve as me in my absence). The Samaritans not only always took Deuteronomy 32 as a prophesy of the judgment of the messianic age (in very Pauline terms in the Mimar Marqe book four chapter 2 I might add) but understood that this event was already foretold in the same 'Great Song' or 'Song of Moses.'

  3. As Wayne Meeks rightly points out in his great book:

    A forensic setting for the revelation to Moses was always implicit in the fact that the revelation consisted primarily in the transmission of the Torah. The Torah, which Moses brought down from heaven and delivered to Israel, was naturally the standard by which Israel was to be judged. The book of Deuteronomy makes this juridical function of the Torah quite explicit. Of special importance is the "Song of Moses" (Deuteronomy 32), which is written down "for a testimony (mb, zlc, fxap-nipiov) against the sons of Israel" (31.19, 21). In the same passage, moreover, Moses commands the Levites to place the whole "book of this Law" (originally, the book of Deuteronomy, "the words of Moses," 1.1) into the ark of the Covenant, to be "a testimony against you" (31.26). Frequently the rabbis identify the "song" with the entire written Torah, so that verses 19, 21, and 26 are made to say the same thing.

    The forensic character of the revelation was recognized and emphasized by the translators of the Septuagint.2 Philo, who often refers to Moses as a witness ((xap-nj? or subject of the verb [xapTupeiv) weakens the legal terminology to a mere figure of speech to introduce a Scripture text to prove a point.3 Judaism and Samaritanism regarded Moses as the "defense attorney" for their respective groups in the heavenly court.4 Sometimes, especially in the Samaritan traditions, this defense had an eschatological setting. Deuteronomy 31-32, however, already suggested that Moses would become the accuser of a disobedient Israel, through his words which were solemnly inscribed and preserved to serve as a "witness." It is this negative possibility of Moses' testimony that is explicitly claimed in the Fourth Gospel (5.46f.), so that Moses is made one in the chain of witnesses that condemn "the world" = "the Jews" and testify in behalf of Jesus. But this forensic function of Moses in the gospel is then parallel to Jesus' own function as God's witness, for Jesus' word, like Moses', will be an accusing witness "on the last day." [Wayne Meeks, the Prophet King p. 306 - 307]

    It should be obvious that the 'spirit' of the Gospel of John stands very close to Marcionitism in many respects. The only difference that I would argue is that the material from Deuteronomy is used by Marcion to argue that Jesus (who after all is a wholly supernatural figure for the Marcionites = God) came to announce the figure healed in the narrative as the returning Moses (= messiah).

    The idea that the Marcionites did not view Jesus as the Jewish messiah is omnipresent in the existing anti-Marcionite literature. The idea that the Marcionites however thought Christ would be the 'man of war' predicted by the Jewish scriptures is also everywhere in Tertullian, Ephrem etc. I think people simply haven't recognized that the Marcionites held some two advent system like Justin, Clement and Origen etc where in fact the one who would come after Jesus was the figure predicted by the Jewish writings (and Deuteronomy).

  4. And as an addendum, read Clement Stromata 5.14 towards the end where Deuteronomy 31:15 - 20 is cited. It is clearly connected with God's prohibition on the construction of physical temples other than the desert tabernacle of Moses (both the English and French translators unfortunately have chosen to translate NEWN as 'temple' which is clearly implausible for the context). Just read it with this context and you will see it continues the ideas of Stephen in Acts and what we have been discussing.

    This must have been the Marcionite interpretation of Deuteronomy 31:15 - 20 (Ambrose the deacon of the Alexandrian Church was at one time at least a Marcionite according to Jerome). Elsewhere in Clement Deuteronomy 31:15 - 20 is explicitly connected with 'idolatry' (which is always a code word for the Jewish religion of the temple period) - (Exhortation 10) - and implicitly with the destruction which ultimately befell Jerusalem (Strom 6.6). Interestingly the same pairing of scriptures occurs in both places (i.e. Deut 31:15 - 20 followed by Isaiah 1:19 - 20) which clearly indicates that this wasn't accidental. The prophesy of the destruction of Jerusalem through the mouth of Isaiah which was so popular among early Christians is for the Alexandrian tradition connected explicitly with the Great Song or Deuteronomy 32. Clearly Judaism was understood by Clement to have been 'punished' for the sin of abandoning God and choosing idolatry instead of the true religion.

    I think this was the Marcionite point as well.

  5. I don't mean to take over your blog but after sleeping on it - this is closer to what I think the original structure of the Marcionite gospel looked like:

    Tertullian tells people what the opening structure looks like but no one hears him. The most pressing question for me at least is where is the Marcionite baptism narrative if John the Baptist is missing from this opening sequence?