Markus Vinzent's Blog

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tertullian's witness to Marcion as author of the first Gospel

Throughout his books against Marcion, Tertullian refers very differently to the Epistles of Paul in the recension of Marcion. Tertullian does not fail to infer Paul’s authority time and again against his redactor Marcion, but with regard to The Gospel not once does Tertullian use Luke and his original intention to argue against Marcion’s text, but time and again Tertullian refers to Marcion as the writer of the text of this Gospel which, as he states, is not a Judaic, but a Pontic product, written by Marcion.[1] He even terms Marcion the ‘gospel-author’, or as E. Evans translates evangelizator as ‘gospel-maker’ (V. Luker as ‘Evangelienschreiber’).[2] Tertullian’s differentiated use of Paul’s letters and The Gospel and his very different view of authorship is underlined by the way in which he characterizes The Gospel in his opening passage to his work Against Marcion:[3]
Marcion’s god, now that he has recently been revealed, if indeed revealed, has not been in a position … to publish a summary so concise and obscure and even yet of hidden meaning, or more easy of interpretation in accordance with my own preferential choice.[4]
Tertullian, in this critical remark still gives a relatively balanced description of what he had in front of him with The Gospel, ‘a summary’, hence not a narrative as detailed as those with which Tertullian compared it (mainly Matthew and only rarely Luke). He qualifies Marcion’s Gospel as ‘concise and obscure’, and grants that the text bore ‘hidden meaning’ which, however, did not allow for a theological ‘interpretation’ along the lines of Tertullian’s own theology. In addition, he sets out the opposite claims made by himself and by Marcion. Marcion, if Tertullian reports correctly – and why would he put this strong argument into his opponent’s mouth – must have complained that while his Gospel was a true account, the ones that Tertullian uses, namely Matthew and Luke were falsifications of his own:
I say that mine is true: Marcion makes that claim for his. I say that Marcion's is falsified: Marcion says the same of mine. Who shall decide between us?[5]
In his ensuing rhetoric, Tertullian does not recur to content, but sets out the question of chronological priority. So, which of the Gospels was produced first, that of Marcion or the ones that Tertullian used, Matthew and Luke? Again, he admits, the views of Marcion and his own are opposed:
If that Gospel which among us is ascribed to Luke ... is the same that Marcion by his Antitheses accuses of having been interpolated by the defenders of Judaism with a view to its being so combined in one body with the Law and the Prophets that they might also pretend that Christ had been fashioned from that place, evidently he could only have brought accusation against something he had found there already. No one passes censure on things afterwards to be, when he does not know they are afterwards to be. Correction does not come before fault.[6]
At face value, Tertullian uses Marcion’s counter-argument against Luke in his own favour. If Tertullian is correct in his report, then Marcion in his Antitheses had made the allegation that ‘upholders of Judaism’ had falsified his Gospel, interpolated the text to link it back to ‘the Law and the Prophets’, and also historicized Christ by adding the birthstory to ‘pretend that Christ had been fashioned from that place’ that was foretold in the Prophets. In this respect, Tertullian was certainly right that Marcion could have only made these allegations, if he censured a text that ‘he had found there already’. Corrections, Tertullian concluded, would indicate that they were made on something prior, not something ‘afterwards to be’ (Marcion’s opinion!). He draws the conclusion that his opponent should agree (which he does not!) that Luke was prior to Marcion’s Gospel. The contrary was, of course, Marcion’s opinion which Tertullian also reproduces. Marcion held that, while Paul provided him with the true Gospel of the Apostle, which had no name attached to it, the Judaizers had given this Gospel the name of Luke and also ‘falsified it in respect of its title’ to make it ‘belong to the Apostles’ in the plural.[7] Rightly, Tertullian calls Marcion the one who ‘has put together’ the Gospel, ‘a new thing of his own’, or simply ‘Marcion’s’ (Marcionis) but – on the basis of the previous argument – calls this an absurd idea:[8]
How absurd it would be that when we have proved ours the older, and that Marcion's has emerged later, ours should be taken to have been false before it had from the truth material, and Marcion's be believed to have suffered plagiarism through ours before it [= Marcion’s] was even published:[9]
The last paragraph is certainly the most important information that Tertullian reveals and, if I am not mistaken, which has never before been picked up by any scholar: Tertullian reports that Marcion – apparently still in his Antitheses – did explain that Luke was a later ‘plagiarism’ (aemulatio) of his own Gospel, and, even more importantly, that this plagiarism occurred even before Marcion had edited and published (editum) his own Gospel – which he seems to have done in conjunction with the Antitheses in which he drew attention to the unauthorised publication of the appropriated, interpolated and judaized version of his own Gospel. How often such stealing, copying and unauthorized publishing happened, can be seen from the opening of the same book of Tertullian Against Marcion itself, where Tertullian warns the reader:
Nothing I have previously written against Marcion is any longer my concern. I am embarking upon a new work to replace an old one. My first work, too hurriedly produced, I afterwards withdrew, substituting a fuller treatment. This also, before enough copies had been made, was stolen from me by a person, at that time a Christian but afterwards an apostate, who chanced to have copied out some extracts very incorrectly, and shewed them to a group of people. Hence the need for correction. The opportunity provided by this revision has moved me to make some additions. Thus this written work, a third succeeding a second, and instead of third from now on the first, needs to begin by reporting the demise of the work it supersedes, so that no one may be perplexed if in one place or another he comes across varying forms of it.[10]
Self-critically, Tertullian gives us an insight into the production process of his books Against Marcion. He had, for whatever reasons, produced too quickly a first booklet (opusculum) which he subsequently withdrew to replace it with a fuller treatment of Marcion. But, then, this second ‘edition’ seems to have been stolen during the copying and production process in the copying workshop. Tertullian adds that this thief had been a ‘Christian’ at the time of the theft who later left Christianity. The thief, then, did not circulate the entire book, but ‘copied out some extracts very incorrectly’. It is unclear whether this happened while still being in Christian communion with Tertullian, or at a time when he had broken with Tertullian, or whether the theft, the production of the excerpt and the showing around of the excerpt to ‘a group of people’ of unknown lineage was the reason for the break up. The excerpts that were in the public, however, must have been important enough for Tertullian to sit down and write up a ‘correction’ and ‘revision’ with ‘some additions’, and also to give the readers a detailed account in the opening of the books, as we have them today, about this publishing history of them.
It is, therefore, not unusual and rather speaks for the historicity of Tertullian’s report about Marcion’s introductory Antitheses that a few decades earlier, Marcion had suffered a similar fate with the writing of his Gospel. According to what Tertullian relates, Marcion’s own Gospel had been passed on to somebody who had plagiarised it before he himself had edited and published it. This plagiarism of Luke consisted of interpolations, links to the Law and the Prophets and the addition of the birthstory – a pretty concise description of Luke if we compare it with Marcion’s Gospel.
Contrary to his own report of Marcion’s view, Tertullian sides with Irenaeus and turnes Marcion’s argument upside down. Following Irenaeus, he claims that Marcion is wrong and not Marcion’s opponents had ‘judaized’, but that Marcion had ‘circumcised’ Scripture.[11] From this battle of words where the terminology itself indicates the historically original sequence, we need to conclude that Marcion was the first to write, edit and publish a Gospel of sayings and narratives (without birth story and Ascension) before others came with their versions which reconnected Marcion’s work with the Law and the Prophets. There is no indication that Marcion had simply picked up an already existing text. Even Tertullian does not hint at this, except the counter-claim that Marcion distorted the older Gospel of Luke.

[1] See, for example, Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 2.
[2] V. Lukas, Rhetorik (2008), 224.
[3] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 5,4.
[4] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 16.
[5] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 4,1: ‘Ego meum dico verum, Marcion suum. Ego Marcionis affirmo adulteratum, Marcion meum. Quis inter nos determinabit?’
[6] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 4: ‘Si enim id evangelium quod Lucae refertur penes nos (viderimus an et penes Marcionem) ipsum est quod Marcion per Antitheses suas arguit ut interpolatum a protectoribus Iudaismi ad concorporationem legis et prophetarum, qua etiam Christum inde confingerent, utique non potuisset arguere nisi quod invenerat.  Nemo post futura reprehendit quae ignorat futura. Emendatio culpam non antecedit.’
[7] Clearly spelled out later in Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 4-5.
[8] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 5,4.
[9] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 4,2: ‘Alioquin quam absurdum, ut, si nostrum antiquius probaverimus, Marcionis vero posterius, et nostrum ante videatur falsum quam habuerit de veritate materiam, et Marcionis ante credatur aemulationem a nostro expertum quam et editum.’
[10] Tert., Adv. Marc. I 1-2 : ‘Si quid retro gestum est nobis adversus Marcionem, iam hinc viderit. Novam rem aggredimur ex vetere. Primum opusculum quasi properatum pleniore postea compositione rescideram. Hanc quoque nondum exemplariis suffectam fraude tunc fratris, dehinc apostatati, amisi, qui forte descripserat quaedam mendosissime et exhibuit frequentiae. [2] Emendationis necessitas facta est. Innovationis eius occasio aliquid adicere persuasit. Ita stilus iste nunc de secundo tertius et de tertio iam hinc primus hunc opusculi sui exitum necessario praefatur, ne quem varietas eius in disperso reperta confundat.
[11] Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III 11,7.

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