Markus Vinzent's Blog

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The two recensions and editions of Marcion's Gospel

Tertullian reports in his polemic against Marcion's Gospel how Marcion himself complaint about those who must have nicked his text, plagiarised and published it, even before he himself could do so:

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 [Luke, or Matthew] before it [= Marcion’s] was even published:[1]

This most important information of Tertullian has so far, if I am not mistaken, never been picked up by any scholar: Tertullian reports that Marcion – apparently still in his Antitheses – did explain that Luke (or is Tertullian referring this to Matthew?) was ‘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.
From this information we have to draw that we are dealing not with only one version of Marcion’s Gospel, but with two different editions and possibly recensions!
The first was the unauthorised version of the Gospel which ‘suffered plagiarism’, must have gone out of the circle in which Marcion had distributed it, it was copied and altered. The text of this edition/recension which was obviously only intended for internal use, a so-called 'memorandum' or 'apomnemoneuma' can no longer be retrieved.
The second recension, the edition of which was undertaken by Marcion himself. In this Marcion responded already critically to the plagiarised version of his first edition, hence took notice of and potentially may have also revised his previous recension. Calling the altered version a ‘copy’, Marcion certainly acknowledged that the plagiarised product was based on his own, older text. The reason for himself to formally publish his own version, was of course the challenge by the plagiarised version. And in order to defend his own product, he added first the Antitheses and combined the Gospel with the ten Pauline letters, certainly not, as we can learn from this process, because he wanted to evangelize the world – and he certainly had never dreamt that his initial work would be further copied and eventually lead to the fourfold New Testament (and to harmonizations of it). Instead, his publication was a direct reaction against the case of plagiarism in self-defense. When Geoffrey M. Hahneman in his book on the Canon Muratori states that ‘Marcion’s basic intent appears to have been to recover a lost tradition’, we can certainly agree, but the quoted text of Tertullian goes against his further view that ‘there is no direct evidence that Marcion knew or excluded other gospels. So far as is known, Marcion never polemized against the other gospel traditions.’[2] Although we are not aware that Marcion knew of more than the one plagiarism, we do not know whether he is talking about Luke (it could also be Matthew, as Tertullian calles the latter often ‘our’ Gospel) or another version. Having said that Marcion, according to the above quote, was highly critical of the copy made of his Gospel, to the extent that he wrote his Antitheses and published his New Testament, the question still needs to be answered whether Marcion intentionally excluded other writings, as Tertullian claims (disallowing Rev., 1-2Tim., Tit.[3]), and thought of his New Testament as a ‘closed’ collection. If, what would need further research, later Marcionites altered and broadened Marcion’s text, we may have to do with a collection that was meant to be ‘specific’ but not ‘fixed’.[4]
As Tertullian begins his own commentary of Marcion’s Gospel with reference to Marcion’s Antitheses which Marcion has added to the second recension, his publication of the Gospel, he had only knowledge of this second recension.

[1] 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.’
[2] G.M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment (1992), 91.
[3] See Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 5,2; V 21.
[4] This differentiation in G.M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment (1992), 91f. (ibid. more about later Marcionites).


  1. A couple of thoughts (sorry it has been so busy at my job). There are a number of possibilities here:

    1. Tertullian was just responding to a theoretical response from Marcionites (i.e. all religions/traditions think they are the oldest as such it would follow that their gospel was the oldest)

    2. Tertullian could be developing an inference from the Marcionite interpretation of various Pauline passages which say that Paul wrote his gospel first and that the false apostle's nicked that text

    3. My own personal line of research. There is an uncanny parallel between this notion of two Marcionite texts and the statement in the Letter to Theodore attributed to Clement (and discovered at Mar Saba in 1958). There the discussion involves three versions of the gospel of Mark (i) an original 'short' text developed from a hypomnema (ii) a longer version completed by Mark at Alexandria and (iii) a false 'heretical' text associated with the (Roman) Carpocratian community:

    Τοῦ δὲ Πέτρου μαρτυρήσαντος παρῆλθεν εἰς Ἀλεξάνδρειαν ὁ Μάρκος κομίζων καὶ τα ταυτοῦ καὶ τὰ τοῦ Πέτρου ὑπομνήματα, ἐξ ὧν μεταφέρων εἰς τὸ πρῶτον αὐτοῦ βιβλίον τὰ τοῖς προκόπτουσι περὶ τὴν γνῶσιν κατάλληλα συνέταξε πνευματικώτερον εὐαγγέλιον εἰς τὴν τῶν τελειουμένων χρῆσιν. Οὐδέπω ὅμως αὐτὰ τὰ ἀπόῤῥητα ἐξωρχήσατο, οὐδὲ κατέγραψε τὴν ἱεροφαντικὴν διδασκαλίαν τοῦ Κυρίου, ἀλλὰ ταῖς προγεγραμμέναις πράξεσιν ἐπιθεὶς καὶ ἄλλας. Ἔτι προσεπήγαγε λόγιά τινα ὧν ἠπίστατο τὴν ἐξήγησιν μυσταγωγήσειν τοὺς ἀκροατὰς εἰς τὸ ἄδυτον τῆς ἑπτάκις κεκαλυμμένης ἀληθείας.

    While it is generally assumed Tertullian thinks in terms of an association between Marcion and the gospel of Luke this isn't necessarily true through all the layers of the original text. Also consider the statement in the Philosophumena where the Marcionite gospel is not only Mark but there is clear reference to Marcion adding 'mystical' (= Empedoclean) ideas to ur-Mark.

    I have always thought there is some underlying connection between the 'secret' gospel of the Alexandrian community (cf. al-Nadim's Fihrist) and this notion of two different Marcionite texts and a counterfeit (orthodox) one. I have always also wondered if the Philosophumena's 'stumpfingered' reference could be understood to be related to a shorter gospel (i.e. that his fingers were short because Mark wrote a small gospel?)

    Just some thoughts

    Merry Xmas

  2. And then there is the question of how to reconcile Irenaeus's reference to Marcion taking things out of Luke with the Philosophumena's explicit reference to Marcion adding things to Mark. Could these reports have been originally attributed to two divisions within the Marcionite community? While it might be a bit of a stretch consider for a moment the 'others' referenced immediately after Marcion in Irenaeus Against Heresies:

    Such, then, are the first principles of the Gospel: that there is one God, the Maker of this universe; He who was also announced by the prophets, and who by Moses set forth the dispensation of the law,--[principles] which proclaim the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and ignore any other God or Father except Him. So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavours to establish his own peculiar doctrine. For the Ebionites, who use Matthew's Gospel only, are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. Those (qui autem) who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified. Those (hi autem qui) who follow Valentinus, making copious use of that according to John, to illustrate their conjunctions, shall be proved to be totally in error by means of this very Gospel, as I have shown in the first book. Since, then, our opponents do bear testimony to us, and make use of these [documents], our proof derived from them is firm and true. [AH 3.11.7]

    The natural order of gospels would be Matthew then Mark then Luke. Could it be that the Marcionites had two texts one which somehow resembled a shorter version of Luke and the other a longer version of Mark?

  3. Harnack I think argues that the 'others' referenced after the Marcion in what follows in Irenaeus are also Marcionites:

    These things being so, all who destroy the form of the Gospel are vain, unlearned, and also audacious; those, [I mean,] who represent the aspects of the Gospel as being either more in number than as aforesaid, or, on the other hand, fewer. The former class [do so], that they may seem to have discovered more than is of the truth; the latter, that they may set the dispensations of God aside. For Marcion, rejecting the entire Gospel, yea rather, cutting himself off from the Gospel, boasts that he has part of the Gospel. Others (alli) truly, in order that they might set frustrate the gift of the spirit which in recent times has been poured out upon humankind by the good pleasure of the father, do not admit that aspect [of the fourfold gospel] which is according to the gospel of John, in which the Lord promised that he would send the paraclete, but simultaneously put away both the gospel and the prophetic spirit; wretched men indeed! who wish to be pseudo- prophets, forsooth, but who set aside the gift of prophecy from the Church; acting like those who, on account of such as come in hypocrisy, hold themselves aloof from the communion of the brethren. We must conclude, moreover, that these men can not admit the Apostle Paul either. For, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, he speaks expressly of prophetical gifts, and recognises men and women prophesying in the Church. Sinning, therefore, in all these particulars, against the Spirit of God, they fall into the irremissible sin. But those who are from Valentinus, being, on the other hand, altogether reckless, while they put forth their own compositions, boast that they possess more Gospels than there really are. Indeed, they have arrived at such a pitch of audacity, as to entitle their comparatively recent writing "the Gospel of Truth," though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the Apostles, so that they have really no Gospel which is not full of blasphemy. [AH 3.11.9]

    Could it be that there were two kinds of Marcionites, two divisions of Marcionites corresponding to the short and longer gospel? One which the Fathers say was a short Luke the other a longer Mark? More thoughts ...