Markus Vinzent's Blog

Friday, 7 November 2014

Marcion and the story of Nain (Luke 7:11-7 par.) and 1Kings 17:17-24

Dear Giuseppe,
thanks for these sharp observations and for the questions (see below). The assumption that Marcion could not have written a text which is so midrashic and makes use of and is a parallel to an OT storyt (I would not call it a mistake) is based on two pre-qualifications which Sebastian Moll and myself have tried to challenge. Whereas Moll's major thesis in his 'The Arch-heretic Marcion' (Tuebingen, 2010) is that Marcion did not dismiss the OT, but used it constantly as the contrast against which he read his NT - I have taken a slightly different view, although I think, in this respect, Moll is right.
First, we have to start with Tertullian who raises the same question as you - why does Marcion use all these OT names (like Jesus, Son of Man ...), and all those OT stories (David, the prophets) to explain that his Jesus has nothing to do with the OT, the prophets, Israel. If his Jesus came out of the blue, why then bother with the Jewish heritage? This question, however, does not get at the bottom of what Marcion was trying to achieve, and reads him through the glasses of Justin and Irenaeus who have developed Marcion's antithesis into a substituting anti-Judaism.
As I have tried to show in my article on 'Marcion the Jew' (available on, Marcion, as rightly observed by Moll, is obsessed with the Jewish Scriptures. He is anything but unfamiliar with them. On the contrary, he has a very good knowledge of them, sees their strength (they are a reliable witness to the Creator - but as such, they do not convey any insights into the transcendant God and his Messiah), takes them literally (which does not exclude that he also understood the allegories, for example, the warfare allegories which lead towards a rebellious messianism in the form of Bar Kokhba), and quotes them extensively in his Antitheses, and also makes use of them in the Gospel, similar to Paul in his letters.
The particular passage in Luke 7 is a case in point. Here, Marcion (in the opening, Luke, however, harmonises the text even more with 1Kings, see the deviation of D in Nestle-Aland) constructs an anti-thetical story to that of the Prophet Elijah. In 1Kings the woman is frightened of the Prophet and accuses him to have come to punish her for her bad deeds and therefore to kill her son, and the prophet passes these accusatikons on to the God of Israel (1Kings 17:18-20). In contrast, there is no word about bad deeds in Marcion's story (Luke 17:11-7 par.). This Jesus has mercy and asks the mother 'do not cry'. Jesus does not wrestle with God, does neither accuse him of being a murderer, nor does he need to ask God to bring the son back to life. Jesus simply acts and rescues the son and gives him back to his mother. Even the reaction of the people is put as an antithesis. While in 1Kings the mother confesses Elija to be a man of God, in Marcion's story there is no word about the mother, instead, it is said that 'all' (which includes the son's mother) were taken by fear. Or in other words: the people do not understand such non-demanding mercy, a God of love. When Tertullian points out the last statement of this pericope that the people praised God that he has taken care of his people and send a 'great Prophet' - he rightly asked, who God here is. Tertullian understood that in Marcion's story it was the transcendant God, not the Creator, who was meant to have acted in this story and that he has shown through Jesus that he cares about his people. But when Tertullian adds that this message does not differ from that of the prophets (and he had already Elijah in mind), he misses out that Marcion had constructed this pericope in stark contrast to that of Elijah. While in Elijah people praise a God and his prophet who have to be feared, in Marcion the people fear the ones whom they praise.
If I am not mistaken with my 'Marcion the Jew', Marcion derives (as already Harnack assumed) from a Jewish proselyte family, hence he knew not only the Jewish Scriptures in and out, he also had a good knowledge of phariseic and early rabbinic traditions. His own work of the Gospel-writing, therefore, was something like a bringing together of older traditions, redacted in a highly sophisticated, almost cynical way (we have a similar approach in the Gospel of Jude) which shows the inconsistencies of the Jewish Scriptures and provides the basis for the need of a 'New Testament' to match the novelty of revelation of the unknown God.


  1. Very thanks for the satisfactory explanation. I think that your marcionite exegesis of midrash in that specific case of Elijah etc. (that points to a clear antithesis between old and new, and not merely to an emulation Jesus=Elijah) is confirmed by evidence itself without the need of having to postulate necessarily a Marcion emerged from a Jewish background.

  2. I have read your ''Marcion the Jew'' available in

    Interesting the proposed reading of anti-Judaism (Tertullian, etc.) as a reaction to other-Judaism of Marcion and marcionites. With that reading in mind, I can explain easily this curious fact:

    On the subject of irony in Jesus’s death, Fr. John Paul Heil is of the opinion that Matthew 27:5 “And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!“, is intended to show that Jesus’s blood saves rather than condemns the crowds; it forgives even as they pronounce guilt upon themselves.

    Maybe this reading seems apparently more marcionite than proto-orthodox, but indeed Luke (and equally Marcion's Gospel) doesn't have the episode of Pilate washing his hands, therefore it's probably an addition of Matthew (see the expiatory character of Jesus'death).

    While it seems plausible, even probable, the idea that Matthew and Luke, and John were proto-orthodox reactions to the Gospel of Marcion, I would have naturally strong resistance in accepting that even Mark constitutes a response to Marcion (and not being, as says the consensus, the first gospel to being written).

    The strongest doubt is shortly: if the Gospel of Mark, being proto-orthodox (in your view), is anti-Marcionite, then why Mark is so pro-Paul just as I would expect instead from the Gospel of Marcion? Why does Mark look so marcionite in his denigration of 12 disciples & Peter? For example, Tom Dykstra says that the author of that Gospel “deliberately created a literary Jesus whose words and actions parallel the words and actions of Paul” (“Mark, Canonizer of Paul,” p. 149).

    Besides, Mark is shorter than other Gospels.
    Why Mark presents the story of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida while the other gospels didn't have that episode? I see in that episode a midrash from Judges 9:8-15: There the trees allude to riotous people of Israel.

    The blind man sees ”men as trees walking”, and soon after Jesus rebukes Peter (”vade retro satana”) ”seeing his disciples”(Mark 8:33), then Jesus and the blind man see the same thing: blind people that want a king-messiah for themselves (you can see the allusion to Judges 9 about seditious trees).

    The miracle in two steps to regain the sight is parallel to the process in two steps to identify Jesus as Christ by Peter & co (Mark 8:27-30).

    In this way, the blind man becomes more close to God (and more similar to Jesus) than the same disciples, the true blind men of allegory (who has a name, is indeed blind, and who is anonymous, sees better). All this would make more easily the same point of Marcion's Gospel: Paul is the unique true Apostle. How do you explain all this?

    Very Thanks for a satisfactory reply to all these questions!


  3. Again, I am sorry, my answer turned out to be too long for a reply, hence please read the new blog entry which picks up from your fantastic questions,
    yours Markus