Markus Vinzent's Blog

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Tatian's Diatessaron, the set of Gospels and Marcion

Even if one dates Tatian's Diatessaron quite late (170s?) it still seems to presuppose an already established gospel tradition - as in a body of four gospels quite 'set'- since it sits in a (beginning?) tradition of harmonising, so the 'next stage' so to speak is already embarked on, namely producing gospel harmonies. How would you look at that, would the 30-odd years between the production of the gospel texts (going by your dating) and the Diatessaron be 'enough' to be able to speak of an 'established' or 'set' gospel tradition (as in the 4 written gospels)? Or how would you approach this?

My answer:
Tatian sees himself a pupil of Justin, his master whom he calls 'the most admirable' (Tat., Or. 18, see also Iren., Adv. haer. I 28,1), yet, as Justin had also a close relation (not purely adversative) to Marcion, it is no surprise that Tatian was said to have - like Marcion - 'done away with the law, as originating from another God' (Clem. Alex., Strom. III 82,1-3), and shared with Marcion his passion for asceticism and encratism.
That he knew the 'set' of the four gospels is no wonder, therefore, as he must have known Marcion's New Testament and also his Antitheses, in which Marcion had put together this set. Marcion had criticised precisely those four aemulationes (or copies) that he knew of and where published even before he had published his own version. These were those gospels which, as he says (according to Tertullian) were credited to apostles and pupils of apostles, Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. The most interesting of these Gospels of course was Luke, as this Gospel was such a close re-writing of Marcion with most of the wording of Marcion simply been copied, slightly re-arranged, and especially broadened at the beginning and end of the Gospel. Tatian then takes these four attempts (if the title Diatessaron is original, as the Syriac title only indicates that his own gospel is  'ܐܘܢܓܠܝܘܢ ܕܡܚܠܛܐ' [Ewangeliyôn Damhalltê] = 'Gospel of the Mixed' while the others are 'ܐܘܢܓܠܝܘܢ ܕܡܦܪܫܐ' [Evangelion de Mepharreshe] = 'Gospel of the separated'), and produces a harmony that is different from these 'separated' ones. His own is not an anti-Marcion gospel, but different from the separated ones, he produces no counter-text, but one that harmonises the existing ones (whereby he must have seen Marcion/Luke still as one Gospel, if Diatessaron - 'through the four' is original). The Syriac title ('Gospel of the Mixed) still preserves Marcion's criticism of those 'separated' ones being anti-gospels. Tatian seems to have used not Luke, as we have it, but still a version which was based more closely even on Marcion's Gospel, as many Marcionite readings can still be found in Ephraem's commentary on the Diatessaron. As a result, I take from this that the set of four which is being displayed in Tatian reflects and underpins, indeed, the process which took its outset from Marcion.

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