Markus Vinzent's Blog

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Michael Goulder - Mesmerizing 'a conservative profession'

Having just finished reading Michael Goulder's autobiography Five Stones and as Sling, I feel sad that at the time when we met regularly in Birmingham for our 'open end' seminar, touring around colleague's homes and indulging in food for thought and real food and wine, I had not yet developed the questions on the early history of the Gospels. And although I am not sure what kind of advise and insights Michael would have given me, I am sure he would have been witty, and sympathetic to the idea that from a different angle, somebody had picked up his idea that Q was an unnecessary hypothesis. Now that he is nor more with us, I have to listen to what he has left us - an enormous legacy and a treasure of sharp arguments and observations, and, overall, the encouragement that we should not be satisfied with ideas of dwarves, but also the inspiration, not to fight or defend old walls of Troy (those will always be like Hector), instead, come up with theories that are less complex and more convincing.
The book has also taught me another lesson: The further stones are thrown, the longer they take to come down. Michael's criticism of Q and his idea that Luke depends on Matthew is, in the meantime, well positioned and certainly not less popular than the old Two-Sources-Hypothesis. And yet, his conclusion sounds sceptical of the NT scholarship: 'I have called this book Five Stones and a Sling, but the contest in which I have been engaged is less simple than David's with Goliath. Scholars who have assumed a position over many years do not quickly recant it and publicly admit their error; nor can a novel hypothesis expect to carry the day at once in a conservative profession. It may be particularly difficult to shift opinion over texts which are fundamental to the faith of the critic. With time scholars came to treat sympathetically my arguments for the evangelists' creativity: their freedom to create Nativity stories out of Old Testament types, and their ability to create or develop parables in line with their own stylistic and doctrinal concerns. They have been less willing to accept Matthew and Luke as embroiderers of earlier Gospel traditions, because there is a hankering after putative lost sources and oral traditions which would take us back to the historical Jesus. The Q hypothesis has been part of the "assured results of scholarship" for more than a century, and despite my aggressive campaigning against it, it is still the standard teaching in most universities.'
And yet, I think, Michael has and is mesmerizing the profession, and is certainly a stimulation to go further.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Gospel's biographical and historical nature vs the Gospels as allegories

Dear Giuseppe,

as with your other questions and doubts, you always hit an important problem which allows me to develop things a bit further.

With regard to your observation that Mark is allegorical, and even more so is Matthew (although I would need to understand which parts you find allegorical, as there are certainly sections which are and others which are less), here is how I see it:

As Luke is the closest copy of Marcion’s Gospel, and Marcion’s Gospel is biographical in its basic structure (although it omits the birth and youth of its protagonist) – very similar to the geo- and historiographical structure of Marcion’s collection of Paul’s letters –, it is no surprise that Luke like Marcion’s Gospel is the one that sounds most biographical.

Yet, despite the straight copying of Marcion’s Gospel by Luke, Luke has altered many features of Marcion’s Gospel – by introducing a birth and youth story of Jesus, emphasising him as Lord, making the many links to his Jewish lineage and Davidian heritage and more. And yet, you are right, the biographical character it preserved, and even tried to strengthen through those additions. As Marcion’s biographical nature of his Gospel was antithetical, meaning that through biography and history, Marcion wanted to point out the non receptive nature of history and the incomprehensiveness of the Jewish people for the transcendent and unknown God and his Messiah, Luke counters this programme by his emphasis on history.

Mark, in contrast, deviates more in wording from Marcion’s Gospel, yet, he chooses a different approach to counter Marcion’s Gospel by, like Luke, adopting certain features, others than Luke. For Mark, the Gospel of Marcion disentangled Jesus from the Prophets, hence, Mark starts with making this link. He had less issue with Marcion’s criticism of history, on the contrary, Mark even emphasises the hidden and mysterious character of Jesus – therefore, he even pushes Marcion’s message more into this direction, something you call allegorical.

Matthew in his turn, picks up Marcion’s Gospel (presumably before Luke and after Mark) and is the one who extends Marcion’s Gospel with the birth story, underlines the historicity, but not as in Marcion, to dispute history as such. Instead, he turns Marcion’s antithetical relation between Jesus and the Jews (especially the leading groups, people and institutions) into an anti-Jewish position.

Hence, if you adopt my new dating of Mcn being first (but note – I am giving up the idea of straight dependencies of the Gospels, as I see only Mcn’s draft being the first Gospel, while his published version with the Antitheses has clearly known and read the canonical Gospels), I would rather think that we don’t see a straight move, but that a history critical historical biography (Mcn) created different responses, more allegorical ones (to save the mysterious – Mark, to save Jesus as heir of Israel – Matthew), and a more historical one (Luke with added Acts to also accomodate and position Marcion’s collection of Paul’s letters).


Monday, 17 November 2014

What is the relation between Mark, 'canonizer of Paul', and Marcion's Gospel?

In his comment to one of my blogs, Giuseppe noted, as follows:
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!

Dear Giuseppe,
Thanks for your enlightening questions on some issues I had not thought about before. Let me start with your strongest doubt. This is based on the common perspective which I tried to correct in my Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Leuven, 2014) that the early responses to Marcion, including the later canonical Gospels, are anti-Marcionite in the sense of them regarding Marcion’s text heretical. If they had regarded it as heretical, they would not have used it. Yet, we have to differentiate. On the old synoptic model, scholars assume that Matthew and Luke have used Mark – although they all admit that the way Matthew and Luke make use of Mark by rewriting him, re-ordering the material, leaving things aside, adding others, poor Mark would certainly not have recognised, let alone endorse these aemulationes of his own work. Was Matthew and Luke anti-Mark? In some sense certainly yes, they did not simply subscribe to his text, yet, on the other side, they adopted it and made it their own.
When I did invite Matthias Klinghardt to give a paper at a Marcion seminar at the 2011 International Conference on Patristic Studies, Oxford, he repeated his view which he had published before, namely that he believed Mark to be the oldest Gospel, from which the others, including Mcn (his short cut for Marcion’s Gospel – although maintaining that this text has not been written or even redacted, but only used by Marcion). Now that he has done the reconstruction of Mcn (his reconstruction is announced to be published in due course), he has corrected is older view and takes Mcn to be the source even of Mark.
My view is that Marcion’s Gospel, like that of Mark in the early dating theory, was regarded as both – attractive and contentious. It was good enough to be borrowed, used, adapted and corrected. With the adoption, however, the original impacted on those who copied the text, even if they heavily re-wrote it. This we can see with the Pauline influence that has always been noticed in Luke. Thanks, also for drawing my attention to Tom Dykstra, Mark, Canonizer of Paul. His book does not only show (against earlier works like that of Martin Werner of 1923) that Mark is indebted to Paul, but, what he has not spelled out, Mark goes beyond Paul, specifically in areas where – in my view – he is dependent on Marcion (such as his criticism of Peter, see Dykstra, 119ff). And you are right, he might even have taken Marcion’s criticism of Peter a step further, you indicate the relation between the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida with the following pericope of Jesus rebuking Peter. Mark, however, is also deviating from Marcion’s position, particularly in altering Marcion’s antithetical position to an interaction between Jesus and Judaism that ‘presents Jesus as a rabbi among rabbis’, as By Robert McFarlane ‘The Gospel of Mark and Judaism’ put it:the interactions between Jesus and the others concerns establishing his way as the legitimate reading of the Torah. In this sense it must be said that Mark can not be characterised by anti-Judaism. Rather, Mark appears to have the qualities of a sectarian group, seeking to establish a new interpretation of Torah.’ Hence, it is no surprise that you are rightly reminded of a midrash from Judges 9:8-15 and make the connection to the story about Peter. As often in Marcion’s Gospel, the weak, the ill, the marginal and the excluded people are closer than any of the disciples, especially than Peter. and, as in Marcion, Paul is the unique true Apostle.
Put the other way around and follow the traditional model – why, if Marcion’s copied Mark on this, did he leave out the story of Bethany which would be so close to his chest? The opposite can be easily shown that Mark redacts Marcion’s Gospel and gets rid of the antithesis of Christianity and Judaism, although he still shows and maintains a number of other Marcionite features.

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.

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.