Posted by: aboutalbion | October 19, 2012

Marcion

There is a significant individual who has been hiding in the shadows of the early Christian texts that have survived to the present.  His name is Marcion.  His life is often dated from around 75 CE to around 150 CE.  And he is believed to have been a rich entrepreneurial ship-owner and a theologian.

The Marcion movement within Christianity was significant (for a time).  But none of the texts associated with him have survived.  Add to this the later witness of Irenaeus (Bishop of ‘Lyons’) that Marcion did not write his own text, and the judgement of von Harnack (a century or so ago) that Marcion’s gospel was a ‘falsified’ gospel of Luke, and the strong impression is created that attention to Marcion is a waste of time.  However, in the middle of the second century, quite a few ‘orthodox’ Christians wrote texts harshly criticizing Marcion and his work, and because these ‘orthodox’ texts have survived scholars have been able to reconstruct Marcion’s gospel.

So it was with some anticipation that I attended the inaugural lecture at Kings College London on Wednesday evening given by Professor Markus Vinzent and entitled “Marcion’s Gospel and the beginnings of early Christianity”.  I was not disappointed.

In summary, Vinzent argues that the standard current account of Christian origins is based on a non-historical reading of the ‘new’ testament texts.  In its place, Vinzent wants to consider Marcion’s gospel as the first gospel (written in the middle of the second century), and the canonical gospels as responses to Marcion.  In his view, such a chronological reconstruction helps to solve the ‘synoptic problem’ and assists in the re-writing of the early history of Christianity.

I am sympathetic to Vinzent’s approach for the following reason.  On the one hand, the letters attributed to Saul/Paul show virtually no awareness of the pre-crucifixion activities of the character of Jesus, and, on the other hand, the letter of an early Apostolic Father such as Clement of Rome shows little awareness of either the texts of the gospels or the texts of the letters attributed to Saul/Paul.  To my mind, these are fundamental questions that need to be addressed in any re-writing of the history of early Christianity.

I shall follow Vinzent’s work with interest as he builds on the premise that Marcion can be trusted after all.

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