Baker Academic

Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Was Marcion Born? (...don't trust anyone!) - Le Donne

It is an honest question. I tend to just think of Marcion vaguely as a second-century fellow. But this weekend I was thinking a bit about the emergence of non-Jewish Christianity and I wanted a firmer date. Now, I know well that we have to settle for approximations, but rarely does our fuzzy dating range more than a few years in discrepancy (or so I have come to expect).

With this in mind, I was a bit taken aback by this sequence of searches:



I couldn't resist. I grabbed the low-hanging fruit offered by Wikipedia:


But I am a suspicious fellow... and almost paranoid of Wikipedia. No matter what Scot McKnight says (see #15), I just don't trust us internet geeks to organically self-correct with enough speed and accuracy to make this whole piecemeal education thing work. So I tried newadvent.org:


That, my good people, is a 25-year discrepancy (I did the math in my head... all the while being distracted by the tabloid accusations of his sordid fall from ascetic ideals; happens to the best of us, I guess). My first thought here was that I had the wrong Marcion. Perhaps there was another guy by this name who attempted to dejudiaze Christianity, reshape the canon, slander the God of the Hebrew Bible, etc. But no, it just seems that there is quite a difference of opinion regarding the date of his birth. 

So then, I thought: what I need is a fancy, expensive WUNT monograph that has been vetted by unforgiving experts who revel in the thought of taking a junior colleague down a notch. So I turned to Sebastian Moll's recent monograph: The Arch-Heretic Marcion (2010). Edinburgh graduates can be insufferable miscreants, but they tend to be pretty good scholars, I've found. 

Here is what Dr. Moll writes on p. 26:


One of the great things about writing for a blog is that at least one of my readers will be able to enlighten me. Why did Harnack suggest the date of 85 CE? Why was he wrong (if he was)? And why hasn't Scot McKnight or one of you Wikipedia believers self-corrected yet?

-anthony 

11 comments:

  1. If I remember correctly, R. Joseph Hoffman put it even earlier ~70 CE, arguing that 1 Clement was anti-Marcionite.

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    1. The problem with that is that the date of 1 Clement is itself speculative, and is thus a terrible anchor to use for this purpose.

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  2. Harnack said that Marcion showed signs of familiarity with Valentinus and Basilides, whom he attempts to push back to late apostolic times. Thus, Marcion's 1st century birth is predicated on earlier datings for Valentinus and Basilides. I'm not sure how he explained the latter, but you can read it all here: https://archive.org/stream/AdolfHarnack.MarcionDasEvangeliumVomFremdenGott/harnack#page/n269/mode/2up

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  3. Dear Dr. Moll:

    Thanks for ruining my morning. You don't want to know my "mindset" at this moment.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Larry (age 58)

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    1. Are you thinking about starting a cult, Larry? Because that is really a young man's game.

      -anthony

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    2. I suppose the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development simply did not have flamboyant characters such as yourself in mind when they published their results!

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    3. I feel consoled. I may not be capable of revolutionary thought, but at least I'm flamboyant.

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  4. But seriously:

    Justin mentions Marcionism in his first Apology (c 150 CE) as having spread to "many of every nation." It's hard to believe that Marcion could have accomplished this in the 5 years after Dr. Moll's date for his arrival in Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia (which goes with a 110 CE birthdate for Marcion) admits it's unlikely that Marcion could have accomplished so much between 144 and 150 CE, and argues instead that Marcion arrived in Rome as a bishop and after "great and successful activity" in Asia Minor. If Marcion's "revolution" predated his arrival in Rome, that would undercut Moll's "no country for old men" argument.

    The "anchor" date used by most is that of 144 CE. Evidently, this date is based on arguments in Tertullian's "Against Marcion" that (1) Marcion came to Rome during the reign of Antoninus Pius (Roman Emperor, 138 - 161 CE), and (2) Marcion's own followers had a tradition that that the time between Jesus and Marcion was 115 years, 6 months. Evidently, Harnack relied on Tertullian when he built his dates for Marcion's life around the key date of 144 CE. Note, however, that Harnack has 144 CE as the date that Marcion broke with the Church in Rome, as opposed to Moll, who has 144 CE as the date of Marcion's arrival in Rome. (Evidently, Harnack dates Marcion's arrival in Rome at 138 CE). In any event, 144 CE is not a date we're compelled to accept in the face of contradictory evidence, such as that provided by Justin.

    I'm looking at Joseph Tyson's "Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle." Forgive me if I get Tyson wrong; it's been a while since I read him (and Pervo's "Dating Acts") carefully. Tyson thinks that Luke/Acts was written in versions, and that the version we have contains material written to refute Marcion. I think he makes a pretty good argument, but what do I know? But obviously, such an argument requires a late date for Luke/Acts, and an early date for Marcion. Tyson figures that Marcion's views were reasonably well known as early as 115 - 120 CE. Tyson says that John Knox (the 20th century scholar, not the 16th century Scottish reformer) and Joseph Hoffman go along with this dating. If these are your benchmark dates, then Marcion would have been one remarkable prodigy if he'd been born in 110 CE!

    According to Tyson, Harnack also thought that Marcion had an extensive ministry in Asia Minor prior to his arrival in Rome. It is perfectly logical to think that Marcion might have arrived in Rome as an experienced bishop, seeking to cap off his career by becoming Bishop of Rome. If so, this would argue for an earlier birthday for Marcion, as 53 seems a little young to be Pope (not that we seem to know when any of the second-century Popes were born!).

    Pardon my two cents. But doesn't it come down to this? (1) We don't know when Marcion was born. (2) Traditionalists who would prefer to minimize Marcion's importance want to date him later. (3) Those like Harnack and Tyson who want to magnify his importance want to date him earlier.

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    1. Now, that's a refreshingly helpful blog comment.

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  5. I think that is exactly what I meant when I used the term "educated guess". However, I can help you out as to why Harnack dated Marcion's birth so early. That is based on a misinterpretation of a passage in Clement of Alexandria, which is discussed on p. 37-38 of my book.

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  6. I would recommend to read the entire chapter on Marcion's life. Chronologically, the question of his birth has to be at the beginning, of course, but it can only be assumed based on the reconstruction of his life as a whole.

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