THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: Agrippa's secretary "Justus" and "Justin Martyr"

Agrippa's secretary "Justus" and "Justin Martyr"

copyright 2008 Stephan Huller

I believe I have taken a very a comprehensive approach to the very complex issue of Markan authorship of the gospel. I deliberately tackled the problem from many different angles. It always seemed to me that there was a tantalizing possibility that the only known Jew named “Mark” in all of antiquity – a man who just happened to be the man “in charge of Israel” in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple – was likely the same “Mark” who established the historical mystery cult sanctioned by Caesar himself to replace the sacrificial religion of Israel.

Yet even with this “hunch” aside the problem of Agrippa’s connection to the gospel is most difficult to prove. The problem looms over us. It comes down to one question - was the Gospel of Mark written by the messiah, the last king of Israel, Marcus Julius Agrippa? Was it revealed after the manner of the Koran or the Law i.e. where the author was himself the chosen “apostle” of God or should it instead be seen in terms of the Catholic “counter-spin” – viz. that the Holy Spirit miraculously “breathed” one message into four different authors in four different parts of the world.

Of course scholars never like to deal with things in black and white. Yet I can accuse these men of reflecting themselves into the subject they are studying. They conceive of a bland reality where the gospel developed in the manner of a “collective enterprise” – something like an academic journal. The evangelists now are conceived as nothing less than scholars – taking reports here and there – in order to develop a “study” of Jesus. It is all quite ridiculous but sometimes it is most difficult to see one’s own folly for what it is.

I do believe that there is a means of explaining the plurality of gospels in the beginning of Christianity – and by this I certainly don’t mean the canonical texts which go by the name “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke” and “John.” I have already shown in my Against Polycarp that these “seperated gospels” were only manufactured in the last years of the second century by Irenaeus, the very first man to report on our present quaternion. Our earliest reports about a controversy regarding “the gospel” involve only “super texts” (a term I developed to distinguish the one fuler text of most late first century communities).

The basic framework that we see witnessed in the admittedly biased reporting of the Church Fathers is that the “apostle” of the Marcionites had to combat a growing “Judaizing heresy” within the ranks of his congregation. I won’t get sidetracked by the arguments regarding when this controversy first arose. All that matters for the moment is that the issue boiled down to two gospels which are no longer extant – viz. the Markan text used in the Marcionite synagogues and the so-called “Gospel of the Hebrews” in the hands of their rivals.

Despite these controversies the one gospel of Justus and Tatian was nevertheless very similar to the text of the Marqionite churches. In recent times for instance Schmid has re-examined all the evidence regarding Marcion’s gospel much more carefully and systematically than had been done so far and found that his text differed from other mss. in a way that would affect the meaning in only a few places, though these few differences are important. All the rest of what was listed by Zahn and Harnack and others is simply agreement between Marcion’s text and the papyri or the Western Text or readings attested in the Syriac transmission. Tertullian and Epiphanius and others saw the disagreement with their text, without realising that the disagreement was not specific to Marcion. Besides this, a large part of what was cited in previous work as specific to Marcion is no more than Tertullian’s re-wording of indirect quotations to fit his sentence structure, or Epiphanius not always quoting clearly.

The point then is that is that has been a little too easy for scholars to simply write off Marcion as having developed an ideosyncratic gospel out of his own imagination. This quite simply can’t be true nor can his tradition be seen as divorced any longer from those other traditions which existed at the same time as it. Not only did both the communities of Marcion and Justin have only one gospel, but they are similarly described as we have already seen as communities which “rejected matrimony as adultery, condemned the use of meat in any form, and substituted water for wine in the Eucharist service," among other beliefs. It’s not as if the one community could have “conspired” with the other to break away from Catholicism together and to have differences on some matters and agreements on others.

As I said earlier than should be no doubt that Hippolytus’ explicit denial that Marcion was the evangelist Mark only hid the fact that relationship was true. In the same way scholarship has long noted on the one hand that among the earliest witnesses to the “Gospel of the Hebrews” was a man named Flavius Justin. At the same time Broisard and Petersen as we have already noted have also argued convincingly that Justin used a Diatessaron. The apparent contradiction is immediately harmonized when we realize that Epiphanius and others identify the Gospel of the Hebrews as the very historical Diatessaron.

So in the end we see that just as we Marcion railing against various sectarians in his community who prefer this Gospel of the Hebrews to his own canonical text owing to its Judaizing tendencies, we see Justin celebrated as an early “opponent of Marcion.” The two seem to be figureheads in a titanic struggle for the soul of Christianity in its earliest days. Yet I believe that we can take rather theoretical understanding one step further into the realm of “historical reality” by assuming that the Catholic Church Father “Justin son of Priscus” was himself only a deliberate transformation of Marcus Agrippa’s historical secretary (τάζις ἐπιστολῶν) “Justus son of Pistus.”

Justus was Marcus’ right hand man through a critical period of the monarch’s life. During this “period of favor” with his master Josephus reports that Justus apparently made himself so popular at court (Vita 74) that Agrippa even gave him a lot of money (ib. § 65). In the end however Josephus tells us that he was ultimately expelled by Mark for forgering certain documents associated with the king (ibid). His exact words are that Mark “caught [Justus] falsifying his epistles, and drove [him] away from his sight.” The question I put before my readers is whether or not the real life struggle between these historical Marcus Agrippa and Justus is the actual source of the underlying literary controversy between the forces of “Marcion” and “Justin” in the writings of the Church Fathers.

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