THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: Mark the (secret) Christ of the heretics?

Mark the (secret) Christ of the heretics?

copyright 2008 Stephan Huller

What for Irenaeus is the “heretical tradition of Mark” is actually only the “secret Alexandrian tradition” as glimpsed by someone not in on the secret. Compare what we just read in Irenaeus with the statement a little earlier in the same volume regarding the “heretic Marcus” who says that Jesus “did indeed destroy death, but that Christ made known the Father.” [Haer 1:15:3] The same section further identifies Mark himself as the “Christ” of his tradition, the messianic bridegroom for the many “brides of Mark,” his women followers [Haer 1:13:3]. He is also identified as the “Only-born” [John 1:19; Haer 1:14:1] so that, as a consequence, the good bishop (Irenaeus) rejects him as the son of Satan [Haer 1:15:6] and the veritable Antichrist [Haer 1:13:1]. Now anyone who is familiar with the writings of the Church Father immediately recognizes that this “heretic Mark” sounds very similar to Marcion – a name which means “little Mark.” Hippolytus has to go out of his way to reject the identification of Marcion as the evangelist of the same name, saying that “Mark, he of the maimed finger, [never] announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark.” [Against the Heresies 7:18] Early Christian writers sometimes refer to Mark the evangelist as “the stump-fingered,” an epithet usually thought to denote he had lost part of a finger to an accident (though you will presently read of another possibility).

Like the evangelist Mark, the heretic Marcion has a particularly strong attachment to Alexandria. And, like Marcus Agrippa, he was also identified as the messiah: “But when "they shall by and by come and say, I am Christ,” [Luke 21:8] they will be received by you [Marcionites], who have already received one altogether like them.” [Tertullian, Against Marcion 1:4:39] Of course these next passages from Tertullian drip with his characteristic sarcasm: “So then [my] Christ, our most patient Lord [Jesus], has through all these years borne with a perversion of the preaching about himself, until, if you please, Marcion should come to his rescue.” [ibid 1:20] “As corrector apparently of a gospel which from the times of Tiberius to those of Antoninus had suffered subversion, Marcion comes to light, first and alone, after Christ had waited for him all that time, repenting of having been in a hurry to send forth apostles without Marcion to protect them.” [ibid 4:5]
“Also I wonder how one can talk about a lamp never being hidden, who through all those long ages had hidden himself, a greater and more essential light: and how he can promise that all things secret shall be made manifest, when he is all the while keeping his god in darkness, waiting I suppose for Marcion to be born.” [ibid 4:19] “Salvation also comes to the house of Zacchaeus. How did he earn it? Was it that even he believed that Christ was come from Marcion?” [ibid 4:37] “So then, having affirmed that with desire he had desired to eat the passover, his own Passover, it would not have been right for God to desire anything not his own—the bread which he took, and divided among his disciples, he made into his body, saying This is my body, that is [Marcion said] the figure of my body [i.e. his person].” [ibid 4:40] [see Harnack, Marcion, p. 144, note 2) who “attributes this explanation to Marcion, and credits him with a figurative interpretation of the dominical words.”]

All this implies an aspect of Marcionitism, at least as it was then being perceived, that is aseldom if ever noticed today: a “Christology” of “little Mark” as himself the messiah. Keep in mind the similarly neglected Jeewish trend, already noted here, of applying the messianic prophecy of Daniel to Marcus Agrippa, another, analogous, “Mark.” The truth is that if we look carefully at the various known Marcionite interpretations of the gospel they agree remarkably well with known early Islamic readings of the same material. Each story is taken to emphasize that Jesus came only to announce the messianic figure who was to follow him. The Marcionites interpreted Jesus answer to the question “Art thou He that should come or look we for another?” as confirming that Jesus wasn’t the Christ. He was only a messenger for someone else – the one called “the least” i.e. “little Mark.” [Against Marcion 4:18; Compare the Islamic Gospel of Barnabas 42] Similarly, Jesus is understood to rebuke Peter when he identifies him as the Christ because “Peter's conclusion was a wrong one, therefore [Jesus] was unwilling to have a lie disseminated.” [Luke 4:20; Against Marcion 4:23; Compare Abd al Jabbar, The Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Muhammad 66b and the Gospel of Barnabas 70] It is the same way, when he heals the sick and they mistakenly call him “the Son of God” – Jesus rebukes them, too. [Luke 4:8; compare Sura 9:30 - "The Christians say the [Jesus] is the Son of God, that is a saying from their mouths,” Sura 2:116 – “They say: "God has begotten a son." Glory be to Him. No, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him."]
In the same way, the blind Bartimaeus first calls Jesus “the son of David,” that is, when he was unable to see. After having his eyes metaphorically opened by Jesus’ command, he identifies him as “the Lord” owing to the fact, again, that he recognized the truth now: Jesus, healer and benefactor though he was, wasn’t the messiah. [Luke 4:36]

Once then we come to understand that the followers of “little Mark” understood that Jesus was not the messiah, we can gain a better understanding of something repeatedly misreported by the Church Fathers: Mark/Marcion’s insistence that Jesus’ coming wasn’t predicted by the prophets. It is only because the Catholic Church Fathers unconsciously (or perhaps deliberately) substitute “Christ” for “Jesus” at every opportunity they have that we have long failed to grasp the central tenet of Marcionite belief – viz. Daniel properly predicted the coming of the Christ; he simply had no understanding whatsoever about Jesus’ revelation. In fact, the followers of Mark(ion) show great respect for Daniel’s prophetic gifts. Irenaeus says, for instance, that they “falsely hold” that the Christian mystery is about the revelation of a higher god than the Creator. Accordingly, again, “they maintain that Daniel also set forth the same thing when he begged of the angels explanations of the parables, as being himself ignorant of them. But the angel, hiding from him the great mystery of [the Father] said unto him, "Go thy way quickly, Daniel, for these sayings are closed up until those who have understanding do understand them, and those who are white be made white.” [Dan 12:5; Haer 1:19:2]

Other reports about the Marcionites similarly demonstrate their dependence on the revelation of Daniel. The Marcionite Megetheus cites Daniel 2:34, 35: "You have seen, even beheld a stone that is cut from a mountain without hands, and striking an image and its feet were as dust, which is blown in the wind" in order to demonstrate that “Jesus” and “Christ” again were two different individuals. [Dialogues, Book 1:25] His Catholic opponent wants to argue that both “Christs” were predicted by the prophets, but the Marcionite disagreed. Jesus’ appearance on the earth was not known to the Law and the Prophets. The Marcionites must have really been attached to this material from Daniel, as we can see from the fact that an allusion to it appears again in the third book of Tertullian’s Against Marcion where the Catholic author again attempts to dislodge the Marcionite belief that Jesus’ advent was not predicted by the Law and Prophets (and especially Daniel). [Against Marcion 3:7] Similarly, Ephraim (fourth century CE.) cites Marcionite interest in Dan 3:24, 25, as the basis for their emphasis on prayer and fasting. Interestingly also is the fact that this portion of Daniel (the Song of the Three Young Men) is only found in the Greek translations of the text and especially Theodotion who was himself a Marcionite.

So, once we establish all these otherwise overlooked details about the Marcionite tradition, we can finally confront the testimony of Julius Africanus (221 CE.) on the Marcionite reading of Daniel 9:24–27. After citing a very original interpretation of the seventy weeks prophecy, he writes “I am amazed that the Jews deny that the Lord has yet come, and that the followers of Marcion refuse to admit that [Jesus’] coming was predicted in the prophecies when the Scriptures display the matter so openly to our view.” [Julius Africanus, Fragment 18] It is easy to write off this statement as if Marcion didn’t accept Daniel’s prophecy. Nevertheless, we have already shown this is not true. What we are left with is that Marcion didn’t accept that the prophets knew anything about the descent of the angel Jesus from heaven. The Marcionites must have held that the “other messiah” – i.e. Mark himself – was the subject of Daniel 9:24–27 as we have seen was nearly universal among the Jews. Note the date which Julius identifies as the very “advent of the Lord” viz. He writes “[t]he period, then, of the advent of the Lord from Adam and the creation is 5531 years, from which epoch to the 250th Olympiad there are 192 years.” What is the date of the advent of Christ? 250th Olympiad = 221 CE. – 192 = 29 CE. the very historical birth date of Marcus Julius Agrippa! [ibid]

Look carefully at Tertullian’s report about the Marcionite interest in the “little apocalypse” of the gospel (Mark chapter 13). We find the very same pattern we have noticed throughout. Tertullian tries to deny Marcion any right to use Daniel’s prophecy of the “Son of Man” (which certainly means the heretic had laid claim to it). There can be no doubt that Marcion’s original point is that even Daniel didn’t know “the deep things of God.” The heretic didn’t know about Jesus’ advent but rather only the coming of Mark as messiah. Tertullian wants to make it seem as if the “messiah of the Law and the prophets” is necessarily the Catholic Christ merely because the tradition continues to hold that the Old Testament still has authority. And so we find ourselves caught in the trap laid by the Church Fathers for New Testament scholars ever since – Marcion’s argument for the end to the Law and the Prophets “dishonors the Creator.” The truth is that Christians haven’t the foggiest idea that the Jewish and Samaritan traditions have as their very basis the understanding that the messiah will write out a new Law for Israel. The Midrash Mekhilta (second century CE.), for instances, acknowledges that “at the end [of the age] the Torah will be forgotten.” [Mechilta, Masechet Piska, 2. cf. Shabbos 138a] R.Shimon Ben Eleazar (c. 170--200 AD) declares that "this is how it will be in the days of the Messiah; there will be no 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not' commandments.” [Shabbath 130a-b.] Yalqut Isaiah states that "the Holy One -- may he be blessed -- will sit and draw up a new Torah for Israel, which will be given to them by the Messiah." [Yalqut Isaiah 26, siman 296] Pesikhta Rabbati says that "The Torah will revert to its original state" [Pesikhta Rabbati 89,6.] while the Talmud acknowledges that “in the future the commandments will be annulled.” [Nida 66b.] Even the great Maimonides acknowledges in the “Ordinances of the Kings" that the King annointed as Messiah will "sit on his kingly throne and write for himself a Book of the Law in addition to the Law given to our Fathers" and "He will compel Israel to obey these commandments.” In the words of Klausner again “the natural interpretation of [all of] this is that in the days of the Messiah, the Torah and the Commandments will lose their significance.” [J. Klausner, Ha-ra'ayon ha-meshihi be-Israel, p289]

Few scholars have ever considered even for a moment that the Marcionite tradition might well have been a “completely normal” Jewish messianic revelation. After all, as we have just shown, it would have been expected that this or any tradition claiming to fulfill the expectation of a “Jewish Christ” would reveal a better Law, thus necessarily rendering the old Law of Moses useless. Is this not exactly what Marcion is said to have done: putting the “Old” Tstament out to pasture and inaugurating a new scripture in the form of the Apostolicon? The idea is clear when you examine the opinions associated with Jannai (“Johnny,” see below) and at the manner in which the Christ of the Marcionite tradition is a royal messiah, a “man of war” exactly as in the Jewish and Samaritan traditions [cf Celsus ]


Anonymous said...

Your point is what... <3+W--are you claiming that Marcion IS THE CHRIST?

Anonymous said...

Your point is what... <3+W--are you claiming that Marcion IS THE CHRIST?