Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 19:25:08 -0500 (EST) From: Yuri KuchinskyClick here to go one level up in the directory.
To: Synoptic-L Subject: Canonical Rivalries On Wed, 28 Oct 1998, Jeremy Duff wrote: > Yuri, > > I too would be very interesting in further clarification on how you > feel the canon of the four gospels developed during the second century > (and in particular how these and other gospels were considered by > those who in Irenaeus' eyes would have been heretics). I am also > interested in your suggestion that there was a large split between > Johannine and Synoptic groupings and would like to see what makes you > come to this conclusion. Jeremy, Well, I tried to put my thoughts about all this down, but the article came out rather long. So I'm posting the first part for now. The second part deals with the Johannine epistles, and draws some general conclusions. Best wishes, Yuri. --------- CANONICAL RIVALRIES by Yuri Kuchinsky In this essay, I would like to consider the historical background of the Christian canon formation. I will look at some little known political rivalries in the early movement as associated with various factions struggling for acceptance. In connection with this, early testimonies of Papias and Irenaeus will be considered. Also, the Johannine epistles will be examined for evidence reflecting on these rivalries. It is important to consider these matters because they can cast significant light on the Synoptic problem. In order to understand how our canonical texts relate to each other, clarifying the background of their canonical framing may be helpful. ONE GOSPEL OVER THE OTHER It is often said that Marcion was believed to have produced the first canon, a "heretical" canon, to be sure. He chose for his use the gospel of Luke, and some Pauline epistles. There were accusations that he mutilated or truncated these documents to serve his purposes, but it is not entirely clear if he indeed did this, or if rather his proto-orthodox rivals added material to these documents. It seems quite likely that both parties engaged in such activities. All this was happening ca. 140, and created a great crisis in the movement. Apparently, Marcion at one time came pretty close to becoming the Bishop of Rome. History would have never been the same had this happened. Was Marcion so original that he came up with the idea of a "canon" all by himself without precedent? Of course not. Christians already had a perfectly good canon before Marcion. But the standard Christian canon previous to Marcion was the Jewish canon. So it seems like the "bright idea" of Marcion really was to make a canon that would be different from the OT. Of course he also tried to dismiss the OT entirely, as well, and this earned him a lot of opposition. Perhaps such radicalism towards the OT was the main reason why he became a heretic? One may assume that, previous to Marcion, different Christian communities had their own preferred documents besides the Tanach, but that there was no big attempt to control who used which gospel. There was of course no centralised control of the movement as yet -- not since the time when the Jerusalem Church under James still tried to exercise such control. So canon adoption was in a sense going hand in hand with the formation of some sort of a centralized body that may govern the Church. There's considerable evidence indicating that other early Christian groups besides Marcion also had their favourite gospels, and openly favoured one gospel over another. As Larry Swain already noted, Basilides wrote the first commentary on any text which later became part of the New Testament. He wrote on John in the 120s. And even if one assumes that Ignatius is familiar with Matthew's gospel, which is not entirely certain, then it is really the only gospel he quotes from or refers to. In fact, Ignatius does not mention any canonical gospel by name. In his AGAINST HERESIES, Irenaeus adds plenty more evidence for various "heretics" strongly preferring certain gospels. Following, is a revealing passage from AH about various dissidents preferring only one out of the canonical four. Of course the canonical four became canonical only a relatively short time previous to Irenaeus' time. To be sure, in the following Irenaeus attempts to turn these special preferences of the heretics against them, by saying that in each case the gospel that they use also provides the best material for their own refutation -- a somewhat tendentious argument, it seems. "For the Ebionites, who use Matthew's Gospel only, are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified. Those, moreover, who follow Valentinus, making copious use of that according to John, to illustrate their conjunctions, shall be proved to be totally in error by means of this very Gospel, as I have shown in the first book." (Book 3, 11, 7) To be noted above is a clear association of the Gospel of Mark in Irenaeus' mind with one specific brand of heresy. It seems to be the Adoptionist heresy, about which I have quite a lot of material here on my webpage. The dissidents associated with Mk try to "separate Jesus from Christ". I will return to this later on. This Adoptionism seems to have been the earliest and the most original post-Easter Christian faith. Not only different groups had special preferences for certain gospels, but there were also clear cases of groups rejecting certain gospels out of hand. Besides Marcion, I already mentioned the Alogi of the mid-second century rejecting Jn, for example. Also a separate group of the followers of Gaius, who was active at the turn of the second c. -- early third c., rejected Jn. And also, note above the Ebionites rejecting all the other gospels except Mt. But one important aspect of this struggle over the gospels is often disregarded in contemporary scholarship. This is the rivalry between the Johannine and the Synoptic factions at the early stage of canon creation. (The above refusal of some groups to accept certain gospels, such as Alogi rejecting Jn, may have also been connected with this rivalry.) And the writings of Irenaeus provide some important although often neglected evidence in this area. Also Papias can be cited in this connection. STRUGGLE BETWEEN TWO FACTIONS According to respected French biblical scholar Alfred Loisy, there were two big proto-orthodox factions at the time of Papias and Irenaeus. One was pro-Synoptic, and the other pro-Jn. There was apparently considerable rivalry between them. The exact degree of tension between these two groups is not entirely clear, but tension there clearly was. In Loisy's view, both Irenaeus and Papias belonged to pro-Jn faction, and strongly supported the canonisation of Jn that was still disputed by some in their time. In general, one must say that Loisy doesn't put too much historical value on Papias' testimony in regards to gospel composition and authorship, and explains why. He thinks the historical value of Papias' testimony is primarily in that he seems to be somewhat dismissive of the Synoptics. And the same applies to Irenaeus. Let's look at Papias first. What may have been the exact meaning of Papias, our earliest historical commentator, when he made his famous rather cryptic remarks about the gospels' composition? His testimony presents us with a well known crux, and there often seem to be as many interpretations of Papias' words as there are interpreters. The following is based on Alfred Loisy, THE ORIGINS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (Collier, 1962, pp. 65ff.). Loisy argued that Papias wrote about the year 140. (p. 81) He also considered that the wide publication of Jn was about the years 130-135. Loisy has a rather detailed theory about what Papias may have meant by his somewhat obscure comments. According to him, Papias' comments may be clarified by the hypothesis that Papias was a strong backer of the Fourth Gospel that was being added up to the canon at that time. And because of this, he was somewhat dismissive of the Synoptics. From what I understand, among the Patristic scholars it is widely accepted that Papias was a strong champion of Jn. There even was a tradition that Papias may have authored Jn, or contributed to its composition. So how much evidence exists for the theory that Papias, in favouring Jn, also wished to express some reservations about the theology of the two Synoptic gospels, Mk and Mt? (Of course Papias does not mention Lk, and this, in itself, can be seen as evidence for its relative lateness.) The evidence is not entirely unambiguous, but seems quite persuasive overall. In order to build his case, Loisy analyses in detail what Papias said about the Apostle John, and the Elders whom he questioned in person in order to ascertain the circumstances of gospels' composition. And Loisy's case is strengthened further by a comparison with the testimony of Irenaeus. It seems clear that, by the time when Papias was writing, Mk and Mt were already the older and more established gospels that had been in use in various Christian communities for a quite a while. But the introduction of Jn to the Greater Church was still relatively recent. So Papias was probably trying to commend Jn as in some ways a superior and "more spiritual" gospel for use by Christian communities. This advocacy of Jn could have been the reason why Papias may have been somewhat dismissive of the earlier Synoptics, according to Loisy. Papias, wanted to put "a measure of disqualification on two Gospels [Mt and Mk]", hereto widely accepted in the movement, while commending the newly reedited Jn to the flock. (p. 76) I will come back to Papias' testimony later. What is very interesting in Loisy's analysis is that he tends to connect the testimony of Papias in this regard with that of Irenaeus (in AGAINST HERESIES, 2, 22, 3ff). The reasons why both Papias and Irenaeus may have been mistrustful of the Synoptics may become clear from a careful analysis of these passages in Irenaeus. It's the Synoptic chronology that seemed to have been the big problem. In these passages, Irenaeus discusses the chronology of the life of Jesus as found in the Synoptics, and casts some doubt on the idea that the duration of the earthly ministry of Jesus was only one year. In contrast, Irenaeus prefers to this chronology that of Jn (implying a longer ministry), which he believes to be more reliable historically and theologically. So in AGAINST HERESIES, Book 2, Ch, 20, and following, Irenaeus is arguing quite strongly against the Synoptic gospels' chronology which was the troublesome aspect of the Synoptics, as he saw it. John's gospel, on the other hand, has ca. 3 1/2 years ministry which seemed far superior to him. "Their explanation, therefore, both of the year and of the twelfth month has been proved false, and they ought to reject either their explanation or the Gospel; otherwise [this unanswerable question forces itself upon them], How is it possible that the Lord preached for one year only?" (Book 2, 22, 3) So what is the problem with a one-year chronology, one may ask? Most commentators today wouldn't see this as much of a problem. But for Irenaeus this was clearly a problem. And it was so because, according to him, some misguided heretics -- with a strong Gnostic flavour! -- were using this chronology for their own purposes. One may assume that they were connecting the worship of Jesus with the Zodiac, Astrology, with the changing seasons of Nature, and perhaps even with the seasonal rituals of the pagans. Uncomfortable parallels with the annual sacrifice of the Sacred King Osiris/Dionysus/Attis/Adonis? This was what probably troubled the good Father of the Church the most... And, further, there was this strange gnosticizing link between the 12 Apostles and the 12 months of the year, Judas being the last, the fateful month. Irenaeus certainly showed a lot of fervour in combatting that particular "heretical teaching". All this was apparently happening in the Markan community especially. "They endeavour, for instance, to demonstrate that passion which, they say, happened in the case of the twelfth Aeon, from this fact, that the passion of the Saviour was brought about by the twelfth apostle, and happened in the twelfth month. ... how is it possible that Judas can be compared [with this Aeon]? ... Judas, then, the twelfth in order of the disciples, was not a type of the suffering Aeon." (Book 2, 20ff) "They, however, that they may establish their false opinion regarding that which is written, "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord," maintain that He preached for one year only, and then suffered in the twelfth month. [In speaking thus], they are forgetful to their own disadvantage, destroying His whole work, and robbing Him of that age which is both more necessary and more honourable than any other; that more advanced age, I mean, during which also as a teacher He excelled all others. For how could He have had disciples, if He did not teach? And how could He have taught, unless He had reached the age of a Master?" (Book 2, 22, 5) Also, as is evident from the above, it was Irenaeus' theory that Jesus was about 50 when crucified -- the theory that made Irenaeus himself somewhat suspect for the later orthodox commentators. DISTANCING FROM THE SYNOPTICS Let's now come back and take a look at the testimony of Papias, and try to see it in light of the insights gained from Irenaeus. (I've already posted some of this material to Synoptic-L previously). Loisy writes this about Papias's testimony, "...the two statements about Mark and Matthew run parallel, and aim, together, at putting a measure of disqualification on two Gospels, widely used by the churches, in comparison with another Gospel, doubtless regarded by their author as superior to the other two." (p. 76) Why would have Papias said that Peter gave and Mark recorded the sayings "not in their right order"? Loisy asks somewhat ironically: "Let us attend carefully to what this is meant to convey. Certainly it does not mean that Peter, in his preaching, would sometimes place the passion of the Christ before his baptism; what it is intended to convey, and to convey nothing else, is that Peter's catechizing, reproduced by Mark, does not give a correct picture of the Christ's career. And that is why we are to think that Mark is not the best catechism for the initiation of Christians; the true catechism, and the only true, is that of John." (pp. 78-79) Likewise with the statements about the early version of Mt having been given in Hebrew/Aramaic, and perhaps translated imperfectly. This was probably meant primarily to cast some doubt on Mt. And what about the implication in Papias that Peter needed a translator? Did he really need someone named Mark to translate into Greek for him? It is hard to believe that Peter, if indeed he had ever been in Rome, would have been incapable of speaking Greek by that presumably later time in his preaching career. [end of part 1] (Copyright by Yuri Kuchinsky) Yuri Kuchinsky || Toronto