An experiment: The original Gospel of Mark?—Introduction

[Note: This post substantially updates an older version).] The comprehensive UrMark, cumulatively updated after each installment, is found here. The canonical (color coded) Gospel of Mark, also updated after each installment, is found here. In any very large endeavor—as is the exploration of Christian origins—from time to time an intellectual synthesis is required, one that attempts to pull together various lines of research. Without such a synthesis, the world of early Christian studies quickly becomes a bewildering quagmire, with myriad disparate elements and little overall unity. So, I’d like to provide my personal synthesis regarding a critical text: the Gospel of Mark. This will take the form of a series of posts—one post for each of the sixteen chapters of … Continue reading

Three stages in the development of early Christianity

In my view, three major (and incompatible) strains of earliest Christianity existed side-by-side in the first century CE: the gnostic, the Jewish Christian, and the Pauline. The gnostic strain was the first. It goes back to a prophet I suggest was Yeshu ha-Notsri (“Jesus the Nazarene”), who lived in the early first century BCE. I have also proposed that early Christian development can be divided into three stages, chronicling the changing view of “Jesus.” In this post I expand on those stages, and include important historical considerations. STAGE 1: From the death of Yeshu ha-Notsri to c. 50 CE Yeshu was martyred in Jerusalem on the eve of Passover, about 75 BCE, after having been condemned by the Sanhedrin for … Continue reading

An experiment: The original Gospel of Mark?—Introduction

[Note: This post has been substantially updated.] In any very large endeavor—as is the exploration of Christian origins—from time to time an intellectual synthesis is required, one that attempts to pull together various lines of research. Without such a synthesis, the world of early Christian studies quickly becomes a bewildering quagmire, with myriad disparate elements and little overall unity. So, I’d like to provide my personal synthesis regarding a critical text: the Gospel of Mark. This will take the form of a series of posts—one post for each of the sixteen chapters of that gospel. Recognizing that I may well be quite wrong in this venture, I candidly call it an “experiment.” Some assumptions After many generations of dealing with … Continue reading

Part 3—A revolution in the Synoptic Problem

[NOTE: This is a significant revision. The original post has been archived here. — R.S.] The so-called Synoptic Problem can be defined as the search for the literary and redactional relationship between the three (obviously) extensively related “synoptic” gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Majority opinion has long favored the “two source theory”: Matthew and Luke primarily drew on Mark, and they also drew on a saying source not available to Mark known as “Q” (German abbreviation for Quelle, “source”). However, ongoing disagreements among New Testament scholars show that the two source theory is not satisfactory to many. Perhaps the biggest sticking point is that the Q source is entirely hypothetical. Despite a veritable library that has now been written about it … Continue reading

Questioning the “Gospel of Marcion”—Pt. 6

It is possible to find isolated passages in Tertullian’s lengthy attack on Marcion that can be interpreted as if the Church Father is critiquing a text. One must be wary, however, of translation bias and equivocal words, such as “gospel/evangelium”—so frequent in Tertullian’s writing. That word has long since become synonymous with four well known Christian religious texts, and we have quite forgotten its older, more general meaning (“doctrine”)—prevalent when Tertullian was writing and before the canonical gospels had conquered the western world. Another problem is that modern translations of Tertullian’s writings have been carried out under the false conviction that a text of Marcion was indeed the subject of the Church Father’s attack. The translators themselves use words in … Continue reading

Questioning the “Gospel of Marcion”—Pt. 5

The prior posts in this series have alerted us to the dual meanings of “gospel” in antiquity, and also to the argument—apparently broached here for the first time—that Tertullian (the primary ancient witness to Marcion’s “gospel”) never had a text of the arch-heretic in mind at all. In support of this view one can point to the astonishing fact that in all of Tertullian’s five books Against Marcion (AM), one nowhere encounters a clear citation from a text that we could call the “Gospel of Marcion” (see below). This is damning, for it is impossible that the Church Father would critique a text while never offering a quotation from that text! Who critiques a text without repeatedly citing it? After … Continue reading

Questioning the “Gospel of Marcion”—Pt. 4

We have seen that the word “gospel” (euangelion/evangelium) had the principal meaning “good news, doctrine, teaching” in ancient times. This was certainly the case until the new Christian literary form of gospel as written narrative of Jesus’ sayings and doings became broadly known—that is, until the third century. The dialog furnished in the previous post showed that, still in the fifth century, the general meaning of evangelium far outweighed the textual meaning of the word. With our ability to carefully discriminate the two meanings of “gospel,” we now turn to the principal source used for the textual reconstruction of the alleged Gospel of Marcion. It is Tertullian’s massive opus, Against Marcion, in five books. Book Four is the main source … Continue reading

Questioning the “Gospel of Marcion”—Pt. 3

The word “gospel” The Greek word euangelion (and its Latin equivalent, evangelium) is a critical and ambivalent term. It has two principal meanings: (a) “good news, doctrine, teaching”—this is the general, or abstract meaning; and (b) a written text combining the sayings and the doings (logia and praxeis) of Jesus in narrative form. The two meanings—general and specific—are encompassed by the English term “gospel.” After all, today we speak of gospel in the general sense (cf. the phrases “the gospel of Christ”; “My gospel is…”) and also in the more specific sense referring to one or another named Christian text (“the Gospel of Matthew”). In the Greek and Latin records, euangelion/evangelium has also encompassed both meanings—sometimes used side-by-side—from antiquity right … Continue reading

Questioning the “Gospel of Marcion”—Pt. 2

In the prior post I noted with surprise that “the Gospel of Marcion (as reconstructed by Harnack, Knox, and Klinghardt) does not in any way represent Marcion’s own theology!” The question thus naturally arises: How could Marcion have promoted/published a gospel which stridently and categorically contradicts his own views? Of course, he did no such thing. Frankly, it amazes me that specialist scholars past and present have not recognized this basic and obviously critical flaw in their marcionite reconstructions. Any reconstruction of a “Gospel of Marcion” must be incorrect if it fundamentally contradicts Marcion’s own theology. This observation needs no argument. It speaks for itself. The most recent (and also most ambitious) attempt to reconstruct Marcion’s gospel is that of … Continue reading

Nazareth, Capernaum, and Tabor

The issue of Jesus’ hometown in early Christian literature is revealing. In the Gospel of Marcion (Mcn) the hometown of Jesus is Capernaum, as it is also in the Gospel of Mark. “Nazara” is only briefly mentioned in Mcn (corresponding to Lk 4:16–30). But the place does not really fit Marcion’s gospel, which locates Jesus in Capernaum both before and after a brief ‘visit’ to Nazara. Now, we know from the Gospel of Philip (Nag Hammadi) that in gnostic tradition Nazara meant “truth” (GPh 62). This interpretation fits the earlier spirit-Jesus christology, but not the new theios aner Jesus of Marcion, for which Jesus also requires a physical ‘hometown.’ Marcion’s gospel thus was apparently trying to fuse two different christologies … Continue reading