Markus Vinzent's Blog

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Why Are the Gospels Anonymous?

Bart Ehrman on his blog gives an interesting answer, based on the old scholarly consensus (at least of the majority of scholars) that Mark wrote the very first Gospel:

I think there may be one other thing going on with the NT Gospels that led their authors to write their accounts anonymously.   I’ve never seen this suggested in the scholarly literature before, which either means I came up with it myself (in which case, caveat lector!) or I haven’t read enough scholarly literature.  It is this.   I think when Mark was writing his Gospel, he was imagining that he was continuing the story that he inherited from the Hebrew Bible.    As you know, the final prophet of the Hebrew Bible, Malachi, ends by promising that Elijah would be coming before the “day of the Lord.”   And how does Mark begin?   By describing the coming of John the Baptist in the guise of Elijah.   Mark is a continuation of the narrative of the Hebrew Bible.
But as you probably know, the Hebrew Bible – in the sequence of books given in the original Hebrew — does not end with Malachi, the final prophet, the way the English Old Testament does.  It ends with 2 Chronicles, a narrative book that describes, at the very end, the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and then the promise to rebuild the city by the Persian king Cyrus.   There has been sin, and destruction, and the promise of restoration – told in a historical narrative.  And Mark picks up the story at that point, with the coming then of the Savior, Jesus.
The historical books of the Hebrew Bible (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles) are anonymous.  They are telling the history of the people of God, not based on the authority of the author but as a holy narrative of how God worked among his people.  The names of the authors are unimportant and irrelevant in this kind of sacred history.   Mark continues the sacred history, and like his predecessors, tells his story anonymously.   Matthew and Luke and even John do it in their own ways, and also, as a result, tell their sacred history in the person of Jesus anonymously.  I don’t think it’s surprising at all that they did not reveal their names. (read more here)
As you know, I do not subscribe to this scholarly consensus, but advocate that the first Gospel we know of is that of Marcion of Sinope - and in this light my answer differs from that of Bart Ehrman. In contrast to his and other scholars opinions, my own suggestion is based on an early Christian source, Tertullian of Carthage. In his refutation of Marcion, Tertullian complains about Marcion not having attached ‘to his Gospel’ an ‘author’s name’. To Tertullian, publishing a text without also adding a title (titulum quoque affigere) was a form of dissimulation or pseudepigraphy. On Marcion’s explicit criticism of those who had copied and added the names of Apostles and Apostolic men to their rewriting of his text, Tertullian will come back in Adv. Marc. IV 5.5:  ‘Marcion's complaint is that the Apostles are held suspect of collusion and dissimulation, even to the debasing of the Gospel’ (Apostolos praevaricationis et simulationis suspectos Marcion haberi queritur usque ad evangelii depravationem). Tertullian claims, Marcion’s Gospel, contrary to what the reader expects, was a work without its ‘author’s name’ (debita auctoris), something that ‘gives no promise of credibility’ as it misses ‘a fully descriptive title’. This argument, however, only works if Tertullian had, indeed, assumed that the text was by Marcion and, therefore, should have carried Marcion’s name. Tertullian did not buy into Marcion’s explanation that ‘he might not assume permission to add a title for it’. Why did Marcion withheld his name or why did he not pseudonymously add the name of somebody else, Paul, for example, as Tertullian is going to suggest in the next section (‘even if Marcion had introduced his Gospel under the name of Paul in person’)? As we can see from Marcion's collection of Pauline Letters which only contain letters which even modern literary criticism attribute to Paul or the Pauline tradition, Marcion seems to have been one of those authors and redactors who were keen on authenticity. Perhaps, he did not add his own name to his Gospel as he may have regarded this text as nothing else than the complementary collection of narratives and sayings to go with his collection of Pauline Letters. And we may even hypothesise that the Gospel might not have gained the importance it got, if it had not been picked up by those ‘Apostles’ and ‘Apostolic men’ who, if Marcion is correct, nicked his text, copied, altered and published it, just like him, without putting their names to their products. In this they may have only followed the Gospel they copied (and altered), namely that of Marcion. Nevertheless, people seem to have quickly added the names of apostles (Matthew, John) and apostolic men (Mark; Luke) to these texts, as, according to Tertullian, Marcion already complained, too, about such pseudonymous branding of these texts. 
Tertullian does not see any moral reason why the one who, according to Tertullian’s account, had dared ‘to overturn the whole body’ shrank back in putting his own name (or that of Paul) to this text. It is clear, however, from this argument, that he therefore took Marcion as the Gospel’s auctor who’s name should have been fixed to this text. This assumption is particularly made evident by Tertullian: ‘Marcion, on the other hand, attaches to the Gospel, clearly his own, no author's name’. Had Tertullian intended to make a cynical point, the argument made no sense. The only cynicism comes from the criticism that Marcion who claims to be authentic and correct sees ‘no crime’ in turning upside down (evertere) the entire body of the Gospel.
If you wish to read more on this topic - you can now check my new monograph which has appeared a few days ago:

Recently published

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The God of the other Aeon - or Marcion and Luke 20:34-40


As Klinghardt has shown (Matthias Klinghardt, Das älteste Evangelium und die Entstehung der kanonischen Evangelien, 2 vols. [Tübingen, 2015] I 974-82), Jesus’ answer in *20,34-36 is well attested by Tertullian, although it shows significant differences compared to Luke. Klinghardt also points at important variant readings which he reckons to derive from the precanonical Mcn.
a. In *20,34 some manuscripts give instead of ‘they marry and get married’ the version ‘they are born and give birth’ (γεννῶνται καὶ γεννῶσιν: e c l). The latter reading is not unknown in Patristic literature, even though the order varies (γεννῶσιν καὶ γεννῶνται: ff2 gat i q Ambr), and it also appears in combination with the canonical γαμοῦσιν καὶ
γαμίσκονται (D it u. a.). Klinghardt thinks that ‘they are born and give birth’, giving a purpose of marriage, particularly with regards to the ‘Leviratsehe’, is perfectly plausible in the text, although he does not see the relation to ‘the other aeon’, mentioned in *20,35, ehre there is no longer mention of being born and giving birth, but of marrying and being married (οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται). To him, the Lucan redaction has eliminated the incongruence, even though it remained present in some of the witnesses.
b. A further textual difficulty is present for *20,35: Tertullian witnesses several times (4,38,5.7) an active (quos vero dignatus sit deus illius aevi possessione which in Greek would read like οὓς δὲ κατηξίωσεν ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου κληρονομίας) contrary to the pass. divin. in Luke (οἱ δὲ καταξιωθέντες τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν), although this active reading has not left any trace in the manuscript tradition. In the history of the reconstruction of Mcn several options have been proposed. Tsutsui follows Tertullian’s reading of Mcn and refers illius aevi to deus, and not to possessione (κληρονομίας/ τυχεῖν), so that the subject is the ‘God of that aeon’.[1] As a result, the object of worthiness cannot be an infinitive τυχεῖν as in Luke (and accepted by Harnack in his reconstruction), but only the noun possessio/κληρονομία, witnessed by Tertullian. Klinghardt sees two options: Either one has to take possessio/κληρονομία in an absolute sense (‘God has regarded them worthy of the possession’), which Klinghardt finds problematic (as not manifest in any textual witness), or one has to refer the genetive of τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου/illius aevi to possessio/κληρονομία not to θεός/deus (‘God has regarded them worthy of the possession of that aeon’). He finds this a possible option, although the word order does not speak for it. He concludes that both options are possible, but problematic and that the wording, witnessed by Tertullian, provide the lectio difficilior compared to Luke, hence indicates its priority. He concludes: If Marcion had altered the canonical text of Luke into the form that is witnessed by Tertullian, he had rendered a smooth text into an ambiguous, if not nonsensical form without any semantic gains.[2] Instead, it is more plausible that the canonical redactor of Luke has smoothened a semantically difficult text by dropping the nominal subject θεός to a pass. divin. and by exchanging the noun
κληρορονομία for the infinitive τυχεῖν. We will see below that, building on Klinghardt’s text and his and Tsutsui’s observations, I come to another explanation which accounts for the textual evidence and explains what Klinghardt felt to be ‘problematic’.

English translation

20:34 So Jesus said to them, “The people of this age are born and give birth, 20:35 But those who the God of that age regards worthy of the heritage and the resurrection from among the dead neither marry nor are married, 20:36 because neither do they die anymore for they will be like angels of this God and made sons of the resurrection.” 20:39 In response some of the scribes said, “Teacher, you spoke well.”


In this small pericope Jesus is presented with his answer to the question of ‘some Sadducees’ who, in contradicting the idea of a future resurrection, challenged this concept with the example of the seven brothers who, following the advice of levirite marriage (based on Deut. 25:5-6 and Gen. 38:8) all married the same woman, so that the question arises, who’s wife she would be in the resurrection. Jesus’ answer is reported in our pericope under discussion here.


Mcn 20:34-39
Luke 20:34-40
20:34 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς
ὁ Ιησοῦς, ᾿Οἱ υἱοὶ
τούτου τοῦ αἰῶνος
γεννῶνται καὶ γεννῶσιν,

οὓς δὲ κατηξίωσεν ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου κληρονομίας καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως
τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν
οὔτε γαμοῦσιν
οὔτε γαμίζονται
20:36 οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀποθανεῖν
ἔτι μέλλουσιν, ὅμοιοι γὰρ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις τοῦ 
θεοῦ εἰσιν καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως υἱοὶ ποιηθέντες.

ἀποκριθέντες δέ τινες τῶν γραμματέων εἶπαν, Διδάσκαλε, καλῶς εἶπας·

20:34 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς 
 Ἰησοῦς· οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου
γαμοῦσιν καὶ γαμίσκονται

20:35 οἱ δὲ καταξιωθέντες τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως 
τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε
20:36 οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀποθανεῖν
ἔτι δύνανται, ἰσάγγελοι γάρ εἰσιν καὶ υἱοί εἰσιν θεοῦ τῆς
ἀναστάσεως υἱοὶ ὄντες.

ὅτι δὲ ἐγείρονται οἱ νεκροί, καὶ Μωϋσῆς ἐμήνυσεν ἐπὶ τῆς βάτου, ὡς λέγει κύριον τὸν θεὸν Ἀβραὰμ καὶ θεὸν Ἰσαὰκ καὶ θεὸν Ἰακώβ.

20:38 θεὸς δὲ οὐκ ἔστιν νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων, πάντες γὰρ αὐτῷ ζῶσιν
20:39 Ἀποκριθέντες δέ τινες τῶν γραμματέων εἶπαν·
, καλῶς εἶπας
20:40 οὐκέτι γὰρ ἐτόλμων ἐπερωτᾶν αὐτὸν οὐδέν.

Mcn 20:34-39 Translation
Luke 20:34-40 Translation
20:34 So Jesus said to
them, “The people of
this age being born
and giving birth,

20:35 But those who
the God of that age regards
worthy of being heirs
and of the resurrection
from among the dead
neither marry nor
are married,

20:36 because neither do
they die anymore
for they will be like angels
of this God and made sons
of the resurrection.”

In response some of the scribes
said, “Teacher,
you spoke well.”
20:34 So Jesus said to them, 
“The people of
this age marry and
are given in marriage.  

But those who
        are regarded
worthy of              that age
and of the resurrection
from among the dead
neither marry nor are

20:36 because neither can
they die anymore
for they will be like angels
and sons of God, being sons
of the resurrection.”

20:37 But even Moses revealed that the dead are raised in the passage about the bush, here he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and  God of Isaac and God of Jacob.  

20:38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him.” 
20:39 Then some of the experts in the law  answered, “Teacher, 
you have spoken well!”   
20:40 For they did not dare any longer to ask him anything.

Tertullian complaints in his reading of this passage in Mcn about one thing only, Marcion’s answer to the question of the Sadducees with his reference to ‘the God of that age’. According to Tertullian Marcion presented Jesus’ answer by making a distinction not only between two different ages or aeons, but also by attributing the present aeon to the ‘Creator’, and the future aeon to ‘another god’, namely ‘the God of that age’:
[7] ... They have seized upon the text of scripture, and have read on like this: ‘Those whom the god of that world has counted worthy’. They attach ‘of that world’ to ‘god’, so as to make out that there is another god, ‘of that world’. Whereas it ought to be read, Those whom God has counted worthy, so that by punctuating after ‘God’, ‘of that world’ belongs to what follows, that is, Those whom God hath counted worthy of the inheritance of that world, and of the resurrection.[3]
It becomes clear from Tertullian’s report that Marcion read this passage by referring ‘of that world’ to θεός. Instead, Tertullian does not refer to the canonical version of Luke that we know of where θεός is missing, but suggests a different punctuation of the sentence, so that τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου would be a genitive that refers to the following κληρονομίας. As Tertullian argues, his suggestion was not based on style or grammar, as, indeed, both options are grammatically possible and given that the following noun (ἀναστάσεως) carries a genitive that follows it, Marcion’s option seems stylistically even to be the more natural reading, yet Tertullian argues with reference to the content of the passage and its theology:
[8] For the question he was asked was not about the god of that world, but about its conditions, whose wife the woman was to be in that world, after the resurrection. So again, on the subject of marriage, they misrepresent his answer, so as to make out that, The children of this world marry and are given in marriage, refers to the Creator's men whom he allows to marry, whereas they themselves, whom the god of that world, that other god, has counted worthy of the resurrection, even here and now do not marry, because they are  not the children of this world—although it was the marriage of that world he was asked about, not this, and the marriage he said there was not, was that about which he was consulted.[4]
Tertullian’s quote of Mcn and his paraphrasing complaint that Marcion is distinguishing between the two aeons which he allocates to the Creator god and the ‘other’ god, ‘the god of that age’ does not seem to be a polemical retrojection only, but seems to reflect one of the major contentions that Marcion’s text provided here. In fact, Klinghardt’s reconstruction of Mcn which, as shown above, is well attested for this passage by both Tertullian and Epiphanius, makes a clear difference between not only ‘the sons of this age’ and the chosen sons of the resurrection of that other age to come, but also between ‘this age’ to which no divine authority is allocated, and the other age where ‘the God’ is the active agent who choses people whom he makes like his angels and sons of the resurrection, hence makes them to heirs. With reference to heritage (κληρονομία), the text hits one of the core elements of the Sadduceeic question, as levirite marriage was not only about creating an offspring to secure future life beyond the death of the childless man, but it was also about passing on his heritage rights.[5] Tertullian’s criticism relates to his attempt to deny the existence of ‘the God’, Marcion’s God of the other age to come, and to show that both ages are handled by the very same God, hence, is eminently theological by nature. In this respect, he challenges Marcion’s emphasis in his answer on ‘the God’ who, indeed, appears twice in Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, first when Marcion introduces the difference between the two ages, and again, when he explains the heritage and the elected becoming like angels of ‘this God’. Marcion’s stressing of this God and the title ‘the God of that age’ Tertullian sees as both a misrepresentation and an evasion of answering the Sadducee’s question, when he states that Jesus ‘was asked ... not about the god of that world, but about its conditions, whose wife the woman was to be in that world’. That Marcion related in his answer to the future aeon where no longer people were giving birth and were born, married and were married, was, however, a clever move to qualify the Sadducees as people of an aeon which was not that of the supreme God. Or put the other way around, only people who look for a short termed heritage in a world of birth and death could come up with an example like the one presented by the Sadducees. As it seems, Tertullian had a firm grasp of how Marcion wanted this passage to be understood, and the only way to get away from Marcion’s reading of it, was a grammatical shifting of the genitive object (τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου).
Now it is interesting to see that Luke displays a parallel tendency to that of Tertullian. He first keeps close to the question of the Sadducees and speaks in v. 20:34 of ‘the people of this age’ who ‘mary and are given in marriage’, not, as Marcion of being born and giving birth. More importantly, the title ‘ θεός’ is not present in Luke 20:35. Thus the subject of judgement is suspended, and yet the remaining ‘but’/δέ of the opening of v. 20:35 still maintains some kind of hiatus between ‘this age’ and ‘that age’, an age where there is marriage and another where there will be no more marriage. As the title ‘ θεός’ is not present, so is the determined title of god not present in v. 20:36. Instead, we read that the worthy people in that age will ‘be like angels and sons of God, being sons of the resurrection’. All the more one is surprised that in the example that is given in Luke (missing in Mcn) reference is now made to Ex. 3 and the topic of God’s name and title, in order to explain ‘that the dead are raised’. Mose, so Luke, ‘calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’, and in v. 20:38 he adds, that ‘God, however, is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him’. As Klinghardt has already noticed, scholars had some difficulty to explain this enthymatic syllogism.[6] Yet, they have missed that the shift in Luke’s strategy from focussing on an answer to the Sadducees which started off by the distinction between two aeons, one in which there is marriage and another in which there is none, and then digressed (indicated by another ‘but’/δέ in the opening of v. 20:37) into the example taken from Ex. 3 where it is question of God’s title, God being mentioned thrice as the ‘Lord’s’ name, ‘the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob’. This emphasis on God’s title did not only serve to counter-balance the just suggested distinction between the two aeons, emphasising that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are ‘dead’ – having lived in this are – who have been ‘raised’, hence as chosen ones been made alive in ‘that age’, combining those ages by the statement ‘for all live before’ God, but the stress on God’s title is easily understood to be a reaction to Marcion’s answer to the question of the Sadducees, just as Tertullian focussed on God’s title. If this were so, then Luke should not only be read as giving an answer to the problem that was put into the mouth of the Sadducees, but also as an answer to Marcion’s text which reserved ‘ θεός’ for the God of the age to come.
When one compares both versions, that of Mcn and Luke, one notices the systematically stringent division of the text in Mcn and a rather loose organisation of arguments in Luke which becomes visible precisely where Luke and Mcn textually deviate. In Mcn we have the clear antithesis between the two ‘aeons’ with their two forms of ‘sons’ and specific denotations, the first aeon termed as ephemer, the next as angelic ‘heritage’ where ‘no further dying’ takes place, the first without a divine figure mentioned, the second reigned by ‘the god’. And, again, in Mcn, the denotation of the future aeon is twofold, it is the heritage and the resurrection from the dead, explained in v. 20:36 twofold as becoming like the angels of ‘this god’ and becoming sons of the resurrection. In Luke, the structure is ambiguous, as we have seen before, beginning with differentiating between two aeons, although then in need for combining them through an overachring life before a God of the living, encompassing past, present and future. The answer of ‘some of the scribes’ in v. 20:39 is identical in Mcn and Luke, although they have both a different meaning in the light of the different narratives. While in Mcn the verse is a criticism predominantly of the Sadducees (as rightly seen by Tertullian), and also of the scribes, as apparently even only some of these grasped the meaning of what Jesus was proposing, in Luke it is rather astonishing that, after Jesus’ has given scriptural evidence from writings which were acknowledged by the Sadducees and the scribes, only some of the latter praised the teacher Jesus. Although only a nuance, but the ‘some’ is a hint that Luke has adopted a text without fully harmonising it with his insertion of vv. 20:37-8.
Now it is interesting to see that despite the reconstruction of the text of Mcn by Klinghardt, mainly based on Tertullian and Epiphanius, and despite the clear setting out of Marcion’s reading of this passage by Tertullian, Klinghardt’s translation follows the suggestion of Tertullian how one should read this passage, rather than his explanation to how Marcion has understood it. What we have, apparently, is a Mcn-text, but with a translation that is informed by a Lukan, Tertullian, and hence a traditional understanding of this pericope. That such kind of a reading, then, leads to the conclusion that this passage was not written by Marcion, but that Marcion has only adopted an older Mcn text, seems to me to be the result of a circular argument.

[1] TSUTSUI 120. Already HARNACK 229* followed Tertullian to some extent, when he suggested to read
τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν (καὶ?) τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν: If one deletes καί, then τυχεῖν would refer to τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν (‘those of that aeon are regarded worthy of achieving the resurrection from the dead’). This reconstruction is, however, contradicted by Tertullian who witnesses several times the presence of the crucial et/καί, as Tsutsui (ibid.) righly highlights.
[2] In a footnote, he adds that C.M. Hays, ‘Marcion vs. Luke: A Response to the Plädoyer of Matthias Klinghardt’,
ZNW 99 (2008), 213-32, 217 had suggested (following Harnack) that Marcion had made a theologically based textual alteration.
[3] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 38,7: Nacti enim scripturae textum ita in legendo decucurrerunt: Quos autem dignatus est deus illius aevi. Illius aevi deo adiungunt, quo alium deum faciant illius aevi; cum sic legi oporteat: Quos autem dignatus est deus, ut facta hic distinctione post deum ad sequentia pertineat illius aevi, id est, quos dignatus sit deus illius aevi possessione et resurrectione.
[4] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 38,8: Non enim de deo, sed de statu illius aevi consulebatur, cuius uxor futura esset post resurrectionem in illo aevo. Sic et de ipsis nuptiis responsum subvertunt, ut, Filii huius aevi nubunt et nubuntur, de hominibus dictum sit creatoris nuptias permittentis, se autem, quos deus illius aevi, alter scilicet, dignatus sit resurrectione, iam et hic non nubere, quia non sint filii huius aevi; quando de nuptiis illius aevi consultus, non de huius, eas negaverat de quibus consulebatur.
[5] T. Frymer-Kensky, ‘Tamar: Bible’ (2009).
[6] See Wolter, Lk 658ff z. St.; vgl. bereits K. Berger, Die Auferstehung des Propheten und die Erhöhung des Menschensohns (1976), 386.