I and many other readers have been interested in Roger Parvus’s alternative explanations for some aspects of Earl Doherty’s arguments. Roger has posted a detailed comment on Earl’s Part 12 Response to Bart Ehrman but I am repeating it here as a post in its own right. Where Earl argues that the incipient docetism addressed in the Ignatian letters is best explained as an early variant of the emerging belief that Christ came down to earth, Roger finds the simplest explanation in the Ignatian letters being written as a reaction against Marcionism — but not an “orthodox” reaction. Rather, Roger has argued that the Ignatian correspondence originated in the major Marcionite schismatic movement led by Apelles.
Before posting Roger’s comment in full here is the outline of Earl’s argument in Part 12:
- Are the Ignatian letters forgeries?
- What does “truly” mean for Ignatius:
- historical fact?
- Ignatius knows no Gospels, even in 110 CE or later
- implications of this
- This is the year 110 (or later if the letters are forgeries) in Antioch, a stone’s throw from the Syrian-Galilean region where Jesus conducted his ministry, where the evangelists Mark and Matthew wrote (Matthew is commonly dated c.80 CE with a suggested provenance in Antioch itself!), and yet the bishop of that city does not possess a copy of a written Gospel?
- rumours of an allegorical tale interpreted as history
- [This can be explained if] Mark was originally written as a piece of symbolism, not meant as history, and it took . . . decades for the story’s basic features to filter out to the surrounding Christian world, through rumor and missionary contact, through expansion and redaction of the story in other nearby communities, eventually to be accepted by some as historical fact — particularly those who would have found it appealing and useful.
- no teachings of Jesus, no miracles,
- no apostolic tradition
- Not only does Ignatius not possess a copy of a Gospel, he also argues from a position which lacks a few other things. One of them is apostolic tradition, another is an appeal to simple history within his faith movement: the argument that “Christians have believed these things for generations.”
- implications of this
- Why did docetism arise in Ignatius’ time?
- two reactions to the historical Jesus
- The whole issue of docetism is a perplexing one. Why, whether here or in a developing gnostic community, would it suddenly appear after almost a century of traditional belief in an historical Jesus, during which no one voiced any objection to believing in a divine son of God who had actually suffered in flesh, who actually partook of human nature?
- The traditional view of docetism sees it as a sudden about-face by certain Christian teachers and thinkers, the complete rejection of a presumably universal view of Jesus held for three-quarters of a century as a human being born of a human mother and suffering in human flesh. What would explain this throwing of the Christian faith train into reverse?
- The solution is to realize that prior to the end of the first century, no one had believed the opposite. Christ was a heavenly figure who suffered, died and rose in the spiritual dimension. But at precisely the time when the first idea that Christ had been on earth arose (largely through an evolution within the Q sect and a misunderstanding of the Gospels which grew out of it) we find the first objections to a human Jesus, a philosophically-based resistance but one dependent on the new claim that the heavenly Son of God had been on earth in a human incarnation.
- This is why a type of docetism could arise in a ‘traditional’ Christian community (of the Pauline type) which had nothing to do with Gnosticism, and why it had not arisen earlier. It is why Ignatius cannot appeal to traditional belief, because both outlooks — an historical Jesus and a docetic Jesus — are of recent vintage, competing on the same level playing field.
- two reactions to the historical Jesus
- A Christ myth in Ignatius’ Ephesians
Roger Parvus’s response
As some Vridar readers are aware, my own theory is that the original author of the so-called Ignatians was Peregrinus and that he was a follower of the ex-Marcionite Apelles. And I think the two groups of opponents in the letters should be identified as Marcionites and proto-orthodox Christians—Marcionites, of course, being the docetic adversaries, and the proto-orthodox being the Judaizers.
I hold that Peregrinus wrote the letters in the early 140s with his execution at Antioch in view—a martyrdom that was thwarted when he was instead released by the governor of Syria. Peregrinus’ subsequent apostasy from Christianity rendered his letters unusable by Christians. That changed when later, toward the end of the second century, a proto-orthodox Christian made modifications to them, turning them into letters of “Ignatius.” (Those interested in a fuller exposition of the theory can find it on this Vridar site in a series of posts entitled “The Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius of Antioch”).
Earl Doherty makes some excellent observations regarding the Ignatians. He has noticed not just one but several peculiarities that, to my knowledge, have been overlooked by patristic scholars. I maintain, however, that my theory can plausibly account for the curious features. They in fact confirm the identifications I have made above of the principal parties involved.
Here’s what I mean:
1. Non-gnostic docetism
Earl points out
that Ignatius is also dealing with an issue of docetism, although it seems not to be within any gnostic context . . . and no other doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism contribute to raising his ire.
To me this feature is an additional confirmation that the prisoner’s docetic adversaries were Marcionites. Marcion’s system lacked many doctrines characteristic of Gnosticism. It didn’t include, for example, the many divine emanations that were a part of so many Gnosticisms. Or, another example, the fallen sparks of divinity in man. Earl is aware of this Marcionite peculiarity. On page 293 of his book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man he writes:
Ironically, the most famous ‘Gnostic,’ Marcion, almost fails the Gnosticism test, since he lacked more than one essential feature of that generality.
But perhaps because Earl dates the Ignatians to no later than the third decade of the second century, he appears not to have considered the possibility that the docetists in question were Marcionites.
In my series of posts on the Ignatians I provide some other reasons to identify the docetic opponents as Marcionites. I would like to add one here that I left out: In the letter to the Smyrneans it is said that they praised the prisoner, apparently for his willing embrace of martyrdom (IgnSmyr. 5:2). Now, if Irenaeus can be believed, Gnostics generally denied the value of martyrdom (see Against Heresies, 3,18,5). But the extant record does include a notable exception: Marcionites. Proto-orthodox literature itself is witness that that there were Marcionite martyrs.
2. No apostolic tradition or history
Earl wrote that Ignatius
also argues from a position which lacks a few other things. One of them is apostolic tradition, another is an appeal to simple history within his faith movement: the argument that “Christians have believed these things for generations.”
Earl is right about this. In fact, the letters do not give the impression that the communities had much of a history at all. The single reference that could be interpreted as referring to their existence in earlier days is in IgnEph. 12:1. But even there, it appears that Ignatius/Peregrinus is just calling attention to the fact that Paul mentions Ephesus in his letters. Otherwise there are no indications that the addressed communities were in existence even a generation ago, let alone apostolic times.
In praising the bishops of the communities (Onesimus, Damas, Polybius) the prisoner says not a word about any predecessors of theirs. There is no admonition to any of them to continue in the footsteps of their exemplary predecessor so-and-so. And the communities are never praised for fidelity to any belief — not just one related to docetism — that an earlier generation of members had handed on to them.
In short, the letters contain nothing to rule out the possibility that the faith community in question was recently established. My theory can account for this: It was Apellean, and so had no continuity with earlier—let alone apostolic— times. In fact, it had scarcely any attachment even to the Old Testament Scriptures. Marcion and Apelles held that the church had gone wrong almost from the start. They viewed their work as a work of restoration, but a restoration based largely on their understanding of Paul and his letters, not on any unbroken tradition or succession of teachers in the past.
Apelles, however, also based some of his teachings on the revelations of his prophetess associate Philumena. So when Earl writes that the Smyrneans 3 “touch me” post-resurrection scene could be “some Christian prophet’s invention”, he may very well be right. As I see it, it may be a revelation of Philumena’s that shortly afterwards—when the proto-orthodox sanitized the Apellean gospel—became the doubting Thomas scene of the newly created Fourth Gospel.
3. “True” happenings
Earl argues that a distinction should be made among the statements that say something “truly” happened. He writes that some of them
can also fit a claim that something was true in actuality, that it really existed or took place.
In fact, some of them seem to require that meaning, rather than an anti-docetic sense of “genuinely, as opposed to illusory”.
I think the distinction Earl has picked up on really exists in the letters, but I would account for its presence differently. In part it is due to the nature of Apellean engagement with proto-orthodox belief. That is the context of one of the passages Earl brought forward, IgnMag. 11:1, where it does indeed appear that the in actuality historical fact of the passion and resurrection are emphasized. They are said to be things that not just “truly” happened, but “truly and certainly”.
But it is important to notice the circumstances: the prisoner is putting his readers on guard against his Judaizing opponents, i.e. the proto-orthodox. In the eyes of the Apelleans the proto-orthodox were Judaizers because they made full use of the Old Testament to support their teaching. Apelles, on the other hand, taught that the writings of Judaism were in large part fables and falsehoods. This Apellean dismissal of the Old Testament protrudes earlier in the Magnesians letter, in IgnMag. 8:1, where Judaism is described as “falsehoods and old fables which are worthless.” So the contrast that is being made in the later Magnesians passage is between the passion and resurrection that really happened and the empty, baseless stories of the Old Testament that didn’t.
We find a similar contrast in the Philadelphians letter where the prisoner is again in discussion with Judaizers. Whereas they would base their faith on the “archives” (i.e. Old Testament), he instead would base it on something solid:
But for me the archives are Jesus Christ, the inviolable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and faith through him (IgnPhil. 8:2).
As I see it, the prisoner, in his engagements with the proto-orthodox belief, emphasized that the crucifixion and resurrection really happened in order to clearly distinguish those events from the false and fabulous things related in the Old Testament.
But that is only part of the solution. In some of the instances the in actuality items are additions inserted by the interpolator in order to make up for beliefs missing from the teaching of Apelles. Apelles’ brand of anti-docetism was unique. He taught that
Christ allowed himself to suffer in that very body, was truly crucified and truly buried and truly rose, and showed that very flesh to his own disciples . . . (Panarion, 44, 2, 7-8, my emphases)
But his insistence on the reality of Christ’s flesh revolved around that flesh’s crucifixion and resurrection. That is, he retained from his days as a Marcionite the belief that Christ descended to this world as an adult. Thus his anti-docetism did not extend to any nativity of Christ or childbearing by Mary. Apelles held that
He (Christ) has not appeared in semblance at his coming, but has really taken flesh; not from Mary the virgin, but he has real flesh and a body, though not from a man’s seed or a virgin woman. (Panarion, 44,2,2,)
As I see it, that distinction posed a problem for the later proto-orthodox interpolator of the Ignatians. He had letters by an Apellean in which there was emphasis on the real bodily suffering and resurrection of Christ, but no mention of the childbearing of Mary, birth of Christ, or descent from David. Those missing items were important elements of proto-orthodox belief in the incarnation of Christ. So as part of the conversion of Apellean Peregrinus into the proto-orthodox Ignatius, the missing items were inserted.
The added items appear in passages that Schoedel characterizes as semi- or quasi-creedal (Ignatius of Antioch, pp. 84, 152, 220). I think that the interpolator was doing his work around the same time (late second century) that the Roman proto-orthodox church was in the process of forming its creed (the so-called Apostles Creed). The quasi-creedal additions were meant to supply for any perceived deficiencies in the beliefs of the Apellean author of the original letters.
4. The Ephesians hymn
There is one item that Earl does acknowledge as superimposed. In regard to the hymn in IgnEph. 19 he writes:
Upon that highly mythological ‘hymn’ Ignatius has superimposed one obvious Gospel element: the ‘virgin’ to whom the Lord was born was named Mary, an item Paul never gives us.
Earl is not alone in seeing superimpositions in the hymn. The biblical scholar Alfred Loisy held that two of the three mysteries in the hymn were insertions: Mary’s virginity and her childbearing. But I myself would argue that it was the later interpolator who did the superimposing. And I think I know why he did it.
If we ignore the hymn’s apparently superimposed items its true character emerges: it is a hymn about Christ’s Ascension. The astonishing “star” is not some kind of marker of the spot where the Son was born on earth, it is the Son himself ascending through the lower heavens back to his heavenly Father. (Earl too identifies the star as the Son: “The ‘star’ no doubt represents God’s emanation the Son . . . ” – Jesus Neither God Nor Man, p. 304. But he appears not to have recognized the Ascension character of the scene.)
Now the extant record informs us that the Ascension belief of the Apelleans was unacceptable to the proto-orthodox. According to Apelles, Christ rose from the dead in his flesh, but he did not ascend to heaven in it! He set aside the elements out of which he had constructed his real human body and returned to heaven without it
And thus, after again separating the body of flesh from himself, he soared away to the heaven from which he had come. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 44, 2, 7-8)
This scenario was unacceptable, of course, to the proto-orthodox:
And tell me, what was the point of his abandoning it (his body) again after the resurrection, even though he had raised it? … If he raised it to destroy it again, this is surely stage business, and not an honest act… They (the disciples) did not see his remains left anywhere—there was no need for that, and it was not possible. And Apelles and his school of Apelleans are lying. (Panarion, 44, 3, 9 and 44, 5, 10)
I submit that the proto-orthodox interpolator, by inserting Mary’s virginity and childbearing into the Ephesians hymn, aimed to convert the star of an unacceptable Apellean Ascension scene into something bearing at least a slight resemblance to the proto-orthodox star of Bethlehem.
To the same end the interpolator added “as man” at the end of the hymn (“Thus God was manifested [as man] . . .).
It is those additions that are responsible for the problem Earl calls attention to on page 304 of JNGNM
Some scholars have attempted to see this myth as referring only to God’s “preparation” for the Jesus event on earth, but the effects the ‘star’ brings about have happened — they were “brought to pass” — and they can only have come about as a result of the event already having taken place.
5. The Prisoner’s Gospel
A single passage in the letters resembles a Gospel scene. In Smyrneans 3, Ignatius offers a “touch me” post-resurrection scene to ‘prove’ that Jesus rose in the flesh of his former body and was not a phantom. But here, too, he does not point to a document as his source, or even to apostolic tradition. Scholars like Schoedel (op.cit., p.225) tend to judge that he is not deriving it from Luke’s similar scene, nor from John’s ‘doubting Thomas’ scene, but either from something of his own or some Christian prophet’s invention, or from a floating oral tradition.
The prisoner’s failure to directly appeal to a written gospel doesn’t particularly bother me for this reason: No one has the least doubt that he knew of written Pauline letters but he doesn’t appeal to those either. We don’t find in the letters: “As Paul says…” or “As is written in 1 Corinthians…” That’s not the prisoner’s style. Instead he here and there mixes words and phrases from the Pauline letters with his own words. And many scholars hold that he has followed the same procedure in his use of his gospel. They see, for instance, the following as inspired by the Fourth Gospel
Yet the Spirit is not deceived since it is from God. For it knows whence it comes and whither it goes, and it exposes the things which are hidden. (IgnPhil. 7:1)
There is no fire within me for material things; but only water living and welling up in me, saying from within me, ‘Come to the Father’ . . . I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ. (IgnRom. 7:2-3)
As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united with him . . . (IgnMag. 7:1)
. . . through Jesus Christ his Son… who in all things was pleasing to him who sent him. (IgnMag. 8:2)
In my series of posts on the Ignatians I give additional reasons to see the Fourth Gospel as a proto-orthodox reworking of the gospel of Apelles, the Manifestations. If the Manifestations was extant, I expect we would recognize many more echoes from it in the Ignatians. It should be kept in mind too that it may still have been a work in progress in the early 140s, based as it was on the ongoing revelations of the prophetess Philumena.
And because of the above Johannine connection I am not surprised that the prisoner, in his arguments against docetism, doesn’t use Mark’s passion account. Earl writes that
Mark’s passion account alone, with its scene of a tortured Jesus in Gethsemane and the despairing cry from the cross, would have been perfect ammunition against those who were claiming that Jesus did not suffer.
True enough. But the Johannine/Apellean tradition is at times at odds with the Markan one. The time when Christians would accept four gospels and blithely explain away the contradictions between them had not yet arrived. The Johannine Jesus is calm, dignified, majestic and far above the making of despairing cries from the cross. In fact, many scholars think that Jn. 12:27-28 was written expressly to repudiate the Markan Gethsemane scene:
And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.
As I see it, the Johannine/Apellean perspective on the passion is better reflected by passages like IgnEph 15:1.
Now there was one teacher who spoke and it was accomplished. And the deeds which he did in silence are worthy of the Father.
Jesus at one point kept silent before Pilate:
Jesus did not answer him. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’
And on the cross the Johannine Jesus says
It is accomplished.
And I see no reason why the Smyrneans 3 post-resurrection scene could not be from Apelles’ Manifestations gospel. The intent of that scene is to prove that Jesus rose in the flesh of his former body and was not a phantom. Such an anti-docetic intent squares with what is known about Apelles own priorities. As Hippolytus relates: Apelles taught that
Jesus showed them (his disciples) the prints of the nails and the wound in his side, desirous of persuading them that he was in truth no phantom, but was present in the flesh (The Refutation of All Heresies, 7,26).
So, to sum up: Earl’s insightful observations have unquestionably added to our knowledge of the Ignatian letters. But, in my opinion, the curious features he has called attention to are best explained by my Ignatian theory. Of course, on the larger issue of whether the Ignations can be regarded as an independent witness to a historical Jesus, both of our scenarios reach the same conclusion: No!