This is not designed as an academic paper, it is to provoke thought and research from those so inclined. Have fun!
MARCION the Threat of an Era
Marcion (85 – 160 CE) a son of a Syriac Bishop, was an influential early christian theologian and church (cult?) leader who argued that the God of the Pentateuch was a separate deity/being from the new humane deity revealed in the NT. The god of the Pentateuch was a murderous, vengeful god (as we all know) and Marcion taught that the bad things and temptations were from that creator deity. Marcionism focused on the Pauline epistles version of the Savior. Marcion was excommunicated in 144CE due to his teachings, which were described as “heresy”.
In particular Tertullian ( he of the Trinity) published a scathing rebuke of Marcion and Marcionism in 5 (count them, FIVE!) volumes.
Tertullian of course was in the process of promoting his “Trinitarian” concept to the Roman Church and this rival philosophy just had to be stopped. Ironic really as Tertullian himself was never honored by the Church of Rome for the Trinity explanation, because Tertullian himself became a heretic after embracing
Marcion wrote a new gospel called “the Gospel of the Lord” and is based on a modified or original (the Ebionites?) version of the gospel of Luke or the source text that some argue preceded it. It provides a narrative of the Jesus’ figures life and emphasises freedom from external religious regulations. (hence the fervent Church of Rome’s opposition) Marcion was heaviliy influenced by gnostics, unsurprising, as the “Apostle” Paul was the original gnostic. The epistles of Paul formed a large part of the Marcionite Canon. Marcion’s gospel presents Jesus as a kindly, but strict saviour, who offers salvation through knowledge and repentance of past deeds. Marcion also promoted such methods as self privation (fasting etc) and sacrifice ( symbolic) that he believed were necessary for the salvation of the human soul.
Marcionism was again outlawed in 349CE and placed on the Index in 492CE with all its books, temples, rites and members to be expunged wherever they were found. Marcionism lasted almost 1000 years despite the efforts of the Church to kill it off completely. So it surely had something going for it. There are mentions of Marcionite communities by Islamic scholars right up until the late 10th century. It could be that Marcion even influence the Islamic version of the Jesus stories.
This pogrom like the others carried out be the Roman Church against those it considered heretic, was most successful, in fact the only things we knew about Marcion until recently, was the vitriolic essays by Epiphanius,Tertullian, and of course that old toady Eusebius and others until last century when Marcion’s Gospel was pieced together by heresiologists and is available to read today.
So much for the history which you all can research with a few clicks. Let’s look at the social and political milieu of those early christian days when Marcion started preaching his Gospel and introduced the Christian World to the concept of a “canon” or collection of official texts for his churches/temples. Until the late second century CE the nascent Roman Church had no Canon. The gospels were haphazardly preached/read with some temples (as they were) using one text, and another in the same town , using another, Some using the gnostic or dream gospels in conjunction with a gospel text, some gnostic texts replacing a gospel or three. Some christian groups used the synagogues to preach and convert.
The Thomasinian Churches in Kerala (India) were taking off with their own gospels and no Paul at all. The Syriac Churches were beginning the use of a single gospel which was a very edited compilation of the three Synoptics leaving out all the contradictions.
The resurrection was preached by the Jewish Christians as a spiritual resurrection, that Jesus was wholly human was preached by some churches, not all, with some maintaining he was “adopted by “god” others he was born a god, to others, it was a wholly physical resurrection etc etc…in short chaos. Even the Sabbath was celebrated on different days, as it is now, by different sects.
This kind of discord and confusion in the early Church puzzled the Roman authorities who had (apart from a few hiatuses) considered the followers of the Jesus figure as a modern offshoot of judaism and accorded them the same privileges…which puts Pliny’s request for clarification regarding taxation and exemption from the annual sacrifice right into perspective.
Marcion’s philosophy of the Two gods, of course, would make sense to any reader of the NT after the horrors of the pentateuch, added to that, Marcion’s adherents had the Canon, a series of texts that were shared in Marcionite Temples without too much deviation.
In quite short order Marcionite temples and communities were springing up all over the Roman world which posed a considerable threat to the Church of Rome, and of course, their revenue stream and nascent authority.
Marcionism had been declared heretic very early on, in 144CE, 4 years after Marcion’s arrival in Rome, and this is a mark of how threatened the early Roman Church was, by this upstart rival.
Marcionism was not exclusive, it was very much inclusive unlike the Jewish brands of “Christianity”, it had the same texts wherever it appeared, giving uniformity to its teachings and authority to its preachers.
There were riots in some cities and temples destroyed but Marcionism survived and thrived until the Roman Church, as it has so often, extinguished the Marcionites as an alternate church, with the customary Roman barbarism and cruelty.
The idea of a fixed Canon spurred the Church of Rome to action in the mid 2nd century CE and they collated the texts they wanted in their Churches gradually, over the next 200 years, extinguishing other texts and taking the example of Marcion in having one unified Codex from which all the priesthood were instructed to follow leading, in the end, to the two Councils of Nicea and the foundation of the modern bible.
Marcion can legitimately be argued as the father of the modern churches as he introduced the idea of a fixed text to the worship and teaching.
He preached a gentle christianity, a wholly human Jesus until spiritually resurrected, and so had to suffer, like the Arians and other dissenting sects (even Tertullian’s Montanists) the wrath of the Roman and Eastern Churches .
Marcion’s Gospel as well as Tertullian’s and Epiphanus’s rants, are available from booksellers online or in print. Treat yourself.