p15: <i>Philemon</i>

I was raised a believing Roman Catholic, the grandchild of pious Irish and Italian immigrants. My father, the youngest of nine boys in an Irish Catholic family in Chicago, was his parents' last hope for a priest in the family, and so was dutifully packed off to seminary at Loyola. I am here solely because in 1942, after Pops invested a couple of years in a half-hearted pursuit of holy orders, the wise monsignor summoned him to a short interview that included a statement my father quoted for the rest of his life: "Let's face it, Quinn. There's not much more we can do for you, and there's not much more you can do for us. There's a war on. Phaps you should join the Army."Pops ended up in the Navy, but later married the daughter of a devout Italian family in Philadelphia and established an observant household. My godfather was a priest, as are a couple of distant cousins. All of which is to say that w/ my mother's milk I inherited a bit of the heresy known to Rome as ["Americanism."][1] Americanism is a formal expression of what's better known as "buffet Catholicism": Many American Catholics walk down the serving line sampling only the doctrines they like, and pass over the rest in silence. Americanism is hardly limited to North America or to Catholics. There are plenty of buffet Christians of all varieties, as well as buffet Muslims, buffet Buddhists, buffet Jews and so on. There are few better examples of the buffet tendency in religion than the history of the [Letter to Philemon][2].Philemon, a vy short text, is unique in the NT canon; it is a personal letter from one individual to another. Paul addresses "Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house," but the letter that follows is clearly intended for Philemon, who is the owner of Onesimus, a runaway slave who has sought out Paul for sanctuary. Paul is imprisoned at the time of writing, phaps in Rome, and under his tutelage Onesimus has become a Christian. Paul now sends him back to Philemon under the protection of this letter. In it Paul never quite instructs Philemon to emancipate Onesimus. On the other hand, his intentions seem clear enough. Paul wants Philemon to do the right thing:Philem 1:10-17: I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me._The apostle is addressing an awkward situation, as other parts of the letter suggest that Onesimus made off w/ money or property belonging to Philemon; Paul effectively says, "Put it on my tab."Slaves represented something like 50-60 percent of the Empire's population and remained a prominent feature in European society for a millenia-and-a-half. _Philemon is the earliest Christian text to directly address the morality of slavery, and for modern readers, particularly American readers, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Paul thinks at the vy least that Christians ought not to own Christian slaves.In the past, not everyone has agreed. It is a historical commonplace that Christianity led and won the war against chattel slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Nonetheless I have read in several sources that Philemon was quoted by both sides in the American debate over slavery, which I find remarkable, especially given Southern slaveowners' practice of converting their slaves to Christianity. As all buffet operators can attest, some people skip the vegetables.--Marcion bugged me.I entered into this reading assuming that the appearance of Marcion's book sparked the first collection and dissemenation of Christian writings, a vy common opinion in the popular scholarship, phaps the common opinion, because it fits the available data vy well and it makes sense. I still think it's more or less true. I think a number of factors over many years moved the Church's literate leadership toward establishing a canon, and Marcion's book was a big factor--but at the moment I see no suggestion of immediate cause and effect.I expected the literate Church leadership to freak out when they saw Marcion's book, but in fact they seemed to have yawned. Big intellectual guns swiveled to target Marcion's challenge (Tertullian's invective is quite entertaining), but there's no hint that the bishops of the time were shooting letters to each other saying, "Whoa! We need to get out there! Let's put together a book!" Instead it looked to me as if the leadership was content to allow Marcion a bandwidth advantage for something like two centuries. In fact there's a distinct sense that formal canonization was finally achieved only because Constantine demanded it after Nicea, a sense that the imperiously pragmatic emperor said something like, "Stop screwing around and give me a list. Now."Orthodoxy's documentary sloth isn't so surprising when we remember that what Constantine really wanted was formal, official validation of a list that had been around for a couple of hundred years. Orthodoxy wasn't especially slow about settling on its list, the list was more or less in place pretty quickly; instead orthodoxy was slow to embody the list in an authorized book. Christianity was reasonably expeditious about establishing a canon but curiously slow about making copies of it. That seemed contrary to theory.Passively ceding a bandwidth advantage to a competitor seems utterly uncharacteristic of early Christianity, and anyway the theory asserts that, barring external constraints, competing referents will maximize their media presence. Marcion created a Sacred Book and used it to start a religion competing w/ Christianity. The theory said that Christianity should have responded by immediately creating its own Sacred Book--but Christianity didn't. The first indication we have of publication of a Christian Bible doesn't appear until the early fourth century, about 150 years--five generations--later, and then in response to the emperor's requirement.But this (like everything else in popology) is a question of bandwidth, and the significant phrase is "barring external constraints." Marcion's Sacred Book was almost certainly in the form of a [codex][3], a spine-bound book of parchment or papyrus pages that over a period of centuries replaced scrolls as the chief documentary medium. Here is an image of the Nag Hammadi codices, which date from the late fourth century but are representative of the type. A single volume like this is probably a reasonable representation of Marcion's book, which contained 10 Pauline letters and an abbreviated version of Luke:![][4] - - - - -Here's a fourth century codex of the Christian Bible:![][5]- - - - - - - - -Metaphorically speaking, Marcion's volume is a $50 book; the Bible is a $5,000 book. That would be an "external constraint."Moreover, the instant I compared the images I realized that my framing of the case was incorrect. I saw Marcion introducing an unprecedented Sacred Book, and expected Christianity to follow suit. In truth Christianity already had a Sacred Book, the Septuagint. I don't know precisely how widely distributed the Septuagint was, I don't know the numbers, but it is everywhere in the documentary record from about 100 BCE, it seems to have been one of the best-distributed texts in the world. Christianity and Judaism already commanded a substantial bandwidth advantage when Marcion appeared on the scene. Marcion wasn't blazing a new trail. He was trying to catch up. Not surprisingly, one of his earliest doctrinal decisions was to throw the competition's Sacred Book under the train.First Clement, about 50 years after Paul and about 50 years before Marcion, is an example of the prominence of the Septuagint in early Christian thinking. First Clement, a tedious document, cites Paul and is a valuable example of the early distribution of Pauline letters, but of its about 100 Scriptural citations, about 90 are from the Septuagint. When Clement says "Scripture," he means the Septuagint. Thus from the beginning literate Christians possessed a text upon which to erect an orthodoxy. I think it likely that the Septuagint attracted a large audience vy early, an audience that seized upon it and viewed later additions or redactions w/ great suspicion, and that for the first couple of generations that audience was the dominant literate Christian audience.I think the vy large size of the vy essential Septuagint, and conservative reluctance to alter or add to its content, easily explains the apparent delay in the appearance of the Christian Bible. [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americanism_%28heresy%29 [2]: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=64&chapter=1&version=49 [3]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex [4]: http://www-relg-studies.scu.edu/facstaff/murphy/courses/images/coursepics/codices-lg.jpg [5]: http://linceuldeturin.free.fr/codex%20vaticanus.jpg

Comments

David Ryan 16 years, 2 months ago

I wonder the extent to which the delay in the appearance of the Christian Bible was a function of early believers' slowly coming to terms with Jesus' not having returned in the time frame the Gospels suggested he would.

What need for a book, given the expectation that the kingdom of God would be established during the lifetimes of they who witnessed the events portrayed in Gospels?

After decades and then nearly a century, perhaps people started thinking, "we should really write these things down and collect them together."

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 2 months ago

DR--

Certainly expectation of an imminent return tends to select against establishment of a new canon, and I should have included that among the factors.

What bugged me was the period immediately after Marcion--say, 150 CE-200 CE. All things being equal, there should have been an orthodox move to publication of a competing book. Eventually I realized that all things weren't equal.

I wonder what Marcion taught about a Second Coming. Certainly going to the trouble of creating a canon suggests that he didn't expect the parousia anytime soon.

thetomdotdot 16 years, 2 months ago

Well, as they (I) say, faith is a gift, but doctrine is choice. Even following the following the blindly pious dogmatic obedience of one's parents (I need a hug) is a choice. Choice = buffet. My mom hates that line of thought.

Don't mind me. I also say that most christians (especially Catholics) I've met, and have known well enough to have the discussion, are just as agnostic as I am. Point being, I appreciate the neutral tone of your study. Having been raised by wolves, I tend to protect them even if I'm not one, if you know what I mean.

16 years, 2 months ago

"I saw Marcion introducing an unprecedented Sacred Book, and expected Christianity to follow suit."

But Marcion didn't really introduce a sared book as much as he raised a collection of books out of an existing pile and said, "This is the real pile." And the Christians didn't respond with a book because Marcion's collection was simply a subset of their own, like a man who takes 10 volumes from Harvard's Classics and tries to pass it off as the whole. What is Harvard to do?

You hit it pretty squarely when you say that Christianity didn't come out with a book for a century and a half, but it might be more accurate to say that Christianity didn't make a single book out of its scriptures for that long. We look at a bible (singular), they looked at scriptures (plural). Such an orientation takes a long time to overcome, rooted as it was in Jewish thought.

Let me jump down to something YD hits on, because I think he's essentially correct: "What need for a book, given the expectation that the kingdom of God would be established during the lifetimes of they who witnessed the events portrayed in Gospels?"

And while I of course don't think it was anything approaching a century (more like 3 decades), the end of some very important lifetimes was coming up and collecting would take on an immediate necessity once Nero went looking for scapegoats.

Remember what Jerome wrote about Mark's gospel: "Mark...wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority..."

Notice something odd? Peter had it read by his authority. So where did authority rest? It rested in the men - the eyewitnesses who were doing the actual preaching - as well as in their immediate disciples. Rather quaint, and yet very Jewish; disciples making disciples and passing authority that way - of course, a good Catholic (as I was raised as well) would say, "How very Catholic." I get the feeling that the thought of publishing it broadly never hit Peter until he saw Mark's completed Gospel. He was a very practical man, but not a creative thinker.

It was not until Peter and Paul and eventually John were gone - when there were no more eyewitnesses - the church was forced to rely on what they had left behind.

The Septuagint was prominent, without a doubt, but it was also prominent among the Greek-speaking Jews of the Empire - it was translated and established by Jews after all, and if there is some argument over whether Jesus himself used it, there is not (so far as I know) over whether Josephus used it.

16 years, 2 months ago

"Philemon is the earliest Christian text to directly address the morality of slavery, and for modern readers, particularly American readers, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Paul thinks at the vy least that Christians ought not to own Christian slaves."

Perhaps it is one of the earliest examples of how, unlike Zealot Judaism, Christianity truly was an apolitical religion. Or perhaps Paul believed that whatever societal changes Christianity would make, this would be among the smaller. Or perhaps he really didn't oppose slavery as an institution but was more concerned with the treatment Christians visited upon their fellow men in that institution. Frankly, I don't know, and I suspect that I view it through 21st century American eyes in any case.

It ought to go without saying that slavery was a nearly universal institution in the ancient world, yet it was seldom the chattel slavery of the US variety - in many cases slaves were POWs imprisoned to keep a rival military faction from reforming or debtors who lacked the means to compensate their lenders - in the age before limited liability, the borrower was literally servant to the lender. It was occasionally a form of punishment - a fitting example might be today if instead of "community service" where prisoners serve everyone with free labor, we assigned them to the service of a family or individual for given number of years.

Under the Jewish law of the Jubilee, men went free, the land returned to its family of origin, and all debts were wiped out every so often (though, admittedly, more in theory than in practice). It was also a capital crime to "steal a man and sell him" (Ex. 21:16) Permanent chattel slavery, in the Jewish case, was never a permanent institution, and with the number of revolutions and conquests in the old world, the slavers became the enslaved more often than we can fathom, usually by reason of ancestry.

The scriptures in this case seek simply to regulate a universal practice rather than to eliminate it wholly. And while I expect that Paul found that the institution is incompatible with the liberty proclaimed by the gospel - as do I - he probably realized that, like his moral teaching, it was more important that Christians act the part than that they attempt to fray a fabric that so thoroughly undergirded not only their own society, but every other one in the world as well.

To try by force to eliminate slavery then would be like trying by force to eliminate adultery today. Not only would it not work any better, but it would certainly distract the church from its primary mission, which was not freeing men from the bondage of others, but of themselves.

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 2 months ago

"I get the feeling that the thought of publishing it broadly never hit Peter until he saw Mark's completed Gospel. He was a very practical man, but not a creative thinker."

Yes, and I'd go farther. I think that Second Temple Judaism's cultural conservatism re sacred texts was probably the dominant operator in the first few decades of Christian expansion. I think we're talking about a culture in which the notion of publishing and widely distributing a sacred book was seen as an unnecessary and phaps objectionable step. Were we to send a popbot back in time and ask the disciples prior to their seeing a completed Gospel or a Pauline collection, "Why don't you folks publish a book?", I think the universal response would be puzzlement: "Why would we do that?"

Once the texts existed, however--once the Gospels are circulating and the Pauline letters are collected, and literate people are picking them up and thereby coming into the Church--then the utility of the new scriptures is plain.

I think that whatever sins Christianity was wittingly or unwittingly mired in re imperial slavery (which as you note was universal, like debt in America today) were redeemed by the radical Christians of Great Britain and America who stamped out chattel slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. There's nonetheless a certain cognitive dissonance inherent in the notion of Southern plantation owners citing Scripture to justify Christians owning Christian slaves.

16 years, 2 months ago

"There's nonetheless a certain cognitive dissonance inherent in the notion of Southern plantation owners citing Scripture to justify Christians owning Christian slaves."

Absolutely. Southern chattel slavery and the biblical contortions that justified it - think "Curse of Caanan" - just go to show people can always find justification to do what they want. And can sleep pretty well afterwards.

"Once the texts existed, however--once the Gospels are circulating and the Pauline letters are collected..."

So they rather stumbled into it, it sounds like, or rather they were doing it before they realized what they were doing.

But to what extent (and I don't know the answer to this) was Marcion's success or lack of it due to his distribution? It's seems to me that the only thing original was his abbreviation of Luke - the rest were Pauline and shared with the orthodox - so did he really need his texts to circulate 'alongside' the Christian ones?

It sounds to me a lot like various heresies today - we mentioned Herbert W. Armstrong - where the message is different even though preached from the same books. Armstrong didn't need a truck to deliver bibles because his audience already had them. What he needed was personal access - radio, TV - to re-interpret the bibles people had. But that weakens the message because it's based on a personality who will pass from the scene. JWs of course have their own sanitized Bibles, but they don't pass them out widely. I guess they do have those little study guides, however. As a guy who buys a lot of books I can tell you those things are frigging everywhere, but I don't think anyone reads them.

So if you have two groups peddling the same books to the same audience, how much of the success is going to be dependent on distribution channels and how much on the personalities and reputations of the distributors?

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 2 months ago

"But to what extent (and I don't know the answer to this) was Marcion's success or lack of it due to his distribution? ...So if you have two groups peddling the same books to the same audience, how much of the success is going to be dependent on distribution channels and how much on the personalities and reputations of the distributors?"

I don't know the answer either, and it's a major lacunae in the data. I'm a long way from being a specialist in this stuff, but I can't find any comprehensive analyses of textual distribution in antiquity, and distribution is a central popological variable, so it's driving me nuts. Modern NT scholars have looked at bits and pieces of this, w/ vy interesting results--for example the various Gospel "communities." Thus it seems that Matthew was favored in Syria, but I haven't seen the primary data anywhere, I don't know how strong it is. This touches directly upon Daniel Wallace's (immensely important) New Testament manuscript project, which I'm going to talk about in Hebrews.

Some of the data gaps are no doubt the result of later, deliberate destruction of heterodox mss, but that hardly explains the gaps in the orthodox distribution record. This is the price of perishable media.

The most original element in Marcion, as I understand it, was his Antitheses, which were his attempt to refute the Septuagint. The book is said to have contained the Apostolicon (10 Pauline letters), his Gospel of the Lord and the Antitheses.

The Antitheses is an interesting example of the nature of first century documentary controversy. Scholars have managed to reconstruct nearly all of it in the absence of the original because of the detailed refutations in Tertullian and Irenaeus, which suggests that scholars might equally well be able to reconstruct early Christian arguments based on the Septuagint from the Antitheses, should we ever obtain a copy.

The bottom line, though, is that the distribution question is critical, and I don't see any useful answers at the moment. But I think Dr. Wallace is on to something that will help clear the air.

16 years, 2 months ago

"The most original element in Marcion, as I understand it, was his Antitheses, which were his attempt to refute the Septuagint. The book is said to have contained the Apostolicon (10 Pauline letters), his Gospel of the Lord and the Antitheses."

Now you've entered the area of my ignorance, so I'm forced just to sit back and listen, offering nothing but the occasional sheepish question...here's one:

To what extent was Antithesis like Calvin's Institutes, an intellectual heavy hitter, and yet not considered on par with scripture? It seems to me that for documents to be widely distributed, they're going to have to justify the transaction costs so to speak - if you're going to have to pay by the page, that page needs to pay for itself somehow. Calvin, coming 300 years after the invention of movable type, could get wide distribution even though his Institutes were probably never read over a pulpit, being studied mostly by the theologically inclined who make up 2-5%(?) of Christians. If Antithesis was similarly oriented, then the big brains of orthodoxy might have obtained copies and spent plenty of time refuting them, yet the channels that distributed Mark or Acts - which were read in the churches - may not have supported what was over the heads of most people.

On my bookshelves I have a number of books (e.g. The Cult of Jabez, The Road Less Traveled and the Bible) which are "responses" to various widespread teachings, but unlike those teachings they have a very small distribution even with distribution costs being nil. In reality, no one cares about them - people either take the original teaching or they don't. It seems like Antithesis, in trying to answer the entire Septuagint (which is really just the OT translated into Greek) might find itself in this category as well.

Having not read the book, I'm obviously just noising here...

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 2 months ago

"If Antithesis was similarly oriented, then the big brains of orthodoxy might have obtained copies and spent plenty of time refuting them, yet the channels that distributed Mark or Acts - which were read in the churches - may not have supported what was over the heads of most people."

HIGHLY likely, in my opinion; in fact I suspect that conversion to orthodoxy was relatively easy for most ordinary Marcionites, because they had at best a hazy understanding of the fundamental differences between the two creeds. As you note, the niche appeal of theological debates in contemporary culture must be even more pronounced in a mostly illiterate society.

If Marcionite presbyters were reading (even an abridged) Luke every week to illiterate communicants, those communicants are ground well-plowed for orthodoxy. The debate between the Tertullians of orthodoxy and Marcion's Antitheses was prolly a debate between intellectual elites that barely penetrated the illiterate mass of churchgoers.

Literacy is a big part of the next post; I'm reluctantly accepting that the theory doesn't hold in illiterate societies even they possess substantial bandwidth.

16 years, 2 months ago

"they had at best a hazy understanding of the fundamental differences between the two creeds...."

And therefore were probably not wed emotionally to either. We see the same thing today where families go to the same church generation after generation. Why? Because they have chosen (buffet) that doctrine? Nope, just because they always have and that's where their circle goes. If that church were to close down for whatever reason, or were families to move to a place where they didn't have that choice of denomination, they could fairly easily fit into something else. Should the new church teach the Real Presence or read occasionally from the Apocrypha (or neglect to do those things), 99% of the parishoners would neither notice nor care. They would simply ignore what they didn't like.

In fact, we had something like that growing up. My grandparents had a cabin in the Eau Clair Lakes chain in Wisconsin outside a little town called Barnes. There were no churches within about 20 miles, so every Saturday night, the Catholic priest from Solon Springs would drive out and hold Mass in the Barnes town hall for all the vacationers who came from Madison or Minneapolis. It was the most Protestant Mass you've ever seen and everyone for that night was a Catholic - both "sides" dropped the differences and just had church.

Now while there were possibly a few Catholics who didn't like the Protestants taking eucharist and possibly a few Protestants who would not sup with a Catholic priest, on the whole everyone got along famously. For lack of choice, they simply made do.

But if 2000 years hence one were to discover a Missal and an hymn book buried in the sands of northern Wisconsin, he could tie himself in knots trying to figure out the beliefs of the participants. In the end, he'd probably conclude there were two factions at war: one wore green and yellow and liked cheese, the other wore purple and gold and sported horns. And he wouldn't be too far off.

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