Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Old Find: What does the Old Testament have to offer the Church/Individual

written May 5, 2008, from my second semester. I thought it would be cool to post something from the end of my first year here to see how i match up with it at the end of my last year. surprisingly, i still agree! enjoy!

Discussion Paper: What does the Old Testament have to offer the Church/Individual?

The Old Testament has much to offer the church and humanity in general. This paper will first define what the Old Testament is, make a modern parallel and then explain what it has to offer the modern reader.

The Old Testament is a collection of theological myths and stories from the Israelite nation. These are historical books but not histories. The writers of these stories are reflecting on their history and trying to find both reasons and God’s role in their events. What then could we compare this to? Surely nothing in our modern context would be like this as we’re concerned with facts, not myths!

But we are. I think my first book will be called, The Bible of America; Holy Myths and Fiction of American History. From George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, to the life of a cowboy, we are steeped in myth and urban legends. Stories like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley are American myths. These characters are told to us in our childhood and teach us about what our country holds dear. These stories do have a historical basis, but the myths and folklore add to that basis and bring out what is true about America. We even have myths about our founding fathers! Stories of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams abound, even though we have their original letters that dispel many of these myths. The Old Testament does this same thing for the nation of the Israelites.

The stories we hold tell a lot about us. The fact that we hold stories shows that we’re not too far removed from our ancient brothers and sisters. We try to make sense of the world through stories. Reading the Old Testament this year has shown me that we have some very similar concerns and reactions to our day to day living. The concerns are the same: how to raise a family, how to live “right”, what concerns are worth having, what cultural identity means, will our culture be over run by another and such like. The expressions of those concerns are what separate us from our ancient brothers and sisters. There is also word choice (Bible is patriarchic and largely misogynist), context (we have the internet and are not farmers, etc), history (we Americans were the underdog but now are the empire, Israeli’s were largely the underdog), and other such matters that separate us as well, but the similarities are still amazing to behold.

Some look at the Old Testament and say it only supports the New. I can see the argument here but remind those supporters that the New was written with the Old in mind, not the other way around. Some look at it and see a culture rife with violence and sexism. Turning on American TV, I see the same thing. Our culture is just as violent as theirs, if not more so. Others would say that these people are barbaric and legalistic. I would counter that the complexities of our laws vastly out-weigh the TANAK’s "legalism." We are just as much victims of circumstance as they are. Some look at it and see a bunch of stories with no facts. I would say that the facts don’t always hold the truth. When we see the connection between our ancestors and our modern context, we are engaged in a holy activity. We recognize our connection to the past in hopes of figuring out our future. We are then able to see God’s work in both.


Sabio Lantz said...

Good point - where you likened Western myths and Israeli myth. But that is where the good points end. Well, at least in my humble opinion. Sorry to hear you think the same as you did after another year in seminary. Here is why:

I have spent many long conversations with my children (8 and 10 years-old) about the myths of George Washington, the Wild West, the terrible Industrialists, the hero-worship of Lincoln and Roosevelt, American-Sports-Religion and the Civil War and much, much more. My children have learned that myths have political agendas. They occasionally ask me for updates. They like the dispelling of myths and seeing the complexity of why people lie.

So I teach my children NOT to hold these stories, to question, to think on their own, to see behind the motivations of those who try and write history by creating myths.

You said, "The expressions of those concerns are what separate us from our ancient brothers and sisters. There is also word choice (Bible is patriarchic and largely misogynist)..."

Boy, I'd say it is much more than simple word choice, Luke. In the OT there was also genocide, child sacrifice, killing for small infractions and much much more separate us from the Old Testament. That is Avalos' point in his book where, in complete contrast to you, he calls the OT "irrelevant". So far, his hyperbolic claim seems more accurate to me.

If you don't expose myths and instead propagate the simple Sunday School stories, I'd imagine the Glorious Expansion Westward and the fictitious Exodus of the poor downtrodden Israelites will be lies that continue to have relevance for much longer and Avalos will be sadly proven wrong.

BTW, statistics show that our culture is NOT just as violent as the ancient Israelites. Your effort to make everything sweetly similar in your essay is a distortion, IMHO.

And you can't be serious about arguing for TANAK laws by saying, "Well, gee, our laws are complicated too. The Tanak was just fine." The Tanak law was twisted. But I suppose if you were raised muslim you'd be arguing for the beauty of your tribes tradition and its myths just because it was the inheritance that meant so much to you and allowed you to see God's work in history. Or at least the same arguments you present here can support that in the exact same way. You'd be arguing for Sharia Law with pride !

Luke, sometimes we really need to stand up and say "Enough! The King has no clothes."

I'd love to know how your teachers graded this graduate-level paper and what their comments were. [As you can tell, I didn't mince words much when I graded my graduate students' papers.] :-)

Anglican Boy said...

I, like Sabio, question whether you agree completely or not. Would you put some caveats to this paper now?

I like the comparison between our myths and those found in the Bible. I think all groups have some sort of mythos that is working within the communal memory. We do at my law offices here and at the hospital where my wife works. I too, believe that the expression of these concerns and assumptions behind them in our stories have changed, but not our method or collection of them.

In response to Sabio: "In the OT there was also genocide, child sacrifice, killing for small infractions and much much more separate us from the Old Testament."

There are not those things today? Plus I think you're operating with the same assumption many fundamentalists and especially Avalos is from what I have read, namely that everything in the Bible is "good" or for the benefit or largely blessing everything. There are many stories that prove the exact opposite. For example, the royal monarchy for the largest part, is decried as a bad idea. It is in the later Kings and Judges, and almost totally in Chronicles. Not every story is good, and sometimes, in fact it's best if we run screaming away from it, but the story helps us see why and how it's bad. There are some American myths that operate the same way, John Henry comes to mind, but that point is explicit. Davie Crocket or Christopher Columbus as an implicit one? You know, with all genocide and lying and such?

I don't know. Just a thought. Your mind is much more methodical than mine.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ AB:

There are not those things today?

Indeed, but I don't let my country idealize them in myth for my Children? YHWH was a murderous god -- we should not idealize that. Sure, not every story is good. But YHWH commands slaughter of entire nations and cities women, children and animals. You are not saying YHWH did bad things, are you?

Of course I don't believe YHWH did any of it and that is just how the story is told, but that is the Sunday School version. Good vs. Bad.

AB, like you, I think I know what Luke thinks about these things (well, I am pretty sure). Luke is a fine man. So I am only questioning his rhetoric, not his heart. But rhetoric molds and changes people and Luke is going into the holy rhetoric business.

Thanks for asking, AB.

Anglican Boy said...

Sabio: "You are not saying YHWH did bad things, are you?

Of course I don't believe YHWH did any of it and that is just how the story is told, but that is the Sunday School version. Good vs. Bad."

Thank you for your quick response. I would state that it is how you say. Mankind often uses God to justify it's bad behavior. We also have scientists doing this with logic and the scientific method. Incredible smart people are the most dangerous because they can use really good sounding things to justify their behavior. I should know, I am a lawyer and hear it all day long.

I do not see Luke as doing this in his "holy rhetoric" at all. In fact, it is quite different than what I was taught and a big reason why I read his blog. Yet, unlike yours, he still allows for a bigger God, a God that the scriptures only can point to but never fully capture. I would say our world is just as violent, if not more so than ancient cultures. We can kill a ton of people much faster, we have highly complex and some would say twisted laws. People argue that on abortion and gay marriage, both of which I'm only starting to come around on. Exodus has a lot of case law in it, for example the whole "Ox" part in Exodus 21:22-25. It's in the "book" because someone did it and the community voted it was wrong and came to a decision.

I can't follow you all the way to "no god" but I can stand with you in saying that not everything in the bible points to God, sometimes it points directly to smart people justifying their bad behavior... in other words, Sin.

societyvs said...

I, generally, agree with some of your conclusions. The world has not gotten much better some 4-5000 years down the fact it can be argued we have gotten better and much worse.

"BTW, statistics show that our culture is NOT just as violent as the ancient Israelites. Your effort to make everything sweetly similar in your essay is a distortion, IMHO." (Sabio)

Sure we have better science, technology, and systems in our 'free countries'. At the same time our culture of consumer will wear the earth down , we are eating crap processed food, we have technology that can now kill us (7 times over), we can perpetually be watched via satellites, we have many disease causing agents in our various home products (ie: including plastics), greed has reached an all time high (some 90-95% of people own the funds for the whole of society), we're obese at excruciatingly high rates, etc.

In essence, we are hiding our aspects violence in a rich society much better.

The last 2 world wars came from some of the most civilized (if indutrialization is the benchmark) countries in the world...and these two wars killed more than all the wars combined...ever (60 million in WW2 alone). We're not as violent as those old days in the bible...we're not...we're much, much, much worse when it comes to 'throwing down'.

However, I do agree - ethically we are moving in a direction that seems much better than that time. I am not sure that comparison is that off to be honest?

We still have states with the death penalty. Segregation is only 40+ years removed...that not that long ago. America is in 2 wars as we speak to control various nations of this planet (for safety reasons)'s not genocide but it ain't much better when you compare the death tolls. Huge oil spill destroying the natural wetlands by Florida...environmentally we're much more dangerous.

I mean these comparisons can go on for quite some time (IMHO). Why is it we view the writings of the bible so much worse then our respective countries - which have equivically the same amount of crap in it's backyards and more?

Are we really that much more educated?

societyvs said...

"Indeed, but I don't let my country idealize them in myth for my Children?" (Sabio)

Explain idealize? It's not like Genocide in the bible is celebrated with a holiday or anything...or death penalties for that matter (which were aspects of the judgement of the court). I guess I don't understand what you think is happening in the Tanakh as idealized?

What we have now is much worse anyways, mass media.

RJ said...

Let me take a very different direction, yes? First, there has always been an urge by some to push out/negate the OT. Marcion et al have been judged to be incomplete (that is generous) because to deny the Jewish roots of Jesus both detroys his historic context and mythologizes him. The point of the early rulings re: those who would cast away the OT is that they are hyper-spiritualists.

Second, during the rise of WWII, there was a vigorous movement to cast away the OT - for a variety of reasons. Bonhoeffer, however, made it clear that without the OT there would be no Jesus. Thus, he insisted that all seminarians learn the OT and pray the psalms so that they would be grounded in the heart of Christ. I would argue that Bonhoeffer's insights are no less valid in 2010 than 1930.

And third, as you seem to grasp Luke, the OT for Christians is much more descriptive than presecriptive. In a word, it tells us stories about how human beings act. And it does so with clarity and boldness. We are not a pretty lot, and the OT makes that very clear. We often ascribe to the Holy our worst prejudices and fears. We are called, I believe, to name that and challenge it.

Finally, let's be clear: we have NO shared common stories in the US at this point. More folks know the stories of the Matrix better than the OT - and this is generally as true in our congregations as in the wider society. One of the challenges of a pastor, I believe, is to reintroduce thise old, old stories and talk about them - their blessings, their shadows and their evil. Our sisters and brothers in Judaism still do this and call it midrash.

Thanks for posting this Luke and keep exploring the stories. They will serve you well...

Sabio Lantz said...

On Murder

Below are two quotes from Steven Pinker's article on "The Edge" (great science reading,btw), which point to my statement on violence. Society, you would have to read the article to understand the real impact. Idealizing the past, and seeing this as the worst of times is a common temptation. Let's not bicker about bad things happening -- I am trying to point out a principle and some counter intuitive facts. When arguing religion, philosophy or ideology, some sprinkling with data helps, I think. Except, of course, you only intend to believe the "Holy Spirit in your Heart", of course. (sorry, reading a book on Radical Orthodoxy where that is the claim, just like William Craig).

"In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion."

"If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million."

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Society & Luke

Bible stories with slaughter of the evil people is read as wonderful Bible Stories to children.

But you are right, Society, sometimes the church turns a forgiving eye (like the Catholic church does to pedophiles) to these horrible stories. For instance, the liturgical churches avoid these readings in their year tour through the Bible -- funny, isn't that.

Maybe Marcion was right in a way.

See ATR's recent modern version of Leviticus that just got posted here. It shows how bizarre OT morality is.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ RJ

I agree with disvaluing "hyper-spiritualists", but I think Marcion was on to something.

As the book of Matthew illustrates, the writers of the Gospels used to OT to try to justify and sell Jesus. I don't think Bonhoeffer's martydom forgives him for philosophical/historical/theological mistakes.

The OT does not only tell us stories about how human being act but also fictitious stories of how YHWH acts so as try and tell Israel to obey their god. Homer's books and the Mahabharata also tell stories with "clarity and boldness." It is easy for us to dismiss the morality in those books and not tell them as stories to our Children, we should do same with the ugly ancient perverse morality in the OT. Actually, I think many do try to hush through those passages.

I agree on the common stories in the USA. But maybe one of the challenges of Pastors should be to reveal the lies of the OT. Maybe they should be pointing to the stories of modern culture and finding the trues and lies there.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ AB
You seemed to have softened up. See how Luke's writing can reach people I will never reach -- nor are they my audience.
BTW, AB, my god would be so different from yours, you may not recognize when I talk about "it".
Keep focused on the good !

Neighbor Chris said...

Luke, congratu-freakin-lations on finishing up this formational rollercoaster we call seminary!

May you never have to write a reflection paper again. Ever.

But if you do,
may you remain hyper-aware of your privilege,
exhaustively attentive to the superstition which frames your point of view,
ever alert to the failings of human language to say anything of truth,
watchful for the Gerardian scapegoat,
or the Nietschean master/slave moralism,
painfully cognizant of some scholar's opinion of the story behind the story,
the story above it,
the story near it,
the story some guy might have traced off of it,
the story nobody can find in it, and the story that tells the story's story.

May you find comfort in the doctrinal jump from text to how the church decides to understand God,
knowing that you then don't have to care about the text anymore,
and that you never really did anyway,
and thus you can make up whatever will sell in your group of folk -
be they congregants,
or academics,
or athiests,
whomever will buy your particular slant on whatever it is you are saying,
primarily because it fits with their particular world view or axe to grind from the beginning.

and maybe, just maybe,

May you run into many opportunities to help inspire growth and positive change
in the lives you are divinely and temporally called to touch.

Based on the stories in these ancient texts.

And the teachings arising from them.

And your stone-cold locked gaze on a God of love.

It is as one in the family name of Jesus that I pray,


Luke said...

Wow! Great conversation!

To sum up: I wouldn't add anything to this as it was a brief overview paper. i would hope to get more detailed later on, but plenty of smarter ppl have done so, like my OT prof Julia O'Brien and her series "Reading the Bible as an Adult" and she also wrote on Leviticus and The Bible as a Book. I think the OT has a TON of things to say about the human animal and it shouldn't be overlooked. the NT is grounded in the OT, Marcion was wrong for so many reasons. the OT is extremely relevant for a variety of reasons and particularly because it has many ugly parts. it isn't blowing sunshine out it's rear at you. it gets ugly and stays there, showing the redemptive moments at the margins; just like real life.

When Christians (or any other group for that matter, but i'm sticking with my tribe here) do something bad like rob a store, bomb a clinic, move priests and cover up crimes, it's front page news and splattered everywhere. When Christians set up food shelters, visit the sick or those in prison, start new nonprofits, run missions to African without the intent to convert just the intent to help, you never hear about it. there is a ton of things the "church" in all it's forms is doing all over the world, from local, grassroots things like renewable energy and food banks to global help like Church World Service and the Heifer Project. just like the OT, ppl tend to focus on the bad and the good gets overlooked or deemed "emotive" or illogical or irrelevant.

AB, i'm surprised at your tone! WOW! Have i made that big of an impact or what exactly is going on?

RJ & Chris, those are wonderful words, i'll keep them close to my heart! thanks!

to y'all and your boldness to share your thoughts: RAWK!

beowulf2k8 said...

You fail to see Marcion's point, namely that a god who is so inconsistent that he is contrary even to himself cannot be God. A god who says "thou shalt not murder" out of one side of his mouth and "murder all the Canaanites: show them no mercy" out of the other side is not God but a demon. This is in no way an antisemitic statement. Marcion rejected the Torah not out of hatred of the Jews or anyone else but out of hatred of genocide, and thus out of love for everyone including the Jews. Marcion saw that so long as we believe that genocide is OK so long as God gives us permission to do it, then we will always have societies claiming God has given this permission, especially if they are raised on stories saying that God has done so!

Now, to separate the god of the Old Testament off as a lower god than the Father of Jesus is not to throw away the Old Testament as totally worthless. Marcion obviously did NOT chunk the Old Testament but kept it around as the perfect example of what not to be. Yahweh's horrible example was used by Marcion for instruction, but for instruction not on what to do but on what NOT to do. Do not be like Yahweh, an inconsistent genocidal tyrant. Do not be a racist like Yahweh. Etc.

Did Marcion throw away all of Christianity's connection to the Old Testament? No. He merely illustrated that Christianity is based on the Old Testament in a NEGATIVE rather than positive sense. The Old Testament is not the positive foundation of Christianity. That is, Yahweh is not our God nor our example of Good because he is not good but is inconsistent. He is unpredictable in everything except fickleness. So then Christianity is not based on acceptance of the Old Testament but on rejection of it. That doesn't mean rejection of it to the point of not reading it or even of not believing that Yahweh exists for Marcion certainly taught that Yahweh actually existed and that Jesus died to purchase us from Yahweh. Rather it means rejection of Yahweh as an imposter who is not the God we are to worship or follow. Yahweh is our example of what not to be.

In other words, to Marcion the Old Testament is a foundational text for Christianity in the sense that it demonstrates to us what the Demiurge (maker) is like, what the unjust god that Jesus saves us from is like, and what we are not to be like.

To say that Marcion threw the OT in the trash is plain wrong. He kept it. But he kept it as the evidence of what has been obsoleted and shown to be but dung (to use Paul's terminology) due to the excellence that excels which has been revealed in the Better God, Jesus Chrestos, who defeated Yahweh by purchasing us from him via the cross.

Sabio Lantz said...

Wow, beowulf, that was impressive. What are the texts you use to learn about Marcion and ChrEstianity?

Where you a Christian before you were a ChrEstian? Help us here. This is interesting.

Luke said...


thanks for your comments and welcome to the blog. what Marcion did was a very gnostic move and could only be done if one views the OT as composite, monolithic, and written by Moses. we now know it's not, and the rabbi's have know it is in no way monolithic since the Talmud was written.

i'm not a gnostic nor do I believe Moses wrote the Bible (if even at all).

beowulf2k8 said...


The main source of information of Marcion is Tertullian's five books Against Marcion which is available online for free all over the place. Tertullian does use dishonest polemical tactics here and there but he is still invaluable. He shows a lot of what the Marcionites argued. One of their arguments for example was that Moses was better than his god because when Yahweh was in a rage and decided to wipe out all Israel and make a new nation out of Moses' loins, Moses restrained his god from doing evil. This sort of thing clearly shows that the Old Testament was retained as useful for ethical instruction, just that it was used a bit backwards than 'orthodox' Christianity uses it.

If you're looking for resources on Marcion there is a great resource at this mirror of The Center for Marcionite Research Library (the original site was on geocities which is dead now). As for books, there is Adolf van Harnack's Marcion and the Gospel of the Alien God, Joseph Hoffman's Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity both of which are out of print and will have to be purchased used online or found in a fancy library, Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (available online) which isn't about Marcion per se but just the premise that what we think of as 'heresy' actually preceded what we think of as 'orthodoxy'. Joseph Tyson's Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle is the most modern work available in English.

(One thing I would caution on is some authors think Marcion believed in predestination but only because they forget he had a different version of Paul's epistles than we do. They merely are conjecturing based on the premise that he was a radical Paulist and would believe everything Paul said. But his Paul clearly didn't say anything about predestination, and if you look at Romans for example all the predestination material is based on the very positive Old Testament usage that Marcion is accused by the 'orthodox' of cutting out. Just had to mention this because predestination is my pet peeve.)


Yes Marcion is understood to have presupposed that the Old Testament history is essentially true and to modern skeptics that is as unacceptable as 'orthodoxy' is. (In fact strangely modern skeptics would rather have a watered down orthodoxy that affirms the goodness of the god of genocide than Marcion's moral rejection of the OT.) In any case, however, Marcion's successor, Apelles, is said to have taught that the Old Testament is just a collection of manmade fables. It seems at one point Apelles taught that Marcion was wrong about his two god theory, and Apelles put forth a theory of one God who made a heavenly realm and then a fallen angel who fell from that realm and made our world, but then later he began to doubt this it seems and came to the conclusion that we can't really know if there is one god or two, that the OT is just a bunch of fables, and that as long as you believe in Jesus and live a good moral life you'll be fine and it doesn't matter whether you believe in one god or two or that the true God created the world or didn't.

beowulf2k8 said...

As I think about it more, the idea that Moses didn't write the Torah is no defense of the Torah. It just means the Torah is a forgery which means that Marcion's rejection of it is all the more excusable. Even if he thought Moses had written it (and maybe he did think so) that doesn't make him wrong. In fact, the discovery that Moses didn't write the thing validates Marcion. He was right to reject it, even if his reasoning cannot be followed by some segments of our modern populace.

beowulf2k8 said...

"Where you a Christian before you were a ChrEstian?" Yes. Very fundamentalist in fact. I believed strongly in plenary inspiration. But a long struggle with the contradictory nature of the notion of the Father sending Jesus to die to save us with the notion of the Father being the one Jesus supposedly died to placate (or 'propitiate') along with questioning whether Paul really wrote passages like Romans 9 is some of what finally convinced me that Marcion's doctrine was the original and 'orthodoxy' the later development. Plus the meaninglessness of the idea of justification by grace within monotheism. The Creator does owe his creation fair treatment--there is no room for grace. Grace only works in a ditheistic context like Marcionism where the creator is shirking his duty to treat his creation fairly and a God from outside the system with no obligation whatever to the people aids them out of sheer grace.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Luke
Did you know this stuff? Did you guys study this in seminary?

@ Beowulf:
That was fascinating. I can't believe I was ignorant that there were actually present day Marcionites.

Do you guys have a church (meeting place) or are you just denizens of the web?

Though I am a former believer, I am now a thorough outsider and neither of these stories (Marcion or Catholic) seem any more bizarre than the other. And I never cease to be amazed at the twists of theologies for Christianity -- but then for me, it was fictitious religious thinking in the first place and thus very easy to keep twisting.

Vridar had interesting stuff on Marcion and I see that Beowulf (Rey) commented there too. I must confess, I can't say I follow the whole controversy. But then I don't know the ins-and-outs of all the debates on many things.

Luke said...

Sabio: yeah, we learned about it, even about the "gnostic revival" where former fundies either deconvert or go heretic. i have no problems with the heretic part, as i could be labeled one for several reasons, but what i do have a problem with is Marcion's metaphysic. and thus i have a problem with Beo's as well.

Beo: "One of their arguments for example was that Moses was better than his god because when Yahweh was in a rage and decided to wipe out all Israel"

yet God concedes only to have Moses go ahead and wipe out 10,000. so no dice.

Marcion had a canon: a form of Luke and ten letters of Paul. other Christians adopted Matt, Mark, and John as well as the "Pastoral" epistles in response. Tertullian has excellent reasons and harmonization of this collection over against Marcion. so in my mind, ol' Tert. wins. one can't be a Marcionite and still have Matt and Mark in his or her canon because Matt argues that the Law of Moses does not stand at odds with the gospel but compliments and fulfills it (5:17).

Marcion is docetic in his Christology and has two gods... that metaphysic i don't buy at all. and as much as you try to white-wash him, he had a harsh, legalistic view of the Jews and his pitting Jesus against the Jews is anti-semetic no matter how you slice it. it sucks that despite Tertullian's best rhetoric couldn't keep the vigor and anti-semitism from spreading into the rest of Christianity. so in that respect Marcion wins.

it is Marcion's metaphysic that i really can't stand. two gods? evil creator god and loving benevolent replacement god? for real? and who says life has to be fair? that's a view i really can't adopt which you imply here: "Marcionism where the creator is shirking his duty to treat his creation fairly and a God from outside the system with no obligation whatever to the people aids them out of sheer grace."

i think i'm too much a pragmatist for the level of metaphysic. i don't believe in angels or demons for that matter. so in a sense i'm "a dualist-god atheist."

i am a Platonist to some extent and largely a Buddhist in the fact that i affirm that there is suffering. life is largely suffering. but there is also grace. i also don't think Marcion was the original anything, as there was a plurality of Christian thought from the get go, so the quest for the "first century Christianity" is a holy grail quest.

as for Moses not writing a thing, that defense is to get you to look into source and textual criticism. i think the OT is incredibly relevant for a variety of reasons; the foremost being what images of God are valid and which aren't. which images are being upheld of thrown down in the text? the OT is very subtle. it is also very rich. the writings of rabbi's may be helpful here in uncovering how rich it truly is. i'd start with Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's "The Beginning of Desire." she really looks into the possibilities of each word.

Anglican Boy said...

I am going to try to remain calm and let me "heretic hunter" side try and relax and let go. I too, like Luke, find the metaphysic troubling of the Marcionites.

Luke, I see that you're confusing Marcion with the gnostics. He did have some gnostic beliefs which you rightly identify, but they depart on the nature of God. Marcion argued that the Heavenly Father (the Father of Jesus Christ) had no part in making the world, nor any connection with it. Out of mercy, the Heavenly Father intervened in the world to save humanity. Gnostics, by contrast, held that all human beings contained a small measure of God himself, a divine spark. To true Gnostics, God was part of all of us; to Marcion, God was completely alien to creation.

I see you as being psuedo-gnostic, which isn't a bad thing as John and Paul are like this with the implied "I and the father am one, and I am in you" in John 14. Marcion's God is simply useless as it leaves all the revelation to one single historical event. They leave no room for a recurrent incarnation nor the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is not only Tertullian who gave Marcion a complete and total dissection, but most of the church fathers. Ephraim of Syria, Dionysius of Corinth, Theophilus of Antioch, Philip of Gortyna, Hippolytus and Rhodo in Rome, Bardesanes at Edessa, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen of Alexandria all blasted Marcion. Irenaeus called Marcion "the first born of Satan."

Anglican Boy said...

Sabio: I do seem to be softening, or at least hearing things differently. We had a visiting professor from Eden speak at our church recently and he echoed many of the things Luke has been saying. I then went to Eden and this fall, I am enrolled in their credit non-degree program. I may switch to a Master's of Divinity or Master's of Theological Studies depending on how well I do.

One thing I will call you on: "I don't think Bonhoeffer's martydom forgives him for philosophical/historical/theological mistakes."

Such as what? This is either a genetic fallacy or a weak attempt to cut Bonhoeffer off at the knees because he is a theist like I am versus a nontheist like you are. I do not understand this assertion in the least, it's a non-statement.

Luke said...

AB: just saw this on Sinfest and thought of our conversation. seems the devil's critique of the gospels mirrors Marcion's, wouldn't you say?

Sabio Lantz said...

@ AB
You said, "Bonhoeffer, however, made it clear that without the OT there would be no Jesus. Thus, he insisted that all seminarians learn the OT and pray the psalms so that they would be grounded in the heart of Christ. I would argue that Bonhoeffer's insights are no less valid in 2010 than 1930."

You don't tell us how Bonhoeffer "made it clear". Then you start your next sentence with "Thus", as if you are proving something. Since you offer an unsupported claim, I though you may have been trying to ride on his martydom as a sort of reverse genetic argument -- an argument from authority. Thus my comment. I hope that makes my "non-statement" more clear to you. And right when I thought you may be softening up and opening up. Sigh ....

beowulf2k8 said...

Just to clarify a few things.

1) Docetism. Marcion's docetism is docetic. By that I mean that he only seems docetic. Tertullian keeps saying "Marcion's Christ is a phantom" throughout most of his Against Marcion, yet there is one place in the middle where Tertullian admits that Marcion actually believed Jesus did have a body. Tertullian describes Marcion's analogy that Jesus had a body the same way the angels who visited Abraham had a body. It is clear that Marcion believed Jesus had real flesh and blood and actually did die on the cross. His "docetism" only extends to denying that Jesus was born and teaching a direct bodily descent from heaven.

2) Antisemitism. Marcion interpreted the Old Testament literally like a Jew. He believed the Messiah would be a gentile-bashing warrior who was yet to come (just like the Jews of his day believed). He believed the virgin birth prophecy was about Mahershalalhashbaz (as the Jews of his day and ours too believed, and as Isaiaih 7 and 8 actually literally state). Unlike 'orthodoxy' he didn't say to the Jew "you are too stupid to understand your own book so let me explain it to you in moronic allegorical terms." He accepted the Jewish interpretation without question. He just rejected that god. In a way, therefore, Marcion would have less trouble getting along with the Jews. He wouldn't have to fight with them over who owns this book called the Tanak or Old Testament. He acknowledged that it is their property and their interpretation is the right one. Where antisemitism actually comes in is with "orthodoxy's" insistence that the Old Testament belongs to Christian 'orthodoxy' and that the Jews are submorons who don't understand their own book. The fight of antisemitism is the fight to take the book away from them and make it belong to the church. Marcion's fight was to let them keep their book because we don't want it. He is in this sense the opposite of antisemitism. Besides his rejection of the OT god was along moral lines so he would never support killing the Jews since he rejected the OT god of genocide already.

3) Tertullian's refutation of Marcion breaks down at every point. It is propped up by inane twistings of OT prophecy. That the virgin birth prophecy isn't about Jesus is clear to anyone who has read Isaiah chapters 7 and 8. And that's the most useful and clearly recognizeable one. Even on trying to prove this Tertullian fails and as for all other OT prophecies being used as about Jesus they take basically no effort to disprove.

4) "one can't be a Marcionite and still have Matt and Mark in his or her canon because Matt argues that the Law of Moses does not stand at odds with the gospel but compliments and fulfills it" -- Why does Matthew have Jesus say "think not I have come to destroy the Law"? Because in that context where this is said it is clear that this is exactly what he is doing. He takes several points of the Law and says "you have heard it said ___ but I say ___." He is not fulfilling but contradicting. He is teaching antithesis (the very name of one of Marcion's books). So, the 'orthodox' threw in the phrase "think not..." to prohibit you from believing what Jesus is actually saying there. They don't want you to think he is doing what he really is doing.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Luke

If this were a debate, I would have Beowulf as the clear winner so far. If you read books written by Christians about Buddhism or Atheism, they classically misunderstand or misrepresent them. So we can imagine that anyone, starting from Tertullian, who wrote against one of their Heretics, would most likely do the same. And so far, Beowulf seems incredibily level headed and puts together a very reasonable scenario.

That there were two gods or six seem no less remarkable to me than one god. And certainly the efforts of orthodox versions of Christianity to homogenize Jesus with the OT god Yahweh, starting with Matthew, always seem bizarrely twisted to me.

I can feel myself becoming a Marcionite.

@ Beowulf:
Do you guys have a church or meeting or do you live as quiet heretics inside "normal" churches or, as I asked, are you just internet denizens?

Luke said...


good points all around. i guess i've only seen why NOT to believe Marcion, never really considered why i would. i haven't ever read anything about Marcion admitting Jesus had a body in any of the material relating to him; source or scholarly. so this is new to me.

I'm interested as to what a Marcionite faith would look like and do with the metaphysic that ya have. i'll have to check out your blog and thanks for checking this one out. interesting conversation and i'll have to dig deeper.

Luke said...

Sabio: AB didn't say that, it was RJ. Beo does have good points and as i stated, i've only read the church fathers who are uniformly against him, largely due to the docetic Christology and the nature of the two gods. being a strict monotheist, i can't buy into it totally, but he does raise some excellent points. i'll have to check it out. he did an excellent job of apologetics, you're right.

Luke said...


on second thought, i'd take you to task on the whole literal Jewish thing.. that seems a retrojection as not every Jewish person believed in the Messiah. the Rabbinic theology and even the Babylonian Talmud is in no way unified on the terms you set out, so i would have to disagree. there is a strain running through Judaism that believes like Marcion, but it would not describe the whole.

Anglican Boy said...

Sabio: "If this were a debate, I would have Beowulf as the clear winner so far."

Beowulf has already lost and did so about 1,500 years ago. The debate is long dead in my mind.

And Luke is right, I did not say that. I asked for explanation and received none. Please help me understand. Where I would say Bonhoeffer went wrong was turning to the "dark side" of choosing violence as method of resistance against the evil empire. Not Jesus' example of nonviolent evil-empire resistance. But if I were in the same situation, I would have gone the same route with much less grace than Bonhoeffer did.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Luke & AB

Yeah, I replied to RJ about Bonhoeffer and then AB (in his wonderful style) jumped right in there on our conversation trying to take over the argument for his team. I won't engage two at once since you are not in an understanding mode. We'll just let you attack the Marcion heretic. Go at it boys, go get him.
I am done on this thread.

Anglican Boy said...

Sabio: Not in an understanding mode? Please, I even wrote what my critique would be. If you want to hide your comment which was in poor-spirit, that's fine, but the minute you make it my problem is where I draw the line. I am open and trying to listen, but I am finding you can only dish it out, you can't take it.

beowulf2k8 said...

"Beowulf has already lost and did so about 1,500 years ago. The debate is long dead in my mind."

I love this comment because its true, and I'm so very glad that it is true.

You see, you highlight the problem with 'orthodoxy.' The 'orthodox' Christian position is more or less that what they teach must be the the truth because every group teaching a different Christian position got persecuted out of existence. This is sort of the last one standing is somehow confirmed by God view. The guilt of the last group standing in actually actively killing off the others is ignored. The fact that Jesus strongly taught that his followers would be persecuted is ignored.

Rather than looking at things from the truly Jesus-derived perspective that being persecuted is a good thing, the orthodox look at it from the worldly perspective that being the persecutor is the good thing, i.e. do whatever it takes to win and make your religious philosophy the dominant one.

In other words, just as Jesus won by losing (i.e. by letting himself die on the cross) Marcionism won by losing (by letting itself be exterminated rather than compromising Chrestian principle and using the secular sword to wipe out opposing views as the 'orthodox' did). It is precisely the fact that Marcionism lost on purpose that draws me to it.

Luke said...

AB and Sabio, settle down.

Sabio: this blog is an open discussion and AB can "jump in" whenever and where ever and vice versa. you're avoiding the topic by shifting blame which is a form of ad hominem argument.

AB: I know you're trying and i value your directness but try to stay open. i'll post on Tuesday things we can learn from the Marcionites like Beowulf, he maybe onto something as i have scanned his blog.

Beo: there is some truth to that argument, but it assumes orthodoxy was one from the start. there were Arians, Montanists, Ebionites, Docetists, Gnostics, Therapeutae, and more. some are labeled proto-orthodox and all but the Montanists aren't under that heading, so why aren't the others just as valid? or why didn't you go Brethern, Waldenese, or Moravian as they were heavily persecuted prior to the reformation?

I do think Marcion is onto something and want to thank you for your continuance on this blog. i look forward to your comments on Tuesday when I post about you're main man. peace!