Marcion (d. ca. 160)

Early Christian thinker, founder of the Marcionites. Marcion was born in Sinope on the southern shore of the Black Sea in Asia Minor. In ca. 140 he traveled to Rome, where in 144 he was excommunicated by the Christian Church and he subsequently founded his own church. A great number of Christian authors, both in the East and the West, wrote against Marcion and his followers, which may be seen as an indication of his influence and of the threat he posed to (what later would develop into) orthodox Christianity. Since none of Marcion’s writings have survived, his teaching must be reconstructed from patristic refutations. Marcion drastically differed from mainstream Christianity in his rejection of the OT. In his view, the God of the OT, who was the creator of the material world (which was seen as evil) and the protagonist in OT history, was not the same as the God whom Jesus Christ revealed in the NT. The OT God, even though he was just, was inferior to the perfect, yet hidden God of grace of the NT. The OT, therefore, was irrelevant to Christians, even though Marcion did not deny its validity for the Jews. Based on these insights, Marcion created his own canon of scripture, which consisted of one Gospel (mainly based on Luke) and a collection of ten expurgated Pauline epistles. Marcion’s views and canon formation had a significant impact on the development of nascent orthodox Christianity.

Marcion’s followers reached Syria and Edessa by the end of the 2nd cent. According to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 5,13), Bardaiṣan composed dialogues against the Marcionites (which are not preserved), and the ‘Book of the laws of the countries’ contains anti-Marcionite polemics, albeit without naming Marcion. In the 4th cent., Ephrem attacked the Marcionites in several of his works. These sometimes strident attacks suggest that the Marcionites represented a serious threat in his day. Moreover, Ephrem established a genealogical link between Marcion, the arch-heretic, and the later heretics Bardaiṣan and Mani. Ephrem’s most systematic refutation of Marcion can be found in the collection of writings known as the ‘Prose Refutations’. Another anti-Marcionite treatise of Syriac origin survives in an Armenian translation and mainly deals with the parables of the Gospel and their OT antecedents. The Syriac original of this work may be traced back to the (early?) 4th cent., but contrary to the view of the most recent editor (Egan), Ephrem should not be seen as its author (see Outtier and Bundy).

While the significance of Marcion and his movement in the early period of Syriac Christianity has been widely recognized since the days of W. Bauer, it is unclear how long the Marcionites had their own ecclesiastical institutions in the Syriac world. A remarkable episode in the ‘Life of Mar Aba’ (ed. Bedjan) suggests that in mid-6th cent. Mesopotamia Marcionites still had a significant presence and were called kresṭyāne, as opposed to mainstream Christians who were called mšiḥāye.

Sources

  • W.  Bauer, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (1934; 2nd ed. 1964), ch. 1 on Edessa. (ET as Orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity [1971])
  • P.  Bedjan, Histoire de Mar Jab-Alaha, patriarche, de trois autres patriarches, d’un prêtre et de deux laïques nestoriens (1895; repr. 2007), 213–4.
  • D.  Bundy, ‘Marcion and the Marcionites in early Syriac apologetics’, LM 101 (1988), 21–32.
  • D.  Bundy, ‘The anti-Marcionite commentary on the Lucan parables (Pseudo-Ephrem A): Images in tension’, LM 103 (1990), 111–23.
  • H. J. W. Drijvers, ‘Marcionism in Syria: Principles, problems, polemics’, The Second Century. A Journal for Early Christian Studies 6.3 (1987–88), 153–72.
  • G. A.  Egan, Saint Ephrem. An Exposition of the Gospel (CSCO 291–2; 1968).
  • A. von Harnack, Marcion: Das Evangelium vom femden Gott (1921). (ET as Marcion: The Gospel of the alien God [1990])
  • G. May, K. Greschat, and M. Meiser (ed.), Marcion and his impact on Church history (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. TU 150; 2002).
  • C. W. Mitchell, S. Ephraim’s Prose Refutations, vol. 1 (1912; repr. 2008), esp. 44–91 (Syr.); li–lxxiii (ET).
  • C. W. Mitchell, A. A. Bevan, and F. C. Burkitt, S. Ephraim’s Prose Refutations, vol. 2 (1921; repr. 2008), esp. 50–142 (Syr.) and xxiii–lxv (ET).
  • B.  Outtier, ‘Une explication de l’évangile attribuée à Saint Ephrem. A propos d’une édition récente’, ParOr 1 (1970), 385–407.


How to Cite This Entry

Lucas Van Rompay, “Marcion,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Marcion.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Lucas Van Rompay, “Marcion,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Marcion.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Van Rompay, Lucas. “Marcion.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Marcion.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Marcion/tei.

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