Reviews of

The Text of Marcion’s Gospel

In Brill, Dieter T. ROTH, Early Christianity, Jordan Almanzar, Marcion, New Testament, Textual Criticism on September 3, 2017 at 10:40 am

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2017.09.18 | Dieter T. Roth. The Text of Marcion’s Gospel. New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents 49. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2015. ISBN: 9789004245204.

Reviewed by Jordan Almanzar, Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen.

Dieter T. Roth has taken up the ambitious task of reconstructing the Gospel portion of Marcion’s “bible”. His objective is not a new one, as the first attempts to reassemble Marcion’s text are generally traced to the 18th century (Roth, 8). [Roth credits J.S. Semler as the first scholar to attempt a resemblance of Marcion’s text, however, he also mentions Richard Simon’s work from nearly a century earlier.] Even so, scholars have long awaited a book such as the one Dieter T. Roth has produced.Its value lies chiefly in the intentionally convenient layout, which is the result of Roth’s patient classification and arrangement of material. Therefore, the book can be immediately used and appreciated by anyone interested in Marcion’s Gospel. Most of the work is an explanation of the difficulties of the task along with details on the methods employed to do so; however, readers can begin using it as a reference tool at the outset.

Following a brief introduction, the book includes a thorough History of Research (Chapter 2). This overview is called for since, as Roth says, “…there has been no extensive history of research in works dealing with Marcion’s Gospel in nearly 150 years,” (Roth, 6). By pinpointing the errors of previous attempts to recover Marcion’s Gospel, Roth furnishes an important context for his own book. The chapter is outlined chronologically and spans from the 17th and 18th centuries (Richard Simon and J.S. Semler) to the most recent attempts to reconstruct Marcion’s text. The period before Harnack is treated adequately, and readers will be delighted to revisit what Roth calls, “The Prolific and Problematic Period of the 1840s and 1850s,” (Roth, 10). Harnack, of course, plays his usual role and stands as a middle point in the history of Marcion scholarship. The investigation, moving as it does away from the German speaking world in the latter half of the 20th century, shows the transition and loss of precision yet, at the same time, the opening up of new methodological considerations which have furthered the field.

Although the goal of recovering Marcion’s Gospel has enjoyed a long history, the reconstructions are nearly as varied as are the portraits of Marcion issued by writers with that objective as their theme. By implementing a “more exacting methodology” with the sources, however, Roth seeks to overcome the weaknesses of prior reconstructions–studies that he feels went astray either by losing sight of the ultimate goal or by employing what he identifies as “problematic approaches,” (Roth, 4). [Roth is referencing the works of David S. Williams, Kenji Tsutsui, Joseph B. Tyson and Matthias Klinghardt.] In turn, Roth’s critical methodology stems from recent advancements in textual criticism along with fresh proposals in patristic studies. Keeping in line with the vogue nomenclature of today’s textual critics, Roth defines his objective as not discovering Marcion’s “original text” but rather offering, “the best attainable text for Marcion’s Gospel according to the sources,” (Roth, 4). To that end, Roth utilizes the approach developed by Ulrich Schmid in his research on Marcion’s ApostleI, and anyone familiar with that work will recognize Roth’s methodological dependence on his German counterpart. Roth’s challenge is much more difficult, however, due to the significantly larger amount of Gospel-data gleaned from the sources. In fact, Marcion’s Gospel necessitates an analysis of nearly twice as many references than Schmid’s work on the Apostle text.

The chief sources remain: Tertullian (Adversus Marcionem), Epiphanius (Panarion) and Pseudo-Origin (Adamantius Dialogue). In order to produce a complete synopsis of the citations of Marcion’s Gospel, Roth compiles an exhaustive list of attested verses drawn from all the sources along with convenient references to each. Building on Schmid’s calculated approach to not rely on “Marcionite tendencies” for justifying Marcionite readings, Roth “screens” the sources against themselves to test the consistency of, say, Tertullian’s own use of Luke. Roth says, “In order to be able to evaluate the testimony that the church fathers offer for readings found in Marcion’s Gospel, their general handling of texts throughout their corpus, based on multiple citations, must be understood as precisely as possible,” (Roth, 79). Always erring on the side of caution, Roth indicates each instance where something appears doubtful and furthermore produces an extensive list of unattested versus. This is a helpful category for his layout because it allows both him and the reader to not haphazardly discount a number of attestations that might otherwise fall out the spectrum.

The next stages in Roth’s reconstruction are close analyses of every attested verse of Marcion’s Gospel. Having thus arranged and analyzed each one, Roth is now able to distinguish his study from the rest. He does so by presenting the reader with substantial indications of “levels of confidence” for each particular verse–something Roth attributes to all previous studies as, “…perhaps [their] most pronounced weaknesses,” (Roth, 410). This maneuver represents a new stage in Marcion studies and is highly convenient, since everything is present in one single volume. Thanks to the thorough referencing throughout the book, the reader is free to flip to the lists of attested verses and crosscheck or disagree with Roth’s determination on any single reading. By adapting numerous user-friendly formatting techniques, Roth’s reconstruction guides the reader easily through seven levels of confidence throughout the entire text of Marcion’s Gospel. As a side note, it would be exciting to see someone replicate his format in an English translation.

Roth’s specific recovery–while learned and valuable–is less important than his arrangement and presentation of the sources. One can begin in Chapter 9 The Reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel and work backwards. Or to say it another way, one can use Roth’s reconstruction as a reference manual when studying Marcion’s or Luke’s Gospel. In any event, the book is an accomplishment in its field and will be used as a basis for the inevitable reconstructions of the future.

Jordan Almanzar
Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen
jordanalmanzar [ at ] gmail.com

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  1. Neither Tertullian nor Epiphanius ever saw this gospel. Epiphanius claims he has the text in his possession but Epiphanius is the worst sort of witness for anything let alone the truth. Assuming Irenaeus is Tertullian’s source and Justin Irenaeus’s ultimate source – which is the most likely scenario – there can’t be a bigger waste of time piecing together the gospel of Marcion – assuming such a text ever existed – than this endeavor. This is the scholarly equivalent of writing a thesis on ghosts from having watch Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II.

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