Book Review: The Text of Marcion’s Gospel

textofmarcionsgospelTitle: The Text of Marcion’s Gospel

Author: Dieter T. Roth

Series: New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents

Bibliographic info: 491 pp.

Publisher: Brill, 2015.

Buy the book at Amazon or direct from the publisher

With thanks to Brill for the review copy.

This volume is a revised version of the author’s doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Edinburgh in 2009.

For many who have done some casual reading in early Christianity, the name Marcion will conjure up the image of the arch-heretic of “orthodox” Christianity in the second century, the guy who rejected the authority of the Old Testament due to its portrayal of God as being a capricious and malicious figure. Another aspect of Marcion that some are not as aware of is how he had his own version of the New Testament which consisted of an edited version of the Gospel of Luke and an edited collection of Pauline letters. The question arises, however, as to how exactly this fits into the origins and development of the traditional New Testament that we have today. Was Marcion the first person who really attempted to put together a new canon, providing the impetus for the proto-orthodox church to assemble its own New Testament canon as a response to his? Or is he more of a witness to a process that had already begun long before him? Such questions will likely never be able to be satisfactorily answered. But there are other aspects of the Marcion puzzle that can be more adequately examined and answered, such as the question of what the text of Marcion’s canon looked like, and this is exactly what Dieter Roth undertakes in this volume by reconstructing the  text of Marcion’s version of the Gospel of Luke by employing a thoroughgoing source and text-critical method.

This volume begins with the obligatory introductory chapter, a forty-page chapter providing a survey on the history of research, and then a chapter which provides a tabulation of the attestation in early Christian writings concerning the (non-)inclusion of verses in Marcion’s Gospel that parallel those in Luke’s gospel (while also noting the verses where there is no evidence as to whether they were included or excluded in Marcion’s Gospel).

Two chapters then tackle the writings of Tertullian, an author who provides the most data for an attempt to reconstruct Marcion’s text (over 400 verses). The next two chapters each deal with two other key sources: Epiphanius (Ancoratus and the Panarion haereses; covering over 100 verses) and the author of the Adamantius Dialogue (75 verses referenced). This is followed by a chapter on additional sources for Marcion’s text. Roth seems quite able to judiciously navigate the problems that can arise with mining Marcion’s text from the writings of other authors (e.g. Tertullian does not always make it apparent if he is actually quoting Marcion’s text when he discusses it). Quick note: to get the most out of these chapters you will definitely need to have a working knowledge of Latin and Greek.

In Chapter 9, all of this data is then synthesized together in order to present Roth’s reconstructed text of Marcion’s version of the Gospel of Luke, with the final chapter then discussing the implications of this study and possible avenues for future research. Of course, the author does not claim that he has reproduced the original text of Marcion’s Gospel, but rather just its earliest recoverable text. I would say that the version of Marcion’s text that Roth presents us with is somewhat conservative in that he is seemingly hesitant to speculate a great deal in his reconstruction. The same can be said for the implications of his reconstruction that Roth provides; there is no wild speculation flying about concerning how this overturns what we know about earliest Christianity. This conservatism is quite a judicious decision on Roth’s part considering the level of uncertainty that is involved in such an endeavor that this study undertakes. Nevertheless, despite the tentativeness inherent in such a project, any future work carried out on Marcion can use Roth’s reconstructed text to provide a more confident foundation.

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