- The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon by Jason D. BeDuhn
Recently renewed interest in Marcion, his history, and contributions to the formation of early ecclesiastical experience provides a ready context for the appearance of this volume. Unlike many other scholars, however, BeDuhn is less attracted to Marcion himself and more to his influence on the development of the Christian canon, stating from the outset that we “know the name of the individual responsible for the first New Testament” (3), and indicating that here we have evidence of the first biblical canon as a “collection of authoritative books” (4). He asserts that both the idea and “distinctive structure” of a New Testament can be associated with Marcion’s efforts (7), thus making this figure a key sponsor for the rise of later considerations about canon and sacred texts. Consequently, BeDuhn seeks to render the two parts of Marcion’s canon (the Evangelion and Apostolikon) into modern prose for the first time.
By way of structure, the volume offers a logical progression of movement. BeDuhn begins by necessity with a brief description and history of Marcion the man in order to set the stage (11–23), followed by a somewhat longer description of Marcion’s “New Testament” and the sources used to reconstruct its design (25–62). He thereafter moves to the intended focus of the investigation, English renderings of the Evangelion (65–200) and Apostolikon (203–319), both of which are provided with useful introductions and notes on the texts themselves. The translations offer specific references in the margins to relevant sources from antiquity (mimicking the style of the Nestle-Aland edition of the New Testament). To close, one finds extensive chapter notes (321–61), bibliography (363–81), and a general index (383–87).
The principal difficulty with BeDuhn’s task becomes evident in the need to sift through ancient literature in order to establish Marcion’s words with precision. [End Page 471] BeDuhn acknowledges (with von Harnack) that only three primary sources for this Herculean effort remain: Tertullian, Epiphanius, and a third anonymous author, all of whom write in a polemical tone and “make no attempt to quote every word of Marcion’s text” (34). Otherwise, only a handful of lesser witnesses may be accessed, including the so-called “Marcionite Prologues to the works of Paul” in the Apostolikon.
The most illuminating section concerns reconstruction and significance (46–62), in which BeDuhn defends the approach to his translation, indicating that he is focused on recovery of Marcion’s content rather than exact wording (46–47). Here he reviews the history of research on the question at hand, beginning with the methodology of von Harnack and reviewing scholars who challenge those results. He at last resorts to a multi-step model for his own reconstruction: Inclusion of elements explicitly cited by outside sources; resolution of seeming contradictions; omission of materials expressly stated to be missing from Marcion; omission of unattested materials; and retention of secondary connective content to provide coherent meaning (54–55). Ultimately, he appeals to the fluidity of early Christian literature as typical of Marcion’s own efforts at “rooting authority in text” (61).
BeDuhn’s work in the completion of a most difficult task is hereby applauded. He has clearly identified the scope of the problem with respect to Marcion’s canon—even if many scholars debate the significance of that corpus for later canonical construction—and has provided easily accessible translations that students of biblical exegesis and Christian late antiquity should find quite useful as a point of departure for discussions of canon. In this respect the investigation stands as a unique resource within scholarly literature on Marcion, and thus the appearance of this volume is most welcome. The translation is readable and fluid, while the notes give ready access to the issues of reconstruction. It would be nice to find some presentation of original language sources on pages facing the translation, but this lies beyond the scope of what otherwise is already a hefty achievement and hence must remain...