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The First New Testament: Marcion's Scriptural Canon Paperback – 30 Oct 2013

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Polebridge Press (30 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598151312
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598151312
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,149,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Jason BeDuhn is Professor of the Comparative Study of Religions at Northern Arizona University, USA, a Guggenheim and National Humanities Center Fellow, and author of The Manichaean Body (2000, winner of the American Academy of Religion Best First Book Award), Truth in Translation (2003), Augustine’s Manichaean Dilemma (Vol. 1 2010, Vol. 2 2013), and The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon (2013).

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a brilliant book and anyone interested in the origins of Christianity should read it. It is scholarly but accessible.

Bottom line: there was a guy called Marion in the mid-second century BC who compiled the first New Testament. It gave great billing to Saint Paul. Without this New Testament, Paul may have been obscure and Christianity may have remained a Jewish sect.

Can't recommend it too highly.
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Firstly I understand that concerns that others have said about the title of this book. Marcion did not put together the first New Testament. Up to his time the New Testament was very much work in progress. However Jason BeDuhn has produced an accessible version of Marcion work. It is so interesting to compare the "Jesus" we read about here with the more familiar stories of the accepted New Testament we have today. The notes and introduction are helpful too. I just would rather that the author did not keep on about this being the first New Testament. 4 stars still as a helpful book.
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I have given this book only a one-star rating because there is no zero-star facility available, otherwise I'd have given it a zero-rating. The reason for such low marks is the fact that BeDuhn's argument is built on several completely wrong assumptions. The first and foremost, though, is the breathtaking claim on p. 6 that "Before Marcion there was no New Testament." Everything that follows rests on that one foundation, and if that is wrong, then so is all else that depends on it. How is it wrong? Nine fragments of New Testament books were discovered in Qumran Cave 7, these being 7Q4 - 1 Tim 3:16-4:3; 7Q5 - Mark 6:52-53; 7Q6, 1 - Mark 4:28; 7Q8 - James 1:23-24; 7Q6, 2 - Acts 27:38; 7Q9 - Romans 5:11-12; 7Q7 - Mark 12:17; 7Q10 - 2 Peter 1:15; and 7Q15 -Mark 6:48. The significance of the discovery is that the caves of Qumran were sealed up in AD 68 when the area was overrun by the Roman 10th Legion, a full 70 years or more before Marcion came along in the 140s. They were clearly written out before AD 68, and were copies made from even earlier exemplars. That one concrete archaeological fact destroys entirely BeDuhn's otherwise cleverly argued thesis. As the fragments have been known about since the early 1970s, it's a pity BeDuhn didn't read up on his subject more widely.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9720ce64) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x972e60c0) out of 5 stars Dr. BeDuhn's thesis regarding Marcion 30 Dec. 2013
By The Old Prof - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dr. Jason BeDuhn wants to reset the discussion on the earliest New Testament entitled “The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon.” It is a well-known phenomenon that humans tend to attach semantic over-layers of meaning to the words they use and then, when discussing the topic at hand, those meanings get in the way of trying to explore that topic objectively. Such modern use of terms thus becomes an anachronism. Therefore, because Marcion is seen as a heretic today, Dr. BeDuhn prefers to use “Old Contract”/”New Contract” in place of Old Testament/New Testament or Old Covenant/New Covenant. He does this with other words as well “trust” instead of “faith.” “John the Washer” instead of “John the Baptizer” or “John the Baptist.” “Emissary” rather than “Apostle.” This approach is especially important because when we discuss Marcion and want to come at the topic with a fresh and objective approach, we do not want to be saddled with the accoutrements of the discussions we have inherited from past research assumptions—especially those developed since Adolf von Harnack and others that have been made regarding Tertullian’s and Epiphanius’ statements about Marcion. Dr. BeDuhn argues that both Marcion’s text and (what later became known as “orthodoxy”) the Catholic texts, may have come from pre-existing proto-texts of the Evangelion and Apostolicon used by Marcion. He suggests that just perhaps Marcion made his interpretations based upon texts in use within Christian communities already in existence. But he wants to open up the field to re-examine and re-evaluate the assumptions made by earlier scholars about what Tertullian, Epiphanius and other sources actually said about Marcion.

BeDuhn provides the reader with a good introduction to Marcion’s Evangelion and Apostolikon along with text notes for each. Each of these texts are reconstructions and scholars will find various and sundry points for which they each might offer different treatments. He points out that whereas the Evangelion has a better basis for creating a more objective case, the Apostolikon is less well suited to this simply because the more ancient sources did not provide the sound foundation modern scholars wish to have to build their case.

But BeDuhn is not arguing that textual evidences for individual books did not exist prior to Marcion’s texts. He is saying that Marcion developed the first CANON—that is, sacred collection—of New Testament texts. (He tries to convey this by his book title). Another reviewer has used material from the discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls to question BeDuhn’s work. But scholarship has called into question the fragmentary “findings” from Qumran and are not, as yet, settled on the certainty that New Testament texts were actually found there. Until that has been settled, Dr. BeDuhn’s thesis should be made available to students of the New Testament until it has been thoroughly evaluated by other specialists in the field.

The book ends with copious chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, and finally a topical index. I believe that BeDuhn is a careful and cautious scholar and that his thesis deserves a detailed investigation. This book, then, is a valuable contribution in that direction. Let’s call it a new beginning—not an ending!
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x96b6e894) out of 5 stars DeBuhn’s "The First New Testament" is like manna from heaven 18 Jan. 2015
By Daniel N. Gullotta - Published on
Format: Paperback
*I would like to express my thanks to Polebridge Press for supplying me a review copy of this book.*

Jason D. BeDuhn’s (Northern Arizona University) work is another addition in the recent renewed interest in the second century figure Marcion of Pontus. What makes BeDuhn’s work standout is its interest in Marcion’s role in the development the Christian canon and a modern reconstruction of Marcion’s version of the New Testament, that is, the "first New Testament."

In a common sense fashion, BeDuhn structures his work beginning with a brief study of Marcion as a second century figure, followed by a detailed explanation of Marcion’s version of the New Testament and the sources he intends to use in order to reconstruct its contents and order. After introducing readers to the two key texts within Marcion’s New Testament, The Evangelion (a gospel-narrative about the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus) and The Apostolicon (a collection of letters allegedly written by the Apostle Paul to various churches), BeDuhn then offers his English translation and reconstruction of them, accompanied with an extensive list of notes and comments.

BeDuhn offers a good amount of information about the scholarly interests in Marcion, from the 19th Century to the present day. For people who have never really engaged the life, thought, and importance of Marcion with early Christianity, BeDuhn’s introductory chapters are ideal reading. For students of Christian origins in particular, BeDuhn does a fine job in introducing some of the key academic figures within Marcionite research and their thoughts regarding Marcion, such as Adolf von Harnack, R. Joseph Hoffmann, and Sebastian Moll. As well as this, BeDuhn presents the more complex theories and figures associated with Marcion, textual criticism, the canon, and the formation of the New Testament (such as those of Johann Salomo Semler and Albert Schwegler) in a very approachable manner.

More importantly however, BeDuhn establishes the complexities and difficulties entrenched with researching anything associated with Marcion, due to the nature of the sources at scholars’ disposal. Nonetheless, BeDuhn familiarizes readers with the key texts to be engaged with when studying Marcion and his New Testament and the problems with them, for example Tertullian’s Against Marcion [Adversus Marcionem] and Epiphanius’ Medicine Chest [Panarion]. All throughout, BeDuhn’s language is clear and concise, presenting complicated ideas, theories, and sources in a manner that is both accessible and engaging. Simply put, given that so many texts about Marcion (in any sense) are either extremely expensive, long out of print, or incredibly dense, DeBuhn’s The First New Testament is like manna from heaven.

Not being a textual critic, I am not adept enough to pass judgment on the quality of BeDuhn’s reconstruction and translation of The Evangelion and The Apostolicon. Some of BeDuhn’s wording is particularly striking for well versed and traditional trained Biblical readers, such as “The Human Being” instead of “The Son of Man” and “emissary” over “apostle.” However such change does add certain freshness to the reading. The entire body of The Evangelion and The Apostolicon read very easily and flow from the page in a manner that many will find engaging thanks to BeDuhn’s translation into English. Due to the nature of the The Evangelion and The Apostolicon, they will read like uncanny pieces of literature to anyone familiar with the Synoptic Gospels or the Letters of Paul, however due to the differences within them, Marcus Borg’s phrase “reading the Bible again for the first time” does come to mind in describing the reading experience one might have.

Given the wealth of notes included in The First New Testament, it is definitely the sort of book that will require serious students to undergo multiple reads and in-depth notations to fully grasp the reasoning behind BeDuhn’s reconstructions and translations of The Evangelion and The Apostolicon. However, it should be noted that while most of the endnotes provided by BeDuhn are references to sources and arguments in support of his work, there is also plenty of fascinating comments made that will no doubt lead to more speculation about Marcion’s thought and the shaping of the New Testament.

In my view, BeDuhn’s studies into Marcion are not designed to be exhaustive or definitive, but rather act as a spring to propel students and scholars into more research but with equipped questions. This is particularly clear as DeBuhn’s reverses several sections within his work for the “Implications for Biblical Studies.” What does The Evangelion mean to the future of the Synoptic Problem? How does the The Evangelion relate to the Gospel of Luke and the Q document? What is the relationship between Marcion’s The Apostolicon and the “catholic” editions of the Pauline corpus? What was Paul’s legacy like in the second century and how can The Apostolicon aid us in our research in figuring out this complex question? DeBuhn is well aware that his work offers an extraordinary amount of questions about Paul’s legacy, Marcion, and the birth of the New Testament. DeBuhn’s The First New Testament challenges a lot of the assumptions people have made about Marcion and his version of the New Testament and forces readers to engage Marcion beyond the black and white apologetical norms of “heresy” and “orthodoxy.”

When one stands back and takes in the sheer amount of research and work that certainly went into The First New Testament, it is certainly impressive. One only needs to look at its reviews by some of the world’s leading scholars to see just how extraordinary a work it is. DeBuhn’s The First New Testament is a remarkable edition to the study of Christian origins. It will unquestionably become necessary reading for anyone interested in diving into Marcionite research and studying yet another fascinating aspect of the Christian canon’s birth.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x969c38f4) out of 5 stars Brilliant, Enjoyable Read About Marcion's New Testament 7 May 2015
By Jonathan Brillhart - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very scholarly, but is written in a very accessible, readable style. It is brilliant. Marcion is absolutely fascinating. It seems he was one of the most important figures in the development of early Christianity. Although churches were established throughout the Roman empire by his followers, almost nothing is said about him today. The orthodox (Catholic) church fathers destroyed all his writings, and today nothing remains but the extensive writings about him by his critics. I have not finished the book yet, but apparently it is not going to say much about Marcion's Christian philosophy. The book focuses on Marcion's New Testament rather than his beliefs. I hope there is a book out there as well written, researched and thoughtful as this one is, about Marcion's beliefs.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97aec324) out of 5 stars Fascinating book, well researched and comprehensively written 21 Jan. 2015
By Pär Stenberg - Published on
Format: Paperback
BeDuhn, Jason D.

The First New Testament : Marcion's Scriptual Canon

Polebridge Press: Salem, Oregon, 2013

With his latest book The First New Testament, professor Jason D. BeDuhn has taken upon himself a massive task: to reconstruct the text of Marcion's Evagelion and Apostolikon for the first time into the English language. These two texts made up what BeDuhn argues for was the earliest New Testament. Evagelion - a gospel text similar but shorter in form and content to our canonical Luke; and the Apostolikon -- a collection of ten Pauline letters, similar but shorter than the letters as they are found in today's modern Bibles. For a long time based largely on the testimonies of early Christian writers, it has been believed that these two works were the result of Marcion's editing to conform the canonical texts into allignment with his own ideology. Yet, does such an hypothesis hold up under closer inspection? Could it be that the Marcionite versions are closer to what Luke and Paul originally wrote? Or could there be another explanation for their origin, for their similarity and their differences from what is found on the pages of our modern Bibles?

BeDuhn's is not the first person to delve into the world the arch-heretic Marcion. In this study, he takes upon himself to improve the previous reconstruction attempt by Harnack. Building upon and critically engaging with recent research on Marcion (most notably David Salter Williams, Ulrich Schmid, Sebastian Moll and John J. Clabeaux). It is evident that the author has gone out of his way to make this seemingly tough subject accessible and comprehensible for wide audience. The book itself is not overly thick; just under 400 pages all in all. But do not let this fool you, for the amount of material covered and the information provided is massive in relation to its size. As I will point out below, some sections could to be fleshed out a bit more, and some relevant considerations are barely not touched up at all.

The First New Testament can be divided up into mainly three parts: 1) a 100-page long introduction mainly dealing with the person of Marcion and his New Testament collection; 2) a more in-depth look at the content, form and origin of the Evangelion and the Apostolikon; and 3) a reconstruction of both of these texts into the English language, followed by exhaustive notes.

On Marcion and his Canon

In the first chapter of the book, professor BeDuhn carefully he treads through the sources for Marcion's life, always being very cautious in what one with certainty truly is able say about this shadowy figure of the past, and when one is moving beyond into speculation. Straight away, the credibility of our sources are called into question due to the fact that they almost exclusively come from later catholic Christian writers with a polemical agenda. While the overly cautious approach is to be appreciated, I as a reader would have preferred to know more about the views ascribed to Marcion, however spurious they might be. What exactly did they have to say on his views on: Jesus humanity, his Messiahship, his deity, his resurrection? Did they nuance his position to differentiate him from the docetists? What exactly did the Marcionites think of the other apostles? About Abraham? About the Jews? Given the importance Marcion's beliefs were for the ecclesiastical writers in explaining changes in Marcion's reshaping of the Gospel and Pauline texts, it would be helpful to have a good grasp of what they believed his ideology to be. The opinions of various fathers are scattered through-out the book but never fully laid out. A separate section wherein these matters were discussed would have been nice.

In chapter 2, the issue of Marcion's New Testament is brought into focus. Is he to be credited with inventing the New Testament-concept? And what exactly was his role as an editor of Scripture? The author then moves on to discuss and to critically evaluate our main sources for the textual content of his New Testament: Tertullian, Ephiphanius, Adamantius. In addition, Pseudo-Ephrem, Acts of Archelaus and the Marcionite prologues to the Pauline letters are discussed along with a brief mention of other sources. This chapter also covers a short but highly interesting section on Papyrus 69, which may be a manuscript of thd Evangelion; and if it such be the case, what does that tell us about the textual character of the work?

On the Evangelion and Apostolikon

What then follows is the heart of the book: the reconstructed text of the Apostolikon and Evangelion along with a relevant in-depth discussion of each, and textual notes providing further insight into the reconstruction. The reconstructed text is in English only. The reason for this is rather simple: it is not the author's to provide a critical Greek/Latin text, but to present us with the overall content of the letters. He shows the fundamental problems in trying to uncover a precise wording. Such an undertaking would be near impossible, given nature of our sources (e.g. is Tertullian paraphrasing? To what extent? Are the textual variants from Marcion's text or do they reflect Tertullian's text? etc). Tertullian was not overall concerned with reproducing Marcion's text word for word for his readers. What mattered was its content. The same goes with BeDuhn. But this should not bog us down, lest we miss the forest for the trees.

So then, how does the Evangelion relate to our canonical Luke? And what is the relation between the Apostolikon and our collection of Paul's letters? The discussion on the origin of the Evangelion had me spellbound to my book. BeDuhn offers the read three basic options: 1) The Patristic Hypothesis (the Evangelion is an edited version of Luke), 2) The Semler Hypothesis (Luke and the Evangelion share a common ancestor), 3) The Schwegler Hypothesis (our Gospel of Luke is derrived from the Evangelion). For each position he lays out the strength and weaknesses,. The main flaw with the traditional view, as held by the patristic writers, is that it makes no sense. For every supposed altered/omitted text, one easily finds one or more similar texts in Maricion's edition. Either he was an overly incompetent redactor, or another explation is needed.

In the end, Beduhn chooses to side with the Semler Hypothesis. According to this view, Marcion and Luke made use of an older existing text, a proto-Luke one could say. He then notes how this view could help in shedding new light on the Synoptic Problem Q. How so? Q has normally been thought to be a collection of Jesus sayings, lacking a unifying narrative. Consequently, the narrative of Jesus baptism, shared by Luke and Matthew has been somewhat of a mystery, a piece of the puzzle that does not fit. Interestingly enough, Marcion's text lacks the introductory narrative section of Luke 1-3, (and thus likely the Proto-Lukan text). Could it then be that the Proto-Lukan text came about by its use of Mark and Q, and only in its second edition did it make secondary use of Matthew, incorporating among many things the Baptism of Jesus? Assuming a Proto-Luke similar to the Evangelion also reduces drastically the minor-agreements between Matthew and Luke (an otherwise powerful argument against the Q-hypothesis). The remaining agreements could be due to scribal harmonization from the time before we have our first manuscripts, and before the time of Marcion.

The section on the Apostolikon is sadly not as compellingly argued. Just as in the previous chapter, we are given three alternatives: 1) Marcion's letters are the product of an earlier redaction, making the letters more universal (removing travel plans, details on time and place, local issues); 2) The letters goes back to another edition. e.g. a version meant for a Gentile audience, or perhaps drafts yet to be expanded by Paul himself or his colleagues; 3) The text is a result of an uncontrolled text, wherein changes had occurred prior to them being standardized, while the canonical text has expanded with harmonization of various modifications. BeDuhn tries as best he can not to draw any conclusions too hastily. He is therefore very frank about us in the end not knowing, as of now at least. While he tries to be fair to the various positions, it shines through where he would bet his money, although in the end he is frank in concluding that we for the time being do not know.

Sadly, this section of the book also includes certain, Pauline claims that makes me literary cringe. For example, BeDuhn compares Paul's use of the Law, to that of him citing pagan Greek literature in 1 Cor 15:33 (p. 211). Another gem is found in regards to the "conflicting" target groups presupposed by the catholic Pauline letters. According to BeDuhn, Paul's use of "elaborate arguments based in the Jewish scriptures" would not only have been hard for the Galatian Gentile believers to decipher, but it would "undercut Paul's whole point in the letter to dissuade them from deepening their engagement with Jewish teachings." Nooooo!!!! BeDuhn is not my favourite interpreter of Paul, that's for sure.

I find the hypothesis of two Lukan editions to be highly plausible (does Codex D preserve a third edition, all by the same author?). Could it be that Marcion's use of Luke gives further support to the connection between Paul and the Gospel of Luke? Given Marcion's love for Paul and viewing him as the "true apostle", it would not be a stretch to draw a connection between Paul and the Marcion proto-Lukan text? But not so with Paul. Here I think the differences derive from a simplified/abridged archetype of Paul's letters (the original of which more closely match the catholic text).

Translating the Evangelion and Apostolikon

What can be said about the author's translation? In my opinion, it sticks out quite a bit, making the New World Translation flow like the most idiomatic of prose. I can appreciate what I think BeDuhn is doing. Switching out the more traditionally used vocabulary, along with the new textual platform, helps us to read Paul in a new fresh way. I like the idea, seeing that most of the typical English standard theological vocabulary carries a heavy load of extra baggage, and consequently this carries into the text, importing meaning to words that context does not necessitate. But sadly, for me it mostly brings annoyance then new insight. Words that are exchanged for less common vocabulary include brother (colleague), works of law (lawful conduct), faith/believe (trust), crucified (staked), heaven (in Paul: celestial sphere; in Luke: sky),forgiveness of sins (discharge of misdeeds), righteousness (upright, ethical, rectitude), justify (rectify), resurrection (awakening) etc. I can appreciate rendering σταυρος as "stake" over against "cross", but to use it as a verb "to stake" when translating σταυροω causes my eyes to bleed violently upon reading. In like manner, the choice of "trust" over "faith" for πιστις/πιστευω, sticks out like a sore thumb.

I'm not sure if I like or dislike, Beduhn's choice to transliterate Χριστος rather than to translate. I am curious as to why this is the case, and as for as I can tell no comment is ever made on why. Is it to not way in on the issue of whether or not Christ or Messiah is to be preferred when reading Paul? But it is not treated fully consistently. For example the phrase πιστις Χριστου which at times is translated subjectively Christos' trust, is on occasion viewed more descriptive as Chirstly trust. Should it not be Christosly trust?

After each of the translated works, there follows extensive notes. BeDuhn takes us behind the scenes of his massive compilation (LoTR Behind the Scenes, eat your heart out!). Every textual choice is justified by references to the source material. When interacting with other scholars (e.g. Harnack) and when weighing the evidence (cf. Romans 1:2-6), all is gracefully done.

Ending on a high note with notes

Then we at last reach the end of the book. How does it end, you say? End notes... Admittedly, I am of the opinion that a person who makes use of end notes is worthy of a slow death, albeit the meatiness of these notes makes it quite understandable as to why this lay-out was preferred. Had footnotes been used, there would be no more than a handful of sentences from the main text per page. The material covered in the end-notes truly makes this the most exciting part to read through. Reading them is like having a proverbial kindled fire and a warm glass of Irish Coffee on a stormy winter's night.

As expected, this book has been one of the most thought-provoking reads of all my life. It was hard to put down the book at all, and when I did put it down it was in order to reflect and contemplate what I just had read. I can't for the life of me stop thinking about the issues that has been presented in this book. I look forward to seeing much interaction with Jason BeDuhn's massively important output. I would give my right arm for a critical review by a worthy scholar, e.g. Luke Timothy Johnson (who is among them who endorse the book on the back cover)

On my blog I go through some minor criticisms of the book which I was unable to include in this review due to length restrictions. My main problems (which are fleshed out on my blog) are: 1) BeDuhn does not pay enough attention to Church Fathers who show signs of having a canon Christian text prior to Marcion (e.g. Ignatius). 2) Likewise he ought to have discussed earlier Pauline allusions in Clement, Polycarp and Ignatius in reference to texts not found in Marcion's version. Is this then not an possible evidences for the catholic versions pre-dating Marcion? 3) I think BeDuhn overstates his case that Paul was not viewed positively by the Roman Church.4) More attention needs to be given to 2 Peter in light of what it can tell us about the canon and the value of Paul's letters (cf also 1 Tim 5:8).
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97648678) out of 5 stars Excellent coverage of topic 22 April 2015
By Laura Knight-Jadczyk - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm very thankful that someone has undertaken to thoroughly examine the Marcion problem and give a clear account of it along with a reasonably formulated text of his gospel and Pauline letters. If you are interested in the earliest Christianity, you won't want to miss this book!
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