5 Stars Out Of 5
DeBuhns "The First New Testament" is like manna from heaven!
January 18, 2015
*I would like to express my thanks to Polebridge Press for supplying me a review copy of this book.*
Jason D. BeDuhns (Northern Arizona University) work is another addition in the recent renewed interest in the second century figure Marcion of Pontus. What makes BeDuhns work standout is its interest in Marcions role in the development the Christian canon and a modern reconstruction of Marcions 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 Marcions 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 Marcions 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, BeDuhns 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 Tertullians Against Marcion [Adversus Marcionem] and Epiphanius Medicine Chest [Panarion]. All throughout, BeDuhns 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, DeBuhns 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 BeDuhns reconstruction and translation of The Evangelion and The Apostolicon. Some of BeDuhns 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 BeDuhns 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 Borgs 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 BeDuhns 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 Marcions thought and the shaping of the New Testament.
In my view, BeDuhns 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 DeBuhns 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 Marcions The Apostolicon and the catholic editions of the Pauline corpus? What was Pauls 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 Pauls legacy, Marcion, and the birth of the New Testament. DeBuhns 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 worlds leading scholars to see just how extraordinary a work it is. DeBuhns 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 canons birth.