Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marcion's Revelation: The Eclipse of 118 CE

Hadrian Denarius 125-128 CE  with Eclipse of 118 CE
On September 3rd 118 CE there was a full eclipse whose course went over the entire northern frontier of the Romans Empire giving the garrisons and the Barbarian tribes a spectacular sight. But it was only a partial eclipse that would have only dimmed the skies for awhile, and would not have darkened like night any of the cities of the empire, with one notable exception city on the shores of Pontus Euxinos (Black Sea). That city was Sinope, where it was almost full strength. The weather, if what was typical nineteen hundred years ago is much the same as today, then at mid afternoon it most likely would be about 74 F (23.3 C), almost cloudless and sunny, any fog long burned off, and likely a mild breeze coming off the Sea, as the eclipse occurred.

Horizon View of Eclipse, Sinope, Pontus Sept. 3rd 118 CE 2:55pm
The view would have unobstructed from the already ancient walls in the middle of the peninsula across the bay to the south  and southwest. Looking to the southwest the darkened skies unveiled the stars. And the alignment certainly would surely have been interpreted with great importance. As can be seen to the left, Virgo (the virgin) is lying back, resting her head upon the Sun and Moon, and the planets Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury attending. Her feet, directly south, are upon Libra, with Mars (God of War) weighing the scales. Beneath the scales are Lupus (Wolf) representing Rome and Centaurus representing various barbarians, literally walking on the mountains beneath, with Scorpius (Scorpion) to the Southeast, and the Hydra (the water serpent, often associated with Satan) to their West. The Eclipse itself is above Corvus (Crow), and Crater (drinking cup).

Marcion, quite likely a rather very young man at the time this eclipse occurred, would certainly have been fascinated by the event and sought out the local astrologers (priests of whatever deity, even the Jewish God) to understand what the skies were showing. No doubt on impressionable youth, religious, and studious, its easy to understand how the night skies suddenly revealed in daytime could have a profound effect upon him and his views. If the reports of Marcion having a clerical father are true, and he likely would have been a Jewish convert or God fearing, then he would likely have been conditioned to view the event in similar terms to that of the author of Revelations. When combined with the interpretation of the eclipse of 71 CE, as survived in Revelations chapter 12, already with much Christian messianic symbolism understood, it could easily become  for Marcion a new revelation. And given the isolation of the viewing region, it would have been an unknown revelation (unless you were on the Dacia or Armenian Frontiers and it happened to be relatively cloudless).

Although it is entirely speculative, this eclipse may have birthed Marcion's Christianity by revelation that is referred to by his Paul in Galatians. The one solid piece of evidence we have to support the idea of a cosmic event being behind the revelation comes from Terullian, Adversus Marcionem 1.18.1, when  mocking why the Christ being revealed to Marcion was delayed over century from Tiberius stating,
Perhaps he (Marcion) was hindered by some obstacle or else soem sorcery, or Saturn in quadrature, or Mars at the trine. For the Marcionites are very much into astrology, not blushing in shame that some make their livlihood from the creator's own stars. We must here examine the quality of this revelation ...
Fortasse enim anabibazon ei obstabat, aut aliquae maleficae, aut Saturnus quadratus, aut Mars trigonus. Nam et mathematici plurimum Marcionitae, nec hoc erubescentes, de ipsis etiam stellis vivere creatoris. Tractandum et hic de revelationis qualitate, ...
There is a hint of suggestion here that Astrology (mathematici) for Marcionites goes back to Marcion himself and his revelation may come from that. Tertullian certainly thinks so here.

Modern Outlook and the Ancient Views of the Heavens:

This is probably a good time for a little digression on the subject of modern thinking and ancient thinking on religion and the stars. We have been conditioned in the modern view to look at religion as literary and based on words and thought concepts, deriving from an equally sterile Judaism, albeit with influences of Greek mystery cults. The Apocalypse experience is something we have difficulty relating to.

Modern readers (and scholars) have a tendency is to project backwards our critical skepticism toward astrology that simply wasn't there during the Apostolic age. Additionally scholars have a tendency to confine analysis within the accepted time line, treating that as more sanctified than the content of the books themselves. And those books are only seen as developing from logical and allegorical arguments, not from natural phenomena, and often myopically focused on internal Jewish politics.

But the ancient view is different. When they spoke of heaven, they spoke of the sky. The concept of earth being a ball was mathematically understood, but intellectually the concept of it being a planet was not. They thought the skies above was the realm of the Gods. The stars were not understood to be suns like our own, but rather almost magical lights. Events like an eclipse revealed the "hidden" realm of the heavens and all the heavenly bodies. The books of revelations are the interpretations of events, where the dreams or vision is the allegory, bringing to life the events as symbolic characters of what was seen. [1]

This paper is my attempt to make sense of Paul's Apocalypse, which he refers to as his source of authority, and find an event in the Roman world in the time period that fits the discovery of the writings. As with my discussion about Roman codified "Law of Nations" (think 'Natural Law' in modern terms) which fit with Paul arguing contemporary issues of the day during the reign of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, the aim here is correlate Paul's vision and Marcionite theology in specific time and place. And of course its speculative.

The New Testament, the Apocrypha and various Apocryphal stories speak of the heavens in terms of Astronomy. Perhaps the best description of the heavens in Paul, and that means in the sky, and its relationship to the earth occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41, where each has a body and a glory:
καὶ σώματα ἐπουράνια, καὶ σώματα ἐπίγεια·
ἀλλὰ ἑτέρα μὲν ἡ τῶν ἐπουρανίων δόξα, ἑτέρα δὲ ἡ τῶν ἐπιγείων.
ἄλλη δόξα ἡλίου, καὶ ἄλλη δόξα σελήνης, καὶ ἄλλη δόξα ἀστέρων·
ἀστὴρ γὰρ ἀστέρος διαφέρει ἐν δόξῃ.
And there are heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies;
but different is the glory of the heavenly, and different of the earthly;
there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars;
for star differs from star in glory.
This passage is not at all abstract to the readers of the Roman era, the stars differed in size, brightness, color, and the constellations they belonged to. Absent in the description are the planets, who are thought to have been wandering stars because they belonged to no constellation but followed the path of the Sun and Moon. [2] The full context of the passage concerns the baptism of the dead and the nature of resurrection, beginning in verse 15:29, 35-49. A series of relationships make it clear that man is born perishable body, that is a natural body, but with resurrection puts on an imperishable spiritual body as we are told in the subsequent passage of verses 15:42-44: 
Οὕτως καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις τῶν νεκρῶν. σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ·
σπείρεται ἐν ἀτιμίᾳ, ἐγείρεται ἐν δόξῃ· σπείρεται ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ, ἐγείρεται ἐν δυνάμει·
σπείρεται σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν. 
εἰ ἔστιν σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἔστιν καὶ πνευματικόν.
So also with resurrection of the dead. It is sown as perishable, raised as imperishable;
it is sown in dishonor, raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, raised in power;
it is sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual.
The relationship has been generally thought as purely allegorical between the body with the heavens. But this is probably not be the case, as the earthly body may be with dishonor, but risen body is said to be in glory (δόξῃ), the just as the description as the heavenly bodies (ἐπουρανίων δόξα), the sun (δόξα ἡλίου), the moon (δόξα σελήνης), and the stars (δόξα ἀστέρων). This corresponds to the Roman view where distinguished humans can become Gods of a sort and live with the Sun, Moon, and Stars that are Gods in the sky. The heavens are the sky, beyond reach. This view that the resurrection is in the sky can be seen in verse 15:46-48 where the man is said to first be dust, dust of the earth, and that a resurrected saint will be made up of the heavenly materials, the things of stars:
ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος ἐκ γῆς χοϊκός, ὁ δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ.
οἷος ὁ χοϊκός, τοιοῦτοι καὶ οἱ χοϊκοί, καὶ οἷος ὁ ἐπουράνιος, τοιοῦτοι καὶ οἱ ἐπουράνιοι·
καθὼς ἐφορέσαμεν τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ χοϊκοῦ, φορέσωμεν καὶ τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ ἐπουρανίου.
The first man is made of the dust out of the earth, the second man out of heaven.
As the man of dust, Such also men are dust, and as the heavenly man, such also the heavenly;
As we bore the image of the of the man of dust, we must bear the image of the heavenly man.
The theme then completes the man as star concept with the relationship of the imperishable replacing the perishable body, so that death is defeated 15:50-57 through Christ. This heavenly raising of the dead is to the very skies above, as we can see with verse 15:52 where an instant change happens
ἐν ἀτόμῳ, ἐν ῥιπῇ ὀφθαλμοῦ, ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ σάλπιγγι·
σαλπίσει γάρ, καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐγερθήσονται ἄφθαρτοι, καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀλλαγησόμεθα.
in a moment, in the wink of an eye, in the last trumpet;
for a trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
And rising to the skies above is vouchsafed in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 confirming this rapture to be a lifting into the sky (air), above the clouds, a real and physical heaven
οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου ...
καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστήσονται πρῶτον ...
σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁρπαγησόμεθα ἐν νεφέλαις εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα·
those remaining until the coming of the lord
and the dead in Christ (who) will rise first
together with them will be caught up in the clouds meeting the lord in the sky; [3]
But the view of the heavens is consistent with the Greco-Roman world as the place of the Gods, or in Christian terms angels. [4] Thus we see the the statement in Philippians 3:20 and 3:21
ἡμῶν γὰρ τὸ πολίτευμα ἐν οὐρανοῖς
For our citizenship is in heaven 
Which also Tertullian, in Adversus Marcionem 5.20.7, sees as tying directly to the 1 Corinthians 15:41  passage concerning the glory stars differing one from another, so in Philippians 3:21 Christ
μετασχηματίσει τὸ σῶμα τῆς ταπεινώσεως ἡμῶν σύμμορφον τῷ σώματι τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ
will transform our body’s humble state conforming with the body of his glory
So this is a transformation to be with the stars. A new body just as Zeus gave to heroes to join the Constellations. A position where the author of Jude 13 in the 3rd century shares, and sees becoming a star belonging to a fixed constellation is the fate of saints good; and so in a jab at heretical saints - notice the focus on waves of the sea points toward Pontus and Marcion - saying they are doomed to be planets (wandering stars), rather ironically like the recently discovered unlucky exoplanets who lost the gravitational battle with their local Jupiter sized planets and thrown from their solar systems into deep space
wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; 
wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever
κύματα ἄγρια θαλάσσης ἐπαφρίζοντα τὰς ἑαυτῶν αἰσχύνας
ἀστέρες πλανῆται οἷς ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους εἰς αἰῶνα τετήρηται.
There is essentially no difference in the view of Heaven for Christians as that of other Romans. Cicero in 54 BC, De Re Publica 6.14-26, [5] in the description of the elder Scipio Africanus' dream puts forth very clearly the Roman Pagan view of death and heaven, and like Paul in Philippians describes the body as prison,
They have taken their flight from the bonds of the body as from a prison. Your so-called life is really death.
... 'Unless that God whose temple is the whole visible universe releases you from the prison of the body, you cannot gain entrance here. For men were given life for the purpose of cultivating that globe, called Earth, which you see at the centre of this temple. Each has been given a soul, [a spark] from these eternal fires which you call stars and planets, which are globular and rotund and are animated by divine intelligence, and which with marvellous Velocity revolve in their established orbits. Like all god-fearing men, therefore, Publius, you must leave the soul in the custody of the body, and must not quit the life on Earth unless you are summoned by the one Who gave it to you; otherwise you will be seen to shirk the duty assigned by God to man.
hi vivunt, qui e corporum vinculis tamquam e carcere evolaverunt, vestra vero, quae dicitur, vita mors est.
... Nisi enim deus is, cuius hoc templum est omne, quod conspicis, istis te corporis custodiis liberaverit, huc tibi aditus patere non potest. Homines enim sunt hac lege generati, qui tuerentur illum globum, quem in hoc templo medium vides, quae terra dicitur, iisque animus datus est ex illis sempiternis ignibus, quae sidera et stellas vocatis, quae globosae et rotundae, divinis animatae mentibus, circulos suos orbesque conficiunt celeritate mirabili. Quare et tibi, Publi, et piis omnibus retinendus animus est in custodia corporis nec iniussu eius, a quo ille est vobis datus, ex hominum vita migrandum est, ne munus humanum assignatum a deo defugisse videamini.
Circero shows  in 6.16 the same formula we see from Paul and the Christians describing stars in heaven as the destination of "souls" for the pious, except that Circero hints this is reserved for the privileged in speaking of the service for the Empire.
'But Scipio, like your grandfather here, like myself, who was Your father, cultivate justice and the sense of duty, which are of great importance in relation to parents and kindred but even more in relation to one's country. Such a life [spent in the service of one's country] is a highway to the skies, to the fellowship of those who have completed their earthly lives and have been released from the body and now dwell in that place which you see yonder' (it was the circle of dazzling brilliance which blazed among the stars), 'which you, using a term borrowed from the Greeks, call the Milky Way.' Looking about from this high vantage point, everything appeared to me to be marvelous and beautiful. There were stars which we never see from the Earth, and the dimensions of all of them were greater than we have ever suspected. The smallest among them was the one which, being farthest from Heaven and nearest the Earth, shone with a borrowed light [i.e., the Moon]. The size of the stars. however, far exceeded that of the Earth.
Sed sic, Scipio, ut avus hic tuus, ut ego, qui te genui, iustitiam cole et pietatem, quae cum magna in parentibus et propinquis tum in patria maxima est; ea vita via est in caelum et in hunc coetum eorum, qui iam vixerunt et corpore laxati illum incolunt locum, quem vides.' Erat autem is splendidissimo candore inter flammas circus elucens. 'Quem vos, ut a Graiis accepistis, orbem lacteum nuncupatis.' Ex quo omnia mihi contemplanti praeclara cetera et mirabilia videbantur. Erant autem eae stellae, quas numquam ex hoc loco vidimus, et eae magnitudines omnium, quas esse numquam suspicati sumus; ex quibus erat ea minima, quae ultima a caelo, citima a terris luce lucebat aliena. Stellarum autem globi terrae magnitudinem facile vincebant.
With similar expectations for piety and nearly identical concept and reward for heaven, the one thing that makes Christianity stand out from the Roman state religion was that heaven is not just for Emperors alone and by extension some other equestrian class member of supreme accomplishment, who could attain divinity and live forever in the stars, but that much more democratically ordinary Christians of saintly faith may obtain this privilege.

The Jewish view of the Roman era can be seen as nearly identical in the apocryphal 1st century CE 4 Maccabees 17:5 where  the sons of Maccabees are compared to the moon and stars 
οὐχ οὕτως σελήνη κατ’ οὐρανὸν σὺν ἄστροις σεμνὴ καθέστηκεν ὡς σὺ τοὺς ἰσαστέρους ἑπτὰ παῖδας φωταγωγήσασα πρὸς τὴν εὐσέβειαν ἔντιμος καθέστηκας θεῷ καὶ ἐστήρισαι σὺν αὐτοῖς ἐν οὐρανῷ
The moon in heaven, with the stars, does not stand so mighty as you, who, after lighting the way of your star-like seven sons to piety, stand in honor before God and are firmly set in heaven with them.

We see in this Jewish view [6] that Heaven where the saints go is in the stars, just as with the Romans, and consistent with 1 Corinthians 15. The view of Heaven as an abstract place beyond dimensional space was not likely the common view, for the nature of space and the universe was more wonder than science then. We are probably projecting our modern view upon these people when we dismiss the notion of Heaven literally being in the stars.

A Quick Look at the Ancient View of Heavens and Prophecy:

The Jewish view, from which Christianity inherits, is a bit more complicated. Deuteronomy 4:19 and 2 Kings 23:5 warn explicitly against worshiping the sun, moon, and stars, the later equating this practice with Baal worship and  idolatrous priests. These heavenly bodies are seen instead as like the angels, members of that realm, and of the same order in Psalms 148:1-4, echoed in the apocryphal Prayer of Azariah 35-41, [7] part of the procession in God's heaven. So while Christians did not see heavenly bodies as Gods per say, they did see them as part of the order of the Heavens, with signs that could be interpreted.

Christian and Marcionite Symbolism:

Modern Sinop, view from cape on hill looking southeast
If the reading of the stars was part of the role of the very first Christians, before they became text bound, as I think it was, then all the evidence of the heavenly order are present in the eclipse of 118 CE in Sinop. To the southwest, the eclipse itself is the union of male (Sun and God) with female (Moon), who has the Virgin (Virgo) lying on her back, as if to give birth. Zeus (planet Jupiter) the king of the Gods in heaven is standing, on the right hand looking south, in attendance with Athena (planet Venus) the Goddess of fertility. Hermes (planet Mercury) the messenger ("Apostle") is also in close attendance, a role that may be important. Below the eclipse is Krêtêr (constellation Crater) the cup, from which Jesus will drink. The Hydra constellation is slithering on the ground below the cup (the head might be out of sight), representing the earth as the domain of the snake or Satan.

Sky above Sinope 118/9/3 11:55 UTC
Directly to the south another drama is playing out in the stars. Zyggos (constellation Zebra) who holds the scales of Justice is hosting Ares (the planet Mars) the God of war and passion. The Greek mind sees war God as uncontrolled rage, ill tempered, and violent. This is a view of Marcion, who was from the Greek world. But to the Roman mind Mars represented controlled war, in the modern sense "Peace through Strength" as Americans tend to look at the military. In Marcion's view the God of Justice is often violent and full of rage, bringing wrath with justice. Here it would come from the heavens. What is also telling in this alignment is that Lupus constellation in the middle is the wolf, the symbol of Rome, touching the ground on the horizon, directly below the God of War who is holding the scales of justice. To her right is the Centaur representing the other tribes whom she wars with, and to the left the Scorpion representing the beasts of the earth. This is an arraignment that Marcionites would readily identify as the Jewish God of Law ruling over the kings and beasts of the earth. The Messenger or Apostle (Mercury) is caught up in heaven witnessing the Law God to his left, and to the right the revelation of Christ from the virgin, and those who drink the cup below are not under the scales or the God of Justice.

That is more speculation than I am comfortable with. But it is easy to see how a Marcionite would read that eclipse and the arraignment of the stars revealed by the eclipse. It is confirmation for the theology revealed by God himself in the arraigning of the stars. Further watching it intently could blind at least for awhile anyone without modern protective glasses, perhaps accounting for the story of temporary blinding with the revelation. So all the elements of Marcionism are present. But the question that immediate comes up is what evidence in the Apostolikon and Gospels is there of viewing the skies?
Astrology in Christianity and Marcion:

In addition to the skies, including space beyond the atmosphere, being the place of the Heavens, it was also seen as the place of signs and wonders revealed by God. This in fact is a significant aspect of the Gospels, specifically in the mini-Apocalypse concerning when the Lord will come Luke 21:25 says bluntly: 
"And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars ... 
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken,
and you will see the son of man coming 
in a cloud with power and great glory!" 
καὶ ἔσονται σημεῖα ἐν ἡλίῳ καὶ σελήνῃ καὶ ἄστροις 
αἱ γὰρ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν σαλευθήσονται. 
καὶ τότε ὄψονται τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον 
ἐν νεφέλῃ μετὰ δυνάμεως καὶ δόξης πολλῆς.
This essentially points us to an eclipse when you see the sun and moon together, and the stars spoken of. Christ is revealed in the clouds. That this is a celestial observational is clear by the reference of only the sky. The reaction of people to the event sounds very much like what occurs from an unexpected eclipse. And the reference to the sounds of roaring waves of the sea gives us an indication that the viewing point could well be one like at Sinope, Pontus across the bay of the Euxine.:
And on the earth distress of gentiles, perplexed at the roaring of the sea and waves.
καὶ ἐπὺ τῆς γῆς συνοχὴ ἐθνῶν ἐν ἀπορίᾳ ἠχοῦς θαλάσσης καὶ σάλου,
This fits the scenario of Marcion viewing the 118 CE eclipse. Like all good prophecies this one is looking back on and recording an actual event. Very much in the same light as the OT prophecies, and also the two
allegorically detailed in chapters 6 and 12 of Revelation. We have then Paul/Marcion's revelation.

The 3rd century document entitled Ignatius to the Ephesians (shorter form), chapter 19, [8] seems to refer to this very event referencing the revealing of the virgin, hidden from the prince of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) which has both a Marcionite sound, and matches Virgo's position in the eclipse of 118 CE.
Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of noise,  which were wrought in silence of  God. How, then, was He manifested to the ages?  A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death.
Καὶ ἔλαθεν τὸν ἄρχοντα τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἡ παρθενία Μαρίας καὶ ὁ τοκετὸς αὐτῆς, ὁμοίως καὶ ὁ θάνατος τοῦ κυρίου· τρία μυστήρια κραυγῆς, ἅτινα ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ θεοῦ ἐπράχθη. πῶς οὖν ἐφανερώθη τοῖς αἰῶσιν; ἀστὴρ ἐν οὐρανῷ ἔλαμψεν ὑπὲρ πάντας τοὺς ἀστέρας, καὶ τὸ φῶς αὐτοῦ ἀνεκλάλητον ἦν καὶ ξενισμὸν παρεῖχεν ἡ καινότης αὐτοῦ, τὰ δὲ  λοιπὰ  πάντα ἄστρα  ἅμα  ἡλίῳ καὶ σελήνῃ χορὸς ἐγένετο τῷ ἀστέρι, αὐτὸς δὲ ἦν ὑπερβάλλων τὸ φῶς αὐτοῦ ὑπὲρ´πάντα· ταραχή τε  ἦνπόθεν ἡ καινότης  ἡ  ἀνόμοιος  αὐτοῖς. ὅθεν ἐλύετο πᾶσα μαγεία καὶ´πᾶς δεσμὸς ἠφανίζετο κακίας· ἄγνοια καθῃρεῖτο, παλαιὰ βασιλεία διεφθείρετο θεοῦ ἀνθρωπίνως φανερουμένου εἰς καινότητα ἀϊδίου ζωῆς·  ἀρχὴν δὲ ἐλάμβανεν τὸ παρὰ θεῷ ἀπηρτισμένον. ἔνθεν τὰ πάντα συνεκινεῖτο διὰ τὸ μελετᾶσθαι θανάτου κατάλυσιν.
Ignatius seems to be referring to a Comet (Haley's 141 CE) or a Supernova (185 CE, brighter than Venus) as the brighter star. But he could also be referencing the concept of the logos as light, per Philo, et al. (I lean toward the former, a real event.)  The description from Ignatius also bears a striking resemblance to the description from of Revelation 12:1-6, 13-17 where the pregnant woman (Andromeda) is kept hidden from the serpent in that celestial event drawn from reading the sky the night after the eclipse of 71 CE.

Acts 2:19 quoting Joel 2:30 (3:3 LXX), and shows that the Catholic Luke author also sees the heavens as giving signs and portents to earthly events,
"I will show wonders in the sky"
Καὶ δώσω τέρατα ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἄνω
However this event, for Luke, seems to be a reference to an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. While there was a  79 CE eruption, written about allegorically in Revelation 8, which might seem to fit, it is more likely a reference to the more immediate eruption in 172 CE since other factors indicate the composition of Luke-Acts and the Catholic editions of the Epistles of Paul as being shortly after 175 CE. [9]

But Revelation 12:1, concerning the eclipse event of 71 CE,  we are told explicitly that the events in the heavens are being interpreted. [10]
"And a great sign appeared in the heavens"
Καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὤφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ
The specific interpretation of that event is covered by Michael Xoroaster's video on Revelations which you can find in my earlier blog post.

The Context of Luke's Eclipse:

The mini-Apocalypse is much the same in Marcion as in Luke 21:5-38, [11] and the differences really do not impact this examination of the context of the events depicted, so we have a solid text to work from (I  adjust to Marcionite form). When the disciples ask Jesus in 21:7 what sign there will be for them to know the events are happening, he replies in verses 21:9-11
"But when you hear about wars and insurrections, do not be frightened. 
For it is necessary these things happen first, but it is not yet the end."
Then he was saying to them, "nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom," 
"Earthquakes and in various places there will be famines and plagues,  
there will be fearful sights and great signs from the heavens." 
ὅταν δὲ ἀκούσητε πολέμους καὶ ἀκαταστασίας, μὴ πτοηθῆτε·
δεῖ γὰρ ταῦτα γενέσθαι πρῶτον, ἀλλ' οὐκ εὐθέως τὸ τέλος. 
Τότε ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ἐγερθήσεται ἔθνος ἐπ' ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, 
σεισμοί καὶ κατὰ τόπους λοιμοὶ καὶ λιμοὶ ἔσονται,  
φόβηθρά καὶ ἀπ' οὐρανοῦ σημεῖα με γάλα ἔσται.  
The time frame that fits these events most closely are the final days of Trajan and the first days of Hadrain with the Parthian War (πολέμους) which pitted the two great empires (βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν) , the Jewish insurrections (ἀκαταστασίας) in Cyrene, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Cyprus known collectively as the Kitos War, named such after Lusius Quietus, the Moorish Roman general who was involved in the campaign of Parthia for Trajan and the final defeat of the Cyrene rebel leader in Lydda, Judea. In the Kito's War the of 115-118 CE Jews reportedly butchered their Greek and other Pagan neighbors, thus pitting ethnic against ethnic (ἔθνος ἐπ' ἔθνος). Cassius Dio give a gory and very exaggerated account in Historiae Romanae 68.32 which testifies to the viciousness of the riots between Jews and their Greek and Roman neighbors
"'Meanwhile the Jews in the region of Cyrene had put one Andreas at their head and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. They would cook their flesh, make belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with their blood, and wear their skins for clothing. Many they sawed in two, from the head downwards. Others they would give to wild beasts and force still others to fight as gladiators. In all, consequently, two hundred and twenty thousand perished. In Egypt, also, they performed many similar deeds, and in Cyprus under the leadership of Artemio. There, likewise, two hundred and forty thousand perished. For this reason no Jew may set foot in that land, but even if one of them is driven upon the island by force of the wind, he is put to death. Various persons took part in subduing these Jews, one being Lusius, who was sent by Trajan."
καὶ Τραϊανὸς μὲν ἐκεῖθεν οὕτως ἀπῆλθε, καὶ οὐ πολλῷ ὕστερον ἀρρωστεῖν ἤρχετο. καὶ ἐν τούτῳ οἱ κατὰ Κυρήνην Ἰουδαῖοι, Ἀνδρέαν τινὰ προστησάμενοί σφων, τούς τε Ῥωμαίους καὶ τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἔφθειρον, καὶ τάς τε σάρκας αὐτῶν ἐσιτοῦντο καὶ τὰ ἔντερα ἀνεδοῦντο τῷ τε αἵματι ἠλείφοντο καὶ τὰ ἀπολέμματα ἐνεδύοντο, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ μέσους ἀπὸ κορυφῆς. διέπριον· θηρίοις ἑτέρους ἐδίδοσαν, καὶ μονομαχεῖν ἄλλους  ἠνάγκαζον, ὥστε τὰς πάσας δύο καὶ εἴκοσι μυριάδας ἀπολέσθαι. ἔν τε Αἰγύπτῳ πολλὰ ἔδρασαν ὅμοια καὶ ἐν τῇ Κύπρῳ, ἡγουμένου τινός σφισιν Ἀρτεμίωνος· καὶ ἀπώλοντο καὶ ἐκεῖ μυριάδες τέσσαρες καὶ εἴκοσι. καὶ διὰ τοῦτ᾽ οὐδενὶ Ἰουδαίῳ ἐπιβῆναι αὐτῆς ἔξεστιν, ἀλλὰ κἂν ἀνέμῳ τις βιασθεὶς ἐς τὴν νῆσον ἐκπέσῃ θανατοῦται. ἀλλ᾽ Ἰουδαίους μὲν ἄλλοι τε καὶ Λούσιος ὑπὸ Τραϊανοῦ πεμφθεὶς κατεστρέψατο.
There was also the major earthquake of 115 CE centered in Syria which greatly hindered the Romans in the handling of the revolt and preparations for War with Parthia. The text in Marcion is the same as Mark/Matthew in that it only says earthquake, and the famines and pestilence are what is said to in various places (τε is to be not found in Marcion, it changes the context here for Luke), which fits the scenario at this time. Finally the fearful sights could be anything, and without the "τε" they are separated from the signs in the heaven, so should be considered something in context with the wars and famines and such, and there were probably plenty of horrid things to see. That leaves the great sign in the heavens during that era, which brings us back to the eclipse of 118 CE which Hadrian commemorates in the coin shown above. So we have established the most likely time frame context of events which Luke 21:25-28 were concerned. That Marcion is likely  missing verses 21:22-25 (certainly 21:22-23 per Epiphanius) it would seem the context of the mini-Apocalypse in his version is before Bar Kochba, sometime after 120 CE. Note: This is interesting because it suggests the Gospel of the Lord dates before the Apostolikon, as Marcion's Paul makes some references to judicial rulings of Hadrian and to the legal status of Judea after Bar Kochba, suggesting a date for at least the last few books early in Antoninus' reign.

Roman Signifiers with an Aquilifer
The account paralleling Luke 21:25, Mark 13:24-25/Matthew 24:29 looks to have been written without any knowledge of the 118 CE eclipse or of it's locale with foaming seas. Instead it incorporates elements of Joel 2:10 with stars falling instead of darkening, . Note, digressing, Matthew 24:28 seems to understand this as a war event, because he has the Eagles gathering, likely represents the Eagle (Aquila) Standards (signa) which every Roman Legion had. The most likely event referred to is the Bar Kochba revolt, since events are centered in Judea, although it could also be the later Parthian War of 161-165 CE. [12]

Paul's Trip to Jerusalem:

The Marcionite Apostolikon begins with the famous declaration of Galatians 1:1 of Paul receiving Apostleship by way of a revelation of Jesus Christ
Paul an Apostle not from men nor through man but through Jesus Christ ...
Παῦλος ἀπόστολος οὐκ ἀπ᾽ ἀνθρώπων οὐδὲ δι᾽ ἀνθρώπου ἀλλὰ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
This position is further expanded in verses 1:11-12, to include his Gospel's origin as from this Apocalypse
For I make known to you, brothers, the Gospel I have been preaching, 
that it is not according to man.
For I received it not from man, nor was I taught (it), 

but through a revelation of Jesus Christ
Γνωρίζω γὰρ ὑμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τὸ εὐαγγελισθὲν ὑπ' ἐμοῦ 

ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν κατὰ ἄνθρωπον·
οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου παρέλαβον αὐτό οὔτε ἐδιδάχθην

ἀλλὰ δι' ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
In a prior verse (Galatians 1:8) he even admonishes accepting any other Gospel , even if it was preached bu an angel from Heaven (ἄγγελος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ εὐαγγελίσηται). A remarkable statement if consider this as allegorical to another Apocalypse event being claimed for the basis of a rival Gospel. [13] This cements the fact that Paul is referring to some sign from the Heavens as his revelation. But what he does with this revelation is more interesting as we see from Galatians 1:16b, 2:1
I did not immediately consult (with) flesh and blood, ... 
then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem
εὐθέως οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι, ... 

διὰ δεκατεσσάρων ἐτῶν ἀνέβην εἰς Ἰεροσόλυμα
Now I bring the above passage to the argument now because of the strong association of Paul to Marcion. The proposal here is that the eclipse of September 3rd, 118 CE may have served as the foundation for Marcion's branch of Christianity. And when 14 years are added to that date the year 132 CE comes up, the first year of the Bar Kochba revolt.

The Strange Tale of Aquila and Hadrian (Caution, an appendix entry follows):

Hadrian, temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, Aelia Capitolinus
One of the most bizarre of tales from any Patristic writer is the Epiphanius of Salamis' (320-403 CE) story of Aquila and Hadrian at Aelia Capitolina. It appears in chapters 13-16 of On Weights and Measures (written in Constantinople in 392 CE) and is probably built upon several myths of Christian history as he knew it, no doubt mixed in with a dash of his own exuberant flair. The story is ridiculously apocryphal built upon the already thin and dubious character from chapter 18 of Acts, and including elements Aquila healing an ailing Hadrian, and translating the OT the Greek. Like the Simon Magis tales, this one, to borrow a television analogy, built up rather extensively by the 4th century spun of its own story derived from the Acts of the Apostles. The truth that remains is much like a television program, an author's theatrical allegory of theology overlaid on some historical event as a backdrop. Weak as it may be I will examine for parallels with Marcion and Paul for whatever value I find.

The first and most obvious points which stick out in the story [14]  is that Aquila (which is Latin for "Eagle" the signi of the legions - a curious coincidence given the War that is unmentioned) is said to hail from Sinope of Pontus (Ἀκύλας ... ἀπὸ Σινώπης δὲ τῆς Πόντου). The addition of Sinope, a detail not in Acts 18:2 (Ἀκύλαν Πονιτκν), ties Aquila here to Marcion. In chapter 15 a most curious statement about Aquila's character is made,
So Aquila, after he had been strongly stirred in mind, believed in Christianity, and after a while, when he asked, he received the seal in Christ. But according to his former habit, while yet thinking the things of the heathen, he had been thoroughly trained in vain astronomy, so that also after he became a Christian he never departed from this fault of his, but every day he made calculations on the horoscope of his birth. [15]
The interesting comment here is that Aquila was both a Christian, and trained in astronomy. The disdain from Epiphanius reflects two things, first the opinion that Aquila is a heretic, and more generally that the Church by the 4th century has turned strongly literary focused and charismatic elements like astronomy are not so well accepted by the Church leadership. Be that as it may, there are three coincidental elements that struck me. The first is the association to Marcion, by the following story of another supposed Pontus native and declared Marcionite (by Epiphanius) Symmachus; second that he is a passionate Christian and trained in astronomy, who come s from the right place to have seen and interpreted the eclipse of 118 CE; third the time line for his going up to Jerusalem, is consistent with being 14 years after the eclipse event, given in the story he heals Hadrian in his 12th year, roughly 129 CE, so the arrival in Jerusalem would be a few years after that. It's all strangely coincidental, but it does make one wonder what traditions fed into this account, even if it's simply a parody of Marcion by Epiphanius or one he picked up.

This section on Aquila only survives here because it is a blog. It would be relegated to an appendix in a book, simply for the readers to aware of the myths circulating in Christian circles. I put no weight on it.


Coming back down to the more concrete evidence, we need to consider the claim of Marcion's Paul to an exclusive revelation. We see that the Marcionite Gospel for Luke 11:29 (see also Mark 8:12 for evidence of the early reading), as Epipnahius reports,  Panarion book 42, read simply
"This generation, no sign will be give it"   
Ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη, σημεῖον οὐ δοθήσεται αὐτῇ
As with all prophecy statements in the bible we are looking backwards in time - the typical technique. The evidence I have presented makes the case for the Marcionite Gospel and Apostolikon being after the Bar Kochba revolt. The Apocalypse event which showed signs from Heaven to Marcion in Sinope on the Pontus Euxine was most probably the eclipse of 118 CE. Transposing the timeline onto this prophecy we see that there were no further heavenly signs in the Roman Empire until the annular eclipse 164 CE during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and Vesuvius did not erupt again until 172 CE. So this statement from the viewpoint of the skies was certainly true during the reign of Antoninus Pius. And the statement in Luke is made to underscore the foundation of the revelation Paul.

Note, by comparison if we accept the traditional timeline, or the literal dating of Jesus' speech, this would prove quite false, as the eclipse of 59 CE is only 30 years away. And more immediately the total eclipse of November 24, 29 CE which came as certainly in the traditional lifetime given for Jesus. Or looking forward the annular eclipse of May 20, 49 CE which passed close by Jerusalem, certainly during that generation.

In summing up, I have reviewed the Marcionite references to Apocalypse events and the association in the New Testament to actual events. As with Paul and the Law of Nations, there are concrete events which can be closely associated with the content of the Marcionite Apostolikon. There is no need to appeal to strange phantom Jesus communities that scholars have invented and unrecorded events to explain the content and focus of the letters or the Gospels.

The eclipse over the Euxine Pontus in 118 CE represents the singular best explanation for the Apocalypse that Marcion's Paul claims for his authority. It was an event that would have been largely unknown to Jews or the fledgling Christ movement outside of Sinope. The symbolism in the skies fit nicely with Marcion's ideas for Christianity. The description given in Luke 21:25 fits what would likely have been seen during the eclipse as people looked southward across the bay with the Sun hidden, darkness about and the sounds of the waves and ocean seeming louder to the hushed town. We have here the birth event of Marcionite Christianity.

[1] Luke's description of an Apocalypse as a blinding light and voice (always voice) in Acts 9:3-11, 10:9-17, 16:9-10, 18:9, 22:6-20, 26:12-18, Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-10, Luke 9:28-36, which are said to be visions where the Lord appears color our view as well, making it hard to consider something else.
[2] Jude 13 does refer to the Planets in a blast of heretics that seems derived from Tertullian's description of Marcion's supposed home of Sinope, Pontus. This is built on the pastoral verse Ephesians 4:14. Curious that Planets are associated with Gnostic heresy.
[3] To avoid any conclusion being tainted from later interpolations, I follow the Marcionite text attested by Tertullian in AM 5.15.4, Ait eos qui remaneant in adventum Christi cum eis qui mortui in Christo primi resurgent, quod in nubibus auferentur in aerem obviam domino
[4] Yet it appears the Catholic editor writing three or four decades later, shares this same view of the sky being heaven, as he added the Angles coming down and blowing the trumpet referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:52, by specifying that Christ with an archangel with the trumpet of God will descend from heaven, equating it with the sky,  ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος ἐν κελεύσματι, ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ, καταβήσεται ἀπ' οὐρανοῦ,
[5] Here is the English of the passage of Cicero's de Re Publica VI, and the Latin from the Latin library. It is worth noting that henotheism is clearly present in Cicero's description.
[6] It is worth noting that at Qumran several recovered texts refer to astronomy and zodiac interpretation, indicating that Jews did indeed use astrology for religious prophecy. Francis Schmidt published an interesting paper Ancient Jewish Astrology: An Attempt to Interpret 4QCryptic (4Q186) on the subject.
[7] It is interesting that the heavenly bodies include the waters from the heavens, separate from and higher held than the mere rains. I have no real understanding of this feature, beyond that it probably refers to the astrological river Eridanus, which represents the River Po, and it is in the sky during the 71 CE eclipse.
[8] I have rather mixed opinion of the Ignatian Epistles in shorter form. Although not attested until the 4th century, and probably a mid-3rd century document, the writer only seems to quote a few Marcionite Pauline passages. But there are references to Hebrews (3rd Century) and Luke's equation in Romans 1:1-6 (c. 170-175 CE) as well as emphasis on the Bishop to disqualify even a mid-2nd century authorship. I do find the Modalist aspect (θεοῦ ἀνθρωπίνως φανερουμένου) of the passage interesting.
[9] See my analysis of 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 reference to Valentinius, and the Catholic editor, which show that at least 30 years have passed since the Marcionite collection was published in early reign of Antoninus, and sometime after the Antonine Plague (c. 162-180 CE) had been raging.
[10] Revelation 12:3 is part of the 71 CE eclipse interpretation, where the beast is Hydra in the sky thrown down on the night following the eclipse. But 15:1 appears to by a later author although it may refer to the eclipse of September 4th 164 CE which was at full strength in Athens and passed close to Rome and over Syria-Palestine; but since there is no description of the star alignment or signs, there is no way to know
[11] Epiphanius indicates that verse 21:18, and 21:21-22 were missing (I'm not sure that is reading Epiphanius correctly I think he means only everything after "those in Judea flee to the mountains" is deleted), and Zahn doesn't believe verses 21:23-24 were present, which I agree but wont go into here. Terullian  AM 4.39.8 combined with Epiphanius' report it is clear that Luke 21:17-19 was a rewrite by the Catholic editor and that Mark 13:13 (Matthew 10:22) stood in its place. My reading of Tertullian is that 21:12-13 was considerably shorter and merely mentioned neighbor's handing one over, not the family members. Beyond that the Luke text is good. A few small differences are also detectable in 21:11 such as τε μεγάλοι (A, L – τε) "both great" and the second  τε (700) "both"; the text lacking these is supported by AM 4.39.3 and the result has Marcion's text conforming more closely to Matthew 24:7 and Mark 13:8

[12] There is no attestation for Luke 17:37 in Marcion, where it's placement is certainly awkward. The Aquila (Eagle) was the symbol carried into battle by Roman Legions. In the Bar Kochba revolt at least six legions participated  (Legio X Fretensis, Legio VI Ferrata, Legio III Gallica, Legio III Cyrenaica, Legio XXII Deiotariana, Legio X Gemina) and one,  XXII Deiotariana, was apparently destroyed as it was no longer recorded on the rolls by the Parthian War in 161 CE,Some historians say as many as twelve legions were drawn into crush the revolt. Either way by when all the legions converged on Bethar it would have been quite a site with all the standards in the air, it would have looked like a large flock of birds.  
The Parthian War of 161 CE was another major conflict, as Cassius Dio states a legion was destroyed in Armenia, possibly the famous Legio IX Hispana that mysteriously disappeared around this time, although it is just as likely lost in Caledonia (Scotland), inspiring Hadrian to build his famous wall.
[13] Apelles and his revelations from Philumena have been suggested as the possible angle of light that Marcion's Paul attacks. But I reject this and instead believe it could just as easily refer to a Jewish Christian interpretation of the eclipse of 71 CE recorded in Revelation 12 which parallel closely the birth stories and even the time in the wilderness portrayed in the Gospels. But this is just my guess.
[14] That is ignoring the fact that Aquila would have been at least 115 years old if we assume he was a young married man of say 20 when the Apollos story takes place in Acts around 45-50 CE. He seems to have aged as well as James Bond, who has been in his forties continuously for fifty some years now. :-)
[15] Chapter 15 I have not been able to find in the Greek, so I am thus restricted to English translation courtesy of If there is an on-line Greek text I'd appreciate anyone letting me know where. 

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