Friday, February 17, 2017

Philemon: My Reading

{\mathfrak {P}} 87: Papyrus 87, recto, Philemon 24-25, c 250 CE
In my reconstruction of the Marcionite version of Philemon I discovered that Tertullian's comment on [1] is not quite the case, at least with respect to the received text. More accurate is his comments about Laodiceans/Ephesians noting, "The heretics hands cut so swiftly, I do not wonder when syllables are lacking, as often whole pages are felled." That is to say, the Marcionite text differs not only in entire paragraphs of material, but a few words here and there, and even a syllable or single character. So it is in Philemon.
the epistle, "To this epistle alone did its brevity avail itself against the falsifying hands of Marcion," [2] And so I have found in this letter, like all the others, a layer of material, albeit smaller in this brief one, with a distinct Catholic flavor. To be fair the Catholic text as Tertullian knew it may not have included some of the material we have today. Only small scraps survived from before the Decian [3] persecution, so we can only guess the content of the text before the mid 3rd century.

Philemon is no different than any other Pauline text. Even in it's brief form it possesses openings, closings, and formulas from additional hands. The Marcionite construction could not assume the content. But a lack of Patristic commentary meant that my efforts had to rely upon the vocabulary,
usage and theology of every word, if I was to hope to recover the text. Verses 2, and 21-24 all appear to be secondary. Along with naming Timothy in verse 1, and verses 2, 23-24 are superfluous name dropping, and while there is purpose behind each they are secondary. There is a good chance these additions were not yet universal in Philemon, nor in the copy Tertullian had. The words "I, Paul write in my own hands" in verse 19, and verse 21 which again focuses on this writing from a 3rd person view, are present to answer question which arose about the authenticity of the letter. I also found objection to verse 22, as it attempts like verse 2 to inject a false normalcy into the letter, and is anyway at odds with the Latin prologues that say Paul was in prison in Rome, a Roma de carcere, so must post date it. Finally I found objection to the phrase "to me especially" (μάλιστα ἐμοί) in verse 16 on the grounds of an unusual personalizing and vocabulary not typically found in Marcion. I had a similar object to "such an elderly one as (I) Paul" (τοιοῦτος ὢν ὡς Παῦλος πρεσβύτης) on similar grounds of digression and personalizing - Paul speaking of himself in the 3rd person as verse 21. I let stand in verse 9 and 10 the word "I appeal" (παρακαλῶ) which elsewhere in Paul only appears in the Catholic verses, as I could find no objection. My choices are explained in my notes on the Differences between the Catholic and Marcionite Philemon. The primary differences are personalizing Paul and his relationships, and have nothing to do with the flow or purpose of the letter.

What is Philemon About?

I think everyone of us who has read Philemon has come away scratching their heads trying to figure out what the letter is actually talking about. A traditional Catholic reading seems to be a story about Paul a slave of some form, and his request it seems for accepting him as a free man. Tradition fills in many things like runaway from Onesimus, which are nowhere in the letter, rather conclusions drawn to fit our more modern sensibilities, and perhaps make sense of it. But removing these assumptions we are left wanting. So instead I will attempt a reading from the 2nd century heretical point of view, focusing on the meanings of the names and other words and any Greek puns I can identify.

The first thing we need to do is parse the names. One of the more obvious observations of the New Testament is the purposeful naming of characters to illiterate their roles. We start with Philemon (Φιλήμων), a name that is derivative from φίλημα, "to kiss", and means "one who shows/has affection" or "affectionate". It is the same root word we find used for Mary's kissing Jesus feet, for Judas kissing Jesus, and mentioned some of the Pauline epistles as a way of greeting, the holy kiss. But a kiss was a metaphor for the passing of gnosis (see 2nd Apocalypse of James where this is a central theme), and it may be in this sense that letter is addressed then to someone expecting an affectionate (with knowledge) reply, rather than to any real person. So it opens
Paul, a prisoner (δέσμιος) of Christ Jesus, to Philemon.
Grace to you and peace from God our father and Lord Jesus Christ.
The only thing to note is Paul declares himself a prisoner (δέσμιος) instead of an apostle (ἀπόστολος).  The prisoner motif is not to be found in a Roma de carcere legend, rather in the Marcionite theology presented in Philippians 1:21-25, where Paul discusses how he wishes to depart life in the flesh to be with Christ, but must remain in the flesh (ἐπιμένειν τῇ σαρκὶ) on account of us, the congregation, for our faith. The prison is the body containing the spirit, for as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (σαρχ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται). For the real battle is not in the physical world, but the spiritual, as stated in Ephesian 6:12. This then is not a jail, but a metaphor for the body constraining the spirit.

Paul continues,
I give thanks to my God always making mention of you at my prayers. Hearing of your love and faith, which you have for the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, so that the sharing of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of all the good in us [4] for Christ. For I had much joy and encouragement with respect to your love, because the innards of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.
Much of this is boilerplate, and shows a strong relationship to Colossians - possibly composed by the same hand. What should be noted is Paul giving thanks to his God (τῷ θεῷ μου), clearly implying there may be some other God, a rival of his Christian God, telling us we are right to read this from a Marcionite perspective. Within this buttering up a couple concepts to be aware of. First the emphasis on faith, and the fellowship (κοινωνία) of Philemon with Paul gives them access to knowledge within of the good (ἀγαθοῦ), that is Christ. This takes effect as a spiritual type of creation (ἐνεργὴς γένηται). This is what he speaks of as their innards (σπλάγχνα) are being of the saints. The innards are where the seat of the tenderer affections resided, synonymous with the spirit (we say soul). It is a spiritual renewal (ἀναπέπαυται). So Paul calls him brother and implies Philemon is as a saint/holy now.
Therefore much in Christ boldness having to order you (to do) what is required, rather, because of love I appeal, but now as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I appeal to you concerning my child, whom I gave birth while in my fetters, Onesimus, the one once was useless to you, but now useful to you and to me. Whom I sent back to you, him, that is my innards. Whom I desired to keep with myself, that on your behalf he might attend to me in the chains for the Gospel.
Now we get to the heart of the letter. Paul displays his authority "in Christ" (ἐν Χριστῷ), as undisputed leader, that he can simply order done what he wants. Marcion's Paul citing his authority as coming from Christ is not surprising. After all in Galatians 1:1 he declares his authority, his apostleship, comes through Jesus Christ, not any human source. His apostleship is to preach the Gospel, which according to Galatians 1:11-12 he received through a revelation of Jesus Christ.  But he sets aside this authority to appeal by love to Philemon, the affectionate one, implied that this affection is in Christ. Paul returns to the prisoner (δέσμιος) motif, his spirit incarcerated in his flesh, reminding one of a parallel in the description of Christ form in Philippians 2:7-8 humbled in the form of a slave, the likeness of a man (δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπου), the body thus a shell. So again he appeals for one he calls his child (ἐμοῦ τέκνου), whom he gave birth to (ἐγέννησα) while in his restraints (δεσμοῖς). This is symbolic language, the father and son relationship paralleled in God and Christ, but here Paul and Onesimus. This is a spiritual birth, from death to life, paralleled in John 3:3-6 (John 3:5 γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος).

Onesimus (Ὀνήσιμον) is another of these pseudo names meaning "useful one." Paul says he is speaking on behalf of the "useful one" who before was useless (ἄχρηστον), but now useful (εὔχρηστον). [5] The author is clearly playing on Onesimus' name, something lost in the English translation. Paul says he is sending his own innards (σπλάγχνα), his affectionate spirit by way of  Onesimus, that he is him sending back (ἀνέπεμψά), understood as "sending up higher," to Philemon the affectionate one. By way of kindred spirit he is sending his own inner affection to the affectionate one. This one Paul desired (ἐβουλόμην), that is affectionately, to keep him for himself, so that he could on Philemon's behalf Onesimus could minister to (διακονῇ) Paul in his fetters for the Gospel (ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς τοῦ εὐαγγελίου). Paul is invoking his mission to preach the Gospel from Galatians we discussed above, but it is through Onesimus, the useful one who is ministering to, or rather perhaps for Paul for the sake of Philemon. What Paul is saying is that his own spirit, that is the Gospel he preaches, is now passed and preached by a useful one. Those like Philemon, who have affection for the fellowship of Paul, should now extend it to the one now ministering for Paul.
But without your knowledge, I wanted to do nothing, so that your goodness would not be by compulsion, but voluntary. For perhaps because of this he was separated for an hour that you might have him forever, no longer as a slave but above a slave, a beloved brother, yet how much more to you both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Again we come to the reason for Paul setting aside his authority, he wants the acceptance of new minister nit according to Philemon's compulsion (κατὰ ἀνάγκην) to be according to his willingness (κατὰ ἑκούσιον). That is to accept Onesimus, a useful one sharing Paul's spirit, by choice, not command. He is now returned (ἀπέχῃς) after being wit Paul for "an hour" (ὥραν) to be with Philemon for eternity (αἰώνιον) ever more. The next part is where later readers understood Onesimus as a slave, whom Paul is freeing. But this is not actually the case. Onesimus is said by Paul to no longer be a slave (οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον)[6] in exactly the same wording and sense as Jesus says in John 15:15 "I no longer call you slaves" (οὐκέτι λέγω ὑμᾶς δούλους). Like Paul who has been teaching Onesimus, who shared his spirit and gave birth to him spiritually, Jesus goes on to explain that a slave does not know what his lord does, but Jesus calls us friends "because all the things I have heard from the father I have made known (ἐγνώρισα) to you." Likewise Paul gave birth (ἐγέννησα) to Onesimus, and so passed on what was revealed to him, paralleling John's Jesus. This is a conversion, in the same sense 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 (see also 1 Corinthians15:44ff) speaks of natural man (ψυχικὸς), i.e.,  a "Jewish Christian", to a spiritual (πνευματικός) or Marcionite type Christian. Hence he is now above a slave (ὑπὲρ δοῦλον), or as John 15:15 says, a friend (φίλος). Or as Paul says a beloved brother (ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπητόν), whom Paul says is much greater in both the flesh and to the Lord (ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ ἐν κυρίῳ). Paul juxtaposing flesh and the spirit/Lord (see I Corinthians 15:47). The letter closes,
If then you hold me (as) a partner, receive him as (you would) me. But if (in) anything he wronged or owes you, this put on my account. I will repay. Lest I say, you also owe me yourself. Yes brother, may I profit from you in the Lord, refreshing my innards in Christ.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your* spirit.
Paul concludes by saying if you hold me in fellowship (κοινωνόν), receive this useful one as me. Speaking of his past, before he was spiritually born, Paul states if he did you injustice (ἠδίκησέν) or owes you (ὀφείλει) - I believe meant here to be read in both the sense of owing good will, rather than simply the monetary sense - from his days prior, lay it on Paul's account (ἐλλόγα). The word for account is from the root word (λόγος) or in the new testament sense Paul's Christian doctrine. He is saying on account of the λόγος I taught I will will recompense. Paul is using monetary analogies here. And he continues, saying to Philemon that he also owes him a debt (προσοφείλεις). This debt both ways is in respect the love commandment (i.e., John 15:17). Finally the last pun, Paul wants profit (ὀναίμην) from Onesimus (Ὀνήσιμον). He speaks spiritually, telling us the monetary motif is but analogy, for his profit is a refreshing of his inner self (σπλάγχνα), his spiritual man renewed in the partaking with Christ. This is vouchsafed, by his signing out per usual, with the minor addition, that Christ's grace be with your spirit (τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν). The plural form of you is both a slip to match Pauline boilerplate form, as σου not ὑμῶν would have been used for a true personal letter, and an indication that this is an encyclical letter, where a message is for us the congregation.

The purpose of the letter is to lay out the terms for acceptance of new minister, who takes up and now bears the fetters of the flesh to teach the Gospel, as Paul did before. The appointment is one who is a spiritually akin to Paul from within (σπλάγχνα), passed from person to person (think gnostic terms), and by free will as in friendship, not servitude, as opposed to one who demands obedience (ὑπακούω, see Romans 1:5, 15:18, 16:19, 26; 2 Corinthians 7:15, 10:5-6, Act 6:7, 2 Thessalonians 3:14) to his appointment outlined in the Catholic Pastoral epistles. Onesimus is not a slave to Christ, like Catholic priests, but a friend of his.

[1] AM 5.21.1 Soli huic epistulae brevitas sua profuit ut falsarias manus Marcionis evaderet
[2] AM 5.18.1 De manibus haeretici praecidentis non miror si syllabas subtrahit, cum paginas totas plerumque subducit.
[3] We have Roman documentation verifying only two of the persecutions, the Decian and the Diocletian some fifty years later. What is striking is the items confiscated included manuscripts, which having no value outside the Christian churches were burned.Only those which were hidden or by luck avoided confiscation survived. This explains much, in my opinion, about rise of text types, and gives uncertainty to the content prior, as post persecution reconstructions of texts led to wide standardization.
[4] it should be clear Paul is addressing only one person here, as the "you" (σου) is singular in this passage. So it cannot be the "good in you" plural (ὑμῖν), it must be the unusual case of Paul including himself to be the "good in us" (ἡμῖν). Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed, 589,  and the UBS decided this difficult reading correctly.
[5] In verse 11, Paul employed a play on words based on the meaning of Onesimus: “useful” or “profitable one.”xix Since Onesimus can mean “useful,” Paul described Onesimus’s new status as ευχρηστον (“useful”) and his old status as αχρηστον (“useless”). In the Greek MS tradition, however, not a few MSS read αχριστον and ευχριστον. Iota and eta produced such similar sounds in Koine and modern Greek that this change in vowels was more than likely a simple vowel change. 

Could scribes have taken Paul’s play on words one step further, though? In describing Onesimus’s new and former statuses, scribes could have switched from eta to iota in order to demonstrate in a clever way that Onesimus was once “without Christ” and is now “good with Christ.”
- James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 329
[6] The slave motif, as in Romans 1:1, Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, was part of the Jewish Christian formula. John 15:14-15 specifically rejects this emphasis on subservience. While John is not Marcionite, this is a demarcation line in the texts between Heretical and proto-Orthodox thought.

1 comment:

  1. I'm new to your site so I haven't had the opportunity to read your work but was wondering if you've discussed how the Didache fits into the picture? You've done a lot of thorough research and I look forward to reading your articles.