Christoph Markschies on the need to differentiate between various institutional contexts and levels of instruction in relation to “majority Church” and “gnostic” teachers

In addition to my normal “German Mondays” blog post, I have decided to include a bonus post pertaining to the commendably cordial dispute between Larry Hurtado and April DeConick about whether or not it is appropriate to refer to ancient “gnostic” Christians as “intellectuals” (see Hurtado1, DeConick1, Hurtado2; cf. M.Bird, J. Calaway; J. McGrath; Philip L. Tite). My post will be based around a “key quotation” from my current BMSEC translation project (forthcoming 2015), namely Christoph Markschies’ 2007 book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen. As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (wmc): “It appears to me, as I have already frequently intimated, that such a differentiation of the various institutions and educational levels of the higher instruction is also of great significance for the history of Christian theology in the second and third centuries. This is the case because for these two centuries we know of both Christian teachers who taught more at the level of a salon philosopher or a popular philosopher with only moderate knowledge of the contemporary professional philosophy and very learned theologians whose philosophical  level of education certainly invites comparison with professional philosophers. As an example of a philosophical instruction that probably corresponds more to that of the salon or popular philosophers, I wish to name at this point the Roman apologist Justin, and as an example of an educational level that corresponds more to that of a professional philosopher, Origen. Finally, one could, in addition, envisage Valentinian Gnosis/Gnosticism as a movement that oscillates in a quite peculiar way between these two levels: some of its representatives, such as, for example, the Roman teacher Ptolemaeus, oriented themselves at a professional philosophical level, whereas many followers are only located at the level of a salon philosopher or even lower.”

Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen (p. 88): Mir scheint, wie bereits mehrfach angedeutet, daß eine solche Differenzierung der verschiedenen Institutionen und Bildungsniveaus des höheren Unterrichts auch für die Geschichte der christlichen Theologie des zweiten und dritten Jahrhunderts von großer Bedeutung ist. Denn wir kennen für diese beiden Jahrhunderte sowohl  christliche Lehrer, die eher auf dem Niveau eines Salon- oder Popularphilosophen mit lediglich mäßigen Kenntnissen der zeitgenössischen Fachphilosophie unterrichten, als auch hochgelehrte Theologen, derer philosophisches Bildungsniveau durchaus den Vergleich mit Fachphilosophen nahelegt. Als beispiel eines philosophischen Unterrichts, der wahrscheinlich eher dem der Salon- oder Popularphilosophen entspricht, möchte ich an dieser Stelle den römischen Apologeten Justin nennen, als Beispiel für ein Bildungsniveau, das eher dem eines Fachphilosophen entspricht, Origenes. Schließlich könnte man noch die valentianische Gnosis als eine Bewegung vorstellen, die in ganz merkwürdiger Weise zwischen diesen beiden Niveaus oszilliert: Einzelne ihrer Vertreter wie beispielweise der römische Lehrer Ptolemaeus orientieren sich am fachphilosophischen Niveau, viele Anhänger befinden sich dagegen lediglich auf dem Niveau von Salonphilosophen oder sogar noch darunter.

(Selective) grammatical commentary: the translation of “Gnosis” is difficult since the use of this term is one way that German authors leave room for debate around whether it is proper to speak of “Gnosticism”. Accordingly, I have written Gnosis/Gnosticism here to flag up this issue. I have translated “Denn wir kennen” as “This is because” rather than “For” so that it would be a proper sentence in English. I’m not sure if the force of “merkwürdiger” is best captured by “peculiar”, “strange”, or “noteworthy”.

Substantive commentary: This post obviously does not intend to address the many important questions that have been raised in the discussion between Larry Hurtado and April DeConick, for example the question of whether the term “intellectuals” simply conveys a certain level of education or whether it is also bound up with certain forms of argumentation or with the public nature of such argumentation. Instead, this post merely seeks to highlight one of Christoph Markschies’ emphases that I think needs to be kept in mind when thinking through the question of whether or not is appropriate to speak of “majority church” or “gnostic” intellectuals, namely the fact that we must attempt to differentiate between various institutional contexts and educational levels in relation to both “majority church” teachers and “gnostic” teachers.

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