Marcionism in Edessa

When did Marcionism arrive in Edessa, the home city of the Syriac language? What data do we have, concerning Marcionism in these parts?

The Chronicle of Edessa begins thus:

1. In the year 180 kings began to rule in Edessa.
2. In the year 266 Augustus Caesar was made emperor.
3. In the year 309 our Lord was born.
4. In the year 400 Abgar the king built a mausoleum for himself.
5. In the year 449 Marcion forsook the Catholic Church.
6. The year 465, in the month Tammuz, on the eleventh day (i.e., July 11th, 154 A.D.), Bardesanes was born.
7. Lucius Caesar, with his brother, subjugated the Parthians to the Romans in the fifth year of his reign.
8. In the year 513, in the reign of Severus, and in the reign of Abgar the king, son of Maano the king, in the month Tishrin the latter (i. e., November), the fountain of water which proceeds from the great palace of Abgar the great king increased, and it prevailed, and it went up according to its former manner, and overflowed and ran out on all sides, …

9. And in the year 517, Abgar built a palace in his own citadel (? town).
10. The year 551 Manes was born.
11. The year 614, were broken down the walls of Edessa the second time in the days of Diocletian the king.

Some argue from this that the mention of Marcion indicates a special interest in him in Edessa.[1]  Perhaps so; but no more than Bardesanes and Manes.

Eusebius, HE, book 4, chapter 30, tells us:

1. In the same reign, as heresies were abounding in the region between the rivers, a certain Bardesanes, a most able man and a most skillful disputant in the Syriac tongue, having composed dialogues against Marcion’s followers and against certain others who were authors of various opinions, committed them to writing in his own language, together with many other works. His pupils, of whom he had very many (for he was a powerful defender of the faith), translated these productions from the Syriac into Greek. …

3 He indeed was at first a follower of Valentinus, but afterward, having rejected his teaching and having refuted most of his fictions, he fancied that he had come over to the more correct opinion. Nevertheless he did not entirely wash off the filth of the old heresy.

Did Greek versions of Bardaisan’s Dialogues against Marcion come into the library at Caesarea, one wonders?  Eusebius seems to have had connections with Edessa, as his mention of the story of the letter of Jesus to Abgar shows.

At all events, this places Marcionism in the region of Edessa in the time of Bardaisan, in perhaps the late second or early third century.

A very interesting statement is that the Christians in Edessa were supposedly called Palutians, after an early bishop Palut (192-209).[2]  This information is said to come from Hymns against heresies, 22.5, and is said to tell us that it was the Marcionites who were generalled called “Christians” there.[3] Indeed I am told that Ephraim’s Hymni contra haereses refer extensively to Marcionism, as well as Mani, Bardaisan, paganism and astrology.  I’m not sure how we might access these, however. 

The statement certainly needs to be verified.  I find that J. B. Segal gives a partial quotation:[4]

Their hands have let go of everything.  There are no handles to grasp.  They even called us Palutians, but we have spewed them out and cast away [the name].  May there be a curse on those who are called by the name of Palut, and not by the name of Christ . . . Palut too did not want men to be called by his name.  If he were alive, he would curse with all curses, for he was the disciple of the apostle [Paul] who suffered pain and bitterness over the Corinthians when they abandoned the name of the Messiah and  were called by the names of men.

Segal adds that Jacob of Edessa, in his 12th letter to John the Stylite, cites this passage and  states that the Palutians were not heretics, and that Palut was an orthodox and righteous man.  Again, I’m not sure how to check this.

What other sources do we have for Marcionism at Edessa?  Clearly there are Ephraim’s Prose Refutations.  There is also Yeznik of Kolb’s On God.  And … any others?

UPDATE: The old BKV translation of Ephrem into German includes the Hymns against Heresies here.  And … I am not finding in this a statement that the Christians were commonly called Palutians, and the Marcionites Christians, but rather than the heretics called the Christians “Palutians”.  This is, no doubt, similar to the way in which religious types a century ago, who wanted the name of Christian but not the teaching called themselves “liberal Christians” and the real Christians “evangelicals”; and, when they discovered that ‘Christian’ had lost its savour, then demanded to be called “liberal evangelicals”, and the real believers “conservative evangelicals”.  But if so, this would tend to suggest that the heretics in question, described by Ephrem, did indeed want to be called “Christians”.  I wish that I knew someone who would translate this hymn for us!

  1. [1]Steven K. Ross, Roman Edessa, 2001, p.121.
  2. [2]Ute Possekel, Evidence of Greek philosophical concepts in the writings of Ephrem the Syrian, p.22.  Note 78 gives W. Bauer, Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im altesten Christentum, Beitrage zur historischen Theologie 10, 2nd ed., ed. G. Strecker, Tubingen, 1964, p.6-48, esp. 29, 33f.
  3. [3]Ephrem, Selected Prose works, p.35.
  4. [4]J. B. Segal, Edessa: the blessed city, p.81

5 thoughts on “Marcionism in Edessa

  1. Palut is not a name any more than “Ebion” or “Elxai.” Palut is the Aramaic term for refugee. The dating for Marcion is borrowed from Roman sources

  2. From an email correspondence with I R M Boid Semitic language authority at the University of Melbourne

    The form palut (with tet not tav) is not attested, but it is regular in formation, and would mean the same as palet (only used in the plural peletim) and palit (only used in the singular), which means “refugee”. These two forms are often paired with nimlat “escapee”. Is the reference to Christians that first fled to Pella and then moved further on?

  3. Thank you very much for that link to Sidney Griffith’s article, The marks of the “true church” according to Ephraem’s ‘Hymns against heresies’, in G. J. Reinink (ed.), After Bardaisan, Orientalia Louvaniensia Analecta, Peeters, 1999, p.125-140. That is a really very interesting article. I wish one could access more of it!

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