This article describes rhetorical innovations in late antique Christian polemic around the construction of orthodoxy/heresy and Christianity more broadly. Late antique Christian polemicists label groups as heretical by using their founders' names as eponymous proxies for an entire group and set of ideas: Marcionism/ites, Valentinianism/ites, and so forth. This type of group construction, which I term the polemic of individualized appellation due to the pejorative labeling of a group after an individual founder, is an intentional and often artificial type of elite, literary polemic put to service in the wider creative mythmaking and boundary/identity construction by heresiologists such as Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, and Epiphanius. In identifying both precursor ingredients in various ancient Mediterranean comparanda and novel developments in the Christian heresiologists' discourse, I also engage with recent scholarship on heresy, orthodoxy, and identity constructions in Late Antiquity. I explain why the polemic of individualized appellation was especially effective in constructing difference, its role in this particular late antique context, and its function in effacing apparent similarities in widespread practices and beliefs. I conclude with a methodological discussion, arguing that scholars in religion and history should reject their sources' categories of group identity construction due to their inherent bias.
This paper describes innovative rhetorical features in late antique Christian polemics around the construction of orthodoxy/heresy and Christianity more broadly. Specifically, late antique Christian polemicists label groups as heretical by using their founders' individual names as eponymous proxies for an entire group and set of ideas: Marcionites/ism, Valentianians/ism, and so forth. I term this rhetorical strategy the polemic of individualized appellation, due to the pejorative labeling of a group after an individual founder.
I also argue that this type of group construction is an intentional type of elite, literary polemic put to service in the wider creative mythmaking and boundary/identity construction by late antique Christian writers such as Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, and Epiphanius. This type of polemic and group construction operated hand in hand, with the late antique polemicists' pairing enhanced focus on constructing heresy/orthodoxy with the rhetorical strategy of individualized appellation. I demonstrate that this specific polemic of individualized appellation had important precursor ingredients in other data (Greco-Roman philosophy, Jewish groups, Roman politics, and the New Testament), but that it changed and sharpened in the Christian polemics of the second through fifth centuries C.E.
In identifying this novel type of polemic and its ties to other elements of heresiology, I engage with recent scholarship on groups based around individual founders, such as so-called Marcionism and Valentinianism.1 I also link these figures to wider issues of heresy, orthodoxy, and identity constructions in Late Antiquity.2 In doing so, I suggest explanations for the intensification and sharpening of this rhetorical technique by Christian heresiologists, as well as others.
I conclude with a methodological discussion cautioning scholars not to reproduce this type of rhetorical polemic in their own categories and work. Review of this set of data shows the extent to which elite, literary constructions of group differences emphasize abstract doctrines while downplaying or effacing commonalities in basic practices and beliefs across purported groups. By accepting and re-deploying the linguistic framing of extant, elite authors, we enable their attempts to shape culture through artificial “othering” to continue. Any field treating religious and historical contestation, therefore, can benefit from critical attention to the ways in which the biases of our sources persist in the language of modern scholarly categories. Such categories, I argue, should ultimately be rejected in favor of narrower, more carefully-derived historical descriptors.
THE POLEMIC OF INDIVIDUALIZED APPELLATION IN CHRISTIAN HERESIOLOGY
Theorizing Individualized Appellation
Before proceeding onto the primary source evidence, it is essential to frame individualized appellation, theorizing its role and detailing its function for the subsequent discussion. In all of the heresiologists discussed below, we will see the use of the polemic of individualized appellation against Marcion and his followers, whereby the single name (“Marcion”) is attached to a group of people (“Marcionites,” “those of Marcion,” “the sect of Marcion”) in the interest of directly disparaging and undermining them. We will also see this polemic generally paired with an admission of similarities in certain beliefs and core practices, even as differences are framed around finer points of abstract doctrine.3 We should treat these polemical sources' historical veracity with skepticism. We must also note instances where what I generally describe here as abstract matters of doctrine sometimes do have concrete manifestations in basic practices such as burial.4
However, the widespread admission of many similarities in basic beliefs and practices suggests, I think, the particular function of the polemic of individualized appellation in differentiating fairly similar groups at the hands of these heresiologists.
These admissions of similarities suggest that there was collaboration, overlap, and a large amount of people engaging in basic religious practices (baptism, Eucharist, prayer, singing, feasting together, ethical teachings, et al.) across various groups, churches, belief-systems, and social movements (Christianities, Judaism, Mithraism, Gnosticism, etc.). The division between so-called Marcionite and catholic groups, in other words, was likely in many places an artificial construction by (and for?) elite, literate cultural producers. This polemic was a tool to differentiate, dispute, and undermine other groups in the highly competitive, hyper-literate, and perhaps confusing social context populated by the Christian heresiologists and other such thinkers.
Individualized appellation is inherently well suited to this type of polemic. These individualized eponyms depict certain religions / social formations as products of a single person/mind. This depiction in turn bears out several important implications for not only the polemicists, but our own study of such religions/groups which generally remain unspoken: they arise sui generis from the time of their founder and thus have no spiritual precedent/tradition such as that found in the Hebrew Bible;5 they are the work of a single person and thus do not possess the mutually, historically confirming characteristics of multiple gospels; they are the work of a single person and thus rely for authority on a single individual's experience, education, and/or revelation. In short, these are problematized in our very language as singular, particular, historical, aberrational, operating outside a definite tradition, and are thus more likely to be labeled “false.” This is doubly the case when contrasted to a system described as “catholic,” which lacks such shortcomings. In the following, mostly chronological review of primary sources, particular attention will be given to how the language inherent in a given category, i.e. Marcion leading to Marcionism, inherently and even insidiously manifests the heresiologists' polemic.
It will be useful to begin our review with a brief look at how Roman governmental officials categorized various Christian groups and/or individuals, in order to contextualize our primary source analysis of the Christian heresiologists to follow. Roman bureaucrats were largely outside the particular field of cultural competition among second, third, and fourth century Christian writers.6 Such bureaucrats don't refer to “Marcionite Christianity,” “Marcionism,” or “orthodox Christianity” as bounded, mutually exclusive social entities as we find in the heresiological literature. Instead, our Roman sources tend to use formulations such as “those who call themselves Christians” or just “Christians;” no individualized appellations (Marcionites, Valentinians) denoting any notable divisions in beliefs and/or practices appear in the extant data.
An attention to Roman action demonstrates the close similarities between various Christianities through both beneficial and harmful outcomes. On the beneficial side, Roman imperial decrees and policies benefitting “Christians” or “Christianity” included seemingly every type of Christianity without additional appellation, comment, or qualification: “Up to the time of Constantine the authorities, as is known, made no distinction among the Christians, and hence the Edict of Milan and that of Nicomedia were beneficial to the heresies as well.”7
On the harmful side, Roman persecution apparently resulted in many martyrs across various Christian groups. Even our later, anti-Marcion polemicists don't shirk from noting the deaths of many such followers of Marcion: Eusebius notes broadly that “a multitude of martyrs” arose from Marcionite followers (using the individualized appellation “Marcionites”),8 that in the Smyrnaean persecution of 156 that caught up Polycarp himself a Marcionite presbyter named Metrodorus was burnt alive (using the individualized appellation “Marcionite”),9 that the Valerian persecution of 257 martyred a Marcionite woman in the area (“sect of Marcion”),10 and that the Marcionite bishop Asclepius and the orthodox bishop Apselamus were burnt on the same pyre (again, “sect of Marcion”).11 Despite the Romans lumping together these various groups due to such similarities in beliefs and practices that they appeared sufficiently identical, in these examples we see the appearance of the polemic of individualized appellation by the Christian heresiologists.
To those outside of these inter-Christian battles waged by the literary elite, in other words, these people and groups were essentially the same in organization, practice, belief, piety, and devotion. This fact is put into even more stark relief by the use of the polemic of individualized appellation, where heresiologists construct difference even where there seems to be little to none.12 The famous correspondence between Trajan and Pliny, for instance, evinces no distinction whatsoever between different Christian groups, especially useful evidence given that Pliny was governor of Pontus/Bithynia, the same region that Tertullian indicates for Marcion's activity at the beginning of the second century.13 For all we know, Pliny's Christians were followers of Marcion. When we turn to the Christian heresiologists, however, a very different picture of the evidence emerges, namely one that makes explicit founders' names in a polemic context in an attempt to define and separate groups that appeared as one undifferentiated mass to some Romans officials. I will begin with Justin Martyr and proceed roughly chronologically, in the hope that some shape of the use of the polemic of individualized appellation might emerge.
Our extant heresiological literature notes the widespread presence of Marcion's followers. Justin in approximately 150 CE, for example, is able to say of Marcion that he is “even until now alive and teaching his disciples to believe in some other God greater than the Creator” (Markiōna de tina Pontikon hos kai nun eti esti didaskōn tous peithomenous allon tina nomizein meizona).14 While not calling Marcion's followers “Marcionites” (Justin opts for something like “Marcion's disciples”), Justin does provide the full polemic of individualized appellation for “Valentinians,” along with several other examples: Basilideans, Saturnilians, and Marcians.15
Justin also demonstrates the importance of naming, noting that these groups are labeled “Christians” despite holding what are in his mind the wrong beliefs: “All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians; just as also those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, have yet in common with them the name of philosophers given to them” (Pantes hoi apo toutōn hormōmenoi hōs ephēmen Christianoi kalountai hon tropon kai hoi ou koinōnountes tōwn autōn dogmatōn tois philosophois to epikatēgoroumenon onoma tēs philosophias koinon echousin).16
The problem for Justin, it seems, turns on differentiating groups whose general beliefs and practices are perceived as identical to outsiders, but whose more specific doctrines, beliefs, and perhaps even practices differentiate them from one another. In other words, something of an insider/outsider problem. Justin decries using the non-individualized appellation name for these groups he perceives as different (cf. the later Cyril, discussed below), with attendant issues around authority attached to proper identity.
Irenaeus likewise discusses “those from Marcion.” At one point Irenaeus notes an argument that “Marcion's followers do strenuously maintain” (sicut qui a Marcione sunt vociferantur),17 drawing a specific derivation for a group from this founder. At several other points the same formulation “the followers of Marcion” or more literally “those from Marcion” (qui a Marcione sunt) appears, with several section headings including “Marcionites” in their title.18 Again we see a temporal emplacement of a particular group's beliefs in a singular, historical figure deemed heretical.
Indeed, this tracing back of a lineage to an allegedly schismatic and erroneous individually-named group appears severally in Irenaeus. In Adversus haereses, Irenaeus writes that “prior to Valentinus, those who follow Valentinus had no existence; nor did those from Marcion exist before Marcion; nor, in short, had any of those malignant-minded people, whom I have above enumerated, any being previous to the initiators and inventors of their perversity” (Ante Valentinum enim fuerunt, qui sunt a Valentino; neque ante Marcionem erant, qui sunt a Marcione; neque omnino erant reliqui sensus maligni, quos supra enumeravimus, antequam initiatores et inventores perversitatis eorum fierent).19
With respect to the Valentinians, Irenaeus writes about the figure of Valentinus, “they” and the “disciplines/followers of Valentinus,” and the “school of Valentinus.”20 Irenaeus doesn't yet use the term “Valentinians,” but it does appear in several of the chapter headings, seemingly later additions,21 speaking perhaps to the increase in this polemic of individualized appellation over time.22 Irenaeus comes close, in the extant Latin, speaking of “those who are from Valentinus.”23
Even Celsus apparently joined the chorus in commenting on Marcion's influence.24 Indeed, Origen reports that Celsus likewise made use of individualized appellation: “[Celsus] knows of the existence of certain Simonians who worship Helene, or Helenus, as their teacher, and are called Helenians … moreover, certain Marcellians, so called from Marcellina, and Harpocratians from Salome, and others who derive their name from Mariamme, and others again from Martha … He makes mention also of the Marcionites, whose leader was Marcion” (οἶδε καὶ Μαρκελλιανοὺς ἀπὸ Μαρκελλίνας καὶ Ἁρποκρατιανοὺς ἀπὸ Σαλώμης καὶ ἄλλους ἀπὸ Μαριάμμης καὶ ἄλλους ἀπὸ Μάρθας … καὶ Μαρκιωνιστῶν, προϊσταμένων Μαρκίωνα).25
While the historical accuracy of Celsus' comments must remain uncertain, it is certainly suggestive. We clearly see Origen/Celsus specifically referring to “Marcionites,” “Helenians,” “Marcellians,” and others deriving their name from specific founders. The above quote even suggests that some groups neutrally or even proudly derived their name from specific founders (“others who derive their name from Mariamme …”), reflecting a potential disjunction between some in-groups adopting such a moniker neutrally or positively while others used it polemically. Naming groups, it seems, was another area of contestation in Late Antiquity. What is more, Celsus here seems to demonstrate his participation in these selfsame heresiological tactics of individualized appellation, suggesting its potency not just among and by Christians, but in group-identity construction and contestation by elites more broadly.26
It seems that the followers of Marcion had built up many places of worship in parallel to those of other groups, which were described in polemical terms. Tertullian in the second/third century CE notes that “Marcionites make churches” (the famous quote, faciunt favos et vespae, faciunt ecclesias et Marcionitae).27 We see here a clear instance of the polemic of individualized appellation, as Tertullian attacks a group we might translate as “Marcionites,” using the name of their founder as an eponym for the entire group. Tertullian similarly worries about Marcion's teachings, noting that “the heretical tradition of Marcion filled up the whole world” (Marcionis traditio haeretica totum implevit mundum).28 Again we see the specific tie between heresy (“the heretical tradition”) and the individual person of Marcion.
Meanwhile, we have some evidence for the organization of so-called Marcionite groups/churches. Tertullian notes that such groups seemingly had a rotating hierarchy of offices, derived in part from Paul's letters and also attested in the works of both Ignatius and Irenaeus: bishops, deacon(esse)s, presbyters, and catechumens.29 The same seems to have been the case for followers of Valentinus.30 Meanwhile, throughout De praescriptione haereticorum, Tertullian notes the person of Marcion by name, and at several points uses the polemic of individualized appellation around “Marcionites” and “Valentinians” both. First he states, “Truth had to wait for certain Marcionites and Valentinians to set it free” (Aliquos Marcionitas et Valentinianos liberanda veritas expectabat),31 and later, “That was allowable to the Valentinians which had been allowed to Valentinus; that was also fair for the Marcionites which had been done by Marcion” (Idem licuit Valentinianis quod Valentino, idem Marcionitis quod Marcioni, de arbitrio suo fidem innouare).32 Tertullian even speaks to the fact that so-called “Marcionite” (Marcionitae) rituals aligned with proper practice,33 in a stronger formulation of the polemic of individualized appellation that he deploys widely across his anti-Marcion treatise.34
We see the same around Valentinus. Tertullian's treatise Adversos Valentianos provides the fully-fledged Valentinian polemic of individualized appellation in its very title. This treatise is full of references to “Valentinianism” in a polemical context, using the word as both a collective noun (“Valentinians”) and adjectivally (“the Valentinian gods”).35 Tertullian, tellingly for my argument, even asserts that “we call them Valentinians” despite the fact that “they do not appear to be so.”36 Tertullian, in other words, essentially gives the game away by using the term Valentinians as a polemic of individualized appellation, admitting that it does not correspond to this group of people's self-understanding or even common use! Tertullian further notes that he links this polemic to Valentinus himself and his allegedly poor response to being passed over for the bishopric, which ties Tertullian's moral assessment of those “Valentinians who derive from Valentinus” back to a single figure and his individualized, deviant teachings.37
We see the same with Eusebius, who labels “Marcionites” and notes their martyrdom but identifies a difference in their beliefs: “those called Marcionites, from the heresy of Marcion, say that they have a multitude of martyrs for Christ; yet they do not confess Christ himself in truth” (καὶ πρῶτοί γε οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Μαρκίωνος αἱρέσεως Μαρκιανισταὶ καλούμενοι πλείστους ὅσους ἔχειν Χριστοῦ μάρτυρας λέγουσιν, ἀλλὰ τόν γε Χριστὸν αὐτὸν κατ̓ ἀλήθειαν οὐχ ὁμολογοῦσιν).38 Eusebius also speaks of a certain Metrodorus who was burnt, seeming to be a “proselyte of the deceit according to Marcion” (ὧν καὶ Μητρόδωρος τῆς κατὰ Μαρκίωνα πλάνης πρεσβύτερος δὴ εἶναι δοκῶν πυρὶ παραδοθεὶς ἀνῄρηται), specifically tying the deceit or going astray (planē) to Marcion qua individual.39 In the discussion around Roman persecution above, I also noted several more such formulations.40
Eusebius' Historia ecclesiastica also includes weaker versions of the polemic of individualized appellation, describing a certain Rhodo who wrote books against the “heresy of Marcion” (pros tēn markiōnos paratetaktai hairesin), and referring to those who believed these ideas as simply “they” (dia touto kai par'heautois asumphōnoi gegonasin).41 Eusebius elsewhere speaks of “Marcion,” “they,” and “the sect of Marcion” (τῆς δὲ Μαρκίωνος αὐτὴν αἱρέσεως).42 Eusebius labels other groups similarly, noting a certain Cerinthus who founded a so-called “Cerinthian” group. Here, Eusebius is even explicit about the polemic of individualized appellation, noting that the “correct” tradition has no single, human founder, but that other individuals attach the disreputable authority of a single name and founder to their school of thought: “they affirm that none of the apostles, and none of the saints, nor any one in the Church is its author, but that Cerinthus, who founded the sect which was called after him the Cerinthian, desiring reputable authority for his fiction, prefixed the name” (ἀλλ̓ οὐδ̓ ὅλως τῶν ἁγίων ἢ τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς ἐκκλησίας τούτου γεγονέναι ποιητὴν τοῦ γράμματος, Κήρινθον δὲ τὸν καὶ τὴν ἀπ̓ ἐκείνου κληθεῖσαν Κηρινθιανὴν συστησάμενον αἵρεσιν, ἀξιόπιστον ἐπιφημίσαι θελήσαντα τῷ ἑαυτοῦ πλάσματι ὄνομα).43 Eusebius here seems to be alluding to the fact that some people saw individualized appellation in a positive sense; I noted above that this reflects the contested nature of naming practices, a point to which I'll return to at several further junctures below.
Polemical rhetoric around common practices can also be found in Adamantius' De recta in deum fide, third/fourth century CE, here regarding church offices of a Marcion-affiliated group. A certain Megethius affiliated with Marcion speaks of markion episkopos, describing Marcion as his bishop.44 Here, Adamantius and Megethius argue over whom is to be properly called a “Christian,” paralleling discussions above. In this particular dialogue, Adamantius specifically labels Megethius a “Marcionite” and not a Christian, to which Megethius responds that Adamantius is a “Catholic” and not a Christian.
Judith Lieu well describes the scene in a manner germane to the present discussion:
This altercation leaves the readers with the opposition between ‘Marcionite’ and ‘Catholic,’ each vying over the coveted label ‘Christian.’ As the scene develops, Adamantius continues to force upon Megethius the label ‘Marcionite,’ while the latter consistently resists this, refusing, when invited, to rank Marcion higher than Paul, and conceding only that ‘Marcion was my bishop’ [markion episkopos]. This for Adamantius is admission enough, introducing a succession (diadokē) not of bishops but of ‘false bishops,’ going back to the ‘artificer of schisms’ (ho schismatopoios), Marcion (16.16-18.2 [1.8]).45
Even the divide here between “Marcionite” and “Catholic” puts Megethius at a disadvantage, with named appellation suffering from implications of historical contingency and reliance on a singular person. As Lieu's account suggests, the tie to a single person introduces the possibility of error and a (real or not) parallel bishopric succession based on schismatic misinterpretation. Hence the insistence we see by Adamantius forcing the label “Marcionite” on Megethius: the effectiveness of the polemic of individualized appellation is evident.
Epiphanius et al.
Epiphanius' Panarion,46 meanwhile, severally uses the individualized appellation of “Marcionites” (markiōnes) as well as a host of other such appellations such as Marcosians, Sethians, etc., in a grand list of individualized polemical appellations.47 Like the other heresiologists, Epiphanius' attacks on Marcion nonetheless acknowledge a similarity of certain core beliefs and practices, including celibacy, celebration of mysteries, the presence of catechumens, and the prominent role of baptism.48 Other authors likewise acknowledge the similarity around baptism between different groups' churches, with Cyprian, Augustine, and Epiphanius all citing Marcion by name in their accounts in a weaker formulation of the polemic of individualized appellation.49
Baptism was also as central to followers of Valentinus as it was to others.50 The Gospel of Philip records the use of holy chambers, ritual prayers, and formulas for baptism, an account that Irenaeus largely corroborates.51 Clement of Alexandria's Excerpta ex Theodoto records similar information, with baptism according to a similar formula and with similar meanings as to what we find in so-called orthodox churches.52
Cyril of Jerusalem and the Lebaba Inscription
Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century CE likewise notes the presence of other places of worship (ekklēsia). Cyril cautions his readers against wandering into the wrong one by mistake, referring to the “church of evil-doers, I speak of the systems of the heretics, the Marcionites and the Manichees and the rest” (alēthōs ekklēsian einai ponēreuomenōn ta sustēmata tōn hairetikōn Markiōnistōn legō kai Manichaiōn kai tōn loipōn).53 Cyril notably contrasts this polemic of individualized appellation, “the systems of the heretics … the Marcionites”, with the non-eponymous term “catholic” (catholikē, 18.23; catholikēn ekklēsian, 18.26). This contrast, I argue, is fundamental to the use of the polemic of individualized appellation, as it pits the historical contingency of a named founder (Marcionite) against the universality inhering in the Greek term “catholic.”
It is notable, then, that the one surviving piece of archaeological evidence we have for so-called “Marcionite churches” or for Marcion's followers uses individualized appellation in an apparently neutral (or even positive?) way. The village of Lebaba, near Damascus, contains not only material evidence for Marcion's followers and places of worship, but is also one of our earliest unambiguous church (Συναγωγη) inscriptions (c. 318-319 CE):54
Drawing necessarily provisional conclusions from this extremely limited evidence, this individualized appellation was apparently embraced by some as neutral or even positive – seemingly the groups themselves – while being used polemically by the Christian heresiologists. There is a seeming disjunction, in other words, between the heresiologists and other groups, with the heresiologists specifically using individualized appellation in a polemical sense while the term itself remained apparently contested among different groups.
Preliminary Conclusions on Primary Source Data
It bears repeating several points from this section's introduction, given our review of the data above, to highlight the function of individualized appellation. In each of the sources, to varying degrees and in different ways, we see the use of individualized appellation. The occurs despite (because of?) the widespread admission of many similarities in basic beliefs and practices, pointing to the particular function of the polemic of individualized appellation in differentiating fairly similar groups. The division between so-called Marcionite and catholic groups, in other words, was likely in many places an artificial construction by (and for?) elite, literate cultural producers.55 This polemic was a tool to differentiate, dispute, and undermine other groups in the highly competitive, hyper-literate, and perhaps confusing social context populated by the Christian heresiologists and other such thinkers.
Individualized appellation is inherently well suited to this type of polemic, due to several generally unspoken implications inherent in labeling groups with individualized eponyms: they arise sui generis from the time of their founder and thus have no spiritual precedent/tradition; they do not possess mutually, historically confirming characteristics of multiple gospels; they rely for authority on a single individual's experience, education, and/or revelation. In short, these are problematized in our very language as singular, particular, historical, aberrational, operating outside a definite tradition, and are thus more likely to be false. This is doubly the case when contrasted to a system described as “catholic,” which lacks such shortcomings.
Moving beyond these framing remarks, we might also tentatively venture that the polemic of individualized appellation increased over time. There seem to be fewer such appellations in our earliest anti-Marcion sources such as Justin and Irenaeus, but stronger and clearer instances in later writers such as Tertullian, Eusebius, Epiphanius, Adamantius, and the Lebaba inscription which speaks to the contestation around names in Late Antiquity. Of course, such conclusions about the increase in this rhetorical strategy must remain extremely provisional: we are reliant on only a small amount of ancient evidence, a situation which reflects not only the vicissitudes of history but also some generalizable realities such as more fourth- and fifth-century texts surviving than ones from the first and second century.
We can, though, note a few differences between these thinkers in their contexts, literary projects, strategies, and social goals. For example, Justin's polemic of individualized appellation arises amidst his affiliation with Greco-Roman philosophy, whereby in the same way that philosophers take on the moniker of their teacher only when they stray from the truth so too are true Christians simply called Christians. This differs conceptually from Irenaeus, whose polemic of individualized appellation arises amidst a more hostile view of Greco-Roman philosophy, whereby Irenaeus' opponents are labeled as members of various philosophical schools rather than members of a unified church. The polemic of individualized appellation, in other words, is an identifiable rhetorical phenomenon with wide attribution, but it remains subject to individual variation.
INDIVIDUALIZED APPELLATION IN ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN COMPARANDA
In what follows, I emplace the above trends and conclusions in their wider ancient Mediterranean context. The two lines of exploration in this section will concern (1) whether or not other preceding or contemporaneous evidence deployed this same rhetorical strategy, and (2) if so, the nature of this rhetorical deployment and its potential relationship to the evidence from the heresiologists above. Given the comparative breadth of my investigation here, the evidence under discussion cannot be exhaustive, but I hope in what follows to show not only the ways in which the heresiologists were distinctive in their rhetoric but also ways in which they drew from and built upon notable precursors.
Among Greco-Roman philosophies, in the centuries preceding Late Antiquity we do not see much evidence of the polemic of individualized appellation. Notably, however, we do see something akin to this polemic during Late Antiquity around the renewal of Platonism. Additionally, in Late Antiquity we also find some evidence for using individualized appellation in a neutral or positive way, perhaps paralleling the use of this among so-called Marcionites in the Lebaba inscription. Taken together, this evidence suggests that Late Antiquity's competitive environment was a breeding ground for the rise of the polemic of individualized appellation, and that this rhetorical strategy itself was contested.
In the fifth century BCE and in the centuries following, philosophical groups deployed the name of their founder with pride, and we often see competing groups fight over who had the better claim to this founder. Stoics, Cynics, and Epicureans all declared themselves to be the rightful heirs of Socrates, and competed vociferously with one another regarding who had the superior claim. All three groups also acclaimed the authority of their other respective founding thinkers and explicitly aligned with them: Zeno and Chrysippus for Stoicism, Antisthenes and Diogenes for Cynicism, and Epicurus for Epicureanism. Platonists and Neo-Platonists, meanwhile, both saw Plato's writings as sacrosanct, and the Peripatetics did the same for Aristotle.
The picture we see in the ancient philosophical schools with regard to naming groups, furthermore, was a variable one. While some ancient philosophies came to adopt a name apart from individualized appellation (Stoics, Peripatetics, Skeptics, Cynics), others freely accepted this type of individualized appellation. “Platonists” were originally named after “The Academy” (Akademia): hence, Platonists were originally deemed “Academics” (Akadēmeikoi) in a host of ancient references.
It seems that philosophers began to use the term “Platonism/ists” to self-reference in the second century CE (unlike “Neoplatonism/ists,” a later, second-order designation), after the Academy fell away and then returned along with a resurgent interest in its founder.56 Notably, the importance of this individualized appellation arose just as the heresiologists, beginning in the secondary century, began to use it in a polemical sense. Among philosophical writers after the first century CE, the Greek concept of hairesis was being newly constructed as something negative, whereas previously it referred to a sect or more loosely a set of beliefs, such as those held by a philosophical group.57 Particularly within Platonism (e.g., Numenius' On the Divergence of the Academy), we start to see a view of philosophy as a single, unified truth, and hence a more negative characterization of sectarian division.58 Similar forces – both in terms of social contestation and in terms of conceptualizing a single truth and thereby negatively characterizing other sects or groups (hairesis) – seem to be at work in Platonism and late antique Christianity.
Interestingly, the term “Platonists/ism” then came to predominate over time, as a neutral or positive descriptor and not a polemic. As I noted in my discussion of the Christian heresiologists, we may see something along these lines with the so-called Marcionites themselves, evinced in the Lebaba inscription, where certain literary elite deploy individualized appellation in a negative sense while others claim it in a neutral or positive sense. Naming practices, as suggested above, were seemingly an additional site of contestation among different late antique individuals and groups.
The evidence from medical schools presents both similarities and differences to our Christian data. Among medical schools, the individualized appellation “Galenists/ism” (Galen, second century CE) was compared in no qualitatively different terms to Empiricism, Rationalism, or Dogmatism, despite strong disagreements between them.59 It did not seem to matter to those previous to the second century that a school was named after a person. In fact, it lent the school some credibility by anchoring later intellectual developments to a semi-mythical founder, such as Socrates, Plato, or Epicurus.
However, Heinrich von Staden has discovered some relevant parallels, seeing in medical inter-school debate the first context in which hairesis was deployed in a negative, polemical sense.60 The medical understanding of a single, naturalistic truth seems to parallel the same instinct toward unified, philosophical truth in the later Platonists discussed above, and perhaps among the Christian heresiologists as well. Again, in other words, we find some parallels and precursors in other roughly contemporary data. These developments toward competitive sectarianism that fostered the polemic of individualized appellation should probably be understood, in other words, as a wider phenomenon in the late antique Mediterranean with related if different outgrowths in the fields of religion, philosophy, and medicine.61
Meanwhile, the term “Epicureans/ism” appears in a range of sources with a corresponding range of attitudes toward Epicurean ideas, but few of the sources use the individualized appellation as a polemic per se.62 Historically speaking, much as with Platonists, it seems that “Epicurean” is a later designation, as they were originally known as “philosophers of the Garden” (kepos) or “followers of Epicurus” (Epicuri).63 For Cicero (first century BCE) and Diogenes Laertius (second/third century CE), however, we see the use of individualized appellation, naming “Epicureans” as such, seemingly neutrally, and roughly contemporary to its use among the Christian heresiologists. Meanwhile, we do notably see the term Epikoros used as a polemic of individualized appellation in the Mishnah (first-to-third centuries CE) as well as in the much later Maimonides (twelfth century CE).64 The Mishnah's range of historical compilation roughly parallels the Christian heresiologists in their use of this polemic.
Other philosophical schools don't provide the same evidence, speaking to the mixed record of individualized appellation in the pre-Christian evidence. “Pythagoreanism/ists” appears as a term as early as Aristotle. Much as with Platonists and Epicureans, we don't see the use of the polemic of individualized appellation, despite strong disputes in later texts regarding particular ideas or doctrines.65 The same goes for “Pyrrhonism/ists,” deployed as an individualized appellation but a non-polemical one. Indeed, Pyrrhonism is not qualitatively different from Skepticism in some sources, showing the conflation between individualized appellation and non-individualized appellation.66
We might expect parallels between late antique Christian polemics and early Jewish sectarian discourse, based on similarities in religious competition, proximate groups, and battles among elites over more abstract notions that might not manifest among most people's overlapping core beliefs and practices. Indeed, we find that although most groups' names are based on places or tied to individual names functioning as adjectival possessives, the Hebrew Bible and later Jewish literature do contain a couple examples (e.g., the Canaanites and Shechemites) that might function as early precedents for the late antique Christian polemicists who became interested in the construction of orthodoxy/heresy.
The Hebrew Bible, a Yahwist-Priestly text with a complicated redaction history, is a prime example of an elite document whose vociferously constructed group demarcations seem to map poorly onto widely shared basic beliefs and practices. Perhaps as a result, it contains a host of named groups in the context of conflict. The overwhelming majority of these groups is tied to a particular place, and this locative appellation is deployed in a descriptive sense that can apply positively, negatively, or neutrally: Edomites,67 Philistines, Assyrians, Nabataeans, etc. The Jews themselves were Ioudaioi, translated “Jew” or “Judaean,”68 a neutral or positive descriptor referring to the region of Judah, whose name purportedly originated with Judah, the son of Jacob and Leah.69
There are many instances in which some biblical writers trace a nation or people to an ancestor after which the group is named, where the identity of the common ancestor seems to play a role in the moral assessment of the group in question. These are, of course, post-factum etiologies penned at least partly for ideological reasons, but Genesis 9–10 furnishes our best examples (re-written by Josephus),70 with a host of eponymous ancestors and descriptions of groups. The Canaanites, a much polemicized example, are tied to not only the land of Canaan but also their ancestor Canaan, much as with Judaeans via Judah the land and person. Canaan the man, in turn, was cursed by his grandfather Noah, thus somewhat aligning the polemic against the individual with the polemic against the group. We can multiply further examples linking a group to ancestors with dubious moral associations in a polemical context, with some overlaps in the locative sense noted above: Egyptians, Put, Kush, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites. Even Israel is sometimes eponymously traced to Jacob, “Israel,” showing this named association in a positive context. So too with Levi and the Levites.
A closer and more specific parallel to late antique Christian polemic occurs with the Shechemites. Genesis 34 recounts the famous episode with the Shechemites, where a certain Canaanite Shechem violated Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, whereupon her brothers Simon and Levi visited vengeance upon the Shechemites by convincing them to become circumcised if Shechem wanted to marry Dinah and then killing not only Shechem and his father Hamor but all the males in the city. The term “Shechemites” (Shikmi) comes to refer to the descendants of Shechem, but notably of perhaps a different lineage than that of Hamor and Shechem from Genesis.71
Later literature, often pseudepigraphal, picks up on Genesis' story and the negative role of the Shechemites, often polemicizing against their inherent impiety and wickedness: Theodotus, Levi, Jubilees, Judith, and Joseph and Aseneth. In all these sources, however, the use of individualized appellation as polemic is uncertain. Genesis never speaks of the “Shechemites” in that formulation, using the term archōn in Gen 34:2. Judges 8–10 speaks only of Shechem and the “citizens/people of Shechem,”72 not making this appellation explicit. Here, though, we do see a pejorative context, tying Shechemites to wickedness, impiety, and idolatry and thereby inviting divine wrath.73
Jubilees names the “Shechemites” in a stronger pejorative sense,74 but the precise term is impossible to pin down given the lack of original text.75 Theodotus via Eusebius likewise polemicizes, but we find formulations such as “those impious people in Shechemite lands” (tous en Sikimois asebeis) or “those living in Shechem” (Sikimōn oikētoras)76 rather than the collective name Sikimoi.77 Levi speaks about coming to Shechem, and how the spirit of the Lord came upon him to recognize that men were being corrupt and unrighteous, but again we see no individualized, collective noun.78,Judith does name the Shechemites, including them in a list of nations driven out by Israel.79 When Judith discusses the Shechemites elsewhere, however, the references are indirect, for instance speaking of avenging foreigners by killing their leaders, clear allusions to the account in Genesis 34 but lacking individualized appellation.80
Joseph and Aseneth also speaks of the city of Shechem, Hamor's son Shechem, and even the “men of Shechem.”81 Much as with Jubilees, the lack of clear original precludes conclusions regarding its linguistic formulation of “men of Shechem” or “Shechemites.”82 However, here we again see a clear polemic against the Shechemites' impiety, as well as their deserving punishment at the hands of Simeon and Levi.83 Yet as with most of the evidence surveyed, they do not receive the individualized appellation of polemic as “Shechemites.”
Finally, Josephus speaks severally of the Shechemites, associating them with the Samaritans, one of the several groups (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes) that Josephus variously describes or polemicizes against directly. Josephus notably does use the term “Shechemites” (Sikimitai), a term referring to those associated with the city of Shechem and not, apparently, drawing upon the biblical polemic against Hamor and Shechem.84 Josephus also recounts that the Samaritans specifically referred to themselves as “Sidonians in Shechem,” which Josephus attributes to their attempt to win favor with Antiochus Epiphanes over and against other Jewish groups in Jerusalem proper.85 Josephus, in other words, uses the term Shechemites rarely, and when he does it seems not to be in a direct polemical context.
With these authors and texts taken together, we see that these are not fully-fledged polemics of individualized appellation. However, all the constitutive elements of this polemic are present: one or more named ancestors/founders, a group of people tied to this person and/or place, and a moral judgment (i.e., polemic) attached to this people based on ancestry and locative and/or named association. One difference we do see is that the late antique Christian polemicists largely discard the locative sense found in these earlier, Jewish texts. The Christian polemicists, in other words, likely drew from but modified the existing group-boundary-making rhetoric and polemic featured in the above texts and authors, especially from better-known examples such as the Hebrew Bible (via the Septuagint) and Josephus.
Christian New Testament: Mark/Matthew and Paul's Letters
When we move onto the New Testament,86 we find another potential precedent for late antique Christian polemics in the term “Herodians.” Originally the term Herodians designated the Herodian Dynasty beginning with Herod I's rule over Judaea as a client king of Rome (37–4 BCE). We see a change, however, in some early Christian New Testament texts: Mark 3:6 and 12:13, and Matthew 22:16.87 Further references can also be detected, with varying levels of certainty.88
These early Christian documents either recount or newly construct the view that the Herodians were a group separate from Herod's dynastic family, and a group that was defined in religious terms in addition to its political overtones.89 In this sense, Herodians becomes a term akin to Pharisees (with whom they are explicitly linked in both passages in Mark) and Sadducees,90 and become part and parcel of the competitive polemic therein. The later Pseudo-Tertullian even claims that Herodians supported Herod I as the messiah,91 perhaps a reflection of the view that Herod supported Judaean, theocratic rule.92
In each of the three New Testament passages, we see the use of individualized appellation in a direct, polemical context. Herod's name not only stands for the group collectively,93 a type of eponym we've commonly seen elsewhere, but crucially the authors of Mark and Matthew add polemical force. Mark describes how the Pharisees conspired with the Herodians to kill Jesus (3:6), and both groups attempted to trap Jesus in his teachings (12:13), which we likewise find in Matthew (22:16).
A further similarity to late antique polemic occurs in the fact that the person who grants this group their individualized appellation is Herod, an unequivocally hated figure in the Christian New Testament. Matthew 2:1–23 describes the infamous Massacre of the Innocents, wherein Jesus' prophesied birth and royal ascension precipitated Herod's widespread murder of young men around Bethlehem. Although of dubious historical veracity, this attack against Herod and the polemic attached to the so-called Herodians as a result, further bolstered by the Herodians' attachment to another polemicized group in the Pharisees, shows this example to be a clear precedent for the polemic of individualized appellation.
Finally, an additional piece of evidence prefiguring this polemic can be found in Paul's letters, especially given the clear amount of factionalism, competition, and competing claims around group identity he seemed to face. Most prominently, 1 Corinthians 12 describes a situation where Paul discusses how “each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’” (ἕκαστος ὑμῶν λέγει· Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, Ἐγὼ δὲ Ἀπολλῶ, Ἐγὼ δὲ Κηφᾶ, Ἐγὼ δὲ Χριστοῦ).94 While not describing factions as “Paulans,” “Paulicans,” or “Apollonians,”95 this type of label is not too far from some of our data on Marcion's followers, such as “those from Marcion” (qui a Marcione sunt) in Irenaeus. While not at the level of the Marcionitae that we saw in Tertullian or the markiōnes in Epiphanius, again it seems that our New Testament data functions as something of a precursor to the late antique heresiologists.
Roman Social and Political Discourse
Potential analogues to individualized appellations in the Roman world are many, with neutral or positive individualized appellation widely attested in evidence such as building projects,96 temples/epitaphs,97 and speeches.98 We can best locate Roman parallels for the polemic of individualized appellation in discourse around political factionalism. While I cannot analyze all of the following data in depth for reasons of space, it will suffice to show the precedent-rich nature of this field of comparanda, which we might further supplement with evidence from inscriptions, graffiti, and other material evidence.
Searches of the Packard Humanities Institute database, an admittedly imprecise survey and measure, return a host of potential comparanda,99 such as labeling groups using individualized appellations such as “Caesarian-” or “Iulian-,”100 and “Antonian-.”101 Examples can be extended to a range of other such names.102 To detail just one representative example, “Othonian” is used a host of times as a proper noun to describe Otho's followers.103 Such descriptions used individualized appellation, naming groups “Othonians,” but do so without a direct polemic interest.
Instead, the historical writings of the Roman sources typically used individualized appellation as simply a way to denote partisan factions within a narrative: “mixtis iam Othonianis,” “Othonianos intendit,” “Othoniani … revertere,” and so on. These “Othonians” are admittedly factions not favored by authors with some polemical interest, but they are nonetheless factions whose descriptions lack the direct polemic we've seen elsewhere in different types of sources. Again, in other words, we see most of the precursor ingredients here, but not in the final form we witness in certain of the Christian heresiologists. In fact, we see occasional phrases, like “Othonianas partis,”104 that even seem to parallel what we saw in some depictions of Marcion's followers. Sparing the reader a detailed discussion of every such reference in the Roman historical literature, these findings and conclusions can be extended through other types of terms of individualized appellation, e.g. pars Caesaris, factio Caesaris, and so forth.
We can note some differences here from the Christian heresiologists which might be explained through a consideration of genre. Much of the above evidence clearly labels a group using individualized appellation, and often such groups are seen as unfavorable factions, such as during a civil war. But we do not see the same kind of direct, vituperative language that we did in the Christian data. This should not fully surprise, given that the evidence here comes to us from historical writings which, although subject to bias, do not take as their explicit organizing principle the elucidation of one group's identity and truth-claims over and against another. As suggested earlier, I would tentatively propose that Christian heresiologists partly adopted (consciously or not) this sort of factional language from Roman political discourse, and wedded it to the other types of haeresis/sectarian divisions going on in other fields of thought, namely philosophy, medicine, and religion.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF ORTHODOXY, HERESY, AND IDENTITY IN LATE ANTIQUITY
Thus far I have focused on the primary source data, investigating and comparing the Christian heresiologists to prior and contemporary data from the ancient Mediterranean world. In what follows, I link these findings, and some of my conclusions and proposals, to other recent scholarship around these issues of orthodoxy, heresy, and identity in Late Antiquity. Indeed, we see a significant intersection of orthodoxy and heresy constructions with identity considerations in Late Antiquity.105
Scholars have increasingly recognized the ways that these heresiological texts were not attempts to provide accurate historical accounting but instead seek to provide a “structured system of explanation” for the world of a Christian.106 A host of recent work has attempted to map, contextualize, and explain the rise in heresiological discourse in Late Antiquity. Building upon and modifying influential scholarship such as Alain Le Boulluec's La notion d'heresie,107 scholars such as Daniel Boyarin,108 Geoffrey Smith,109 Jacques Berlinerblau,110 and Robert Royalty111 have endeavored to understand how and why the Christian notions of orthodoxy/heresy and attendant identity arose in this period. Some consensus seems to be emerging that – notwithstanding substantial variability in various authors' context, content, and agenda – the late antique heresiologists' projects drew from previous literary and conceptual frameworks in an attempt to construct and/or define a unified Christian identity out of diversity.
Karen King has suggested that this has resulted in something of a paradox: “one effect of the early Christian rhetoric of unity and uniformity may have been the production of division.”112 Todd Berzon has argued that this impulse to localize, compartmentalize, and classify these competing groups was a standard tool of Christian heresiologists, which he ties to ancient ethnography.113 The construction of this difference via classificatory ethnography, in turn, allows the elite heresiologists to assert their own authority via this epistemological project. The impulse to label and polemicize groups via individualized appellation is part and parcel, I think, of this wider classificatory project that Berzon identifies.
Kendra Eshleman has argued that such classificatory schemes were fundamental to the wider landscape of the first few centuries of the common era, as Greek intellectuals (pepaideumenoi) and Christian authors participated in the same field of strategies of identity construction.114 Complementary to Berzon's argument, Eshleman sees the heresiological lists functioning to increase their authors' authority due to the fact that the lists' “simplicity and traditionality give the appearance of objective facticity.”115 Again, I see the polemic of individualized appellation being one of these strategies in the late antique Mediterranean, present across the fields of politics, philosophy, medicine, and religion (Judaism and Christianity both).
It seems that the late antique literary environment functioned as an educated, highly competitive atmosphere that stimulated the construction of orthodoxy/heresy and group identity differences along polemical and technical criteria such as group-name terminology. I have already suggested throughout that we see substantial evidence for commonalities in core beliefs and practices across groups, commonalities which the heresiologists attempted to downplay through a focus on more abstract, doctrinal issues. However, conclusions about what people felt, believed, or thought must be qualified. While some people saw overlaps, some people saw differences; while some people cared little for doctrinal fine points, others were heavily invested in such conceptual matters. Furthermore, for many people I suspect that doctrinal points mattered, but simply as a proxy for other forms of identity, such as ethnicity, region, class, or culture: many people then (as now) associated with one group's church over another not because they were wholly invested in that church's particular points of doctrinal or ritual difference per se, but because their family, friends, neighbors, work associates, tribe, ethnicity, and/or social class went there.
We do see, nonetheless, a notable focus in the Christian heresiologists on proper doctrine tied to the polemic of individualized appellation. This focus, in turn, culminated in the contestation over groups' proper names, with the heresiologists pitting individualized appellation (“Marcionites”) against names that lacked the polemic inhering in an individual's proper name (e.g., “catholic”). The polemics inhering in this change and type of individualized appellation closely relate to the broader social agendas of these Christian heresiologists. Largely discarding the ethno-locative focus of the earlier Hebrew Bible, the polemic of individualized appellation neatly paired with the late antique heresiologists' interests in depicting a wider, unified social movement that crossed geographic and ethnic boundaries.
Individualized appellation supported the heresiologists' wider goal of universalizing their own thought by attaching their opponents to human, historically contingent, and singular events that were by implication opposed to the “Christianity” that was so constructed to stand apart from history, geography, and any individual's legacy. We see what may well have been a rejection or at least downplaying of certain Greek, Roman, and Jewish forms of traditional identity (e.g., philosophical-pedagogical, ethnic, etc.) as contradistinctions to a new form of ideal, claimed, or perhaps aspirational Christian identity. Nonetheless, certain rhetorical forms around these other, previous types of identity construction were maintained and repurposed by the heresiologists, who seemingly drew from and adapted the language of political factionalism, religious sectarianism, philosophical-medical dispute, and classificatory schemes from doxography and ethnography.
Notably, the Christian heresiologists also innovated, polemicizing individualized appellation in a way and to a degree absent in other, earlier spheres of contestation where such polemic might have been useful or expected, such as philosophy (ambivalent use of individualized appellation) and medicine (mostly non-individualized appellation labels). Across my discussion, I've suggested several explanations for this innovation: the uniquely competitive environment of Late Antiquity due to its entrepreneurial, market-place type environment; the increasing stakes for power as various Christianities became more mainstream; the wide-open nature of Christian identity in Late Antiquity given its diversity (in geographical spread, social formations, beliefs, practices, ties to other types of groups, etc.); a universalizing interest that encompassed both the doctrinal and social worlds (contra philosophy and medicine); a desire to cut across existing markers of identity, such as ethnicity and locative identity; and perhaps simply a new recognition of the effectiveness of individualized appellation in polemic. This list could doubtless be supplemented.
Overall, this late antique Christian polemic of individualized appellation seems to have been effective, persisting in both ancient and modern writings. Thinkers subsequent to these late antique polemicists widely deploy this same rhetorical strategy against competing figures and groups: Arians, Apollonarians, Nestorians, Pelagians, Eutychianites, etc. The strategy continues through the Middle Ages: Paulicans, Bogomilans, etc. The same strategy even appears in non-Christian contexts, such as with Plotinus and Porphyry,116 against the so-called Gnostics.117 As I have also mentioned at several points and especially around the Lebaba inscription, this naming issue was probably an area of ongoing contestation, for example in the very term “Christian” whose possibly polemical origins (e.g., Acts 11:26) gave way to a (possibly reclaimed) self-designated appellation of Christianos/us over time.118
Finally, we might consider how individualized appellation compares to other naming strategies at work in the ancient world. Such strategies included self-designations (e.g., New Prophecy), locative polemics (e.g., Kataphrygians), doctrinal or practice-based designations (e.g., Docetists, Quartodecimans), and other more mythological-distant formulations (e.g., Sethians, Naasenes). At risk of over-simplification, I would make two suggestions.
First, these externally-derived names of various kinds function similarly to individualized appellation in attempting to delimit (historically, geographically, ethnically, behaviorally), and thereby polemicize against, a given group. It is telling that self-designations such as New Prophecy (contra the externally-applied “Montanists”) attempted to avoid the delimitations of individualized appellation in favor of more open-ended conceptual understandings, much as we saw with “Catholic” over against “Marcionite” in Adamantius and Cyril (this term is first found in Ignatius). Indeed, the very contestation between the appellations “New Prophecy” and “Montanists” superbly encapsulates the function of individualized appellation: both sides of this debate were seemingly aware of the polemics inherent in a given name, and sought to frame identity in certain ways as part and parcel of wider contestation around identity, groupness, beliefs, and practices.
Second, individualized appellation is a distinctively effective polemic relative to these other naming practices for reasons previously discussed. Individualized appellation's focus on a particular founder instead of beliefs, practices, or even a region narrows a groups' truth-claims to an extreme degree, and easily facilitates guilt by association to a purportedly despicable founding thinker. A wider, historical study across several centuries study might trace the relative efficacy of different kinds of appellation in polemic by comparing, for example, whether individualized appellations such as “Montanists” increased in our sources while other types such as the locative “Kataphrygians” comparatively decreased. Paired with this type of historical-literary study, we might investigate whether there is inherent cognitive bias against one type of group appellation over another (individualized appellation vs. locative vs. doctrinal), in order to explain via evolved cognitive processes the apparent persistence and effectiveness of this particular polemical strategy.
Conclusions: Methodological Remarks
It was long standard practice for scholars to speak of “Marcionism,” redeploying the late antique polemicists' individualized appellation, without even using the phrase “Marcionite Christianity” or “Marcion and his followers.”119 Perusal of the secondary literature shows this formulation continuing through the 1990s. Fortunately, the picture has begun to turn. Andrew Gregory, for example, frames the reception of Lukan material most often in terms of individuals, e.g. “Marcion's use of Luke,”120 which allows us to better look at innovation and specific cultural production and competition by individuals in a more complex historical context.
More recently, scholars have started to look at Marcion the individual, using terms that reflect a more precise historical study, such as “Marcion and the Marcionites” (Klinghardt, n.b. “Marcionites”) and “Marcion's Gospel/text” (Roth, Lieu). Even here, however, the term “Marcionism” continues its occasional appearance.121 Other works depicting Marcion as a heretic due to his doctrines (re)deploy the late antique polemic of individualized appellation more widely,122 reflecting a similar combination of polemical labeling and abstract, doctrinal focus in modern scholarship that we also find in Late Antiquity.
These types of naming practices and corresponding understandings subsequently tend to color modern understandings, as scholars seek the “error”123 of the heretic124 Marcion and his followers by reconstructing his text125 or mining polemical tractates for insights into what the Marcionites believed.126 As Judith Lieu has shown with regard to recent scholarship on Marcion by Roth, Vincent, Schmid, and Klinghardt,127 the search for Marcion's doctrine and Marcion's text goes hand in hand, with much scholarship focused significantly on the intersection of distinct doctrines and textual variants.128 Such approaches, however, have ceded their territory of inquiry to the late antique polemicists, whose formulations (Marcionites) and understandings (abstract doctrines, texts) turn on constructing orthodoxy/heresy via abstract doctrines and widely inaccessible literary issues (most ancient people could not read a complex text, much less compose one), while giving little attention to the vast overlap in basic beliefs and practices occurring on the ground.129
If, instead, we are to give fair historical, social, and literary treatment to Marcion and those sympathetic to him, we need to be consistent in our language across these multifarious Jesus/Christ-following groups and people. Just as we should perhaps speak of “Marcionite Christianity,” so too we would have “Irenaean Christianity” and “Pauline Christianity” and “Markan Christianity.” As Karen King aptly asks, “If all these folks are Christians, why not call them such? That would go some distance toward escaping orthodoxy-heresy discourse and letting historiographical nomenclature express a more historically accurate scope for ‘Christianities.’”130
Such formulations denote particular literary constructions advocating for certain beliefs and practices in a culturally competitive environment; an especially wide open environment for garnering potential authority, I would think, given the recent growth of Christianity as a new forum for potential cultural capital in the second century. These terms (“Marcionite Christianity,” “Irenaean Christianity,” etc.) are a tad cumbersome as literary constructs of specific individuals not necessarily reflecting actual conditions on the ground, though we can sometimes pair these literary constructs with specific social practices. Nevertheless, we should prefer such constructions not only for their scholastic parity but also for their ability to force one to specify the persons/groups in question. This forced specificity, in turn, leads to greater clarity and, I would argue, historical accuracy.
This formulation further forces the scholar to avoid the frequent conflation between individual text/theology and group.131 Can we speak of a defined “Tertullianic Christianity”? If we cannot, then we should simply speak of Tertullian's thought and text(s) and avoid hypothesizing about groups altogether. Although not impossible, drawing a firm connection between wider social practices and elite text production is difficult: it requires further theorization and the tie between the two often proves much more tenuous than we might desire.
Speaking more broadly, this conclusion provides a methodological caution for not just late antique Christian identity construction in the ancient Mediterranean, but in religious and historical studies more broadly. It is often the case that scholars must rely on the accounts of the literary elite, whose accounts survive in no small part because their attempts to label and construct groups succeeded over the attempts of others. I suspect that elite literary interests share a similarity across times and cultures in the privileging of difference based around abstract beliefs and doctrines (largely the province of education and advanced literacy) over against commonalities across many groups in basic practices and beliefs. We do a disservice to the historical record when we redeploy elite identity-constructions uncritically, allowing this tactic of constructed “othering” to color our own descriptions and understandings. As my exploration of this set of data has suggested, we can improve our descriptions and understandings through an attention to often under-emphasized commonalities in basic practices and beliefs, paired with a shift away from the language of elite, top-down group-constructions and toward the language of individual thinkers and texts.