Many grass roots modern Christians may be unfamiliar with Marcion of Sinope (AD. 85-160), the furore he caused in the early church and the fact that he almost changed the face of Christianity forever.
Marcion, born the son of a bishop in Pontus in what would become Turkey. He was held in high regard until he was unceremoniously excommunicated in such disgrace for heretical credences that his tithes and his donation were all returned to him as tainted and on the condition that he leave Rome and return to Asia Minor.
Only his family position saved him from death.
What was not expected was that so many of his followers would with depart with him, founding the church and the gospel of Marcion.
Marcion’s Church and its teachings grew enormously during his life time, was a serious rival to the orthodox church and was largely responsible for spreading the teachings of St. Paul, who Marcion regarded as his spiritual forbearer.
Paul at the time did not enjoy the respect and admiration he is given today, but was largely rejected by the two main churches, orthodox and catholic, as a bit of a charlatan and an embarrassment.
Marcionism was finally declared heretical in AD144 and Marcion himself was obliged to take a lower profile until his death in AD160.
However despite enormous persecution Marcionism lasted for a thousand years, was the father of most of the Gnostic Christian faiths. It was little by little allowed to be absorbed in to Roman Catholicism in a watered down form.
Largely because the ever widening split between Roman and Orthodox forms of Church Christianity and the increasing power of Islam, Rome was finding itself far more willing to play the hegemonic game of concessions in order to pull in new members.
So much so that when many years later, the smaller but still highly influential Marcionites church agreed to fully rejoin the Catholic Church it was able to demand to do so on the sole condition that the epistles of Paul be placed into the Catholic scriptural cannon a condition that was reluctantly agreed to.
When enough Marcionites and their brethren had converted to Roman Catholicism, Roman turned on the rest of the Gnostic faiths and founded the inquisition to extirpate them utterly. (It is a common error to believe the Inquisition was formed to persecute Moslems and Jews, it was created to rout out other heretical Christian sects. The persecution of other religions only started when they had no wrong believing Christians left to persecute some two hundred years later.)
Marcionites who would not convert, Cathars, Anabaptists and many others were literally hunted in to extinction, murdered by the thousand and often burned alive on mass bonfires as Christian Knights sang uplifting songs of praise.
The reward for killing an unreformed Marcionites or Cathars was a Papal ‘indulgence’ that forgave not only all of your past sins, but of all other sins you might yet commit, in effect a “Get of Purgatory Free Card”.
However, many problematic "Paulisms" were now obliged to be established as Catholic dogma and among others, the Doctrine of the Trinity was (sort of) developed, this becoming a necessity to overcome some fundamental differences.
For one Marcion believed contentiously that the ineffable God YHWH of the old testament WAS NOT a spiritual being at all, as taught by the Catholics, but was a creature of Flesh and Bone and Blood who had once been a man. Moreover the Catholic's own scriptures seemed to back this up
Genesis 3:8- Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze
The scripture said God walked in the garden and made a noise, felt the breeze and knew the time of day; therefore, God must be a living flesh and blood man.
But of course God was a spirit, how could both be true?
Solution God is the three in one, Holy Ghost spirit, Jesus flesh and blood and theologians to come can hammer out the details later.
However almost two thousand years after his death the name Marcion still provokes hostile reactions in the corridors of religious power while being largely forgotten by Christianity at large.
For though his legacy remains intact, most notably of it being he who divided the bible in to the old and new testaments, it has left the world of theology with a problem of it's own making.
Marcion and his followers were adamant, the NEW testament must stand alone and be set apart from the OLD testament and over rule it in all matters of law, doctrine, judgement and decisions made by Christians.
To this end, Marcion had trimmed the scriptures again to eleven primary New Testament books whose authority was absolute and final, the New Testament became a second book of scriptures.
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it.” Deuteronomy 4:2
and no lesser authority than St. John himself says
“If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life” Revelations 22:18-19
This, it was assumed, meant the scriptures were complete, whole and perfect, what right did a self-professed uppity young Roman Bishop have to start tampering with them?
Now the scriptures were changed, split in to two testaments and new books of epistles added.
Roman had of course done this before when they edited their cannon, differentiating it from that of the Orthodox Church, but that had been to remove blasphemies from the holy writ, not to add to them.
The solution this time was simply. Don't tell anyone and let the changes stand as having always been there and pass quietly in to the mists of history.
Therefore, they did this and apart from some minor editing and recalibrating during the reformation this is how things stood, one bible made up of two books.
In the early 19th century, a young preacher rose up, proclaiming himself a prophet of god and a restorer of the "true" gospel.
His name was Joseph Smith Junior, an uneducated farm boy and god fearing Methodist.
He was also a convicted con man, occultist and fortune teller, a master of tall tales, seduction and charisma.
Smith claimed he had been visited in his bedroom by an Angel named either Moroni or Nephi, depending on how drunk he was at the time and who he was talking to.
This angel had lead Smith to a stone box buried in a hillside containing sacred golden plates. These plates he was told to keep secret and allow no one else to see them, which he did, until the day the angel came back and took the plates up to heaven.
Upon these plates were the writings of Mormon, an ancient Native American, descended from Jewish immigrants. Smith duly "translated" these plates using his magical seer stone in to the new third testament "The Book of Mormon" giving the history of his people and their interactions with Jesus in America.
A narrative he had stolen from the works of his father's cousin, who in turn had stolen it from his former employer Solomon Spaulding.
Smith in time would embellish these new scriptures with two more books of nonsense, "The Pearl of Great Price" and the "Book of commandments" later renamed for copyright reasons to "The Doctrine and Covenants".
Both of these books were loaded to the gills with Gnostic doctrine.
Someone, possibly Joseph Smith himself or more likely one of his close associates who assisted in the founding and structuring of the Mormon church was very familiar with religious history, both Christian and Gnostic Christian religious history.
Over the years, more and more Gnostic/Marcion theology worked its way in to the Teachings of the LDS/Mormon prophets and became accepted or rejected as required or as was expedient.
For example, it preached that the God who was the father of Jesus was NOT the Holy Ghost but was actually God the Father himself in a body of flesh and blood fathering his own son in the usual way.
These persons edited, sanitised Gnostic theology, especially slight variations on Marcionite theology wholesale into the Doctrines of the fledgling Mormon Church.
God once again had a body and blood, he and Jesus were separate entities. However,
Marcion had preached that if the fleshly aspect of God was subject to human feelings, he must also be subject human failings, hence the capricious, genocidal, jealous and thoroughly unpleasant creator God of the first five books of the OT.
The god of the Old Testament, to Smith seemed incompatible with the god of the New Testament and was obviously a Demiurge; a god in training.
Who could this be?
A being flesh and blood could not be the god of today who is obviously believed to be the merciful and good so the god of the Old testament MUST have been (and this really what Mormons believe) Jesus.
That is Jesus in his pre-mortal form, given the job of being the "God" of the Old Testament and like any child; this Jesus was young, inexperienced, rash and prone to tantrums and acts of random cruelty.
Therefore, when Christ atoned in Gethsemane for the sins of man, on the cross he was atoning for his own misbehaviour toward mankind as a young God. (Yes in Mormonism, there are two atonements)
I find the parallels between Marcion and Smith interesting in that they illustrate how people can easily be corralled in to following charismatic prophets and preachers who tell them what they want to hear, what sounds comforting and that which makes them feel special.