Archive for November, 2010

The Berlin Didymus / Hierocles papyrus

In his paper on ancient chapter titles, Mutschmann next discusses something which I had never heard of before.  Here is what he says:

R. Laqueur (Berliner Klassikertexte XLIII 1908, p. 220 ff) has already taken the Berlin Didymus papyrus (Diels and Schubart, Berliner Klassikertexte I, reprinted in the Teubner library) as the starting point for his statements about the literary status of the Anonymous Argentinensis. I agree with him on the whole. However, I must differ in one respect from him. The Didymus-text, just like the text transmitted on the back of the same roll, Ἠτηικη Στοιχείωοις of Hierokles (see Arnim Berliner Klassikertexte IV), has headings on the columns, which indicate, not the content of the columns, but rather the sense of the relevant portion of the work. It would be a mistake to see them as column titles: they are rather regular chapter headings.  These titles were in existence before the scribe of the Didymus papyrus made his copy: this is shown by a mistake, where he has put over the 8th column the title already associated with the 7th column.  Sometimes there are two headings, but also often no heading over a column; a diple or a cross sign (x) in the text clearly marks the beginning of the corresponding section. The reason why these titles were transmitted with the text is clear: the idea was to escape the whims of the copyist, even when copying the contents of a constantly shifting column. For the Hierokles text, it is also of particular importance that the transcript is from the time of the author himself (von Arnim, p. VII).  But whether the author troubled himself about this material remains to be seen. It was part of the technical equipment of the book, and it had to be provided, by those who oversaw its reproduction, perhaps the corrector. So it may be related, that the title of Didymus papyrus possibly is by a second hand (Diels-Schubart p. XI), but that it was handed down for the above reason is indisputable.

The diple is an ancient mark indicating where text should be inserted.  It looks the same as the modern one.  The publication is H. Diels and W. Schubart, Didymos Kommentar zu Demosthenes (Berlin, 1904), while the other is H. von Arnim, Hierokles, Ethische Elementarlehre (Papyrus 9780), Berliner Klassikertexte. IV, 1906, p. 48-64.  The papyrus roll has the shelfmark P Berol. inv. 9780.   

An English translation of Didymus is reviewed at Bryn Mawr here.  Better still, Craig A. Gibson, Interpreting a classic: Demosthenes and his ancient commentators, University of California Press, 2002 is online in Google books preview here.  This begins as follows:

P. Berol.inv.9780 (Pack2 339) is a substantial papyrus roll from Hermoupolis dated to the early second century C.E.  The recto contains Didymus’ commentaries on Demosthenes’ Third Philippic (Dem. 9), Fourth Philippic (Dem. 10), Reply to Philip’s Letter (Dem. 11), and On Organization (Dem. 13).  Toward the end of the second century, an introduction to Stoic ethics by Hierocles (early second century C. E.) was copied on the verso and in the opposite direction.  Most of the commentary on Dem. 9 is lost; the extant text begins with the end of the commentary on that speech.  The commentaries on Dem. 10, 11 and 13 are preserved almost in their entirety, the most notable exceptions being cols. 1.31-45, 2.3-3.62, 4.16-59 and 5.32-51, which are very poorly preserved.  The surviving commentary extends for fifteen columns.  The scribe labelled some of the columns with a brief table of contents1, probably indicating his intention to consult the text frequently.  These column headers read as follows:

Col. 1 (header not restored)
Col. 2 Who are the ones… Concerning the suspicion (that) … the Thebans … alliance … That … is ill disposed … (ends of each of 4 lines not restored)
Col. 3 (header not restored)
Col. 4 (Who it was who was dragged off to the king and informed him of Philip’s preparations against him.  What those who have written about Hermias of Atarneus say about him.
Col. 5 (no header given)
Col. 6 A reconstruing of hyperbatic phrasing.
Col. 7 What the king’s recent philanthropy2 towards the Athenians was.
Col. 8 What the date was when, humbled, they (the Athenians) were receiving only 130 talents of revenue.  Concerning the Athenians’ receiving 400 talents of revenue.
Col. 9  That there are two men named Aristomedes, one from Pherae, the other an Athenian nicknamed “Brazen”.
Col.10. Dates and cities of the speech.  That the speech is by Anaximenes.
Col. 11.  What ὀρρωδεῖν (means).  Concerning Nicaea.  Concerning σκορακίζειν and the proverbial expression “to the crows”.
Col. 12.  But if (it is) not (νεομένους or ναιωμένους, then it is) νεμομένους.3 Concerning Philip’s wounds.
Col. 13  That the speech is not one of the Philippics, but is otherwise by Demosthenes.
Col. 14  Concerning Orgas.  Why he called the Megarians “accursed.”
Col. 15 (no header given)

At the end of the roll is a title identifying it as the third book of Didymus’s commentaries on the Philippics, part of a series of commentaries on twenty-eight speeches of Demosthenes.4

1.  Col. 12a is the one exception: it is a critical comment about a word occuring in the text at col. 12.3, rather than a description of the column’s contents.  D-S1, x-xi, mention the possibility that the column headers were written by a different hand from that of the main text.

Gibson has not taken into account Mutschmann’s article — the marginal status of scholarship on chapter titles should pain us all — but this is excellent stuff, and he goes on to give a translation.  But I don’t know how we reconcile Mutschmann’s comments about the titles on columns 7 and 8 with this.  I wish we could see a facsimile.

But it seems that we have some solid evidence of chapter titles, given here in a second century papyrus of some length as running titles, and marked in the text indicating where they should appear.

But who are these authors?  Well, Didymus himself is Didymus ChalcenterusHierocles Stoicus seems even more obscure, although his surviving work was edited by Illara Ramelli and translated into English by David Konstan – well done! — in 2009 as Hierocles the Stoic: Elements of Ethics, Fragments, and Excerpts, and is on Google books in preview here.

UK internet to be controlled by police

A curious story here at political blogger Guido Fawkes.  He says that Nominet, the controller of the .uk domain, has decided to take down any site, if the police make a request for it to be taken down.   Apparently they will do so without any requirement for a court order.

The impetus behind this is to deal with sites run by organised crime.  But the implications are wider, and Guido is right to be alarmed.

The British press is subject to the D-notice system.  This is a group of senior security figures, who advise the press when to suppress some story prejudicial to national security.  It is a civilised system, and certainly every nation needs to ensure that the media do not give aid and comfort to enemies in time of war. 

The recent actions of Wikileaks highlight why such a system is needed.  Nothing is gained by betraying the secret communications of your diplomats to your enemies.

But surely we don’t want the police deciding who may and may not run a website?

Eusebius update

I’ve entered all the Coptic corrections as sticky notes on the PDF of Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions!  VERY loud rejoicing here.  It took about 3 hours in the end, which is not at all bad. 

There’s one query outstanding, which is to do with a couple of paragraphs the translator is quite keen on adding.  Unfortunately they read more like footnotes.  So a couple of queries.

Otherwise all the corrections are done, in all languages, and ready for correction by the typesetter.  I must remember to tell him to set Acrobat up with Alphabetum as the default font for comments, or he won’t be able to see the Coptic!

One problem — I can’t get a reply from the typesetter by email.  Bob, if you’re reading this, would you email me?

N. G. Wilson, Scholiasts and commentators

N. G. Wilson is perhaps the dean of studies on the transmission of Greek literature.  By chance I found online a paper of his, in PDF form, here, dealing with ancient commentaries.  A little known subject, being discussed by a master — recommended.

The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin (Ps.Dionysius of Tel-Mahre)

Amir Harrak, who published an English translation of parts 3 and 4 of this world chronicle, introduces the manuscript in the following, very interesting way.

The Chronicle of Zuqnin is a universal chronicle which begins with the creation of the world and ends with the time of writing, A.D. 775-776. The Chronicle is known from a single manuscript of 179 folios, 173 of which are now housed in the Vatican Library (Codex Zuqninensis, Vat. Syr. 162), and an additional six are currently in the possession of the British Library (formerly British Museum), labelled Add. 14.665 folios 2 to 7. Each folio is circa 235 to 255 mm high and 150 to 165 mm wide. The Vatican folios have been bound in 1881 into a single volume, protected by a hard red cover, whereas the six folios in the British Library have been included with fragments belonging to other manuscripts. According to Tisserant’s reconstruction of the Codex, it originally comprised at least 190 folios.

Of the folios of our manuscript 129 are palimpsest—one a double palimpsest (BM fol. 3), the originally inscribed text representing a number of books of the Old Testament in Greek (the Scptuagint). In fact, the folios once belonged to six distinct manuscripts with text from five biblical books (Judg, 1 Kgs, Ps, Ezek, Dan), which have been assigned dates ranging from the fifth to the eighth centuries.

In 1715 the famous Maronite bishop and scholar J. S. Assemani found the Vatican portion of the manuscript in the Syrian Monastery of Saint Mary in the Egyptian desert of Natrun, and purchased it for the Vatican Library. The other six folios were acquired by the British Museum between 1839 and 1842. That both were part of one and the same manuscript was confirmed on the basis of the Septuagint texts by Cardinal Eugene Tisserant. Tisserant, however, dated the manuscript to the 9th century in light of the Syriac script.

According to J. S. Assemani the manuscript was written in Egypt by a monk of the Desert of Scete (Wadi al-Natrun) at the beginning of the 10th century. By the time he wrote his Catalogue with his nephew S. E Assemani, however, he had changed his mind and believed that the manuscript had been brought, along with others, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, by the abbot Moses of Nisibis (died in 944) in 932. Although this statement is only an assumption, it makes sense, since the manuscript was the product of the monastery of Zuqnin, located near Amida now in south-east Turkey, judging from a note inserted by a monk of the same monastery. This monk, Elisha by name, was a contemporary of Moses of Nisibis (see below for more details). Tisserant further observed that since the sub-script was Greek and not Coptic, as Assemani had first asserted, Syria rather than Egypt must have been the place of origin, seeing that most of the manuscripts in the possession of the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians in Scete (of which Moses of Nisibis was the abbot) came from Syria.

As is often the case, the first and last folios of the manuscript of Zuqnin have been lost. The preface of the work, however, has survived, albeit in a very damaged condition. It was written in S(eleucid) 1087 (A.D. 775-776) “in which (year) Mahdi son of `Abd-Allah is ruling over Syria, Egypt. Armenia, Azarbayjan, all of Persia, Sind, Kho[rasan], as well as over the Arabs, and over the Greeks Leo son of Constantine, and over the Romans Pepin”. The addressees in the preface are the “spiritual fathers (of the writer), George, chorepiscopus of Amida. the abbot Euthalius, Lazarus the Visitor, the honourable Anastasius, and the rest of the monastic community (of Zuqnin)”. Unfortunately, the Chronicler’s name, and perhaps indications of his status and origin have not survived. Moreover, the manuscript per se is scarcely in a perfect state of preservation, since several folios—especially of its first half—have either suffered erasure or are damaged in varying degrees. For some reason, the second half of the manuscript, which contains Parts III and IV, fared better, even though here, too, many folios have suffered erasure and/or are fragmentary. Furthermore, the folios housed in the British Library are worm eaten, a fact which explains why the last account of the Chronicle—the martyrdom of Cyrus of Harran—is very fragmentary and comes to an abrupt end.

As I have remarked before, manuscripts are not static things.  In fact they lead a full and interesting life, and move around like bumble-bees.

Coptic in unicode when you don’t know the alphabet

I’ve been trying to enter corrections to the Coptic section of my book.  Unfortunately all I got from the translator was *paper* corrections.  I don’t know the Coptic alphabet.  Worse still, I’m working with Bohairic, using the Alphabetum unicode font, rather than the commoner Sahidic unicode fonts.  What am I to do?

Luckily we live in the age of the web.  Here’s what I have done.

Firstly, look at the Wikipedia Coptic alphabet page.  This has a really useful table, which shows and names all the letters with images.  But it also has two columns which actually use a unicode font.  Naturally these appear as squares, invalid characters. 

So what I did then was copy and paste the whole table into a Word document.  The unicode characters remained invalid, mostly — hey, my default font is Times New Roman and it doesn’t contain these.

Then I selected the two columns in Word and changed the font to Alphabetum.  And … magically I got a whole load of Coptic unicode characters, all labelled, displayed at 18pt:


 Now what I can do is use these characters, and just copy and paste them, one by one.  Yes, I still don’t know the alphabet.  But I can compare the letter types against the images, against the word document.  For small amounts of Coptic, it works.

It would work for Sahidic as well, of course — just use a different font than Alphabetum.

But … the translator talks about “supralinear strokes” whatever these may be.  The Wikipedia article is silent on these.

I have found a page on Coptic unicode input that does discuss these things.  You can enter any unicode character using charmap.  So:

Here are the choices made for the punctuation and diacritics used in modern printing of Coptic texts:


  • normal English punctuation (comma, period, question mark, semicolon, colon, hyphen) uses the regular Unicode codepoints for punctuation
  • dicolon: standard colon U+003A
  • middle dot: U+00B7
  • en dash: U+2013
  • em dash: U+2014
  • slanted double hyphen: U+2E17
    Combining diacritics (codepoints applied after that of the character they modify):

  • combining overstroke: U+0305
  • combining character-joining overstroke (from middle of one character to middle of the next): U+035E
  • combining dot under a letter: U+0323
  • combining dot over a letter: U+0307
  • combining overstroke and dot below: U+0305,U+0323
  • combining acute accent: U+0301
  • combining grave accent: U+0300
  • combining circumflex accent (caret shaped): U+0302
  • combining circumflex (curved shape) or inverted breve above: U+0311
  • combining circumflex as wide inverted breve above joining two letters: U+0361
  • combining diaeresis: U+0308

It is easier to enter Coptic Unicode characters if one has a customized keyboard, but it is also possible to enter any four-digit hexadecimal codepoint that you know using particular utilities in Mac OS X or Windows. … In Word for Windows, you can type a four-digit code (or a five-digit code) directly into your document and then type ALT-x, which converts the code to the character.

And there we are.

The same page also gives a Coptic unicode keyboard for Windows XP, but that’s for people who know what they are doing.

The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin

Brent Landau’s online thesis of the Revelation of the Magi contains a Syriac text of this work, extracted from the first part of the Chronicle of Zuqnin.  The third and fourth parts were translated into English by the excellent Amir Harrak.  Landau has some interesting things to say about the manuscript:

II. The Chronicle of Zuqnin—Codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162

The only extant version of the RevMagi has been preserved in Syriac, although it is possible that major portions of the text were actually composed in Greek, as this study will suggest. In its received form, the RevMagi constitutes part of a worldchronicle dating from the late eighth century, a document known as the Chronicle of Zuqnin (henceforth CZuq), or, less accurately, as the Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre.(6) Composed at the Zuqnin monastery in southeastern Turkey (near the present city of Diyarbakir),(7) the CZuq incorporates a number of pre-existing writings of various genres in its compilation of the history of the world from creation up to its time of composition, 775-776 CE. It has simply inserted the entire RevMagi at the appropriate place in its chronological framework, without anything in the way of evaluative commentary. Apart from the text itself, the author of the CZuq, anonymous but probably a stylite named Joshua,(8) has only added the descriptive phrases, “About the revelation of the Magi, and about their coming to Jerusalem, and about the gifts that they brought to Christ” (1:) at its beginning, and “The story about the Magi and their gifts has finished” (32:4) at its end.

The CZuq itself is only extant in a single MS housed in the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, a witness catalogued as codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. Until quite recently, the dominant scholarly opinion was that this MS was most likely a ninth-century copy of the original chronicle, a judgment based upon paleographic grounds.

In 1999, A. Harrak presented compelling evidence that this MS is actually the autograph of the CZuq, and indeed may well have been the only copy of the chronicle ever in existence.(9) The MS is a palimpsest on vellum, with the Syriac text written over fragments of the Septuagint dating from the fifth to eighth centuries. The script is predominantly an unpointed Serto, although some letters resemble an Estrangelo script. The MS currently contains 179 folios, although E. Tisserant, the editor of the Greek fragments, believed that it originally included 190 folios.10 The dimensions of the folios vary, with measurements between 235 to 255 mm high and 150 to 165 mm wide. There are twenty quires in the extant MS, most of which are quinia, that is, groupings of ten folios.

6. The latter title is the product of J.S. Assemani, who believed that its author was the ninth-century Syrian patriarch Dionysius I of Tel-Mahre, a judgment that scholars have since discredited, giving rise to the appellation “Pseudo-Dionysius.” However, as A. Harrak observes, this identification has no clear basis and is quite misleading: “Moreover, Zuqnin as a concrete location seems somehow a more appropriate anchor for the anonymous Chronicle than a phantom author dubbed Pseudo-Dionysius. The latter is not only an imaginary person, but his name fosters confusion with the real Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, who had no connection whatsoever with the Zuqnin Chronicle,” Chronicle of Zuqnin, 3-4.

7. Although Assemani found the MS in Egypt, at the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians in the Desert of Scete, the production of the chronicle at the Zuqnin monastery is clear, since the author mentions that several monks “from our monastery of Zuqnin” died from a pestilence, ibid., 2-3.

8. Ibid, 4-8.

9. Harrak makes two especially strong arguments for viewing the CZuq as an autograph. First, in several places there are blank spaces, as if the chronicler had intended to fill them in once he had acquired the missing information. Second, there are previously unnoticed annotations in the margins, which Harrak interpreted as memory-aids that the scribe wrote in order to remind himself to mention topics at a later point in the text. See his discussion of these features in ibid., 13-15.

10. See the introduction to his edition for codicological data pertaining to the MS, Codex Zuqninensis, vxv.


I wish I had a PDF of Harrak’s translation!

UPDATE: A correspondent has pointed me to this Google books preview.  But … it’s only previewable in the USA!  I didn’t know they restricted previews like that, but they certainly have.

Review: The heresy of orthodoxy, part 1

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger have written an interesting book by the title of The Heresy of Orthodoxy.  They contend that New Testament studies is being corrupted by a theory originally advanced by Walter Bauer in 1934 in his book Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im Ältesten Christentum, and popularised by an English translation and the works of Bart Ehrman, and that this in turn is dripping nonsense into our culture in general. 

The book begins with a short introduction, indicating the purpose of the book — to refute Bauer’s book — and also containing the usual thanks and dedications, plus a note that this is by no means an academic issue alone because of the widespread use of the theory by those seeking to attack Christianity in contemporary society.  This last statement indicates that the authors are Christians, but it is the only such statement in part 1 (I have yet to read parts 2 and 3).

According to K&K, Bauer’s theory was a classic bit of revisionism.  He took the narrative of early Christian history, found in all ancient sources that discuss the matter, and inverted it.  

In the primary sources, we have Christ teaching his disciples, the apostles preaching and founding churches, and the churches transmitting that teaching, and rejecting one deviation after another down the centuries, with theology developing, but not changing, through this process.  But in the sources, there are also the heretics; those who want the name of Christianity, but want to attach it to other teaching.  This other teaching depends on their background; initially it is borrowed from Judaism, but thereafter it is usually borrowed from contemporary pop-paganism, right down to our own times.  Catalogues of these heresies and their infinite variety of teachings exist, such as the Panarion of Epiphanius or the De haeresibus of Augustine, and these often name Simon Magus as the first of them.

K&K tell us that Bauer asserted, in contrast, that the teaching of Jesus had no specific content, and that the movement that derived from him was very various in nature and teaching.  Out of this, at a later date, arose what they call “proto-orthodoxy”, a narrowing of the originally broad and diverse movement.  This better organised faction pushed all the other forms of genuine Christianity out of the nest, so to speak.

In chapter 1, K&K discuss the reception of the theory in North America. The book presumes the reader speaks only English, and there are no direct references to non-English sources in the literature.  But unless the libraries to which they have access are scant indeed, presumably this is a deliberate choice, in the belief that their audience, sympathetic or otherwise, will be familiar with the literature but will not have access to scholarly literature in French and German.   It may be relevant that scholars in North America rarely referred to the work until it was translated in 1971 as Orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity (p.26, n.6).  

Chapter 2 reviews a key element in the Bauer theory.  Bauer examined the data on four early centres of Christianity; Asia Minor, Edessa, Egypt and Rome.  He claimed that in each case there is evidence of heresy predating evidence of orthodoxy.  K&K spend a couple of pages on each, with varying levels of success.  The first portion, on Asia Minor, successfully rebuts the claim.  But only two pages are devoted to Edessa, and there is no mention of Syriac, which makes this portion of the book much too skimpy.  Marcion seems to be the heretic in view, and certainly Ephraim dedicates part of his Prose Refutations to dealing with the Marcionites.  Nearby, Eznik of Kolb in early Armenian likewise attacks the group, who were therefore plainly strong in this region.  Yet … when we look at the list of pre-fourth century literary texts, we think, not of Marcion, but of Bardaisan and The book of the laws of the countries.  We also consider the translation of the Old Testament into Syriac, presumably in this period, perhaps by Jews, perhaps Christians, but probably not by Marcionites.  Surely a better argument could be made here.  The authors might have verified whether any ancient source conclusively records Marcionites as present in any region before Christianity — the catalogue of data in Harnack’s Marcion: Das Evangelium vom fremden Gott would tell them — and if not, then we need not consider the idea that Marcion preceded orthodoxy in Edessa without positive evidence.  Positive evidence is not forthcoming.  The section on Egypt is better, and that on Rome is well-considered.  These sections do refer, in a shallow way, to the data in question.  The next part of the chapter then discusses the patristic view, concentrating exclusively on the regula fidei.  Perhaps the remarks of Tertullian ca. 200 AD on heresies, their origin and attitudes, in De praescriptione haereticorum 1-7 might have deserved a mention, considering its accessibility in the splendid translation by Greenslade, which I think the authors would enjoy if they read it.  Finally there is a discussion — much too shallow — of heresy in the Fathers.  Curiously they only treat gnosticism, presumably because this is the heresy advanced by most of Bauer’s admirers. 

This seems to be the right moment to mention a feature of the book, one common to most of the books on New Testament studies that I have seen.  The primary data plays a minor role, not unnaturally since it is a fixed and small corpus which the authors presume everyone knows.  Instead it digests modern book after modern book, balancing one on another and thereby telling the tale.  Unfortunately it means that much of this part of the book is essentially unverifiable to anyone who does not have the pile of books referenced before him, and looks up each in turn to see whether it does establish what the authors claim.  What I would have liked to see, instead, is a very much larger book.  In that book, each element of the argument would be established from first principles by the authors, based on the primary data and referencing only technical authorities, and describing other authors as they have contributed to the argument.  In 100 pages little can be done.  But in a sense it torpedoes the value of a book, since that value depends on the value one ascribes to the “authorities” referenced.  Some of them look a little unlikely to be able to bear the weight placed on them.

Chapter 3 discusses how heresy is seen in the New Testament.  The treatment is sound, and the authors rightly sidestep the pitfall of arguments about the dating and authorship of New Testament documents.  In the section where they discuss the pastorals, referring to “Paul says”, a footnote indicating that the authorship was not of importance for the argument would have avoided some captious criticism.

At the end of the chapter, a rather rushed set of conclusions in fact introduce new and important material in a way liable to mislead.  Part of the Bauer argument is that orthodoxy triumphed because of ecclesiastical politics.  K&K instead suggest that this is anachronistic, and that the real answer lies in the belief of the early Christians that the gospel message itself was supernatural, and that the attitude to authority was to look for what was divinely bestowed rather than organisationally conferred.  They instance Paul’s own apostolate as an example.  There is something in this, although Paul himself took care to obtain the backing of the organisation that Jesus had left behind him.  They suggest that failure to recognise this reflects an anti-supernatural bias in Bauer, and a prediliction for seeing everything as movements of men and politics, rather than allowing for the ‘charismatic’ attitudes likely to exist among the early believers.  Probably he was so biased, and, like many a scholar, far too removed from such movements to ever instinctively understand how they work.  But the point is made ineptly, and the phrasing is likely to lead to criticism as if they were writing sermons rather than arguing issues.

On the whole part 1 is a success.  On to part 2.

The Revelation of the Magi

Quite by accident I came across an online dissertation of an interesting yet obscure text here, via Flow of Consciousness:

Oklahoma has been hiding one of its most interesting secrets for two years, namely its very own Syriac scholar. Dr. Brent Landau, graduate of Harvard Divinity School, is Assistant Professor at University of Oklahoma’s Religious Studies Program.

Dr. Landau is noted for providing the first English translation of what has been named the “Revelation of the Magi”, a Christian apocryphal work and the most extensive Magi account from the ancient world. The Syriac narrative is preserved in a longer work comprising Vaticanus Syriacus 162, a codex housed in the Vatican Library.

Landau estimates the original “Revelation of the Magi” (ROM) was composed in the late second or early third century and was written from the perspective of the Magi themselves. It was then redacted in the third or fourth century to include the Apostle Thomas in a third-person account. The Vatican manuscript used by Landau for his English translation is from the 8th century.

With the Nativity approaching it is no accident that Harper Collins has released Landau’s research entitled Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem, based on his dissertation and edited for the wider audience in mind. The press releases and articles begin with the usual dramatic titles about lost scrolls and Christian origins.

If you are interested in seeing the Syriac text (nicely vocalized) and a more technical treatment of the ROM, Landau’s dissertation can be downloaded here at

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon

A critical edition will be available to the scholarly community when Landau publishes the Syriac text as part of Brepol’s Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum.

The nice vocalisation of the Serto text validates my own decision to do the same with the Syriac in the Eusebius book.  It forces the editor to commit to an understanding of the text.

The text is found in Syriac and Latin (from which Dr. Landau sensibly supposes the existence of a Greek version linking the two):

The first chapter is a critical edition of the Syriac text of this apocryphon as found in the Chronicle of Zuqninan eighth-century world chronicle preserved in a single manuscript, codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. The corresponding annotated English translation is the first of its kind for this text. …  a much shorter version of the narrative [is] contained in the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, an Arian commentary on the Gospel of Matthew from the fifth century. It concludes that the Opus is a witness to a Greek version of this apocryphon, basically equivalent to the received Syriac.

An extremely important point is made in the thesis:

This edition of the Syriac text of the RevMagi as found in Vaticanus Syriacus162 relies upon three principal sources, listed here in order of their importance: the 1850 edition of Tullberg, the 1927 edition of Chabot, and my first-hand observation of the MS at the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in November of 2004. Because of the significant deterioration in the MS that took place in the period between Tullberg and Chabot, Tullberg is extremely valuable for the quality of his readings, many of which Chabot has followed.

We tend to think manuscripts are static objects.  But the books taken from the Nitrian desert to the damp climate of Europe are unlikely to remain intact.  I wonder how widespread this problem is?

Another useful comment appears at the end:

Beyond these problems associated specifically with the   RevMagi itself, this study has also called attention to several obscure apocryphal texts related to the birth of Jesus in which the Magi play a significant role. These texts include the “New Source” of M.R. James, the pseudo-Eusebian Syriac work “On the Star”, and the “Legend of Aphroditianus”, falsely attributed to Julius Africanus. Research on such texts has remained at a very basic level, not because of the dullness of their narratives, but because of the difficulties in their textual transmission and the theological biases that hamper the study of all noncanonical writings.

Actually I’m not sure what “theological bias” Dr Landau has in mind.   I’m as fundamentalist as they come, and I see no issue with studying these pieces of literature as the fiction that they are.  The only real theological barrier I can see is the dreary tendency of notoriety seekers to treat the veriest ancient tosh as equivalent to the canonical texts, which naturally irritates Christians and encourages them to ignore the texts.  But the tedium is undoubtedly a problem.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised in the Religionsgesprach as to how much interesting material there was — a citation of Josephus, a collection of pagan oracles predicting Christ, quotations from Philip of Side — and I think that other texts will also contain treasures.

Well done, Dr. L., for attacking something of real interest and making it available (if not in finished form) online.

Classics for all? Or classics for a few, funded by all?

There is an encouraging post by establishment blogger Mary Beard at the Times website (freely accessible, tho) entitled Classics for all.  She discusses how the tide is now starting to flow in favour of the classics generally.

In fact, so widespread is the feeling in favour of Classics that the rumour is that the Today Programme had to scratch an interview with Classics-fan Bettany Hughes, because they couldn’t find anyone to go on air and dump on the subject.

This is good news, and we must all be glad of it.  The rediscovery of the classics triggered the creation of the modern world, to which all of us owe everything.  When we thank God for modern central heating, warm clothes, medicine, and science, we need to remember the origins of it all in a few enthusiasts excitedly reading the works of Cicero. 

She’s also encouraging a fund-raising campaign:

So far so good. But it is one thing to claim how much you love Latin and Greek; quite another to find the cash so that kids at most schools in the land can actually study them.

That’s where a new campaign called “Classics For All” comes in. … The aim is to raise a large amount of money to support teaching and other classical initiatives in state schools. Classics for All will not be doing the teaching, but administering grants to kick start projects that “will meet or stimulate demand for Classics in a school or area”… from after school clubs, to GCSE classes, using teachers wherever they can be found.

This too is excellent.

But the post ends on a different note, which I found troubling:

There’s a more general point about Humanities funding here. It is much harder for us to get a hearing when the government line is how wonderful History, English, Theology or whatever are… but that sadly (ministerial tear in the eye at this point), when so many people are being asked to tighten their belts, Humanities are realy (sic) not something that can be funded out of public money.

That kind of argument puts us on the back foot. But the truth is that Humanities have never thrived on private enterprise; they have always needed the state, the monarch or the church.  So all power to our students who are having a (peaceful) demonstration in Cambridge tomorrow.

It is certainly the case that the humanities have always relied on the patronage of others.  But … just why should the humanities be exempt from the cutbacks that the state sector now must undergo?

We refer to the “state sector”, but let’s call it what it is: the “parasite sector”.  It is that part of the economy which exists entirely on the back of forced contributions from the rest.  In East Anglia, where I live, 25% of the workforce is employed in the parasite sector, and so paid for by the rest of us.  I’m not enthusiastic about working, not to provide for myself, but to provide for them. 

Most people pay PAYE and NI taxes, which amounts to 46% of any transaction for employment, at basic rate.  Let’s think about what that means.  It means some poor woman who can barely afford to heat her home going out to work for 40 hours a week, and for 18.4 of those hours she earns nothing.  She sells 40 hours of her life, and has to work unpaid for 18.4 of them, in order to fund the parasite sector.

I believe the prophets of biblical times would have something to say about that.

It is morally justifiable for our rulers to raise taxes on us all in order to keep the streets safe from the thug who would prey on us; the country safe from foreigners who would plunder and enslave us; the roads functional, so that we can all earn a living; a small pension to keep the old and the poor from starving; perhaps some form of healthcare, although there are differing views on this; and a range of services of the same, limited kind, which should be freely available to all.  These are essential public services that it makes no sense for anyone else to do, and without which the country could not function.

But these make up a small proportion of the huge spending of a modern European government.  It is not in providing these essentials that one in four East Anglians are employed.

The sense of entitlement among many working in the parasite sector is enormous.  There is no trace, in the article, of any suggestion that money does not fall from the sky.  No, what is needed — applauded — is “protest”.  She applauds those whose response to hard times is demand the money keeps coming, and never mind from where.

Times are hard.  All of us are cutting back our spending.  Except, apparently, people in the humanities?  This will not do.

Is there any pressing reason, for instance, why that poor woman should fund the study of theology?  Let the church fund it, if it is so inclined, would be my own view.  Camouflaging this under “religious studies” does not work for me.  We do not need study of Anglicanism.  We do need study of Islam, because Islam is a danger at present — so let it be funded under the security budget.  We do not need study of Bahai’s.  We do need study of some cults; but again, only for police purposes.

But what about classics?  Who will pay for this?

I am very sympathetic to this.  It is, as I began by saying, a foundational subject for the modern world.  I think that a civilised country must have courses of study in classics.  I believe that the systems of study at Oxford and Cambridge need reform — the laziness of students and dons is legendary –, but I do not dissent from the principle.  Let them be funded, yes. 

But let them recognise, as they would do if a private patron funded them, that it is not by right that they enjoy their privilege.   The real humanists had to depend on patrons.  The state may act as a patron — although surely private patronage would be better — but it should be seen as one.