Archive for September, 2012

Ever downloaded a pirate video? The publisher knows that you did it. Apparently.

An interesting article in New Scientist here.

Anyone who has downloaded pirated music, video or ebooks using a BitTorrent client has probably had their IP address logged by copyright-enforcement authorities within 3 hours of doing so. So say computer scientists who placed a fake pirate server online – and very quickly found monitoring systems checking out who was taking what from the servers.

The news comes from this week’s SecureComm conference in Padua, Italy, where computer security researcher Tom Chothia and his colleagues at the University of Birmingham, UK, revealed they have discovered “massive monitoring” of BitTorrent download sites, such as the PirateBay, has been taking place for at least three years.

Quite right too.   One can imagine the conversation in a Pall Mall club:

What business have the plebs in reading or watching, unless they pay someone for it?  Another glass of something, minister?

I imagine that these companies — they like to call themselves “creative industries”, presumably in reference to their attitude to the law — are keen to get a law passed that will allow them to demand money under  threat from all those people.

Anyone like to suggest untranslated works of spiritual value to modern Christians?

Someone has written to me, mentioning a translator who has done a couple of English translations of “spiritual classic”-type patristic works, and is open to translating more.  The results will be sold, unfortunately.

What should I suggest to them?  That has not been translated before?

Life of Mar Aba – chapter 32

The hagiographical life of the 6th century East Syriac Catholicos Mar Aba continues.

32.  At the time of the journey, when the King of Kings set out to go to Azerbaijan, the saint was led with him in his fetters, in great discomfort, over mountains and hills, in heat and drought, in thirst and hunger, in much prayer with his disciples.  Wherever they came, the believers welcomed him with great joy and everyone went to his tent as a means of grace and blessing.  Wherever the king camped, believers came from place and asked that the Saint should be released from these harsh restraints.  When the King of Kings came to Azerbaijan and the magians of the place where the Blessed One had been in custody, hearing that he was at court, all came to honour and greet him, weeping that by the removal of the Noble One they had been robbed of such a blessing.  Everywhere they went, wherever the great ones of the Kingdom were, they spoke of his wisdom and manner of life.  The leaders of the magians at court forbade them to say such things about him, until, of the leaders of the magians, Kardag the Ainbed, and Shahrdawer, and Azadsad the Mobedan Mobed, calmed down in their anger against him, because they became ashamed of themselves through the beautiful things which people said about him.  So they told him through a Mobed, “We hear from many people that you are a good and an upright man, and we are anxious that you should be released from your bonds.  Just state publically that you are not opposed to magianism and will not convert (anyone) else to Christianity, and we will immediately release you and you can go wherever you like.”

All this seems rather fictional to me.

Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 4 – Edessa (contd) – criteria

I have been looking at Walter Bauer’s 1934 book, Orthodoxy and Heresy, in a series of posts.  My previous post consisted of taking his chapter on the earliest Christianity in Edessa, in Northern Syria — the home of the Syriac language — and summarising what he had to say.  Bauer’s argument is made in a really rather diffuse manner, and it is usually sound practice with such theses to reduce them to a series of propositions and assess the evidence either way.

Bauer’s thesis in chapter 1 is straightforward.  The earliest Christianity in Edessa was Marcionite.  Later came Bardaisan.  Normal Christianity came at least third, around 300 A.D.

It is entirely possible that, in a remote region, separated by political and linguistic barriers, that the first mention of the name of Christ may come from people who are heretical.  The conversion of the Goths to Arian Christianity shows that this can happen.  Whether Edessa is that remote, that separate, may reasonably be doubted.  Geographically it was close to Palestine.  The language was a dialect of Aramaic, understood in Palestine, probably spoken by Jesus himself, and certainly used for a translation of the Old Testament at a very early date, probably made by Jews.[1].  Certainly in the 4th century material written in Caesarea by its bishop Eusebius was translated into Syriac almost within the lifetime of the author.[2]  But who knows?  Maybe it is so.

Rather than arguing from probability, let us try to marshall evidence for and against the thesis. 

First we must ask what sort of data will be evidence for or against the thesis?  We should also ask, critically, what will that data be evidence of?

One approach would be to examine all the references in the surviving ancient literature to Christianity in Edessa.  If we have a clear statement of the proposition in one of these, that would be evidence for the thesis.  If we have a clear statement to the contrary, that would be evidence.

If the proposition is not explicitly discussed, then we can examine references to Christianity in Edessa for doctrinal statements.  Then we can draw up a table of date and doctrine, and see what appears first. 

But this raises a question.  Will this be evidence?  If we find that all the earliest references are to Marcionites, will that show that Marcionites were first?  Or will it merely show us what the chances of survival — for not more than 1% of the material composed has reached us[3] – have preserved?  It is one thing to say, “The first mention is Marcionite”, if such is the case.  It is another to infer from such a discovery that whatever is mentioned first in the surviving data did indeed come first, and that the absence of any mention of normal Christianity shows that it did not exist. 

It is notoriously difficult to prove a negative.  A positive statement of non-existence is evidence.  Is failure to mention something evidence of non-existence? 

Likewise, if normal Christianity is not mentioned, are we justified in presuming that it existed anyway?  In this case I would say not; for Bauer’s thesis seems to be testing this presumption, region by region.

Let us defer that question, however, until we have seen what the evidence is.  Then we can argue what it means.  If WordPress will permit, I shall try to put it in tabular form.

  1. [1] S. Brock’s introduction to Syriac Literature, SEERI, refers to the early date of the OT Syriac translation.
  2. [2] The earliest known Syriac literary manuscript, BL. Add. 12150, dates to 411 AD and contains Eusebius, Theophania.  His Church History was translated into Syriac in the 4th century at least.
  3. [3] So Pietro Bembo, referenced by N.G.Wilson on the Archimedes Palimpsest website.

From my diary

I’ve been adding some author names to volumes of the Patrologia Latina today.  I’ve also been cursing WordPress, which proceeded to join together URL’s on the right hand side of the page, for no apparent reason.

It occurred to me yesterday that there can be relatively few people who have looked into all 161 volumes of the Patrologia Graeca, even if it is only to look at their tables of contents.  Doing so certainly gives you a marvellous overview of what exists.

From my diary

I have continued looking at the tables of contents in the Patrologia Graeca list on this site, originally compiled by Rod Letchford for the now defunct Cyprian Project, and adding notes about their contents to the list.

Today I finally reached volume 161 and last.  It has been a mighty effort, just to click on 161 links and scroll down.  But I hope the results are useful.

More work could usefully be done.  I ought to go through the list again and harmonise the style.  But … not just at the moment!

More on codex Palatinus graecus 129

A comment by Dr Divna Manolova on my post about some of the Heidelberg manuscripts picked up on a problem; that I could not tell what the 141 folios of ms. Palatinus graecus 129 actually contained.

It seems that it consists of working notes by a Byzantine scholar, Nikephoros Gregoras (d. ca. 1359/1360).  The manuscript contains a hand also found in codd. Vat. gr. 116 and 228, which are filled with letters, editorial notes, etc, by the same scholar.

That is, Pal. gr. 129, together with several other codices, is one of the material witnesses of the circle of scholars/scribes Gregoras was part of, or even presiding over.

She also drew our attention to the catalogue entry for the ms at Pinakes, which indicates that the ms. contains an enormous number of excerpts by some fifty different authors.

An email from George Christodoulou added more information.  With his permission, let me give here (slightly edited) what he tells us:

Well, having just transcribed for my own use a small fraction of the text on fol.1recto, it seems as if what we have here is but a syncopated paraphrasis of random passages from Herodotus.  My transcription points to Bk.I,178.1 sq., 179.4, 204.1.

I can also refer you to Edmund Fryde’s book, Early Palaeologan Renaissance 1261- c.1360 (Brill, 2000).  He speaks of Nikephoros Gregoras, and the well known Byzantine scholar’s habit of using Greek authors “merely as a source of endless citations” (360).  He singles out for especial reference his autograph codex Palatinus gr. 129, into which Gregoras would copy excerpts from a number of rare authors. In a note, Fryde also mentions a scholarly article by A. Biedl, “Der Heidelberger Codex Pal. gr. 129 – die Notizien-sammlung eines byzantinischen Gelehrten”, Würzburger Jahrbücher 3 (1948), 100-106.

He also transcribed some of the opening lines, which he confirms are taken from Herodotus, just as the Pinakes entry indicates, and has kindly allowed this to appear here:

I.178.1 sqq.  ὅτι Νίνου ἀναστάτου γενομένης μεγάλης πόλεως τῶν Ἀσσυρίων τὰ βασιλήια κατεστήκεεν ἐν Βαβυλῶνι, ἣ ἐστὶ τοιαύτη πόλις. νέεται ἐν πεδίῳ μεγάλῳ τῆς Ἀσσυρίης. μέγα-θος ἐοῦσα μέτωπον ἕκαστον ρκ΄ σταδίων ἐούσης τετραγώ-νου. τὸ δὲ τεῖχος αὐτῆς πεντήκοντα πήχεων βασιληΐων τὸ εὖ- ρος, ὕψος δὲ διηκοσίων. δὲ βασιλήϊος πῆχυς τοῦ μετρίου ἐστὶ πήχεως μέζων τρισὶ δακτύλοισιν:

Ι.179.4 sqq.  ὅτι ποταμός τις Ἲς ὄνομα εἰσβάλλει εἰς τὸν Εὐφρά-την ποταμὸν τὸ ῥέεθρον.  ὃς ἅμα τῷ ὕδατι θρόμβους ἀσφάλ-του ἀναδιδοῖ πολλούς.  ἔνθεν ἡ ἄσφαλτος εἰς τὸ ἐν Βαβυλῶ-νι τεῖχος ἐκομίσθη:

Ι.204.1 ὅτι  ἀπὸ τῆς Κασπίης θαλάσσης, τὰ μὲν πρὸς τὴν ἑσπέ-ρην φέροντα ὁ Καύκασος ἀπείργει [γῆς ὄρος readings uncertain] μέγιστον καὶ ὑψηλότατον. τὰ δὲ πρὸς ἠῶ τε καὶ ἥλιον ἀνατέλ-λοντα πεδίον ἐκδέκεται πλῆθος ἄπειρον εἰς ἄποψιν. οὗ μοί-ρην οὐκ ἐλαχίστην μετέχουσιν οἱ Μασσαγέται, ἐπ’ οὓς ὁ Κῦρος ἐστράτευσε πέρην οἰκημένους τοῦ ὄρους καὶ τοῦ ποτα-μοῦ.

Ι.214.3  ὑπὸ τούτων τῶν Μασσαγετῶν  τὸ πολὺ τῆς Περσικῆς στρατιῆς τότε ἐφθάρη ἐκεῖ καὶ αὐτὸς συντετελευτήκει ὁ Κῦρος.  λέγουσι δὲ καὶ σκυθικὸν εἶναι τοῦτο τὸ ἔθνος:

[Herodotus’ original text underlined above in bold letters.]

My thanks to Dr Christodoulou for this!

One further point was made by Dr Manolova, and is also very interesting:

In Pal. gr. 129 Gregoras used two different styles of handwriting. I am not sure how common this is, but I found it intriguing that one could variate one’s handwriting for different purposes; with respect of different content and contexts.

Indeed so, and an interesting subject for research.

When the political establishment wants to edit the bible

A piece at Dyspepsia Generation, “If only we could edit the bible” drew my attention this morning.  It quotes a Huffington Post article.

I have often wondered–quietly and usually to myself–what would happen if we could edit the Bible.

After all, textbooks get edited and publishers bring out new and improved versions that are more in tune with how things are, instead of how things were.

Wouldn’t it be good if some ecumenical committee could go through the Old Testament and take out all the language about stoning people to death for breaking various rules?

In fact the author would like to see wholesale revision of the bible, to make it “more in tune with how things are”.

But what do we mean by “how things are” in modern America?  Isn’t that an appeal to the climate of the times?  To the values espoused by those who control the media agenda?  Is it not, in fact, the product of a sustained campaign of social manipulation unparalleled in human history?  Indeed it is.

Such a suggestion is a call for the bible to be edited to reflect the wishes of the winners of that civil war, what is sometimes called the “culture wars”.  The winners are the people who wanted fornication in place of chastity, for instance.  It is hard to see that these are people who have any respect for the bible; rather these are people who would seek to use it to impose their own wishes.

All this stirred a memory of William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and his description of the Nazification of the state Lutheran church.  If my memory serves me correctly, a Nazi demanded the abandonment of the Old Testament, with its tales of goat-thieves and cattle herders, and the revision of the New Testament “in accordance with the principles of National Socialism”.  The latter phrase meant that the New Testament should be edited to restore some pretended “original version” in which Jesus was not a Jew, and the church did not have Jewish roots.

Trying to find that quote, I stumbled across the Google Books preview of Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany.  I have read a few pages, and I think that I had better get hold of the book.  It illustrates brilliantly how a state controlled church can be corrupted by a political establishment that holds it in contempt, and the sort of antics that the establishment’s fellow travellers get up to.  If we look past the fact that this is Nazis who want to bash Jews, and replace them with the kind of person who seeks to normalise unnatural vice, we find so many similarities.

And of course the specific cause is unimportant.  It could be any cause.  But the objective is always the same:

Christianity was not to be banned nor the churches outlawed; rather, as the historian Ernst Piper writes, Nazi strategy was to control the churches and lead to “a steadily advancing process of delegitimization and disassociation, of undermining and repression” that would undercut the church’s moral authority and position of respect.[1]

We may look at the demands made today upon churches, with the backing of the state.  At the moment there is the demand to appoint women priests and bishops, to appoint gays to similar positions, to endorse vice of every sort.  In this, do we not see the same process?

Those who make these demands of the church hold the church in contempt.  They laugh as churchmen solemnly attempt to square the circle between the bible and demands made only because they are opposed to the bible.  The fellow-travellers cause chaos as they force their demands through by a mixture of incessant dirty politics, backed by allies controlling the power of appointment, and a constant media atmosphere in their favour; and the establishment enjoys the chaos in an organisation that would otherwise opposite their policies.

Nor should we omit the constant drip-drip of “dirty vicar” stories, and the “church endorses child abuse” stories which somehow never apply the same rules to schools or Boy Scout groups.  The urge to damn the whole organisation by association gives the game away.

You can serve God or the world.  Ultimately all of us must decide which we intend to do.

It is easy, perhaps, to condemn the fellow traveller, if we are not in any way tempted to do the same.  Let us not become proud.  The devil has other temptations lined up for us!

The history of the church is made up of such struggles.  The devil, the author of all this, does not care if any particular struggle is won or lost, so long as Christians are prevented from preaching the gospel.  The worldly and contaminated archbishop is a constant figure in church history.

But he can only matter to us, if we let him.  We must not focus on such things.  Where two or three are gathered together, there is Christ.  He is who we must focus on.

UPDATE: I have found in a snippet part of the quote from Shirer that I recall.

…the Old Testament “with its tales of cattle merchants and pimps” and the revision of the New Testament, with the teaching of Jesus made “to conform entirely with the demands of National Socialism …

The same quote, in a somewhat different form, is referenced to p.237 in a web page, although in what edition is not indicated.  But clearly the author has read the same material that I did:

On November 13, 1933, the day after the German people had overwhelmingly backed Hitler in a national plebiscite, the ‘German Christians’ staged a massive rally in the Sportspalast in Berlin. A Dr. Reinhard Krause, the Berlin district leader of the sect, proposed the abandonment of the Old Testament, ‘with its tales of cattle merchants and pimps’ and the revision of the New Testament with the teaching of Jesus ‘corresponding entirely with the demands of National Socialism.’ Resolutions were drawn up demanding ‘One People, One Reich, One Faith,’ requiring all pastors to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler and insisting that all churches institute the Aryan paragraph and exclude converted Jews…

This latter form is repeated around the web in various places.

  1. [1] Heschel, p.9

From my diary

I’ve added some more contents to the page of Patrologia Graeca PDF’s.  This is going well.  I’ve been trudging through the writers who describe the fall of Constantinople in 1204.  I hope these exist in English.  There’s one in there, describing the ancient statues destroyed by the Franks.

One thing I haven’t worked out is how to indicate what date range each volume covers.  Migne does specify this, but it would take an extra column, on the face of it.

Horribly busy this week with work things.  If I owe you an email, I do apologise.  I’ll get to it!

Another Heidelberg Palatinus graecus manuscript appears online

Judging from their RSS feed, the university library at Heidelberg are actively digitising their manuscripts.  Another one popped up today, in addition to those that I mentioned last week:

  • Palatinus graecus 40 (14th c.) — Sophocles, Ajax, Electra, Oedipus; Pindar; Dionysius Periegetes; Lycophron; Oppian, Halieutica; Aratus, Phaenomena; Homer, Catalogue of the ships &c; George Cheroboscus, on poetical subjects and forms, plus a page on poetic meters.

A useful  volume!