From my diary

Bright sun this morning, the light reaching round into my bedroom as I get up, with a hint of summer on the way.  At lunchtime I saw crocuses coming into flower on a roundabout nearby.  A walk along the sea promenade was warm.

All this was very welcome to a man recovering from a 48-hour virus.  For this has been a sickly season, and everyone known to me has been ill.  A flu jab in the autumn did not fend off flu in the first week of January, nor this current bout.  But I am rather better today.  Indeed I have managed to catch up on correspondence.

Professionally I also need to find a new client and go out and earn some money.  I’ve had an extended period at home, which is nice but costly.  The start of the new financial year is usually fruitful in opportunities, and if God wills then I shall find something which allows me quality of life as well as money.

At the end of last week, I got to the end of chapter 18 of Eutychius’ Annals – the Ummayad caliphs – with some relief.  It has seemed interminable to me, and indeed probably to you!  Before us stands the last chapter, chapter 19, the Abbasid caliphs.  I can already see that the entries for the first few are short.  So I will start work on that in a day or so, as soon as my strength returns.

It’s possible that work will resume on translating Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke.  I think this must be by someone other than Eusebius of Caesarea – possibly Eusebius of Emesa.

The translation of the letter of Gelasius on the abolition of the Lupercalia is currently on hold, as the translator has a domestic issue to attend to.  But I believe that a draft of most of the text has been completed, so I do think that this will be finished.

While ill I reread the old 1919 Loeb edition, in two volumes, of Martial, by W. C. A. Ker.  I find this soothing reading. Like everyone else, I puzzle at the obscene epigrams, rendered in an Italian translation.  One always wonders whether something can be rescued from the muck, something more.  Of course I suppose that generations of young Latinists have been led to attempt to translate them!  However last week I downloaded PDFs of the 1990’s version, which is in 3 volumes for some reason, translated by D. R. S. Shackleton-Bailey.  I did read through a book or two, but I was not taken with it.  Indeed I was struck by the foulness of the obscene epigrams – not interesting, just nasty – and in general by the inferiority of the new version to the old.  Ker’s version had a warmth to it that S.-B.’s did not; and this despite copious borrowing.  Is it, I wonder, Ker’s willingness to drop into mildly archaic language?  Or is it my familiarity with Ker?  – I’m not sure.  At points S.-B. omitted a note that Ker had included.  There was indeed much similarity.  But I was sure that I felt no urge to buy the new one.  The two brown mismatched volumes will remain on my shelves, alongside a similarly battered old Loeb edition of Juvenal.  All will be treasured as long as I live.

One interesting note in the preface is that later editions of the Ker edition had the Italian replaced by some kind of English translation.  This I had not known.  So beware.

I’ve also read recently a couple of papers on the so-called Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus, Antiquities 18.  These I found offered for the curious claim that every manuscript of Antiquities is derived from the one known to Eusebius, and that one was the same as that of Origen.  I ought to write a blog post about them.  The claim does not appear to be made out, however.

I suppose that all of us have a view on whether the Testimonium Flavianum is authentic; and that most of us have long since sighed and grown weary of the endless litter of scholarly papers, none of which achieve anything.  But the recent endorsement by Louis Feldman of the fringe claim that Eusebius composed this passage (!) means that perhaps I ought to venture into the swamp, and address his article.  It’s probably based largely on Ken Olson’s efforts since 2006 to make that claim.  But I can’t find much enthusiasm for reading stuff like this.  Anti-Eusebius writing has a foul history. As far as I can tell, it is always made only because the maker finds the historical testimony of Eusebius, about Christian origins, inconvenient to his political or religious views.  As far as I can tell, this particular claim is not advanced for any different reason.

Is the passage authentic?  As far as I can tell, everyone agrees that the Testimonium is “feels” wrong; and beyond that agreement ceases.  So what purpose is there, in adding to the masses of text already written, unless to bring more data?  My opinion as to its authenticity is certainly no better than anyone else’s, and I have no new data to bring.  As for sifting minutiae, to reach an “assured” conclusion… well, I don’t think that method really works, on any matter of controversy.  The microscope lens distorts everything around it, and the conclusions tend to be wrong.

Myself, I tend to think that the passage is genuine but corrupt.  Most corruptions are innocent; the alternative is to suppose that somebody actually composed that passage, or something like it; and that seems an unnecessary hypothesis, more so than supposing corruption of an existing passage.  It seems clear from the short mention of Jesus in Antiquities 20 that Josephus referenced Jesus somewhere else in his text; so that seems to me to involve fewest assumptions.  But who knows?

A Spanish gentleman wrote to inform me on an error in my old Tertullian pages on De Spectaculis.  This I fixed.  I had not looked at the page in years.  It’s good to know that it is still useful.

In the 2000’s, I often used to write in the Usenet discussion groups.  Usenet is gone now, and its archives inaccessible to most people.  I suspect, myself, that this is because the owners of Google would prefer to conceal the posts they themselves made long ago, in more tolerant times, from the brownshirts of our days.  But I found myself wishing to recall an argument that I used to make against arguments from silence; and sadly, I could no longer remember it.  But I was fortunate.  A trip into Google Groups, and a bit of experimenting, and I found a thread that I contributed to, in response to a particularly strange bit of atheist rewriting of history.  And, thankfully, I found my example.  I must say that I was impressed with my younger self.  I doubt that I could be so patient now.  Whatever happened to “Quentin David Jones”, or “Iasion” as he came to call himself?

Not everyone from those days is gone.  I was mildly pleased to see “Roman Piso” pop up in a comment on this blog a week or two back, still pushing his theory that Christianity was invented by members of the Piso gens.  This seems to be a daft theory from the Jewish end of the spectrum.  I’m tempted to write a post in which I discuss both Roman and also the books of Ralph Ellis.  Ellis claims that Paul was actually Josephus – Roman thinks that one of the Piso’s was Josephus – and that Jesus lived and died in the 60s AD.  All these books are rubbish, from a historical point of view; but if we treat them as a genre, and discuss them in clumps, then we can safely look at them.  Hoaxes are interesting, if handled safely!  On the other hand neither work really deserves discussion.

With which thought, allow me to wish you all good night!

10 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. Sorry to hear that you’ve been under the weather. We have been having alternating periods of warmth and cold, courtesy of El Nino. I have been spared the various flus this year (so far), probably because they are variants of flus that I caught years ago. (It has been a tough year for the younger set, while the elderly just catch a 24 hour flu. I am apparently old enough to have some coverage.)

    Instead, I got another in the series of annual Weird Winter Skin Conditions. Sigh. You cannot win. At least they don’t repeat.

  2. Here’s a fragment of the usenet post in question from 2005. The other guy is trying to argue from lack of evidence for Jesus. The bit I wanted was the Tertullian. But actually most of this stuff seems terribly sound.

    One of the most curious productions of a certain kind of polemicist is
    the tendency to argue from their own expectations. This is invariably
    pure subjectivism, even when applied to contemporary politics. But
    when applied to ancient history, it is very hard indeed to see how such
    a thing can be a valid guide.

    Worse still is when an event attested in ancient literature is debunked
    on these grounds simply because it happens to be mentioned in only a
    handful of sources. Since the majority of ancient people and events
    are known from a single or small number of sources, such an approach
    (if valid) would dispose of the majority of what we know about
    antiquity.

    It is sometimes asserted that, because he is not mentioned in various
    writers of the first century, he could not have existed. It is merely
    necessary to point out the vast numbers of people and places to whom
    the same argument would give the coup-de-grace! Do we ignore all those
    people attested by archaeology? Of course we would not — yet such
    people are mostly unknown to literature.

    As such, I cannot feel very much confidence in an argument of this
    nature. What else might be said about this example?

    Iasion wrote:
    > [b]How Likely was a mention of Jesus?[/b]
    >
    > The issue is really HOW LIKELY they would be to mention Jesus.

    This immediately begins with subjectivism. All of know that authors
    write for their own purposes. To us, looking back 2000 years, it may
    be obvious that Jesus of Nazareth was the most important person of the
    1st century AD. To us it may be obvious that the Napoleonic wars were
    the critical event ca. 1800. Yet it is merely necessary to read
    literature of the latter period to find how unimportant these great
    events are to contemporaries. No picture of these events can easily be
    formed from the novels of Jane Austen, in which even the name of
    Napoleon does not appear, unless I mistake.

    Another example may be offered from my own studies. It can be shown
    that the editors of the 1545 edition of the works of Tertullian held in
    their hands the 9th century Codex Agobardinus of Tertullian, since they
    left pagination in its margin. Yet they do not print one of the works
    in it, the “Ad Nationes”; and there is no mention of the existence of
    the work until the publication in 1628. Yet a new work was worth money
    to the publisher! No-one now can say why they did not print it.

    Again, we see the poison of subjectivism being substituted for evidence
    and reason.

    > Factors which increase the expectation that Jesus would be mentioned in
    > a work include :
    > * a large work (i.e. one which has large index of names)
    > * a work on an issue somehow related to Jesus or the Gospel events,
    > * a work whose genre tends to frequently mention or allude to many
    > subjects and people,

    Unless we knew the circumstances of composition, the intentions and
    prejudices of the author, and the information available to him, all
    these could have no weight. After all, we can presume something of the
    kind for our contemporaries. But on which ancient author can we be so
    positive?

    > I have thus classified these writers into broad categories –
    > * writers who surely SHOULD have mentioned Jesus (5),
    > * writers who PROBABLY SHOULD have mentioned Jesus (4,3),
    > * writers who COULD have mentioned Jesus (2,1, or even 0.5),
    > * writers who WOULDN’T have mentioned Jesus (0)
    >
    > I have given each writer a WEIGHT out of 5 as indicated.

    Note that such merely measures the expectation of the author, not the
    probability of his case.

    > As well as –
    > * writers CLAIMED to mention Jesus.
    >
    > Of course, one writer who didn’t mention Jesus means nothing.
    > But, when DOZENS of writers from the period in question fail to mention
    > anything about Jesus (or the the Gospel events or actors), this argues
    > against historicity.

    The failure of logic needs no further comment.

    > The argument is sometimes made that these writers could not possibly
    > have mentioned Jesus – because he was a minor figure and unrelated to
    > the issues at hand.

    It’s certainly possible.

    > This assumes that no such writer ever mentions a minor figure in
    > passing, that they never make an aside about other events or figures
    > who are not specially related to the subject.

    It is unnecessary to presume this. It only assumes that no writer
    mentions anyone unless he feels like it.

  3. Very good Roger, though the great irony here is that for a Jewish Rabbi Jesus gets lots of mention in non-Christian sources, way more than any other Rabbi (or any other Jew I expect)

  4. For the convenience of the rest like myself without a copy of Ker’s Martial Loeb, or a good library with it, near by, I was moved by your grateful discussion to check the Internet Archive, and, yes: both volumes are scanned there!

  5. With reference to Josephus, allow me to commend to your attention (in case you do not yet know it) ‘Der Bericht des Josephus über Jesus’ by David Flusser in his Entdeckungen im Neuen Testament, Band 1: Jesuswoete und ihre Überlieferung (Neukirchen/Vluyn, 1987), pp. 216-25, originally published in Hebrew in 1979. I don’t know if its available in English (I read it in a Dutch translation). It is concerned with a late-10th-c. Christian quotation of the Testimonium Flavianum by Agapius as rediscovered by Shlomo Pines who discusses it in his An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications (Jerusalem, 1971).

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