Hunting the wild misquotation again: the perils for the author of not verifying your quotations

A week or so ago I saw on Twitter a quotation attributed to John Chrysostom, which read as follows:

Chrysostom liked to gloat that the apostles had gagged the tongues of the philosophers and stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.

The author of the tweet was a certain Catherine Nixey, who is an arts journalist for the Times of London.  She has a book out claiming that the Christians deliberately destroyed almost all ancient literature, or some illiterate nonsense like that.

The tweet appeared in a thread which began here like this:

Patrick Walsh‏ @Walsh_e_Patrick Sep 7
Did Christians erase classical wisdom? Stunning advance copies of THE DARKENING AGE by Catherine Nixey just in – publication 21st September

I’m not sure who Patrick Walsh is, but he seems to post announcements of book launches.  Anyone this one met with criticism, and @catherinenixey joined in in response.  She then posted our tweet above.  (The link to her tweet is here; but there is now no purpose in clicking that link, as we shall see.)  I happened to see it; and responded.  Screen grabs are below!

As I always do, I wondered whether John Chrysostom did say this, and if so, in what context.  So I needed a source.  As I went along, I replied to Nixey, starting here:

Her response was to brush my results aside and demand I follow her so that she could talk to me by direct message.  She did this a couple of times.

And then… suddenly she deleted her account.  This I discovered when I logged in, intending to write to her.

Then I messaged George Morley, who seems to be her publisher, asking why her account had vanished.  I saw no reply.  So I can only infer that her publisher got windy about how things were going, and told her to stop tweeting fast.

Rather than peering at those screen grabs, let me lay out what I saw.

A google search quickly revealed her source.  This proved to be Dirk Rohmann’s Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity, De Gruyter (2016), Google Books preview page 207 (actually p.202 in the printed book):

Name-checking Pythagorean philosophy, John [Chrysostom] justifies the obliteration of ancient philosophies by the beginning of the Gospel of John, implying that the word (lógos) of God is absolute and unchallenged: “Has not all that with good cause perished and been utterly obliterated? – Indeed with good cause and according to the Word!”⁹ In his Demonstration against the Jews and Pagans John demonstrates Jesus’ divinity as a corollary of the success of Christianisation and the subsequent dissolution of the ancient traditions.¹⁰ This, he suggests, is because the apostles were given power over the demons. In John’s metaphorical words, the apostles have “gagged the tongues of the philosophers and stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.”¹¹ This passage echoes a similar statement in an unpublished manuscript (attributed to John) which asserts that “the senate decrees have been overthrown, the philosophers and orators have been put to shame, and the Areopagus has been wiped out.”¹² This statement could be right because it is attested that in the last quarter of the fourth century large private mansions were constructed on the Areopagus hill, traditionally a place that housed archives.¹³

So there is not much question about where Nixey got her idea of Chrysostom gloating over the destruction of pagan literature.  Footnote 11 supplies the reference:

11. Chrys. Jud. et gent. 5.3 (PG 48:820): φιλοσόφων ἐπιστομίζειν γλῶσσαν, ῤητόρων ἀποῤῥάπτειν στόματα.

This is Chrysostom, Against the Jews and Pagans, a little known work.  Certainly these words say what Nixey said – they gagged the tongues of the philosophers, they stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.

But that quote gives no context.  What we need is an English translation.  I learned from the bibliography at Fourth Century that one does exist, in Fathers of the Church 73, Chrysostom Apologist, p.210-11.  So here is, not just six words, but the whole of chapter 5.  It is not long.

Chapter 5
The Mission of the Apostles Foretold

(1) After these events, he would send forth his apostles, as Isaiah had foretold. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, of those who bring glad tidings of good things,”‘ he said. Look what part of the body he praised. He lauded their feet, which took them everywhere they went. Furthermore, David showed the manner and source of their strength and success when he said: “The Lord shall give the word to them who preach the good tidings with great power.”

(2) It would not be by wielding weapons, nor by expenditure of money, nor by strength of body, nor by abundance of armies, nor by any other such means that the apostles would conquer the world. They would gain victory by a mere word, since that word had great power and was proved by signs and wonders. For they preached Christ crucified, they wrought miracles and. in this way, they conquered the world. It was on this account that David said: “The Lord shall give the word to them who preach the good tidings with great power,”‘ because this was his way of speaking of the miracles and wonders they worked.

(3) And it was the result of an ineffable power that the fisherman, the publican, and the tent maker, at their mere commands, raised the dead to life, drove out demons, drove off death, stopped the tongues of philosophers, stitched shut the mouths of rhetoricians, overcame kings and rulers, and were victorious over barbarians, pagans, and every nation.

(4) Indeed, David described the situation well in that way. For it was by that word which God gave them that they accomplished all those things they did. And it was with God’s great power that they brought the dead back to life, changed sinners into just men, restored sight to the blind, and drove out disease from the body and evil from the soul. And where did they get that power? That it came from the Holy Spirit is made quite clear from these words: “And they were filled with the Spirit,”’ and both men and women prophesied.

(5) Tongues seen in the form of fire settled on each one of them, as Joel had long before predicted when he said: “I shall pour out a portion of my spirit on all flesh, and your sons will prophesy and your daughters will see visions, and your young men will dream dreams before the coming of the great and illustrious day of the Lord.” [By “the great and illustrious day” he meant both the day of the Spirit and the day which would come at the consummation of the world.] This same prophet predicted salvation through faith—for he did not remain silent on this—when he said: “And it will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved

Surely this is just a preacher, going through the events of Acts?  Nothing more.  How is this innocent retelling of the Acts, of the doings of Peter, Paul, and friends, a call for book-burning, fire and sword?  What sort of person would read this like that?

Anyway I posted the screen grab, and asked Catherine Nixey whether she felt that her “quote”, verbally accurate though it was, was a fair representation of what Chrysostom wrote.

Her response was to delete her account.  And that makes me feel rather guilty.  I hope that I did not do her harm.

One final thought.  In view of the attempt to erase the discussion, probably by the publisher, here is a screen grab demonstrating that the @catherinenixey account did indeed exist.  It’s not much; but I am unaccustomed to this kind of thing, so I did not capture her comments.

Does anyone know how to see deleted tweets?

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 7 – part 7 and final

Let’s do a bit more of Eutychius, just to keep in touch with it.  The scene begins at the funeral of Alexander the Great, most of which is fiction, and then proceeds down the list of the Ptolemaic kings.

18. When the philosophers had finished speaking, the wife of Alexander, Rushtak, daughter of Dāriyūsh, king of the Persians, who had been the most dear creature to Alexander, arose, and laid her hand on the coffin, and said: “I did not think, O king, that by conquering Dāriyūsh your own kingdom would be conquered.” Then she said to the philosophers: “If you’re afraid about what you’ve spoken about Alexander, you have the cup that he’s been drinking with, and each one of you is free to think as he wishes. But if you have spoken to give comfort and as a sign of mourning, be prepared to answer, and to make good arguments, otherwise you will enjoy what he enjoyed and so your works will be in accordance with your words because, of course, you are not sheltered.” Then Alexander’s mother came forward, put her cheek on the coffin and said, “You have comforted us enough. What I feared for Alexander has happened to him and now there is no kingdom for him or against him. Be great in your loyalty to earthly life and also defend [your] truth.  For my part, I have been pleased with your comfort. ” And so she ordered that he be buried.

19. Alexander reigned for sixteen years.  He lived in all for thirty-two years. Alexander had appointed a servant to each country.  (In another text it is said: “a prefect”.) He ordered them not to entertain relations by correspondence with anyone superior to them, but everyone was to write only to him, and no one, except him, was called a king.  On the death of Alexander, however, each of them took possession of his own province.  The kingdom of Ağam was divided.[1]  In the hands of the Iskāniyyūn there remained the kingdoms of Paris and of al-Ahwāz  and these were called “rules.”[2]

20. After Alexander there reigned in Alexandria and Egypt his brother named Philip, called Batlīmūs Arīdāwus, for seven years.[3] (In another text it is said:  “for forty years”.) After him ruled Ptolemy, called al-Iksandrus, and nicknamed “the conquerer of Ur” for twenty-seven years. (In another text it is said:  “for twenty-one years.”) In his twentieth year of reign he ordered seventy Jews taken from Ūrashalīm and brought them to Alexandria, ordering them to translate the Torah and the Books of Prophets from Hebrew to Greek, placing each of them in a dwelling, isolated from the others, to see what was the interpretation of each of them.  When they finished translating the books, he saw their interpretations.  The versions were identical, with no discrepancy.  He then gathered the books together, sealed them with his own seal and placed them in the temple of an idol called Sirābiyūn.[4]

21. Among the Seventy was a man named Simeon the Just, who took Christ our Lord [into his arms] in the temple. This Simeon, in explaining the Torah and translating the Prophets from Hebrew into Greek, found in every letter that he was transcribing, a prophecy about Christ our Lord, and in his heart he tried not to admit it by saying, “This is not possible!”  God therefore delayed his death, and he lived three hundred and fifty years until he saw Christ our Lord.  When he saw Him he said: “Now send your servant out in peace, O Lord, according to your word, for our eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for the benefit of all peoples.”

22. Ptolemy, the conqueror of Ur, died. After him ruled Ptolemy [I], called Lagus, for twenty-nine years.[5] He built a large hippodrome for horse racing in Alexandria, which was later burned down in the days of King Zeno.  After him, his son Ptolemy [II] reigned, called Philadelphus, for twenty-six years.  After him ruled Ptolemy [III], called Euergetes, for twenty-five years.  After him ruled Ptolemy [IV], named Philopator, for seventeen years.  After him ruled Ptolemy [V], Epiphanes, for twenty-four years. After him ruled Ptolemy [VI], known as Philometor, for twenty years.  In his time Syria and the land of Judah were subjugated by Antiyukhus, king of Rūm, who expelled the Jews from Syria, and slaughtered them with all sorts of violence and punishment.[6]  After him ruled his brother Ptolemy [VIII], also called Evergetes, for twenty-three years.[7]  In his time, Antiochus, King of the Rūm, founded Antakiya, who gave his own name. And so the city of Antiochus was called Antioch.  After him ruled Ptolemy [IX], Soter, for twenty years.  In its time the city of Sulukiyah was built.[8] After him ruled Ptolemy, also called Soter, for fifteen years.[9] After him ruled Ptolemy [X], called al-Iskandrus, and nicknamed Yasfis Philopator, for ten years.[10] (In another text it says “for twelve years”.)  After him ruled Ptolemy [XI], called Phusas, for eighteen days. (In another text it is said “for eight years”.)  After him ruled Ptolemy [XII] Diyunisiyus for twenty-nine years. After him, his daughter Iklawbatrah reigned, [the name] meaning “she who weeps on the rock,” for twenty-two years.[11] She built many great buildings in Alexandria and many wonderful things, introduced mosaic work, and built an imposing temple called “the Temple of Saturn.” When the Christians came, they transformed the temple into a church and called it ‘kanīsat Mīkā’īl’ (i.e. St. Michael’s Church), which is then what they call today ‘al-Qaysāriyyah’ and which was burnt down in the time when the Maghāribah entered into Alexandria with Mawlana al-Mansūr Abu’l Qasim, known under the name Abdallah and with Habāsah, when the caliph was al-Muqtadir Ja’far and Takin, his freeman, was prince of Egypt and Alexandria.[12]  [Cleopatra] build in the city of Ikhmīm[13] a hydrometer in order to keep under control the waters of the Nile of Egypt.  She then built another nilometer in the town of Ansinā.[14]

  1. [1]I.e. the kingdom of the non-Arabs.
  2. [2]Not sure about this: e furono chiamati “regoli”.  The kingdoms are Pars, old Persia, and Susiana.
  3. [3]I.e. Philip III Aridhaeus.
  4. [4]I.e. the Serapeum.
  5. [5]Eutychius has got confused here.  Ptolemy I, son of Lagus, was the first Ptolemy.
  6. [6]Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  Cf. 1 Maccabees.
  7. [7]Ptolemy VII, co-regent of Ptolemy VI, seems to be omitted.
  8. [8]I.e. Seleucia, near Babylon; but actually founded much earlier, just like Antioch.
  9. [9]Unknown to the Ptolemaic king-lists.
  10. [10]Ptolemy X Alexander.
  11. [11]The famous Cleopatra VII.
  12. [12]This is the Caesarium, converted into a church and burned down in 912 AD.
  13. [13]I.e. the Greek Chemnis or Panopolis.
  14. [14]Antinoe or Antinopolis.

1918 aerial photograph of the Colosseum, Meta Sudans and base of the Colossus

The tireless Italian site Roma Ieri Oggi has found yet more vintage photographs of the eternal city.  They are all worth looking at!  This batch are all from the air, and were taken in 1918.  Apparently they are part of an album which an admiral named Thaon di Revel left to the Museo del Risorgimento Italiano.

One of these in particular caught my eye.  It shows the area around the Colosseum.  The Meta Sudans is just visible beyond the Arch of Constantine, while above it is the rectangular platform on which the Colossus status once stood.  No sign as yet of the Via del foro imperiali, which dominates this area of Rome!

I could look at these photographs for ever…

Cambridge Ancient History (3rd edition) now online at

A delightful discovery this week.  Cambridge University Press have released the 3rd edition of the Cambridge Ancient  History online at!  All 19 volumes!  It’s here.

Those red-clad volumes were £40 each back in 1979.  I used to save up birthday money to buy a volume.  I still have them.  They were never as exciting as I wished they would be.  The 3rd edition was still coming out then.

Via Guy Chamberland.

Rome, 1868: the Arch of Drusus, defended by Bourbon soldiers!

Occasionally you see something online that really makes your eyes open.  This happened to me some time back, when I came across the following photographs on the excellent Roma Ieri Oggi website.  They depict the so-called Arch of Drusus, which stands just inside the massive Porto San Sebastiano in Rome.

This is simply amazing.  We see the modern street scene, but mingled with it the figures of little French-looking soldiers, all of them long dead, all belonging to an army which is forgotten.

History is famously written by the winners.  Well, these are the losers; the soldiers whom nobody wants to remember.  It is tremendously moving to see them.  They stand here, defending the papal state against the advancing forces of the northerners, soon to annex Rome to their new “Kingdom of Italy”.

The original photograph is this:


The only surviving handwriting of an emperor: Theodosius II and a petition from Aswan

How many of us know that there is a papyrus with the handwriting of a Roman emperor on it?  I certainly did not, until I learned of it from a tweet by Richard Flower.  But so it is.

The papyrus comes from Elephantine in Egypt, the island of Philae, opposite the modern town of Aswan, which is ancient Syene.  Papyri from the island were sold to dealers throughout the 19th century; some excavation took place in the early 20th, first by a German expedition, then a French.  Shockingly, while the Aramaic and Greek papyri discovered by the German excavators have been published, most of the Demotic, hieratic and Coptic papyri remain unpublished.[1]

The writing is by Theodosius II, who died in 450 AD after falling off his horse, and is dated to 425-430 AD.  The bishop of Syene, who had an Egyptian name, Appion, had written to the emperor (in Greek).  Nubian raiders were attacking the town.  The bishop asked for soldiers to protect it.

The emperor’s reply is not preserved, but a copy of the petition was attached to it, and on it some words in Latin, which are generally thought to be the emperor’s own hand.

The papyrus is now at Leiden, where the papyri were given letters, A-Z.  This is Leiden Papyrus Z (P. Leid. II. Z), catalogued here.  The papyrus is online at the Rijksmuseum in Leiden here.

It’s hard to even see the lettering on the papyrus, which is only written on the recto side.  Click on the image for a larger one, or visit the Rijksmuseum site for more photographs.

The emperor’s handwriting is at the top right of the sheet.  I’ve autoleveled an extract here:

Apparently the emperor wrote, “…bene valere te cupimus”, i.e. “…we desire that you be well.”

The document is translated for us in B. Porten &c, The Elephantine Papyri in English, 1996, p.441, entry D 19.  It is in two columns.  The first consists of an unreadable line, followed by the emperor’s words.  This is all that is left of the imperial reply.  The second column, headed by a Latin title “copy of the petition” contains the Greek text, written by a scribe.

For interest, here is the translation, slightly smoothed out:

[ . . . ] we desire that you be well.

Copy of Petition.

Address to the masters of land and sea and every nation of mankind, Theodosius and Valentinianus, the eternal Augusti, petition and supplication

From Appion, bishop of the legion of Syene and of Contra Syene and of Elephantine, in your province of Upper Thebaid.

Your Benevolence is accustomed to stretch out a right hand to all who are in need. Therefore I too, having learned this clearly, have come to these petitions, the matter being thus:

Situated with my churches in the midst of the sinful Barbaria[ns], the Blemmyes and the Nobadae, we are subject to many stealthy attacks by them, with no soldier protecting our places.

Therefore, since the churches under me have been humbled and are unable to protect the very ones who flee to them , I prostrate myself, rolling on the ground before your divine and immaculate footsteps so that you deem it right to decree that the holy churches [under me] be guarded by the soldiers among us, and that they obey me and heed me in all matters, just as the soldiers stationed in the fortress so-called “of Philae” in your Upper Thebaid will be at the service of the holy churches of God in Philae.

For thus we will be able to live without fear […] and follow […] most stern decree […] being issued against those who have transgressed […] what has been divinely ordained by you, every deceit of an opposing party, past or future, being null and void, with your divine [… and] special grace in this matter being addressed to the most magnificent and conspicuous count and duke of the frontier district of the Thebaid.

And having obtained this, I shall send up the customary prayers for your eternal power for all (time).

Apparently nothing in the archive of other papyri suggests that the request was honoured.

The request reminds me a little of the Donation of Constantine.  It has been suggested that this was originally composed in the 6th century during the Lombard invasions of Italy.  The idea is that it was a way for the Bishop of Rome to gain control of the remaining Byzantine garrisons, in order to protect the city.  Bishops were figures of authority in their communities in the late empire, and perhaps this story could be replicated wherever the secular power began to fail.

But how exciting to see the handwriting of a Roman emperor!

  1. [1]The Elephantine Papyri in English, p.4.

Did Origen record the burning of Marcionite literature?

Academic books have many failings, but usually we can rely on them for certain things.  In particular, if an author says that an ancient source says X, and gives a footnote and a quote, then we can be pretty sure that it does indeed contain those words, or something very much like it.  The readers of academic publishing tend to make sure of this.  We may not always agree as to the author’s interpretation of the text.  But it is rare that we find statements which, regardless of interpretation are simply not correct.

This week I encountered a book where a reference failed that test, and did so on the second page of the introduction, no less.[1]

This is a pity; because the statement was a truly interesting one!  Here it is:

Commenting on the biblical Book of Numbers, Origen explains the role of heretics within God’s creation, suggesting, as other Christian authors do, that the fire of biblical truth is not only able to refute heretics, but does also shine brighter if elucidated by false, heretical interpretations. While this is a somewhat metaphorical picture, Origen does mention at least one heretical author (Marcion) whose works were actually ordered to be burnt.[3] This shows that the idea of true faith burning and purifying false interpretations was close to the actual act of refuting and literally destroying heretical works, while the act of refutation itself helped to shape orthodoxy. In other words, there is no need for the refuted material to survive.

[3] Orig. hom. 9 in Num. 1 (GCS 30, Orig. 7:54–5): Ubi enim vera fides est et integra verbi Dei praedicatio, aut argentea dicuntur aut aurea, ut fulgor auri declaret fidei puritatem et argentum igni probatum eloquia examinata significet. … ista ergo batilla aerea, id est haereticorum voces si adhibeamus ad altare Dei, ubi divinus ignis est, ubi vera fidei praedicatio, melius ipsa veritas ex falsorum comparatione fulgebit. Si enim, ut verbi gratia dicam, ponam dicta Marcionis aut Basilidis aut alterius cuiuslibet haeretici et haec sermonibus veritatis ac scripturarum divinarum testimoniis velut divini altaris igne confutem, nonne evidentior eorum ex ipsa comparatione apparebit impietas? (The use of u/v in the Latin and of upper/lower case in sentence openings and proper names has been adapted for consistency throughout).

That’s fascinating, if true.  In the days of Origen, a synod ordered that Marcionite books should be burned?  Well, this I had to look into!

But immediately I was perplexed, as soon as I read the footnote.  I could see no mention in the footnote of anyone ordering books to be burned; certainly not Origen.  It’s all about bringing the heretical literature to the altar, to be examined in the light of the “divine fire”, and compared to the scriptures.  Nothing is being burned.  It’s all about the light of God.  Breaking down the reference:

Si enim, ut verbi gratia dicam,

For if, in theory,

ponam dicta Marcionis aut Basilidis aut alterius cuiuslibet haeretici

I put the sayings of Marcion or Basilides or some other heretics

et sermonibus veritatis ac scripturarum divinarum testimoniis

and with the words of truth and with the testimonies of the divine scriptures

haec confutem

refute them

velut divini altaris igne,

as if with the fire of the divine altar

nonne evidentior eorum ex ipsa comparatione apparebit impietas?

won’t the impiety of them appear more evident from that comparison?

Well, I thought, perhaps I am misunderstanding the Latin.  Fortunately the homilies on Numbers have been translated by no less than Thomas P. Scheck, and a preview is visible online here.  This allows us to see the full context.  And … it too is interesting, as we shall see.

Homily 9 begins on p.35 as follows:

Homily 9.
Numbers 17:1-28 (Heb, LXX) = 16:36-17:13 (RSV) [1]

Concerning the censers[2] of Korah[3] and the sedition of the people against Moses, and concerning the rods among which the rod of Aaron sprouted.

1.1. With God, as it is granted that he is to be understood, there is nothing that is nor beneficial, there is nothing pointless, but even the things that seem alienating to people and worthy of rejection are found to play some necessary role. Now the present reading suggests this understanding to us, which speaks of the censers of Korah and of the rest who sinned with him. For God does not command even these censers to be rejected, but to make them into “beaten plates” and “to surround the altar with them.”[4] So Scripture relates that by the command of God, “Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest took the bronze censers,” it says, “which those who had been burned had offered, and they made disks of these, and they placed them on the altar as a commemoration to the sons of Israel, so that no foreigner who is not of Aaron’s seed would approach to put incense before the Lord, lest he become as Korah and his conspiracy, just as the Lord said by the hand of Moses.”[5]

1.2. Through the prophet the Lord says manifestly in a certain passage: “My counsels are not like your counsels, nor are my thoughts like your thoughts.” [6]

If this case were judged today among men and if an examination were held among the rulers of the churches concerning those who have endured the penalty of divine vengeance, because, for instance, they teach things that are different from the churches, would it not be judged that, whatever they have said, whatever they have taught, whatever they have left behind in writing, all of it should utterly perish equally with their own ashes?

But God’s judgments are not like our judgments. For listen to how he commands the censers of those who have risen up against God’s prophet to be made into beaten plates and to be affixed around the altar.[7] Korah contains a figure of those who rise up against ecclesiastical faith and the teaching of the truth. Thus it is written of Korah and his company that they offered the incense of “strange fire” in bronze censers.[8] God commands the strange fire to be dispersed and poured out, “but the censers,” it says, “since they have been sanctified, make them into beaten plates, and surround the altar with them, since they were offered before the Lord and have been sanctified.”[9]

Well, to me what seems to be shown through this figure is that these censers, which the Scripture calls “bronze,” contain a figure of the divine Scripture. On this Scripture, the heretics place a “strange fire” by introducing a meaning and an interpretation that is estranged from God and contrary to the truth. They do not offer a sweet incense to the Lord, but a detestable kind. And therefore this example [forma] is given to the priests of the churches, that if at some time some such thing should arise, those things that are indeed alien from the truth should be immediately expelled from the church of God.

But if some things from the meanings of the divine Scripture are found inserted into the words even of heretics, let these things not be rejected equally with those things that are contrary to the truth and to the faith. For the things that are brought forth from the divine Scripture have been sanctified and offered to the Lord.[10]

1.3. Yet the command to join and associate with the altar things that come from the censers of sinners can be understood in still another way. First of all, the fact that they are called “bronze” does not seem to be superfluous. For when the faith is true and the proclamation of the word of God is whole, they are called either silver or gold. Thus the gleam of the gold declares the purity of the faith, and the “silver tested by fire” signifies “utterances that have been examined.” [11] But those that are called “bronze” consist in the mere sound of the voice, nor in the power of the Spirit, and they are, as the apostle says, like “a sounding bronze or a clashing cymbal.”[12] So if we bring these “bronze censers,” that is, the words of the heretics, to the altar of God, where there is divine fire, where the true proclamation is, the truth itself will gleam more brightly in comparison with what is false.

Let me give an example. Suppose I take the statements of Marcion[13] or Basilides[14] or any other heretic and refute them using words of the truth and testimonies from the divine Scriptures, as if I were using the fire of the divine altar. Will not their impiety appear more clearly by the very comparison? For if the reaching of the church were simple and not surrounded from without by assertions from the teachings of the heretics, our faith would not be able to seem as clear and as examined. But the reason why catholic teaching undergoes attacks from those who contradict it is so that our Faith will not grow sluggish from inactivity, but will be refined by such exercises.

1.4. This, after all, is the reason that the apostle said: “Now there must be heresies among you, in order that those who are proven [14]. This, after all, is the reason that the apostle said: “Now there must be heresies among you, in order that those who are proven may be manifested among you.”[15] This means it is necessary to surround the altar with the censers of the heretics,[16] so that the distinction between believers and unbelievers may become certain and manifest to all. For when ecclesiastical faith begins to shine like gold and her proclamation gleams before those who behold it like silver that has been tested by fire, then the words of the heretics, obscured with baseness and disgrace, will appear dim …

(I place the portions from the footnote in bold).

This confirms what I thought.  In fact it shows that Origen is taking a liberal view of the matter.

Origen is not saying that the books of the heretics have been ordered to be burned.  This is not present in the passage.

He says that if you assembled a synod, and asked if the words and writings of those like Korah who have been killed by divine vengeance should likewise be burned, then they would say “yes”.  But Origen says that God says “no”.  He says examine them by the light of the divine altar.  If you do this, and compare them to the genuine teaching, their shabbiness will become evident.  But whatever is true within them should not be rejected just because it is in bad company.

Let’s get rid of a possible canard here: that this is a matter of interpretation.

The author does not write that Origen’s words suggest that Marcionite works were burned.  That would be a possible, if dubious, interpretation of the text earlier in the homily.  But he does not say that.

The author writes simply that the works were actually ordered to be burnt.     But as we have seen, the reference definitely contains no such statement.

It’s very odd.  I think this is the first case that I have ever encountered where a book published by a highly reputable publisher contains a statement with a false footnote.  I wouldn’t blame the author, who perhaps simply had had a long day. But surely the publisher’s reader ought to have caught this?

Or … horrible thought … do the readers for academic publishers no longer understand Latin?

Whatever the reason, it is a valuable reminder that we need to verify references.

UPDATE: Dr Rohmann has kindly added a comment below to say that he did not believe that he said that the order to burn Marcionite books was contemporary with Origen.  The order he has in mind is the edict of Constantine referred to in Eusebius’ Vita Constantini III, chapter 56.

  1. [1]The work is the otherwise interesting D. Rohmann, Christianity, Book-burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity, De Gruyter (2016).  I have not looked further into it at the moment.  The author is not writing in his native language, and something must be allowed for this.  I have no intention here to pillory the author, of course.  I am concerned that such a glitch was not picked up in proof.

A 1574 set of drawings from Constantinople in the Freshfield album

One of the great delights of our day is the digitisation of manuscript collections.  This brings to light treasures hardly seen before.

Trinity College Cambridge are the possessors of a collection of 20 colour drawings of monuments in Constantinople, made in 1574 by an unknown artist.  This item, known as the Freshfield album, came into the hands of the college a century ago, by means of a bequest from an old student.  Background information is on the college blog here.

Fortunate indeed is an institution whose old students both possess such treasures, and are well-disposed towards their old alma mater.

The college has digitised the manuscript, and it is online here.  And what a treasure it is!  For instance there is this view of the Hippodrome, before the heads of the serpent column were removed.

Sadly the images cannot be downloaded.  But there is a full-screen mode, which is something.

There is an image of the serpent column alone.  Here is the top, which once supported a tripod and dish:

Let’s zoom in on the heads:

And another:

For the upper portion of one of the heads is preserved in the museum in Istanbul, so these drawings make sense of it.  Here’s one of the images from the excellent collection at

There are many more photos of the head here.

So the Freshfield album gives us some very detailed ideas of the vanished portions.  Similarly there is this image of the porphyry column of Constantine, which still stands, but with an extra bit on the top:

Can anyone make out the Greek text of the inscription?

There are likewise in the album detailed drawings of the now vanished column of Arcadius, which resembled Trajan’s column, but was already cracking and perhaps ready to fall.


Anthony Alcock, “The concept of our great power” – online in English

Dr Alcock has translated one of the Nag Hammadi gnostic texts, and annotated it for use by students.  It’s here:

Thank you very much!

“Persia and the Bible” … and Mithras?

Review: E. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, Baker publishing (1990).  Paperback ISBN: 9780801021084. Available from:

Dr Yamauchi attended the second conference on Mithras studies in Tehran, back in the 1970s.  Coming across my pages on Mithras, which referenced a couple of his papers, he kindly sent me a copy of this 1990 volume which includes a chapter on Mithras.

The volume itself is a survey aimed at Old Testament students in the USA.  It provides an overview of Persian history, religion, archaeology and culture, but not as a standalone, but rather from where it impinges on the history of the bible.  I have not read most of this, but at points it has to descend to e.g. explaining the events of the battle of Marathon – sure sign of students being the audience!  But I did skim the chapter on Zoroastrianism, about which I know a little.  This was really very well done, in a short compass, and laid out the literary sources and the key doctrines more clearly in a short compass than any source that I have seen so far.  The footnoting is copious, and well done.

The chapter on Mithras is almost an annex, really.  I think perhaps it reflects the need of the teaching environment, and functions as a round-up of “Persian” related stuff that students may enquire about, including Sol Invictus.  It starts with the assumption of the great Franz Cumont, that Roman Mithras and Persian Mithra were in fact the same deity; but then reviews the scholarship, and indicates how this has changed in what was then the recent past.  The overview of Mithra is solid, as is the material treating Mithras, and the student comes away equipped to deal with whatever is necessary.  So … useful to have.

The book is now more than 25 years old, so the bibliography is doubtless a little dated.   The prose style is quite dense, and I found it hard going.  But there is quite a lot of useful information in a relatively small compass.