Archive for the 'Thoughts on Antiquity' Category

Every year the winds blow across the desert.  Every year, the sands drift in those winds, heaping up against mysterious worked blocks of ancient sandstone.  Little by little the last visible remains of some forgotten Coptic monastery vanish under the sand.

It’s not just stone work from once proud buildings.  There are books in the sands.  The monks often had occasion to deposit somewhat dodgy codices outside the monastery.  In their day, as in ours, public-funded bodies could be denounced by any busybody for any number of vaguely-specified offences of thought.

Many of these books have come to light in the 20th century.  The Egyptian peasant knows that such anteekahs are as good as money when sold to the Cairo dealers.  The battered papyrus books vanish into the art market.  It is an interesting question how many vanish forever.  But the existence of the trade ensures that none are wantonly destroyed by their finders.

The most recent sensation concerned the Coptic ‘gospel of Judas’.  This, together with a volume containing a Coptic translation of Exodus, another containing three letters of St. Paul in Coptic, and a Greek mathematical treatise, ended up in the USA after a series of dodgy dealings.  They ended up in Akron, Ohio, in the hands of a dealer named Bruce Ferrini.

It is open to few of us, perhaps to injure the human race as a whole, to cause men yet unborn to curse us and to dimish the light of knowledge.  The evil or ignorant Ferrini was an exception.  When these unique, unpublished, and priceless books came into his hands, he shredded them.  His motive for this wicked deed was greed; he could sell the shreds for more money than the intact volumes.  Secretly he did the deed; secretly he sold what he could; and then he went bankrupt. The main bulk of what remained of the ‘gospel’ was repossessed by Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos, another dealer of Egyptian extraction to whom it legally belonged. But Mrs Tchacos alleged that Ferrini was holding out on her, and had retained much of the book. She arranged for what she had to be placed in the hands of Mario Roberty, her attorney, and a “Maecenas Foundation”.  The text was then published in an exemplary way. 

Then Ferrini died, leaving what remained unsold for lawyers to argue over, and an evil reputation for moralists to comment on.

April DeConick reports:

I just received offprints of an article published in the first volume of Mohr Siebeck’s new journal Early Christianity (link HERE). The article is a preliminary report written by Herbert Krosney, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst about the status of the OHIO fragments of the Gospel of Judas. In the first part of the article, Krosney explains the court battle over the OHIO fragments and their photographs which were analyzed by Gregor Wurst who recognized that they contained the balance of the Gospel of Judas, allowing us to read 90-95% of it.

According to Krosney’s account, the fragments have made their way to Egypt in April 2010 and are under the care of Dr. Zahi Hawass who did not want the fragments to go to Switzerland for conservation first. The rest of the Tchacos Codex remains in Switzerland in the hands of the Maecenas Foundation who is now in a financial battle with Mrs. Frieda Nussberger.

The rest of the article is a sketch of the contents of the fragments and a preliminary transcription and translation based on photographs of the fragments possessed by Nussberger. There has been no distribution of the photographs to scholars other than Meyer and Wurst as far as I know. There is mention that Wurst and Meyer are consulting with the administration in Egypt in order to discover how to proceed in the critical publication of the fragments.

Krosney wrote an excellent and very readable book on the whole sordid story, and seems to have become the chronicler.  It sounds from the above as if the charming Mario Roberty and the formidable Mrs Tchachos have fallen out.  I’m not sure that anyone’s interests are served by part of the book being taken to Egypt.  The persistent secrecy over the photographs is nothing new, sadly.

If anyone has a copy of the article and would care to let me see it, I would be obliged.  We humble members of the public have no access to such grand publications!

The gospel of Judas saga continues

Herbert Krosney, who wrote much the best book on the skullduggery around the finding, selling and dismemberment of the manuscript of the ps.Gospel of Judas has written an update on events since then.  This can be found here, at a page run by Marvin Meyer.  It’s explosive stuff.

The manuscript floated around the art world for 20 years.  It was then sold to an Akron art dealer, Bruce Ferrini, who had started to dismember it and sell it piecemeal.  But he was unable to pay the seller, who repossessed it.  There was always a question, therefore, of whether Ferrini had actually handed back all that he still had.  Ferrini then went bankrupt.

… on March 17th, 2008, St. Patrick’s Day, when Ferrini was finally deposed (after many attempts to get him on the stand) in Akron. The proceedings took a full day.  Ferrini not only admitted that he had withheld materials in 2001.  He also left the court-supervised proceedings at lunchtime, along with his lawyer, and returned to the court an hour or so later with a sort of lawyer’s briefcase with what appeared to be full page fragments inside.

These were delivered to the custody of the court-appointed receiver, and it was agreed that they would be photographed and identified by an expert, a Coptologist, but under strict conditions of secrecy and not for public distribution or knowledge.  No one in the know – very few people outside the lawyers, I should add – were allowed to see the photographs, nor was any public report on their contents permitted.  This secrecy was court-ordered and agreed to by all the lawyers and claimants in the case.

The photographs were sent to Prof. Gregor Wurst … What [Gregor Wurst] discovered within these materials was essentially the balance of the Gospel of Judas.

The site also gives more detail on the missing material.

The question remains, however, as to what has become of the other three manuscripts from Egypt, sold at the same time to Ferrini and given the same treatment.  The Sahidic ms. of three letters of Paul seems to have been recovered, thankfully.  But of the Coptic Exodus, we know little.  The Greek mathematical treatise is still unpublished also.  All this secrecy…

Thanks to Evangelical Textual Criticism for this one.

Gospel of Judas, Coptic Paul, Greek Exodus

Sometime before 1983, peasants in Egypt found four manuscript books somewhere. They were smuggled out of the country, and first seen by scholars in 1983, in boxes. They were hawked around the art market for more than 20 years. One of these contained the ps.gospel of Judas; the others were a Greek mathematical treatise, a Coptic version of three of Paul’s letters, and a copy of Exodus.

In an evil hour, these papyrus books went sold to a US antiquities dealer named Bruce Ferrini, who dismembered them and sold them, a bit at a time, to his contacts.  Ferrini eventually double-crossed his supplier, and then went bankrupt.

It seems that Ferrini retained fragments of the books, despite undertaking not to.  Despite being bankrupt, he seems to have operated a shop on e-Bay at one period.  Some of fragments then bought by collectors are now going around again on e-Bay.  A scholar is intending to purchase at least some of them and thereby get them out of this circus.

Silence has largely descended on this business.  Dutch art-dealer turned game-keeper Michel van Rijn used to expose all the dealings, but his site shut down after death threats.  Yet three of the four manuscripts are still missing.  In all this silence, it’s impossible to say whether all the pages and fragments that went to Ferrini are recovered.  I think I know where the Greek mathematical treatise is; and the anti-social scholars who have been commissioned to publish it but have not done so.  The Exodus may be in pieces; the whereabouts of the majority of the Paul are utterly unknown to me.

The fact that shreds of the gospel of Judas are turning up online can only mean that even now the find is not in safe keeping.  And every shred, remember, is a word of the text.  It’s a little bit of ancient knowledge, gone forever unless we are lucky.  It’s enough to make anyone weep.

Later:  I’ve just been to look for pieces of “manuscripts” generally on e-Bay.  There are offers of what is plainly pages from one manuscript, being dismembered and sold page by page by some reprehensible and greedy individual.  There are obvious fakes being offered.  The vision of destruction and dispersal, of the sheer lack of ethics, is horrible to see.

Translating Hippolytus – a new blog

Tom Schmidt has written to say that he has started a blog, Chronicon, to publicise his work in translating previously untranslated works by Hippolytus.  At the moment he’s working on the Chronicle by Hippolytus, which is very good news indeed!

Extant literary texts from AD 30 to AD 100

I sometimes hear people of limited education argue that because no “secular first century historians” (sic) mention Jesus, this proves he never existed (!).  I usually respond by asking who specifically these historians are, whereupon I get only silence.

But, religious issues aside, wouldn’t it be really interesting to have a list of all the extant texts written by non-Christian writers between 30 and 100AD?  Indeed wouldn’t such lists be almost an education in ancient literature and the classical heritage, listing one century at a time?

I’m not sure that I have the resources to investigate this, but I thought that I would start to compile a few authors.  Corrections and contributions welcome!

  • Aristonicus of Alexandria (? reign of Tiberius), On critical signs in the Iliad and the Odyssey; On ungrammatical works. (Fragments)
  • Antiochus of Athens (uncertain, might be in our period), Thesaurus (astrological work, extant in epitome and fragments)
  • Ps.Chion of Heraclea (uncertain, might be in our period), Letters (an epistolary novel).
  • Apollonius of Tyana (d.120), Letters (doubtful), Apoltelemata (extant in Syriac, doubtful magical text).  All this material may be 2nd century, or indeed much later.
  • Musonius Rufus (fl. reign of Nero), Discourses (extracts)
  • Anonymus Londiniensis, (papyrus P. Lond. gr. inv. 137 of medical text based on Aristotle)
  • Erotianus (reign of Nero, 60′s AD), Sayings of Hippocrates (medical work)
  • Various recensions of the Life of Aesop are probably first century.
  • Longinus, On the sublime.  Philosophical work, perhaps 1st century.
  • Severus the Iatrosophist, (a medical work)
  • Heraclitus the grammarian, Homeric problems (ca. 100AD)
  • Philo (d. ca. AD 50), [philosophical works]
  • Celsus Medicus (d. ca. AD 50), On medicine.
  • Scribonius Largus, Compositions (ca. AD 47).  A medical work.
  • Dioscorides (d. ca. AD 90), On medical materials, a handbook of herbs.
  • Seneca the Younger (d. AD 65), 12 Philosophical essays, 9 tragedies, Apocolocyntosis, 124 Letters.
  • Cornutus (fl. ca. 60 AD), stoic philosopher, Compendium of Greek theology. On enunciation and orthography (fragment).
  • Teucer of Babylon in Egypt (uncertain but quoted in c.2), On the 12 signs of the zodiac; other astrological fragments.
  • Phaedrus (d. AD 54), Fables
  • Persius (d. AD 62), Satires (poems)
  • Lucan (d. AD 65), Pharsalia (history of Caesar-Pompey civil war), Praise of Piso (panegyric).
  • Petronius (d. AD 66), Satyricon (fragmentary)
  • Hero of Alexandria (d. AD 70), Metrica (on trigonometry); Pneumatica (on machines).  Mid first century?
  • Pliny the Elder (d. AD 79), Natural History
  • Quintillian, Rhetorical works (ca. 93 AD)
  • Statius (d. AD 96), Silvae, other poems.
  • Martial (d. AD 104), Epigrams (mainly the reign of Domitian, plus a little later)
  • Juvenal, Satires.
  • Josephus, Jewish War, Antiquities (AD 93), Life, Against Apion.
  • Plutarch (d. 120 AD), Moralia (80-odd essays), Parallel Lives.  Probably all written in retirement; but the Lives are just too late, being written between 100-120AD.  The Moralia come in our period, just.
  • Cleomedes the astronomer (uncertain, may be later), On the circular motion of the celestial bodies.
  • Tacitus (d. AD 117), Agricola, Germania (both AD 98).  The Dialogus, Annals and Histories were composed from 100 AD on.
  • Philippus of Thessalonica (1st c.), epigrams (72 of them in the Greek Anthology).
  • Chariton, Chaereas and Callirhoe (mid 1st c. or later), a novel.
  • Onasander, Strategikos.  On the duties of a general.  Later than 49 AD.
  • Hyginus Gromaticus (reign of Trajan, started 98 AD; surveyor), fragments of a work on legal boundaries.
  • Frontinus (d. AD 103), On aqueducts, (ca. 95 AD).  On strategems (military tactics).
  • Caesius Bassus (reign of Nero), On poetic metres (fragments only).
  • Valerius Flaccus (d. AD 90), Argonautica (ca. AD 80?), poem on the argonauts.
  • M. Valerius Probus (reign of Nero), grammarian.  On abbreviations (fragment).
  • Silius Italicus (d. AD 101), epic poet.  Punica, written under Domitian.
  • Velleius Paterculus (d. AD 30 or 31), History, of Tiberius’ German wars.
  • Rufus of Ephesus, On kidney disease , close to 100 AD (medical writer; other works also)

Any more?  This is mostly Romans, so we need more Greeks. 

Updates: Epictetus died ca. 135, and his notes were published by his pupil Arrian after his death, so he doesn’t count.  Plutarch seems to squeeze in, if that date is right.  I’ve culled this from Wikipedia mostly (yuk!) as the source most readily available.  I need to rearrange the list by decade, tho.

Update: Of course one can search the online TLG canon of authors by date, which I am now doing.  122 results come back, but nearly all are tiny fragments, found in the Greek Anthology or collected from Byzantine collections.  Strabo is too early (d. 24 AD).  Thessalus of Tralles, On the powers of herbs, was addressed to Claudius so again too early.  Comarius On the philosopher’s stone would appear to be earlier.  Thallus is only fragmentary and of uncertain date.

Another new blog

This is the only blog that I have ever contributed to. But some of my interests are outside the scope of Thoughts on Antiquity.  So I thought that I might try starting my own blog, and see if anyone is interested in what I have to say.  I shall continue to blog here from time to time as well, however.

A passage from Evagrius Scholasticus

From book 3, chapter 32, slightly modernised: 

“THERE were other things which caused secret vexation to [the emperor] Anastasius. For when Ariadne wanted to invest him with the purple, Euphemius, who held the archiepiscopal see, withheld his approval. He agreed only when Anastasius presented to him an agreement, written in his own hand, and secured with fearful oaths.  This promised that he would maintain the faith inviolate, and would introduce no innovations into the holy church of God, if he obtained the sceptre.  This document he also deposited with Macedonius, the keeper of the sacred treasures. He adopted this measure because Anastasius had generally the reputation of holding the Manichaean doctrine.

When, however, Macedonius ascended the episcopal throne, Anastasius wanted the agreement returned to him, affirming that it was an insult to the imperial dignity, if the before-mentioned document, in his own hand-writing, should be preserved.  When Macedonius resolutely opposed the demand, and firmly protested that he would not betray the faith, the emperor pursued every insidious device for the purpose of ejecting him from his see.

Accordingly, even boys were brought forward as informers, who falsely accused both themselves and Macedonius of infamous practices. But when Macedonius was found to be emasculate, they had recourse to other contrivances. In the end, by the advice of Celer, commander of the household troops, Macedonius secretly retired from his see.”

This writer is hostile to Anastasius.  But the kinds of allegations levelled by the cynical against priests to discredit their moral authority do not change, it seems. 

In the Eastern Roman civil service, certain posts were reserved for eunuchs.  Macedonius’ parents had designed him for such a career, thereby giving him an unusual advantage in such infighting.  But don’t some of the canons of the ecumenical prohibit eunuchs from being priests?

Using to get copies of books

Once I got interested in Arabic Christian Literature, I quickly found that the only book of use was Georg Graf’s 5 volume Geschichte der arabischen christlichen Literatur, published 50 years ago by the Vatican library.  I was able to buy volumes 2-5 online, but not volume 1.  The first two volumes deal with literature up to 1500, so are really the only part that would interest readers of this blog.

In this post, I mentioned that I intended to try using the print-on-demand service,, to make a personal copy of volume 1.  Indeed I did so, and perhaps my experience will be of use to others.

My first step was to borrow the book from the library, and run it through a scanner to create a directory of images, one per page.  This took quite a while, because it’s 700-odd pages!  I used Finereader 8.0 OCR software, not to do OCR but simply to manage the scanning.  I used an OpticBook 3600 book scanner (very cheap and very fast) to scan each page. 

In FineReader you can crop the pages to the same size, and erase dots etc.  I did this, producing images with only small margins.  You can also export all the pages to create an image-only PDF, and so I did, getting a 50mb PDF.

At this point I got rather ahead of myself, and omitted a crucial step, but I found this out later. 

I opened an account on (which is free), and started to create a book.  To do this, you choose a paper size and binding.  In my case this was 7.44″ x 9.68″, perfect binding.  The site prompts you to upload a PDF, which is pretty awkward and fails a lot.  I found that I had to follow the alternative path given on the site ‘for large files’ and upload my PDF using FTP.

When I had uploaded it, the site warned me that my PDF pages were smaller than the paper size.  This meant that it would resize them.  Foolish chap that I was, I presumed they would add white space.  But this was wrong… they stretched the pages.  They were still readable, but looked a bit odd.

You’re also asked whether your book should be made available to the public for sale (with whatever markup on cost you choose); only available on a private URL; or only available to you.  I chose the latter, in case there were copyright issues.

The site allows you to design your own cover — I did this in a basic way.  You then get to see the PDF that results from all of this, which they send to a printer.  You save, and that’s it.  A link appears, offering you the chance to buy a copy yourself, which I did.  For this volume the cost price was about $22, and the postage was extra of course.  Manufacture of the book takes 3-5 days, and then the post office do their thing for however long they like.

In my case it was three weeks before it arrived.  It looked perfectly acceptable; except for the slightly stretched letters.

What I should have done, after scanning the images and cleaning and cropping them, was to pad them with whitespace myself before making the PDF.  This is something that Finereader doesn’t let you do.  But it stores the images in .tif format, so you can use other tools on them. 

Since there were 700-odd files, I wasn’t going to do this by hand!  I used a free command-line tool called ImageMagick.  I don’t know it well, but it did the trick.  I found that I needed an up-to-date version.

Now the TIF files from Finereader all include a thumbnail.  This makes them hard to work with.  What I did was write a little .com file containing a series of commands:

convert 0001.tif 0001.png

convert 0002.tif 0002.png

convert 0003.tif 0003.png


This gave errors, but converted all the pages to png format.  I had to do this, because the next step wouldn’t work if I did it on the TIF files directly.

I then wrote another batch file:

convert 0001-0.png -background white -gravity center -extent 2978x3872   0001-ok.png

convert 0002-0.png -background white -gravity center -extent 2978x3872   0002-ok.png

convert 0003-0.png -background white -gravity center -extent 2978x3872   0003-ok.png


This took all the pages and plonked each of them in the middle of a white background sized 2978 by 3872 pixels.  I knew that this was the size of the pages in the ‘print ready’ PDF that had generated (because I downloaded it, opened it in Finereader, and got the size of the image of page 1 in pixels).

Then I created a new Finereader project, read in all those PNG’s at one go, saved them as a PDF, and this time had a PDF which was of the correct dimensions.

I’ve just finished uploading that, and bought a new copy of it.  It ought to be perfect.

The PDF’s that we find on and the like are generally of low resolution, so I don’t know if they could be used for this.  I scanned Graf at 400 dpi; the PDF of Agapius that I have been looking at on was 200 dpi.  So we may all have to scan our own books.

But this clearly works.  If you need a copy of an out-of-print and unobtainable book for private research purposes, you don’t have to rely on a pile of photocopies.  We all have piles and piles of those, I know!  But no; scan them instead, save your floor space, and print them at  You could even produce compilations in this way.  You could print extracts, ring bound, with blank pages between each opening.  All sorts of things are possible.

Of course if you made them available to anyone else, you would need to be sure that they were out of copyright.  If it is in print, buy a proper copy.  But if it’s a 19th century library catalogue, this is probably a nice way to get your own copy.

8th August 2008: the printed copy arrived, and it’s perfect!

Ho ho ho, it’s summer

I had an email yesterday from someone at a German periodical, Antike Welt.  Nothing wrong with that; indeed somewhat flattering. 

Apparently they’re doing a Christmas article.  As we all know, the only reference to a pagan festival on 25 December is in the Philocalian calendar, part 6 of the Chronography of 354, which I have online here

This work was published in bits; some bits in the CIL, some in Monumenta Germanica, some images in yet another publication, and so on.  So my edition was quite a bit of work, to reassemble a load of obscure publications.

Anyway, Antike Welt want to use some of it, which is very flattering indeed.   They’d like to use the photography of the illustration of ‘December’, and the page of the calendar for the same month.

Mind you, it then gets a bit weird.  They’d like me to rescan the image at a higher resolution, and could I type the calendar page into Illustrator for them?  I don’t know that I have any higher resolution images, and I certainly have other things to do than do free typing for people!  I’ve suggested that they get a nice, new, colour image of the illustration from the Vatican manuscript, and do their own typing.

PS, two days later: They never replied to my email.  Hum.

Should we call for biblical studies to be reformed?

Rather a lot of people mistrust biblical scholars.  Other scholars look at them sideways.  Christians treat them with suspicion, because they so often appear on TV in the UK bashing the Christians.  Since few outside of Christianity are much interested in biblical studies, the curious effect is that the discipline in general is brought under suspicion of being biased against its subject matter.

It is, perhaps, a sensitive subject.  Those who raise it often find themselves being screamed at.  Cynics may feel that the discipline might incur less odium if it made more of an effort to be objective, and to steer clear of religious and political controversy, and there is probably truth in that, at least in the UK.  I’m not sure whether that is entirely fair, however.

But quite by accident today I saw this post which advertises a historical Jesus seminar.  I’d like to look at the abstract of the first paper, as an example of the sort of thing that makes me quite uneasy about biblical studies.  I don’t know who wrote that abstract, and I certainly don’t want to pillory the author who doubtless reflects the college he comes from.  But I have seen the same sort of attitude, expressed or insinuated more subtly, on a number of occasions.  Here’s the start:

“‘How did Jesus cure?’ … It has become common in NT studies to avoid such questions by either declaring them inadmissible or providing supernaturalist explanations which would be unacceptable in any other discipline and are not usually considered appropriate when looking at comparable figures with reputations as healers in antiquity.”

The author is plainly not a Christian; but that’s fine.  He appeals to objective standards, and so is that.  But somehow this distills the essence of much of my unease.  To the author, the only objective way to study Christianity is on the basis that it is untrue.

Now one might have various things to say about this.  But this is not a value-neutral position!  It is, in fact, the intrusion of a prejudice as an axiom.

I must ask whether this is how we want to study any ancient text?  Do we define in advance that, in every important element, the text before us is wrong, and its authors mistaken, duped or dishonest?  I would feel deep unease at any study of any book that started on that foot.  We might draw that conclusion at the end of our studies; but hardly in advance.

There is genuine difference of opinion among the educated on questions such as whether miracles happen.  Is it the place of scholarship to answer that?  If it is — which seems doubtful — is it right to do it, not by debate, but by means of subterfuge and insinuation?  It seems to me that the above sentence does just this. For instance, are we not invited to acquiesce in the belief that either we must hold that every ancient superstition was genuine, or else we must reject Christianity? Likewise does it not insinuate that Jesus is no different from any other healer in antiquity? Both of these might be discussed, although not here, but they can hardly be assumed, or treated as ‘objective’.  I feel that this sort of thing is rather common.

It is certainly quite possible that Christianity is not true.  Let us frankly admit this.  But is it the job of biblical studies to take a position that it is not, before starting work?

The real issue is how we do scholarship.  On any subject, I want to see the data gathered, conclusions drawn cautiously from it, and a general refusal to speculate or introduce extraneous political or religious opinions, on which people may well have differing opinions.

Let’s look at that paper in this light.  What data exists on ‘how Jesus cured’?  Jesus heals a leper; but neither Jesus nor the leper is available for interview. No archaeological evidence exists or indeed is conceivable.  We’re reliant solely on the accounts in the New Testament, perhaps leavened with a bit of patristic quotation from Celsus.

And what do these say?  Well, it hardly matters: because we have already decided that any testimony they give to supernatural events must be rejected without discussion, and every last source suggests that supernatural means are involved.  But if that is the case, surely we have nothing further to discuss, not based on data and deductions from it!  All the data gives one answer.

Disentangling some core of truth from a book that is (on this hypothesis) a complete and persistent set of lies must be impossible without some further external data.  All that is left is silence.  But we’re not offered silence; so we must be looking at unevidenced speculation which is contradicted by the only literary source.  Is that scholarship?   If it is, then I would treat scholarship as a fraud on the taxpayer and on the public.

But I think better of scholarship than this, despite my scientific training and the contempt for the humanities that Oxford instills.  This is merely bad scholarship, where a theory takes the place of the data, and prejudice substitutes for evidence.  Haven’t we all seen this habit, in all sorts of fields of scholarship?

I tend to wonder whether biblical studies, as a discipline, needs to be reformed.  After all, to whom — outside of the few in the field — is it currently convincing?  There is much genuine scholarship around in biblical studies.  One has only to look at NA27, or at Metzger on the Text of the NT, to see that at once.  But then there is stuff like this.

But if biblical studies should be reformed, how should it be carried out?  What measures will restore the confidence of the public in the discipline?  What measures would convince the academy at large that biblical studies is a genuine, objective discipline, and not merely an excuse for peddling religion (or, in fear of that accusation, its reverse)?

Or is it easier to scream at anyone who asks whether the emperor has any clothes?