The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19b – Abbasids part 2

We continue with a couple more caliphs.

CALIPHATE OF HARUN AR-RASHID (170-193 / 786-809).

1. The bay’ah was given to Harun ar-Rashid b. al-Mahdi – his mother was al-al-Khayzuran – in the same night that Musa al-Hadi died, the night of Friday 14 Rabi al-awwal in the year 170.  That night his son al-Ma’mun was born.  He entrusted the management of his business in Yahya b. Khalid b. Barmak.  During his caliphate he made the pilgrimage to Mecca  nine times and he invaded the territories of Rum eight times.  He removed his favour from the Barmakees in the month of Safar of the year 187 of the Hegira. His caliphate lasted twenty-three years, two months and sixteen days.

2. Leo (IV), son of Constantine, son of Leo, king of Rum, died.  After him there was made king of Rum Nicephorus (I), son of Istirāq[1], who asked for a truce from [Harun] ar-Rashid.  Ar-Rashid gave him a respite of three years.  There ruled in Egypt, in the name of ar-Rashid, Musa b. Isa al-Hashimi, who extended the Great Mosque of Misr at the rear of the building which may still be seen.  Ar-Rashid then deposed Musa ibn Isa and entrusted the government of Egypt to Abd Allah ibn al-Mahdi.  Abd Allah sent as a gift to ar-Rashid a young girl of his choice from among the Yemenis who lived in the south of Egypt.  She was very beautiful and ar-Rashid fell intensely in love.  The young girl was then hit by a serious disease.  The doctors cared for her but no medicine was effective.  They said to ar-Rashid: “Send word to your governor in Egypt, Abd Allah, to send you an Egyptian doctor.  The Egyptian doctors are more able than those of Irāq to cure this young girl.”  Ar-Rashid sent word to Abd Allah ibn al-Mahdi to choose the most skillful Egyptian doctor and send him to him, telling him about the young girl and of what had happened.  Abd Allah sent for Politianus, the Melkite Patriarch of Alexandria, expert in medicine, made him aware of the young girl and the disease that had struck her, and sent him to ar-Rashid.  [Politianus] brought with him some Egyptian durum “ka’k”[2], and some pilchards.  When he arrived in Baghdad and presented himself to the young girl, he gave her some rustic ka’k and pilchards to eat.  The young girl recovered her health at once, and the pain disappeared.  After that [ar-Rashid] began to order from Egypt, for the sultan’s use, durum ka’k and pilchards.  Ar-Rashid gave lots of money to the patriarch Politianus and gave him in writing an order which provided that all the churches that the Jacobites had taken away from the Melkites and of which they had taken possesion, should be returned.  The patriarch Politianus returned to Egypt and got back his churches.  The patriarch Politianus died after having held the patriarchal seat for forty six years.  After him there was made patriarch of Alexandria Eustathius[3], in the sixteenth year of the Caliphate of ar-Rashid.  Eustace was a linen-maker and had found a treasure in the house in which he used to prepare linen.  He had embraced the monastic life at “Dayr al Qusayr”, later becoming the superior.  He built at “Dayr al-Qusayr” the church of the Apostles, and a residence for the bishops.  Later he was made patriarch of Alexandria, held the office for four years and died.  After him there was made patriarch of Alexandria Christopher[4] in the twentieth year of the Caliphate of ar-Rashid.  The patriarch Christopher was hit by hemiplegia and could only move if supported.  There was therefore appointed a bishop named Peter after a vote whom the bishops put in place of the patriarch.  Christopher held the office for thirty-two years and died.  In the eighth year of the Caliphate of ar-Rashid there was made patriarch of Antioch Theodoret.  He held the office for seventeen years and died.  During the caliphate of ar-Rashid there was, after the afternoon prayer, an eclipse of the sun so intense that you could see the stars, and people stood screaming at the sky imploring God – may His name be glorious!  In Khurasan there rebelled against ar-Rashid, Rafi ibn al-Layth and occupied it.  Ar-Rashid invaded Khurasan, but at Gurgan he became ill and stopped at Tus, sending al-Ma’mun to Merv to the head of a large army.

3. Ar-Rashid died in the month of Jumādà al-Akhar in the year 193 [of the Hegira], at the age of forty-six.  He was buried in Tus, in the city of an-Nirāt [5].  The sons who were with him, those of his family and his commanders gave the bay’ah to his son Muhammad ibn Zubaydah.  Al-Fadl ibn ar-Rabi returned with his men to Baghdād.  Ar-Rashid was of perfect stature, handsome of face, with a black and flowing beard which he used to cut when he went on pilgrimage.  The leaders of his bodyguard were al-Qasim ibn Nasr b. Malik first, then Hamza ibn Hazim b. Obayd Allah b. Malik, then Hafs ibn Umar b. ash-Shugayr.  His hāgib was Bishr ibn Maymun b. Muhammad b. Khalid b. Barmak.  Then al-Fadl ibn Rabi regained this position.

CALIPHATE OF MUHAMMAD AL-AMIN (193-198 / 809-814).

1. The news of the death of ar-Rashid arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday, twelve days before the end of Jumāda al-Akhar.  The crowds gathered, his son Muhammad went out in the pulpit, and invited them to mourn his death.  The people gave him the bay’ah on that day.  Then there appeared strong differences between him and his brother al-Ma’mun.  The mother of Muhammad al-Amin was called Umm Jaffar[6], and was the daughter of Abu Jaffar al-Mansur.  Muhammad al-Amin sent Ali ibn Isa b. Mahan to Khurasan to fight against al-Ma’mun, who sent against him, from Merv, Zahir ibn al-Husayn b. Sa’b al-Būsagi.  Zahir killed Ali ibn Isa, put to flight the armies of Muhammad al-Amin and came to Baghdad, where he was joined by Hartama ibn A’yan and Humayd ibn Abd al-Hamid at-Tusi. Al-Ma’mun was hailed as caliph in Khurasan in the year 196.  The civil war then moved to Baghdād.

2. Muhammad al-Amin was killed in Baghdad on Saturday, five days before the end of the month of Muharram of the year 198 [of the Hegira].  His caliphate, until the day of his murder, had lasted four years, eight months and six days. He was killed at the age of twenty-eight years.

3. Nicephorus, son of Istabraq, king of Rum, died.  After him there reigned over Rum  Istabraq[7], son of Nicephorus, son of Istabraq.

4. In the third year of the caliphate of Muhammad al-Amin there was made patriarch of Jerusalem Thomas, nicknamed Tamriq[8].  He held the office for ten years.

5. Muhammad al-Amin was handsome, with a perfect constitution, white-skinned, fat, strongly built, with thin fingers.  His body was buried at Baghdād and his head brought to Khurasan.  The leader of his bodyguard was Ali ibn Isa b. Mahan and his hāgib al-Fadl ibn ar-Rabi, who was also his confidential adviser.

  1. [1]Elsewhere “Istabrāq”; i.e. Stauracius.
  2. [2]A collective term for various pastries and pretzels.
  3. [3]813-817 AD
  4. [4]817-848.
  5. [5]Possibly means “Iran”?
  6. [6]I.e. Zubaydah, the wife of Harun ar-Rashid.
  7. [7]Stauracius, emperor of the East from 26 July 811 to 2 October 811.
  8. [8]807-821.

Alin Suciu on the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon or “Gospel of the Savior”

It’s taken four years, but Alin Suciu’s magnificent thesis on the so-called “Gospel of the Savior” has now appeared in book form from Mohr Siebeck, although at a huge price.  The abstract is as follows:

The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon – A Coptic Apostolic Memoir

The present volume offers a new edition, English translation, and interpretation of the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon , previously known as the Gospel of the Savior . An apocryphal story about Jesus probably transpiring shortly before the Crucifixion, the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon claims to recount the narrative as told by the apostles themselves. The text also includes a long hymn sung by Christ to the cross on which he will soon be crucified.

The Berlin Strasbourg-Apocryphon is exclusively preserved in Coptic by two fragmentary manuscripts, Papyrus Berolinensis 22220 and Strasbourg Copte 5-7. Additionally, a Coptic manuscript discovered at Qasr el-Wizz in Christian Nubia contains a short version of the Hymn of the Cross.

Until now, it has been almost unanimously accepted that the Berlin Strasbourg-Apocryphon is an ancient Christian gospel – probably datable to the second century CE – which was bypassed in the formation of the Christian canon. Approaching the text from the angle of Coptic literature, Alin Suciu rejects this early dating, showing instead that its composition must be located following the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), whose theological deliberations gradually alienated Egypt from the Byzantine world. The author argues that the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon is one of numerous ‘apostolic memoirs,’ a peculiar genre of Coptic literature, which consists of writings allegedly written by the apostles, often embedded in sermons attributed to famous church fathers.

The PDF is the same as the printed book, which is cheeky.

Interesting to see a Coptologist’s perspective.  We all know that there are masses of apocrypha in Coptic, running into the medieval period.

Origen’s Commentary on Matthew – what exists in English?

The remains of Origen’s 25-book Commentary on Matthew appear in four volumes in the GCS series.  These are:

  • GCS 40 – “Origenes Werke X, Commentarius in Matthaeum I” – this contains the Greek text of books of books 10-17.  (I found a PDF on ScribD and uploaded it to here; a DJVU file exists in Poland also)
  • GCS 38 – “Origenes Werke XI, Commentarius in Matthaeum II” – this contains the Latin Commentariorum series, a bunch of homilies all translated in some way from the commentary, covering much of the lost books. (DJVU here)
  • GCS 41.1 and .2 – “Origenes Werke XII, Commentarius in Matthaeum III” – this contains quotations in other early Christians works, plus fragments from catenas. (DJVU of part 1 here).

A text can also be found in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 13, reprinted from the 18th century edition of Delarue.

Finally we need to consider the edition of Lommatzsch (1831), which was used as the basis for the ANF English translation[1].

There is a complete German translation, in three large and expensive volumes, by H. J. Vogt: Origenes: Der Kommentar zum Evangelium nach Mattäus. Eingeleitet, übersetzt und mit Anmerkungen versehen. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1983–1993; Erster Teil: Buch X – XIII (= Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur. 18, Abt. Patristik). 1983, ISBN 3-7772-8307-X; Zweiter Teil: Buch XIV – XVII (= Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur. 30, Abt. Patristik). 1990, ISBN 3-7772-9011-4; Dritter Teil: Die Commentariorum Series (= Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur. 38, Abt. Patristik). 1993, ISBN 3-7772-9325-3.

A French translation of books 10-11 was published by Girod in the 1970s in the Sources Chretiennes series, but no more volumes appeared.

The English translation that floats around the internet is that of the Ante-Nicene Fathers series, reprinted and repackaged in heaven-alone-knows how many forms.  In this 1885 American edition, it is found in volume 9, online in PDF here (sometimes it is treated as volume 10).  I shall refer to the page numbers in this printed edition.

The translation was made by a certain John Patrick DD (p.409), minister of Greenside, Edinburgh (title page), and contains the following materials:

  • Extract from book 1 (p.411) – this is in fact quoted in, and so based on, Eusebius Church History book 6, chapter 25.  HTML here.
  • Extract from book 2 (p.412) – this is from the Philocalia of Origen, chapter 6.  HTML here.
  • Books 10-14 (pp.413-512) – these are from the Greek text.  HTML book 10 starts here.

The translator’s brief introduction makes plain that he knew of books 15-17, but ignored them.  Each book is around 50 pages of the GCS, and about 50 columns of Migne, so they are quite substantial.

The translator also ignored some extracts in Latin.  A second extract from book 1 is preserved in Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen, chapter 5, which exists only in a Latin version; but this is not translated by the ANF.  A chunk of book 7 is likewise preserved in Pamphilus, chapter 10.

Interestingly a portion of book 15 was translated in November 2007 by a certain Yoel Natan, using machine-translation, on this page.

Clearly there is a need for an English translation of the remaining material.  It seems a bit lengthy for me, but I have done no precise calculations.  It would be very nice to have it, though!

UPDATE (13/3/17): It seems that Justin Gohl has translated book 15, and has a version up at for comment!  Marvellous news!

  1. [1]So the PDF, p.294.

New book on Hellenistic astrology

Chris Brennan has written to tell me about his new book, on Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune.

Ancient astrology is something that I ought to know about, but don’t.  There’s a whole class of ancient texts like Vettius Valens which incorporate information.  Probably if we knew more about it, we would see references to it in all sorts of works.

Chris himself is an astrologer, and well aware of the hostility that the profession attracts.  But a book written by someone who actually knows how to cast a horoscope, ancient or modern, must be a useful insight to those who need to know.

Here’s the description.

Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune is a survey of the history, philosophy, and techniques of Hellenistic astrology, which is a tradition of horoscopic astrology that was practiced in the Mediterranean region from approximately the first century BCE through the seventh century CE.

Although Hellenistic astrology is the source of many of the modern traditions of astrology that flourish around the world today, it is only recently that many of the surviving texts of this tradition have become available again for astrologers to study.

During this process many techniques and concepts have been recovered that were lost in the transmission of astrology over the past 2000 years.

The product of over a decade of research, this book provides one of the first comprehensive treatments of Hellenistic astrology in modern times. … Learn the history and origins of western astrology. Explore the philosophical foundations of astrological practice. Become acquainted with the works of the most influential astrologers of antiquity. Understand the original conceptual motivations for many techniques that astrologers use today. Recover powerful timing techniques that were lost during the transmission of astrology. 50+ diagrams and tables, which provide rich visual illustrations of the concepts covered. 100+ example charts, which demonstrate how the techniques work in practice. A detailed bibliography of works related to the study of ancient astrology.

A table of contents is available at the site, and the price is $48.  Worth a look for those interested in ancient Astrology!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19a – The Abbasids arrive!

After the murder of Marwan II, last of the Ummayad caliphs, we begin the Abbasid caliphs.  These are basically Persians, so the centre of the Islamic world moves eastward.  The first few Abbasid caliphs seem to lack shelf-life.  Interestingly Eutychius does not have good information on the patriarchs of Constantinople or Rome from this point onwards; indeed his information on the Byzantine emperors is sketchy too.  The west is moving out of vision.  Also Eutychius becomes suddenly silent on how caliphs died, saying only “they died”.  Of Musa al-Hadi he says, “He was twenty-five, handsome, he loved to ride and enjoyed a strong constitution”, none of which was enough to keep him alive and ruling for more than fourteen months.



1. The bay’ah was given to Abūl’ Abbās, i.e. Abd Allah ibn Muhammad b. Ali b. Abd Allah b. al-Abbas b. Abd al-Muttalib – his mother was Radiyya, the daughter of Abd Allah ibn Ubayd Allah b. al-Abbas b. Abd al-Maddān -, in Kufa, on Wednesday of the month of Rabi al-Akhar in the year 132 of the Hegira.  He went on horseback to the mosque on Fridays, and preached to the people standing, while the Umayyads used to deliver their “khutbah” [1] while sitting.  Then he sent his armies against Yazid ibn Omar al-Huzayza Qarāri in Wasit and he sent against Marwan ibn Muhammad his uncle Abd Allah b. Ali who put him to flight in order to oust him from Mesopotamia and Syria.  Then he sent Salih ibn Ali who chased Marwan into Egypt – Abu Awn was at the forefront – until Marwan was killed.

2. As for the Rum, after the death of king Leo[2] and suffering continuous revolts so as to see their kingdom a prey to disorder, they elected as their king a man from Mar’ash named Artābatus.[3]  His rule was very disordered during the time of Abu’l-Abbās and al-Mansur.  Abu’l-Abbās built near al-Anbar a city which he called al-Hāshimiyyah.  His caliphate lasted four years and nine months.  He died in al-Anbar on Sunday 12th of the month of Dhu’l-hiğga in the year 136 of the Hegira and was buried in his town of al-Hāshimiyyah.  Abu’l-`Abbās was tall, handsome and with a perfect complexion.  The leader of his bodyguard was Abd al-Gabbar b. Abd-ar-Rahman al Azdi and his hāgib was the freedman Abu Assan.


1. The prince of the believers, Abu’l-Abbas left in writing a will in which he designated as his successor his brother Abu Jaffar bd Allah b. Muhammad b. Ali b. Abd Allah b. al-Abbas – his mother was an umm walad [4] named Sallāmah, daughter of Bishr from Basra – and he had been entrusted to his uncle Isa b. Ali b. Abd Allah b. al-Abbas saying: “When I die, make sure that the bay’ah is given to the person designated in my writing.”  On the death of Abu’l-Abbās, Isa ibn Ali caused the Banu Hashim and the commanders who were in al-Anbar to give the bay’ah to Abu Jaffar Abd Allah b. Muhammad.  Abu Jaffar was on a pilgrimage to Mecca along with Abu Muslim.  So he let him know the news by letter. As soon as this reached him, he was recognized as caliph by Abu Muslim and the leaders who were with him, and he went to al-Anbar.  In Mesopotamia Abd Allah ibn Ali b. Abd Allah b. al-Abbas rose up, claiming the caliphate for himself. Abu Jaffar sent against him Abu Muslim, who defeated him.  Al-Mansur[5] returned to Kufa.  He then built the city of Baghdad and called it Madinat as-Salam [= “City of Peace”].  It was called “Baghdad” because there lived in that place, in a hermitage, a monk named Baghdad.  The hermitage was at the centre of a large and beautiful expanse of land.  As Abu Jaffar really liked that place, he enclosed it and he built a city there.  It was called Baghdad, after the name of the monk; or else Abu Ga’far built a city on the site where the monk Baghdad lived.

2. In the first year of the Caliphate of Abu Jaffar al-Mansur, there was made patriarch of Antioch Prophilatus[6].  He held the office for eighteen years and died.  In the twentieth year of his caliphate there was made Patriarch of Antioch Theodore.  He held the office for twenty-three years and died.  In the fourth year of his caliphate there was made patriarch of Alexandria Politianus.  He was a physician.  He held the office for forty-six years and died.  In the first year of his caliphate there was made patriarch of Constantinople Theodore.  He held the office for twenty-six years and died.  I shall not list the names of the patriarchs of Constantinople who have held the seat from Theodore’s death until I have finished composing this book.[7] The same applies to the patriarchs of Rome.  From Aghābiyūs onwards, in fact, I had no way of finding either the names or any information on the patriarchs of Rome.  In the twentieth year of the caliphate of al-Mansur there was made patriarch of Jerusalem George.  He held the office for thirty-six years and died.

3. Artābatus, king of Rum, died.  After him reigned over Rum Constantine[8], son of Leo.  In the year 158 of the Hegira al-Mansur made the pilgrimage to Mecca, where he died on the 9th of the month of Dhu’l-hiğğa, at the age of sixty-eight.  His caliphate had lasted twenty-two years.  His son Salih said the prayer for him.  He was buried in Mecca at the “Bi’r Maymun”[9].  Abu Jaffar al-Mansur was tall, dark, with a sparse beard on his cheeks but a long chin.  The leaders of his bodyguard were Abd al-Gabbar b. Abd ar-Rahman al-Azdi b. Musa b. Ka’b at-Tamimi and al-Musayyab Zuhayri az-as-Sabbi.  His hāgib was the freedman Abu’l-Khasib Marzuq.  After him his hāgib was the freedman ar-Rabi.

CALIPHATE OF AL-MAHDĪ (158-169/775-785)

1. Upon the death of al-Mansur, which took place in Mecca, Salih ibn al-Mansur and Isa ibn Musa gave the bay’ah to al-Mahdi ibn Muhammad b. Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. Ali b. Abd Allah b. al-Abbas – his mother was Umm Musa, daughter of al-Mansur b. Abd Allah b. Sahwa al-Himyari b. ar-Ru’ayni.  The pilgrimage of the people in Mecca was led by Salih ibn al-Mansur, or, as others say, by Muhammad ibn Yahya b. Muhammad b. Ali b. Abd Allah b. al-Abbas, and at that time the people were invited to recognize al-Mahdi as caliph.  The news was brought to al-Mahdi, who was then in Baghdad, by Munāra, freedman of al-Mansur, and he was given the bay’ah in Baghdad, on the last day of the month of Dhul-higga in the year 158 .

2. Constantine (V), son of Leo (III), king of Rum, died.  After him there was made king his son Leo (IV), son of Constantine, son of Leo.  The caliphate of al-Mahdi lasted ten years, one month and sixteen days.  He died in the month of al-Muharram in the year 167 of the Hegira, at the age of thirty-nine.  His death took place at a village called ar-Rud, in the district of Māsidān, where he was also buried.  Al-Mahdi was handsome of face, body and complexion; in the right eye he had a speck of white.  The leader of his bodyguard was Nasr ibn Nusayr b. Malik al-Khuzā’i.  Then Nasr died and the leader of his bodyguard was Hamza ibn Malik b. Abd Allah b. Malik.  His hāgib was first the freedman ar-Rabi, and then the freedman al-Husayn [or al-Hasan] ibn Rashid.

CALIPHATE OF MŪSĀ AL-HĀDĪ (169-170/785-786).

1. On the death of al-Mahdi at az-Zud, in the territory of the province of Māsidān , Musa ibn al-Mahdi became caliph – his mother was an umm walad named al-Khayzuran, daughter of Ata native of Hurash in the Yemeni land – while Musa al-Hadi was in Gurgan[10]  fighting against Madar Hurmuz, lord of Tabaristan.  Harun ibn al-Mahdi persuaded the Hashemites and the commanders who were with him to give the bay’ah to his brother Musa and sent Salma al-Wasif, freedman of al-Mahdi, who served as a courier, to Musa to give him the news.  Harun ibn al-Mahdi and the commanders went to Baghdad and there awaited the arrival of Musa al-Hādi.  His caliphate lasted fourteen months.

2. Musa al-Hādi died outside Baghdad in a place called Isarmād, and was buried there.  He was twenty-five, handsome, he loved to ride and enjoyed a strong constitution.  The leader of his bodyguard was Abd Allah b. Hazim b. Huzayma at-Tamimi, and, on the dismissal of this man, Abd Allah b. Malik al-Khuzā’i.  His hāgib was ar-Rabi`, and on the death of ar-Rabi`, al-Fadl ibn ar-Rabi`.

  1. [1]I.e. Sermon
  2. [2]Leo III Isauricus.
  3. [3]Here is meant Artavasdos, to whom Leo the Isaurian had given his daughter Anna, and who became a usurper from July 741 to 2 November 742. It was Leo III who was from Marash, in fact.
  4. [4]The term indicates a slave woman who had a child with her owner.
  5. [5]I.e. Abu Jaffar.
  6. [6]Theophilatus Bar Qanbara (744-750).
  7. [7]In fact the information about these in Eutychius is doubtful.
  8. [8]Constantine V.
  9. [9]I.e. the Well of Maymun.
  10. [10]I.e. Georgia

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!

A new Mithras inscription from Dacia

Csaba Szabo writes to say that a new Mithraic inscription was recovered by the police in Romania in 2015.  His blog post about it is here.  He has published the inscription at here,[1] which is very useful as otherwise it might be very difficult to get hold of.

The inscription is on a half-column, which reminds one rather of the item in the museum at Caerleon.

 The inscription reads:

rus ° Marci (s. or f.)
v(otum) ° s(olvit) ° l(ibens) ° m(erito)

I.e. To the unconquered Mithras, Dioscorus of Marcus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.  The “of Marcus” probably indicates servus (i.e. slave of Marcus) but possibly filius (i.e. son of Marcus).

The text is identical with that of an altar found at Apulum in 1852 (CIMRM 1943), and even the paleographic features.

Invicto / Mythrae / Diosco/rus Marci (servus) / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

So there can’t be much doubt that they were erected by the same person, and perhaps at the same place.  Unfortunately the find-spot of the new inscription was not disclosed by – or perhaps known by – the collector.

  1. [1]Csaba Szabó, Imola Boda, Victor Bunoiu, Călin Timoc, “Notes on a new Mithraic inscription from Dacia”, in: Mensa rotunda epigraphica Napocensis, Cluj-Napoca 2016, p. 91–104.

Origen: a very early copyist of Matthew made a mistake…

Alex Poulos has posted what may be the most interesting blog post that I have seen for a very long time: Textual criticism and biblical authority in Origen’s Homily on Ps. 77.  It’s the text and translation of the first section of Origen’s first homily on psalm 77, with comments.  And by golly it’s interesting!


We regularly say that the psalms with the prefix “of understanding” use this superscription to direct the listener to investigate carefully what has been said, as they need interpretation and explication, since every psalm with this prefix has dark sayings, riddles, and parables. This is indeed the case here, for we have the superscription, “of understanding, by Asaph” and immediately it says in the psalm, “I shall open my mouth in parables, I shall speak riddles as from the beginning.” (Ps. 77:2).

One must know that Matthew mentions this saying– writing about how the Savior spoke in parables, he said, “so that the passage may be fulfilled ‘I shall open my mouth in parables; I shall speak in riddles as of from the beginning’ or rather, ‘ <I shall declare things hidden> since the establishing of the world’. (1) Though Matthew paraphrased with those sorts of words what was said in this way here, there occurred a scribal error in the copies of the gospel, for it says, “so that what was said through the prophet Isaiah may be fulfilled, ‘I will open my mouth in parables’”.

It’s likely that one of the very first scribes found the text, “so that what was said through the prophet Asaph,” and supposed that it was an error because he did not realize that Asaph was a prophet. This caused him rashly to write “Isaiah” instead of “Asaph” because of his unfamiliarity with the prophet’s name.

And then he continues, with some very excellent thoughts about the scriptures, and how the devil attacks them, and uses them to attack us.  On this, Alex Poulos comments:

There’s quite a bit that’s fascinating in this passage. Origen has a problem: his copies of Matthew attribute this passage to Isaiah, when it clearly comes from the psalms. His solution is text critical: he posits an emendation to change the name from Isaiah to Asaph. He even goes a step further and speculates on the reason for the change: a scribe didn’t realize who Asaph was, and substituted the name of a prophet he did know.

The situation in the mss is quite different. All of the early minuscules simply say “the prophet” without specifying a name, with one notable exception: Sinaiticus. It seems likely, however, that “Isaiah the prophet” was the reading in all of Origen’s manuscripts, as he has to resort to emendation. Not only that, he supposes that it was one of the very first scribes that made the mistake (τὶς τῶν ἀρχῆθεν γραφόντων). Perhaps the “Isaiah” reading was widespread in Caesarea in the 3rd century. Someone who knows more about the textual history of Matthew can no doubt elucidate this better than I. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that the error arose because of the formulaic nature of the clause. Matthew cites Isaiah again and again; it would be quite easy for a scribe to insert the name by accident where it doesn’t belong. As one who’s memorized portions of Matthew, I can say that keeping straight the various subtle changes from one “fulfillment formula” to the next is not easy.

But I won’t steal Alex’s thunder – read it all.  It’s excellent stuff.  I’ve saved a copy locally, and I doubt that I will be the only one.

This is the first fruits of Marina Molin Pradel’s marvellous 2012 discovery of a bunch of previously unknown homilies by Origen in Munich (Ms. Monacensis Graecus 314) and the excellent decision by Lorenzo Perone to publish quickly in 2015.  Who can doubt that the words above are indeed the voice of Origen?

I think we must be grateful to Alex Poulos for sharing this – it is truly excellent stuff.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18i – The remaining Ummayads

The last few Ummayads conclude chapter 18.  The seizure of the Damascus church was plainly not straightforward.  It looks rather as if at least some of the Muslims felt that the failure to honour the guarantee by Khalid ibn al-Walid was dishonourable, for the matter came up again under the next caliph, Omar.  Omar also made moves to conciliate the Shia by removing the anathemas against Ali from public worship.  In the reign of Hisham, the melkite patriarch of Alexandria, an illiterate named Cosmas, started the evil tradition of appealing to the Muslims to settle disputes with the monophysites.  The caliph Yazid was the son of the Persian princess, descended from the emperor Maurice and the Sassanid Persian kings (!).  The line comes to an end with Marwan II, who dies in a Persian uprising.


1. The bay’ah was given to Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz b. Marwan b. al-Hakam – his mother was Umm Asim, daughter of As ibn Omar b. al-Khattab – in the month of Safar in the ninety-ninth year of the Hegira.

2. He disdained to follow the behaviour of the members of his family, and removed the curse that used to be launched against Ali ibn Abi Talib from the pulpit.  From the days of the Caliphate of Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, in fact, until the time of the caliphate of Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz, the Umayyad caliphs were accustomed to curse Ali ibn Abi Talib from the pulpits, maliciously calling him “Abu Turab”.

3.  [Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz] was caliph for thirty months.  In his day there was king of the Rum Anastasius, who reigned only a year and a half.  The Christians said to Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz that by virtue of the protection granted to them, their churches should neither be destroyed nor used as dwelling places.  In this regard they showed him the letter of Khalid ibn al-Walid.  Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz suggested that they take the money, abandon the church and construct another anywhere in Damascus they liked.  But the Christians refused.  Then the Caliph signed a decree which he allowed them to keep the church with its boundaries and be able to repair it.  The Muslims believed that this measure was onerous and said:  “Must we return to them our mosque, where we have been called to prayer from the top of the minaret, and where we have actually prayed, fulfilling our obligation to raise prayers to Allah?  Must it be destroyed and go back to being a church?”  Then Abu Idris al-Hulwāni interjected and said:  “The Christians have our protection for only one half of the city of Damascus and only for the churches that are in that half; the other half of the city, in fact, was conquered by the sword.  Also the churches and monasteries that are located on the outskirts of Damascus starting from Ghūtah belong to the Muslims, because they were conquered by the sword.  If the Christians want us to give back to them this their church, we will return it to them, but on one condition, namely that we will destroy every church that is in the other half of the city of Damascus and every church and monastery which are outside the town, at Ghūtah.  But if they leave us this church, we will give them all the rest.” With these last words he alluded to the churches of Ghūtah and “Dayr Murran” in which the Muslims were accustomed to stop and stay.  The Christians then, fearing that their churches and monasteries would be destroyed, left their church.  Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz wrote them a decree which ensured that their churches that were at Damascus, and the churches and monasteries that were outside Damascus, in Ghūtah, were neither destroyed nor used as dwelling places, and that no Muslim would ever be able to claim rights over them.  For all this he made his solemn oath.

4. Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz died in the month of ragab in the year 101 of the Hegira, at the age of thirty-nine.  He was of medium height, handsome of body and face with premature signs of gray hair and a scar on his forehead.  In one text he is said to be buried in Dayr Sim’an, in Homs.  The leader of his bodyguard was Ruwah Yazid ibn as-Saksaki and his hāgib was the freedman Hubaysh.


1. The bay’ah was given to Yazid ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan ibn al-Hakam – his mother was Atika, daughter of Yazid ibn Mu’awiya -.  He was caliph for four years and one month and was the first caliph to take a singer.  For he had taken a singer named Habbābah, very dear to him, who appointed and deposed the governors without waiting for any order from him.  [Yazid ibn Abd al-Malik] died in the month of Ragab in the year 105 of the Hegira, at the age of thirty-one (In another text it says “thirty-seven years”), and was buried in Damascus.  The leader of of his bodyguard was Ka’b ibn Khalid al-Absi and his hāgib was the freedman Khalid.


1. The bay’ah was given to Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik – his mother was Umm Hashim, daughter of Hisham ibn Isma’il b. Hashim b. al-Walid b. al-al-Mughira Makhzūmi -.  He was caliph was for nineteen years and seven months.  In his day there was king of the Rum Theodosius.  He reigned a year and a half and died.

2. After him there reigned over Rum Leo for twenty-four years and died.  In the third year of Caliph Hisham there was made patriarch of Constantinople Constantine.  He held the office for twenty-eight years and died.  In the seventh year of the caliphate of Hisham there was made patriarch of Alexandria Cosmas.  He held the office for twenty-eight years.  The Melkite Christians in Alexandria were praying in the church of St Saba because the Jacobites had seized all the [other] churches in the city.  When Cosmas was made Patriarch he was an illiterate, he could neither read nor write.  He was a tailor.  He went to Damascus to the presence of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik and claimed from him, with the help of some scribes, the return of the churches that the Jacobites had made their own.  Hisham wrote to his prefect in Egypt, who was then Abdullah ibn al-Gigan as-Sakwī, to get the churches that were in the hands of the Jacobites and return them to the Patriarch Cosmas together with all that had belonged to them.  Cosmas then took the churches from the Jacobites, including the church of al-Qaysāriyyah.  All this had happened because, from the time that the patriarch George had fled from Alexandria to Constantinople, in the third year of the caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab, until Cosmas became patriarch of Alexandria, in the seventh year of the caliphate of Hisham, the see of Alexandria had been without a Melkite Patriarch for ninety-seven years.  The Jacobites, therefore, had been able to take possession of all the churches of Egypt and Alexandria.  In addition, as the inhabitants of Nubia needed bishops, the patriarch of the Jacobites began to ordain bishops for them, and the Nubians became Jacobites also after then, and every time the bishop died in any city in Egypt, the patriarch of the Jacobites appointed another, so that all of Egypt, from the Upper to the Lower, became Jacobite.  The only exception was the Mika’il church in Qasr ash-Shama.  The Melkites, in fact, had managed to keep it, carrying on prayer and when their bishop died they referred to the Metropolitan of Sur, who ordained for them a [new] Bishop.  Things continued to go well for the Melkites of Egypt and Alexandria until Cosmas was no longer patriarch.  In the seventeenth year of the caliphate of Hisham there was made patriarch of Jerusalem Elia.  He held the office for thirty-four years and died.

3. Hisham died in the month of Rabi al-Akhar in the year 125 of the Hegira, at the age of fifty-three years.  He was buried in ar-Rusafah, in the district of ar-Raqqah.  He was of fair complexion, cross-eyed, ugly, bad tempered, stingy, and greedy for wealth.  The leader of his bodyguard was Ka’b ibn Hamid and his hāgib the freedman Ghālib.  His influential adviser was Sa`īd ibn al-Walid al-Abrash al-Kalbi and his katib was Salim ibn Abd al-Aziz.


1. The bay’ah was given to al-Walid ibn Yazid b. Abd al-Malik b. Marwan – his mother was Umm al-Haggag, daughter of Muhammad b. Yusuf b. al-Hakam b. Abi Uqayl ath-Thaqafi -.  He was wild, wasteful and addicted to entertainment. He ruled one year and three months.  Then the people could not stand his behaviour any more and killed him in the month of ğumādà al-akhar in the year 126 of the Hegira.  He was struck down in al-Buhayra, in Damascus.  He was forty years old.  There followed a revolt that shook the whole of Syria.  He was handsome of face, eloquent, with a perfect complexion.  The leader of his bodyguard was Abd ar-Rahman ibn Hamid al-Kalbi and his hāgib was the freedman Qatr.


1. The bay’ah was given to Yazid ibn al-Walid an-Nāfid, i.e. Yazid ibn al-Walid b. Abd al-Malik b. Marwan – his mother was a Persian, i.e. Shāhqūd, daughter of Firuz Kisra, King of Persia, son of Yazdağard, son of Shahrayān, whose grandmother was the daughter of Maurice, king of the Rum -.  [Yazid ibn al-Walid] thus used to say: “I am the son of Kisra and of Marwan; Maurice is my grandfather and my grandfather is [also] Shashan”.  He was made caliph in the month of Ragab, he ruled five months and died at the end of the month of dhu’l-qa’da in the year 126 of the Hegira, at the age of thirty.  He was buried in Damascus.  The leader of his bodyguard was Yazid ibn ash-Shammākh al-Lakhmi and his hāgib was the freedman Sallam.


1. Upon the death of Yazid an-Naqid, those of Syria gave the bay’ah to Ibrahim b. al-Walid b. Abd al-Malik (238).  He ruled for four months, then they deposed him.  Then arose Marwan ibn Muhammad b. [Marwan] al-Hakam, the son of an Armenian – his mother’s name was Izya and she had been the wife of Mus’ab ibn az-Zubayr and after the killing of this man she had been taken as wife by Muhammad ibn Marwan b . al-Hakam.  When he arrived in Syria, Marwan ibn Muhammad was hailed as caliph by many of the inhabitants of Syria, but he was opposed by Suleiman ibn Hisham b. Abd al-Malik and other Umayyads.  The inhabitants of Syria united against him and in Khurasan the number of supporters of the Banu Hashim[1] greatly increased.  His troops were put to flight, and his soldiers were killed.  Those of Khurasan killed many men of Syria and Iraq, seizing their property and making their wives and children captives.  Marwan ruled five years, through continuous wars and the opposition of the populations of the countries hostile to him.  Then he fled from az-Zab to Mosul and finally into Mesopotamia, then through Syria to reach Egypt.  The soldiers of the Banu Hashim penetrated Upper Egypt and began following him everywhere giving chase.  He was surprised in a village of Ashmūr called Abusir Lūrinds and was killed there.  He was sixty nine.  Amir ibn Isma’il as-Salmi [= al-Maslami?] was responsible for his killing.   Marwan was nicknamed “al-Ga’di” because he who had great influence on him and on his decisions was al-Ga’d ibn Dirham.  The leader of his bodyguard was al-Kawthar ibn al-Aswad al-Anawi and his ‘hāgib’ was the freedman Saqlāb.

  1. [1]I.e. the Shia, meaning here the Persians.