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Primary sources for the Eleusinian mysteries

At Eleusis stood the most important temple of Demeter, the Greek goddess of the crops and fertility.  The mysteries there were famous.  But what happened there?

Needless to say there is a load of hogwash available in printed and web form averring that it was all exactly like a Christian ceremony, or maybe slightly like, or some other form of anachronistic drivel.  It would seem that some US scholars even encourage this kind of mental confusion, which tells us something about the state of US universities.  So where do we start, to get hold of reliable information?

As ever, the first thing to do, if we want to examine the question, is to look at the primary sources.

It seems that a website has collected all the primary sources, mingled with ancient testimonia about the myth of Demeter (which bulks them out a bit).  They are here:

The site is not a scholarly one, but the author has gone to some trouble to collect these materials, and deserves our gratitude.  The labour must have been considerable!

UPDATE: It looks as if the sources have been copied from elsewhere, and perhaps derive from George Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, Princeton, 1961.  Apparently this is a compilation of data, and was the life’s work of the author.  I couldn’t find a PDF, tho – anyone got one?

Ps.Chrysostom, De Salute Animae, now online in English

A rather splendid Greek sermon appears in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum as entry 4622 (vol. 2, p.577-8), among the spuria of Chrysostom, with the title De salute animae (on the salvation of the soul).  Some mss. attribute it to Chrysostom, others to Ephrem Syrus.  It exists in two versions in Greek, and also in Coptic, Georgian and Arabic versions.

The content of the sermon is terrific!  It is an exhortation to Christians not to be led astray by the things of this world, but instead to strive to work out our salvation and to be what Christ wants us to be.  The writer points out how futile the distractions will look on judgement day.

Adam McCollum drew my attention to this obscure work, and he has kindly translated the two Greek versions for us.  The translation is given in parallel columns, so that the differences can be seen.  As is quickly apparent, this is one sermon that has been reworked by a secondary author.

Here it is:

Since the two are in parallel format, there’s only a PDF of this at the moment.  (It is also on Archive.org here)

As with all my commissions, I place this in the public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

Norwich cathedral – no entrance unless you pay $8?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  All public institutions in our time seem to be in decay, with ever fatter salaries for those nominally in charge, and ever less concern as to whether the job gets done at all.  This is sometimes eerily remniscent of the 18th century.  Yesterday I found myself thinking of a passage in the Memories of Dean Hole, the Victorian Dean of Rochester, where, looking back on the wretched state of things as they were at that period, and imagining a foreigner visiting, he writes[1]:

But most impressive, at first sight, to me was the sight, not only in cities and in towns, but in every village, of the church tower or spire, rising over the roofs and the trees, and hard by the pastor’s peaceful home. Surely, I thought, we have here, not only a prosperous, intellectual, energetic, brave, and accomplished people, but they are devout and religious also. Imagine then my disappointment when, as I drew near, I found the graveyards were uncared for, the tombstones broken, defaced, defiled, the church doors barred and locked, and when I obtained admission, for which I was manifestly expected to pay, I looked on desolation and decay, comfortable apartments for the rich, with cushions and carpets, bare benches for the poor; and was told that the church was only used once in the week, and that the chief shepherd resided a hundred miles from his sheep!

Emphasis mine.

Yesterday I visited the ancient city of Norwich, and, taken by a whim, walked over to the cathedral close in the deliciously named Tombland district of the city.  Once inside the close, an oasis of peace after the busy traffic without, I walked across to the west door, the entrance to the cathedral.  But … it was closed.  Instead, signs directed me to a little doorway, in the dreadfully inappropriate modern extension, with gift shop, restaurant and other commercially-driven features.  Not that I have any objection to a cathedral restaurant; but visiting it was not the purpose of my visit.

norwich-entrance

Rather gingerly I ventured into this entrance, and found myself looking at plate glass sliding doors, rather like an upmarket shop for women’s clothes.  The doors opened as I approached, and I stepped inside, and looked to see where the entrance to cathedral might be.  None was visible; but I was instantly buttonholed by an attendant who opened a leaflet she was proferring with a plan of the cathedral, and started heaping on me advice and help.  All of which was very unwelcome.

The need for all this was caused solely by the fact that the Dean and Chapter had closed the west door and diverted me to a side door in a different building.  It was, frankly, very intrusive to be forced to engage in conversation with this tourist guide.  I wasn’t there for commercial purposes; she, on the other hand, was there for no other purpose.

I declined the map, and obtained the information that entrance might be found to the left, behind some building work.  I walked, already feeling rather unsettled by all this, and found another doorway.  On the other side of this was an admissions desk, of the kind familiar from every tourist attraction, and prominently featured in very large letters was a statement along the lines of “Recommended Donation: £5″.  The whole view gave a very definite message to the visitor, and not by accident either.  If I went through that door, the message was, I had better be prepared for a fight, or to lose a substantial amount from my wallet.

Of course I could have hardened my heart and strode through.  But what manner of man comes to a cathedral in that frame of mind?  Other than perhaps Oliver Cromwell, whose attitude towards cathedrals at that moment struck me as more reasonable than it usually does.

What sort of church creates conditions in which sensitive visitors are guilt-tripped into handing over money, or else made to feel uncomfortable throughout their stay, or encouraged to make themselves insensitive?  We’re not children.  We know how modern fund-raising is done.  We all know that such people are sharks, whatever they say.   All this flummery was merely manipulation, deliberate, cold-blooded, by design, and for no other purpose than to shake down the visitor for money.  And the visitor was presumed to be comfortably middle-class; for what poor man would enter, faced with this?

I’m not ashamed to say that I turned around and walked back to the entrance that I had come in.  I didn’t want to be subjected to such psychological abuse.  I didn’t have to be here, after all.

Not that I could get out so easily; the “automatic” door only admitted people, and it required the assistance of the tourist person to find a button to let me out.  It was noticeable how much less friendly my reception was on trying to leave!

Outside I was accosted by a young man, dishevelled, his face bearing the marks of habitual insobriety, and with the urgency of one in need of his next fix.  On seeing my face he quickly abandoned his effort to get money, and I saw him approach several old ladies, and then he scampered out of the close.

I wandered back to the town centre, and there I found a group of old men preaching and handing out leaflets.

20140930_streetpreachersnorwich

They weren’t slick.  Indeed their amateurishness was rather embarassing, and everyone gave them a wide berth.  But they kept on trying, and were still there a couple of hours later.

One of them was trying to give away leaflets, without much luck.  I took one, and found that for the price of a stamp I could get more booklets and a free bible (which would otherwise cost £10).

I was reasonably sure that none of these old men were members of the chapter of Norwich cathedral.

The contrast between the two ways of following God struck me forcibly.  On the one hand was a vast estate of prime real estate, filled with lovely ancient buildings, providing those who ran it with every comfort and nice incomes.   These saw their task as extracting money from the visitor, in order to improve their own situation and that of the estate.  They were, in some respects, no different to the beggar at their door, seeking money for his fix; except that he was in need and they, conspicuously, were not.

On the other hand were a group of men, asking nothing, unpaid, giving away what they had and willing to give more for the price of a stamp, and willing to be unpopular and mocked for doing so.

It was an uncomfortable reflection, and somewhere in it is the root of all anti-clericalism, and indeed all atheism.

It would be easy to be unfair on the Dean and Chapter, of course.  They owe their appointment to the state, which controls all church appointments by a Byzantine system of committees,[2] and appoints men principally for their loyalty to the establishment, their flexibility in principle, and their ability to shuffle the paper and utter pieties when needed.  But what it does not provide is funding to go along with it.  The appointees must make do with whatever historic funds their institution has; and this is rather slender.  Naturally men of this kind will try to make ends meet by whatever methods are available, as any of us might in the same position.  They are not sensitive to the claims of Christianity, and its responsibility to others, for otherwise they would not have been appointed.[3]  So … they do as such men have always done.  What else could they do?  They do, indeed, as the Jewish priests in Roman times did.  They act pragmatically.  But I do believe that a certain Jesus of Nazareth commented unfavourably on such behaviour.  On the other hand, since he could never have afforded the “recommended donation”, perhaps it doesn’t matter?

It’s all rather sad.  I hope that I live long enough to see, as Dean Hole lived long enough to see, the end of such things.  Let us hope that we too can say, of our imaginary foreigner, looking at what we see now:

How great would be his surprise of joy could he return to us now!

Let us hope it will be so with us too.

Postscript: I commented on this on Twitter. This drew the following curious response:

I enjoyed the irony of this: the bland denial of the extraction process, followed by an email address starting with the word “marketing@…”.

No thank you, gentlemen; I am not part of your “marketing”.

  1. [1] Online here, p.137.
  2. [2] Those who question whether Anglican appointments are indeed of this nature – for I have seen it questioned – should ponder on the appearance of an Old Etonian archbishop recently, appointed by an Old Etonian Prime Minister with a cabinet full of Old Etonians.  The appointment provoked an outbreak of mirth and cartoons in major  newspapers.
  3. [3] I am told that it is now almost 20 years since any bible-believing Christian was made a bishop, and that 80 appointments have been made since.  Not one bishop now believes the bible.  Such are the perils of a state church.

Some translations by Anthony Alcock from Syriac, Coptic and Arabic

Anthony Alcock has been busy on a number of texts, creating new translations.  He has kindly sent a number of these to me for upload here, although I think that they are also available on Academia.edu and perhaps on Alin Suciu’s blog also.

In each case he provides a useful introduction.

Here they are (all PDF):

  • Chronicle of Séert I – A rather important Syriac chronicle, written by a Nestorian writer in the 9-11th century.  A detailed study of the text by Philip Wood (Oxford, 2013) is accessible on open access (yes!!!) here.
  • Chronicle of Séert II – Part 2 of the same.
  • Preaching of Andrew – A fresh translation of one of the Christian Arabic apocrypha from Mount Sinai.
  • Sins1 – A Coptic text on the Sins of priests and monks, by ps.Athanasius.  An Arabic version also exists.  This is the first English version, so is very welcome.  The text is interesting because of the interaction with Islam, and may be one of the sources used by the Apocalypse of Samuel of Kalamoun.  However I wasn’t able to locate this text in either the Coptic Encyclopedia or Graf’s GCAL – does anyone know where it is?
  • Sins2 – Part 2 of the same.

It is profoundly useful to have this kind of material available in English and online, and our thanks to Dr Alcock.

UPDATE: Dr Alcock has now provided part 3 of the Chronicle of Seert here:

Severian of Gabala – On the Holy Spirit, now online in English

Severian of Gabala (ca. 398 AD) was a member of the Antiochene school of biblical interpretation.  In consequence his sermons tend to be expository, and consequently still of value today.  Regrettably they have not been translated into English, for the most part.  Regular readers will be aware that I have commissioned translations of a number of them.

Bryson Sewell has just finished wrestling with Severian’s sermon De Spiritu Sancto (CPG 4188), as printed by Migne in the Patrologia Graeca 52, cols.813-826.  This makes it one of the longer works preserved.

The text gets obscure at points.  Severian has a bit of a tendency to address his audience; then switch to address some imaginary Arian or Macedonian; then back again.  I’m not sure that either of us quite followed him at every point!  On the other hand it has some very useful arguments from scripture for the divinity of the Holy Spirit (as well as some less good ones).

Here it is:

These may also be found at Archive.org.

As usual I place these in the public domain; do whatever you like with them, personal, educational or commercial.[1]

There will now be a pause in translating Severian’s works, but I hope that we will return to him sometime.  However the next translation that we do will be something else.

A translation of another early sermon – not by Severian – is in flight, and should appear in the next few days.  But that will be it for a little while.  Fear not; there will be more!

  1. [1] Just don’t claim exclusive ownership, tho!

Managing the photocopies!

Alright.  Confess.  Is there anyone who does NOT have a large pile of photocopies of articles, book excerpts, and even complete books, somewhere in their house or study area?  No?  I thought not. Dratted nuisance, aren’t they?

Clearing the decks!

Clearing the decks!

Years ago I used to file them, in hanging folders in filing cabinets.  This week I have been emptying a drawer of such copies.  Most of these were on A3 paper, so very hard to scan; but I simply drew a trimmer down the middle and scanned them in anyway.  And then, most importantly, I threw away the paper.  And the hangers.

At this moment I am going through a pile of off-prints, and guillotining the spines and shoving them through my document scanner.  They scan beautifully.  And … I am throwing the paper away.  The PDFs that I get from the scanner I make searchable, and then, for once, I can use them.

It’s a bit nostalgic, in a way.  I’m finding papers that I ordered in 2001, via my local library.  This was before PDFs existed.  The library charged a substantial sum per paper, and it arrived in weeks, not days.  In those days it was the only available method to obtain a copy of anything.  Now … we have electronic methods.  It’s not so long ago, and yet it’s a different world.

Most of the papers relate to my interest in Tertullian.  I’m scanning in a bunch of copies of the Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea as I type – the key bibliography for Latin ante-Nicene patristics.  They will be far easier to search in PDF form!

Also found were a bunch of papers by Canadian academic James Carley, about the English antiquary John Leland.  Leland lived in the times of Henry VIII, when the monasteries were being suppressed, and inspected their libraries.  Many volumes from English monasteries went overseas; most were destroyed.  A post on his work might not go amiss, perhaps.

Meanwhile, I need to scan some more stuff and declutter!  It’s a good task for a rainy day.

Have you purged your filing cabinet lately?

The Green collection founder and his bible museum

A commenter draws my attention to a most interesting article in the Washington Post:

Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green has big plans for his Bible museum in Washington

The Bible museum taking shape in the building over the Federal Center SW Metro station started out in a very different location and with a very different message.

The project was planned for Texas in the late 2000s. Green told reporters he intended to put it in Dallas because so many church-going Christians live there. The mission statement on its initial nonprofit filing documents was clear: to “bring to life the living word of God … to inspire confidence in the absolute authority” of the Bible’s words. Green wanted to hand out Bible tracts to visitors, who would exit the museum singing “Amazing Grace,” said Scott Carroll, a specialist in biblical manuscripts who advised Green’s Bible-collecting and museum efforts from their start in 2009 through 2012.

Today, the message has undergone a drastic revision. The Web site for Green’s traveling Bible exhibit, “Passages,” says the museum “will be dedicated to a scholarly approach to the history, narrative and impact of the Bible.” Green says he now supports a museum approach that is nonsectarian and non-proselytizing.

The skeptics have another reason to embrace this new museum. Substantive funding for Bible scholarship and exploration is scarce. At a time when polls show that Americans are increasingly ignorant about the Bible and religion, the Greens are happily pouring hundreds of millions into preserving, researching and taking public what’s called the Book of Books.

… things turned sharply in 2009, as Green worked with Carroll to start building his collection.

The economy crashed, and several private donors and major institutions started dumping assets. Green went on a three-year buying spree. “We were looking at good buying. We thought: ‘This is worth much more than they’re asking. Let’s buy it.’ ”

Green bought Dead Sea Scroll fragments, Babe Ruth’s Bible, the Codex Climaci Rescriptus — a bundle of manuscripts from the 5th to the 9th centuries that includes the phrase that Christianity teaches Jesus uttered on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Green owns the world’s largest collection of Torah scrolls.

As word spread of the Green Collection, some scholars panted at the possibility that items long held in completely private collections might be available for study.

It’s an interesting article on an interesting subject.

In the ruling class of the USA there seems to be a terrifying degree of bigotry towards their own backwoods Christianity, from which Green has emerged.  I have already seen vituperation from scholars which I can only characterise as motivated by the idea that “this is our space” and based purely on religious animosity.  But it would be a great pity if this antipathy was allowed to derail a project that should be of universal benefit.

H.V.Morton on Gregory the Great and the deserted Palatine

This morning I read these words:

I descended the noble steps [from the church of St Gregory on the Caelian hill].  Every day of his life, I reflected, St Gregory while in Rome, and before he went to live at the Lateran Palace as Pope, must have seen the Colosseum; a few paces would take him past the Circus Maximus, already weed-grown and deserted, above which rose the imperial palaces, unoccupied for centuries but still capable of housing a stray Exarch from Ravenna.  The last time they received an emperor was twenty-five years after Gregory’s death, in 629, when Heraclius visited Rome and was invested with the diadem in the throne room on the Palatine.  What a ghostly moment that must have been; for the middle ages were ready to be born.

These words are from H.V. Morton, A Traveller in Rome, published in 1957.[1]

I know nothing of that visit to Rome by Heraclius, I must say, but that portrait in words moves me to find out.  Which, in a way, says that the book is doing its job!

I’m reading the book because it’s a gentle, restful book to read.  For those unfamiliar with them, Morton’s books are a mixture of personal observation and material rewritten from books such as the popularisations of Lanciani, and are perfectly targeted at the educated but non-specialist reader.   They are uneven; but the best are very good indeed.

But it is a wistful experience, reading Morton’s Through Lands of the Bible, where he travels through Palestine and Iraq in the 1930’s.  It is a portrait of a peaceful, quiet world.  Under the rule of the honest, efficient colonial powers, the region knew the first enlightened, progressive, civilised government that it had ever had.

How sad that it was also the last.  I am by no means anti-American, but America has been the dominant power in the region since WW2, and the policies pursued by its ruling class, often well-intentioned but invariably counter-productive, have condemned its inhabitants to ceaseless, pointless strife, poverty and misery.

Let us take up the books written in better days, and dream of a better world than our own.

UPDATE: Later in the book Morton refers to a visit by Constans II to stay in the Palatine, some 20 years later than Heraclius.  I have a feeling that his books were serialized, which may explain how episodic they sometimes can be; and mistakes like this!

  1. [1] By Methuen; In the 1984 paperback reprint this is p.208

From my diary

The first complete draft of Severian of Gabala, De Spiritu Sancto, has arrived.  More to the point, I have now read through it all and given feedback.  One section of it is distinctly hard to follow in the original, because Severian is not being as clear as he might be.  In consequence he has to keep asking his audience to concentrate!

But it’s an interesting sermon.  Once we’ve added enough words in brackets so that the reader can follow the thought, I think that it will be of general interest to modern readers who would like to understand the basis from scripture for some of the church’s statements about the Holy Spirit.

I’ve continued working on the Mithras site.  This week I located pictures of two lost reliefs, and added them to the index of monuments.  It is a very great privilege to live in the internet age, when we can locate relatively easily materials that would have been quite impossible to access, back in 1997, when I started Tertullian.org!

I’ve also had an update on a Greek homily that I commissioned; work is in progress.  There is also hope of a translation of the Syriac remains of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis.

Autumn has now definitely arrived here, and this leads me to think of Christmas, and so of Santa Claus.  It seems to be a fact that the hagiographical Lives of St. Nicholas have never been translated into English, or indeed any modern language.  Unfortunately they are late, and exist in multiple versions.  It might be fun to select one or two and commission translations, tho.  Mightn’t it?!

Origen on Ezekiel: yet another translation has been made!

A correspondent writes:

Just wanted to alert you that John Sehorn successfully defended his PhD dissertation on Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel 1–14 not long ago (link). Apparently it includes a translation of the text. He’s been at it for over three years now – I guess working parallel to you[1] and Scheck.[2]

I don’t know.  You wait four centuries for a translation of Origen’s homilies on Ezekiel, and then three come along in a period of 24 months!  But the more the merrier!

The Mischa Hooker translation, however, is more complete than either the Scheck or Sehorn versions, since these only translate the 14 homilies from the Latin version made by Rufinus, while Hooker also translates a vast array of Greek fragments from all the works of Origen on Ezekiel, and includes a facing Greek and Latin text.  But then, since I published this version, perhaps I am biased!

It is still my intention that Hooker’s text and translation will appear online, freely accessible, once sales trickle to nothing much.  I’d just like to recoup at least some of the investment first.

  1. [1] Mischa Hooker, Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, In: Ancient Texts in Translation 2, 2014.Amazon.  Please buy a copy!
  2. [2] Thomas P. Scheck, Origen: Homilies 1-14 on Ezekiel, in: Ancient Christian Writers 62, 2012. Amazon.


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