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A modern myth: that a soap factory was found at Pompeii, complete with scented bars!

This evening I came across an assertion that a soap factory was found among the ruins of Pompeii.  Naturally interested, I did a google search and came across endless assertions of this kind.  Some of them asserted that the find came complete with bars of soap; some sites, indeed, felt able to state that the bars of soap were scented.   But no proper references were forthcoming, which naturally made me suspicious.  A very few sites had some (undocumented) statements that this was wrong, referring to the “so-called soap factory”, “so named in the 18th century”, and that the “soap turned out to be fullers earth”, but again there was no reference.

There seems to be almost nothing online about Pompeii!  I don’t mean popularisations, novels, tourist visits, etc.  These, indeed, are endless.  But nothing scholarly; nothing reliable.  Not, at least, that a simple search pursued with some industry would reveal.

In the end I was lucky, and found a book in snippet view that had done some research.  It turned out to be none other than Partington’s A history of Greek fire (1960)!  Which was the source for my last two posts on soap, no less!

Here’s an extract from p.308 (overparagraphed by me):

 J. Sheridan Muspratt [167] said: “In the excavations at Pompeii a complete soap-boiling establishment was discovered, containing soap still perfect. . . . The Editor was greatly interested inspecting the factory.”

The pieces of supposed soap are in the Museo Nazionale in Naples. [168] A specimen of it was examined by de Luca,[169] who reported that it blackened when heated on platinum foil, and when it was warmed with dilute hydrochloric acid “a fatty substance of the consistency of butter was set free.”

K. B. Hofmann,[170] whilst saying that he did not question the result found by de Luca with his specimen, examined another specimen of reputed soap from Pompeii. It was insoluble in ether, alcohol and petroleum ether, had only a small part soluble in water, and effervesced with dilute hydrochloric acid, which dissolved only a small part. The residue was found by qualitative analysis to consist mainly of fuller’s earth of medium quality and it dispersed in water like this:

‘Die in der Fullonica gefundene, von mir geprüfte Masse ist also nichts als Walkerde. Was de Luca analysiert hat, weiss ich nicht—jedenfalls auch keine Seife; denn er gibt an, der unlösliche Antheil seien “thon- und kalkartige Stoffe” gewesen.’

Further, said Hofmann, soap was never found among toilet articles in Pompeii, and modern soap does not redden the hair. There was more interest taken in appearance than cleanliness; Tacitus says the Germans were dirty (sordidus) and, says Hofmann: “Wir haben uns also unsere Vorvater zwar ungewaschen, aber mit pomadierten Kopfen zu denken (We have, therefore, to think of our forefathers as unwashed but with pomaded heads),” A satisfactory history of soap has still to be written.

167.  Chemistry applied to Arts and Manufactures, Glasgow, n.d. (1857-60), Division vi, 868
168.  Feldhaus, Die Technik der Vorzeit, 1914, 1289.
169.  Rendiconti dell’Accademia delle Scienze Fisiche e Mathematiche, Naples, 1877, xvi, 74: Sopra una materia grassa, ricavata da talune terre rinvenute a Pompeji.
170.  “Ueber vermeindiche antike Seife,” in Wiener Studien. Z. f. classische Philologie, Vienna, 1882, iv, 263-70; [quote actually on p.269] Günther, in Iwan Müller, Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, V, i, 63, gives this title as “Graz, 1885,” which may be another publication by Hofmann.

This is rather thorough, and I suspect we may take this at face value.

" Amy McCabe (Indiana University) investigates one of the tanks at the back of the so-called soap factory. The function of this industrial space in its final phase remains unclear." Via Interactive Archaeology

” Amy McCabe (Indiana University) investigates one of the tanks at the back of the so-called soap factory. The function of this industrial space in its final phase remains unclear.” Via Interactive Archaeology

An early instance of the story appears in Murray’s Handbook for travellers in Southern Italy, 1853, p.334:

Soap Factory (1786). – A small shop, which contained heaps of lime of excellent quality and other materials for soap-boiling, the vats, evaporating pans, and the moulds.

I wonder what the origin of the story is?  It is certainly wide-spread, and still enjoys currency today.

Zosimos of Panopolis on soap and soap-making

Previously we looked at the claim that Galen knows of soap.  In the same article we find the claim:

Zosimos the alchemist [148] (c. A.D. 250) mentions both soap (σαπώνιον) and soap-making (σαπωναρικὲ τέκνη).

148.  Berthelot, Collection des anciens Alchemistes Grecs, 1888, vol. ii, 142.3, 143.7.  (This contains Zosimos; French translation here).

It is always good practice to check these claims.  Fortunately we can.  And if we look at the online copy of the Greek, we will see both these phrases for soap (sapo) where they are supposed to be.  But what is the context?

As might be supposed, this is an alchemical recipe, in a book full of these.  On p.143 of the French translation we find the text:

III. 8. On the same divine water

1.  Taking some eggs, whatever quantity you like, boil them, and after breaking them, remove all the white, but don’t use the shell.  Taking a male-and-female glass, which is called an alembic, put into it the yellows of the eggs, using the following amounts: 1 ounce of yellow, calcined egg-shell, two carats, neither more nor less, but exactly as written.  Then stir; then, taking some more eggs, break them and throw them into the alembic with the stirred yellows, so that the whole eggs are covered by the yellow.

A process of distillation then follows, and the “water” is what comes out of this.

So what of our soap-making?  A little further on it says:

2. … Then mix with the ashes other egg-yellows, as in the art of soap-making; stir together the wet and dry materials, and put them all into an alembic.  Do the same operation as before, but changing the recipient of the water, that is the rogion.

The notes make plain that in this case “the ashes” is a sulphur residue; but the point is that Zosimos knows that soap is made by mixing ashes – from wood, in the case of soap-making – with a fatty substance.

(At this point I must confess that I knew little about how soap is made, but a google search tells me that wood ash, or “potash”, contains Potassium Hydroxide (KOH), which is the alkali in soft soaps, which combines with the fat – usually oil – to make soap.  Hard soaps, in bar form, require Sodium Hydroxide.)

But there are two references to sapo in this text.  The other is close to the end:

Now after 41 days, remove the alembic from the hot place and let it cool completely for 5 days.  Once the 5 days have elapsed, place the alembic on the sawdust ashes and extract the divine water from it; not into your hand, but into a glass vessel.  Then, taking this water, put it into an alembic, as before, and heat it for 2-3 days.  After removing it, stir and expose to the sun on a shell.  When the product becomes as compact as soap, warm an ounce of silver and cover it with this solidified  water, i.e. 2 carats of dry powder, and you will have some for.

The total number of days of the operation is 110 days, according to what Zosimos the Christian and Stephanus say.  As for me, having foraged from everywhere like a bee and plaited a crown with many flowers, I do homage to you, my master.  Next I will explain what are the devices.  Take care in Jesus Christ, our God, now and forever and in all the ages of ages.  Amen.

The compact soap, from which moisture has evapourated, is all very well.  But the last paragraph betrays that we are not dealing with a text written directly by Zosimos, whatever his date; but with a compilation of fragments, assembled from Zosimos, and from Stephanus – perhaps a commentator – in a form that looks suspiciously like a pupil’s notes.

In the circumstances, can we be sure that these references to soap making are original to Zosimos?  Rather than a later addition?

It is slightly depressing to find the evidence for the early use of soap so fragile.  The author of these statements did indeed know how to make soap, that much is clear.  But was he Zosimos, or some much later writer?  Without knowing more about the transmission of these works – and technical works, by their very nature, tend to be revised, amended, “corrected”, and so on, when copied – it might be rash to be certain.

All the same, I suspect that it is simpler and involves fewer hypotheses if we assume that the statements are indeed original, than to posit an interpolator; in which case, we may reasonably assume that Galen, in the late 2nd century, is probably using the word “sapo” in the same way as Zosimos, and therefore the use of soap does indeed start to appear in the times of Marcus Aurelius or thereabouts.

The Bufalini map of Rome (1551)

Old maps of Rome can contain very useful information.  At this site is the 1748 reproduction of the 1551 Bufalini map of Rome.  The original is here, but for some strange reason is upside down and nearly unreadable.  (Both sites have annoyingly provided us with a “viewer” rather than a download of the whole map).

Let’s look at one or two locations.  The first is to look at St Peter’s:

Buffalini (1551) - Plan of Old St Peter's

Buffalini (1551) – Plan of Old St Peter’s

The “Templum S. Petri” has the modern plan at the western end, but the Old Constantinian basilica at the East, leading into the atrium, then down some steps and into the “Forum S. Petri”.  The Palace of the Pontiff faces into that piazza, which can be entered from the north through the wall that runs east to Castell S. Angelo.  The same entrance in the wall into St. Peter’s square is used by modern visitors, coming from the metro station.

A circle at the bottom of the “new” portion indicates the location of the Vatican rotunda, a 3rd century tomb converted into a chapel and only demolished a couple of centuries later.  To the right of it is a speck, which is the Vatican obelisk that now stands in St Peter’s square but then stood where it had stood for centuries, on the spina of the vanished Circus of Gaius and Nero.

There are various renaissance depictions of all these monuments online, and elsewhere on this site – click on the link for “Old St Peters” at the end of the post – but a map is invaluable.

Next let’s look at the area to the south of the Colosseum:

Bufalini (1551) - Location of Septizonium and Meta Sudans

Bufalini (1551) – Location of Septizonium and Meta Sudans

The Colosseum is next to the Palatine hill; but note the little shaded rectangle to the left of “Septizonium Severi” at lower centre.  That is the location of the remains of the Septizonium, the monumental arcade-entrance to the Palatine, built as a facade by Septimus Severus and demolished only a few years later than the map.  And to the left of the Colosseum is the dot marking the fountain, the Meta Sudans, which survived until Mussolini demolished it in the 1930’s.

Off to the right of the Colosseum, and beyond the church of S. Clemente, are the immense ruins of the Baths of Titus (Thermae Titi):

Bufalini (1551) - Baths of Titus

Bufalini (1551) – Baths of Titus

Let’s now wander off to the Quirinal Hill, up and left.

Bufalini (1551) - Temple of the Sun

Bufalini (1551) – Temple of the Sun

Somewhere in those streets is the modern Trevi Fountain.  But in the centre is the now vanished remains of the Templum Solis Aureliani – Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun.  Below it and to the right are the Baths of Constantine, the last major bath complex of imperial Rome.

I hope you have enjoyed your ramble around a vanished Rome.

(H/T Anna Blennow)

Galen on the origins of soap

I stumbled across an interesting claim this afternoon, in the Wikipedia article on soap, which I traced to a 1960 textbook on the history of Greek fire (!) by a certain J.R. Partington.[1]

The origin of the name sapo has been much discussed. Some think it is from the German saipjo, others from the English sepe (still used in Scotland), passing by way of Batavia to Gaul. Blumner says true soap was unknown to the ancients, Pliny’s sapo being a pomade made from unsaponified fat and alkali. When true soap was first made by boiling fats or oils with causticised lye seems to be unknown, but the use of causticised lye in making soap (σάπων) is mentioned by Galen,[145] perhaps from Asklepiades junior (c. A.D. 100), who says it is made from the fat of oxen, goats, or wethers, and causticised lye (sapo conficitur ex sevo bulbulo, vel caprino, aut vervecino, et lixivio cum calce). Galen says that the best soap was the German, since it was purest and in some ways the most fatty, that of the Gauls being next best, and that it acted as a medicine and removed all impurity from the body and from clothing. This is the first certain mention of the use of soap as a detergent. Galen [146] says soap is a better detergent than soda (λίτρον). If the mention of Gallic soap in Oreibasios [147] is from Rufus of Ephesus (c. A.D. 100) this would precede Galen’s in a Greek writer. Zosimos the alchemist [148] (c. A.D. 250) mentions both soap (σαπώνιον) and soap-making (σαπωναρικὲ τέκνη).

Sadly I was unable to access the page of the preview with the footnotes (p.333), so I couldn’t get Partington’s references.  I do not know where we might find the statements by Zosimos, therefore.

But a search on the Latin text of Galen, or rather “Asclepiades Junior” – why Latin? – produced some interesting results.  A volume from 1817 quoted that text exactly, and rather more of it:[2]

Sapo conficitur ex sevo bubulo vel caprino, aut vervecino, et lixivio cum calce; quod optimum judicamus Germanicum; est enim mundissimum et veluti pinguissimum, deinde Gallicum. Verum omnis sapo acriter ralaxare potest, et omnem sordem de corpore abstergere, vel de pannis, et exsiccare similiter ut nitrum vel aphronitrum, mittitur et in caustica. (Soap is made from ox, goat or sheep’s tallow, and lye with lime; the best we think is the German [soap]; for it is the purest and almost the fattest, then the Gallic [soap].  Indeed soap can quickly loosen everything, and wipe away all muck from the body, or from clothes, and likewise dry up like nitre/soda or African nitre/sodium carbonate, and is also used as a caustic.) De simplicibus medicaminibus, p. 90. G.

In another book, ascribed to Galen, the greater part of which is taken from Aetius, and of which a Latin translation only remains, De dynamidiis, p. 28. G, according to Gesner’s edition stands: Recipe saponem spatarenticum, and p. 31. C, emplastrum de sapone spathulgno. These epithets, in my opinion, signified soap which was so soft that it could be spread.

But what is Galen’s De simplicibus medicaminibus?  It is unknown to the standard 20-volume edition of Galen’s works by Kuhn.[3]  Fortunately the answer is not far to seek – it is the title of an early printed edition of a pseudo-Galenic work, the Alphabet of Galen, recently edited and translated by Nicholas Everett.[4]  The editio princeps of this text was printed by Diomedes Bonardus under the title Liber Galieni de simplicibus medicinis ad Paternianum, and in the 16th century in the Opera Omnia of Galen[5] as Liber Galieni de simplicibus medicaminibus ad Paternianum.  Likewise I learn that De dynamidiis is also ps.Galenic, and also addressed to the same Paternianus, Paterninus or Paternus – Everett’s introduction is excellent on all these.

De simplicibus medicinis is listed in Fichtner’s modern Galen bibliography as #139: “Ad Paternum = De simplicibus medicinis ad Paternianum = Liber pigmentorum = De simplicibus medicaminibus ad Paternianum = Alfabetum Galieni” and “Nicht bei Kühn; Pseudo-Galen”.  Likewise De dynamidiis appears as #219, also spurious.[6]

But what of this editor “Gesner”?  He turns out to be the 16th century editor Conrad Gessner.  Curiously his edition includes a page listing Galenic spuria, and among them, De simplicibus medicinis![7]  His edition of the work is here, and we quickly see that the book is a list of simple things like aloe, etc.  Unsurprisingly we find a section De sapone here, and the entire entry is as above.

So this is indeed the source of the material given by Partington.  It is not by Galen, nor can he have used it.  It’s from a medieval handbook, at least in its current form, and attributed to Galen in general handbooks which are repeated uncritically throughout the 19th century.

Everett considers that the text incorporates a great deal of ancient medical knowledge.  No doubt it does, like many a medieval text;  but its value as evidence for the use of soap in Galen’s time, or indeed that of Asclepiades Junior, must be negligible.

The main mystery remaining is why Partington attributes the material to Asclepiades Pharmacion, known as Asclepiades Junior (ca. 100 AD).  This attribution is our only other possible reason to consider this material ancient.

It would be good to check the other references in Partington.

Update: A kind correspondent has now sent me the page of references, and I have decided that Partington is not quite as culpable as I first thought!  I have revised the post accordingly.

Now Partington does indeed give extra references, which are as follows:

145.  De compos. med. sec. loc., ii; Kuhn, xii, 586. (i.e. this is Galen)
146.  Method. medend., vii; Kuhn, x, 569. (and this)
147.  Synopseos, iii; in Stephanus, Medicae artis principes, 1567, 53.  (This is Oreibasios)
148.  Berthelot, Collection des anciens Alchemistes Grecs, 1888, vol. ii, 142.3, 143.7.  (This is Zosimos; French translation around here).

Interestingly there is no reference for the material from ps.Galen, although we have tracked it down above.

But let’s now look at those references in Galen and see what the man himself has to say.

Galen, De compositione medicamentorum secundum locos, book 2, in Kuhn xii, p.586, mentions a pound of “sapo” (“saponis libram unam”) as an ingredient, 3 lines from the bottom.  My limited knowledge of Latin words for lye does not allow me to find the reference to it in here, however.  Is there one?

Galen, De Methodo Medendi, book 8 (at least in my copy of Kuhn) of 14, p.569, does indeed contain a reference to “sapo”: “But it is also called soap [sapo/sapon] by those who want to clean most effectively.”  The discussion is about various types of “material for cleansing” the body before bathing, and references caustics like nitre and aphronitre.  The idea of soap is certainly here, if not the specifics, and it is contrasted with nitre / soda.

But is this evidence for soap in Galen’s time?

  1. [1] J.R. Partington, A history of Greek fire and gunpowder, JHU Press, 1960, p.307.
  2. [2] Johann Beckmann, A history of inventions and discoveries, tr. by W. Johnston. Vol. 1-3; 4, 2nd ed, vol. 3, London: Longman &c, 1817, p.225.
  3. [3] Everett, p.11.
  4. [4] Nicholas Everett, The Alphabet of Galen: Pharmacy from Antiquity to the Middle Ages : a Critical Edition of the Latin Text with English Translation and Commentary, University of Toronto, 2012. See p.13-14.
  5. [5] Published in Latin by Junta in 1522, 1528, 1565 and 1586; also in Charterius in 1679 – see Everett p.11.
  6. [6] Online here.
  7. [7] Galeno Ascripti Libri, in Omnia Quae Extant, Froben, 1562. Online at Google books here.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 9 (Contd)

Let’s continue with chapter 9 of this Arabic Christian work:

5. As for those who wonder why the patriarch of Alexandria is called “Bābā”, we answer: “Bābā” means “grandfather”.  But from the time when Ananias was made patriarch of Alexandria by the Evangelist Mark to the time of Demetrius, patriarch of Alexandria, who was the eleventh patriarch [of that place], there was never, in the province of Egypt, a bishop and the patriarchs who preceded him had never consecrated bishops.  But when he became patriarch, Demetrius consecrated three bishops and it was he, in truth, who was the first patriarch of Alexandria to consecrate bishops.  At his death there was made patriarch of Alexandria Heraclas, who consecrated twenty bishops.  One of these bishops, named Eumenius, transgressed the law, and the news came to the patriarch Heraclas who immediately convened a group of bishops, went to the city [where was] Eumenius, and made some inquiries about him; and he pondered the case thoroughly and worked out the truth.  It was then that, hearing the people call the bishops “Ab” [or “father”], the patriarch thought: “If we call the bishop “Ab” and the bishops themselves call the patriarch “Ab”, then we call the patriarch “Bābā”, or “grandfather”, for he is the father of fathers.”  The Patriarch of Alexandria was so called, from the time of Heraclas, “Bābā”, or “grandfather”.  Ananias, patriarch of Alexandria, whom the evangelist Mark had made the patriarch of that time,  remained in office for twenty-two years and died.  The evangelist Mark went to Barqah (8), exhorting the people to embrace the faith in Christ, Son of God.

6. Claudius Caesar died, and there reigned after him, in Rome, his son Nero Caesar for thirteen years. He was the first to procure serious evils and misfortunes for the Christians.  He was an extremely bad man and of wicked habits.  At the time of Nero Caesar, Peter, chief of the Apostles, wrote in the city of Rome the Gospel of Mark, at the hands of the latter, in Latin, and attributed it to Mark.

It was also at the time of this king that Luke wrote his gospel in Greek for a Roman nobleman named Theophilus and it was also he who wrote the “Praxis”, i.e. “The Acts of the Apostles” (9).  The evangelist Luke was the companion of the Apostle Paul, and remained with him for a long time. We know this because the apostle Paul says in his letter: “The doctor Luke greets you” (10).  Nero Caesar took Peter, crucified him with his head down, and had him put to death, because Peter had asked him: “If you want to crucify me, crucify me with my head down, because my death is not the same as that of Christ, my Lord, who was crucified in the upright position” (11).  Then [Nero] beheaded Paul.  Peter was put to deathtwenty-two years after Christ, our Lord, was put to death.  After Peter, Linus was made patriarch of Rome(12).  He held the office for twelve years and died. He was the first to be made patriarch of Rome.  The evangelist Mark preached to the people the faith in Christ, Son of God, in Alexandria and Barqah for seven years.  In the first year of the reign of the aforementioned Nero Caesar, Mark was put to death in Alexandria, and his body was set on fire (13).  In the twelfth year of the reign of Nero Caesar Ignatius was made Patriarch of Antioch.  He held the seat for thirty-two and was put to death.

7. Qistus, governor of Jerusalem, died and the city was without any authority or sovereign to govern it.  The Jews then arose and rioted and killed James, son of Joseph, known as the “brother of the Lord”, stoning him to death (14).  Then they harassed a group of disciples and expelled them from the city.  The Christians abandoned Jerusalem, crossed the Jordan and settled in those places (15).  Informed of this fact, Nero Caesar sent word to the commander stationed in the East, named Vespasian, to rally his troops and go to Judea with orders to kill all the inhabitants, sparing none, and to destroy the houses.  Having heard these things, the Jews gathered together and those who among them were wealthy offered their goods to build three citadels around the city.  They equipped them with towers, fortified them, and castellated them. Vespasian arrived in Judea after spreading destruction in every town of Galilee and burning it.  But against Jerusalem he could not do anything, because it was well fortified and strengthened.  He spent a year besieging it.  The Jews made nocturnal sorties, in secret, and spread death among the Roman soldiers.

John the Lydian, On the Roman Months IV: January now online

Mischa Hooker has come up trumps and sent me a translation of the section of John the Lydian, On the Roman Months, book 4, which covers January!  As with previous sections of John, this details the various Roman festivals in the month, together with other calendrical information, often from lost sources.  Dr Hooker has also added copious footnotes.  Here it is:

As usual, this material is public domain – use it in any way you like, personal, educational or commercial!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 9

Let’s continue looking at how the 10th century Melkite patriarch of Alexandria saw the events of the 1st century AD, by giving a translation of the start of chapter 9 of the Annals:

1.  Pilate wrote to king Tiberius speaking of Christ, our Lord, and of his disciples and of the many miracles that they did, of how the sick were healed and the dead raised.  He wanted to believe in Christ, our Lord, and to profess the religion of the Christians, but his advisors dissuaded him from doing such a thing.  He was then enraged against Herod, because he killed John on account of Herodias, his brother’s wife, whom he had taken by force and committed adultery with her,  and for allowing the messiah to be crucified for his convenience.  Tiberius sent word to Herod to appear in Rome, and exiled him to Spain, entrusting the government of his province to Pilate.  The city of Tiberias, which was simply called Tībāriyādah (1), after the name of king Tiberias, was founded in the time of this king.

2. Tiberius Caesar died after a reign of twenty-two years and one month.  After him reigned Gaius Caesar for four years and three months (2).  He was a unmanly man, arrogant and extremely perverted.  He recalled Pilate to Rome and had him killed.  The Jews rose up so to be more wicked than they had been at first.  The Romans attacked them, but [the Jews] made great slaughter of them.  Having received news of this, king Gaius Caesar took one of his men, named Yirūdus, son of Aristobulus, also called Aghriyān (3), and entrusted to him the government of Jerusalem.  He also entrusted him with the government of the four provinces which the sons of Herod, son of Antipater had divided among themselves.  This Aghriyān was of evil conduct, extremely malicious and a relentless persecutor of the disciples.  It was he who had Stephen killed, the first martyr and archdeacon, who was stoned to death. James the brother of John, son of Zebedee was also killed with the sword.  He then put Peter in prison with the intent to kill him, but God came to his rescue, saved him from his hands, and took him far away from him to Antioch.

Arcadius was made patriarch of Antioch, and he held the seat for twenty-seven years (4).  He was the first to be made patriarch of the city of Antioch.  In the second year of the reign of Gaius Caesar, Peter went to Rome.  Aghriyān was stricken with a serious disease, his flesh consumed him and his body was dehydrated until he died.  When the king heard that Gaius Aghriyān had died, he appointed in his place another man, also named Aghriyān (5), and sent him to Jerusalem.  In the second year of his reign there was made bishop of Jerusalem James, son of Joseph, called “brother of our Lord,” who was the first of the bishops who then followed in Jerusalem.  He held the seat for twenty-eight years. The disciples suffered great tribulations at the hands of the Jews and the Romans, and many of them were killed.

3. Gaius Caesar died, and after him reigned in Rome Claudius Caesar for fourteen years.  In his time there was a severe famine throughout the land and many people died from the great famine and pestilence.  In the times of Claudius Caesar, Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew in Jerusalem, which the evangelist John then expounded in Greek.  The Jews had meanwhile become much more wicked than they had been at first, to the point that they were killing each other in the markets and in the streets because of the evil and corruption which had come over them.  Aghriyān fled far far away from them and fled to Rome, leaving as governor in Jerusalem a man named Qistus (6).  Upon arriving in Rome, Aghriyān informed Claudius Caesar of the evil that the Jews were doing.  Claudius Caesar then sent a large army to Jerusalem.  Many Jews, men, women and children, were killed and [many] were deported to Antioch or Rome.

4. In the ninth year of the reign of Claudius Caesar, the evangelist Mark was in the city of Alexandria, preaching to the people the faith in Christ, our Lord.  But as Mark was walking through the city of Alexandria he ripped, suddenly, a strip of leather from his sandal.  So he stopped at a shoemaker, named Ananias, so that he could repair the sandal.  Ananias took an awl to perforate the sandal, and in so doing wounded his finger, which began to issue a lot of blood with a throbbing pain.  He asked Mark to heal him, but Mark said:  “If you believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God, your finger will heal.”  Mark then took the finger of Ananias and said: “In the name of Jesus Christ, may your finger be healed!”  The finger healed instantly and the blood ceased to flow.  At the same time, Ananias believed in Christ, and Mark baptized him and made him patriarch of Alexandria.  He was the first to be made patriarch of Alexandria (7).  The evangelist Mark appointed, together with the patriarch Ananias, twelve other priests who joined with him [in his ministry] and on the death of the patriarch could nominate, in his place, one of the twelve, the other eleven placing their hands on his head and blessed him and consecrating him patriarch.  Their task was then to choose a man of proven virtue and ordain him priest with them, to replace the one that had been made patriarch, because they were always twelve in number.  The twelve priests of Alexandria continued to elect the patriarch, by following this rule, from among the twelve priests, until the time of Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, who was one of the Three Hundred and Eighteen.  In fact he forbade the priests to elect the patriarch, and also ordered that on the death of the patriarch the bishops should gather and elect the Patriarch.  He ordered that on the death of the patriarch, there should be elected a man of proven virtue, no matter from what country, or one of the twelve priests, or another that had been found worthy, and that he should be consecrated as patriarch.  In this way the old rule of electing the patriarch from the priests was interrupted, and the election went to the bishops.

Conference: Syriac intellectual activity in late antiquity. Oxford, 30th-31st January 2015.

Today I became aware of a two-day conference in Oxford that sounds rather interesting.  It takes place in three weeks time.

The title is Syriac intellectual culture in late antiquity: translation, transmission and influence and the abstracts are here.  The cost is negligible – £5 / $8 – and accomodation is possible for a rather more serious sum.

Here’s a list of papers from the abstracts:

  • The Sources of the Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel. 
  • The exegetical  Activity  of  Mar  Aba  I (d.  552).  He was a promoter of the exegesis of Theodore of Mopsuestia.
  •  The Syriac Odes and the Syrohexapla
  • Greek exegetical traditions in the Syriac commentary on the Diatessaron 
  • Human weakness: Isaac of Nineveh and the Syriac Macarian corpus.  And how the transmission of both from/to Greek happens.
  • The Syriac Vorlage and Translation Technique of the Arabic Version of Acts in Sinai Ar. 154.  This Arabic version of Acts is hardly studied, apparently.  
  • Dialogues in Syriac translation: Theodotus of Ancyra Contra Nestorium 
  • The Harclean Syriac, the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, & the Development of the Byzantine Text: The State of Their Union
  • The Old Testament and Invention of Holy Places in Syria-Mesopotamia during Late Antiquity
  • A paper on Ephrem’s Commentary on Genesis (title seems to be missing from the page of abstracts), discussing connections with both Greek and Jewish sources.
  • Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica in Syriac and Latin: a first comparison.  This one about why the HE got translated into each language.  The manuscripts of the Syriac version are 5th century!
  • The Syriac Nachleben of Jewish Apocrypha: The case of Joseph and Aseneth 

It’s all cutting-edge stuff, from the look of it, addressing areas well outside the normal run of patristic or biblical studies, but closely connected to things that we’d all like to know about.

Oxford in late January will be cold and grey and full of students.  I don’t know whether I’ll go; if I’m not busy “tent-making”, then I might go.  But if you’re in the area, it sounds certainly worth your time.

Anthony Alcock, Third part of Coptic Sayings of the Fathers now online

Dr Alcock has now sent me the third part of his translation of this work!  It’s here with the others.

Matti Moosa, RIP

Armeniologist Robert Bedrosian writes:

On Tuesday, December 30, 2014, the great U.S. Syriac scholar and historian, Matti Moosa, passed away.

Although we never met in person, he and I became close friends via the Internet. He heard from somewhere that I was translating into English the medieval Armenian versions of Michael the Syrian’s Chronicle. Matti was translating the sole-surviving Syriac manuscript of this work, which was published in 2014. It was the crowning achievement of his long and scholarly life. We corresponded frequently, and I became more and more familiar with, and impressed by, his works.

He allowed me to put some of his important writings online, and the Internet became for us a new kind of printing press, lecture hall, and museum:

God rest his immortal soul.

I corresponded a number of times with Dr Moosa, and he was invariably a kind and courteous correspondent.

His work was invaluable.  He translated the Scattered Pearls, a history of Syriac literature by Aphram Barsoum, thereby making this Arabic handbook available to western scholars.  It is a fascinating read!  At one point he offered his translation of Michael to me to publish, but I was weighed down with Origen and unable to do so.  His church published it in the end; the institution that he intended to benefit by his work.  But he very kindly sent me a complimentary copy anyway.

It is fashionable at the moment to look down efforts of translation and handbook-compilation or translation in favour of “original research”.  But this work is the sinews of scholarship and far more valuable to far more people than yet another trivial paper to add to the litter of learning.  This is because such books open up the way.  I have today responded to a correspondent, wanting to know about an Arabic author, and baffled by accessing the information in Brockelmann’s appalling mess of a History of Arabic Literature (where every entry is scattered across 7 volumes, in German, highly abbreviated, with useless indexes).  A translation of Brockelmann ought to be the first thing any scholar of Arabic literature endeavours to bring into existence.  Instead … people struggle.

Well done Matti Moosa for a lifetime of quiet, virtuous effort to make material available to us all.