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.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18h – Abd al-Malik, Al-Walid and Suleiman

The remaining Ummayad caliphs are dealt with briefly by Eutychius.  Muslim seizures of churches begin.


1. The bay’ah was given to Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan b. al-Hakam b. Abi’l-`Ās – his mother was Aisha, daughter of Mu’awiya b. al-Mughira b. Abi’-`Ās b. Umayya b. Abd Shams -, in the sixty-fifth year of the Hegira.

2. He sent some of his men to Jerusalem with the task of extending the mosque to include the area of the Rock.  People then began to make the ritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, because Abd al-Malik had forbidden them to do so to Mecca because of Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr.  Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan summoned the Christians of Damascus and asked them to give him the Mar Yuhanna Church [= church of St John] which was located next to the main mosque.  The Christians presented themselves, bearing the letter of Khalid ibn al-Walid.  He then offered them a lot of money so that they could build a church of equal size in any other part of Damascus that they wanted.  But Christians did not consent, and he let them go.  After holding his office for twenty years, Thomas, Patriarch of Antioch, died.  In the first year of the caliphate of Abd al-Malik George was made Patriarch of Antioch.  He held the office for twenty years and died.  In the same year John was made patriarch of Constantinople. He held the office for thirty-five years and died.

3. Justinian, king of Rum, died.  After him there reigned Leo for three years and he died.  After him there reigned over Rum Tiberius, for seven years, in the thirteenth year of the caliphate of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.  Abd al-Malik sent al-Haggag ibn Yusuf to Mecca to fight against Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, who had become entrenched in the sacred Ka’bah of Allāh.  Al-Haggag subjected the Ka’bah to stone throwing and demolished a balcony.  Fearing he might be trapped under the rubble of the temple, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr went out.  It was then that his mother said: “My son, if you are fighting for a just cause, you have right on your side.  Go then to meet them, and if you are killed you will be a martyr, because you will be killed for a just cause.”  He replied: “Mother, it is not death that I fear, but it disgusts me to think that they can make a fool of me, pointing me out as an example.”  His mother said: “My son, a lamb that is slaughtered is not afraid of being skinned!”  It is said that his mother made him drink a ratl of musk.  Then he went out against al-Haggag and fought until he was killed.  He was crucified at Mecca, and for many days the people could smell the odour of musk that emanated from his stomach.

4. Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr was killed in the month of ğumādà al-awwal in the seventy-third year of the Hegira.  During the caliphate of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan there was, on the Monday at the end of al-ğumādà awwal of the seventy-fourth year of the Hegira, an eclipse of the sun so intense that the stars appeared.  Abd al-Aziz ibn Marwan, brother of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, governed Egypt.  He demolished the great mosque of Fustat and built a new one.  There were already visible in him the signs of elephantiasis and the doctors advised him to settle in the city of Hulwān, where he built assembly rooms.  He then build at Hulwān a great pool, and brought water from springs that flowed upstream of the mountain of al-Muqattam, channeling it into aqueducts, which he had built, to make it flow into the pool.  Over it he made a throne entirely of glass.  He spent a thousand thousands of dinars at Hulwan and he planted date palms.  Every Thursday he used to ride to Fustat where he spent the rest of the day and night.  On Friday he returned to Hulwān, after having performed the morning prayer.  At Hulwān he built a hydrometer with which to monitor the rising of the waters of the Nile.  He had with him some Melkite Christians who asked for permission to build a church.  He granted this to them, and they built at Hulwān the church of St George:  it was a small church and was called “the church of the upholsterers”.  He ruled that the kharag [=land tax] in Egypt should be paid every Friday by groups of citizens, in rotation, for fear that in the event of a summons by the king he might need money.  This continued until Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr was killed and Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan brought the situation under his control.  In the seventy-fourth year [of the Hegira], Abd al-Aziz went to Alexandria, took the notable personalities of the city and exiled them into villages and rural districts, requiring each rural district [to supply] a specified amount depending on the funds, vineyards and species of cereal that it possessed.  He built the bridge that is on the canal of the prince of the believers.  He wanted to tear down the bridge of Fustat and erect it at Hulwān, and that he wanted to transfer to Hulwān also the ports, markets and merchants and stop any activity at Fustat, but he was unable to do this.  He had with him a Jacobite ‘Katib‘ [= scribe] named Athanasius who asked him for permission to build a church at Qasr ash-Shama.  He granted this and he built the church of St. George and the church of Abu Qir, which is inside the citadel next to Ashab ar-Ribat (?).  It is said that the church of Abu Qir was built with the remains of the church of St. George.

5. At that time there died in al-Fustat, where he was also buried, Abd al-Aziz ibn Marwan, on Monday night of the twelfth day of the month of ğumādà al-ula of the eighty-sixth year of the Hegira, at the age of twenty-two.

6.  Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan died on the tenth of the month of Shawwal in the eighty-fourth year of the Hegira, at the age of sixty-two.  He was caliph for twenty years.  He was of dark complexion, of medium height, he had a long beard and a big belly.  He was buried in Damascus.  The leaders of his bodyguard were Yazid ibn Abi Habasa as-Saksaki and, after him, Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Hakami.  His hāgib was the freedman Abu ar-Rughayragha [= Abū’z-Zu’ayzi’a?]


1.   The bay’ah was given to al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan – his mother was Wallada, daughter of Abbas ibn al-Harbi b. Harith al-Absi -, at the same time that Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan died.  He ruled for nine years and nine months.

2. He sent his men to Jerusalem, and there he built the mosque in Jerusalem,  having the rock at the centre of the mosque.  There he built other buildings around it, and decorated it with marbles.  He then took away a ciborium from the church of the Christians of Baalbek – it was of copper covered with gold -, and had it put on the Rock, in order to do the ritual pilgrimage to the Rock.

3. He sent then to Qurra ibn al-Shibl al-Absi, who at that time was his governor in Egypt, telling him to demolish all of the great mosque and to rebuild it from scratch.  And in fact he rebuilt it, decorated it and covered with gold the capitals of the columns that were in the audience chamber of Qays: in the mosque there was no column with gilded capitals except for the ones which were in the chamber of Qays.  While the mosque was being demolished, Qurra had the ‘minbar’ [= the pulpit] carried to Qaysāriyyat al-Asal, where the people went to pray and to gather for Friday prayers until he had completed the construction of the mosque.  The dome was left at al-Qaysāriyyah until that time.

4. Al-Walid planned to rebuild the mosque, which was in Damascus, and he therefore summoned the Christians, telling them: “We want to expand our mosque annexing to it your church, i.e. the church of St. John” – it was in fact an extremely beautiful church, and there was none like it in all of Syria – “We will give you enough money to build wherever you like a church equal to it.  If you want we will give you as a price in exchange for it forty thousand dinars”.  But Christians refused saying: “We have a pact of security,” and so saying they exhibited a letter of Khalid ibn al-Walid.  Al-Walid was angry, stood up and with one hand he broke a piece of timber and with the other a brick, so ​​that the people began the demolition, following his example.  So it was that they extended the eastern part of the mosque and the whole ‘maqsūrah’, taking the material from the church which was left as it is today.  In the third year of his caliphate there was made patriarch of Jerusalem Theodore.  He held the office for thirty-five years and died.  In his day Justinian was king of the Rum.  He reigned six years and died.

5. Al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik died in the month of ğumādà al-Akhar in the ninety-sixth year of the Hegira, at the age of forty-three years.  He was of perfect stature, he had a thick and graying beard.  He was buried in Damascus.  The leader of his bodyguard was Ka’b ibn Hazim al-Absi and his ‘hāgib’ the freedman Sa’d.


1. The bay’ah was given to Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan – his mother was Wallada, daughter of al-Abbas ibn al-Bahri al-Absi -, in the month of gumādà al-akhar in the ninety-sixth year of the Hegira.  He ruled two years and six months.

2. In his day Philip was king of the Rum.  He was a Maronite.  He reigned two and a half years.  In Egypt the kharag was being received in the name of Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik, by Osama ibn Zayd at-Tanūkhi.  Osama wrote to Suleiman to inform him that the Nilometer built by Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Marwan at Hulwān to measure the level of the water was out of order.  [The Caliph] answered him, ordering him to build a hydrometer in the island which was in the river near Fustat and Giza.  Osama built the Nilometer which is at the entrance of Giza, which is the one still in operation today and they call “al-qadim” [= the old], in the ninety-seventh year of the Hegira.  In the third year of the caliphate of Suleiman Stephen was made Patriarch of Antioch.  He held the office for thirty-seven years and died.

3. Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik died in the month of Safar in the ninety-ninth year of the Hegira, at the age of thirty-nine, nominating as his successor Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz.  He was handsome, plump and had a black beard.  The leader of his bodyguard was Ka’b ibn Khalid al-Absi and his hāgìb the freedman Abu Obayda.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18g – the reigns of Yazid and Marwan I

Eutychius does not seem to know that much about the next two Ummayad caliphs, so I include both of their short entries here.


1. The bay’ah was given to Yazid ibn Mu’awiya  b. Abi Sufyan – his mother was Maysūr, daughter of Yahdak al-Kalbi -, in the month of Ragab in the sixtieth year of the Hegira.  At Karbalah, in Iraq, on the tenth of the month of al-Muharram of the sixty-first year of the Hegira, at the age of sixty-three years old, al-Husayn, son of Ali ibn Abi Talib was killed.  His head was taken to Damascus and carried around the city.  After the killing of al-Husayn, son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, there rose up at Mecca Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr b. al-Gharrām, who proclaimed himself caliph, – his mother was Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr, the just – This was the beginning of his rebellion.

2. Yazid ibn Mu’awiya died after three years and eight months of his caliphate. After him there ruled, for only forty days, his son Yazid ibn Mu’awiya b. Mu’awiya .  The leaders of his bodyguard were first Hamid ibn Kharba b. Yahdak al-Kalbi and then Amir ibn Abd Allah al-Hamdani.  His ‘hagib‘ was the freedman Safwan.


1. The bay’ah was given to Marwan ibn al-Hakam b. Abi’l-`Ās b. Umayya b. Abd Shams – his mother was Amina, daughter of Alqama Safwan ibn al-Kināni -. in the month of Ragab in the sixty-fourth year of the Hegira, while Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr continued his well-fortified opposition at Mecca.  Neither the inhabitants of Damascus nor those of Palestine could make a pilgrimage to Mecca because Marwan ibn al-Hakam had forbidden them to, because of Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr.  Then there was the battle of Marg-Rahit with ad-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fahri.

2. Marwan ibn al-Hakam died in the month of Rabi al-awwal in the sixty-fifth year [of the Hegira].  He was caliph for nine months and died at the age of sixty-one.  He was tall, tanned and had blue eyes.  He was buried in Damascus.  The leader of his bodyguard was Yahya ibn Qays al-Assāni and his hagib was Abu Sahl al-Aswad, the freedman of his mother.

“Burned without pity” – a fake quotation attributed to Pope Innocent III

While looking for some information on the Spanish Inquisition, I came across a whole slew of pages containing the following quotation (various, but here).

Pope Innocent III: “Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.” ~Papal Bull, 1198, qtd. in Peter Tompkins, Symbols of Heresy in THE MAGIC OF OBELISKS, p.57 (New York: Harper, 1981)


Well, that sounds like a fun quotation.  Naturally I wondered if it was true.  And so I looked for a primary source.  On an discussion I found a claim that:

I can give you the papal bull of Pope Innocent III dated march 25 of 1199 and it says like this: “anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.”

However that bull seems to be Vergentis in senium, as mentioned here.   The Latin text for the bull is at IntraText here.  Using Google Translate gives a very good idea of the contents, and this is not in it.

Fortunately I then found that Tompkins, The Magic of Obelisks (1981), was at Google Books, in snippet form, and a bit of wiggling gave me the relevant part of p.57:


Once it became clear that perhaps a third of all nominal Christians were secretly practising a heretical religion, Christian persuasion was replaced by the rack, the gibbet and the stake.  Declaring that anyone who attempted to construe a personal view of God which conflicted with the dogma of the Church of Rome must be burned without pity, Pope Innocent III decided on a crusade “to exterminate the impious”, accusing the Cathars of being “lascivious sects, who, overflowing with libertine ardor, are but slaves to the pleasures of the flesh.”

This plainly is the source of the quote.  And … it is not a quote at all.  It is a summary, by Peter Tompkins, of what he believes that Innocent was saying, in some unspecified text.  Whether it is a fair summary or not I could not say; there is, as we can see, no footnote on the paragraph.  Whether the supposed verbatim quotations are in fact accurate we cannot tell, but I have my doubts about these also.

Tompkins himself was a journalist, who lived long enough to have a web page, full of crank stuff.

It’s not my purpose to look into medieval history, but at least to identify this particular quote as false.

UPDATE (6 March 17): In the comments, SuburbanBanshee draws our attention to the fact that Tompkins is actually quoting a 1931 book by Maurice Magre.  I find in Google Books snippet that the phrase appears on p.60 of “Magicians, seers and mystics” (Dutton, New York, 1932: snippet here).  It doesn’t seem to be a quote there either.

According to a bookseller, the UK publication was “The Return of the Magi”, London, 1931, translated from the French “Magiciens et illumines…”, 1930, by Reginald Merton.  The latter title has been reprinted in 2016 – I assume it has dropped out of copyright.  I have ordered a copy and we will see what it says.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18f – the reign of Muawiyah

The murder of Ali ends the rule of the companions of Mohammed and ushers in the reign of the first of the Ummayad dynasty.

Caliphate of Muawiyah I (41-60 / 661-680)

1. Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyān advanced from Syria into Iraq and was [there] given the bay‘ah.[1]  His name was Sakhr ibn Harb b. Umayya b. Abd Shams.  Mu’awiya’s mother was Hind, daughter of Utba ibn Rabi`a b. Abd Shams [b. Abd Manaf].  His appointment as caliph occurred in the month of rabi` al-awwal in the forty-first year of the Hegira, in the tenth year of the reign of Constantine, the son of Constantine, King of Rum.  He ruled for nineteen years and five months.

2. In the second year of his caliphate there was made patriarch of Constantinople George.  He held the office for ten years and he died.  In his second year in office there was the Sixth Council.  The Patriarch of Rome was then Martin, and the Exarch who ruled the West in the name of King Constantine, was a man named Constans.  He was a Maronite and put pressure on Martin, patriarch of Rome to profess that doctrine.  But Martin refused energetically and Constans banished him to a remote town.

3. There lived in those days a holy monk named Maximus, who had two disciples.  He went to the exarch Constans, reproached him with the indecency of his doctrine and of his religion and showed him how horrible was his faith and how stubborn his wickedness.  Constans then took Maximus, cut off his hands and feet, tore out his tongue, and banished him to a remote place.  He then took one of his disciples and treated him the same way, while the other he had flogged; then he exiled them to remote places, far away from each other.  After treating in this way the patriarch Martin, Maximus and his two disciples, Constans made patriarch of Rome a man of eminent virtues named Diyūnus.  When the orthodox King Constantine learned of the death of Theodore, patriarch of Rome, and what Constans had done to the patriarch Martin, to the monk Maximus and his two disciples, as well as the appointment of Diyūnus as Patriarch of Rome, he disapproved of what had happened and sent a letter to the patriarch accompanied with a ‘sigilius’, asking him to send to him the most distinguished bishops who participated with him at the same altar, assuring him that he need not be afraid of anything.  Constantine did this because he knew the cause of these excuses contrary to the doctrine of the church and who had originated them, just as the council of the holy Fathers had anathematized those who were not found worthy.

4. The king’s messenger arrived in Rome and found that Diyūnus was dead.  There had been made Patriarch of Rome, after him, Aghābiyūs.  So he gave the letter to the patriarch Aghābiyūs.  Aghābiyūs convoked the bishops.  They were around one hundred and twenty, and he sent them with the messenger from the king along with three deacons who communicated at his own altar.  And they came to Constantinople, the bishops were received by King Constantine, made him their greetings and blessings.  Constantine summoned [another] hundred and sixty eight bishops, and so there were around two hundred and ninety-two.  The three deacons sent by Aghābiyūs, patriarch of Rome, were subtracted and there remained two hundred and ninety bishops.  They are mentioned thus in the diptych.  By the help of the goodness of God and by the elevation of the meekness of Constantine the orthodox king, this issue was resolved with a judgment against the Monothelites, who were anathematised.  There presided at this holy synod George, patriarch of Constantinople, and Theophanes, patriarch of Antioch, who was made Patriarch at that council as Macarius, his predecessor, was excommunicated at the council itself.  Alexandria and Jerusalem had at that time no patriarch and the two sees were vacant.  Anathematised were Macarius, Macedonius and George, patriarchs of Antioch, and Stephen, a disciple of Macarius; also excommunicated were Cyrus and Peter, patriarchs of Alexandria; excommunicated was Honorius, Patriarch of Rome; excommunicated were Sergius, Tūdrus, Paul and Peter, the patriarchs of Constantinople, Theodore, bishop of Faran, and Blūkhrūniyūs, called Simon Magus, because he was a heretical Syrian priest who claimed to have seen Christ tell him in a dream that the Monothelites were in the right.  At that time he was present at Constantinople, after the final ruling against the Monothelites was published, and he had started talking about what he had seen in a dream, advocating the cause of the Monothelites.  They excommunicated him so he and his followers rejected the false allegations and the people called him Simon Magus.  They finished pronouncing the anathemas against the Monothelites, continued sitting, and settled what was the true faith, orthodox, pure and blameless saying: “We believe in the One of the Trinity, the Only-begotten Son, who is the eternal and everlasting Word, equal to the Father, God in one person, and in a unique hypostasis, must be considered perfect in humanity and perfect in divinity, in substance that is our Lord Jesus Christ, with two perfect natures, two operations and two wills in one person.”  Also they professed what was already professed by the Council of Chalcedon namely that God’s Son received by the holy virgin Martmaryam a human body with a rational soul and intellect, by the mercy of God who loves men, without suffering mixture nor corruption nor separation or division, but remaining one in doing both what man does in his nature and in his doing what God does in his nature.  He is the only begotten Son, the eternal Word who became flesh and truly took shape, as the Holy Gospel, without losing any of his eternal glory and without changing it, but keeping it integrated in two operations, two wills and two natures, God and Man in which is perfected the discourse of truth.  And each of the two natures work in communion with the other, with two wills not contrary or opposed to each other, but the human will remaining in accord with the omnipotent divine will.  If the Word of God in the act of incarnation had not become a perfect man in every part, our salvation would be a phantasm and a shadow.  How could the doer of good, the wise doctor who truly heals, as the prophet Malachi says: “He will stand as the sun of justice for those who fear the name, will heal them and carry them on his wings”, take upon himself the ancient defeat of the created and consent that in his power, in his will and in his power there was the first sin of man?  And as this was done without any compulsion, we see the Lord who is the object of the Father’s pleasure, the Son who alone is free, not a slave but who even became a servant for our salvation, giving us victory over those who were vainly uttering and saying that Adam sinned by necessity, that his sin did not depend at all on his own will and that his nature did not have a free power with which prevent it from falling.  With these their words, the proponents of this doctrine, in particular, and all those who share it, trace the sin and the lack to God the Creator – who is immensely beyond anything – and justify Adam in his sin.  Indeed, according to this their doctrine, the whole human race continues to sin, because it is forced to.  We, however, maintain that Adam was able to observe the commandment of his Creator and could also reject the advice of the woman, but he would not do so;  he accepted and ate the fruit picked from the tree and that the woman handed him with her hand, and the woman accepted the advice of the snake not under constraint by nature, but because of weakness of mind.  It was the greed of the will on the part of the first two creatures, i.e. Adam and Eve, to provoke that from which they obtained the painful wound and at the same time the healing, because our Lord Jesus Christ took upon himself our infirmities and our sorrows, as said the prophet Isaiah: “We saw him and he had no form or comeliness and was despised and cast aside, he shared our infirmities and took our sorrows, he through whose wounds we were all healed.  Because like a sheep he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and he stood silent before the shearers, but in his humiliation his judgment was exalted.”  Understand, now, children of the church of God, what is the true doctrine, and that is that Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, has two perfect natures, two wills and two operations in what is actually one person.

This is the profession and the symbol of faith of the sixth council. In it [the Fathers] confirmed what was established by the five previous holy councils, anathematising those whom they had excommunicated and driving [out of the church] the ones that they had driven out.  They set forth the doctrine of Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, welcomed this and confirmed it.

All these things were accomplished with the help of God and the presence of the orthodox King Constantine.  They invoked God for him, and then everyone returned to their own homes.  This was the thirteenth year of the reign of Constantine, the fourth year of the caliphate of Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyān. From the fifth council, in which there was one hundred and sixty bishops gathered in Constantinople in the time of Justinian, the king of Rum, to this sixth council of two hundred and ninety bishops gathered in Constantinople in the time of Constantine, King of Rum, there had passed a hundred years.  Since this controversy had its own epilogue at the time of S. Aghābiyūs, patriarch of Rome, the inhabitants of Syria and Egypt since then took to mentioning the name of Aghābiyūs, patriarch of Rome, in their diptychs, which today they still do.

5. Constantine, the orthodox King, died after a reign of sixteen years.  After him reigned over Rum his son Justinian for twelve years.  This happened in the eighth year of the caliphate of Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyān.  There were presented to Justinian, king of Rum, some people saying: “In the city there are those who find fault with the Sixth Council which your father Constantine kept to, and assert that it is void.”  Justinian then summoned hundred and thirty bishops, confirmed what the sixth council had asserted and anathematised those who resumed and contradicted the decisions; also they confirmed what was claimed by the previous five councils, they excommunicated those whom [the bishops of such councils] had already excommunicated and they returned each to his own home.  In the seventh year of the Caliphate of Mu’awiya there was made patriarch of Jerusalem, John.  He held the office forty years and died.  From the death of Sophronius to the appointment of John the see of Jerusalem was left without a Patriarch for twenty-nine years.  After ten years in office there also died George, the patriarch of Constantinople.  In the twelfth year of the caliphate of Mu’awiya there was made patriarch of Constantinople Thomas.  He held the office for ten years (in another text it says “twenty”) and died.  In the twenty-third year of the caliphate of Mu’awiya, Maslama ibn Mukhallad al-Ansāri added the minaret to the structure of the mosque of Fustat, built by Amr ibn al-As, putting his name on it.  During the caliphate of Mu’awiya the island of Rhodes was captured and taken from the Rum.  Also during his caliphate, in the fiftieth year of the Hegira, there was a solar eclipse so intense that you could see the stars.

6. Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyān died in the month of Ragab in the sixtieth year of the Hegira, at the age of eighty years.  Mu’awiya was obese, had a big posterior, and was short of stature; he had a stentorian voice, bulging eyes, a wide chest and a thick beard which he dyed with visto (?)[2].  He was buried in Damascus.  The leaders of his bodyguard were first Yazid ibn al-Hurr al-Ansi, then Qays ibn Hamza al-Hamdāni, then ad-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fahri. His ‘hāgib’ was the freedman Riyah.

  1. [1]Islamic oath of allegiance.  The sense is that the Muslims swore allegiance to Muawiyah.
  2. [2]I don’t know what this Italian means: “ed una folta barba che tingeva di visto”?

Temple of Mithras discovered at Mariana in Corsica

A previously unknown temple of Mithras has been discovered in Corsica, in Lucciana, on the site of the Roman colony of Mariana.

Tauroctony. From the Mariana Mithraeum.

French website l’Express carries the story with more care than most, from which I learn of the following details.

Mariana, a Roman colony founded around 100 BC, reached its peak in the 3rd or 4th century.  The excavations are in the peripheral area of the city, according to the Inrap (National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research) communique.  The sanctuary consists of a Mithraeum and its antechamber.

The main cult chamber as usual consists of a central aisle, dug out, with two raised benches on either side, surrounded by a lime-coated wall.  Two vaulted brick niches are present in the thickness of the benches.  One still contained three intact oil lamps.

Oil lamps from Mariana Mithraeum

At the top of the corridor was the bas-relief of Mithras, of which three fragments were found.  Other marble elements were found, including the head of a woman.  Two bronze bells, many broken lamps, and some jars of fine paste could be liturgical furniture.

Mariana Mithraeum – bronze bell

A plaque of bronze and another of lead bear inscriptions which remain to be decyphered.  The exact causes of the destruction of the sanctuary are unknown.

There is more stuff at the Inrap site here.

String ’em up! How middle managers destroy the value of institutional websites

Few things are quite as infuriating as an institutional website designed by somebody who will never ever have to use the service in question.  The designer is usually some group of bureaucrats, with a checklist of things that the service “must” contain.  Not infrequently a real user finds that the wasters have actually torpedoed any useful utility the site might have.

This reflection comes to me, courtesy of a site that shall be nameless, which has cost me the best part of two days useful work.  Around ten years ago, the institution discovered that it had access to a translation of a late Roman text in manuscript.  The translator was dead.  It decided – properly – to make this available online.

But you can see the fingers of the bureaucrats all over it.  Instead of creating a PDF with the book in it, they split it up into a PDF for every section.  It comes in 15 books.  Each book has around 60 or more sections.

This means that to consult the whole text involves opening NINE HUNDRED PDF files.  This in turn makes it impossible to use the translation, other than for odd references where you happen to know the exact reference.

No sane person would seek to make something accessible while making it inaccessible.  Only a committee could achieve this.  We can easily imagine how.

Chief Executive: “Do it!”

Sycophants: “Oh you are so forward-looking, Sir!”

(Later) Middle Manager: “Oh but what if people took copies and it appeared all over the web!!!!  Oh! Oh! Wouldn’t that be DREADFUL!!!!”

Junior sycophant: “How well you put that, ma’am!  So let’s make sure nobody can do that without spending a huge amount of effort.  We’ll divide it up into 900 pieces, accessible in a maze of menus.  That way it will inconvenience researchers, but not Chinese pirates with armies of cheap labour.”

And so it came to be, and the text remained online in theory but useless in practice.  Nobody ever cared about it much anyway; those who did were frustrated by the useless interface.

But that isn’t all.  Because a few years ago, another bureaucrat had his turn.  Someone revised the translation and produced a printed copy.

Another middle manager: “Now we’re selling a version of this, we might lose sales if we have the original online!!!  Woe!!  Woe!!”

Timid underling: “How much money are we talking about?”


Sycophant: “Clearly it must be taken offline to protect any profits.”

And it was so.

I have therefore wasted an enormous amount of time in locating an archived copy of the site, and downloading the files, with a great deal of manual intervention in order to circumvent the robots.txt file.  For I know better than to suppose that it will remain even at the archived site indefinitely.

Let’s keep our bureaucrats under control.  The best way to do so is to keep them as few as possible, and to watch the remainder like hawks.

Otherwise, one day, you too will have this experience!