Hugh Houghton on New Testament catenas

The late antique and medieval commentaries on scripture took the form of chains of quotations from ancient writers, including much lost early Christian commentary.  These are known today as the catena (=chain) commentaries, and their study is a rather specialised one.

Thankfully it is receiving some real attention today.  Hugh Houghton writes to say that a volume of papers edited by himself on the subject is now online. This contains a great number of papers that will interest most of us.

It begins with “An Introduction to Greek New Testament Commentaries with a Preliminary Checklist of New Testament Catena Manuscripts”!  Of course we’re discussing ancient Greek New Testament commentaries here.  This paper alone will be of use to many.

The volume is H.A. Houghton, Commentaries, Catenae and Biblical Tradition: Papers from the Ninth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, in association with the COMPAUL project. Gorgias Press (2016)

Those who remember my volume of Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions, may know that it included Coptic fragments of the work.  Dr H’s volume includes an interesting paper, “An Overview of Research on Bohairic Catena Manuscripts on the Gospels” by Matthias Schulz – something that I would have killed to read back in 2011.

Of deep interest to many will be C. M. Kreinecker’s paper on Rufinus’ translation of Origen’s commentary on Romans.  It’s always interesting to wonder how accurate Rufinus is, considering that he is the only version of much of Origen, and also remembering a load of accusations by Jerome.  The rediscovery of the original Greek of the Commentary on Romans means that this particular work can now be investigated; and this paper examines the Latin biblical text involved.

Fortunately the work is online.  Dr H. writes:

The new Gorgias online repository is now available at

 The book on catenae can be downloaded at:

This is excellent news.  Add it to your library now.

Dr H. also added a note to my post on the lost – and now found! – gospel commentary of Fortunatianus, to advise that he is producing an English translation which will be available with the text in 2017.  But, better yet, the translation will be available online.  Which means, of course, that we can all read it.

It is really a great pleasure to see useful scholarship being made available to the whole world like this.  Well done, everyone involved, and especially Dr Houghton.

Postscript: I also see that Dr H.’s own website has a bunch of his papers which, inevitably, are also of wide interest.  Recommended.

Bauer, Eusebius HE, Rufinus and Edessa – and the Syriac text

Yesterday I summarised, section by section, the content of chapter 1 (“Edessa”) of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy, with a view to working out just what, in plain terms, his argument was.  I shall do more on this next week, and reduce the book to a series of testable statements and propositions, which we may then evaluate.

Along the way I noticed an interesting statement to which I have referred before, but this time was able to address.

d) EH 5.23.4: At the time of the Roman bishop Victor (189-99), gatherings of bishops took place everywhere on the matter of the Easter controversy, and Eusebius still knows of letters in which the church leaders have set down their opinion. In this connection, the following localities are enumerated: Palestine, Rome, Pontus, Gaul, and then the “Osroëne and the cities there.”

The phrase “and the cities there” is as unusual as it is superfluous. Where else are the Osroëne bishops supposed to have been situated except in the “cities there”?

But what speaks even more decisively against these words than this sort of observation is the fact that the earliest witness for the text of Eusebius, the Latin translation of Rufinus, does not contain the words “as well as from those in the Osroëne and the cities there.” This cannot be due to tampering with the text by the Italian translator, for whom eastern matters are of no great concern. In those books with which he has supplemented Eusebius’ History, Rufinus mentions Mesopotamia and Edessa several times (11.5 and 8 at the end; see below, n.24).

Thus the only remaining possibility is that in his copy of EH 5.23.4 he found no reference to the Osroëne, but that we are dealing here with a grammatically awkward interpolation by a later person who noted the omission of Edessa and its environs.

Bauer references the GCS edition of Eusebius’ Church History by E. Schwartz.  We may find the volumes of the GCS edition of the HE easily enough here (part 1; books 1-5), here (part 2; 6-10, and Rufinus 10-11) and here (part 3; introduction, indexes).  EH 5.23.4 is in part 1, p.490-1, here, both Greek and Latin, at the top of the page.

Let’s first look at the manuscripts, listed at the start of part 1, and discussed in detail in part 3.

Of the manuscripts used for the Greek text, ms. A is 11th century; T = 10-11th; E=10th; R = 12th; B is 12th; D is 11-12th; M = 12th.

Of the manuscripts of Rufinus’ translation into Latin, only a few were used.  But ms. N= 8th century; P = 9th; O = 9/10th; F = 9/10th.

The difference in age, therefore, is very slight.  Bauer relies on this difference in order to privilege the version by Rufinus, but neglects to indicate to the reader how very slight it is.

But when Bauer states that the “earliest witness” for the text of this passage is the Latin translation of Rufinus, he is mistaken.  For he seems to have forgotten the Syriac translation, also referenced at the start of the GCS edition, but otherwise not discussed in that edition as far as I can see.  This was published by Wright and McLean in 1898, and may be found here.

Of the manuscripts used for the Syriac text, ms. A is dated AD 462, i.e. 5th century; ms. B is 6th century.  The editors add that the translation has evidently been transmitted through several copyists, even at this early date; Wright, indeed, believed (p.ix) that the translation was made either in Eusebius’ lifetime or soon afterwards.  There is a medieval Armenian version as well, which the editor believes is based on a Syriac text of the 4th century (p.xvii), prior to the corruptions in the Syriac.

So what does the Syriac text say, for this passage?  I am indebted to Syriacist Stephen Ring, who kindly examined it for me.  The passage may be found on p.304 of the Wright-McLean edition, between p.304 lines 13 and p.305 line 1.  This passage is given from B, according to the plan of the edition, with footnotes from Gothic A, by which the editors confusingly indicate the Armenian.

There is another written account of this inquiry and it makes known about a bishop Victor and about the bishops of other places who placed Palma as their chief and of the churches which are in Gaul ruled by Ireneus and again of Mesopotamian churches and the cities there. And also (the written account goes on) of Bakilios bishop of Corinth and many others. Those, as one government were agreed and were of one accord and from these there was one decree which those twenty-four said about it, about the division in Asia.

The Armenian contains something, given in the footnote as:

7. A. ecclesiarum et urbium quae in Mesopotamia sunt.

i.e. “of the churches and cities which are in Mesopotamia.

For convenience I give the NPNF translation of the Greek:

And there is also another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question, which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus over whom Palmas, as the oldest, presided; and of the parishes in Gaul of which Irenaeus was bishop, and of those in Osrhoëne and the cities there; and a personal letter of Bacchylus, bishop of the church at Corinth, and of a great many others, who uttered the same opinion and judgment, and cast the same vote.

The passage which Bauer dismisses as interpolated is shown to be present in a similar form in an Armenian witness to a Syriac text of the 4th century and in a Syriac witness of the 6th century.

There is, of course, a difference between “Osrhoene” and “Mesopotamia”.  Dr Ring adds:

Where the text in question has ‘those Osrhoëne’, the Syriac translator wrote ‘idte debayt nahrote’ = ‘churches of betwixt the rivers’ = ‘churches of Mesopotamia’. In my opinion, it would be reasonable to translate ‘those of Osrhoëne’ into Syriac this way.

However, the Syriac context suggests this is exactly what happened, because Osrhoëne is a political entity which had cities like Edessa, Amid and Mabbug, whereas, ‘Mesopotamian churches’ in the Syriac is an ecclesiastical entity which would not contain cities, but the Syriac goes on ‘and the cities there’ suggesting that the translator has not chosen his/her words very carefully.

It is curious that the passage is absent from Rufinus.  Possibly he either translated from a copy of the Greek which was lacking this passage, or else that he accidentally omitted it?  But that the passage was present in copies from very soon after composition can hardly be doubted.

It would of course be possible to assert that this only shows that the passage was added very early to some copies, but that Rufinus had obtained an uncorrupted copy, and the shorter form is more likely to be authentic, despite the very early date of the Syriac-Armenian witnesses.  The reader may form his own opinion on this matter.

But if we return to the main issue; is this a late interpolation, and therefore no evidence of Christianity in the time of Irenaeus in Edessa?  The answer must be no.  It is, if an interpolation at all, one made almost while the author was still breathing.  More likely, the Greek and the Syriac reflect what Eusebius actually wrote.