The very words in which Constantine ordered the bible to be assembled? The strange, odd Oahspe hoax.

On Twitter today I came across some really rather unusual claims about Christian history.  These were advanced with the usual utter certainty that every crank seems to possess.  The author of these pronounced:

This is what emperor Constantine said during the council of nicaea…

“28/48.31.  Search these books, and whatever is good in them, retain: but whatever is evil, cast away.  What is good in one book, unite with that which is good in another book.  And whatever is thus brought together shall be called, THE BOOK OF BOOKS.1181  And it shall be the doctrine of my people, which I will recommend to all nations, so that there shall be no more war for religion’s sake.”

The tweeter employed the dubious practice of “quoting” but not referencing, so of course we don’t know from where he got this.  An enquiry was met with impudence.  As is so often the case with really wild claims, the tweeter appeared to have some personal integrity issues.

Of course Constantine said nothing of the kind, as I hope we all know.  This is purely fiction.  But … where from?

I quickly discovered a possible source: In His Name vol. 4, Trafford Publishing, 2014, by E. Christopher Reyes, whose interminable litany of factual errors, combined with no little spite, included this on p.273.  The reference given was “God’s book of Eskra” (?) op. cit., chapter 48, paragraph 31.

But according to this website all this material was to be found in an article by the renegade church minister Tony Bushby in Nexus magazine in 2007.  This indicated that “God’s book of Eskra” was “God’s Book of Eskra, Prof. S. L. MacGuire’s translation, Salisbury, 1922”.  Bushby went on to produce a book, The Bible Fraud, and you can’t argue with the title. He seems to have faded from view since.

A little investigation revealed that this “Book of Eskra” is a 19th century modern apocryphon called Oahspe: a new bible.  In fact I have written about Bushby and this very work here, with a link to chapter 48 of this fake text here.

Clearly the tweeter was quoting some version or other of the Oahspe fake, although indirectly.

It’s permissible to wonder what kind of person fills his head with nonsense of this kind in these days, when the raw data is ever so accessible.  Poor souls.

A false quotation of Augustine against the Jews

A correspondent wrote to me some time back, asking:

I’m currently translating John Gray’s booklet ‘Seven types of atheism’ into Dutch. On p. 17 Gray cites this line from Augustine’s ‘Pamflet against the Jews’: ‘The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jews can never understand scripture, and forever bear the guilt of the death of Christ.’ I cannot find this line in your translation. What could be the matter here?

The gentleman is not the only one to wonder.  Anti-Christian quotations of the fathers are nearly always misquotations or frauds, as I discovered long ago when I reviewed a book of them.

Arie W. Zweip, Christ, the Spirit and the Community of God: Essays on the Acts of the Apostles,  Mohr Siebeck, 2010, wanders off his theme and into a discussion of anti-semitism.  But on page 90, he is obliged to add a note:

5. An Intermezzo: Fake Quotes

At this point I must make a brief but significant detour. Not infrequently Jerome’s and Augustine’s names are mentioned on the internet as outspoken propagators of Christian anti-Semitism. On a number of websites Jerome is quoted as having said that the Jews are “Judaic serpents of whom Judas was the model”, and also: “They (the Jews) are serpents, haters of all men. Their image is Judas. Their psalms and prayers are but the braying of donkeys”.

However, when I checked the quotations against the original, I could not trace their provenance. Virtually all authors quote these words without mentioning the exact source. There is a passage in Jerome’s commentary on Amos that comes close to it (“iudaeorum quoque oratio et psalmi, quos in synagogis canunt, et haereticorum composita laudatio tumultus est domino, et ut ita dicam, grunnitus suis et clamor asinorum, quorum magis cantibus israelis opera comparantur”),54 but the very references to serpents and to Judas are conspicuously absent. In his Verus Israel, Marcel Simon does quote the words of Jerome with a source reference, but he refers to Migne’s Patrologia Latina 26:1224, which is clearly wrong. It seems that we have here a clear example of a “fake quotation” that is running a life of its own.

I suspect the same is true of two anti-Semitic quotations not seldom attributed to Augustine that I was unable to trace: “The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jew can never understand the scriptures and forever will bear the guilt for the death of Jesus’, and “Judaism, since Christ, is a corruption; indeed Judas is the image of the Jewish people: their understanding of Scripture is carnal; they bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ. The Jews held Him; the Jews insulted Him; the Jews bound Him; they crowned Him with thorns; they scourged Him; they hanged Him upon a tree”. All this is not to say that Jerome and Augustine did not articulate anti-Semitic sentiments (they clearly did) nor to deny that they may have said things to that effect, but such allegations need to be corroborated by meticulous research and sound evidence, especially so in cases with such wide-ranging implications.

54. Jerome, Commentariorum in Amos; CCSL 76:2, LLT 589.

My own search revealed no source.  No doubt there is one, at some remote remove.  It may perhaps turn out to be someone’s summary of what they felt Augustine intended.

The “Acts of Mark” and the “Martyrdom of Mark” – an unnecessary confusion

There is a certain confusion in online resources between two late apocryphal texts, the so-called Acts of Mark and the Martyrdom of Mark; and that there is a connection from this material to a spurious Encomium in XII Apostolos attributed to Severian of Gabala.

This I discovered in response to an enquiry about the Encomium; and then discovered that confusion even extends to the excellent NASSCAL site which tries to index the apocrypha.  This is all caused by a certain D. Callahan who, writing about or editing or translating the Martyrdom, proceeded to entitle his several publications Acts of Mark.[1]  (My thanks to Dean Furlong, who made the enquiry, and supplied several useful documents for this article.)

Fortunately Schneemelcher’s classic tome, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, does not share this confusion.  Let’s discuss these two obscure texts, neither of which was familiar to me before today.  Most of this is summarised from Schneemelcher, of course.

Before we do so, a warning.  Neither of these should really be considered as New Testament Apocrypha.  They are really hagiographical works, “Christian novels” as a recent publication called such things.

The Martyrdom of Mark / Martyrium Marci / Martyrion tou agiou apostolou kai evangelistou Markou (NTA 2, p.461 f.)

The story is in 14 chapters and inter alia relates to Mark’s disciple, Anianus.

This work is preserved in a number of Greek witnesses, two of which have been printed, and are clearly related (BHG II, 1035-1036).

  •  Codex Vaticanus gr. 866.  This text was printed in the Acta Sanctorum, April vol. III, Antwerp 1675, XLVI-VII.
  •  Codex Parisinus gr. 881.  This text was printed in the Patrologia Graeca 115, cols. 164-9.  Note that although the PG prints the text among work of Simeon Metaphrastes, it has no connection with him.  Many of the translations into other languages seem related to this text.  English translation from the PG by A.D.Callahan, The Acts (sic) of Mark, diss. Harvard, 1992, appendix (p.119 f.)

The story must have been translated into Latin early, as a version is embedded in Prudentius (end of 4th c.).  A number of Latin versions of the story do exist (BHL 5276-5280).  An example is printed in the Acta Sanctorum (April III, Antwerp 1675, 347-349).

A Coptic version or versions also exist.

  • The Amherst Morgan 15 papyrus (7th century) is online here.  This was printed and translated in W. Crum, Theological Texts from Coptic Papyri, Oxford 1913, 65-68, also online here.  Schneemelcher lists a couple of other papyri.
  •  The Morgan Coptic Codex 635, fol. 24r-33v, contains an episode from the same narrative as part of a series of homilies or encomia.  These are the Encomia in XII Apostolos mentioned among the spuria of Severian of Gabala by the Clavis Patrum Graecorum, as CPG 4281.  This material has been published in the CSCO, and even translated into English (CSCO 545, 1992, homily 4, starting p.65), where it is headed “On St Peter and St Paul”. The homily or encomium is intended for the feast which marks the martyrdom of these two saints and the twelve apostles.  Being delivered in Egypt, it naturally devotes space to St Mark, the evangelist of Egypt.
  •  There is also a publication which I have not seen, A.D.Callahan “The Acts of Saint Mark: an introduction and translation.” Coptic Church Review 14 (Spr 1993), pp. 3-10.

There are also at least two Arabic versions.  The first (BHO 597) was published by Agnes Smith Lewis in Horae Semiticae III-IV, London 1904, 126-9, 147-151.  Another heavily reworked version (BHO 598) is incorporated in the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria.  I have not seen it, but there is also A. D. Callahan “The Acts of Mark: tradition, transmission, and translation of the Arabic version.” In: F. Bovon (ed), Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, Harvard, 1999, pp. 63-85.  This I assume again relates to the Martyrdom, not the Acts.

Several copies of an Ethiopic version have reached us; and there is an Old Slavonic version.

Acts of Mark / Acta Marci / Praxeis kai Thaumata kai martyrion tou agiou evangelistou Markou (Schneemelcher, p.464)

This work in 35 chapters is a massively expanded reworking and paraphrase of the Martyrdom, drawing on material about St Mark from all sides, including the Acta Barnabae.  The text is preserved in Greek in a 13th century manuscript from the Stavronikita monastery on Mt Athos, Codex Athonensi Stauronicetae 18, fol. 175v-189. (BHG II, 1036m).  It was edited by F. Halkin, Analecta Bollandiana 87, 1969, 346-371.  An English translation is in progress by Mark A. House.  A draft of 5 chapters can be found in Salm’s paper, although 9 have now been translated.

A similar attempt to expand the Martyrdom can be found in the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, prefaced to the Arabic version of the Martyrdom.  It was edited with English translation by B. Evetts, Patrologia Orientalis 1, 1904, 134-40.

    *    *    *    *

The relation between these two works is now a lot clearer to me.  Let’s finish by giving Dr Callahan’s translation of the Martyrdom of Mark, as few will have access to it.

    *    *    *    *

Translated from Par. Gr. 881 = Paris Greek 881, entitled “Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark of Alexandria,” in Patrologia Graeca 115, cols. 164-69.


Section 1: Saint Mark’s Lot to Preach in Egypt

At that time when the apostles were being dispersed throughout the inhabited world, it was the lot of the most holy Mark to go into the environs of Egypt by the will of God, where also the blessed canons of the holy and apostolic Church decreed that he be the first evangelist in the entire region of Egypt, Libya and Marmarice, Ammaniace and Pentapolis to preach the gospel of the visitation (epidemias) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Section 2: The Idolatry of the Inhabitants

For throughout the land were people uncircumcised in heart, idolaters, full of every uncleanness and worshippers of unclean spirits. For they furnished consecrated enclosures and sacred precincts for every house and street and province; and fortunes as well as magic, and every angelic power. Moreover, demonic [power] was among them, which the visitation of our Lord Jesus Christ arrested and destroyed.

Section 3: The Evangelist in Pentapolis

Then, after the oracularly announced evangelist Mark arrived in Cyrene and Pentapolis, speaking the word of the ruling power of Christ, and performing stunning miracles among them (healing the infirm, cleansing lepers, exorcizing fierce spirits by the word of his grace), many people, believing in our Lord Jesus Christ through him, threw their idols to the ground, were enlightened and were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Section 4: The Call to Alexandria

It was then revealed to him there by the Holy Spirit to go up to the Alexandrian lighthouse [lit., Pharite] and spread the good seed of God. The blessed evangelist Mark, eagerly stepped up to the contest like a brave athlete and, greeting the brethren, said, “The Lord has told me to go to the city of Alexandria.” And the brethem escorted him to the boat. And after tasting his bread they sent him forth saying, “May the Lord Jesus Christ make your way go well.”

Section 5: St. Mark Arrives in Alexandria

And the blessed Mark arrived in Alexandria on the second day, and after disembarking from his boat came to a place called Mendion. Entering the gate of the city, immediately his sandal broke. But learning [this], the blessed apostle said, “Indeed, the way is well resolved.”

Section 6: The Evangelist Heals a Cobbler

And seeing a cobbler, he handed over the sandal to him. The needle in the hole pierced his right hand and he said [lit., says], “God is one!” And the blessed Mark, hearing “God is one,” said to himself with a laugh,” The Lord has made my way go well.” And he spit on the ground and made clay from the spittle and anointed the hand of the man, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ, the son of the eternal living God, be well.” And immediately the man’s hand was healed.

Section 7: The Cobbler Invites St. Mark to His Home

The cobbler, having become acquainted with the power of the man and the efficacy of his word and ascetical appearance (or, “attire”), he said to him, “I beg you, 0 man of God, come, lodge today in the house of your servant and let us eat a morsel of bread together, and have mercy on me today.” But the blessed Mark said with glee, “May the Lord give you living bread.” And the man prevailed upon the apostle, and joyfully brought him into his house.

Section 8: At the Cobbler’s Home

The blessed Mark entered the house and said, “The blessing of the Lord [be upon] this place. Let us pray, brethren.” And they prayed together, and after the prayer they were summoned. As they made merry, the man said, “0 father, what is your name? Who are you, and whence this powerful word in you?” The holy Mark said, “I am a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God.” The man said, “I wish to see him.” And Mark the holy martyr of Christ said, “I am showing him to you.”

Section 9: Anianus, His Family, and Others are Converted

And the holy Mark began to relate [lit., ‘perform’] the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, son of Abraham, and showed to them the matters concerning his prophets. But the man said, “I beg you, lord, I have not once heard of the writings of which you speak, but [only] the llliad and the Odyssey, and such things as make wise the children of the Egyptians.” Then the holy Mark [began: supply exate] to proclaim Christ to him and to demonstrate to him that the wisdom of this world is foolishness according to God. And the man believed in God because of the signs and wonders mentioned by Mark, and he and his entire household were enlightened along with a great multitude in that place. And the name of the man was Ananias.

Section 10: The Evangelist Ordains Clergy

As there came to be a multitude of those believing on the Lord, the people of the city heard that some Galilean had come there and was overturning the sacrifices of the gods and hindering their worship, and hatching plots against him they sought to kill him. But perceiving their designs, the holy Mark, after selecting Ananias as bishop and three presbyters Milaios, Sabinus and Kerdon, and seven deacons, i.e., eleven others for service to the church, fled and departed again for Pentapolis.

Section 11: St. Mark Returns to Alexandria

And after spending two years there, establishing the brethren and appointing bishops and clergy for each region of the countryside, he returned to Alexandria and found the brethren growing in the grace and discipline of God. And they built a church for themselves called the [places of the] Boukalou by the sea, beneath the steep banks. And the righteous one rejoiced greatly, and on bended knee glorified God.

Section 12: The Jealousy of the Pagans

But as enough time passed, the Christians multiplied, laughing the idols to scorn and ridiculing the Greeks. The Greeks learned that the saint and evangelist Mark had returned, and hearing of the wonderful deeds he was performing they were filled with jealousy. For he healed the infirm, cleansed the lepers, proclaimed the gospel to the deaf, and bestowed sight to many of the blind.

Section 13: The Pagans Seek to Capture the Evangelist

And they sought to capture him and could not find him. And they gnashed their teeth against him, and in the festive processions of their idols they shouted at him saying, “Many [are the] powers of the sorcerer!”

Section 14: St. Mark Arrested During the Passover

But it happened [that] our blessed feast of Passover fell on the holy Sunday, Pharmouthi 29th, from the eighth Kalend of May, i.e., April 24th, which coincided with the festive procession of Serapis. Finding such an opportune moment, they deployed spies; they fell upon him saying prayers of the divine offering. And seizing him, they threw a mooring rope around his neck and dragged him, saying, “Let us drag the antelope to [the places of the] Boukalou.”

Section 15: The Evangelist is Tortured

But while the holy Mark was being dragged along, he offered up thankgiving to the savior Christ, saying, “I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, that I have been counted worthy to suffer these things on behalf of your name.” And his flesh was falling to the ground, and the stones were stained with his blood.

Section 16: St. Mark is Incarcerated

When evening had fallen, they threw him in prison, and deliberated upon the manner of death by which they should destroy him. But in the middle of the night, after the doors had been shut and the guards stationed at the doors, behold, a great earthquake occurred. For an angel of the Lord, coming from heaven, touched him saying, “O Mark, slave of God, chief of the saints in Egypt, behold your name has been inscribed in a book of eternal life and counted along with the holy apostles. Behold, your memorial shall never be forsaken. You have become a companion of the powers above in heaven. Archangels shall receive you and your remains on earth shall not perish.”

Section 17: The Lord Appears to the Evangelist

Having seen this vision, the blessed Mark, his hands outstretched, said, “I thank you, my Lord Jesus Christ, that you did not desert me, but you have numbered me with your saints. I beseech you, O Lord Jesus Christ, to welcome my soul and not reject me from your grace.” And after he said these things, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in the form [that he bore] when he was with his disciples, the very form [he bore] before his suffering and entombment, and said [lit., ‘says’] to him, “Peace to you, our own Mark, my evangelist.” And Mark said, “Peace to you, my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Section 18: St. Mark is Tortured to Death

But early in the morning, the multitude of the city returned and removed him from the prison. They again threw the rope around his neck and dragged [him about], saying, “Let us drag the antelope to [the places of the] Boukolou.” But the blessed Mark again offered up thanks to the creator of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, saying, “Into your hands, Lord, I commit my spirit.” And after he said this he surrendered his spirit.

Section 19: The Pagans Attempt to Burn His Remains

But the multitude of impious Greeks kindled a fire in the so-called Angels, and incinerated the remains of the righteous [one]. Then, by the foreknowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a squall arose, and a great windstorm came along, and the sun ceased shining, and there was a great roar of thunder and heavy rain with lightening until evening, so as to knock down many dwellings and kill many. Afraid, they released the corpse of the saint and fled. But others sneered and said, “How their thrice-blessed Serapis made a visitation to the man on account of his birthday festival!”

Section 20: The Evangelist is Buried

Then devout persons came and wrapped up the body of the righteous one from the ashes and bore it to where they finished their prayers and hymn-singing, and dressed him [i.e., his body, for burial] according to the custom of the city, and laid him out in a place that had been splendidly hewn. They completed his memorial prayerfully and decorously; they valued him as the first treasure in Alexandria. They laid him to rest in the eastern section [of the city].

Section 21:Conclusion

The blessed Mark, the Evangelist and first martyr of our Lord Jesus Christ was laid to rest in Alexandria in the Egyptian month of Pharmouthi 30th, but according to the Romans before the Kalends of May; according to the Hebrews the 17th of Nisan, during the reign of Gaius Tiberius Caesar, but according to us the Christians during the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.

  1. [1]This I learned from independent scholar Rene Salm, The Acts of Mark: An important discovery, online at here.

A few months of interesting links

For some months I’ve been collecting bits and pieces.  Mostly I have nothing much to add, but they shouldn’t be lost.

Cool 9th century manuscript online as PDF

Via Rick Brannan I learn that a downloadable PDF of the Greek-Latin St Gall 9th century manuscript of Paul’s letters is online and can be downloaded as a single PDF:

Note the link on this page where you can download a PDF of what appears to be the entire Codex Boernerianus. It is beautiful.

And so you can.  It’s at the SLUB in Dresden here, where it has the shelfmark A.145.b.  It also contains Sedulius Scottus, I gather.

Nice to see the interlinear, isn’t it?

Codex Trecensis of Tertullian online

A correspondent advised me that the Codex Trecensis of the works of Tertullian has appeared online in scanned microfilm form at the IRHT.  Rubbish quality, but far better than nothing.  The ms is here.  De Resurrectione Carnis begins on 157r and ends on 194r.  De Baptismo begins on folio 194r and ends on 200v.  De Paenitentia begins on folio 200v.

Saints lives = Christian novels?

A review at BMCR by Elisabeth Schiffer of Stratis Papaioannou, Christian Novels from the ‘Menologion’ of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks medieval library, 45. Harvard University Press, 2017, caught my eye.   This contains 6 lives from Metaphrastes collection.

Even though hagiographical texts are among the most frequently translated Byzantine sources, little effort has been made so far to translate parts of Symeon Metaphrastes’ Menologion. This is primarily due to the generally unfortunate editorial situation of these texts: They are transmitted relatively standardized, but in a vast number of liturgical manuscripts.

In addition to summarizing the status of research on Symeon’s rewriting enterprise, Papaioannou explains in his introduction why he calls the texts in focus “Christian novels.” It is not unproblematic to apply this modern term, as he himself states, but he decided to do so because of the fictionality of these narratives and because of their resemblances to the late antique Greek novel. When saying this, it is important to emphasize—as Papaioannou explicitly does—that these texts of novelistic character were not understood as such by their audience. On the contrary, the Byzantines regarded these texts as relating true stories, written for edification and liturgical purposes (see pp. xiv-xviii).

It’s an interesting review of a neglected area of scholarship where the tools for research – editions and translations – are not available.

Full-text of the Greek Sibylline Oracles online for free

Annette Y Reed broke the story on Twitter: it’s J. Geffcken, Die Oracula Sibyllina, Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1902, which has turned up at here.   A useful transcription, rather than the original book, is also online here.

All known mss in the Bodleian library – detailed in online catalogue

Ben Albritton on Twitter shares:

This is awesome – “This catalogue provides descriptions of all known Western medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, and of medieval manuscripts in selected Oxford colleges (currently Christ Church).” Sharing ICYMI too.

It also has direct links to the for Greek mss!

Where did the Byzantine text of the New Testament come from?

Peter Gurry at the ETC blog asks the question, and suggests that Westcott and Hort are no longer the authorities to consult.

How to respond to politically motivated persecution

Since the election of President Trump I have noted on Twitter a new form of anti-Christian posting.  There has been an endless stream of anti-Christian jeering online, demanding “how dare you support Trump”?  It is surreal to see how people who hate Christians suddenly have become expert theologians on what Jesus would do.  Thankfully a certain Kurt Schlichter writes *Sigh* No, Being A Christian Does Not Require You Meekly Submit To Leftist Tyranny:

Everyone seems to want to tell Christians that they are obligated to give in. There’s always some IPA-loving hipster who writes video game reviews when he’s not sobbing alone in the dark because no one loves him tweeting “Oh, that’s real Christian!” whenever a conservative fights back. I know that when I need theological clarification, I seek out the militant atheist who thinks Christ was a socialist and believes that the Golden Rule is that Christians are never allowed to never offend anyone.

It’s a good article, and sadly necessary in these horribly politicised times.  It’s worth remembering that, were times different, rightists would most certainly adopt the same lofty lecturing tone.

A quote for pastors from St Augustine

Timothy P. Jones posted on twitter:

“If I fail to show concern for the sheep that strays, the sheep who are strong will think it’s nothing but a joke to stray and to become lost. I do desire outward gains–but I’m more concerned with inward losses” (Augustine of Hippo).

Queried as to the source, he wrote:

It’s from Sermon 46 by Augustine–the entire message is an outstanding exposition of what it means to be a shepherd of God’s people…. I translated the above from thisHere’s a good English translation as well.

Artificial Intelligence in the Vatican Archives

I knew it.  It’s alive!!!

Well, not quite.  This is a piece in the Atlantic, Artificial Intelligence Is Cracking Open the Vatican’s Secret Archives: A new project untangles the handwritten texts in one of the world’s largest historical collections:

That said, the VSA [Vatican Secret Archives] isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible. Of those 53 miles, just a few millimeters’ worth of pages have been scanned and made available online. Even fewer pages have been transcribed into computer text and made searchable. If you want to peruse anything else, you have to apply for special access, schlep all the way to Rome, and go through every page by hand.

But a new project could change all that. Known as In Codice Ratio, it uses a combination of artificial intelligence and optical-character-recognition (OCR) software to scour these neglected texts and make their transcripts available for the very first time.

They’ve found a way around the limitations of OCR by using stroke recognition instead of letter recognition.  They open-sourced the manpower by getting students (who didn’t know Latin) to input sample data, and started getting results.

All early days, but … just imagine if we could really read the contents of our archives!

Kazakhstan abandons Cyrillic for Latin-based alphabet

Via SlashDot I read:

The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant — and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan’s current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population — a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev’s iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it “ugly.” The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes.

The article at SlashDot instinctively opposed a change, which can only benefit every single Kazakhstani, by making a world of literature accessible.  Ataturk did the same, and for the same reason.

Tell Google that a book is in the public domain

Sometimes Google misclassifies books.  But there is a way to tell it that actually the book is public domain.  The Google link is here.  From It’s surprisingly easy to make government records public on Google Books:

While working on a recent story about hate speech spread by telephone in the ’60s and ’70s, I came across an interesting book that had been digitized by Google Books. Unfortunately, while it was a transcript of a Congressional hearing, and therefore should be in the public domain and not subject to copyright, it wasn’t fully accessible through Google’s archive….

But, as it turns out, Google provides a form where anyone can ask that a book scanned as part of Google Books be reviewed to determine if it’s in the public domain. And, despite internet companies sometimes earning a mediocre-at-best reputation for responding to user inquiries about free services, I’m happy to report that Google let me know within a week after filling out the form that the book would now be available for reading and download.

What does it mean to speak of an authorial/original/initial form of a Scriptural writing when faced with tremendous complexity in the actual data itself?

Back at ETC blog, Peter Gurry discusses this with Greg Lanier here.

Some of the difficulty, one senses, is because the interaction of the divine with an imperfect world is always inherently beyond our ability to understand.  It requires revelation, which is not supplied in this case.

And with that, I think I’ve dealt with a bunch of interesting stories which didn’t deserve a separate post.  Onward!

From my diary

This week I have been away for a few days, staying in the Hilton hotel in the lovely English city of York.  The hotel was very central, so I could walk everywhere and did.  Every street was unique, and all had some tea-shops, so walking was hardly arduous.  It seems like I have been away forever, which is always a good sign.

Inevitably I did the usual tourist thing.  York Minster charges £11 per head for admission, a procedure which seemed slightly shocking.

I did attend Evensong as well, for which no charge was made.  The choir singing was perfect, of course, and it was nice to hear excellent cathedral music.  The psalms were sung, which I have not heard for years.

I read through the psalms recently, but I had forgotten that the translations of the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer are not those of the Authorised Version.  I was therefore taken with the two passages in psalm 59 where the wicked are said to “grin like a dog”!  Sadly “grin” is merely the archaic version of “groan”, i.e. “howl”, as in the AV and subsequent versions.

I also visited the Yorkshire Museum.  A length of Roman wall and tower stand in the grounds, but my interest was mainly in the Roman materials inside.  The collection was very well lit and this item caught my eye:

I always photo the museum label:

Claudius Hieronymianus, the legate of the Sixth Legion, paid for the construction of a temple to Serapis.

But of course my main interest was in two Mithraic monuments.  Both were much smaller than I had realised; a tauroctony, and a statue with the name of Arimanius on it.  This petite visitor helps us to realise the small scale of the items:

I also visited the magnificent medieval gate at Michelgate Bar:

Sadly I was unable to ascend the two flights of steps and get onto the wall, so I took refuge in this bar adjacent to it.

It was a good break.  I have now responded to all the week’s emails.  For the last few weeks I have been collecting a supply of ideas for blog posts.  I shall have to start digging into them!

A Nestorian Syriac account of the life of Nestorius – translated by Anthony Alcock

In the late 19th century the Nestorians were still holed up in the mountains of what is today northern Iraq, and preserved a considerable amount of literature in Syriac giving their side of the dispute with Cyril of Alexandria that culminated in the Council of Ephesus in 433.

Anthony Alcock has kindly translated an abbreviated account of this, from that perspective.  I think most of us find Cyril difficult to like, and tend to be sympathetic to Nestorius.  So these texts are valuable.  Here it is:

Thank you so much!

Sunday, the Sabbath, and ps.Athanasius’ De Sabbatis et Circumcisione

The church does not celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, but rather on Sunday, as we all know.  Those interested in why this is so collect patristic testimonia and among these are some attributed to Athanasius, from a work entitled On the Sabbaths and Circumcision.  For instance this website and this tell us:

345 AD. Athanasius: “The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation” (On Sabbath and Circumcision 3).   

Much the most interesting link supplied by my correspondent was Sabbatum Redivivum: Daniel Cawdrey and Herbert Palmer.  This discusses a 1651 work Sabbatum Redivivum: or The Christian Sabbath Vindicated.[1], where he quotes Athanasius:

‘The Lord transferred the Sabbath to the Lord’s day.’11 (=Athanasius, Homily de Semente, cited in Sabbatum, p. 476. [In fact referencing a “Hist. of Sab. part 2. p.8]])

‘God did not primarily give the Sabbath that man should idly rest upon it; for if he had so intended it, he would never have commanded the Levites to kill and offer sacrifices. For if rest or idleness do sanctify it, manifests that work defiles.’ And again, ‘The Sabbath doth not signify rest, but the knowledge of the Creator; Therefore the Sabbath was given for knowledge sake, not for idleness, so that knowledge was more necessary than rest.’12 (= Athanasius, On Sabbath and Circumcision, cited in Sabbatum, p. 19. [Second part, p.19, in fact])

A search of the online copy for Athanasius quickly brings these up.  The authors quote the Greek also in the margin, as we see.  But it looks very much as if they are requoting from someone else, possibly Bellarmine (and maybe translating?)

Both works quoted are in fact dubia or spuria, and are listed as such in the great 18th century Benedictine edition of the works of Athanasius, conveniently reprinted by Migne as the Patrologia Graeca volume 28.  De sabbatis et circumcisione may be found on columns 133-141, preceded by a note on the doubtfulness of the text; then there follows a note on the doubtful character of de semente, and then the text.

De sabbatis et circumcisione is listed in the CPG as 2244.  9 manuscripts are listed in the Pinakes database, and no doubt more exist.  The CPG editor notes its status, but adds that Karl Holl argued for its authenticity in Studien uber das Schrifttum und die Theologie des Athanasius, Freiburg i. Br., 1899, p.102 ff. (I was unable to locate this online).  Richard Bauckham mentions the work in his Collected Essays II (2017) p.425 here, but advises that Willy Rordorf in Sabbat et Dimanche dans l’Eglise ancienne (1972) p.91 n.1 thinks otherwise.

De semente is CPG 2245, equally spurious, and the text is in PG 28, 143-168.  The CPG indicates the existence of a study of the tradition, and a discussion of its authenticity by no less than Marcel Richard.  UPDATE: There is in fact a text and German translation of this work accessible online here.[2]  Some have seen this work as by Marcellus of Ancyra (see comment below).

The quotation from De semente is indeed to be found in that work, in the opening words of chapter 1:

at Dominus diem Sabbati transtulit in Dominicam: neque nos auctoritate nostra Sabbatum vilipendimus; sed propheta est, qui illud rejicit ac dicit, [then Isaiah 1:13].

The quotations from De sabbatis et circumcisione are also there, but rather condensed.  The first is in col.135, part of chapter 2:

Non enim otii praecipue causa, hominibus Sabbatum Deus dedit, qui ait… [bible quotes].  Si enim cura illi esset de otiositate, non praecipisset Levitis proponere, offere, mactare.

The second one is condensed more straightforwardly from the start of chapter 3.

3.  Nequaquam igitur Sabbatum otium designat, sed tum cognitionem Conditoris, tum cessationem a figure huius creationis… [more bible quotes].  Cognitionis ergo et non otii causa datum est Sabbatum: ita ut sit cognitio magis necessaria quam otium.

I’ve chosen to give the Latin rather than the Greek, in case those looking at this should want to locate the passages in the PG more easily, and perhaps experiment with some Latin translation tools.

Considering the references to these texts down the centuries – since 1651!! – it is odd to find no trace of an English translation or either work.  I might commission one of  the first, as it is short.

  1. [1]Daniel Cawdrey and Herbert Palmer, Sabbatum Redivivum: or The Christian Sabbath Vindicated, London: Printed by Thomas Maxey for Samuel Gellibrand and Thomas Underhill in Paul’s Church-yard, 1651/2.  Online here
  2. [2]Annette von Stockhausen, “Die pseud-athanasianische Homilia de semente. Einleitung, Text und Übersetzung”, in: Von Arius zum Athanasianum. Studien zur Edition der »Athanasius Werke«. Berlin: De Gruyter (2010) p. 157-203. (Series: Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur v. 164).  Online here.  How wonderful to have this!

From my diary

Well here I am again.  A year ago I went off to start a contract in a town which I very much like, but involves a journey of 2-3 hours each way, and a round trip of 220 miles.  That was the last time that I had any substantial time off.  It’s been a long year.  The contract was good, but the travelling gradually became too much.  Eventually I asked the Lord for guidance; and the very next day received unmistakable evidence that it was time to seek out a job closer to home.  The last few weeks have been very difficult.  I don’t usually find myself falling asleep at my terminal!  But I now have at least two months off.

I have rarely worked from home.  But in the last couple of weeks, I did so Monday and Tuesday.  In order to do this, I purchased a docking station for the work laptop and a pair of screens.  Rather to my surprise I found that these could each be bought on eBay very cheaply, in new or near-new condition.  Having the right setup made working from home much easier.

Today I tried to connect the screens to my own laptop.  They connect but the graphics card will only support two screens, including the laptop monitor.  Usually you setup the laptop so that closing the lid turns off the screen, instead of putting the machine to sleep; and then the twin monitors come into their own.  But for some reason my machine will not permit this.  Maybe it’s a driver issue.  I shall look into this further.

Last week I looked at the French translations of the miracles of St George.  These are very easy to read, and it might well be worth running them through Google Translate, fixing the bugs, and making them accessible online.  I’ve learned a huge amount about hagiography from St George.  I need to write this up.

Over the last six months, I have been putting aside emails with blog post ideas.  Some of these are things I saw on twitter, while others are emails that I received.  So I have a fair few posts ahead of me.

That said, for the next couple of weeks I intend to try and get out in the sun.  The last year was not good for my health, and, inter alia, my vitamin D level is a bit low.  So it’s time to get outdoors, do some walks, and eat some strawberries (as one does in June).

An annotated translation of part of the Coptic Acts of the synod of Ephesus – by Anthony Alcock

Now here is an interesting one!  Dr Alcock writes:

I attach an annotated translation of the ‘fictional’ part of the Coptic acts of the Synod of Ephesus. I am currently preparing an annotated translation of a short Syriac text about Nestorius, which of course contains a different perspective (or ‘take’, as people say nowadays).

Here it is:

Pboou is one of the Pachomian monasteries.  The Egyptian text has suffered from the attention of hagiographers, who have introduced fictional sections like this one.  So the story is not of historical value (although genuine documents from the synod are embedded in the text).

All this material is useful to have online in English.  We could do with much more synodical material accessible in this way.  Who of us has ever read the Acts of Ephesus, or Chalcedon?

Should we build reproductions of now vanished buildings?

The ancient city of Norwich in East Anglia is still surrounded by much of its medieval circuit of walls.  But the gatehouses are all gone.  They were thrown down in an outbreak of civic improvement in 1792, to improve access to the city and save money on repairs.  By that time they were all rather cracked and ruinous anyway.

One of the most impressive was St Stephen’s gate, which faced west.  Queen Elizabeth I entered the city through it, and it must always have been the main city gate.

Here is a drawing of the gate, outside and inside, made around 1720 by John Kirkpatrick and engraved in 1864 by Henry Ninham.[1].

Here is a further drawing made in 1786 which was published in an article in 1847.[2]

Here is a last one, this time from 1792, just before demolition, by John Ninham, published by Fitch in a volume of such drawings in 1861.[3]  Repairs are clearly visible.  The windows have been enlarged also.

In England local councils vary greatly in their attitude to heritage.  Fortunately Norwich City Council has a splendid website, and this, remarkably, has a survey of the city walls, completed in 1999-2002, plus a page full of hard information for each of the vanished gatehouses.  Here is the one for St Stephen’s Gate.

After the demolition, the area simply became an area of roadway.  Indeed in the 1960s – that era of brutal contempt for what ordinary people felt – some of the walls were demolished to make way for the ring road.  The area of St Stephen’s gate was turned into a hideous roundabout, complete with concrete underpasses, and the foundations are supposed to have been destroyed.  The roundabout is what greets visitors from London and the west today.

But there is more.  The firm of architects that completed the survey was Purcell Miller Tritton, and they did not leave the matter there.  On 22 October 2010 an article appeared in the Eastern Daily Press, calling for the gate house to be rebuilt![4]

An ambitious plan to rebuild the colossal St Stephen’s Gate entrance to the city of Norwich in its original location has been unveiled today. The proposal is to reconstruct the three-storey building using traditional materials such as flint and lime mortar on the St Stephen’s roundabout as part of a wider plan to rejuvenate the city walls and make them more accessible to visitors.

An ambitious plan to rebuild the colossal St Stephen’s Gate entrance to the city of Norwich in its original location has been unveiled today.

The proposal is to reconstruct the three-storey building using traditional materials such as flint and lime mortar on the St Stephen’s roundabout as part of a wider plan to rejuvenate the city walls and make them more accessible to visitors.

A feasibility study has been carried out and work is now beginning on liaising with relevant authorities over the plan and efforts to secure funding for the project.

Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (Heart) came up with the idea and engaged architects Purcell Miller Tritton to look at the state of the city walls and draw up a plan for reconstructing what was the main gate into the medieval city of Norwich.

But they stress that rebuilding the gate is only one part of a larger project to raise awareness of the city walls and bring them back to life.

PMT in Norwich carried out a detailed study of the city defences, about what remained, how accessible they were and how they could be developed as an attraction with Heart providing funding via the East of England Development Agency.

PMT principal Nigel Sunter said: “Our overall conclusion is that the city walls are under-appreciated, difficult to find and in some cases difficult to access, particularly for wheelchair users or someone who is infirm.”

Medieval Norwich was enclosed by a masonry wall between 1337 and 1344 by Richard Spyke, a leading citizen, who carried out the fortification with gates, walls and towers at his own expense.

They are unique in Britain in that they are on both sides of the river and have four gates north of the River Wensum and seven to the south, with towers in between.

But over the years, they have been allowed to deteriorate, particularly during the 20th century. Old photographs from the 1930s show much more of them than survive now and in the 1960s some stretches were even demolished to make way for the ring road.

Mr Sunter said: “The Norwich walls are amongst the longest in the country and there are also some interesting elements to them. One is the unique boom towers from which there were chains across the river to prevent traffic from going upriver.”

Much of what exists of the walls is in a dilapidated state and in some areas the route of them is marked out on the ground such as at the Grapes Hill roundabout.

“There is no interpretation along the length of the walls and I think that we can make a lot more of the walls. Some may need repair, some are overgrown in places, such as the part near St Stephen’s roundabout. But a lot of it is undervalued and underplayed,” said Mr Sunter.

The proposal to regenerate the walls includes creating a city defences walk, installing interpretation boards, marking the site of each of the lost city gates; marking the route of the wall in cobbles in grass and pavement; and creating a city walls visitor centre to tell the story of the walls.

Mr Sunter points out that the story of Norwich is told in the Castle Museum; its ecclesiastical history can be recalled in the cathedral; the Guildhall may one day be the focus of its legal history; and the social side of the city is re-told in museums such as Bridewell.

“But the walls are left out of all those stories,” he said.

A possible site of a visitor centre could be within the reconstructed St Stephen’s Gate, which will be reconstructed from early drawings.

The plan includes strengthening the St Stephen’s roundabout to take the weight of the reconstructed gate and retaining the underpasses, which would provide access to the attraction.

The original gate had three storeys and two bastion towers. A lift and staircase will run from the underpass into the first tower where there will be displays re-telling the story of the walls. A further storey will have a roof terrace offering views along St Stephen’s.

Mr Sunter said: “It is only when you rebuild a replica that you understand more about a building, not just what it looked like but what is smelled like, what it sounded like.”

Anthony Moore, research and development co-ordinator with Heart, said: “Cities such as York and Chester have reconstructed their walls and they are now really an attraction that pump primes the economy. Other European cities such as Krakow have done the same so it is not unprecedented.

“St Stephen’s Gate was the main gate into Norwich, Queen Elizabeth I processed through it, and it has played a large part in the city’s history.”

Heart and PMT recognise there are still significant negotiations to take place over rebuilding St Stephen’s Gate but if all goes to plan, it could be a stunning feature for the centre of Norwich by the end of the decade.

Sadly the proposal does not seem to have been taken up.  The reconstruction, indeed, looks like it was done by a school-leaver in Paint!

Rebuilding like this is something that is incredibly rare in Britain, and there are strong voices in the establishment that oppose anything of the sort.  If a historic building is destroyed, accidentally or deliberately, then there is almost an assumption that it must be forgotten and something hideous built in its place.

But in Germany after WW2 there was widespread rebuilding, especially in Dresden and Nuremberg which were almost destroyed.  The heritage of the past is thereby made available to the present.  Likewise in Rome, when the Constantinian basilica of St Pauls-without-the-walls was destroyed, it was rebuilt as it had been.

We live at the tail end of the 60s era.  Those who gleefully inflicted concrete horrors on every town in the realm are still in power, just about.  Perhaps it will not be possible to make progress until these rotters are in their graves.  But already we see that nobody builds more of those horrors.  Anonymous concrete and glass boxes are still being built; but we can hope for an end to these too.

I think that I am definitely in favour of some rebuilding.  The destruction of ancient and medieval buildings was still going on in the 60s, and would be resisted now.  Let’s hope to see experiments in rebuilding heritage in England too.


I had forgotten to check the online copy of J. Britton, “On ancient gate-houses”.  It is full of interesting remarks.

In 1786, more than sixty years ago, that industrious and enthusiastic antiquary, John Carter, visited Norwich, and found eleven out of the twelve city gate-houses standing. Heigham Gate, he states beneath one of his sketches, had been then destroyed “some years:” having been taken down when Blomefield wrote, in 1741. Of the remaining eleven he made a series of slight but effective sketches, looking from without the gates into the city. He states that these sketches were made on a Sunday when all the gates were closed. These drawings together with all the other sketches that he made, from 1768 to 1806, are now in my possession, and form a collection of authentic representations, including many objects of which no other views exist. They extend through 37 folio volumes. Mr. Stevenson of Norwich possesses drawings made with a camera obscura of the same eleven gates. (p.135-6).

“Blomefield” is “Blomefield’s History”.  It would be very interesting to know where Mr Carter’s volumes are; even more so the Stevenson papers.  A google search suggests that they may be in the archives of Kings College London:

John Carter’s newly catalogued papers and correspondence in the archives of King’s College London throw considerable new light on his relationship with members of the Society of Antiquaries and his patrons, and include previously unpublished sketches of several of them. His memoirs show that a small group of wealthy antiquaries recognized his skills as an accurate and conscientious draughtsman and encouraged him faithfully to record historic – and especially medieval – buildings and monuments. Many of these buildings were later altered or destroyed, and his numerous surviving drawings are thus of immense value to scholars.[5]

I find a page on Carter’s papers at the National Archives here.  This tells me that there are manuscripts transferred to the British Library; and their catalogue tells me of:

‘A COLLECTION of Sketches relating to the Antiquities of this Kingdom; taken from the real objects, by John Carter”; 1764-1817. Twenty volumes. Paper. Folio. Additional MS 29925-29944 : 1764-1817

Not quite 37 volumes, although Additional Mss. 31113, 31153 also are by Carter.  One day I must go and look at these.

In a similar way, “Stevenson” may be William Stevenson, F.S.A., who was proprietor of the Norfolk Chronicle.  I find a mention of “COL/5/19 Papers owned by William Stevenson, relating to the history of Norwich and Norfolk, 1066-1755” in the Norfolk and Norwich Record Office.[6].  Someone ought to track these down.

Likewise the excellent Mr Britton even has something to say about attitudes that give rise to things like brutalist “architecture”:

I cannot help contrasting the state of society, when I visited Norwich more than forty years ago, with its condition at the present time. Then the greatest apathy prevailed on antiquarian subjects; the cathedral was in a lamentable state of dilapidation, and neglect, whilst the repairs that had been made and were in progress were heedlessly and tastelessly executed. Now, on the contrary, its officers are actively and liberally occupied in making sound and substantial repairs and restorations, in accordance with the varied styles and character of the old works.

Perhaps we should just see the last 50 years rather as the Victorians saw the period prior to their own; a period of decay, neglect, corruption and wastefulness?

  1. [1]“View of the outside of St Stephen’s Gate about 1720 engraved by Henry Ninham from a drawing by John Kirkpatrick [Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery 1954.138, Todd 5, Norwich, 119a]”
  2. [2]J. Britton, “On Ancient Gate-Houses”, Proceedings of the Archaeological Institute, July 1847, opposite page 136.  Online at here,
  3. [3]Robert Fitch, Views of the Gates of Norwich made in the years 1792-3 by the Late John Ninham, Norwich: Cundall, Miller, and Leavins, 1861.  Online at Google Books here.
  4. [4]Mark Nichols, “Visionary bid to rebuild city gate”.  Online here.
  5. [5]B. Nurse and J. M. Crook, “John Carter, FSA (1748–1817): ‘The Ingenious, and Very Accurate Draughtsman’”, The Antiquaries Journal, 91 (2011), 211-252.  Not accessible to me but apparently online here.
  6. [6]Rosemary Sweet, The Writing of Urban Histories in Eighteenth-century England, Clarendon (1997), p.344.