More project news

Origen’s 10th homily on Ezekiel (out of 14) is pretty much done, a bit of discussion aside.

Better yet, I have received the Arabic transcription and English translation of three treatises from Sbath’s collection of Arabic Christian theological material.  These are #17, #18 and #19.  All look very good, and one at least will bear posting here when I’ve paid for it.  All are concerned with the truth of Christianity, ca. 900 AD.


State of the al-Makin project

Back 1971 Shlomo Pines published a strange version of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus, where Josephus mentions Christ.   This came from the 10th century Arabic Christian writer Agapius, whose history I have translated and placed online.  But in fact the sole manuscript of part 2 of Agapius, which refers to Josephus, does NOT contain the text that Pines published.  This text is a reconstruction, using portions of text from the 13th century Arabic Christian historian al-Makin or Elmacinus, also known as ibn Amid.  Pines believed that these preserved portions of the text of Agapius lost in translation.

There are five big Arabic Christian histories; Agapius, Eutychius, Bar Hebraeus, al-Makin, and one which I can never remember [Yahya ibn Said al-Antaki].  But no edition or translation exists of al-Makin.  The second half — from the start of the Moslem period — was published and translated into Latin back in the 17th century.  The end portion of the chronicle, which deals with Saladin and his dynasty, was not present in the manuscript used then, but has been published recently with French translation.

An email this morning asked me the state of this project.  I’m not actively progressing it.  But I have obtained reproductions of two manuscripts, and the second half of a third.  I have a partial list of chapters of the first part from one of them.  And I have three translators, all of whom would be competent to work on the text.

As with so much in this life, all we need is money.  Maybe next year, when the downturn eases.


So who is Theo of Smyrna? (or even Theon of Smyrna)

Following on from my previous post on Mithras in Zenobius, who is this Theo of Smyrna who also mentions a list of the eight elements, probably from Persian sources?  All I have is an edition, ‘Hiller’ and “p. 104, 20”.

There are times when Wikipedia is a useful summary of whatever there is online.  Theon of Smyrna has an article.  He’s a technical writer, a mathematical philosopher of the early 2nd century AD.  At least one of his works is extant, the expositio rerum mathematicarum ad legendum Platonem utilium or exposition of mathematical ideas useful for the reading of Plato.  A look at COPAC shows me that it was edited by Eduard Hiller in the Tuebner series in Leipzig in 1878.  A photographic reprint was made in 1995.  A French translation Exposition des connaissances mathematiques utiles pour la lecture de platon was made by J. Dupuis in 1892, reprinted 1966.  Thanks to Google books, both are online.

And finally a curious English translation does seem to exist:

Theon, of Smyrna: Mathematics useful for understanding Plato; translated from the 1892 Greek/French edition of J. Dupuis by Robert and Deborah Lawlor and edited and annotated by Christos Toulis and others; with an appendix of notes by Dupuis, a copious glossary, index of works, etc. Series: Secret doctrine reference series Published: San Diego : Wizards Bookshelf, 1979. ISBN: 0913510246. 174pp. Notes: Cover title: Twn kata to mathematikon chresimwn eis ten Platonos anagnwsin.

Hmm.  That sounds like an amateur translation of the French of Dupuis.

So… what does he say?  Well, I find from the PDF that the material is actually on p.105 of Hiller, lines 4-5 (p.120 of the Google books PDF).  The magic word “Orphicos” appears above it, and then three lines of quotation.  The name of Evandros appears beneath. 

In the notes at the foot  of the page is a cross-reference to Zenobius V, 78, which we examined earlier.  Then a list of related material: Porphyry De antro nympharum 24, calling Mithras “demiurgos” (creator);  and Proclus’ commentary on the Timaeus of Plato p. 93 E, where the Orphic creator-god Phanes is given the same title.  Then a couple of old scholarly works are listed, on Orphism.  All this, incidentally, in a section on numbers. 

Let’s see if we can find out what the context is.

So now I go to Dupuis, who gives quite an introduction and even lists manuscripts.  The French National Library alone has a bunch of them, so this is plainly not a rare work, although I had never heard of it before.

A bit of guesswork and looking at an index for “Evandre” gives us page 173 (PDF page is 210), which is precisely the passage in question.  It is chapter 47 of the work.  Here it is, from Dupuis’ French.

47.  The number eight which is the first cube composed of unity and seven. Some say that there are eight gods who are masters of the universe, and this is also what we see in the sayings of Orpheus:

By the creators of things ever immortal,
Fire and water, earth and heaven, moon,
And sun, the great Phanes and the dark night.

And Evander reports that in Egypt may be found on a column an inscription of King Saturn and Queen Rhea: “The most ancient of all, King Osiris, to the immortal gods, to the spirit, to heaven and earth, to night and day, to the father of all that is and all that will be, and to Love, souvenir of the magificence of his life.”  Timotheus also reports the proverb, “Eight is all, because the spheres of the world which rotate around the earth are eight.” And, as Erastothenes says,

“These eight spheres harmonise together in making their revolutions around the earth.”

As a literary reference to syncretism between Mithras and Phanes, this lacks quite a bit.  But interesting, all the same, as examples of the sort of pseudo-knowledge being mixed up in antiquity.


Zenobius on Mithras

While working over the Wikipedia Mithras article, I found mention of syncretism with the Orphic deity Phanes.  It seems that we learn of this from inscriptions; but also that there is literary evidence of the syncretism of Mithras and Phanes, in the proverbs of Zenobius.  The reference is: ”Proverbia” 5.78 (in  Corpus paroemiographorum Graecorum vol. 1, p.151) This is Century V, 78 of Zenobius’ work.  The reference comes from Manfred Clauss’s splendid book on Mithras, p.70 n.84.  In the Google books PDF it is p.208.  But… I don’t see the name of Phanes here.   I see a list of deities; the name of Mithras is among them.  Can anyone with more Greek than me help?

I have posted about this obscure 2nd century proverb collector before.  His work doesn’t exist in English, and yet here again are interesting snippets on antiquity.

UPDATE: Fortunately I find more information in Albert de Jong, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin literature, p.309:

A final text that must be discussed is a list of elements attributed to an unknown Evandrus by the excerptor Didymus Zenobius 5.78.  “Evandrus said that the gods who rule over everything are eight: Fire, Water, Earth, Heaven, Moon, Sun, Mithra, Night.”  The appearance of Mithra in this list suggested to some an Iranian background to this passage.  An almost identical list can be found in Theon of Smyrna, but there instead of Mithra we find the name of Phanes.[226] In an interpretation of these passages, Reitzenstein invoked the importance of the Elements in Manichaean and Zoroastrian literature, and concluded that the lists of elements were typical for Iranian religions.

Both phrases, however, are concerned wilh the proverb “All is eight” …; this ogdoad is divided into a monad and a heptad. There can be no doubt that the lists are Greek; more particularly, they have an Orphic background. This is not only evident from the reference to the Night in both lists of eight elements, but particularly from the reference to Phanes. It is well known that Phanes and Mithras were connected with each other in the context of the Mithraic mysteries. There is not only icono-graphic evidence for this identification, but also textual evidence, from a famous Mithraic inscription to Zeus-Helios-Mithras-Phanes.[228] Theo of Smyrna also explicitly introduces the list as deriving from Orphic literature.

226. Theo Smyrnaeus, p. 104, 20 Hiller.

228 CIMRM 475; for Mithras and Phanes, cf. H.M.Jackson, “Love makes the World go round: The Classical Greek Ancestry of the Youth with the Zodiacal Circle in Late Roman Art’, in Hinnells (ed.). Studies in Mithraism 131-164.

This seems to be the evidence; without the inscriptions, it would probably not be very good.  It would be nice to track down Theo of Symrna, tho.


Burning the Arian books after Nicaea

A very nice image has appeared on Wikipedia here, albeit with a daft title.


“Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law produced in Northern Italy ca. 825.” Click on the image to get the full size image.

Of course the people doing the burning at the bottom are all tonsured, and I suppose represent the church, not the state.

While we’re on the subject of freedom of speech, I enjoyed the note at the bottom:

The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain, and that claims to the contrary represent an assault on the very concept of a public domain”.

Well said.  Attempts by libraries to extort money through blocking circulation of images like these are scandalous.


Revising the Wikipedia Mithras article

Last night I sat down and spent several hours working on the Mithras article on Wikipedia.  The effort is probably futile, but the article has been one of the worst on Wikipedia, and a constant source of misinformation online.

My principle was to ensure that there was either a reference to a primary source, or to a modern Mithras specialist; or to remove the material.  The curse of information on Mithras online is the tendency to attribute without reference every event of the life of Jesus to Mithras, usually for reasons of religious hate.

This was all sparked by an email from another editor, “Fullstop”, who was trying to heal the article.  He supplied me with a very useful review by Roger Beck of a book on Mithras by Reinhold Merkelbach, which incidentally reviewed most of the scholarship.

He also supplied me with an article by Vermaseren [1] discussing the idea that Mithras (meaning Persian Mitra) was born from a woman, or was a son of Ahura-Mazda: 

The scarce literary evidence as well as the abundant archaeological material give us different versions of the way in which Mithras came into the world and it is hardly possible to reconcile the two.

In the Yasht 10, the hymn of the recent Avesta, in which Mithras is specially invoked, the Persian god of light appears resplendent in a golden colour on the top of the mountain Hara berezaiti, the present Elburz in Persia, from where he looks over the whole earth of the Aryan people.

This is not a description of a real birth, but this manifestation of the deity as the giver of light, pouring forth his largess every morning anew and, besides, the feminine name of the mountain were apt to lead to the conception of the birth of the god from a Mother-Goddess. Yet, the idea of Mithras as a son of Ahura-Mazda, the Knowing Lord, or as born naturally from a woman, though attested by some late Armenian writers, did not become traditional 3). Mithras’ birth remained an obscure affair:…

3) In general Cumont, Mon. Myst. Mithra I 160 f ; G. Messina, “Magi a Betlemme e una predizione di Zoroastro”, Roma 1933; Christensen, “L’Iran sous les Sassanides”, Copenhague 19442, 155.

The sloppiness of references in earlier writers on Mithras means that we are left to wonder just who said what.  Does anyone know who are referred to here?

UPDATE: An email tells me that Cumont, Textes et Monumentes II, pp.3-5 (online here), contains some Armenian sources.  And so it does.  First is a fragment of Eznik of Kolb, De Deo; then one from the Agathangelos.  Neither is to our purpose.

Next up is “Elisee Vartabed” (which may be French  but doesn’t sound Armenian) and his “History of Vartan”.  Apparently this is a 5th century author.  Cumont quotes two different French translations, which I have run into English:

[From the apology for Christianity addressed by the Armenian bishops to Mihr-Nerseh, the minister of the king of Persia, Yezdegerd II:]

You have said that God was born from a woman; you shouldn’t probe this, or express horror at the idea.  In fact Ormizd and Ahriman were born from a father, and not of a mother; if you think about it, you can’t accept that.  A thing still more singular: the god Mihr was born of a woman, as if one could have commerce with one’s own mother.

[Apparently a better translation of the last sentence:]

Your god Miher is not only born of a woman, but what is still more ridiculous, he is born from an incestuous commerce with his own mother!

[A little later:]

One of your most ancient sages has said that the god Mihr was born from a mother, who was of the human race; he is no less a king, son of God, and the valiant ally of the seven gods.

This is followed by a quotation from Moses of Chorene — also not relevant for us — and that’s the lot.

So Vermaseren’s “some late Armenian writers” reduces to one, the 5th century historian “Elisee Vartabed”, in a speech given by the Armenian bishops to the persecuting Sassanid Persian governor.   I wonder if there are any more?

So, what can be found out about this author?  Well, first, there is at least one English translation, from 1830, here, where he is called Elisaeus.  A more modern English version exists by Robert Thomson, Eliseus Vardapet: History of Vardan and the Armenian War, Harvard (1982).  The text does not seem to be online, however.  I might fix that by OCR’ing the 1830 version.

[1] M. J. Vermaseren, “The Miraculous Birth of Mithras“, Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 4, Fasc. 3/4 (1951), pp. 285-301


Notes on progress

Sorry about the lack of blogging: 

I try to take one day at a time, but lately several days have ganged up and ambushed me. — Anon

The sample of the translation of the lost portion of Chrysostom’s sermon 2 against the Jews has been reviewed.  It isn’t wildly satisfactory, and I need to consider whether another translator would do better.  The problem is with the more complex sentences, where he seems to get lost.

I’ve posted the two treatises by Yahya ibn `Adi in the NASCAS Arabic Christian group; and got feedback that the commas in the Arabic are the wrong way up!  I’ll put these on my website and announce them properly at the weekend.

The Eusebius Syriac fragments are being worked over, and the translator has asked if I would like a transcription. I would, of course; but at what price?


Lots of progress

It never rains but it pours.  Today, in my inbox I find:

  1. The first draft of the translation of Origen’s 10th Homily on Ezekiel.
  2. The sample chunk of the translation of the lost 60% of John Chrysostom’s Oratio 2 adversus Judaeos.
  3. Portion 15 of the translation of Sbath’s collection of Arabic theological and philosophical texts.

It is nice to see all these projects coming along, tho!  I’ve asked the Eusebius translator to look over the Chrysostom sample.  The other two translators are well known to me for the quality of their work.


History is not the property of any elite

I happened to see these words by Jona Lendering, and although there is something in this, I feel that I need to disagree profoundly.  It seems that some people in the US consider that Obama is the anti-Christ, rather than merely yet another dodgy politician mouthing lies while emptying our pockets.  Biblioblogger Jim West posts a chunk of Greek on who the anti-Christ is, and deliberately doesn’t translate.  “No need for speculation”, he says.

I long ago learned that people who post untranslated Greek intend to intimidate rather than educate, and like most people I despise such point-scoring.  But Jona remarks:

… his joke to keep the relevant lines untranslated, goes straight to the heart of an important matter, which is not just a problem to theology.  Ancient history suffers from it as well: too many people think they can understand ancient texts without having the proper qualifications. Such as learning a dead language.

This is an odd idea. I would not like to go to an amateur dentist. No politician would pay for the experiments by amateur particle physicists. But if ancient texts are involved, expertise is suddenly unnecessary. Books by “self-educated historians” or theological code-breakers are printed by publishing houses that are, essentially, selling out scholarship to make a few quick bucks.

One of the reasons is, of course, that ancient texts are accessible and delightful to read. You easily get the impression that you can make sense of them. There is little to do against this – fortunately, because there is nothing against enjoying a good book. Yet, I would appreciate it if publishers stopped presenting Plato as if he were a normal writer whose books deserve in the bookstores a place between Sylvia Plath and Chaim Potok. He deserves a book with explanations and a lot of footnotes, nothing else.

No, no, and a thousand times NO!

History is not and should never be the special preserve of some specially trained cadre of priests, who alone understand how to interpret the sacred texts, and to whom we all must humbly apply to be permitted an opinion.  In a society where education is general, history belongs to everyone.  History is not some place far-away.  It is our own past. 

The doings of Cicero and Caesar do not belong to Dr Herbert Nose-in-the-air, recently graduated from the university of Osoimportant, on the basis that — according to the other priests — he alone knows the sources well enough to be permitted to speak.  No, no and a thousand times NO!  Petrarch would have burned his books, if he knew that his efforts to rediscover the ancient world would be stranged by such elitism. 

Education is for everyone.  It is true that not everyone will do it equally well.  In the sciences, we perforce allow only trained specialists to enjoy special esteem.  Yet even here, the gifted amateur may make a contribution; and no scientist would make the kind of claims to exclude the public that we see above.  It is merely impractical for most to do so.

But in the humanities, we do not respect the scholar nearly as much, and nor should we.  As we all know, the consensus of scholars on matters of controversy is often shaped by profoundly non-scholarly considerations, such as those who make appointments and their prejudices.  The humanities are the property of the educated world, and will always be so. 

”][Fall of the Bastile]

Let us remember who pays for all this book-sniffing.  The poverty-stricken pensioner widow, eking out her miserable existence on a few score dollars a week and wondering whether this week to heat or eat — for a greedy government makes doing both at the same time difficult — pays of her limited funds to keep a group of people in education as teachers and researchers.  It is, in truth, barely moral that this should happen.  But governments exact from all, careless of the cost.  This exclusive priesthood that some would like to create, is funded by the many.  And why?  So that their work should be valuable to all, because all can benefit.  It does not exist by divine right.  The humanities is a government utility for the supply of education and culture, nothing more.   Nor has it ever been different, except that private patrons replaced the government.  Before we praise our new priesthood to the skies, let us reflect on what we really mean; a bunch of hirelings.

If history can only be known by pronouncements by some self-appointed Pope, then history is bunk, and there is no reason for our wretched widow to pay for it.  Better that the scholars be hanged, than that the poor lady starve.

But the truth is otherwise.  A man who knows no Latin can master the thought of Cicero.  So it is, so it should always be.  The expert should have an advantage, the original language must always be superior; yet in truth I find that knowledge of these languages is often more prated of than possessed, and too often is merely a cloak for a man who uses a translation as a crib.  Where precisely are these scholars, who read Migne for fun?  Few, few indeed.  Let us praise those who can.  Let us listen to what they say.  And let us stick their heads down the toilet when they profess, on such slender grounds, to instruct us in how to read the bible, and how to vote.  Down with such elitism.  As a Tory of the highest and driest kind by temperament, let me raise the red flag.

I don’t want to pillory Jona, for I know that he has something specific in mind, and that something annoys me also.  He wants to raise the standard of popular understanding.  He’s tired of the quantity of crude myths in circulation, and the confidence with which some of them are uttered.  He’s right in this.  There is too much dross out there. 

But the answer is not the creation of a Royal Priesthood, or perhaps, a State Priesthood, to mediate the holy mysteries of what Disraeli had for breakfast to us!  It is better education all round, better access to data, better access to scholarly books — all currently paid for by the public, and all sedulously protected by copyrights to keep them from the public. 

Few, indeed, have done more to aid this process than Jona himself.  This makes it ironic that he calls for a system under which his own website would be shut down as being produced by someone not in the magic circle, by one “not in holy orders”, by an educated enthusiast!