The hecastylon in Rome

When I feel under the weather, and I can’t face anything heavy, I tend to resort to reading old favourites.  Often these include the old Loeb’s of Juvenal and Martial.  This week, attacked by a heavy cold, it has been Martial.

I was reading book 3, epigram 19.  This describes a place of “a hundred columns”, where there were statues of wild beasts in bronze.  The Loeb footnote says this was called the Hecastylon.  It seems to have been a portico.  The epigram describes how a boy thrust his hand into the mouth of a bronze bear, only to disturb a nesting viper, be bitten, and die.

A Google search on Hecastylon revealed almost nothing.  The only reference was to a map, which gave a location and said that some of the building is still standing, and placed it next to the Largo Argentina, where the emperors handed out donatives.  A Google books search identified it as a portico.

And that was it. 

We are so very used to finding material online, that it comes as rather a shock to find almost none.  Perhaps the building had some other name, or spelling; but even so, it is surprising.

UPDATE: Apparently it should be “Hecatostylon”!


How not to do it; AbdulHaq’s “Before Nicea”

I’ve come across a Moslem pamphlet rubbishing Christian origins.  It’s available as an eBook here.  The authors are not orientals, but Britons who have converted to Islam and taken Arabic names.  As such they have no access to Eastern literature and have had to make use of whatever anti-Christian literature they could find.

I find it hard to read 99 pages online, but the general approach is to heap up quotations by western writers, whoever they may be, rubbishing the bible, the fathers, and so on.  The quotations are plainly taken from atheist literature, quoting such elderly “authorities” as Gibbon and Toland (1718)!  Some of the quotations look extremely suspect — F. G. Kenyon is quoted in a sense opposite to every work of his that I have ever read.

But AbdulHaq goes further.  He wants to claim that the people he quotes were all Christians, that what is said here by anti-Christian polemicists is what Christians say about themselves.  He states:

During conversations whilst compiling this work, it was noted that many evangelical Christians would argue that the Christian scholars quoted in this work for example are ‘not really Christian.’

To this he responds as might be expected.

Unfortunately AbdulHaq has defeated himself before he began.   The argument he has borrowed is the old 19th century atheist jeer “Who are you to say who is a Christian and who is not?”  Logically that is nonsense, unless the word “Christian” has no meaning.  It’s merely a gibe intended to weaken the appeal to the name of Christian, so that people who live by convenience but claim the name of Christian may evade the plain teaching of Christianity. 

To assist this process, the establishment — hardly eager to have their lives examined! — has always appointed people to bishoprics who have publicly made clear that Christianity was not true, or were men of immoral life, or both.  These men act as cuckoos in the nest, pushing out the real nestlings and in the confusion allowing the vicious to continue as before.  A former bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, publicly said that he did not believe in Jesus’ Resurrection. When Christian evangelist David Watson was running university missions calling students to repentance and conversion, he used to run counter-missions to encourage them to remain drunken fornicators as before.  Such activity qualified him, in the view of the church appointments committee, for high ecclesiastical office.

We all know that there is a pool of hyopcrites and liars around, and atheists make use of them as the establishment intends, to divert the argument from “Is Christianity true” to “Is this revolting person lying when he claims to be a Christian, and who is to say?”  Atheists need confusion, in order that their lifestyle of convenience may be hidden in the smoke.

But none of this helps AbdulHaq.  He needs clarity.  He needs to attack what Christianity is, not what it is not.  Confusion merely obstructs him from coming to grips with the enemy. 

If I wrote against Islam, it would be very silly for me to find some depraved soul who drank and never prayed and didn’t believe in the Koran, yet still claimed the name of Moslem, and use his ‘views’ as evidence of what Moslems believed.  I would need, for my argument, to make sure that those I quoted were accepted, by Moslems, as Moslems.

AbdulHaq could compile endless quotes from enemies of the church.   But it would show nothing except that Christianity attracts the enmity of people who live immoral lives and want to claim the name of Christian!   Well, I think we all knew that!  

For his polemic to work, he must attack Christians.  It does him no manner of good to confuse into his argument people who Christians don’t accept as believers.   This element of his book simply fails.

If his argument is that many scholars reject Christianity, it must be observed that this must be a rather dangerous argument for him to make.  Do those same scholars accept Islam?  Or do they merely repeat what is the fashionable religious consensus of their age?  If the latter, their testimony again does not help him.


Catenas on the Psalms: the “Palestinian catena”

There may be 29 different types of catena on the Psalms.  All of them contain quotations from works by the Fathers on the exegesis of the Psalms.  But the most important of these by far is the catena known to modern specialists as the “Palestinian catena”.  This catena was apparently originally compiled in 6th century Palestine, directly from a bunch of mostly now lost texts.

It stands out for the size and quality of the extracts that are preserved in it.  These are mainly taken from the commentaries of Eusebius of Caesarea, Didymus the Blind, and Theodoret.  In some of the psalms, there is also material from Apollinaris of Laodicea, Asterius the Sophist, Basil of Caesarea, and — of course — Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, and Origen.  For psalm 118 there is also material from Athanasius.

Psalms is a long book.  A catena on the psalms is also a long book.  Some time after composition, the catena was turned into two editions.  The first of these was in three volumes; on Psalms 1-50, 51-100, and 101-150.  The other was a two volume edition; on Psalms 1-76 and 77-150.

Naturally the volumes of each version have travelled down the centuries independently.

The three volume edition

Volume 1 of this edition is preserved in good condition in the catena of type VI (Karo and Lietzmann).  This is found in he following manuscripts:

  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, Barroci gr. 235 (9-10th century)
  • Mt. Athos, Iviron monastery 597 (1st half of 11th c.)
  • Bucharest, Romanian Academy Library gr. 931 + Constantinople, Panaghia Kamariotissi Patristic Library 9 (1st half of 11th century)
  • Munich, National library gr. 359 (10-11th c.)
  • Vatican Library gr. 1789 (10-11th c.).
  • Oxford, Bodleian, Auct. 1.1 (= Misc. 179) (17th c.), pp.169-262 containing Pss.10-50 and pp.262-284 (Ps. 9)
  • Oxford, Bodleian, Barocci gr. 154 (late 15th c.), a copy of Barocci 235.

These are all derived from the Barocci ms., and the other mss. serve only to supplement some passages today missing from the Barocci (I presume this means leaves have been lost down the years).

Marcel Richard made a check on the value of the material using the text for Ps. 37.  The whole commentary of Eusebius on this psalm happens to be extant, under the name of Basil, and is accessible in PG 30, col. 81-104 (now I ought to commission a translation of that!).  Origen’s two homilies on this psalm have reached us, in a version in Latin by Rufinus.  Theodoret’s Interpretatio in Psalmos is extant, and in PG 80.  The work of Didymus has perished.

Richard found that all the extracts from extant sources were reproduced correctly, and attributed to the correct authors.  The remaining extracts, from Didymus, were not found in any of the other authors, so are presumably also corrected quoted.  This gives us great confidence in using the catena.

The second volume existed in a single manuscript in Turin, Cod. 300 (C.II.6, 10th c.).  Unfortunately this was destroyed in the fire on 26th January 1904, without ever being photographed or printed.  No doubt the librarians who watched it burn had congratulated themselves just as modern ones do, that they had never allowed it to be photographed, thereby preserving it from “damage”.  Some leaves remain, and the Institut de Recherches et Histoire de Textes did their best, but the majority of the material from this excellent source is lost.

Fortunately this matters less for the Commentary of Eusebius.  A portion of this massive commentary has reached us in direct transmission, and contains Pss.51-95:3.  It’s in Cod. Coislin 44 (10th c.).

The third volume, on Pss.101-150, did not reach us, and no traces of it are known.

The two volume edition

The first volume of this edition, covering Pss.1-76, has been lost.  No copy of it came down to our times.

The second volume, however, covering Pss. 77-150, is extant.  This is fortunate, as it complements the losses in the three volume edition.

This volume was classified by Karo and Lietzmann as type XI.  No single copy is entire, although it probably once existed complete in Milan, Ambrosian Library F 126 sup. (=A, 13th century) which is now mutilated at the start and end.  Fortunately Ms. Patmos, St. John’s Library 215 (=P, 12-13th c.) is complete at the end, and has only lost a couple of leaves at the front.  The material at the start of the catena is found in Ms. Vienna theol. gr. 59 (13th c.).

A and P both descend from a copy in uncial.  A is the better, as P has been contaminated with material from the commentary of Theodoret.  Fortunately this is usually placed in the same places, and can be readily identified.

Indirect tradition

The material contained in the Palestinian catena is good, but the same material also appears in secondary catenas; catenas that used the Palestinian catena as a source.  This means that this indirect tradition can be a control on mistakes in the text.

The catenas that form this tradition appear in two forms; either a condensed version of the whole catena, or else a collection of extracts from across the catena.

Printed editions

It was always obvious to scholars that it should be possible to recover the commentary of Eusebius in almost complete form from these materials.  B. de Montfaucon printed an edition of his commentary on Pss.1-118, which is reprinted in PG 23, cols. 71-1396.  J.-B. Pitra reedited this in Analecta sacra Spicilegio Solesmensi parata, 3: Patres antenicaeni, Venice: S. Lazaro (1883), p.365-529.

Angelo Mai added the remainder, from Pss. 119-150, which is reprinted in PG 24, 9-78.  Unfortunately the materials used were printed with insufficient care, and are contaminated by material from Origen.

Carmelo Curti wrote a series of articles on this subject, all reprinted in Eusebiana 1: Commentarii in Psalmos, Catania 1989 (2nd ed).  Unfortunately I have never managed to see this, but I’ve just put in an ILL for it.[1]

  1. [1]Update, 5th June, 2015.  I came across this post this week, which I had entirely forgotten about.  I wish that I had added the sources at the time.  I think that the main source was Angelo di Berardino, Patrology: The Eastern Fathers from the Council of Chalcedon (451) to John of Damascus (d.750), 2006, p.618 f.

Catenas on the Psalms in print

Karo and Lietzmann’s Catenarum Graecarum Catalogus lists 28 different medieval Greek catenas on the psalms.  These are not 28 different copies, but 28 different types.  I confess that I have not yet read through all this material, and am awaiting the printed copy that I made and ordered.

Fortunately the printed editions of whatever exists appear at the front of each entry in K&L.  This is meagre enough.

First there is a volume by the inevitable Balthasar Corderius, in three folio volumes: Expositio Patrum Graecorum in psalmos, a. Balthasare Corderio Soc. Iesu ex vetustissimis Sac. Caes. Maiestatis, & Sereniss. Bauariae Ducis mss. codicibus … concinnata; in Paraphrasin, Commentarium et Catenam digesta; Latinitate donata. & Annotationibus illustrata . . . Antverpiae, ex officina Plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti M. DC. XLIII- VI. 3 vol. fol.

This appeared at Antwerp in 1643-6 at the Plantin-Moretus press.  I had not known that Corderius was a Jesuit, but so it appears.  He printed his text from manuscripts belonging to the Emperor and the Duke of Bavaria. He also translated what he gathered into Latin.

The mss he used were Vienna 298 and 8 (possibly also Vienna 294 on Psalm 1-50).  He also used Munich 12 and 13 to fill in what he considered to be gaps.   The edition is plainly a collection of whatever Corderius thought useful, rather than based on an edition.

The second catena in printed form listed by K&L is this: Aurea in quinquaginta Davidicos Psalmos doctorum Graecorum catena. Interprete Daniele Barbaro electo Patriarcha Aquileiensi. cum privilegio. Venetijs, apud Georgium de Caballis. MDLXIX. fol.  So this is earlier, 1569, in Venice.  It looks as if it may only be a Latin translation.  K&L give a list of authors and where the materials came from.

Most interesting of these to us are fragments of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on the Psalms.  These are contained in this, and were edited by Montfaucon in his edition of that work.  It looks as if he may have made use of manuscripts in Turin, which would be rather important as that manuscript was destroyed in 1904.


The sources for the downfall of Majorian

The emperor Majorian was the last effective Roman emperor of the west.  He ruled from 457 to 461. 

At that period the rule of the empire was actually in the hands of the sinister Ricimer, who appointed and killed a series of emperors to act as figureheads.  Majorian was one of these, but speedily proved too competent for the liking of his supposed prime minister.  There is an excellent article on Majorian’s life and rule at the DIR here.

I remember transcribing the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris.  He went to dinner with Majorian in Gaul, when the emperor was there rallying support.  He describes how the Gallic dignitaries fawned over the emperor, seeking honours that the dying empire was soon to render of no significance whatever.  Majorian must have wondered what kind of fools could worry about such things at such a time.  Sidonius also wrote a Panegyric for Majorian, to be among his verse works.

Majorian’s downfall came at the hands of Ricimer.  While returning from Gaul to Italy without his army, he was assassinated.

The sources for Majorian’s reign are very scanty.  A fragment of John of Antioch gives the bare details:

While he was still on the way to Italy, Ricimer plotted his death. When Majorian had dismissed the allies after their return and was going home to Rome with his attendants, Ricimer and his party arrested him, stripped him of his purple robe and diadem, beat him, and beheaded him. Thus ended Majorian’s life. (fr.203; Gordon trans, p.117).

I wasn’t clear what the “Gordon” translation was; is it perhaps C. D. Gordon, The Age of Attila, 1966?  A new critical edition of the remains of John of Antioch, with an Italian translation, has recently appeared, edited by Umberto Roberto, Ioannis Antiocheni Fragmenta Ex Historia Chronica. (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2005).

The Gallic Chronicle of 511 — another continuation of Jerome’s Chronicle, no doubt — has a laconic entry giving more details:

Moreover, having set out from Arles for Italy, he was killed by the patrician Ricimer at Tortona.

The Chronicle of Hydatius (210) tells us:

Ricimer, aroused by envy and supported by the counsel of jealous persons, surrounded and treacherously killed Majorian while he was returning from Gaul to Rome and was in the process of arranging things that were necessary for the Roman name and empire.

And the Chronicle of Marcellinus for 461 AD:

The Emperor Majorian was killed at Tortona, near the river that is called Ilyra.

All these Chronicles are continuations of Jerome, and have only a sentence or two against each year.

A little more information comes from the Fasti vindobonenses priores (?) no. 588:

During this consulate the Emperor Majorian was deposed by the patrician Ricimer at Tortona on 3 August and killed at the Ira River on 7 August.

Finally Procopius rather later reports (Bellum Vandalicum 7.14-15: Dewing trans., p.69).:

But meantime Majorian was attacked by the disease of dysentery and died, a man who had shown himself moderate toward his subjects, and an object of fear to his enemies.

Note the accolade, that Majorian was “moderate towards his subjects”.  Taxation is what is meant, of course.

And that’s it.  There are a few more splinters, but that is all the information we have.


Lost Roman legal text found

There’s still stuff out there.  This report from University College London tells us that someone (unspecified) has found 17 fragments of parchment in a binding in a manuscript or book (unspecified).  They contain parts of a lost text! 

It’s not at all uncommon to find bits of medieval books used as extra leaves at the ends of early printed books.  They’re parchment, which is tough, while the boards of the binding were added later.  At the end of the middle ages there was a surfeit of handwritten books, often of little value, which went to all sorts of purposes.  Lots of medieval service books, student copies of medieval school texts, and so on.  Ask to see volumes in any collection of early printed books, and you will as often as not find yourself looking at one of these in the end papers.

Many a rare manuscript was sent to the printers to be printed, and afterwards was used for parchment in this way.  Clearly this was one of them; although when it was dismembered is not stated.

The letters on the fragments are a mixture of uncial and semi-uncial, say 400-500 AD.  So the bits are from an ancient codex.  If they were in a binding, how did they get there?  Is it possible — God forbid — that an ancient book made it all the way to the renaissance and was then chopped up for bindings, unrecognised?  Or did it come from some manuscript, itself bound that way during the middle ages?

Here’s a striking fragment.  The title is in red, and starts with an R with a line across it.  Then the word PRESCR…, the start of a Praescriptio of some sort.  The next line contains the end of the heading: AUG. IUL. PRAESENTI — Augustus, to Julius Praesens.  This is clearly the intro to an imperial rescript (=decree).


The text is indeed a legal one.  Simon Corcoran writes:

One complete and five partial headings to imperial constitutions have so far been identified, supplying, in addition to Julius Praesens, the names of three other addressees, and explicitly attesting four emperors: Antoninus (i.e. Caracalla, AD198-217), Gordian III (AD238-244), Philip (AD244-249), and his son Philip junior, who was associated in power with his father.

So the volume contains 3rd century rescripts.  Their conclusion, therefore, is that these are parts of the lost legal code of Gregorianus!  (Bill Thayer has some notes on what was previously known about that, here).

Who would have thought that January 2010 would be marked by the recovery of an ancient text!?


Anthony McRoy responds to “SeismicShock”

The police visit to blogger SeismicShock (real name Joseph Weissman) caused me to post here, and in the discussion at Index on Censorship, here, and here.  Seismic’s blog targeted mainly Stephen Sizer in his blog; but he also attacked Dr Anthony McRoy.  I queried his understanding of a lecture “The solace of the saviour” by McRoy online, here.  This evening I have had an email from Anthony McRoy to me, asking me to post this. 

UPDATE: See also a link to Seismic’s reply further down, and after that, McRoy’s final response.

Recently, I have come to your attention re. the Seismic Shock issue. I notice that you have correctly understood my paper on the Solace of the Saviour. Clearly, my position was not only to compare, but also to contrast Hezbollah’s jihad with Christian spiritual warfare, and campaigns for social change, such as against slavery. I should have thought it obvious which section I was endorsing – obviously, the Christian part!

I had given a paper the year before in Tehran, and I was invited to give another the following year. At the conference I attended, all the Muslims were excited about the outcome of the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict that year. Since the subject of the conference is Mahdism and Messianic expectation, I thought it appropriate to examine the role of Mahdist expectation in the history of Hezbollah, and compare and contrast it with Messianic expectation in Christianity. The linking theme was Justice, since Muslim expectations of the Mahdi are that he will ‘fill the world with justice and equity’. Naturally, after offering an academic description (not endorsement) of this in Shi’ism and more expressly in the Iranian Revolution and Hezbollah, I looked at the Christian approach to Justice – and the means to achieve it – obviously, one that was non-violent.

Frankly, I would have thought it ridiculous that anyone would assume that I somehow believed in Islamic eschatology, especially as it influenced Khomeinist ideas. I have given a presentation at two universities in events organised by Christian Unions on ‘Islam and Christianity – similarities and differences’. Many Muslims as well as Christians attended these events. The Muslims seemed happy with the accuracy of my presentation, as were the Christians, but no-one asked me if I endorsed the parts of my presentation dealing with Islamic beliefs – nobody thought I believed in Islamic theology! I did not even have to spell out that obviously, I only believed in the section where I presented Christian theology. Everyone understood what I was doing. No one accused me of being some kind of syncretist – everyone understood that I am a conservative Evangelical. I am amazed that Mr Weissman could have misunderstood my position – do I really have to point out to people in future when I give a ‘compare and contrast’ presentation on any aspect of Islam and Christianity that I only endorse the Christian part? Would that not be insulting the intelligence of the audience?

Actually, I was unable to deliver the paper (Mr Weissman got that one wrong – if he’d bothered to contact me I could have told him), because I could not get a visa. The same happened the following year. I don’t know why that is. One possibility is something to which Mr Weissman has alluded – when, along with a number of other delegates at the conference, I met President Ahmadinejad at the Presidential home one night. At one point questions were invited, so I suggested a meeting between him and US Evangelical leaders to discuss both contemporary and historical difficulties between the two peoples, and I specifically mentioned the 1953 US/UK coup which toppled Iranian Premier Mossadeq – which still smarts in Iran – and not just among Khomeinists – and the 1979 US embassy hostage issue, which still smarts in America, both events poisoning relations. I said ‘US’ rather than ‘UK’ because the main confrontation is between Iran and America, and also because US Evangelicals are more numerous and influential than their British counterparts. Apart from inter-state issues, my intention was that a high delegation of US Evangelical leaders would be able to raise issues about the treatment of religious minorities in Iran and the Muslim world, and especially converts from Islam.

The President gave me a long answer, which did not rule out the possibility of such a meeting, but whilst referring to the 1953 coup, he never mentioned the US embassy issue. Mr Weissman has highlighted parts of an article (this comes originally from the Muslim Weekly, but was reproduced by the Iranian institute which invited me) where I wrote the following:

Those meeting Ahmadinejad commented how intelligent, humble, charismatic, and charming he was. Surprisingly, the US delegates seemed especially taken with him. Personally, I tend to be cautious of all politicians whatever their nationality, but I could why he worries America – not because of the nuclear issue, but because he is such a contrasting alternative for people in the region to the corrupt, self-interested pro-US despots that litter the Muslim world. Recent polls in the region show that Ahmadinejad is vastly popular. The Sunni Arab delegates lauded him. Certainly, it was wise of Bush to decline Ahmadinejad’s offer a debate. Those who remember the way George Galloway wiped the floor with Senator Coleman will have an idea of what would happen. Ahmadinejad gives quick, extensive and intelligent answers to any question, mixed with genial humour. Blair, an accomplished debater, could fence with him, but Bush would merely embarrass himself.

I remember writing a parallel article for Evangelicals Now (which Mr Weissman saw fit NOT to reproduce) where I elaborated on this, expressing disappointment that Ahmadinejad did not address the Embassy hostage issue. Please note that I did NOT say that I found him ‘intelligent, humble, charismatic, and charming’ -rather that was the reaction of others. I then made a descriptive analogy of his ability and manner in answering questions to explain why it would not have been a good idea for Bush to have debated him – but note that I said that Blair could have done so. Acknowledging someone’s debating ability and manner is NOT the same as endorsing his policies. I wrote an article for the Muslim Weekly on ‘The Legacy of GW Bush’ where I referred to Bush’s down-to-earth folksy manner, but no one assumed that I was thereby endorsing his policies – which clearly, in relation to the invasion of Iraq, I did not.

As an academic, I often get invited to speak on TV programmes on Islamic/Middle East issues – not just on Western TV, but also on Middle Eastern stations, including Iranian ones. Last year I was interviewed – not so much as a Christian, but as an academic expert – by Iran-based Press TV on the three revolutions in world history – the French, Russian and Iranian. When I addressed the latter, I was asked whether the revolution had been true to its roots. I answered that the Khomenists got what they wanted, but not the leftists, or secular democrats. Moreover, I observed that religious minorities – Jews, Christians Zoroastrians – were all excluded from political office, apart from dedicated seats in the Majlis (Parliament), and that Christian converts from Islam had often either been executed or ‘mysteriously’ disappeared only to turn-up dead. I also referred to the mistreatment of the Bahais.

I then stated that if Iran wanted to improve its relations with the West it would have to redress these issues – and again, I highlighted that people in the West, whatever their religious opinions, or how secular or even atheists they are, will never accept that a person should be killed because he changed his religion. I was recently interviewed by an Iranian state channel on the revolution, where I largely repeated these points, especially the on the killing of converts. Hardly a case of supporting Iranian policy – nor of failing to say to Iranians what I say to Western audiences. I did not compromise my message to one degree. Needless to say, Mr Weissman never referred to this on his website – perhaps he didn’t know. If he had contacted me in the normal way, I could have told him.

Perhaps the worst, most disgusting and outrageous allegation Mr Weissman made against me was when he decided to ‘examine’ what he maliciously misrepresented as ‘apparent admiration for Al Qaida, and terrorist leaders Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.’ In fact, these referred to articles I wrote in the Muslim Weekly, the first of which stated the following:

Two years ago, at a Ramadan event in the Houses of Parliament, one young Muslim man approached me. He said he had wanted to meet me for some time, since he liked my articles. Then he made a telling observation: “We wouldn’t dare say the things you say about Al-Qaida!” I understood what he meant. As a Born-again Christian, nobody could suspect me of sympathy for Al-Qaida’s methods (which contradict every aspect of New Testament ethics) or its ultimate aim of the united Islamic caliphate. Obviously, as an academic, I can write articles giving a scholarly analysis of Al-Qaida from a detached perspective – recognising where their methods were clever and effective, even if from my moral perspective, based on the ethics of Jesus, these tactics were malign. If a Muslim attempted this, as the young man implied, he might be accused of sympathy for Al-Qaida. Hardly surprising that Muslims are wary of attempting this (and in the light of the Forest Gate raid, such fears are well-grounded – even a long beard is sufficient ground for suspicion these days).

My point is that as an academic, I can give an objective, scholarly analysis of Al-Qaida, and being a Christian, not face the suspicions Muslims might of sympathy for the group. Indeed, if I were to give an objective, scholarly analysis of the invasion of Iraq, I would state that it was an effective military operation. A moral evaluation would be different – I strongly opposed the Iraq war as illegal, and because of its foreseeable consequences – the strengthening of Al-Qaida, the exodus of Christians. At the end of the article I suggested a policy initiative which would, among other things ‘isolate Al-Qaida’. Again, after analysing the ruthless jihad of Zarqawi, I commented ‘Perhaps that is the greatest condemnation of the invasion of Iraq – it created the very thing it was supposed to eradicate.’ Obviously, I was condemning the Iraq war for creating the condition which allowed a murderous terrorist like Zarqawi to operate.

It seems obvious that Mr Weissman has trawled the Web for articles about me, as well as listening to Premier Radio. He must have heard me many times condemning Al-Qaida, and how could he have missed this article, actually written on 7/7, reporting the events of the day, and expressing condemnation of the group –

This brings me to the point of my agreeing to the police talking to Mr Weissman. His comments about me – misrepresenting me as a supporter of Al-Qaida – placed me and my wife and children in physical danger. My children came across Weissman’s comments once when surfing the web. Imagine if there had another major Al-Qaida operation against the UK like 7/7. What if people were killed – and then people in my neighbourhood, or pupils at my children’s school, surfing the web, came across Weissman’s falsehood that I supported Al-Qaida. In the fear and outrage following such an incident, my family could have become the targets of revengeful violence.

Free speech ends where violence is incited. If someone anonymously started a poison pen campaign against an innocent man in a neighbourhood, delivering leaflets falsely claiming that he was a paedophile, he would very likely be subjected to violence, never mind career issues. I’m sure Mr Weissman would object if someone did this to him. I am not saying that Mr Weissman intended to incite violence against me and my family, but I fail to see how anyone could make such an allegation and not know that it could physically danger the object of such an outrageous smear. What Mr Weissman did in this respect was not criticism – he is perfectly free to criticise my articles if he wishes, though I wish he would do so properly, without misrepresenting my position – but there is no liberty to place someone in physical danger, as he did with me, my wife and children.

It was on this basis that the police became involved. It was my expressed wish that Mr Weissman not be the subject of legal action – rather, that the police would simply have a quiet word with him, imploring him to see reason, by acquainting him with the fact that we were concerned that his campaign was placing us in physical danger. At NO point did I want to prevent Mr Weissman expressing his viewpoints in a normal manner. His free speech was never in question – rather, his reckless endangerment of us was the issue. Since harassment and physical endangerment is a valid police concern, I cannot see that this is an issue of free speech, or of police overstepping the mark. Moreover, the fact that Mr Weissman engaged in his campaign from a position of anonymity, as with ‘poison pen letter’ attacks, made it impossible to do anything else other than to involve the police. Further, after the police saw him, I did not request his details. I would have been happy to let the matter rest.

I have taken into account that Mr Weissman is a young man, and we have all done things when we were young that we later regret, myself included, although I was not a Born-again Christian at the time, as is Mr Weissman . The fact that Mr Weissman is a fellow-Christian who has, doubtless unwittingly , endangered my family, has caused incredulity among friends and family who know about it – one of my children asked me: ‘Isn’t he supposed to be a Christian?’ Had he contacted me the normal way I would have been more than willing to engage in a respectful dialogue with him; unfortunately, Mr Weissman chose not to do so.

Ultimately, his actions against me seem to spring from the fact that we have differing opinions on Palestine. For over thirty years, since my conversion, I have taken to heart Colossians 3:11 – ‘there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.’ Whilst upholding the uniqueness of Christ as Saviour, I have opposed all forms of racism and sectarianism, and I glory in being a member of a multi-racial congregation, living in a multi-ethnic area, having friends from different ethnic and religious groups, including Muslims, and having members of my family from ethnic minorities. This is the basis of my position on Palestine, but it also motivated my opposition to Milosevic’s policies in Bosnia and Kosova, as well as to the racist and Islamophobic policies of the BNP (whom I have frequently condemned in various articles), to the mistreatment of Kurds and Assyrians, and , of course, to the mistreatment of Christians and other minorities in many Muslim countries. I have frequently raise the latter point in article for Muslim publications, and at Muslim meetings. I did so recently at a Muslim meeting, where I called on British Muslims not to accept financing or invite officials from oppressive Muslim regimes such as the Saudis who deny any religious liberty, noting (in an oblique reference to the BNP representative present) how this aids Islamophobic elements at elections.

I know that Mr Weissman is a Messianic Jewish Christian. I am proud that my father in-law helped to save Jewish children from the Holocaust. I have confronted Muslims who have denied its historical reality – including when I was in Iran. I have objected to Muslims taking Qur’anic texts which mention Jews out of context and misinterpreting them to justify communal hostility. Some years ago I met a leading British Messianic Jewish Christian, whom I invited to speak at my church, and we had great fellowship with him in our home on a couple of occasions when he visited, despite our differences on Palestine. Perhaps Mr Weissman was unaware of this, but had he contacted me in the normal way, I could have acquainted him with the facts. After all, since we are both Evangelical Christians, wouldn’t Matthew 5:23-24 apply? Please note that I never attacked (or even referred to) Mr Weissman in any article, or tried to vilify him online or in any media, yet not only on his own website, but on others, he has misrepresented me and endangered my family. If he is really interested in a respectful dialogue, I would be willing to meet him. I would suggest that this should be everyone’s first move before engaging in an anonymous web-based tirade against fellow-Christians which only serves to bring the Gospel into disrepute.

UPDATE: Seismic Shock has responded to this here.  He also kindly offered the piece to me to post here, but I felt that the discussion is moving away from the free speech issue into general areas, and that my doing so here would not be appropriate.  I will post any further response from Dr. McRoy, however.

UPDATE2:  Dr McRoy has sent me this, heading Final Comment.

I am glad that Mr Weissman has responded to my post. I now want to make a final statement on the issue, after which I will make no other. So please, don’t anyone waste his/her time trying to bait me, since I will not respond. Firstly, I find it hard to read Weissman’s comment that ‘I did not say that Dr McRoy supported Al Qaida’ with this: ‘and now examines his apparent admiration for Al Qaida, and terrorist leaders Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. McRoy on sympathy for Al Qaida:’

If that is not an accusation that I ‘supported’ Al-Qaida, I don’t know what is. To state that I ‘admire’ or have ‘sympathy’ for Al-Qaida is surely the same as to state that I ‘support’ Al-Qaida. This seems a matter of semantics. However, I take Mr Weissman’s comment that this was NOT his intention, but for the record, I do not admire ‘Zarqawi’s cleverness’ or anything about Al-Qaida. I strongly oppose it. However, as an academic, it is my job to dispassionately analyse events. As I stated, the Iraq invasion was, objectively speaking, an effective military operation. The moral evaluation of the war is a different matter, and I opposed the invasion.

My point is that such a comment – that I ‘admired’ or had ‘sympathy’ for Al-Qaida could have serious consequences for the safety of my family and myself. Remember that after 9/11 and 7/7, ordinary Muslims and even non-Muslim Asians – especially Sikhs – were attacked. Were another bombing to occur, it is likely that such events would be replicated. What if people in my area saw it, or fellow-pupils of my children? My children have been mugged at knife-point in the past – a revenge attack following an Al-Qaida bombing could well involve more than being slapped. I know Mr Weissman is a young man, and probably not married with children. When he is blessed with children, he will be concerned for their welfare. I should emphasise that my children saw his comment and reported it to me. Can he begin to imagine how concerned I was that such language could lead to an attack on my family? I fully accept now that this was not his intention, but it was nonetheless a case of reckless endangerment to use such language that could be taken as meaning that I support Al-Qaida.

To give an example. In 2007 I reported that a young Muslim had posted a video on Youtube  entitled “In memory of Councillor Alan Craig”. Pictures of Craig, which included his wife and young children, then followed. I commented: ‘It is the involvement of his wife and children that Craig has found most objectionable. In a video posted after the media attention, the video’s author – Abdullah1425 – claimed that he was not making a death threat, but rather engaging in “light-hearted political satire”. However, many people might find it difficult to spot the humour. For a start, what is amusing about a video with an “obituary” theme? Surely the message is: “we wish you were dead!” Furthermore, the video contains the quotation of the Qur’anic verse Surah Al-Baqarah 2:156 From Allah we all come and to Him we all return.’  ( Cllr Craig reported the matter to the police, who interviewed the young man, but did not charge him. However, few will feel that Cllr Craig did not do the right thing by contacting the police on this matter, especially as it involved his family.

Again, imagine if someone living in a Muslim area of Britain was accused of being a MOSSAD agent. What would be likely to happen to him? Last year there was another incident of Evangelical in-fighting, and Dr Patrick Sookhdeo approached me for help. One smear going round the Muslim community was that he was a MOSSAD agent. He was naturally concerned for his safety and that of his family and colleagues. I was happy to contact leading Muslims to set the record straight, as well as intervening to help the breach between him and other Evangelicals. I’m sure Mr Weissman can appreciate why Patrick was concerned at the smear and its possible consequences. I hope he now understands why I was concerned at his representation of my position.

Mr Weissman asks why I didn’t post on his blog. Basically, I don’t do that on any blog, and certainly not on anonymous ones. In fact, as a matter of principle, I never respond to anonymous correspondence. It is well-said that the Internet is a dangerous place. I can never understand people who go into chatrooms, and we’ve all heard stories of how paedophiles hide their identity in such sites to groom young victims, often posing as teenagers or children themselves. Mr Weissman never identified himself to me, nor contacted me in the normal way. All he did was to write under a pseudonym  – ‘Mordechai’ – on the Premier Radio page:

At 2:49am on May 9, 2009, Mordechai said…
Hi Antony, would you like to comment on these pieces?
I’m sure your employers at Premier Christian Radio would be horrified to learn that you praised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when you went to Iran, and compared the faith of Hezbollah suicide bombers who kill in expectation of the Mahdi with the faith of Christians who practise social justice in expectation of the 2nd coming of Jesus?

Hmm… better delete this comment before they find it! 


Is this a normal communication? It is more like a taunt. Had Mr Weissman contacted me in his own name and in a normal, polite manner, I would have been happy to dialogue with him, but his anonymity, his trawling of the Web, his misrepresentations of my position smacked of cyber-bullying and harassment. In the light of the campaign he waged against me, I wonder how else I was supposed to view his depiction of me as ‘admiring’ and ‘sympathising’ with Al-Qaida – and what the possible consequences of this were. Remember, my children reported this to me.

It was on that basis that the police got involved. I emphasis that I did not ask for prosecution, still less for Mr Weissman’s views to be silenced, but merely for this apparent harassment – i.e. the physical endangerment of my family – to be addressed. Again, had Mr Weissman never engaged in an anonymous campaign against me, there would have been no reason for the police to get involved. Rather than my posting on his blog, surely it was his responsibility to contact me in the normal way. I reiterate that I have never threatened him with violence, nor even mentioned him in any article or broadcast. Moreover, just as I helped  Dr Sookhdeo last year when his safety was imperilled, I wish in the spirit of Christian compassion to extend an offer to help Mr Weissman if he ever faces any threats from Islamic extremists. 

This is not PR; it is a sincere offer. Over the years I have found myself in similar positions. Once, when covering an Al-Muhajiroun demo outside the US Embassy, I went into the garden opposite to find an Orthodox Jewish gentleman on his mobile. When he finished, I approached him, informing him of the approaching rally. He was very frightened, but grateful for my help. Another time, covering a different demo, some young Muslims became aggressive to a Jewish man who was arguing with them, so I held them back while he got away. There are two other incidents that come to mind, for example when I restrained an Al-Muhajiroun member from attacking a homosexual Asian man, or a towering Kosovar who, a few days after a mass grave was unearthed in his country, went to pulverise an American heckler at a rally, but was held back by me until the heckler went away. 

To return to my paper, The Solace of the Saviour. Mr Weissman does not seem to realise that I never got to deliver the paper, because I couldn’t get a visa! Perhaps it was because of my comments to President Ahmadinejad about the 1979 US Embassy hostage event, but I don’t know. I gave a different paper the year I was in Iran. I am surprised by Weissman’s comments that ‘It worries me that McRoy thinks that here he is merely expressing a dispassionate academic opinion. He must surely have had some idea of how these ideas would be interpreted by his audience in the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ The year I was actually in Iran, and gave my original paper, everyone in the audience seemed to understand my position – no one, Muslim or non-Muslim – concluded that I believed in Islamic eschatology. In fact, I was immediately interviewed by three Iranian TV stations on Christian beliefs, especially eschatology. I think we need to have some faith the intelligence of our audiences. 

Part of the problem is that Mr Weissman doesn’t seem to appreciate that in my paper, I am often quoting passages that disturb him, e.g. ‘Hezbollah also used one of its own special types of resistance against the Zionist enemy that is the suicide attacks. These attacks dealt great losses to the enemy on all thinkable levels such as militarily and mentally. The attacks also raised the moral [i.e. morale] across the whole Islamic nation.’ He should really observe its footnote: ‘Hezbollah, Hezbollah: Identity and goals, 2001.’ That is, I quoted a Hezbollah statement about themselves.  My position is not ‘kind words for the similarly apocalyptic drive of Khomeinist Islam’, but simple analysis. 

We should remember that such conferences are not debates, such as when Jay Smith attempts to deconstruct Islam in his campus debates with Muslims. Rather, the former are presentations. I was asked to present a paper on Mahdism and Messianic expectation, the latter from a Christian view. The first part of any paper naturally dealt with Islamic Mahdism, in which I gave an objective description; the second part presented Christian eschatology, which, of course, is what I believe. I have only ever done two debates, both on Premier Radio and both with Abdul-Haq Al-Ashanti, a Western convert to Islam, who produced a work against historical Christianity called Before Nicea, to which I am writing a response (one reason that I don’t do much journalistic writing these days). Abdul-Haq and I debated respectfully but forthrightly .

Furthermore, I did not express admiration for Ahmadinejad’s talents, I simply described his abilities in answering questions, which is purely a statement of fact. The same goes, as virtually every commentator observed, even those opposed to him, for George Galloway in his appearance before the US Senate. 

As I said, I think the root of the problem between Mr Weissman and myself is our different positions on Palestine. The basis of my position is Amillennial eschatology, plus concern for equal rights for all people, irrespective of race and creed. Moreover, Mr Weissman must not think that I highlight Palestine in this. I also speak up for equal rights all over the world. In my previous employment as a Bible-college lecturer, during the dark days of Apartheid in South Africa I had a picture of Nelson Mandela in my office, and as I said previously, Colossians 3:11 is my motivation in this. To bring this back to the Muslim world, obviously the central problem – after terrorism – is the unequal status of religious minorities therein. As Mr Weissman now knows, I speak out regularly on this subject. Equally, I have spoken out against Islamophobia in Britain, being one of the first people to expose the BNP for moving towards prioritising this prejudice in their electoral strategy. 

The other side of opposing Islamophobia is opposing Islamic extremism.  As someone from a Jewish background, Mr Weissman may be interested to learn that I have confronted a Hizb ut-Tahrir member who at a meeting made an attack on ‘Jews’ (not on Israeli policy, Jews).  I have written to criticise those Muslims who abuse Qur’anic texts to depict Jews as ‘apes and pigs’. At one of the first Muslim conferences I attended in the course of my studies, I confronted one of the organisers about a speaker who denied the Holocaust. I did the same in Iran when I met a European Muslim who made similar denials.

Having repented of my sinful views as a youth, I have spent the last thirty years as embracing Biblical multi-racialism and opposing sectarian oppression, without compromising on the uniqueness of Jesus. Over the years, I have spent much time trying to persuade young Muslim men not to get involved in extremism – as I did in my teens, before my conversion. The last thing I want is to see such youths blowing-up themselves – and others – in Tel Aviv, Iraq, Afghanistan, New York – or London. Obviously – and I am quite forthright with Muslims on this issue – I would love to see them be Born-again of the Holy Spirit, who  would give them peaceful attitudes, but short of that, not to join Al-Qaida, or HAMAS or Hezbollah of any militant group for that matter, but rather to utilise their democratic rights as British citizens to campaign peacefully for their concerns.  The fact that I have been forthright in my criticism of negative Western policies in the Muslim world has given me some credibility in seeking to steer them away from extremism – especially terrorism.  The fact that we have many Muslim friends, as have our children, make such a concern especially strong. 

In closing, may I reiterate that if Mr Weissman had presented my position properly, and contacted me directly using his real name, all this unpleasantness could have been avoided. In the spirit of Christian reconciliation,as expressed in Colossians 3:11 and 2 Corinthians 5:18ff, I wish to say that I forgive Mr Weissman for anything he has done, and ask his forgiveness for anything I have done. I would hope that at the end of this, we could, as fellow Born-again Christians, break bread together.


Last section of Abu’l Barakat

Good news!  An email tells me that another of my projects is coming in.  The catalogue of Arabic Christian books, by the 13th century writer Abu’l Barakat, is progressing nicely.  The whole thing has now been translated into English, in first draft.  The wording will now be revised over the next two weeks, and then comment invited from others.

Once the whole thing is complete, I will post it online and make it public domain.

This is such an important text.  When you come into a literature, all is confusion.  What we need is a map, a list of major writers and what they wrote.  This acts as a skeleton, on which we can hang all the rest of our knowledge.  A modern list would be good, but none exists in English.  This ancient list is also good, as it probably refers to stuff no longer extant and tells us what might be out there.

The translation has been made from the older 1902 edition of Riedel.  But apparently there is somewhere a critical edition made by Samir Khalil Samir, SJ.  I think this was published in Cairo.  The text is so important that I have suggested to the translator that he acquire a copy of Samir’s publication, and do a revised version for formal publication on his own, so that scholars can reference it in their bibliographies.  This will happen, I think.