Some remarks about John Chrysostom’s homilies against the Jews

A. L. Williams useful book Adversus Judaeos was composed in 1935, well before modern political correctness or post-WW2 guilt.  It is written to be of use to Christians considering missionary work among the Jews, and to advise them of older apologetic, which he suggests is mostly useless today. 

Nearly a hundred writers are summarised, and the book is still of great value.  Williams states plainly enough that his collection of writers cannot be comprehensive, since it omits works in manuscript only, and to which he had no access.  But it has never been superseded.

When we read modern opinions about Chrysostom’s sermons against the Jews, we are always uncomfortably aware that those writing may not feel able to sound “anti-semitic”.  Works held dear but which violate political correctness are liable to be misdescribed; works hated may get the same misdescription in the opposite direction.

Williams’ comments are therefore refreshingly interesting.  As a man with no interest in the politics of our day, what does he think Chrysostom was doing and meant? —

Chrysostom’s Homilies against the Jews are glorious reading for those who love eloquence, and zeal untempered by knowledge. The Golden-mouthed knew little of Judaism, but he was shocked that his Christian people were frequenting Jewish synagogues [2], were attracted to the synagogal Fasts and Feasts, sometimes by the claims to superior sanctity made by the followers of the earlier religion, so that an oath taken in a synagogue was more binding than in a church,  and and sometimes by the offer of charms and amulets in which Jews of the lower class dealt freely. We cannot blame Chrysostom therefore for doing his utmost to prevent apostasy, partial or complete, and we cannot but praise him for the straightness of his speech, and his passionate desire that every one of his hearers should not only refrain from religious intercourse with Jews, but also do his utmost to keep his brethren in the same Christian path.[4] Sometimes also there are direct appeals to Jews  to turn to the true faith.

But that is all that can be said. Chrysostom’s sermons were intended almost entirely for his Christian listeners, and only exceptionally for Jews. How could it be otherwise? We gather from these Homilies that the Jews were a great social, and even a great religious, power in Antioch, but that Chrysostom himself had had no direct intercourse with them worth mentioning, and knew nothing of their real reasons for refusing to become Christians. Far more serious still than his ignorance is his lack of a real evangelistic spirit in his relation to them. There is no sign that he felt the slightest sympathy with them, much less a burning love for the people of whom His Saviour came in the flesh, or, indeed, that he regarded them in any other way than as having been rightly and permanently punished for their treatment of Christ, and as still being emissaries of Satan in their temptation of Christians. But that is not the way to present Christ to the Jews, or even to speak of them when preaching to Christians [2].

The notes are also interesting:

2. The tendency of professing Christians to frequent synagogues is not peculiar to Chrysostom’s time and place. M. Isidore Loeb in his illuminating essay on La Controverse religieuse entre les Juifs au moyen age en France et en Espagne tells us that in the Middle Ages the semi-Christianised peoples found it difficult to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity, or, at least, to see where one left off and the other began. They knew that Christianity had its roots in Judaism, and that the weekly day of rest, Easter, and Pentecost, were taken from the Jews, and the mother religion had fascination for them. At Lyon they used to go to the synagogue, pretending that the sermons were better than those of the Christian priests. In 1290 in Provence and the neighbouring countries Christians made offerings in the synagogue, and paid solemn respect to the roll of the Law (Revue de l’histoire des religions, 1888, xvii. 324 sq.).

4. This is the key-note of each of the Homilies.

2. Chrysostom’s hatred of the Jews is not confined to these eight Homilies, as may be seen from the countless references to them scattered throughout his works, covering more than seven columns in Montfaucon’s Index.

This is plain speaking.  Williams has no hesitation in describing “Chrysostom’s hatred of the Jews”, nor in describing the sermons as “glorious reading for those who love eloquence”, feeling no need for apology.  But his judgement is “Chrysostom’s sermons were intended almost entirely for his Christian listeners, and only exceptionally for Jews.”

We may, I think, agree with him safely on this, then.  As with so much else in the later Roman Empire, Christianity had become a badge of a community, rather than the means of salvation.  Chrysostom was merely defending the “turf” of the group who had elected him their bishop.


Chrysostom “In kalendas” progress

The first column of Migne’s text of John Chrysostom’s sermon On the kalends of January, translated and transcribed, has arrived!  I have sent the sample to a trusted translator for comment.  With luck it will be good and we can proceed.


Why Severian of Gabala is famous

Apparently he was a flat-earther.  Wikipedia has no article on him in English (which I may rectify tomorrow).  But there is a French article, and a German one, as well as a rather dense BBKL article.

The Wikipedia flat-earth article quotes Severian thus:

The earth is flat and the sun does not pass under it in the night, but travels through the northern parts as if hidden by a wall.

A reference is given of “J.L.E. Dreyer, A History of Planetary Systems’, (1906)” which needs to be verified.  A limited preview of it is here, and Severian is on p.211-2.  (Update: the whole book is here). Here is what is said:

A contemporary of Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem, lays great stress on the necessity of accepting as real the supercelestial waters 1, while a younger contemporary of Basil, Severianus, Bishop of Gabala, speaks out even more strongly and in more detail in his Six Orations on the Creation of the World,2, in which the cosmical system sketched in the first chapter of Genesis is explained. On the first day God made the heaven, not the one we see, but the one above that, the whole forming a house of two storeys with a roof in the middle and the waters above that. As an angel is spirit without body, so the upper heaven is fire without matter, while the lower one is fire with matter, and only by the special arrangement of providence sends its light and heat down to us, instead of upwards as other fires do3. The lower heaven was made on the second day; it is crystalline, congealed water, intended to be able to resist the flame of sun and moon and the infinite number of stars, to be full of fire and yet not dissolve nor burn, for which reason there is water on the outside. This water will also come in handy on the last day, when it will be used for putting out the fire of the sun, moon and stars4. The heaven is not a sphere, but a tent or taber­nacle; “it is He…that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in5“; the Scripture says that it has a top, which a sphere has not, and it is also written: “The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot came unto Zoar6.” The earth is flat and the sun does not pass under it in the night, but travels through the northern parts “as if hidden by a wall,” and he quotes: “The sun goeth down and hasteth to his place where he ariseth7.” When the sun goes more to the south, the days are shorter and we have winter, as the sun takes all the longer to perform his nightly journey1.

1 Catechesis, ix., Opera, Oxford, 1703, p. 116.
2 Joh. Chrysostomi Opera, ed. Montfaucon, t. vii. (Paris, 1724), p. 436 sqq. Compare also the extracts given by Kosmas, pp. 320-325.
3 I. 4.
4 II. 3-4.
5 Isaiah xl. 22.
6 Gen. xix. 23. The above is from the Revised Version, but Severianus (III. 4) has: “Sol egressus est super terram, et Lot ingressus est in Segor. Quare liquet, Scriptura teste, egressum esse Solem, non ascendisse.”
7 Eccles. i. 5.
1 III. 5.

Few of those familiar with Wikipedia will be surprised, then, to discover that the “quote” is in fact the words of Dreyer, not of Severian.  Amusingly the “quote” has made its way, sans reference, into the French and German articles.

But the exciting part is that Dreyer clearly has read Severian, albeit in the Latin version, and so it should be possible to identify the material properly.

The French article tells us that a French translation exists of Severian’s six sermons on Genesis, plus one more.  These are from Bareille’s 19th century translation of Chrysostom, and that in turn suggests that Bareille may have translated all of Chrysostom, if he was getting into the spuria as well.


Vatican library to digitise 80,000 mss

The story is here.

This project may be achieved over a span of 10 years divided into three phases, with possible intervals between them. In a preliminary phase the involvement of 60 people is planned, including photographers and conservator-verifiers, in the second and third phases at least 120. Before being able to initiate an undertaking of this kind, which is causing some anxiety to those in charge of the library (and not only to them!), naturally it will be necessary to find the funds. Moves have already been made in this direction with some positive results.


‘Severian of Gabala’ on the sufferings and death of our Lord

In 1827 J.B.Aucher published a set of sermons from Armenian at the press of the Mechitarist Fathers in Venice, Severiani sive Seberiani Gabalorum episcopi Emesensis homiliae nunc primum ex antiqua versione armena in latinum sermonem translatae, Venetiis, 1827.  A homily on the sufferings and death of our Lord appears on p.428 of that edition.  Unfortunately it is not listed among the sermons of Severian of Gabala in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum 2, so is perhaps pseudonymous [but see below].

A reader of these posts has discovered an English translation of this obscure text in S.C.Malan, Meditations on every Wednesday and Friday in Lent (1859).  The book itself is a curiosity, printed using the long-s (which looks like ‘f’ without part of the cross-stroke) which had then ceased to be in use for more than a century.  It is dedicated to Charles Marriot, the editor of the Oxford Movement Library of the Fathers translations.

This is Holy Week.  I admit my own thoughts have been far from the sufferings of the Lord.  But as I scanned this translation, I found myself moved by the words of this ancient writer.  The sermon is a little long to post here, and I have left the English archaic as it was.  If anyone has difficulty with this, I would like to know. 

But here it is.

UPDATE (1/4/10).  The Aucher publication is online here!  It’s remarkable, really, what Google books now contains.  After looking at the index of sermons, I must ask whether this sermon is really by Eusebius of Emesa, like the one that follows it?  A look at the CPG reveals that, indeed, both are by Eusebius of Emesa.


No Syria trip for me

It seems that I will not be going to Syria.  I hurt myself a week ago, quite by accident, and have been something of a temporary cripple since.  While it’s healing, it isn’t healing fast enough.  I’m not fit to go. 

I am a bit sad about this — I booked at Christmas time and I’ve wanted to go for years.  But it just isn’t sensible to put that much strain on things.  In fact trying to get fit against the clock is a mug’s game anyway.

The tour I booked was Restoration Story with Voyages Jules Verne:

Viewing Palmyra, Crac des Chevaliers, Baalbeck and Byblos, staying in 5-star hotels.

(I’m nothing for staying in a toilet when I’m on holiday, so that tour looked pretty good).

In order to ease the process of claiming, I bought the over-priced insurance from them.  I’ve never had to claim on holiday insurance before; so I was a bit bemused when I rang them this evening to find that they said “YOU have to call the insurance company and sort things out.”  The “insurance company”, of course, turns out to be someone else.   I’d bought from them because I thought it would make claiming easier.  Evidently not! 

Off to the doctor tomorrow to get my claim form stamped.  Joy!


Projects progressing, projects new

My project to publish an edition and translation of the remains of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Gospel problems and solutions continues to progress.  I still intend to make the translation freely available online, but first I need to sell some paper copies to recover the money spent.  The total of the money is now assuming quite impressive dimensions – about the size of a small car!

Today an updated version of the translation of the Coptic fragments arrived.  The translator has difficulties with technology — I have asked her to print whatever she needs to and just send it to me!  I’ve also suggested she get a training course in this stuff, because it’s really not optional any more.

Also the chap proof-reading the Greek has nearly finished the fragments of the Ad Marinum bit; I’ve sent him the fragments of the Ad Stephanum portion as well.  If he wants it, I may send him a large chunk of the epitome as well.  This is going really well.

Also someone has written and volunteered to translate some of the untranslated Chrysostom that I discussed here, on a commission basis.  I’ve sent him Migne’s text of the sermon ad Kalendas — on the New Year’s festival — and we’ll see what sort of job he makes of the first column of that.

In addition the chap I sent the Severian of Gaballa, De sigillis librorum, has volunteered to have a go at a translation for free.  That is very kind of him, and it will be interesting to see what emerges.  I’ve also had an interesting email from the chap who put me onto Severian in the first place, with some manuscripts detail (which I must actually read!).

A busy day.  But I shall start winding down things on this blog; I now need to prepare seriously for Syria.


Preparations for Syria and Lebanon

Today I started to get ready for my trip to Syria and Lebanon, upcoming this week. 

There’s no way I want to be out of contact.  Getting my mobile phone to work is more of a challenge than it should be, because of the greed of the mobile operators.  Being told it will cost $1.50 a minute to receive calls is absurd.  I toyed with the idea of buying a local SIM card, but on a package tour you’re not as free to wander as you might be.  Instead I bought a “global SIM card” from GeoSIM.  This should reach me early next week, in time for me to go.  It allows me to receive calls for free in Syria (although not in Lebanon, annoyingly — I only just found that out), and reduces the extraordinary charges of my normal provider to $1 a minute to call home.

I’ve only bought a small amount of credit, until I know whether the thing will actually work as claimed.  There’s a scam about holiday SIM’s which I got caught by when I last went to Libya.  You go into some shop and purchase a SIM at home specially for use abroad.  Your own provider has no coverage, so you buy theirs.  You load it up with credit, and then find it won’t work where you wanted it to.  When you return and complain and ask for your money back, they smilingly deny saying that it would work, and tell you to use the credit instead at home — far more expensively than your normal deal.  I got swindled like that by T-Mobile when I went to Libya, and I have always regretted not hitting them with a court summons.

My hip is getting better every day, but I’ll take a retractable aluminium walking stick in hold luggage, just in case.  Likewise a hot water bottle; every hotel will have a kettle in the room, and it’s a simple way to apply heat to the hip if need be.

I went into town and bought some guidebooks today.  Also some new shirts; they’re very cheap and flat-packed is the easiest way to transport them!  Also some sun-block, and various pills and potions including anti-diarrhoea tablets and rehydration salts.  I always get hit by a change of water, so best to be prepared.  I’ve also ordered a few books to read while I am out there from Amazon.   Finally I’ve bought several packets of unsalted mixed nuts and raisins.  You can stick some of them in a plastic bag with a tie  and have them in your pocket.  When your energy flags, miles from anywhere, they can be a blessing!

All this can go in the hold luggage, and be there and available in the evenings when I get there.  When I stay away from home here, I tend to carry a car-full of stuff with me.  Pity I can’t do the same overseas!


Eutychius on the events in Egypt in 820-30 AD

I’ve translated from the German the last portion of the Annals of Eutychius, who was Melkite Patriarch of Alexandria, and whose autograph manuscript has been edited in the CSCO.


[286]. When morning came, the Patriarch Thomas and his companions were brought.  The Muslims came and testified that the dome had enlarged (=been made larger).  Patriarch Thomas disproved this through the (above-mentioned) argument 1

 [287] Abdallah ibn Daher said to them: he is right.  Explain to me:  How big was the dome, before it was removed, and how big is it now?  They said:  We will think about this.  They went out and the meeting came to an end.  Abdallah ibn Daher then went to Damascus.  Thomas and his companions went merrily to the holy city. 

[288]  Thomas paid the Sheikh in question 1000 (dirhams).  To him and his children after him as well as his  children’s children the compensation was paid continuously, so long as (someone) from his descendants lived, until there was only one daughter (young woman).  Elias ibn Mansur, Patriarch of the holy city, presented her with the compensation. Patriarch Thomas died, and his pupil named Basila (= Basilios) became  Patriarch of the holy city.  It was in the 7th year of the Caliphate of al-Ma`mun.  Basila remained in the see 25 years and died.  Abdallah ibn Daher returned to al-Ma`mun and reported about Egypt and on what he had undertaken (there).  Then the (supporters of the) Emma (Yma) revolted.  Al-‘Emma is a coptic word and means “forty” 2. This is why: when the Romans left Egypt, in the time when the  Muslims arrived, forty men stayed.  In the lower part of the country (=Lower Egypt) they testified, multiplied and continued to do so and were called ‘Y MA, i.e.  the descendants of the forty (men).  They revolted and paid neither excise nor poll tax.  This event was announced to Mamun and he sent his brother  al-Mu`tasim, who was a Amir, to Egypt.  The Emma fought against him . . . 3

1 The previous sentence in Ch. 51, 56,20-22 reads:  A Muslim sheikh had secretly instructed him (to say):  May the Emir ask them,”How big was the small dome, which I took down as you requested, and how big now is the dome, which I have rebuilt  and enlarged?” 

2 If the rebels had been descendants of those Romans left, then they would have used a Greek name, not a Coptic one.  The letters given however do not permit the Coptic reading of HMA (for forty).  Later historians have confounded this revolt with that of the Copts in Basmur, which took place allegedly under Abdel Malek around 750-51.  Scholars are therefore divided on the exact date of the last Coptic revolt, therefore.  See Sylvestre Chauleur, Histoire des Coptes d’Egyple, Paris 1960, 107 (dating the revolt to 216 AH. = 831 AD); item: C. Detlef, G. Müller. Grundzüge des christlich-islamischen Ägypten, Darmstadt 1969, 146 (both giving around 828-30). 

3 The continuation of the sentence in Ch. (51, 57.17-18)  reads:  “and he fought them and killed very many of them.  He struck them down and drove out their wives and children and brought them with him to Baghdad.”