Oxford Patristics Conference – Friday (Contd.2)

I spent the evening trying to get the Kindle application to install on my mobile phone, and enduring various obstacles and difficulties.  At 8:30pm there was a session at the university church of St. Mary the Virgin, and I was eventually obliged to leave my phone downloading that application, pop it in my pocket, and head off to the church.

St Mary the Virgin Church at the Patristics Conference

A great number of the conference participants attended.  The speaker was Averil Cameron, who was described in the introduction as one of the “great and the good”, which she is, and the subject was “Can Christians do dialogue?” 

I admit that I was not terribly enthusiastic about this, but in fact the subject was really “Did the Fathers use the Socratic dialogue, and if not, how dialogue-like were their disputations”.  This was much more interesting, and I listened with increasing interest as she went on.  It contained quite a number of references to interesting-sounding texts. 

I chuckled when I heard a reference to the Dialogue with a Persian of the emperor Manuel II Comnenus, right at the end of the Byzantine period, when Manuel was obliged to winter at Ankara as a vassal of the Ottoman sultan.  This was the text that Pope Benedict quoted to show that Moslems were violent, and which was refuted by riots across the Moslem world.  I think I translated some of this and put it online; but a proper English translation of the work has never appeared.

Another reference was to a dialogue at the court of Justinian between Paul the Persian and a Manichaean.(1)  I have always been interested in Paul, as a truly obscure figure, ever since I came across his name while looking at Severus Sebokht.  I need to find out more about this.

There were also references to disputations in the Sassanid empire with Zoroastrians.  One of these was apparently translated by someone called Walker and was entitled the History of some-odd-sounding-name.  I tried to use my mobile to access Google and look this up, but in vain. 

A third reference was to a 6th century dialogue with an iatrosophist — i.e. a medical philosopher — in Alexandria.  Again I need to do that Google search.

The session ended with a presentation of something to the speaker, and of flowers to Gillian Clark who organised the whole conference and indeed had produced what to my eyes was the best conference yet.

Afterwards people started talking, and indeed as I tried to leave the church, I was surrounded by scenes of frantic networking, and quite right too.  Immediately in front of me was a chap whose name-badge read “Aaron Johnson”, and I heard the word “Porphyry” uttered.  Aaron does work on Eusebius, but is an offline person (and probably gets more scholarly work done accordingly).  There was something of a queue to talk to him, and in the street outside knots of people formed.  I did get to speak to him, and we talked about his translation of Eusebius Eclogae Propheticae, which is not published but he hopes to use with students in the next year; likewise the Commentary on Luke by Eusebius. 

We also discussed the Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms, on which he has written a couple of articles that are probably in JSTOR and which I need to read.  I accidentally commissioned a translation of the portion on Ps. 51 and found it very boring, but he told me that there was valuable material in there on issues like attitudes to race in late antiquity.  I must look at the work again, and form an idea of what there is in it sometime.

I then got a chance to talk to Gillian Clark, who really made my Eusebius book possible, and got a copy of it, not from me, but from David Miller, the main translator.  I grovelled suitably that I had not sent her one of the first complimentary copies.  In truth I have still not sent out all the copies that honour demands, such has been the pressure, but that was a very bad slip on my part, due entirely to accident.  But she was very good about it, as she always is.  Quite how she manages to find the time to edit texts in the TTH series, run conferences, and do academic work, while encouraging everyone she interacts with I do not know!

I then found myself stood next to a very nice American girl, a scholar of art, who turned out to be associated with Brigham Young University in Utah.  That institution brought to mind the name of Kristian Heal, who is doing such good work in copying Arabic manuscripts and making Syriac texts available.  I learned that he has now established copies of his microfilm collection of Arabic mss. in various European locations.  The set in England is in Oxford, at the Oriental Institute, or, more accurately, in a box under David G. Taylor’s desk there!  There is a set at the Institut de recherches et histoire de textes in Paris, and another at the Pontifical University in Rome, and a couple of other places which I do not recall.  Apparently the grant money received for getting these had conditions that mean it is all open source!

After that, back here, and to compose emails!  And now, since it is 00:43, I’m going to bed!

UPDATE: Some footnotes.

1. This is the Debate of Photinus the Manichaean and Paul the Persian, (PG 88, 529-552).  See Byard Bennett’s article here for more details of the manuscript tradition and publication by Angelo Mai.  Two English translations are in preparation.


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