More on Methodius

My posts on the works of Methodius in Old Slavonic here and here have attracted a wealth of learned comment, for which many thanks.

Mikhail Vedeshkin kindly left links to online Russian resources about Methodius.

Here you can find a few works of Methodius translated into modern Russian.

“The feast of 10 virgins or about virginity”

“About the freedom of will or against the Valentinians”

“About Resurrection or against Origen”

“About creation or against Origen”

Thanks to Google translate, I learn a little more from the first link.    It lists works of Methodius in Greek and Slavonic.  Then it continues:

Translations into Russian from these languages.

Methodius, bishop of Patara. His collected works // Trans. ed. Е. Lovyagin. – St. Petersburg, 1877.  The same: 2d ed. – St. Petersburg, 1905.

Some published Arch. Michael (Chub) in the collection “Theological Works» (№ №. 2, 3, 10, 11)

The existence of the Lovyagin book (in two editions) is new and useful.  I’m not quite sure whether the Old Slavonic text is printed, or just a Russian translation.  Nor am I sure where a copy of these volumes might be found.  I have a feeling from Google that “E. Lovyagin” might be “Evgraf Lovyagin”, of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy.  This rather dodgy-looking site tells me:

1822 – 1909), Professor of St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Major works: “On the merits of St. Athanasius to the church in the fight against Arians” (St. Petersburg, 1850) and “On the relation of the classical writers of the Bible on the outlook of Christian apologists (St. Petersburg, 1872, dissertation). His articles theological, , . prepared editions of the monuments of Christian literature, . part in the original text, . with Russian introductions and explanations, . part in the translation from the original text, . as well as the execution of transfers are listed by Professor AI,. Garden in the article: “Professor E.I. Lovyagin “(” Christian Herald “in 1909,” 15, (obituary Lovyagin).

I find, indeed, that a search for “Lovyagin” in COPAC produces results, and Evgraf Ivanovitch (Евграфа Ловягина) does indeed seem to be our man.  Sadly none of the results are the Methodius volume.  A search in the LOC catalogue for “Lovyagin” produced no results at all!  Nor did a search at the BNF.  I wonder, perhaps, whether there is some other way of anglicising his name?

The page continues with a useful overview of all the works, and with some references.

Writings that have come down to us only in short fragments.

Lovyagin, 1877, p.252-259.  Against Porphyry, and On the martyrs.

There are then two more works, which the page labels as probably apocryphal, on Palm Sunday and on the Presentation of the Lord.  These are given from the 1905 edition of Lovyagin (p.161-170) and the 1996 “Library of the Fathers and doctors of the Church. Creation St. Gregory the Miracle Worker and St. Methodius bishop and martyr. – M. Palmer, 1996” (Библиотека отцов и учителей Церкви. Творения св. Григория Чудотворца и св. Мефодия епископа и мученика. – М.: Паломник, 1996.) which must be a reprint as regards Methodius.

This is a rather splendid site, and with a great number of texts in Russian, including Euthymius Zigabenus, Epiphanius’ Panarion — neither of which we have in English. 

I would draw attention to this page, or rather the Google translate version here, where the site author, the excellent Sergei Pavlov, asks for help in locating copies of various patristic texts in Russian.  (There is an email address there too, in bitmap form of course).  It doesn’t seem as if he has a copy of the Lovyagin book(s). 

I realise that I don’t know of a reliable source for Russian books in PDF form (or, indeed, any other).

In other news I have had an email back from one of my enquiries, telling me of a British professor of Slavicist studies, who might be able to help with a translation or know someone who can.  I will wait until I have the text in my hands before contacting him.


Hunting for publications of Methodius in Old Slavonic and Russian

The comments to my article yesterday on the Works of Methodius are very useful.  Commenter “Maureen” has tracked down what look very like publications in Russian of some of the smaller works — precisely the ones that I want to get hold of.

I’ve never tried to get hold of material in Russian, and of course I don’t speak it.  I wonder how best to do so.   A few PDF’s seem definitely called for!

Today I have to go on a journey, so I can’t do more right now, but I shall think about this.

UPDATE: I have now identified an anglicised name for the journal in which the text appears, and a location where I can get copies.  See the comments to the Works of Methodius post for details.

I realise that all this may seem a little dry.  But the details of how I worked out, from a string of Cyrillic characters, where to find a journal in a language I don’t read, might be of general utility.  And having the details online may save me some trouble when I get confused looking for it in the stacks in a week or two!


More Greek manuscripts online at the British Library

From the BL manuscripts blog I learn that a further 74 Greek manuscripts have been added to their online site.  The site uses proprietary technology to ensure that users can’t download images — perish the thought! — but is still better than nothing.

The blog post gives a list of manuscripts.  Previous lists just gave the shelfmark, but this time, thankfully, they have indicated the contents.

There’s quite a chunk of useful material here.  A few highlights:

  • Harley 5564 – Epiphanius of Salamis, De duodecim gemmis, 16th century.
  • Harley 5590 – Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on the Psalms, 16th century
  • Harley 5592 – Photius, Bibliotheca, 16th century
  • Harley 5593 – Works of Photius, Aristides, Philip of Side etc., 1555
  • Harley 5596 – Divinations, magic, etc., 15th century

I admit to rubbing my eyes a bit when it came to Harley 5593 — Philip of Side?  Investigation gives a bit more:

Harley MS 5593, ff 207-207v  — (3). Extracts from Philip of Side inc. (a) ἀλλ’ὁ θεὸς ἀνελθόντι τῷ βασιλεῖ εἰς τὸν ναὸν; (b) ὁ τοίνυν Βαλτάσαρ τὶ συμβησόμενα αὐτῷ δεινὰ μεμαθηκὼς.

Regular readers will remember that I commissioned a translation of all the fragments of Philip of Side, which is here. I wonder, therefore, what this is?  I’ve asked Andrew Eastbourne to take a look, and we’ll see.

In other news, I have emailed a Dutch academic to ask about people who might be willing to translate some Old Slavonic for us all.  I am, of course, thinking about the works of Methodius!


The works of Methodius

Methodius of Olympus is one of those patristic authors who tends to be rather forgotten.  He died in 313 as a martyr, and wrote a reply to Porphyry’s Against the Christians.  There is one recent English study of his works,[1] but even the bibliography in this shows that Methodius has been neglected.

One reason for this is that only one of his works survives complete in Greek, his Symposium.  A substantial proportion of a second, On Free Will, also exists; and fragments of the other works.  However On Free Will exists complete in Old Slavonic, as do four more short works.

I think it would be best to start with a bibliography of editions and translations.

  • J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca 18.  This reprints a pre-critical edition with an incomplete collection of the Greek fragments, and a Latin translation.
  • A. Jahn, S. Methodii Opera et Methodius Platonizans, 1865.  Online here.  This is a more complete collection of the Greek, and was used as the basis for the 1905 Lovyagin translation into Russian.
  • E. Lovyagin, 2nd Edition (1905).  Online here.  Russian translation of Greek material in Jahn edition.  Discussion of contents here and here (with modernised OCR of preface).
  • G. Bonwetsch, “Methodius”, in: Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller 27 (1917).  Online here.  This gives the Slavonic material in German translation (only) interspersed with the Greek fragments.
  • J. Farges, Méthode d’Olympe. Du libre arbitre. Traduction précédée d’une Introduction sur les questions de l’origine du monde, du libre arbitre et du problème du mal dans la pensée grecque, judaïque et chrétienne avant Méthode.  Paris: Beauchesne (1929).  French translation of On Free Will.
  • A. Vaillant, “Le ‘De autexusio’ de Méthode d’Olympe, version slave et texte grec édités et traduits en français, 246 p.”, in: Patrologia Orientalis 22, 5 (1930), p.631-877.  This contains On Free Will, edited from both Slavonic and Greek.  Online here.
  • M. Chub, in: Богословский труды (=Bogoslovski Trudy) 2 (1961) and 3 (1964).  Online here.  #2 contains Russian translations from Slavonic of 4 works; #3 contains the passages of On Free Will which only exist in Slavonic translated into Russian, with notes as to how they fit into the Loyagin text. English translation of his useful preface here, with links to two online manuscripts.
  • M. Richard, Opera minora 1 (1976). A reprint of M. Richard, “Quelques nouveaux fragments des Pères anténicéens et nicéens”, in: Symbolae Osloenses 38 (1963), 81.  This gives a new fragment of De resurrectione.
  • B. Zorzi & M. Mejzner, Metodio di Olimpo: La risurrezione, Roma: Città nuova editrice, 2010. Series: Collana di testi patristici 216.  Complete Italian translation by Mirosław Mejzner (Old Slavonic part) and M. Benedetta Zorzi (Greek part).
  •  R. Franchi, Metodio di Olimpo: Il libero arbitrio, Paoline Editoriale Libri, 2015.  448p. Series: Letture cristiane del primo millennio.  ISBN 9788831546690.
  •  N. Antoniono, Metodio di Olimpo: La verginità, Città Nuova, 2000.  200p.  Series:  Testi patristici.  ISBN 9788831131520. €20.  (Google Books preview here).

The works that have reached us are as follows.

1. The Banquet or Symposium (Συμπόσιον ἢ περὶ ἁγνείας), Convivium decem virginum, in praise of virginity. (CPG 1810)   Edited by Bonwetsch, p.1-141, and translated into English as part of the Ante-Nicene Fathers here.  This is the only work for which we possess the complete Greek text.  A modern edition with French translation exists in Sources Chretiennes 95 (1963), ed. H. Musurillo; and an Italian translation by N. Antoniono.

The remaining works are extant in an Old Slavonic translation, with sometimes substantial fragments of the Greek.

2. On free-will (Περὶ τοῦ αὐτεξουσίου), De libero arbitrio. (CPG 1811) The work seems to be directed against the Valentinians and other gnostics.  Edited Bonwetsch, p.146-206, and by Vaillant, Le ‘De autextusio’ de Methode d’Olympe, version slave et texte grec ed. et trad. en franc. p.631-889.  A short chunk — probably from Greek — is translated into English in the ANF here, and there are two French translations, one by l’Abbe Farges, the other by Vaillant.  There is also an Italian translation by Franchi.  The work is extensively quoted by Eznik of Kolb in his 5th century Armenian work On God.

3.  Aglaophon or On the resurrection (Ἀγλαοφῶν ἢ περὶ ἀναστάσεως), De resurrectione, in three books.  (CPG 1812) It refutes the idea of a purely spiritual resurrection.  The Greek is extant in fragments, including a long quotation from book 1 by Epiphanius in the Panarion.  The Old Slavonic version includes all three books, but abbreviates book 3.  Ed. Bonwetsch, 217-424, giving a German translation of the Old Slavonic.  A small piece is translated in the ANF here.  The Greek can be found in PG18, 265-329, and Richard’s Opera Minora.  UPDATE: There is now a complete Italian translation by Zorza and Mejzner.

4.  On life and reasonable actions, De vita et actibus rationi consentaneis.  (CPG 1813) This encourages us to be satisfied with what God has given us in this life and to place our hope on the world to come.  Quasten says that this appears in the Old Slavonic version between On free will and On the resurrection, but none of the Greek survives. Bonwetsch gives a German translation of the Old Slavonic on p.207-216; the text does not seem to have been edited, nor translated into English.  Mikhail Chub gave a Russian translation from manuscript in Bogoslovskie Trudy 2 (1961).  Update: English translation here.

5.  De cibis (CPG 1814) or On the distinction  between foods and the young cow mentioned in Leviticus. (actually Numbers 19).  This follows On the resurrection in the Old Slavonic and is exegetical in nature.  It is addressed to two women, Frenope and Kilonia, and gives an allegorical interpretation of the food laws.  Bonwetsch gives a German translation of the Old Slavonic on p.425-447.  Again this was translated by Mikhail Chub into modern Russian. Update: English translation here.

6. De lepra or To Sistelius on leprosy. (CPG 1815)  On the allegorical sense of Lev. 13.  Bonwetsch, German translation on p.449-474.  But there are some Greek fragments of this work, in addition to the Old Slavonic.  Chub translated it into Russian.  Update: English translation here.

7. A third treatise, De sanguisuga, (CPG 1816) allegorises the leech, described in Proverbs 30, 15f. (De sanguisuga: p.475-489) and Ps. 18:2 ‘The heavens show forth the glory of God’ (De creatis: p.491-500).  Bonwetsch gives a German version of the Old Slavonic.  Chub gives a Russian translation. Update: English translation here.

8.  On the creatures, or De creatis (CPG 1817). PG 18, 332-344.  Bonwetsch p.493-500.  There are also fragments in Photius, codex 235.

9.  Against Porphyry, or Adversus Prophyrium (CPG 1818).  Jerome tells is that Methodius wrote a well-received refutation of Porphyry (De vir. ill. 83; Epist. 48:13; Epist. 70:3), but it is entirely lost.  Bonwetsch edits some Greek fragments on p.501-507.

10.  On Job, or Fragmenta in Iob.  Bonwetsch edits some fragments on this subject from catenas, on p.519.

10. On the martyrs, or De martyribus (CPG 1820).  Bonwetsch edits a fragment under this title (otherwise unknown) on p.520.

11.  On Genesis, or In Genesim (CPG 1821).  See Studi e Testi 201, p. 54, “Les anciens commentateurs grecs de l’Octateuque et des Rois”, 1959.

There are also a number of spuria, with which we are not concerned here.  The most important of these is an Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius (CPG 1830), from the 7th century.  A Sermo de Simeone et Anna (CPG 1827; BHG 1961) is probably 5-6th century.  A couple more sermons and fragments are listed in the CPG, none genuine.

Bonwetsch’s study on the theology of Methodius is online here.  In 1891 Bonwetsch did a Methodius von Olympus. 1. Schriften volume, which contains much the same material as the GCS edition.  This may be found here or here.  The latter copy is better quality, I think.

I can find no trace that the Old Slavonic text has been published at all, which seems remarkable to me, as this alone preserves much of his work.  This consists of a Corpus Methodianum of the 11th century, evidently translated from Greek but no longer extant in that language.  The existence of the Old Slavonic first became known via Cardinal Pitra in 1883.[2]  However two manuscripts are online now, and Mikhail Chub published translations of a few.  The preface to his translation I have made into English here, and it includes links to the manuscripts.

UPDATED June 2015 with Slavonic material info.  July 2015 with material from the SC site.  June 2017 with the Italian translation of De resurrectione.  July 2023 with Latin titles for those works without, and a note on the spuria.

  1. [1]Patterson, L. G., Methodius of Olympus : Divine Sovereignty, Human Freedom, and Life in Christ, CUA 1997
  2. [2]Analecta sacra spicilegio Solesmensi parata.  t. III.  Patres antenicaeni.  Venice, 1883, p.612 ff. (Bonwetsch Schriften p.vii and n.5.)

Isis and Valerius Maximus

I’ve started to think about sources for Isis.  In particular I was wondering when the cult came to Rome.  I stumbled across a statement[1] that Tiberius repressed the cult, while Caligula built a temple on the Campus Martius.  This led me to this link, by a certain Stephanie Dray, apparently an author of historical fiction (although one unknown to me), which at last offered some sources! —

… we learn from TertullianCassius Dio, Valerius Maximus, Josephus and others, they cracked down on Isis worship too.

The female-centric Alexandrine cult promoted unorthodox ideas about gender roles, war and slavery; it was thought to be a threat to the moral fiber of Rome. Writers like Juvenal and Cattullus propagated the idea that the religion was obscene and orgiastic. Certainly, Isis was a favorite amongst prostitutes, which couldn’t have earned her any points with the musty old conscript fathers in Rome.

Valerius Maximus tells us that the authorities attempted to purge the cult from Rome, going so far as to destroy her temples–though none of the workmen would take up an axe so the politician in charge had to remove his toga and start trashing the temple himself. Isis enjoyed a brief reprieve under Julius Caesar and Mark Antony–which may have had something to do with the fact that both men were sleeping with Cleopatra VII of Egypt, the New Isis.

The article continues. But what makes it praiseworthy — at least compared to the majority of stuff I have seen online — is that at least it links to some sources. 

The Cassius Dio link is to Bill Thayer’s Lacus Curtius site.  The reference is in Cassius Dio, book 40, ch.27, discussing events during the triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus.

But it seems to me that that decree passed the previous year, near its close, with regard to Serapis and Isis, was a portent equal to any; for the senate had decided to tear down their temples, which some individuals had built on their own account. Indeed, for a long time they did not believe in these gods, and even when the rendering of public worship to them gained the day, they settled them outside the pomerium.

I’m not sure what the year is, but the account is followed by mention of the murder of Clodius.

The Tertullian reference is to the Apologeticum, chapter 6.  The following is the ANF translation:

The consuls Piso and Gabinius, no Christians surely, forbade Serapis, and Isis, and Arpocrates, with their dogheaded friend, admission into the Capitol— in the act casting them out from the assembly of the gods— overthrow their altars, and expelled them from the country, being anxious to prevent the vices of their base and lascivious religion from spreading.

The Josephus reference I remember, for it is in Antiquities book 18, chapter 3, immediately following the Testimonium Flavianum.  The reference is too long to quote here — it’s online here — but basically concerns a scandal where the priests were bribed to allow a man to seduce a respectable married woman in the temple by pretending to be Anubis.  The following is from the end of the Whiston translation (and why is this the only translation online?).

So he [the husband] revealed the fact to the emperor.  Whereupon Tiberius inquired into the matter thoroughly by examining the priests about it, and ordered them to be crucified, as well as Ide [the female pander], who was the occasion of their perdition, and who had contrived the whole matter, which was so injurious to the woman.

He also demolished the temple of Isis, and gave order that her statue should be thrown into the river Tiber; while he only banished Mundus [the seducer], but did no more to him, because he supposed that what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love.

And these were the circumstances which concerned the temple of Isis, and the injuries occasioned by her priests.

From this we learn that none of the priests were Roman citizens; and also that Anubis featured in the temple in Rome.

But what about Valerius Maximus?  For those who do not remember who he was, he wrote 9 books of anecdotes, and evidently one of them concerns Isis.  I couldn’t find an English translation online, but, thanks to Andrew Smith of, I found a French translation at here.  In book 1, chapter 3, verse 4:

4.  The senate decreed the demolition of the temples of Isis and of Serapis, but none of the workers would stretch out their hands to do so.  The consul P. Aemilius Paulus, taking off his toga praetextus, took a hachet and struck the doors of the temple with it. 

A real English translation does exist.  A new Loeb edition by D. R. S. Shackelton-Bailey — who did so much for Cicero translations — appeared in 2001. Sadly I can’t find a PDF of it.  But, since it’s the kind of gossippy book that I like to dip into, I have just ordered the first volume (and 50% more expensive than I expected it was too, thanks to all the “quantitative easing” going on).  This should arrive this weekend, thanks to the wonder of Amazon.  We shall see what he has to say!

  1. [1]L.H. Petersen, The Freedman in Roman art and art history, p.245, n.67.

The difficulty of orientation: trying to learn about Isis

I’ve been thinking about Mithras and Mithra, Roman and Persian.  Some of the comments on my recent post, Why Cumontian Mithras studies are dead, suggested that Roman syncretism could not be left out of account, and that any eastern cult that entered the Roman world was likely to undergo modification. 

There is much truth in this.  We all remember the Indian gurus who competed for custom among the hippies with westernised versions of their teachings.  The Hare Krishnas come rather readily to mind.  A couple of generations earlier, we find eastern Fakirs in Edwardian drawing rooms.  But then again, all this is rather vague.  How do we know what happened?

I started thinking about an obvious contender for this syncretism and assimilation: the Egyptian cult of Isis.  Isis is an ancient Egyptian goddess, part of the pantheon together with Ra and Osiris and Horus and the rest.  Yet there were temples of Isis in Rome itself, and elsewhere in the empire.  Surely this would be an excellent candidate cult for examination?  After all, we can learn a lot about the pre-Graeco-Roman cult from Ancient Egyptian texts and inscriptions; and then we have a goodish amount of material from the Roman period.

So thinking, I naturally wanted to know just what the data base for the cult of Isis in the Roman world was.  And … there I started to get stuck.

I wanted to know who the scholars are that one should read.  There is, no doubt, much dross and hearsay out there.  Indeed it took only one click on a Google search to find a book about “Isis and Early Christianity” or some such … how drearily predictable.   A bibliography would be a wonderful thing.

For I am entirely a layman on Isis.  I know nothing about it.  In this respect I am just like most people.  Where does one get a reading list of sound sources?  Just who are the good scholars?

One wouldn’t look to Wikipedia for this; indeed if it acquired such a bibliography, some troll would delete it.  And indeed the Wikipedia Isis article displays the usual mixture of hearsay and low-grade sources.

My own approach would be to read whatever I can find, and tabulate the ancient Graeco-Roman literary sources.  It may not be the best way; but it is impossible to avoid learning a great deal in the process.


A forgotten Coptologist, Arthur des Rivières

Arthur des Rivières (d. Cairo 1849 [1]) was an early French Coptologist who copied by hand a number of Coptic texts.  Little seems to be known about him.  His handwritten copies are sometimes all that remains of early papyrus discoveries, where the originals are now lost.[2]

He saw the Coptic fragments in the Harris collection in 1845, which he describes in a letter dated 29 February 1848.[3] The letter has been printed.[4]  The editor indicates that Des Rivieres was publishing in the Spettatore egiziano, 29 Feb, 1848, and that the library of the Egyptian museum in Cairo possessed a handwritten translation by him of the Coptic grammar of Peyron. 

He is mentioned in the introduction to the Coptic gospel catena published by De Lagarde.[5]

In 1845 he was transcribing Coptic texts and at least some of his transcriptions as held as “ms. copt.” in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.[6]  British Library Or. 7561 includes Coptic fragments plus two volumes of copies with Latin and French translations and notes made by him.[7]

He also worked on the collection of Coptic papyri brought to Turin in 1820 by Luigi Drovetti. [8]
  1. [1]Mémoires de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Volumes 21-22, p.384
  2. [2]W. E. Crum, Coptic texts relating to Dioscorus of Alexandria, Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 25, p.267 f.: “What is printed here is however but the copy of a copy. The originals, no longer, I fear, traceable, were seen and transcribed, somewhere about 1845, by Arthur Des Rivieres; they were papyrus leaves, once in the celebrated Harris collection. These transcripts were subsequently acquired by the Royal Library at Munich, where they are numbered “MS. Copt. No. 3.” Des Rivieres gives no description of the leaves copied; and their relations one to another are indicated but vaguely when at all. A connection among the originals of those copies here in question may perhaps be inferred from the fact that their copyist has given them consecutive numbers in his portfolio.”
  3. [3]Frederick W. Weidmann, Polycarp and John: The Harris fragments and their challenge to the literary traditions, 1999, which provides a translation of a little known Coptic text about Polycarp.  On p.9: “So far as I can determine based on the written record, the literary fragments of the Harris collection were first described by Arthur Des Rivieres in a letter to Mr. Harris dated 29 February 1848.44 Though little is known about Mr. Des …
  4. [4]Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale, Volumes 5-6, 1903, p.88. This, it seems, is the letter to A. C. Harris, discussing the 156 fragments.  Five of these relate to the martyrdom of Polycarp.
  5. [5]De Lagarde, Catenae in evangelia aegyptiacae quae supersunt, Gottingae, 1886, p.iv: “After the last page of Matthew, the bookbinder inserted a sheet of European paper, on which is read the subscription, reproduced by a hand experienced in inscribing Egyptian [characters] —and its final letters … are given in full, with the addition of this translation… Whether I am right to believe that this was written by Arthur des Rivières, let those who can compare in person the Munich mss. written by Arthur des Rivières (1 4, 100 101 of the catalogue) with this Parhamian page decide.” The reference is to Catalogus Codicum Manu Scriptorum Bibliothecae Regiae Monacensis, Tomi Primi Pars Quarta, Codices orientales, 1875, p.100.
  6. [6]Journal Asiatique, series 10, tome 11 (1903), p.181.
  7. [7]Orientalia 48, p.149.
  8. [8]Jean Claude Fredouille, R.-Michel Roberge, La documentation patristique: bilan et prospective,.  Tito Orlandi, La documentation patristique copte, 127-148. On p.135, after discussing the work of Paul de Lagarde and Eugene Revillout, who were working and publishing literary texts from the collection of papyri in Turin brought there in 1820 by Luigi Drovetti: “Among these above all deserving of mention are the fragments of 22 papyrus codices, in Sahidic, bought in 1846 at Thebes by the English collector Anthony Charles Harris, and transcribed by Arthur des Rivieres.  They contain biblical, liturgical, homiletic and hagiographical texts, which for the most part still await a critical edition.”

Why Cumontian Mithras studies are dead

Like most people online, I first encountered references to Mithras in the kind of rather crude atheist polemic that goes, “Jesus is really Mithras! Har har!”.  A correspondent has written to me about this, and it turns out that he has been reading into the scholarly literature as I have.  An interesting paper by a late Cumontian, Geo Widengren, Reflections on the origin of the Mithraic mysteries, has come my way, and I spent some time yesterday reading this.

It’s becoming clear to me why the old Cumontian view has dropped out of favour.  It is, simply, insufficiently rigorous in its analysis and classification of sources.  Widengren mixes together a stew of references and sources, consisting of snippets of ancient texts, bits of Iranian literature, and even interviews with Caucasian peasants in the present day, in order to tell a narrative story.  But the weakness of this approach is evident — the story does not arise from a careful analysis of the data, but instead the data is stuck onto the story.

Widengren’s paper is quite interesting, but he is handicapped by this eclectic approach that all the Cumontians take.  It is, simply, confused and confusing, and dreadfully unsystematic.  I learn from it that the first query about the Cumontian approach, and the proposal for separation, came from a volume by S. Wikander, Etudes sur les mysteres de Mithras, I, Lund, 1951.  His theory involved a proposal that Mithres and Mithras were distinct deities, labelled as such in the sources, one Roman and one Iranian.  Widengren correctly indicates that the manuscripts do not support this, and indeed we would not expect it.  But it provoked thought, it seems.  It is, after all, much easier to analyse the material once you split it down into distinct areas, Iranian Mithra and Roman Mithras, and treat them as distinct but possibly related.  Then you can discuss with some precision all the material and the links.   This is not possible under the Cumontian approach.

It is still possible that Roman Mithras was derived somehow from Persian Mitra.  But I can see that there will be no going back to the rambling style of Cumont.  The way forward must be with fewer generalisations, and much more care and precision.


Eusebius update

Now that the Eusebius book is ‘live’, and selling reasonably well, the question of errata arises.  That’s right — errors that we didn’t spot during development.

There are also things that we should have done and did not.  We could have done with more cross-referencing between the Coptic materials and the rest, for instance.

In addition there is a modest amount of material which was created during the project, but which did not make the final cut. 

I’m thinking here particularly of a couple of items associated with the Coptic fragments.  These fragments, published for the first time, came from the Coptic gospel catena published (without translation) by Paul de Lagarde.  The introduction to De Lagarde’s edition was about three pages, all in Latin.  I was under the impression that Latin might be a problem for the Coptic translators, so I had this translated into English and sent over.  It didn’t seem that appropriate to include in the book; but it might be useful generally.

Likewise the Coptic team translated a catena fragment by Chrysostom, which they felt was important to have in order to understand the sense.  I, in an unfamiliar role as ruthless editor, cut it out.  But it exists.

There won’t be a second edition of the book: sales don’t justify it.  But there is a place for a collection of errata and supplementa, I think.

So I’ve started a page on this blog to contain this sort of material, and I shall add stuff to it as and when it comes in.  The page is here, and, if you spot errors in the book, please feel free to add a comment to this effect at the bottom of the page.

There’s not really any supplementa there yet.  I shall have to dig it out, and polish it up!  This will probably be during November when I hope to get a bit of free time.


Easily the most inaccurate statement about Mithras I have ever seen

Mithras, the subterranean sun, must be the most unfortunate of ancient deities.  There is so much twaddle talked online.  A correspondent today drew my attention to what must easily be the most ignorant statement about him that I have ever seen.  And there is considerable competition for that title, you know!  As usual, it is delivered with an utter certainty that Torquemada himself might have considered just a bit too fanatical.

The commenter here gives us the usual spiel about how he/she was brought up to be a Christian, and “studied” other religions.

In coming across zoroastrianism I was therefore stunned. Mithra, the son of the god Zoroastra, was born of a virgin on December 25th in a field surrounded by shepherds. After a 40 day period called Estra he died and was entombed, after which he rose on the third day. Ceremonies recalling this event used a rock to represent the man-god, and priests would eat bread and drink wine. It is no exaggeration or hyperbole to say this was the most horrifying realization of my life. This pulled all the certainty of my life out from under me.

After which we get the usual circumlocutions for “I decided to adopt the values of the age I happen to live in, instead of those of my parents.”  Such mindless conformity is unlikely to end well, of course.

But I must say I was fascinated.  I mean, how can you “study” Zoroastrianism and not know who Zoroaster was?  And plainly the poster does not!

What I’d really like to know, tho, is the source of this nonsense.  Someone, somewhere, must have come up with this.  Does anyone know who?