Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 3 – Edessa

Today I’m looking at chapter 1 of Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy, available here thanks to Bob Kraft. So I’m going to follow my own advice today and put the thesis into my own words.  However first, it’s necessary to work out what he is actually saying.

We need to remember what Bauer is trying to demonstrate, because he doesn’t come straight out with it in the introduction, nor in the chapter.  Here is Strecker’s summary, from his introduction to the 2nd edition:

In earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity.

And, as I discussed in the previous post, Bauer’s purpose seems to be to see if he can build a case that there is evidence that some (all?) of the heresies have an independent link back to Christ (and his apostles?). 

It’s important to keep clearly in mind what we are supposed to be talking about, with any thesis, in order to determine whether the material presented actually supports the thesis, and to what extent. 

Here is the original table of contents:

General History since Alexander the Great     1-2
Earliest Christianity There: Sources and Their Value
      Eusebius and the Abgar Legend     2-12
      Edessene Chronicle to the Fourth Century     12-17
Reconstruction of Earliest Christian History
      “Orthodoxy” before Kûnê in the Fourth Century (Palût)     17-22
  Predecessors and Competitors of Palûtian Christianity:Marcion, Bardesanes,
      Mani, and Their Literature (Diatessaron, Pauline Epistles)     22-32
  Kûnê and the Emergence of a Powerful “Orthodoxy”: Dissemination of the Abgar Legend, Attacks on Rival Groups,
      Vindication of Paul through Acts of Paul/”3 Corinthians”     32-43

Let’s have a page-by-page summary of what is being said.   (I’m using the sections of the online text here, since we can all see them).  For, as I remarked in my previous post, it is important to put the claims into your own words, stripped of whatever prose presented them.  I have added a couple of notes under sections where I had immediate thoughts. 

 1. A few background lines on the history of the kingdom of Osrhoene, whose capital was Edessa.

2. Irrelevant chit-chat.

3. “When we ask how and when Christianity gained influence in this region, it is unnecessary to begin with a survey of the sources ” (!!!).  Instead starts talking about the Abgar legend, referencing Eusebius’ Church History, a source from 325 AD, as the basis for the origin of Christianity in Edessa. 

RP: I don’t quite follow why Bauer begins his examination of the evidence for the origins of Christianity — whenever it did arise, in the 1st or 2nd century (? — since he refuses to engage with the NT) — with Edessa, and, when he does so, with a text which no-one believes is authentic, and is 4th century.

4.  More Abgar.  References the Doctrine of Addai, from which the Abgar text must come, assigns it late 4th century date.

5.  Notes that no-one believes the Abgar letters are authentic.  Ranting about “ecclesiastical thinking”… “only thing that remains to be asked is whether the church father’s presentation is completely useless… or whether … we may still single out this or that particular trait”.  All scholars think the latter, he says.

6. Chapter 45 of Bardaisan’s Book of the Laws of the Countries (early 3rd century) states that an Abgar became a believer and stopped pagan castrations.  Asks which Abgar this is?

RP: Cureton’s translation says this is about circumcision, not castration;  but the ANF version says castration.  Whether the king was a Christian or follower of Bardaisan is not indicated.

7.  Asserts that “when he became a believer” is not part of original text, since Syriac may contain it, but Eusebius’ quotation of it in the PE VI, ch. 10, does not. 

RP:  The PE is here.  I wonder if we can determine for ourselves whether this is right, by comparing a larger extract?

And this is not dependent on nativity, for all Jews cannot have the same natal stars.

Moreover every seventh day, wherever they may be, they abstain from all work, and neither travel nor use fire: nor does his nativity compel a Jew either to build or to demolish a house, to work, to buy or to sell on the sabbath day, although on that same day Jews beget and are begotten, and sicken and die: for these are things not dependent on freewill.

In Syria and Osrhoene many used to mutilate themselves in honour of Rhea: hereupon king Abgar at one stroke commanded that those who cut off the genital organs should also have their hands cut off, and from thenceforth no one in Osrhoene mutilated himself. (PE)

As opposed to:

It is evident that what they do is not from Nativity: for it is impossible that for all the Jews, on the eighth day, on which they are circumcised, Mars should `be in the ascendant, ‘so that steel should pass upon them, and their blood be shed.

One day in seven, also, they and their children cease from all work, from all building, and from all travelling, and from all buying and selling; nor do they kill an animal on the Sabbath-day, nor kindle a fire, nor administer justice; and there is not found among them any one whom Fate compels, either to go to law on the Sabbath-day and gain his cause, or to go to law and lose it, or to pull down, or to build up, or to do any one of those things which are done by all those men who have not received this law. They have also other things in respect to which they do not on the Sabbathconduct themselves like the rest of mankind, though on this same day they both bring forth and are born, and fall sick and die: for these things do not pertain to the power of man. 

In Syria and in Edessa men used to part with their manhood in honour of Tharatha; but, when King Abgar became a believer he commanded that every one that did so should have his hand cut off, and from that day until now no one does so in the country of Edessa. (Syriac)

From this we see that the two versions differ quite a bit more than on just this phrase.  Either the Syriac has been expanded, not just by a couple of words, but by whole sentences and in detail; or else Eusebius PE is an abbreviated version.   Which of the two is the case is a matter for specialists, of course; but on the face of it Eusebius has abbreviated, as, in quoting large chunks of big books, he was bound to do all over the place.  We might suppose that, since everyone knew that King Abgar became a Christian, there was no need to spend space on saying so.

8.  “The rest of what is adduced in support of a Christian king of Edessa appears to me to be entirely without importance.”  Africanus in his chronicle (quoted by Syncellus) calls Abgar a “holy man”, but “This is not to be exploited as a Christian confession”; Eusebius’ quotation of the same for 2235 Anno Abrahae (218 AD) says “distinguished man”.  Claims Epiphanius Panarion 56.1.3 is using Africanus when discussing Bardaisan and calling Abgar “most pious and reasonable”.

RP: I’m trying to work out where Bauer is going.  Is the thread basically to debunk any evidence in favour of a Christian king of Edessa?  If so, that explains the Abgar stuff, and the Bardesan stuff.  Eusebius’ text is only extant in a late Armenian version and in Latin.  Jerome’s Latin for 2234 AA says “Abgar, a holy man, reigned at Edessa, as Africanus maintains.” (Abgarus, vir sanctus, regnavit Edessae, ut vult Africanus.)  I presume Bauer is using Karst’s German translation of the Armenian.  I have not been able to consult Epiphanius.  But it looks as if the text of Africanus may well have read “holy”.  I don’t understand Bauer’s contention that the Christian Africanus would call a pagan monarch “holy”.

9. Syriac romance of Julian the Apostate “from a manuscript no later than the seventh century” asserts no monarch followed Christ before Constantine.

RP: The Julian romance is a 6th century hagiographical text.  I don’t understand how this is evidence.

10. There are marble columns in Edessa, which might be from a Greek pagan temple mentioned in the Chronicle of Edessa, which have an inscription in Syriac letters of ca. 200 AD mentioning a Queen Chelmath who might be the wife of Abgar, who couldn’t have become a Christian if he had a pagan wife; and if he had, the inscription showing he had a pagan wife would have been removed.

RP: Not sure I follow the argument here.

11. Dio Cassius says Abgar was cruel.  So for him, “the Christian faith cannot have had a very deep effect”.

12. The point of everything so far: “The purpose of this criticism is to contest the assumption that the presence of a Christian prince and of a state church for Edessa around the year 200 is in any way assured.”  On to the next point: “the existence of ecclesiastically organized Christianity in Edessa at this time cannot be asserted with any confidence”.  Source is Eusebius Church History.  2 quotes in this showing Christians in Mesopotamia, 1 more (5.23.4) showing them in Osrhoene.  But ancient Latin translation of Eusebius by Rufinus omits the reference to Osrhoene.  Claims this plus phrasing means it is a later interpolation in Greek text of Eusebius.

RP: We need information on the Syriac and Armenian versions also.  The former exists in an ms. from 462 AD.  I have emailed a Syriacist to look.

13.  Eusebius doesn’t know much about Mesopotamia, and doesn’t reference much material from there, so there can’t have been much to know in his day.  Back to Abgar: Asks who benefits from the forgery of the Abgar letters. Ephraem of Edessa (d. 371) knows nothing of the letter, only of the sending of Addai.  Only mention of Abgar by Ephraim is in the appendix to his commentary on the Diatessaron.  Since we have no Syriac text, we may doubt whether it is authentic.

RP. Syriac text now known.  No idea what it says!  It’s a little odd to call Ephraem Syrus “Ephraem of Edessa” – he only lived there at the very end of his life.  Note that the argument here is switching ad hoc between Edessa and Mesopotamia.  Which are we studying?  — The two are very far from identical.

14.  Speculation about motives of compiler of Abgar letters.   “Thus we find the Abgar saga to be a pure fabrication, without any connection with reality, which need not have emerged earlier than the beginning of the fourth century …, and which says nothing certain about the Christianity of Edessa in an earlier time.”  Says Acts of Thomas come “from this region” and are “much earlier.”

15.  ‘I pose the question: With respect to the history of the church of Edessa, how well does the widely held view stand up, that in the various cities at the beginning there existed communities of orthodox Christians — naturally orthodoxy is understood to involve a certain development and unfolding — who form the genuine kernel of Christianity, and alongside are minorities of those who are “off the track” and are regarded and treated as heretics? I raise the question as to how well it stands the test, and find the answer, it stands up poorly. Up to now nothing has spoken in its favor.’

RP: It looks as if Bauer has forgotten to debunk other Eusebius testimonies.  But doesn’t this argument manufacture silence and then argue from absence of evidence?

16. Chronicle of Edessa records flood of church in Edessa in 201 AD.

17.  Dionysius of Tell-Mahre (776) repeats the statement, but omits mention of church.   Bauer introduces mention of this by “Finally, it is also not my intention to seek cover behind the Chronicle of Dionysius of Tell Mahrê …” and then gives details.  Then claims unlikely that church existed, or that a pagan would have recorded it, and claims Christian interpolation.

RP: Isn’t this saying something which will undermine the reader’s trust in the text while loudly refusing to do so?  That seems a bit like manipulation of the reader to me.

18.  Strange speculative argument that a later flood and rebuilding must have been projected backwards.

19.  Extracts of Chronicle of Edessa.

20. Claim that text was composed by Christian of 6th century, but not all of it because otherwise it would mention Abgar.  Early part must be “from a person who was still aware that the earliest history of Christendom in Edessa had been determined by the names of Marcion, Bar Daisan, and Mani”, since Marcion (“Marcion departed from the church”, says the Chronicle of Edessa) and Mani never went to Edessa, this must refer to the importance of their followers; and the absence of mention of a Christian bishop is evidence of non-existence or unimportance for the same reason.  ‘If these three, and only these — with no “ecclesiastical” “bishop” alongside of them — are specified by name in a Christian Chronicle of Edessa, that indicates that the form of religion and of Christianity which they advocated represents what was original for Edessa.’  And ‘Ecclesiastically organized Christianity, with cultic edifice, cemetery, and bishop, first appears at the beginning of the fourth century’.

RP: Bauer is arguing the last point from what appears, or does not appear, in the 6th century Chronicle of Edessa

21. The first bishop mentioned is Kune.  Three previous bishops are mentioned elsewhere; Palut, Abshelma, and Barsamya; in the Doctrine of Addai and hagiographical material of the 5th century.  Only Palut will be discussed.  Statements in DA about him; DA is unhistorical, particularly any idea that Peter ordained him bishop.

RP: Doctrine of Addai is here.  Why start with obviously unhistorical material, rather than Ephraem’s statements about Palut?  Because Bauer wants to throw doubt on the whole of the data by association?  This is not good.  Is there an anti-Catholicism strain starting to appear in the material about unimportance of bishops?  A legacy of German ‘protestant’ attitudes and protestant-catholic disputes?

22. Irrelevant stuff attacking importance of bishops.

23.  More of the same.  “Links” between Antioch and Edessa in the 4th century must have been weak, since a recent biography of Chrysostom never mentions Edessa.

24. More, ending with a claim that this shows that there is “there is no confirmation of the claim” in the DA that Palut was a bishop.

25.  Ephraem’s Madrasha 22 against heretics tells us of Palut.  He was leader of the Christians in Edessa at the end of the 2nd century.  ‘But we must remove from his hand the episcopal staff …  It is quite possible that Palût’s own group called him “bishop.”‘  Says he and his congregation must have been unimportant because not mentioned in Chronicle of Edessa

26.  Most important is that Palut and his people appear later than the heretics, who were known as Christians locally.  The heretics in question must have been Marcionites.  The real Christians had to call themselves and be known as Palutians. 

RP: This is not what Ephraem actually says, tho, but an inference from it.  The heretics called them Palutians is what he says.  It does not even say that any Christian used that name, although the strength of his denunciations of anyone who allowed themselves to be so named rather suggests it.

27.  Did the Marcionites just call themselves Christians?  Bauer quotes the Life of Mar Aba, who died in 552.  Rejects text as a whole, but proposes to use this bit of it.

28.  Description of what Life says.

29.  “This story reveals that even at a relatively late date, Marcionites designated themselves as the Christians”, forcing Christians to call themselves Messianists. “Is it not reasonable to suggest that something similar was true with respect to the beginnings of Christianity in Edessa? That would be an excellent explanation of why the orthodox call themselves Palûtians until far into the fourth century, or at least are known by that name to the public.”

RP: A bit dodgy, this.  Bauer fails to point out that the events take place, not in Edessa, but some distance away in Persian-controlled Mesopotamia; not in the second century, or the fourth, but in the sixth.  The Marcionites may not have been there very long; the policies of Justinian would have caused a migration; and doubtless the Persian authorities didn’t much care.  There is no indication as to why this should relate to Edessa.  Nothing in Ephraem says that Christians usually called themselves Palutians, still less that anyone but the heretics did.

30.  Marcion, Bardesan and Mani were the heretics against whom the early writers most often write.  Aphrahat’s attack instead on Marcion, Valentinus and Mani accounted for by assertion that Valentinians turned into followers of Bardesan.  Patristic references quoted that Bardesan was influenced by Valentinus.

RP: Reference of Eusebius HE  “6.30.3” should be “4.30.3”.

31.  Ephraem Syrus names other heretics, but these are the important ones in the 4th century.

32.  Marcionites only suppressed with state aid by Rabbula in 5th century.  Hagiographical Life of Rabbula quoted as evidence.

33.  Quotes from Life about suppression of Bardesanites and Manichaeans and Jews.

34.  Attack on Rabbula for suppressing them.  “Thus it would be illegitimate for one to reason back from the situation which Rabbula had brought about by force, and to use this as a corrective to the picture that we have discovered for the time of Ephraem when orthodoxy in Edessa still occupied a quite secondary place.”

RP: Is anyone suggesting that we project Rabbula’s Edessa back onto the 2nd century?  If so, who?

35.  Claim that situation in Edessa “would hardly have been much different” to that in Armenia.  Marutha of Maiperqat quoted on the number of heretics.

RP: Text quoted is not quite clear, but references given to I. E. Rahmani in Studia Syriaca 4, Documenta de antiquis haeresibus, 1909, pp. 76-80 and Syriac pp. 43-98.  Seems to be an anti-heretical writing.  Not quite clear how this is relevant.

36.  Bauer now moves from tentative assertions to this: “In the picture that the representatives of the church sketch, it is precisely the detail about a great apostasy from the true faith that is seen to be incorrect — in any event, it is not true of Edessa. Here it was by no means orthodoxy, but rather heresy, that was present at the beginning. Christianity was first established in the form of Marcionism, probably imported from the West and certainly not much later than the year 150.”  Bardesan is later, and only disputed with Marcionites; the Christians were too insignificant.  Sources: Eusebius, HE 4.30.1; Theodoret, Haer. 1.22; Hippolytus Refutatio, 7.31.1.

RP: Sources quoted show that Bardaisan only disputed with Marcionites?  Eusebius doesn’t, and seems to reflect a period before Bardesan became a heretic; nor does Hippolytus.

37.  Irrelevant speculation about what scriptures Bardesan used in Edessa.

38.  Irrelevant speculation that Bardesan used the Diatessaron.

39.  More of the same.

40.  Speculation that if Bardesan had used the Diatessaron, and been very influential, this would explain why the Syriac churches used a book compiled by a heretic; because there were so few real Christians.

41.  More speculation about use of Diatessaron.  Letters of Paul ‘must’ have been used, because Marcion used them.  Ephraem and a Syriac canon of ca. 400 both use an order of the letters found in Marcion, which shows ‘We observe how “heretical,” or better “original” conditions affect later epochs and how even the ecclesiastical structure cannot avoid this.’

42.  Few Christians or heretics in Edessa in 2nd century (Book of the Laws of the Countries 32 and 40).  Bauer asks when Christians really became a factor: claims Kune, from the Chronicle of Edessa, is responsible.  Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite (6th century) mentions a house of Mar Kune; claims Kune was not martyred, and so the existence of a church shows that Kune was special in some way.

RP: English versions of Bardesanes book do not have chapter divisions; unable to locate texts supposed to show this.  Joshua ref to “Mar Kona” is here: “the church of Mar Kona, which had been constructed by the ancients with great pains…”.

43.  Speculation as to Kune’s period of office (early 4th century).

44.  Speculation that Kune fabricated the Abgar correspondence.  Heretics did not trace back their teaching earlier than their founders, Marcion or Bardesanes, not to Jesus; Basilides does claim teaching in secret from the apostle Matthias.

45.  Reiterates claim that Kune was forger.  “We need not make excuses for the Edessene bishop to whom we attribute such a deed. He lived in an epoch in which the growth of Christian legends flourished,…” followed by mention of 4th century frauds and accusations against bishops.

46.  Suggestion that apostles used “questionable” methods, based on homily of Jacob of Serug (6th century) containing legend about Peter and Paul.

RP: Probably the intention is to suggest that such an attitude was commonplace in the region, and attributed to apostles, rather than serious intent to attack apostles?

47.  Continued claim that Kune was forger, and that Christians generally don’t find it objectionable.

48.  “That the apostolic teaching, which is identical with the conception of orthodoxy of all times and places, had been present long before there was heresy is also the view of Edessene orthodoxy of the fourth century.” Quote from Ephraem.

49.  Claims that Bardesanes had never been a Christian, but had once been a Valentinian and had never “shared the faith of the church” (HE 4.30)Story from Theodore bar Koni about Bardesan and how he became a Christian, but later apostastised. 

RP: I think this rather misrepresents Eusebius here: “He indeed was at first a follower of Valentinus, but afterward, having rejected his teaching and having refuted most of his fictions, he fancied that he had come over to the more correct opinion. Nevertheless he did not entirely wash off the filth of the old heresy.”

50.  Story how Mani had once been a presbyter.

RP: I think the argument consists of giving obvious fictional examples of how the founders of heresies are all supposed to be clergy frustrated in personal ambition, apparently with the aim of suggesting that this common motive for schism is never actually true or cannot be relied on.  That’s logically unsound, if I got that right.

51.  The 4th century church used 3 Corinthians, the Bardesanites did not.  Since 3 Corinthians was forged as part of the Acts of Paul ca. 180, (‘Thus we see here quite clearly an officer of the “great church” perpetrating a “forgery” that focuses upon an apostle.’) after Bardesan, this shows that the failure to use the text as scripture means that the Bardesanites are a more accurate reflection of the early situation in Edessa than the real church.

52. Speculation that Kune introduced 3 Corinthians into the canon in Edessa.

53.  Speculation that Acts of Paul came to Edessa.  More speculation about Kune’s motives and actions and attitudes.

RP: Which, considering all we know about him is that he was bishop in 313 and built a church, is curious.

54.  “We are concerned with the beginnings. And the investigation of these beginnings for the history of Christianity in Edessa has made us aware of a foundation that rests on an unmistakably heretical basis. In relation to it, orthodoxy comes to prevail only very gradually and with great difficulty, becoming externally victorious only in the days of Rabbula…”

I admit that I was glad to get to the conclusion.

The next stage is to review this and boil it down into a handful of lines of argument.

Let me note one argumentation technique which I think is being used here, and is new to me.

It goes like this.  When attempting to controvert some well-established fact, he starts by finding some hagiographical text, which is obviously nonsensical, that happens to contain the statement he is attacking.  He then solemnly debunks that text as being nonsense, and associates the fact that it is nonsense with the statement he is anxious to refute.  The reader, therefore, already has in his mind the idea that some of the sources that contain the statement are untrue; has observed Bauer debunking a text which the reader already knows is false; and is pre-conditioned, unconciously, to agree with further debunking, of some real evidence for the statement.

Don’t really like this sort of thing.  Let any argument be put squarely, based on the best evidence, and that discussed.


Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 2 – introductory material

When you’re dealing with some theory or other, it is usually good practice to rewrite what is said in your own words, plainly and simply and without adjectives or distractions.   English prose can be used to conceal the deficiencies of a thesis; and this is how you deal with it.

Firstly, I was looking for a summary of the subject of the first chapter.  Not found it yet, beyond the heading, “Edessa”.  Back to the introduction.  The introduction to the 2nd edition by  Georg Strecker is here.  This is helpful, as a way to see how the book is understood, and it begins as follows:

In earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity.

Two different ideas are mingled here, worryingly. 

The first statement is that heresy is not derived from orthodoxy.  Now that sounds like a falsehood, as anyone familiar with the origins of heresies knows.  But perhaps there is some evidence to be offered? 

The second is the claim that in “many” regions there were heretics before normal Christians got there.  The latter part is to be proven; but it can certainly happen, as the career of Ulfilas and the evangelisation of the Germans shows.  However that really belongs to a period when heresy does not mean “raving pagan rubbish” but “complicated theological difference”.

But … the two statements may appear in the same sentence, but they are not logically linked.  Rather the link is insinuated; if it can be shown that there were heretics in “many” areas of the Roman world before Christians were there, then plainly Christianity must be later and heresy first.  It will be interesting to see if any attempt is made to argue this claim, or if it is presumed.

The reader familiar with patristic thought will notice that the thesis of the second part is an inversion of the claim made most clearly by Tertullian, ca. 200 AD, in De praescriptione haereticorum, that heresy comes later, and that this is why it is untrue; it has no connection with the apostolic teaching.  Tertullian makes the point that the heretics cannot document their existence in the apostolic age, but in fact derive their teachings from contemporary schools (haireses) of pagan philosophy. 

Bauer has chosen to try to argue the opposite, based on the survivals of literature from the period, estimated at 1% of the total.  Tertullian, of course, lived in that period and had far, far more and better and earlier sources, as well as oral testimony of various sorts.  And those sources could be very early.  Irenaeus, who knew Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John, was contemporary with Tertullian, who uses some of his work.  Only two of Irenaeus’ works now survive; doubtless Tertullian knew them all.   When we have a positive and entirely credible statement from 200 AD on this subject, it is curious to attempt to argue the contrary.

What else can we get from this introduction, as to the purpose and subject?  Nothing.

Then onto Bauer’s own introduction.  This is strangely evasive as to the subject and purpose, and littered with self-referential flattery such as “Scholarship has not found it difficult to criticize these convictions”, etc etc.  I have highlighted a few words.

I will proceed from the view concerning the heretics and their doctrines which was cherished already in the second century by the ancient church, and will test its defensibility in hopes of discovering … a route to the goal. The ecclesiastical position includes roughly the following main points…

… historical thinking that is worthy of this name refuses to employ here the correlatives “true” and “untrue,” “bad” and “good.”

[Modern opinion] all too easily submits to the ecclesiastical opinion as to what is early and late, original and dependent, essential and unimportant for the earliest history of Christianity. If my impression is correct, even today the overwhelmingly dominant view remains that for the period of Christian origins, ecclesiastical doctrine (of course, only as this pertains to a certain stage in its development) already represents what is primary, while heresies, on the other hand somehow are a deviation from the genuine. I do not mean to say that this point of view must be false, but neither can I regard it as self-evident or even demonstrated and clearly established. Rather, we are confronted here with a problem that merits our attention.

Note that Bauer does not state explicitly what this “goal” is, although it is pretty clear that Strecker’s summary is correct. 

Note also how the term “ecclesiastical doctrine” (terminology that in English at least invokes shades of “dogma” and “inquisition”) is being used in differing senses; first to represent the view of the church in the 2nd century; then to represent the statements of Christian writers of a later period.  An “ecclesiastical opinion” of the 2nd century as to what is early or late is one that we, today, could hardly disagree with!  But using the term allows Bauer to conceal this.

What he does NOT say, and certainly should have done, is that we are not discussing some abstract “doctrine” or “teaching” or “tradition”.  What we are proposing to discuss, I hope, is the statements made by specific individuals living at a specific time and place, recorded in the literary texts that they composed, and which are available for us to consult today.  It is never a good sign when people are imprecise on this point.  All too often it is found that such imprecision easily blurs into “we can dismiss this opinion because it is merely ‘traditional'” with the implication that it is hearsay.

Bauer would have us believe, therefore, that he is examining the ancient claim that Christians come first, and heretics later.  One would have thought that it was reasonably self-evident that pagans who have never heard of Christ are unlikely to start calling themselves Christians without contact from a Christian community.  So Bauer’s real thesis must be, not to examine that claim — where he could never have enough data to contradict the positive testimonies of people living before 200 AD — but instead to see if he can build a case that there is evidence that some of the heresies have an independent link back to Christ and his apostles.

Finally he leads into the first chapter:

As we turn to our task, the New Testament seems to be both too unproductive and too much disputed to be able to serve as a point of departure. The majority of its anti-heretical writings cannot be arranged with confidence either chronologically or geographically; nor can the more precise circumstances of their origin be determined with sufficient precision.

The excuses seem rather feeble, and this creates an immediate problem for Bauer’s thesis.  The early Christian writers take their lead from the apostles and the New Testament.  In what sense can we examine their claim, while ignoring one of the main witnesses to it?  The attitude which it contains is one, which unlike Dr Bauer, is quite willing to employ terms like “true” and “untrue”.  That underlies every element of the Christian approach to heresy.  Yet it is not to be consulted? 

It is advisable, therefore, first of all to interrogate other sources concerning the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy, so that… we may try to determine the time and place of their origins.

I have chosen to begin with Edessa and Egypt so as to obtain a glimpse into the emergence and the original condition of Christianity in regions other than those that the New Testament depicts as affected by this religion.

There is certainly no reason not to look at the evidence from Edessa, and we shall do so.  However one cannot help reflecting that Syriac Christianity is not at all well documented before the 4th century. 

It seems reasonable to ask why Dr Bauer seeks for data in regions primarily known from late sources?  For if he dismisses the statements of Christian writers of the 2nd century, and won’t even consider those of later times, how will a region whose sources are nearly all 4th century help him? 

Unless, of course, his readers fail to notice this inconsistency?

I cannot avoid the reflection that, even in his introduction, Bauer is proceeding in a manner which is very much less than satisfactory.  It is very important to avoid muddy terms like “ecclesiastical opinion” in examining a specific and limited set of texts.  It is very important to clearly indicate your method and objective.  It is really important to work from the mass of the data to edge cases.   None of this he does.


Life of Mar Aba – chapter 29

29.  On the morning of the (following) day, when the blessed one in the company of the Christians went to the court in order to thank the King of Kings, the aforementioned magians sought for a way to kill him.  They were afraid to seize him openly on account of the number of believers accompanying him, in case there should be an uproar when they approached him, and decided to send the Rad and the Ainbed to arrest him secretly.  That day there was heavy rain, and so they went into the hunting lodge at a place called the Birdhouse, near the (palace of) the King of Kings.  The magians send to him, as if they wanted to speak to him.  After he entered, they closed the door so that no-one could follow him and said to the blessed one: “Ever since you became a Christian, you have converted many magians into Christians, and you cannot be allowed to live (longer).”  Some said, “He should be thrown to the lions.”  Some said, “He should be strangled.” Others said, “We’ll throw him into a well so that he dies there, without the Christians knowing.”

This seems more like standard hagiographical material to me.  The author has already made clear that the King of Kings is not in favour of extreme measures, and the Magians would certainly not proceed in this way — as has already been seen — without his approval.  So I suspect this chapter is fiction.

But it is hard to tell.  How can we extract useful historical information from texts of this kind, in some kind of structured and objective way? 


Life of Mar Aba – chapter 28

28.  Then the King of Kings told him: “That you ignored our command and come here, we forgive you.  But the four very serious accusations that the magians make against you are as follows: that you make magians leave their religion (dên) and into Christians; that you do not let your people marry many women as they wish; that you subvert the legal processes of the magians; that you were originally a heathen and only later became a Christian.  Add to this that when you were interned, you appointed bishops, priests and deacons and ordered them to teach and convert people to Christianity as you do.  All this we forgive you in our benevolence.  Only the fact that you became a Christian later, must you account for, if the Mobedan Mobed requires it from you.  Now go home and be at peace.”  Then the Saint worshipped and praised God; he blessed the King of Kings, and went out of the HRPDKA with great joy.[1]  But because of the crush of the crowd accompanying him he could not get through the city gate, but went over the city moat.  At this the aforementioned magians were amazed and upset; they went and woke the King and said: “The man, who is the enemy of the religion (dên) of Hormizd, you have let go free and he is going to his house!”

If this is historical — and this is a hagiographical text, so it may not be — then we can see the cunning calculation taking place in the astute political mind of Chosroes II:  Mar Aba is not the leader of a bunch of potential enemy sympathisers, as previous Catholici may have been.  He can’t be disloyal, because he is persona non grata in the Roman empire, as are his followers.  He has to rely on the king for support against the Magians, so must be loyal in return.  And he isn’t some nobody, but a noble Persian.  His followers increase in numbers every day, although still small.  All this keeps the powerful Zoroastrian clergy so busy that they have no time to plot against the King of Kings, unlike some of their predecessors.  And both sides have to appeal to the King, whose authority is thereby strengthened.

From Chosroes II’s point of view, what’s not to like?  All he has to do is keep the pot boiling.  So he dismisses most of the charges, but leaves a very intractable one; and at the same time endears himself to the Magians by making them judges in the case.

  1. [1]The HRPDKA seems to be the jail at court, perhaps.

Life of Mar Aba – chapter 27

The story continues.  A court intrigue has led a Christian renegade to Mar Aba’s place of exile, and witnessed an attempt on his life.  It is clear that the place of exile is not secure.  Some Persian terms are not translated in the Syriac, so remain just collections of consonants.

27.  Afterwards the blessed one reflected, “Perhaps the murderer will find an opportunity to fulfil his murderous desire upon me, and then spread the rumour that I have run away.”  Then he gave himself up to death in the open, got up in the night with his disciple, named Jacob, and, trusting God, left the village accompanied by the zealous, stout and God-loving bishop of Azerbaijan, Mar Johannan.  He travelled in the winter, in cold, frost and snow, over the mountains and hills, to the royal court, entered and took HRPDKA.[1] 

When the King of Kings heard of his arrival, he was greatly astonished, that he had not gone elsewhere, but had come there where everyone was afraid that he would hear from the HRPDKA.  The Christians of the (two) cities and everywhere arose and came to see the blessed one, and everyone awaited the outcome of this unfortunate business.  But the magians rejoiced and said, “Now that he has ignored the command of the King of Kings, the latter will at once command his execution and rid us of him.” 

Since everyone was watching and waiting to see what would happen, the King of Kings sent to the blessed one by means of Ferruchdad Hormizd DZ’DGW, “What is the judgement on he who transgresses the command of his lord?”  The Catholicos said, “If he is a serf, his food and clothing shall be taken; if he works for pay, he will not receive his pay.”

Hormizd DZ’DGW said, “What is your judgement, when you have ignored the command of the king of kings and come here against his command?”  The Catholicos said, “I have not ignored the command of the king of kings, but I am his friend and obey his command.  Because a renegade came against me, to murder me secretly, I left there and came to his court, so that no-one would think that I had run away.  If I have done wrong, let him execute me openly.”  Then Hormizd DZ’DGW went and reported this to the King of Kings.

Mar Aba takes the right line: for every noble at court is afraid of secret intrigues, and a demand for fair treatment is one that few will find unreasonable.  Mar Aba, notice, will not be treated as a servant, and is very conscious of his status as a Persian of high rank.

  1. [1]The BKV text gives no clue as to what this is.  The word ‘took’ is ‘ergriff’, so may have some other meaning.

From my diary

Off to the 4th British Patristics Conference in Exeter next week.  That’s a long old drive for me.  Kick-off is around 2pm, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to get down there.  Incredibly — why does this happen? — I have an engagement in London the evening before, or I might be tempted to go down the previous afternoon.

Naturally the first question is car parking at the St Luke’s Campus.  Equally inevitably it is left very unclear from the university website how to do so.  This is a little mean; nearly everyone will be travelling long distance, and we will all come by car.

Oh well.  Once they open, I will telephone and ask.

I look forward one day to attending a conference where there is ample free car parking and you can just turn up and park without the worry.


The demise of the Methodist central halls

Today I find an article on the BBC website about the way that the Methodist Church in Britain has sold off many of its central halls.  It’s not a hostile article, and displays awareness of how important the Methodists were to the working poor in the last century. 

 It was a Methodist central hall and, in stark contrast to its recent use as a nightclub, was designed largely to try to keep the urban working classes away from alcohol.

Around 100 were built in major towns and cities across Britain between 1886 and 1945.

At the peak of the central halls’ popularity, thousands of people would pack in on Saturday nights for cheap concerts, comedy shows and films, interspersed with hymns and prayers.

At the end of the evening, attendees were often encouraged to sign a vow not to drink alcohol.

But no longer.  Most have been sold off.

One of the central halls still controlled by the Methodist Church is at Westminster. It’s an impressive building that doesn’t look out of place alongside grand structures like Westminster Abbey, and was the site of the first meeting of the general assembly of the United Nations in 1946.

Now also used as a conference centre, there was reported to be some dissent among Methodists when, in 2005, the church applied for a licence to sell alcohol on the premises.

Reverend Stephen Hatcher says that decision is recognition that the Methodist Church has had to adapt to the modern world.

“We have to recognise the kind of world we live in, lots of people drink responsibly,” he says. “We have to look at it in a balanced way.”

And that is why the Methodist Church has had to sell its halls to become taverns.  It has been so busy “recognising” the world that it serves no heavenly or earthly purpose.

This summer I spent a week at the Treloyan Manor hotel in St Ives in Cornwall.  It too was once a Methodist establishment.  There I found copies of the Methodist Recorder, which I read with some curiosity and then disbelief.  It too evidenced an organisation without a soul, that had no reason to exist any longer.  I find the following “headlines” in this week’s issue:

  • CONCERN that the “Olympic Sunday” could become the norm, with longer Sunday shopping hours continued after the Olympic and Paralympic Games, have been expressed by Church, union, retail and campaign groups.
  • A BOYS’ Brigade delegation headed by BB president the Rev the Lord Griffiths has visited the Queen at Balmoral in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.
  • AN MHA (Methodist Homes for the Aged) housing sch­eme has celebrated its 25th anniversary with a visit from the Rev the Baroness Richardson.
  • A CHRISTIAN charity has demonstrated against unmanned aerial weapons or drones outside RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Those are the concerns of the Methodist Record in August 2012.  The first of these is a legitimate concern, although part of a wider issue.  The others display parochialism and foolish politicisation.  But where in all of this is God?  Where is the concern to save the lost?  Where are the initiatives to bring Christ to a godless nation, sunk in vice and drink?  The needs remain what they always were; but meanwhile the Methodist Record tells us, as a “headline”.

A CHRISTIAN charity has demonstrated against unmanned aerial weapons or drones outside RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Members of the SPEAK network for young Christian adults held up banners highlighting the risk of civilian deaths from the remotely-controlled weapons. This was followed by a peace vigil, naming civilians who had died in recent drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Following the demonstration, protesters took part in a sponsored cycle ride to Nottingham and gave a presentation on peacemaking during the service at Lenton Methodist church.

Whether we agree with the silly-left politics or not, the point is that this is not preaching the gospel to the world, but preaching the world to the church.


What is bad scholarship?

I’ve just carried out a Google search asking, “What is bad scholarship”?  I got a total of ten results, most duplicating one blog entry that really is about something else.

That surprises me, I must say.  In view of the silence, I thought that I, in my amateur way, would make an effort to give a personal answer to the question.  My focus is on ancient history, of course; different sections of the humanities will doubtless have slightly different perspectives.

There’s one big (but vague) generalisation we can make.  First, let’s ask just why we are doing ancient history at all.  The answer surely is as follows:

We study ancient history in order to find out what we would have seen, at a given date at a given place, had we been there; insofar as we can recover this information from the remains left behind from that time and place, which themselves may be damaged, partial, corrupt, biased or non-existent.

That gives us our first criterion of bad scholarship:

1.  Bad scholarship doesn’t care what happened in the past (although it pretends it does).  Bad scholarship is determined to convince the present of something about the past, whether it happened or not.

Curiously there are “scholars” willing to say that they don’t believe that they can ever find out what happened in the past.  If so, they have nothing to contribute.  Such people need a spell flipping burgers at MacDonalds, rather than state-funded tenure.

But of course this criterion, although true, is not very useful to us in detecting bad scholarship.  It’s more like a conclusion from a process of investigation, than a way to reach a conclusion.

Sometimes you get people say things like, “A PhD thesis must have a thesis!”  This is true — you’re supposed to be producing a piece of research that tells us something that we did not know before.  But it sometimes seems as if it is understood to mean “You must invent some novel statement about what happened in the past and then see how far you can get with it by whatever tricks you can find.”   The latter is bad scholarship.

Our first criterion does give us our next question: How do we find out what happened in the  past?  The answer is that, either whatever happened left some traces somewhere that inform us, or else we know nothing about it.  The second point leads us to our second criterion.

2.  Bad scholarship loves a void.  If we know nothing about something, it is bad scholarship to pretend that we do, or to argue that “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”.

There is, unhappily, a further stage to this particular piece of bad scholarship.  It is a standard feature of polemic that it finds evidence an inconvenience, to be got over by accusations of bias, ad hominem arguments against the sources — “they only say that because they are Catholics!” — and the like.  Of course the evidence does need evaluation before anything much can be built on it.  But:

3.  Any scholarship that consists of debunking all the evidence and then arguing that the manufactured absence of evidence is evidence of absence is not merely bad scholarship but dishonest scholarship.

Every piece of useful scholarship starts by documenting all the relevant evidence on the point at issue.  If you are publishing data, publish it.  If you are asserting that the totality of the ancient data tells us a certain story, gather all that data together and let the reader see what it says.  The more discursive the book is, the more likely that some subterfuge is involved.  Why should the reader trawl through my book to find out what the corpus of data is?

4.  Any study that is alludes to the data rather than presenting it systematically, or discusses it discursively, or otherwise intentionally makes it difficult for the reader to see what all the relevant data is, is either very badly written and structured, or, more commonly, is bad scholarship.

Of course references and context are important.

5.  If the sources do not support the argument, when examined in context, if the references are wrong or misleading or partial, that is bad scholarship.

In a way, some of the best guides to bad scholarship are books like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, or Chariots of the Gods, and such like.  Not that these are festooned with references and written in the sober prose that scholars affect.  But the failures are in some ways more obvious.

6.  Bad scholarship likes to take a possibility as a certainty.  When a writer suggests that the evidence might support an idea, and some pages later has taken it for granted that his hypothesis is true and certain and at least equal to any statement made by someone there at the time, that is bad scholarship.

An indelible footprint of bad scholarship is to appeal to authority in non-technical matters.  We may believe, with reasonable certainty, that, if all the scholars who study Coptic paleography of 4th century documentary texts date a tax return to the year 345 AD, then that authority is reasonable.  But if a scholar writes something about what “all scholars” think, proposing that we should accept their authority as grounds to believe that (e.g.) Marxist economics is not true; the earth is flat (or not); Roman Catholicism is true (or false); or any statement which has no practical difference from the above, then we must immediately be on our guard.  The consensus of scholars in every discipline in every period of history and every country in the world on every controversial subject bears an uncanny resemblance to the opinions of those non-scholars who control university appointments.  So:

7.  Bad scholarship upholds the controversial political or religious views congenial to the funding authorities of the state in the time and place when the scholarship is written.

And of course:

8.  Bad scholarship controverts the controversial political or religious views unwelcome to the funding authorities of the state in the time and place when the scholarship is written.

Because good scholarship allows for these urgencies and relies on some structured methodology, rather than on the “clamour of the age”.

Note that if you publish at a secular university and agree with its agenda, that does not automatically make your work bad scholarship; nor at a Catholic university and are a practising Catholic; nor any other variant thereof.

Likewise another sign of undue credulity is a tendency to treat a theory as equivalent to data.  Data is always data, even when we decide that it does not seem to be reliable (from examining other data, of course; not from speculation on our part).

9.  Bad scholarship treats the conclusions of modern speculation as at least equivalent to the statements of ancient writers.

I do not suppose that I have exhausted the possible signs of bad scholarship, of course.  But I thought that I would offer these as a first cut at the problem.  If you are writing an article, I hope that they will help you avoid some crass pitfalls.


The Halkin “Life of Constantine” is now online in English

The 9th century Saint’s life of Constantine the Great, known after its discoverer as the Halkin ‘Life’, was translated into English by Mark Vermes, but never published.  The translator has kindly sent me a copy, and given permission for it to appear online.  Today I did the deed, and the translation is now here.

The work is entirely fictional, of course.  It derives in a very large part from an earlier work by Alexander the Monk, who himself made use of earlier sources.  Such “history” as it contains is very shaky indeed, and derives from common Byzantine sources.

Neverthless it is good to have it accessible on the web.  Thank you, Dr Vermes.

UPDATE (29th August 2012): I find that there is a copyright issue.  This evening I came across an email a year old, from Dr. Samuel Lieu, stating that he owns the translation, that his grant paid for the production of the work, and that he hopes to get it published formally (although he can’t find his own copy; I must send him one) and so would be reluctant to have it circulate electronically.  This is all understandable, and, while the matter is resolved, I have removed it from the web.


From my diary

Updated versions of the translation of the Passio Petri and Passio Pauli from the Acts of ps.Linus have arrived.  I will need to read these tonight, but they must be nearly complete, which is good news.

I have been making enquiries about the supposed existence of a third volume of Maarten Vermaseren’s CIMRM collection of inscriptions and reliefs about Mithras.  The theory is that he had composed a third volume, to contain the literary testimonies; but this was unpublished at his death.  However I am informed that this is not true; and worse, that Vermaseren gave orders before his death for all his scholarly papers to be destroyed.  I am enquiring a little further, but I suspect that CIMRM III will have to be filed with the pseudo-biblia.

I’m also interested in exploring a little whether the CIMRM can be got online.  They are, admittedly, outdated.  Plans for a supplement never came to anything.  There are scholars interested in creating some new resource, but unable to get funding.  So, as the CIMRM volumes are out of print, I wonder whether Brill would allow them to appear online?  It probably depends on finding someone friendly at Brill to ask.

 I’m still reading some of the material at the Wikipediocracy forum.   There is a book in prospect about the history of Wikipedia.  One item in this will be details of the WorldTraveller incident.   WorldTraveller was a longstanding and valued contributor, who was forced out of Wikipedia by an admin who contributed nothing, and broke all the “rules” to do down his foe.  The details are sordid, and show clearly that Wikipedia’s policies do not work, even in very blatant cases.  As Peter Damian remarks:

So, a researcher at a top UK institution, later to become a professional astronomer, is blocked by an admin who knows nothing about astronomy, and whose contributions to Wikipedia include ‘paranormal’ topics, video games and comic books. I defy anyone to find a better example of admin abuse against content contributors than that.

The later block in March 2007 caused WT to pack his bags and leave for good.

Interestingly, the UK parliament has received representations about Wikipedia.   The hearings of the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions from January 2012 are online in PDF form here.  On pages 483 to 493 is the testimony of Andreas Kolbe and Edward Buckner, itemising two problems, with specific examples:

  1. Wikipedia facilitates the publication of anonymous defamatory material, and has no practical mechanism for the victim to get it removed.
  2. Wikipedia publishes significant amounts of extreme porn, and some of those at the top of Wikimedia UK are involved in this.

The witnesses call for moves to make Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation more accountable.  Specifically they propose that the Charities Commission should oblige Wikipedia to fund a small but fully independent watchdog similar to the Press Complaints Committee, as a condition of its charitable status, to help enforce the controls which Wikipedia claims are in place but which the evidence shows is not. 

These modest proposals seem very sound to me.  The problems in Wikipedia administration run deep, but these two symptoms certainly need to be addressed.