From my diary

I’ve beaten the new PC into submission, and I am now engaged in the gruesome task of copying files and installing software.

Meanwhile, a thought has occurred to me.  How do I find out if someone in Germany was a member of the Nazi party?

Yes, alright, humour me.  But seriously … there ought to be membership lists.  And shouldn’t these be on the web somewhere?   It seems like a reasonable subject for historical enquiry.

Can’t find anything, all the same.


Still trying to set up my Samsung RF711 laptop with an SSD

I’ve spent each weekend for a couple of weeks now trying to get my new Samsung RF711 laptop set up to use a solid-state drive (SSD).  It has been an experience of unmitigated pain.  Today is gone, and nothing to show for it.

Not that this is the fault of Samsung.  Their kit works well, and the easily accessible hard disk bays are wonderful.  It’s quite simply that setting up any hard disk to work with Windows and boot the Samsung Recovery Solution from the F4 menu is strictly for people with plenty of time.  Which is not me.  It’s strictly for people with day after day on their hands.

I’ve found a link here and here which helped.  The problem is getting the wretched Samsung recovery partition created correctly. 

My current approach has required a lot of disk swapping.  You also need to create an admin USB  key drive.  Unless yours is 32GB, tho, it won’t be big enough.

The best way to do this is to start with the original hard disk in its original bay, and the SSD in the spare bay.  If Paragon will create your recovery partition (it did the first time I used it, not today) then all you need to do is to remove the hard disk, restart with a USB stick and use it to fix the MBR on the SSD so that the recovery solution will run from your new recovery partition.  Restart and you are done.

What I had to do was create a partition at the end of the drive using normal tools, and format it and assign it a letter (G:).  Then boot from the stick, and copy the Z: drive using robocopy to the G: drive in the DOS box under the hidden menu.  Then reboot from the stick, and use the new menu to fix the MBR.  Then boot and check F4 takes you into the recovery; and then you can delete the other partitions (not your G: drive!) and do a complete restore, and reboot, and … you’re done.  Phew.

It’s brain-teasing stuff the first time you see it, really it is.

What I have decided to do is keep the original HDD in a bag somewhere, and instead just fit a new HDD as my data store.  So I can always go back to factory settings that way.

Mind you, having Windows on an SSD does mean that it boots incredibly fast.  Booting from the HDD was utterly turgid.

Manufacturers need to stop supplying HDD for Windows, and supply an SSD main drive with ancillary hard drive.


Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours’…

On Thursday night I went on a trip by car to see some old friends.  On the way I stopped at a garage.  I decided to give my car a wash in their automated car wash.  So I went and unscrewed the aerial from the roof.  And … it wasn’t my aerial.

My aerial, you see, I have unscrewed many times.  It’s rather stiff, for some reason.  This one looked similar, but was bendy in the portion at the root.  It wasn’t that bendy in the past … was it?  I’m pretty sure it was not.

A memory struck me; I had parked next to a car of the same type earlier in the week.  The latter was a year older, and rather scruffy-looking, but the same type.

I can only conclude that the driver of the other car had seen my aerial, and had swapped it for his own! 

Mine was a factory-fitted original.  His, I found out later, was what the manufacturer offers as a replacement part.  Evidently he had forgotten to remove his aerial when going through a car wash, got the (inferior) replacement, but longed for the original.

Who on earth would do something that miserable and mean?!!!

Anyway, I set off again and ran into some rain, and turned on the windscreen wipers.  And … they made an odd sound, which they had not made earlier in the week.  So when I got to my destination I inspected them.  They looked OK; but had marks of sun-fading.  I had fitted new ones a few weeks ago. 

Again I am not quite certain, but it looks as if my light-fingered friend had also helped himself to my windscreen wipers!!!

I suppose I should be grateful that almost nothing else exterior to the car can be unscrewed.  And I shall make sure that I never park next to a car of the same type again, in case the owner sees my car as a free source for a set of replacement parts.

Well, it’s annoying, more than anything.  It’s not the end of the world.  I can’t get a proper replacement aerial.  The thief’s one works OK.  And I got some new wipers today, costing around $30. 

I pass this story along, simply because it is both incredible and true.  Make of it what you will!


The fire of Cautopates

On a Spanish site, I find the following photograph of Cautes and Cautopates, the twin side-kicks of Mithras.  It’s remarkable because the figure of Cautopates is still partly coloured!  And so, clearly, we can see that the objects that they carry are indeed lit torches.

Considering how universally this is assumed, it is nice to see some evidence of it.

The article itself is a general one, of no special interest, but handled rather well in the automatic translation by Google translate.  The images generally seem to be from the Mithraeum under the church of S. Clemente in Rome, and are rather good.


Life of Mar Aba – chapters 25 and 26

We’re now back to history.

It is never safe for oriental potentates to be away from the centre of power.  They tend to get overthrown.  Being away from court, Mar Aba was now vulnerable to court intrigues.

25.  After the saint had spent seven years in this way, without ever crossing the threshold of the house in which he lived, being constant in fasting, prayer, and writing letters excellent in every way, which he sent out in order to govern his subordinate provinces, Satan became full of envy and could not endure these magnificent things.

He caused a second Judas, unworthy of the name of  Petrus Gurganara, who from a spiritual pastor had become a ravening wolf, to deny Christ and embrace the error of magianism, because the purity and integrity of the church expelled him from its womb because of his many abominations and immoralities, like a splinter from the eye, and, with the traitor, his associates.

He went to the chief magian and at the command of the king obtained a order of apostasy[1], that any of the bishops, priests and deacons ordained by the blessed one who did not resign should be thrown into prison, and that no-one should refer to him[2] as Catholicos, because he only became a Christian in later life.

26.  When this command was broadcast by the machinations of the apostate and his associates, some fearful people were influenced, and all prayed to God that he would have mercy on his church and not deliver it into the hands of the destroyer.  But when the traitor got this order and took it to Azerbaijan and convinced the Mobed of the area to prosecute the disciples of the blessed one before him and, because of his murderous ambition,  to treat the blessed one in the same way as his disciples, the Lord did not fulfil his wicked desire.  Instead he inspired the Mobedan (Mobed) and the magians to call him[3] before them and to question him in the way he[4] wanted.  And the Mobed said, “I do not have the authority to question him.”[5]  Some of the magians mentioned said, however, “He shall come before us as we are very determined to see him.” 

And because he was persuaded to, he came before their assembly and they let him seat himself in great honour.”  And because they heard sound thinking from his mouth, they reviled and beat the apostate, so that he hid himself from them. 

When he saw his hopes come to nothing, he sought another way to kill the saint.  He hired some rascals and came with them to the place where the godly one lived, to murder him and give as an excuse that he[6] was escaping from custody. 

But God, who knew the thoughts of the traitor, did not allow it.  For when the traitor arrived secretly at night with his men, entered and searched for his disciples, he heard the voice of the blessed one, and from fright and shame became weak and trembly and could not lay a hand on him.[7]  The men of the house found out, and the people of the village, and they came, beat the apostates, and drove him away, together with the magians that he had brought with him.

The attempt to dispose of Mar Aba, first by legal and then  by direct means, was clearly very amateurish and failed.  But it was a wake-up call for Mar Aba.

  1. [1]The writer seems to mean that the order itself indicated that the person brandishing it was an apostate.
  2. [2]Mar Aba.
  3. [3]Mar Aba.
  4. [4]Petrus Gurganara.
  5. [5]Is this “question” as in “being put to the question”, i.e. torture?
  6. [6]Mar Aba.
  7. [7]Not an experienced conspirator, it seems!

Life of Mar Aba – chapter 24

Here is another chapter of the hagiographical life of the East Syriac patriarch, Mar Aba I, who ruled in the Persian empire in the late 6th century.  For those who have not seen the earlier chapters, Aba is a Zoroastrian official who has converted, and become patriarch.  He is on good terms with the King of Kings, but currently under house arrest for political reasons in a remote area of Azerbaijan dominated by Zoroastrianism.

24.  He turned the house that he lived in into a church.  He set up there an altar of Christ,  and every day gave himself with his disciples to fasting and prayer.  What in the beginning was the dwelling of Satan became then a house of prayer to the true God.  From the provinces Metropolitans, bishops, priests, deacons and believing men and women came together there, in fact, to pray and to receive his blessing.  Some were standing at his door in sackcloth and ashes, for their sins, and received remission.  Some received the blessing of the spiritual dignity of the episcopate.  Some received the dignity of the priesthood, diaconate or other ecclesiastical ranks (τάξις).  All the houses of the persecutors and blasphemers became offices of the saints and houses of prayer and praise to God.  Crowds of bishops met and the sound was heard of their songs of the Holy Spirit.  A stream of priests came to the offices of their comrades and told each other of the great and wonderfuls that they had seen and heard.  The mountains and heights of Azerbaijan became like cities, wherever the feet of the Saint went.  Old men who came to see the Saint forgot their age and sprang up like deer, and those struck down by disease recovered when they were carried to him to seek his blessing.

None of this material seems very interesting, and it may simply be the imagination of the hagiographer.  It would be nice to return to something like the historical elements in the earlier chapters!  Fortunately in chapter 25 the historical narrative returns.


Notes on Walter Bauer, “Orthodoxy and heresy” – part 1

A little while ago I was encouraged to read Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy.  Last weekend the book (in English translation) arrived by ILL, and last night I started to read it.

At the moment I have no overall verdict on the book, but a couple of passages struck me, and are worthy of comment for themselves.  That I have not discussed other parts of the same chapter does not mean, of course, that I do not have a problem there also; merely that they did not stick in my head in the same way.

First a couple of methodological items.

From the introduction:

In our day and age, there is no longer any debate that in terms of a scientific approach to history, the New Testament writings cannot be understood properly if one now looks back on them … as sacred books, and prizes them as constituent parts of the celestial charter of salvation, with all the attendant characteristics.

It’s good to know that there is “no longer any debate” among some bunch of deadheads that the New Testament cannot be understood “properly” other than on the basis that it is not scripture.  Quite why a scholarly approach requires a formal creedal statement of unbelief is not explained.  In the next paragraph he utters the following:

We can determine adequately the significance the “heretics” possessed … only when we … without hesitation cast all our preconceived ideas aside. We must remain open to all possibilities.

But only, apparently, those possibilities which exclude the idea that the Christian religion might be true? 

Methodologically this is very bad stuff.  But something must be allowed for the fact that we’re reading a translation of an author writing in German, and evidently not very critically minded.  If he had said something like the following, few would have objected:

In order to study the early history of the church, we must be wary of allowing later perspectives from a more fully developed orthodox position to be back-projected onto the period.  It seems unlikely that the first possessors of the New Testament documents recognised them as scripture in the way that they did the Old Testament; and our analysis cannot presuppose that they did.

This, probably, is what Bauer would like his readers to suppose is being said here, and it’s all testably true.  There is, however, a measurable distance between this and what Bauer actually says.  And Bauer exploits this fact to slip in points that are not discussed or evidenced.

In chapter 1 there was a positive gem:

When we ask how and when Christianity gained influence in this region, it is unnecessary to begin with a survey of the sources – – which are in Syriac, Greek, and a few in Latin. Instead, for the sake of convenience, we will combine the information concerning the sources with the evaluation of them and with the collection of discernible data made possible thereby.

Convenience?  Whose convenience is it, one wonders?  The reader will usually not have all the relevant data in his head.  Any reasonable analysis of the data must start with tabulating it.

There is only one situation in which people try not to allow the data to speak for itself; when they are engaged in trying to debunk it to peddle some theory of their own.  This I always think of as the Von Daniken approach, after the Swiss hotel-keeper whose efforts brightened my teenage years and for whom I retain some affection even now.  I regret that I feel no such affection, however, for such manipulation in scholarly works.

Now for something substantive, and much more interesting!

Bauer is trying to debunk all evidence of Christianity in Edessa, presumably — I haven’t reached that part of the book yet — in order to argue from an absence of evidence, which he is manufacturing here, that this is evidence of absence.  It’s a charmless process that does nothing to gain the reader’s respect.   But it includes this argument, which caused me to scratch my head:

 … the existence of ecclesiastically organized Christianity in Edessa at this time cannot be asserted with any confidence … Eusebius …

d) EH 5.23.4: At the time of the Roman bishop Victor (189-99), gatherings of bishops took place everywhere on the matter of the Easter controversy, and Eusebius still knows of letters in which the church leaders have set down their opinion. In this connection, the following localities are enumerated: Palestine, Rome, Pontus, Gaul, and then the “Osroëne and the cities there.”

The phrase “and the cities there” is as unusual as it is superfluous. Where else are the Osroëne bishops supposed to have been situated except in the “cities there”?

But what speaks even more decisively against these words than this sort of observation is the fact that the earliest witness for the text of Eusebius, the Latin translation of Rufinus, does not contain the words “as well as from those in the Osroëne and the cities there.” This cannot be due to tampering with the text by the Italian translator, for whom eastern matters are of no great concern.

In those books with which he has supplemented Eusebius’ History, Rufinus mentions Mesopotamia and Edessa several times (11.5 and 8 at the end; see below, n.24).

Thus the only remaining possibility is that in his copy of EH 5.23.4 he found no reference to the Osroëne, but that we are dealing here with a grammatically awkward interpolation by a later person who noted the omission of Edessa and its environs.

Over paragraphing is mine.  We should note the absence of discussion of the Syriac and Armenian versions, which I likewise am not equipped to examine.

Let’s put that argument into a systematic form, with one or two additions from my own knowledge:

  1. Eusebius refers to “church officials” in Osroene and its cities.
  2. The earliest extant Greek texts of Eusebius’s Church History are 9th century.
  3. Rufinus translated/condensed the 10 books of Eusebius into 9, and then added 2 books of his own.
  4. The earliest extant copies of the Latin translation by Rufinus are earlier than the Greek of the original.
  5. Therefore we can presume that what Rufinus omitted was not part of the text of Eusebius, but was interpolated later.

On the face of it, that is a weird, weird argument.  Why on earth would we argue from the absence of text in an epitome?  But is Rufinus an epitome?  I learn[1] that in fact it is largely a translation: in his preface, given at the link below, he states that he omitted most of book 10 of Eusebius, added what was left to book 9, and then composed 2 additional books. 

I can’t say that I have ever compared the Latin of Rufinus with the Greek text — Schwartz’ GCS edition prints both on facing pages.   However in the Schwartz edition, there seems to be a lot of commonality.  I learn from a web search that somewhere there is an article on the differences, by Schwartz himself, but not the bibliographic reference.

It would be interesting to know better what the differences are. 

Is the argument sound?  I’d be very sceptical about arguing from a versio like this, and likewise from the argument that the existence of earlier mss is proof of better preservation necessarily.  It’s possible.  It’s just a bit weak.

  1. [1]Rosamund McKitterick, History and memory in the Carolingian world, p.228 f., in Google Books preview here.

A bit more of Abu Qurra

I thought that I would translate a little more from this text:

3.  I left these people, and then Samaritans approached me, saying: “Do not pay attention to these people, but come to us, because nobody is right outside of us. We are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the friends of God, the God of heaven and earth. He had promised our fathers that, he would save their offspring from the land of Egypt, and give them the land of Palestine as their inheritance.  He did this by the intermediary of the prophet Moses.

“God sent him to Pharaoh, and struck [Pharaoh], as well as the people of Egypt, with the well-known signs and wonders.  By force he helped our fathers escape from the hand of Pharaoh; he parted the sea for them; he drowned Pharaoh and his armies there.

“He led our fathers into the wilderness and fed them manna and quails.  He made water burst out of a rock for them.  He gave them the Law of God, which determines for them what is allowed and what is not.  He slew the Philistines and gave their land to our fathers, whose children until today we are.

“So long as we remain faithful to him in keeping the Law, he pours on us his blessings.  But when we resist him, he chastises us, and afflicts us in this world.  Those of us who do good have a prosperous life in this world, those who do ill encounter misfortune.  And when we leave this world, we perish forever.  There is no resurrection.”

Hmm.  Nothing in this suggests a real, contemporary encounter with Samaritans, does it?

4.  I left these people, and at once was approached by Jews who said, “Do not pay attention to those individuals, and don’t join them because they are in error.

“What they said to you, that God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Joseph, the promise that He made them about their descendants, the sending by Him of Moses, and that he brought [our fathers] out of Egypt in order to bring them into the land of Canaan, all that is true, so it happened indeed.

“But when they claim to be the descendants of Abraham and of Israel, they are liars.  They are really the sons of the Mazdaeans, and as for the descendants of Abraham and Israel, that’s us!  Truly God gave the land of Israel as an inheritance  to our fathers, where they have resided for 1500 years in unparalleled prosperity.  Then they sinned, and God was angered against them.  He delivered them into the hands of the nations, who deported them.

“But God promised our fathers to send us the messiah.  God will gather us from the ends of the earth into the land of Palestine, He will give us once again the dignity that we used to have, and we will dominate the nations.  He will also raise the dead and gather them with us.   He will command the earth, and it will bring forth bread already baked, for ever.

“God does not lie.  This word will be realised, and we are awaiting it.  Do not attach yourself to anyone else, because ours is the only religion!”

5.  I left these people, and then I was approached by the Christians.  “Do not be led astray,” they said, “by the speech of the Jews.  For God has sent the messiah of whom they speak, but they did not receive him.  So God is angry against them and has dispersed them to the far corners of the earth.  They are in perdition forever, and their hope is vain.

“But what you need is the religion of the messiah and his teaching: that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God; three persons, yet one in substance.

“This is the true religion that Christ, the Son of God, has given us in the gospel.  He has fixed in our favour what is allowed and not allowed.  He has promised to raise the dead, to reward those who do good with the heavenly kingdom, and to punish those who do evil by hell.  There is no true religion apart from ours; don’t let anyone abuse you!”


From my diary

I’ve been thinking again about how a reliable Mithras site might look. 

One of the problems has been layout.  I’ve had great difficulty finding a format for the top-level page that worked for me.  But I had something of a breakthrough last night, when I started working from the Tertullian Project home page as a basis.  I was also able to find online a quality but usable photograph of a tauroctony which, I felt, was suitable to go at the top of the page.

The structure of the Tertullian Project, into various smaller and separate pages, would also work for the Mithras material.

It needs to be done.  At present there is no reliable source for information on Mithras online.  The Wikipedia article has been carefully poisoned, and has deteriorated further since.  So something must be done.

It is a great pity that Vermaseren’s collection of reliefs and inscriptions is not online.  But if I do a proper page, possibly I might be able to get permission from Brill to host a copy?  It’s worth considering, at any rate.


Reading what ex-Wikipedians have to say

Regular readers will know that I had a very bad experience attempting to contribute to the Mithras article on Wikipedia, when I was the target of a deliberate campaign of violence and defamation by an obvious troll operating at least two accounts, who simply wanted to own my work and push a falsehood.  It ended with a corrupt administrator blocking me on a false accusation of sock puppeting.  I disabled my account and I’ve not been back, needless to say. 

But the experience left me wondering how many other honest contributors have had the same experience.  Today I’ve been reading around the entries on the Wikipediocracy blog.  They are well-written and well thought-out. 

I’ve also spent some time reading material at the Wikipedia Review forum, which contains more of the same, and there is also a Wikipediocracy forum, much of it written by people who are obviously still bleeding from the beatings they received.  

All this makes sad reading.  Out of it emerges a picture of a cess-pit full of vipers, in which, to change metaphors, ordinary contributors are little more than meat for the grinder. 

I’ve written there a short account myself of my own evil experience of Wikipedia administration (here).

Obviously the articles on these sites are very much the work of the disillusioned ex-Wikipedians; but none the less they represent a valuable corrective to the quite misleadingly positive impression that many people have of Wikipedia.  Most people suppose that the way Wikipedia represents itself is accurate.  Even those who have enough experience to realise that this presentation is not how things actually work, and that there is endless fighting involved, nevertheless tend to suppose (as I did) that the administration is honest at least in intent.  The testimonies of the ex-Wikipedians suggest very strongly otherwise. 

It is, of course, necessary to treat all these narratives with a degree of scepticism.  All these people are exiles; and, notoriously, the exile’s perspective on his homeland is distorted by his exile.  There is an undue willingness to believe evil of the ruling faction, and an undue willingness to suppose that anyone else notices.  Memory deceives, and, without any intention to mislead, a narrative can be constructed which is unbalanced.

But that said, it is quite eye-opening to see what is said there.