A new 4th century fragment of Justin Martyr!!!

Via Brice C. Jones I learn that the new volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (vol. 73) contains a parchment fragment of the 4th century, with 6 lines from Justin Martyr’s First Apology on it! The reference is P.Oxy. 5129.

This is quite a find, since the apologies of Justin are known to us only from ms. Paris graecus 450, written in 1364.   It is by no means unusual for Greek texts to be preserved only in manuscripts of the 14-16th centuries; what is unusual is to get a shred of a manuscript from antiquity.

Jones gives a photograph, transcription and translation.  It’s a shame that it’s so very short; but how very exciting too!


The patristic idea that God is outside of time

A post in an online forum drew my attention to some passages in which God is described explicitly as being outside of time, and seeing all eternity as the present.

The first source mentioned is Augustine, Confessions, book 11.  The old NPNF translation is here, and a look at the (Victorian) headings for the chapters reveals some very interesting ideas:

Chapter X.-The Rashness of Those Who Inquire What God Did Before He Created Heaven and Earth.

Chapter XI.-They Who Ask This Have Not as Yet Known the Eternity of God, Which is Exempt from the Relation of Time.

Chapter XII.-What God Did Before the Creation of the World.

Chapter XIII.-Before the Times Created by God, Times Were Not.

Chapter XIV.-Neither Time Past Nor Future, But the Present Only, Really is.

Chapter XV.-There is Only a Moment of Present Time.

Chapter XVI.-Time Can Only Be Perceived or Measured While It is Passing.

Chapter XVII.-Nevertheless There is Time Past and Future.

Chapter XVIII.-Past and Future Times Cannot Be Thought of But as Present.

Chapter XIX.-We are Ignorant in What Manner God Teaches Future Things.

It is unfortunate that the translator used mock-Jacobean English, in a manner more or less impenetrable even to someone as well-educated as the readers of this blog must be.  For instance one passage in chapter 11 is rendered:

… in the Eternal nothing passeth away, but that the whole is present; but no time is wholly present ….

Fortunately I was able to find other versions:

In the Eternal, on the other hand, nothing passes away, but the whole is simultaneously present. (Outler translation[1])

In the eternal, nothing is transient, but the whole is present. (Chadwick translation.[2])

Boethius expresses a similar view in the Consolation of Philosophy, book 5, which is online here:

If one may not unworthily compare this present time with the divine, just as you can see things in this your temporal present, so God sees all things in His eternal present. Wherefore this divine foreknowledge does not change the nature or individual qualities of things: it sees things present in its understanding just as they will result some time in the future.

The translator of Boethius adds a useful note directing us to the Timaeus of Plato, “ch. xi. 38 B”, and stating that where Boethius refers to people who ‘hear that Plato thought, etc.,’ this is because this was the teaching of some of Plato’s successors at the Academy. Plato himself thought otherwise.

The passage referenced from Plato’s Timaeus 11 is as follows:

For there were no days  and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when  he constructed the heaven he created them also. They are all parts of time,  and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that he “was,” he “is,” he “will be,” but the truth is that “is” alone is properly attributed to him, and that “was” and “will be” only to be spoken of becoming in time,  for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same cannot become  older or younger by time, nor ever did or has become, or hereafter will  be, older or younger, nor is subject at all to any of those states which  affect moving and sensible things and of which generation is the cause.  These are the forms of time, which imitates eternity and revolves according  to a law of number. Moreover, when we say that what has become is become  and what becomes is becoming, and that what will become is about to become  and that the non-existent is non-existent-all these are inaccurate modes  of expression. But perhaps this whole subject will be more suitably discussed  on some other occasion.

Time, then, and the heaven came into being at the same instant  in order that, having been created together, if ever there was to be a  dissolution of them, they might be dissolved together. It was framed after  the pattern of the eternal nature, that it might resemble this as far as  was possible; for the pattern exists from eternity, and the created heaven  has been, and is, and will be, in all time. Such was the mind and thought  of God in the creation of time.

Chadwick adds a note referring us to Plotinus 3.7.3, which reads:

All [Eternity’s] content is in immediate concentration as at one point; nothing in it ever knows development: all remains identical within itself, knowing nothing of change, for ever in a Now since nothing of it has passed away or will come into being, but what it is now, that it is ever.

What we have here, then, is a philosophical idea from the Platonic school, being adopted by the Fathers to deal with the difficult question of the relationships of time and eternity.

As with all such borrowings, we may use them if they clarify what the scriptures tell us; but with the reservation that, if they cease to be useful, they are merely theories and may be discarded.

  1. [1]A.C. Outler, Augustine: Confessions and Enchiridion, Library of Christian Classics, Westminster Press, 1955,  p.252.
  2. [2]Henry Chadwick, Augustine: Confessions, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, 1991.

Church of Scotland trying to hide a scandal by editing Wikipedia?

A few months ago I mentioned a very odd story from Scotland, where, in 2012, the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland drove one of its largest congregations out of their own building, which they had just contributed $5m to refurbish, under threat of lawsuit.  There were many evil deeds by the church officials, all reported in the national Scottish press.  The church bureaucrats even sent bailiffs to a prayer meething, to seize the hymnbooks, paid for by the worshippers, from the hands of the worshippers.  There was a scandal, the Church of Scotland was covered with obliquy, and the same officials released a very tetchy and less-than-honest press release which was duly savaged by the press.  The church building was empty and the officials prepared to dispose of it; the congregation had started a new free church; and the church officials looked like fools and liars.

Such stories have happened before.  They happen whenever a church ceases to exist for its principles and becomes governed by bureaucrats concerned only with “business as usual”.  When the parishes come into conflict with the church bureaucracy, the latter invariably behave very badly.  But I thought that this was the end of the story.

It would seem not.  Today I happened to look at the Wikipedia page for the church, St Georges Tron, which I last looked at back in 2012.  And … miraculously, the story had vanished!  There was a bland paragraph about how the congregation had “seceded”, and that was it.  The paragraphs, with references, that described what had happened and why the church was now empty, had all vanished.

A little investigation revealed that someone had created an account, “User:BigAl246”, and used it solely to do those edits to that article.  It had also made an edit to the article the minister of the church, William Phillips.

It is pretty difficult to think of anybody outside of the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland who would have a motive.  Who else would want to conceal the facts?  The editor is, presumably, a press officer for the Church of Scotland, or one of the guilty men behind the scandal.

I do wish we knew the name of the wicked man in the Glasgow Presbytery who orchestrated all this evil.  I suppose it comes as no surprise that this man and his friends are willing to try deception afterwards.

It is always curious to see a rotter at work.   Apart from anything else, it is amusing to see someone willing to do something wicked, and ashamed of the bad publicity, but not of his evildoing.

It will be interesting to see if anyone at Wikipedia cares.


The “Senatus Palace” at Nicaea (Iznik)

I have just returned from a coach tour around parts of Turkey.  One of the places visited was Iznik, formerly Nicaea.

Nicaea stands at the eastern end of a substantial lake, and at the western end of a considerable plain filled with endless olive groves.  The lake itself is surrounded by mountains, with a breach at the western end through which the lake waters empty into the sea.

The town is now little more than a village, but it still shows the Hellenistic street plan.  It is surrounded by two sets of tremendous medieval walls from the Byzantine period.  The gateways themselves are Roman, built in Trajan’s reign, and incorporated into the Byzantine walls.  The walls also run along the lake-side.  It is a tranquil, pleasant place, and a house in Nicaea overlooking the lake would undoubtedly be a restful place to be.

When our party were driven down to the lake-side, we were intoduced to the remains of a stone structure running out into the lake.  This, we were told, was the “Senatus Palace”, built by Constantine, and in which the First Council of Nicaea was held.

One would not, of course, trust unreservedly any statement uttered by a dragoman, from whatever source, but it is certainly the case that there is masonry here, and fragments of the Roman town.  It would be entirely remarkable if the site of the council was still to be seen.

Unfortunately I have been unable to verify any of the information given.  The following photos were all taken on the spot.

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Coptic Encyclopedia, Nag Hammadi photos, online at Claremont Colleges Digital Library

Via AWOL I learn:

The Claremont Colleges Digital Library is serving some interesting open access  material relating to antiquity: …

Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia The Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia (CCE) will initially include  approximately 2800 articles published in The Coptic Encyclopedia (Aziz  S. Atiya, ed. NY: Macmillan, 1991). The CCE will continuously add  updates and new topics from the growing body of scholarship in Coptic  studies at institutions worldwide. The scope of articles includes Coptic language and literature; Copto-Arabic literature; Coptic art,  architecture, archaeology, history, music, liturgy, theology,  spirituality, monasticism; and biblical, apocryphal, social, and legal  texts.

Nag Hammadi Archive
The Nag Hammadi codices, thirteen ancient manuscripts containing  over fifty religious and philosophical texts written in Coptic and  hidden in an earthenware jar for 1,600 years, were accidentally  discovered in upper Egypt in the year 1945. … The images in this collection were taken during the excavations and translation  project of the 1970’s and record the environments surrounding  excavations, visiting dignitaries, and the scholars working on the  codices. …

The Coptic Encyclopedia project is very welcome!

The photographs taken during the 70’s project by James M. Robinson to publish the Nag Hammadi texts are of historical interest.


British Library beginning to digitise its papyri

Sarah Biggs at the British Library Manuscripts blog writes:

The British Library holds one of the most significant collections of Greek papyri in the world, including the longest and most significant papyrus of the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens, unique copies of major texts such as Sophocles’ Ichneutae, and the Egerton Gospel, as well as a wide range of important documentary papyri from Oxyrhynchus, Aphrodito, Hibeh, Tebtunis, and the Fayum.  The Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum was at the forefront of the new discipline of papyrology at the turn of the nineteenth century, and many of our predecessors are well-known to anyone who has ever consulted a text preserved on papyrus:  Kenyon, Bell, and Skeat, to name just three.

Today, we are happy to announce that selected key papyri have been digitised and are now available to view on Digitised Manuscripts, along with completely new catalogue descriptions.  Five papyri are available online now, and two more items will appear in the coming weeks  …

Papyrus 229 (P. Lond. I 229):  Latin deed of the sale of a slave boy, retaining the seals of its signatories

Papyrus 1531 (P. Oxy. IV 654/P. Lond. Lit. 222):  Fragment of the Gospel of Thomas, in Greek

Papyrus 2052 (P. Oxy. VIII 1073/P. Lond. Lit. 200):  Fragment of Old Latin Genesis, from a parchment codex

Papyrus 2068 (P. Oxy. IX 1174/P. Lond. Lit. 67):  Sophocles, Ichneutae

Egerton Papyrus 2 (P. Lond. Christ. 1/P. Egerton 2):  The Egerton Gospel

Excellent news, I’m sure we all agree.


Some observations on Bart Ehrman’s presentation of Salvian’s letter 9 and “Ad Ecclesiam”

The last few posts have been concerned with establishing some basic facts about the priest Salvian of Marseilles.  I have discussed his Ad Ecclesiam; the text of “letter 9”, which he seems to have prefaced to the work; about his relationship with his friend and pupil Salonius, bishop of Geneva; and about the manuscript tradition of his work.  A previous post discussed why Salvian used the pen-name of Timothy for the Ad Ecclesiam, and whether he intended to be mistaken for Timothy the Apostle, in which I concluded that we can’t know.

It is now time to review the cause of all this activity: the statements of Bart Ehrman in Forgery and counterforgery[1] on this matter.  E. mentions it on just 8 pages of his immense tome; but it is crucial to his argument and indeed is referenced on the final page of the conclusion.

The first mention is on p.84:

Sometimes forgers were called to account, as when the fifth-century ecclesiastic Salvian was caught by his own bishop forging a writing in the name of Paul’s companion Timothy. As we will see, Salvian wrote a self-serving justification in his own defense. For now it is enough to note that his bishop, Salonius, was not at all amused when he discovered that his former colleague and current underling had tried to promote his own views in the name of an authority who had been dead for four hundred years. That Salonius was upset and incensed is clear; how he reacted to Salvian’s self-defense we will never know. We learn of the incident only from Salvian himself.

It is not ideal that a scholarly writer should anticipate his conclusions without qualification so early in the book, as doing so is liable to prejudice the unwary reader. This is particularly the case when using emotive language, and imaginative speculation that such-and-such “is clear”. For, at this point, E. has yet to show whether any of these statements are true.

A number of questions arise immediately. Salonius was bishop of Geneva. Was he really the superior of a monk of Lerins? Did 5th century monks owe obedience to secular bishops? Likewise wasn’t Salonius a friend and pupil of Salvian, rather than merely “his own bishop”.  Elsewhere I have discussed these questions, and E.’s claims do not seem to hold water.

The prose saying that  Salvian “was caught … forging”; that Salonius was “not amused … upset and incensed”, is colourful, but does anything in the source record any of this? Is E. taking his own imagination for fact, the reader begins to ask. Certainly the long-term and friendly relationship between the two men does not preclude the idea that their friendship could not hit a bump; but nothing in the data justifies us in supposing that it did.  Again, all this tends to prejudice rather than inform.

The next portion of the book to mention Salvian is the main body of E.’s criticism of him, on p.94-6.  Here, if anywhere, Salvian may be described, and the claim of forgery made against him and evaluated from all angles.  What does E. say?

Before creating a kind of taxonomy [of the motivations of forgers] of our own, we might consider the one instance, from a slightly later period, in which a forger attempted to justify his actions once they were detected.


The author was a Christian presbyter of Marseille named Salvian, who around 440 CE published the book Timothei ad Ecclesiam Libri IV.[4] The name “Timothy,” of course, had clear apostolic connections from Pauline times. In his letter to the church, “Timothy” inveighed against a community that had grown rich and soft, while advocating radical almsgiving to the church (in the divestment of property). In his concern for total commitment to the gospel and an ascetic style of life, Salvian was not far removed from the concerns of another author, from about the same time, a pseudonymous “Titus” (the other of Paul’s Pastoral companions) who wrote a scathing attack on Christians who indulged in the joys of the flesh, condemning anyone, married or not, who engaged in sexual activities. The author of the forged letter of Titus was never discovered. But the author of the forged letter of Timothy was, by none other than his own bishop, Salonius of Geneva.

Long before the incident, Salonius and Salvian had been members of the monastic community at Lerins, where, for a time, Salvian was Salonius’ teacher. But eventually the student surpassed the instructor in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and when the letter of “Timothy” came to his attention, he immediately, for reasons never given, suspected that in fact it had been written by his former teacher and colleague. He evidently confronted Salvian on the matter, and Salvian wrote a letter in self-defense.

Note that forgery is presumed from the first line of the discussion.  But is E. a scholar making a judgement, or a prosecuting counsel hammering home his charges?  Surely the claim of forgery be the conclusion of whatever investigation E. proposes to do?

It is also unfortunate that he introduces a spurious “letter of Titus” (unreferenced); this merely helps to fix the accusation in the mind of the reader.  But this letter has nothing to do with Salvian, and it would surely be better to demonstrate forgery before alleging it.

The portrait of the relationship of the two men is colourful, but unsatisfactory.  No indication is given that much of this is merely speculation; the picture of Salonius discovering the work, suspecting Salvian, and “confronting” him is imagination, given by no source but based entirely on how E.’s interpretation of the text.  Likewise the reader will not learn from this parapraph that Salonius was a son of Bishop Eucherius, and was sent to the monastery at Lerins at age 10.  Far from being co-members, Salonius was Salvian’s pupil.

In this, his ninth letter, Salvian does not directly admit to having written Timothei ad Ecclesiam. But there is really no doubt about the matter, as he explains why the pseudonymous author (of whom he speaks in the third person) did what he did. That is to say, he explains his motivations.

That Salvian is the author is generally accepted, not least because of the similarities in style and content between the work and De gubernatione dei, which quotes it.  But it is surprising to find that E., so often referred to as a textual critic, is so uninterested in the question of linguistic style, and the relationship between the two ancient texts.   Something on this question would surely have been useful to the reader.  Few will accept the argument offered instead; E. claims that one man cannot know the motivations of another, and so discussion of motivation proves authorship.

On one hand, Salvian insists, the name of an author should not matter to a reader: “In the case of every book we ought to be more concerned about the intrinsic value of its contents than about the name of its author.” So too, “Since the name [of the author] is immaterial, there is no use in asking about the author’s name so long as the reader profits from the book itself.” These pleas ring hollow, however, in light of the rest of Salvian’s self-defense: If he really thought that an author’s name did not matter, why would he write pseudonymously? Why not write in his own name? Or even better, if names do not matter, why not write the book anonymously? The question is exacerbated by the fact that Salvian otherwise wrote extensively in his own name. His De gubernatione dei still survives, and other works were known in Christian antiquity.

Salvian certainly suggests that the reader should judge the work by its content, not by the name attached to it.  This was good advice and still is.  But it is not clear how this is connected to the question of why Salvian chose to use a pen-name.  His motive for not using his own name is stated in the letter; that he was so unimportant that the objects of his sermon — very rich optimates — would ignore his book as by a mean man.  Any name was better than his own.  So the objections raised here seem more like vituperation.

As the date of his works are not known, and De gubernatione dei is later than the Ad ecclesiam, the objection in the final two sentences seems to have no force.  Salvian may have found that it was safer than he first thought to speak openly; we cannot tell.

Still, Salvian’s answer is straightforward. He recognizes his own insignificance and knows that readers do in fact think it matters who produced a writing. He therefore “wisely selected a pseudonym for his book for the obvious reason that he did not wish the obscurity of his own person to detract from the influence of his otherwise valuable book.” If the authority of a book is rooted in the prestige of an author, then obviously a pseudonym is necessary: “For this reason the present writer chose to conceal his identity in every respect for fear that his true name would perhaps detract from the influence of his book, which really contains much that is exceedingly valuable.”

The abbreviation of Salvian’s argument here obscures what I believe we should understand Salvian to be claiming, as we shall see.  Since the letter is not long, and yet is one of the longest of his “proof texts”, E. would have been far wiser to follow Armin Baum in his Pseudepigraphie and give the texts that he is referencing in full, in the original language and in translation.

Given this confession of motivation, what Salvian claims next may seem a bit surprising, if not downright duplicitous. Why did he choose the name Timothy in particular? Readers naturally took the name to refer to Paul’s Pastoral companion, hence Salonius’ distraught reaction. But in clear tension with his earlier assertion that an unknown person would not be accepted as an authoritative source, Salvian claims that he chose the name purely for its symbolic associations. Just as the evangelist Luke wrote to “Theophilus” because he wrote “for the love of God,” so too the author of this treatise wrote as “Timothy,” that is, “for the honor of God.” In other words, he chose the pseudonym as a pen name.

The “distraught” Salonius — really, the language is so emotive that one imagines that E. must have had dinner with him, and dried his tears! — is again an invention; as, indeed, are the “readers”, plural, who “naturally took the name” to refer to the apostle.  Speculation as to duplicity does not advance the argument at all.

The final objection – that using the name of Timothy contradicts Salvian’s assertion that an unknown person would not be heard – seems to misunderstand Salvian’s point in letter 9.  He is well aware that Salvian the humble monk would not be heard.  A book under a pen-name might be, precisely because it could be by anyone, and so could not be dismissed so easily.  Important people have used pen-names, after all, he may have reasoned.

Even though many critics today continue simply to take Salvian’s word for it, the explanation does not satisfy. If Salvian meant what he said, that the reason for choosing a pseudonymous name was to authorize the account—since a treatise written by an obscure or unknown person has no authority—then how can he also say that the specific pseudonymous name was not that of an authority figure (Paul’s companion Timothy) but of an unknown, obscure, and anonymous person intent on honoring God?

We may wonder how many who have published on Salvian have taken E.’s line.  Sadly he does not say.

On the last point, there seems no indication in letter 9 that Salvian thought using the name of Timothy would gain him the authority of an apostle.  His point is rather that using his own would lose him authority.

Scholars determined to follow Salvian’s lead in getting him off Salonius’ hook have pursued various angles. Norbert Brox thinks it significant that Salvian claims in the letter to be humble (“we are urged to avoid every pretense of earthly vainglory. … The writer … is humble in his own sight, self-effacing, thinking only of his own utter insignificance”); for Brox, the choice of the pseudonym was consistent with ascetic practices of self-abnegation that Salvian, in part, endorsed in the treatise of “Timothy.” Brox notes that on two other occasions in his writings Salvian quotes himself, both times anonymously. He chose, in other words, to keep himself, and so his name, out of the limelight.

E. does not explain why he is certain — for what else does the reference to “scholars determined to…” mean? — that other scholars are merely prejudiced.

Brox’ article[2] is accessible through JSTOR, so may be readily consulted.  The reader who has seen only F&C may be surprised to learn that it does not discuss the forgery issue at all.  Instead B. examines how ascetic authors treat the issue of authorship.  He concludes that several consider that it is entirely acceptable to use evasion, not for advantage, but in order to avoid advantage, to avoid being credited for doing something good.  The self-sacrifice of reputation is aimed at.  In this way B. highlights that Salvian is following a tradition in what he says, not simply making a random excuse.  E. does not seem to have adequately understood the argument made, which renders what follows somewhat irrelevant.

There is some merit to this view, but it does not really solve the problem. Quoting oneself in the third person is not the same thing as writing in the name of someone else: if keeping out of the public eye was the key, then, as I have pointed out, Salvian could have written Ad Ecclesiam anonymously. Moreover, the other examples of the literary self-abnegation that Brox cites—starting with Pauls discussion of his ecstatic removal to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians—involve instances in which an author actually uses his own name (i.e., 2 Corinthians is orthonymous). Brox does not, that is, adduce anything analogous to Salvian’s letter. What is completely analogous is the slew of forged writings from the early Christian tradition, numerous texts put in circulation by authors claiming to be apostles and companions of apostles, including letters allegedly written both to and by Timothy and Titus, canonical and noncanonical. Moreover, it should be reemphasized that Salvian did write other books using his own name.

Again this fails because it does not grasp the point that Salvian is part of a tradition, where names are concealed.  The argument that this is not precisely the same in implementation is not relevant; Brox is showing that the motive is the same, and we may suppose that the same impulse might appear in many ways.

But E. then falls into a circular argument.  His book is intended to show that Christians habitually composed apocrypha – an idea which would be news to Salonius, whether angry as E. depicts him, or not — and so he argues that Salvian is an example of this.  But in fact E. is using the example of Salvian as evidence for his proposition.

Even less convincing is the more recent claim of David Lambert that Salvian’s ninth letter was actually written as a preface to Ad Ecclesiam. It is true that in the scant manuscript tradition it is located there; but one can easily imagine why a scribe might arrange Salvians writings in that order, so as to explain the true nature of the authorship of the tractate. It can hardly make sense for Salvian to have put it there initially: the letter is a response to objections raised subsequent to the publication of the tractate, a self-defense for having circulated it under the name of someone else.

Lambert’s article is also accessible online on Google Books, in part at least, and his suggestion is interesting but not as strongly stated as it might be.

The difficulty with E.’s argument here is that there is no trace of an independent manuscript tradition for letter 9; nor of a copy of Ad Ecclesiam under Salvian’s name.  A medieval scribe could not readily associate the two, other than by finding the two together already.  The reason that the letter must certainly have been attached to the work by Salvian is that otherwise it would not serve the purpose for which it was written, in highlighting that Ad Ecclesiam is a modern work.  This I have discussed earlier.

The argument from circulation is also misconceived.  It is possible that the text circulated before letter 9 was added to it, but we do not know of any such circulation.  What we do know is that a copy reached Salonius.  But surely the most obvious reason for this is that Salvian sent it to him?  Why multiply hypotheses?  The hypothesis of general circulation at that point is not based on any evidence, it should be noted.  It should be remembered that Salvian actually dedicated the next book, De gubernatione dei to his friend, which perhaps suggests that Salvian and Salonius were in some way linked in a literary sense on a regular basis.

We do not know how Salonius reacted to Salvian’s defensive ninth letter. But it is relatively clear how he reacted to the tractate Ad Ecclesiam itself. He considered it a forgery, he objected to the literary practice, and he called the author to account for it. Moreover, it is difficult to take Salvian at his word that he never meant anyone to think that he really was Timothy, the companion of Paul. Otherwise his explanation that no one would heed an unknown or obscure author makes no sense: Who is more unknown or obscure than a person who does not exist, or one whose name is not even given? But his explanation for why he could not write the book orthonymously is of considerable value: it shows that one of the motivations for producing pseudepigraphic works was to get a hearing for ones views, by claiming to be someone who deserved to be heard. That will be a fundamental point for the rest of our study.

Before stressing its importance for the polemical forgeries of early Christianity, we would do well to consider the range of motivations for forgery attested in our ancient sources.

And suddenly we have the end of the argument: a serious of assertions and pieces of speculation.  These are all rather unsatisfactory.  Where does E. intend to show that the claim of forgery, and only of forgery, is required to explain the statements in letter 9, if not here?  But he does not.

Firstly, nothing in the letter 9 of Salvian — our only source of information — tells us that Salonius considered it a forgery.  He merely warned that it might be considered an apocryphon, and so not read, unless Salvian added a statement explaining why it was written under the name of Timothy.  Nothing in it tells us that Salvian is “defensive” – this is more invention.  We have already addressed E.’s misunderstanding of the argument from a pen-name.

Of course E. may sincerely believe that Salvian ‘must’ have meant to play with the name of Timothy the apostle.  He is, of course, entitled to his opinion; we are entitled to disagree, unless evidence is forthcoming, out of simple good breeding.  But there is no evidence for the question; and the speculation that E. then gives us does nothing to help.

E. then goes on to generalise from what he understands Salvian to say; that this shows that works may be written under the name of an apostle in order to be heard.  In fact Salvian has made no such point; rather he has advocated concealing his identity as a poor monk in order to avoid being dismissed, not taking the name of an important person in order to be heard!   But suppose that he had: to use such a statement as a general rule outside of Lerins in 5th century Gaul requires more evidence than a solitary statement, surely?  One senses that E. is tired of Salvian, and eager to get on with other topics.

So what should we make of all this?  For these are the core pages in the book at which E. attempts to show that Salvian is not merely writing under a pen-name, but is engaged in deliberate, wilful, intentional forgery of a work as being that of Timothy the Apostle.  He himself states that this is his sole example of a forger explaining himself.  The stakes for E. could hardly be higher.

Clearly the argument is flawed at many points, as we have seen.  But a case may be made in a less than ideal manner, and still be valid.  Defects of detail should never derail us from examining the merits of a case in an objective and detached manner.

There is likewise nothing of contemporary importance at stake.  Emotion is out of place.  It should be of no importance to most of us whether an obscure 5th century presbyter was, or was not, engaged in something morally dubious.  Corrupt and vicious men holding a post of clergyman have existed from Caiaphas himself down to the Glasgow Presbytery of 2012 .  Corrupt clergy certainly existed in the 5th century in Gaul, as Sidonius Apollinaris tells us.  Let us suppose that Salvian was a forger, and that Salonius caught him at it.  What is the evidence?

The fundamental problem with E.’s argument is that at no point has E. attempted to argue his case.  He has instead relied primarily on assertion, made quite a number of arguments, and indulged in a rather excessive amount of imagination and speculation.  But he has not made an argument for his case.  He has merely claimed that Salvian must have intended forgery, and let the rhetoric take care of the rest.

Certainly we may suspect that the use of the name of an apostle was less than accidental.  But we do not know this because we have no evidence on the matter.

In general it is unseemly to allege deliberate fraud without evidence.  If E. finds himself shortchanged at his college canteen at the Christmas dinner, he will be well advised to presume the server is suffering from mistake, muddle, tiredness, and confusion rather than fraud in the first instance.

Let us review the other references to Salvian in F&C.  On p.119-20:

So too in the one instance we have from late antiquity of a Christian detected in the act of forgery, Salvian of Marseilles, who indicates that had he written the book Ad Ecclesiam in his own name, rather than in the name of Timothy, no one would have paid it any heed. And so he “wisely selected a pseudonym for his book for the obvious reason that he did not wish the obscurity of his own person to detract from the influence of his otherwise valuable book.” Or, as he then says, “For this reason the present writer chose to conceal his identity in every respect for fear that his true name would perhaps detract from the influence of his book, which really contains much that is exceedingly valuable.”

Here we have merely reiteration of the guilt of Salvian as a forger, and its use for a more general argument.

On p.113:

The one instance in which we have an ancient forger explain himself is the fifth-century Salvian of Marseille. As we have seen, Salvian refuses to admit guilt but states, as we have seen, that whereas readers should not assign authority to a mere name, he wrote in the name of Timothy because his own name carried no weight or authority. Salvian claims that he did nothing wrong: the “Timothy” named in the letter was not meant to be the apostolic companion of Paul but a pure pseudonym. He was writing “for the honor of God.” This claim, as we have seen, stands in direct tension with Salvian’s simultaneous insistence that for the book to be read it needed to be produced in the name of an authority. In any event, Salvian carefully avoids any admission of guilt, and if he refuses to acknowledge what he has done, then it is impossible for us to know how he justified it to himself. Possibly Salvian and most other forgers were so conflicted by what they were doing—deceiving others when they believed deceit was wrong—that they were unable even to explain to themselves why they did what they did.

This merely repeats the earlier claims, and misunderstandings.

Finally, on p.548, the very last page of the conclusions of the book, we find this:

At an early stage of our study we considered the one instance of a Christian forger who discussed his motives for lying about his identity, Salvian of Marseille, who, among other things declared: “For this reason the present writer chose to conceal his identity in every respect for fear that his true name would perhaps detract from the influence of his book, which really contains much that is exceedingly valuable.” He had an important book to write, and no one would read it if it were attributed to a nobody like Salvian. And so he wrote it in the name of Timothy, in hopes that it would have a wide influence.

It’s a long way from all those bland phrases in the opening chapters, where the existence of pen-names and novelisations is acknowledged.  Salvian is now not writing under a pen-name; he is a forger; and not just a forger, a liar too!  The reader is led to suppose that he probably cheats at scrabble too!  The stern moralist, who dared to criticise the vicious and powerful … is not even mentioned by E. in all this.

The characteristic in all of these passages which strikes the reader most forcibly is the closed-mindedness of the author.  Salvian is introduced as a forger in every single passage.  Not once does E. consider the possibility that the subject needs investigation.  On the contrary, the allegation is considered proven as soon as made.  Everything that follows is merely elaboration, or the brushing aside of objections.  The combination of narrowness and arrogance is really very repulsive to the critical reader.

Now most sensible people subscribe to the “cock-up” theory of history, in preference to the conspiracy theory in which every action must be interpreted as deliberate and malicious.  Indeed whenever we find someone engaged in interpreting the actions of another in the most negative way possible, we may be sure that we find a polemicist with an axe to grind.

There is nothing wrong with E. advancing the hypothesis of a dishonest presbyter attempting to pass off an apocryphon upon the church, and then examining the evidence for it.  Such people have certainly existed, although a little knowledge of human nature will suggest that the majority of those so described were probably muddle-headed rather than coldly malicious.  But others were dishonest and self-serving.  Let us, by all means identify them; and let us also point out that the church was very hostile to even the suggestion of such conduct.  Nobody is invested in attempting to show that every person ever associated with the Christian Church was above any moral failing whatever; the implicit accusation is a strawman argument if ever there was one.

But it is quite surprising that E. does not engage in a critical evaluation of his own hypothesis.  By all means raise the question: but then look at it from all sides, and ask what can be said against.  Of this there is no trace.

It is the task of the scholar, not merely to advance ideas, but also to inform the discussion of them.  He should examine his own ideas critically, from all sides, and with an open mind.

E. does not do this.  He puts forward his claim, elaborates it, and then moves on.  The claim itself is false in some minor particulars.  But if we look at Peter Brown’s discussion of Salvian and his circle and his aims, and then back at Forgery and counterforgery, we see at once that E. gives us no real information.  Salvian for E. is merely a stage villain, introduced to be hissed by the audience.  In a work intended to be scholarly this will not do.

Something must be allowed for the brevity inevitable in a book of this kind, of course; but why be brief, when the example is sufficiently important to the argument of the whole book?

We are driven to say, therefore, that E.’s treatment of Salvian is neither satisfactory nor scholarly.

  1. [1]Oxford University Press, 2013.  My thanks to the press for kindly supplying me with a review copy.
  2. [2] Norbert Brox, “Quis ille auctor? Pseudonymitat und Anonymitat bei Salvian,” Vigiliae Christianae 40 (1986): 55-65.

Two opinions on Salvian’s Letter 9

While online this afternoon I came across a copy of the Eva M. Sanford, 1930, translation of Salvian’s De gubernatione dei, “On the government of God”, complete with a lengthy preface.  After some time I realised that it was something I had scanned myself, transferred to another site.

Sanford lists the works of Salvian in a discussion “III. Salvian’s Literary work”, and has something to say about the Ad Ecclesiam and Letter 9.[1]  It’s interesting, since Sanford finds no difficulty in the contents of letter 9, nor the pen-name of Timothy adopted:

Only nine of the letters are preserved; of these I have already spoken. The ninth, addressed to Salonius, is of special interest, since it explains both Salvian’s purpose in writing his four books Against Avarice, and his reasons for publishing them anonymously. Salonius feared that since the work was issued as the Address of Timotheus to the Church against Avarice, it might be mistaken for an apocryphal work of the “Apostle” Timothy.

Like the Government of God, the invective Against Avarice was written because of Salvian’s deep conviction of the dangers inherent in the persistent vices of men who called themselves Christians. Avarice was a besetting sin of many Romans, and had infected not only members of the church, but its clergy, even to the bishops themselves. The resultant neglect of the true service of God, and of the spiritual and material welfare of the church, led Salvian to “burst forth into words of lamentation” addressed to the church to which the offenders belonged. His failure to attach his own name to the book he explained not only by his desire to avoid vain glory in a service to God, but also by his conviction that the obscurity of his name might detract from the influence of his words. The pseudonym Timotheus (“Honoring God”) was chosen to indicate the motive of the work: ” Indeed, the writer thought it fitting that, writing his books for the honor of God, he should consecrate the title to his divine honor.”

In spite of this letter, and of Gennadius’ ascription of the work to Salvian, its anonymity was preserved in modern times, for it was published by Sichardus at Fol near Basel in 1528 as. the work of Bishop Timotheus, in a collection entitled An Antidote against the Heresies of All Ages.

While no one who reads the treatise Against Avarice can doubt the sincerity and depth of feeling with which it was written, the work is a curious document of the times. Avarice was considered one of the deadly sins. But it is hard now to avoid seeing some self-interest on the part of the church in the constant exhortations to the rich to give all their goods to the church in order to win remission of their sins. In its simplest form, this is the admonition of Christ to the rich young man: as it is elaborated to produce a surer conviction in the minds of fifth century Midases it is perilously close to the purchase of absolution. Some modern writers have thought the book more likely to encourage the avarice of the church than to discourage that of churchmen; others have seen in it an anticipation of the later satires against the greed of the clergy. The irony that is never far from Salvian’s writing is even more marked than usual in this indictment, but the unprejudiced reader is not likely to see in it an intention of actual satire. Nor is it sufficient to dismiss it, as Teuffel does, simply as a ballon d’essai. It was clearly written in all seriousness, albeit in bitterness of heart, with the earnest hope of exerting a salutary influence against a chief evil of the times. The author employed the arguments that experience had taught him were most likely to be effective.

That this work was written before the completion of the treatise On the Government of God is shown by the quotation from it in the latter; it may with some probability be assigned to the years 435-439. The words of Timothy to the church must have aroused much anger among ecclesiastical leaders, and apparently this antagonism made Salvian rather sensitive to criticism, though none the less determined to attack the vices of his day. …

A quotation from Ad Ecclesiam follows.

Now let us quote Bart Ehrman on the same subject, from Forgery and Counterforgery, p.84:

Sometimes forgers were called to account, as when the fifth-century ecclesiastic Salvian was caught by his own bishop forging a writing in the name of Paul’s companion Timothy. As we will see, Salvian wrote a self-serving justification in his own defense. For now it is enough to note that his bishop, Salonius, was not at all amused when he discovered that his former colleague and current underling had tried to promote his own views in the name of an authority who had been dead for four hundred years. That Salonius was upset and incensed is clear; how he reacted to Salvian’s self-defense we will never know. We learn of the incident only from Salvian himself.

The description of events is so different that we may wonder if both refer to the same basic facts.

  1. [1]p.15-17.

Is Salonius’ commentary on Ecclesiastes authentic?

In my last post I raised the question of whether the two commentaries transmitted under the name of the 5th century bishop Salonius of Geneva[1] were in fact authentic.  These consist of a commentary on Proverbs, and one on Ecclesiastes.

This evening I stumbled across a 1987 dissertation by A.M. Wolters which mentions the scholarship on the subject.[2]  He states that it has been shown that the commentary on Proverbs can be shown to be an abbreviation of Bede’s commentary on the same subject.

I may as well quote the relevant passages directly:

At this point we should make reference also to the commentary on Proverbs attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva, in which the Valiant Woman is taken as an allegory of the Church. It has recently been shown, however, that this commentary is actually the work of a much later medieval author. Accordingly, we will deal with it later under the heading Pseudo-Salonius. (p.20)

The independence of Bede’s commentary on the Song has only recently become evident. Since there are many verbal correspondences with the proverbs commentary that was long attributed to Salonius of Geneva (fifth century), Bede seemed to be heavily dependent on Salonius. As we shall see shortly, however, the commentary ascribed to Salonius is in fact dependent on Bede, not the other way around. (p.32)

Before leaving Bede we should take note of the fact that the recent critical edition of his Proverbs commentary by D. Hurst (1983) is sadly deficient. His apparatus fontium still lists the commentary of Pseudo-Salonius as one of Bede’s sources (though his Praefatio acknowledges that this is incorrect)… (p.37)

The main passage is:

In the period from Bede’s death (735) until the twelfth century there is little to report with respect to the interpretation of the Song of the Valiant Woman. …  the only literary production that is relevant to our survey during these three-and-a-half centuries is the commentary which was until recently attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva.

It would carry us too far afield to enter into the scholarly discussion surrounding the true date and author of the work published as Salonii Commentarii in Parabolas Salomonis et in Ecclesiasten. Suffice it to point out that the traditional attribution was still defended by C. Curti in the critical edition of these commentaries which he published under this title (Catania, 1964), but was challenged by the French scholar Jean-Pierre Weiss in a review of this edition. [77] Since then Weiss has elaborated on his critique in two articles, both published in 1970,[78] and come to the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius was a schoolmaster in Germany, probably of the ninth century.

Apparently quite independently of Weiss, the New Zealand scholar Valerie I. J. Flint also challenged the Salonian authorship, in yet another article published in 1970.[79] She concluded that the true author is Honorius Augustodunensis (eleventh-twelfth century), under whose name a version of the commentary was circulated in medieval Germany. We will content ourselves with the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius lived after Bede and before the early twelfth century.

The commentary on Proverbs by Pseudo-Salonius now turns out to be a thoroughly unoriginal work, composed very largely of excerpts from Bede’s commentary, occasionally supplemented with passages drawn from Gregory the Great.[80]

Pseudo-Salonius’ own contribution consists almost exclusively in the format of the commentary, which is that of a dialogue between teacher and student, no doubt for use in schools.

The section on the Valiant Woman begins as follows:

‘Teacher. Who is that Valiant Woman of whom it says: “Who shall find a valiant woman? Her price is remote and from the farthest regions?”

‘Student. The holy catholic Church is called a valiant woman. The reason she is called a woman is that she gives birth to spiritual sons for God out of water and the Holy Spirit. She is called valiant because she disdains and despises all the things of this world, whether harmful or advantageous, because of faith and love for her Creator and Redeemer.’ [My translation.] [81]

Note that in pseudo-Salonius’ commentary the reference to the alphabetic acrostic and its function is omitted, and that the allegorical interpretation is restricted to the Church, without reference to the individual soul. For the rest, the content of the commentary is drawn directly from Bede, both here and throughout the section dealing with the Valiant Woman. Though based on Bede throughout, Pseudo-Salonius’ comments are very selective, using only a fraction of Bede’s work. In fact, he gives extracts of Bede’s commentary on only nine of the 22 verses, namely 10, 14, 24, 22 [in that order], 25 and 28-31. The remaining thirteen are simply passed over in silence.

Whoever Pseudo-Salonius was, and whenever it was in the early Middle Ages that he lived, it is clear that he was a transmitter of Bede’s views of the Song, and thus of the broader allegorical tradition which interprets the Valiant Woman as the church. (p.38-41)


75.  J.-P. Weiss, “Essai de datation du Commentaire sur les Proverbes attribue abusivement a Salonius,” Sacris Erudiri 19 (1969/70) 95-96.

77. Revue des Etudes Latines 44 (1966) 482-84.

78. See his “Essai de datation” (n.75 above) and Studia Patristica X (Berlin, 1970) 161-167.

79. “The True Author of the Salonii Commentarii in parabolas Salomonis et in  Ecclesiasten,” Recherches de Theologie Ancienne et Medievale 37 (1970) 174-186.

80. See Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 87-94.

81. I am quoting from the Migne edition, 53, 989 (substituting Magister and Discipulus for Veranus and Salonius; see Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 98-99): “Magister. Quae est mulier illa fortis de qua dicit: Mulierem fortem auis inveniet? procul et de ultimis finibus pretium ejus? Discipulus. Mulier fortis appellatur sancta Ecclesia catholica; quae ideo mulier dicitur, quia Deo spirituales generat filios ex acqua et Spiritu sancto. Fortis ideo dicitur, quia cuncta saeculi hujus adversa simul et prospera, propter fidem Et amorem sui Conditoris ac Redemptoris contemnit et despicit.”

I have not been able to find Weiss’ or Flint’s articles online, unfortunately.

When given two works which clearly are verbally identical in passages, and so connected, it is more difficult to say in which direction the borrowing took place than is sometimes realised.  Not having read the arguments, I wouldn’t like to venture an opinion.  But it seems at least questionable whether these works have anything to do with Salonius.

  1. [1]PL 53, 967-1012, online here.
  2. [2]Albert Marten Wolters, The Song of the Valiant Woman (Prov. 31:10-31): A pattern in the history of interpretation (to 1600)., McMaster university thesis, 1987. Online here.