Procopius of Gaza and Matthew 27:25

Our review of patristic references to Matthew 27:25 (“His blood be upon us and our children”) has now reached the latest author given by BiblIndex, Procopius of Gaza.  With this author we have reached the 6th century, and there is a case that we are no longer dealing with patristic writers, but rather with Byzantine ones.  Procopius was the author of the catena-type of commentary, the medieval Greek commentary formed out of quotations of earlier writers.

But I have never looked at his work, so it might be rather fun to see what he has to offer.

BiblIndex offer two references:

  • Procopius of Gaza, Catena in Esaiam, PG 87.2, 1817-2718. § 1 (p.857); § 2 (p.352); § 2 (p.600)
  • Procopius of Gaza, Commentarii in Octateuchum, PG 87.1, 21-1220. (p.252); (p.491, l.46); (p.919); (p.923); § 1 (p.41)

Let’s start with the Catena on Isaiah.

The first reference is to PG 87.2, column 1857 (not 857).  This is commentary on Isaiah 1:21-23, “See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers!

And it [Jerusalem] is called a prostitute, on account of the fornications of the inhabitants; whom likewise he calls murderers.  For finally after shedding the blood of Christ, they are bold enough to say, “His blood be upon us.”  But indeed they had not even spared the prophets themselves previously.  For it says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kill the prophets.”

Stephen upbraids the Jews, “For which of the prophets did your fathers not kill?”  But in those times it was more appropriate, in which the Saviour came among us; whence he was accustomed to call them also a wicked and  adulterous generation.  And so, in his time, Isaiah accuses them, not now of idolatries, but of violence and murder.  And since, after being so bold in the crime against the Lord, they wished to be considered as masters of piety.[1]

All of this is merely historical exegesis, following the practice of earlier commentators in identifying in the Old Testament parallels to the events of the New Testament.

The second passage is on col. 2352 (not 352 – it looks as if the first numeral has been omitted in every case), which I would link to if the wretched hotel wifi and the equally wretched Google Books viewer would cooperate.  This passage is on Isaiah 41:1-7.

What can I [God] be lacking of that, who am eternal, without corruption of any kind, and unaffected in fact by the customs of men?  But you argue so with yourself, he says, “If the new things surpass the old, what a trouble it is to carry on altogether with the old laws. Is it not better to be taught that which is now proclaimed?  And you do not know the economy of the divine wisdom, of which the apostle learnedly predicted, he affirmed that the law was introduced that sin might abound: then, that the scripture said that all are under sin, that He might have mercy on all.”

The law itself shows the weakness of man, not justifying them but condemning them, whom Christ has justified by grace.  For He is the one who, although he does not hunger, grants spiritual power to those who hunger after justice.  And he makes the destitute, drowned in feeling grief, understand the vindication of the sinners.  For he is used to the grief that leads to salvation, which is according to God, so that penitence may be done in a way requiring least penitence; in fact he even understands the grief, which those who shouted “His blood be upon us and our children” felt at the capture of the city [of Jerusalem].  For with spiritual food the destitute have escaped illness, although they earlier exceeded in power, when on account of their weakness, the nations were being trampled by the feet of the devil; … [2]

Hmm… that was hard going.  But the passage is about the merciful nature of God, extending even to those who crucified him.

What’s the betting that the third reference is at col. 2600?  I have now downloaded a PDF, so it is easier to page through.  And … sure enough, it is!  This is comment on Isaiah 59:1-18 (and often the comment makes a lot more sense if you read the passage first, by the way!), which begins thus: “Behold the hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have divided between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he should not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity: your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue utters iniquity. There is none that calls upon justice, neither is there any one that judges truly: but they trust in a mere nothing, and speak vanities: they have conceived labour, and brought forth iniquity.”

He [Isaiah] speaks here in the manner of Jeremiah: …   and so on.  By whom, so to speak from little beginnings of wickedness, they went on to the murder of Christ the Saviour, which especially in this place it is reasonable to include.  For although from the blood of the Saviour their hands were unpolluted, they were not at all free from blame; those who demanded that blame for his blood be placed upon themselves and their children; those who attacked him with abuse, and stirred up the people against him, those who said he was mad, those who said he was a Samaritan, those who said he was born from adultery, those who said he drove out demons by the name of Beelzebub; they never ceased to accuse.[3]

Again Old Testament comments about the wickedness of Israel are being seen as a prediction of the wickedness of Israel in New Testament times.

Now let’s move on to the Commentary on the Octateuch.  Col.252.  This is on Genesis 4:15, And the Lord said to him, whoever kills Cain, I will avenge it sevenfold.  The comparison is between the blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus, both shed unjustly.  Procopius compares the wanderings of the Jews, under legal protection, with those of Cain, similarly protected.

Some here infer an allegorical sense.  They say that Cain was a type of the Jews, who seeing Christ, who is meant under the name of Abel, eager to be carried to his murder, crying, “Why do you seek to kill a man who has told you the truth?”  Of these it is testified that the father was Cain, whom Satan calls upon, … The rest [of the Jews], so that they are not completely destroyed, have been marked with a sign.  The remnant of them are preserved to testify to the truth of scripture.  They have gone out also, like Cain, from the sight of God. And the divine power speaks thus to us, saying, “When you multiply your prayers, I will not hear you, for your hands are full of blood.” For they killed the Lord and author of life.  In addition they shouted, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”  But this sacred blood, shed for us, cries out against the Jews, and according to the eloquence of Paul, better than the blood of Abel.[4]

This is starting to sound very close indeed to the medieval attitude to the Jews.

I will look at the remaining four passages in my next post.

  1. [1]At meretrix dicitur, propter scortationes incolarum; quos item homicidas vocat. Tandem enim effuso Christi sanguine, dicere ausi sunt : “Sanguis ejus super nos.” Imo ne prophetis quidem ipsis antea pepercerunt. Ait enim: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, quae occidis prophetas.” Quem enim prophetarum non occiderunt patres vestri, Judaeis exprobrat Stephanus? Sed temporibus istis magis conveniant, quibus peregrinatus est nobiscum Salvator; unde erat etiam generationem pravam et adulteram eos appellare solitus. Hoc itaque tempore, non eos jam idololatriae, sed caedis, et homicidii, Isaias accusat. Et quoniam post tam audax in Dominum facinus, pietatis magistri haberi volebant.
  2. [2]Qui possum ego istis indigere, qui sum aeternus, nulli corruptioni, nulli denique, more hominum, passioni obnoxius? Sed tecum ita ratiocinaris, inquit: Si veteribus praestant, quae nova sunt; quid omnino priores ferre leges opus fuerat? num tunc doceri satius, quae nunc promulgantur? At ignoras divinae sapientiae oeconomiam, cujus cognitione praeditus Apostolus, legem introduci, ut peccatum abundaret, affirmavit: deinde, conclusisse Scripturam omnes sub peccato, ut omnium misereretur. Arguit igitur hominum imbecillitatem lex ipsa, non eos justificans, sed damnans, quos Christus gratia justificavit. Ipse enim est, qui, praeterquam quod non esurit, iis etiam, qui justitiam esuriunt spirituale robur largitur; sensuque destitutos immisso moerore, vindictam peccatorum persentire facit. Solet enim ad salutem moeror, qui secundum Deum est, poenitentiam operari minimo poenitendam: vel certe moerorem eum hic intelligit, quem ab urbis expugnatione iidem perceperunt, qui sanguis ejus super nos et super filios nostros inclamarunt. Illi enim spirituali cibo destituti, infirmi evaserunt , quantumvis, antea robore praestarent: cum propter imbecillitatem, diaboli pedibus gentes calcarentur; praeceptisque legalibus educati, gratia gentibus adveniante, …
  3. [3]Ait igitur hunc in modum Jeremias: “Virtus mea defecit me, ab iis qui maledicebant mihi.” Et noster hic propheta; “Vide ut justus tollitur,” et quae deinceps. A quibus, tanquam a parvis scelorum initiis, ad Christi Salvatoris caedem progressi sunt, quam maxime hoc loco nobis innui fuerit consentaneum. Etsi enim Salvatoris sanguine manus habent impollutas, culpa tamen haud vacant; qui sanguinis ejus in se, suosque filios, ultionem extendi postularunt: qui probris lacessere, populumque in illum concitare, qui furiosum, qui Samaritam, qui ex adulterio procreatum dicere; qui denique in Beelzelbul nomine daemonia ejiceret, incusare nunquam desierunt.
  4. [4]Quidam allegoricum sensum hinc colligunt. Aiunt Cainum esse typum Judaeorum, quos videns Christus, qui per Abelum designatur, in suam caedem cupidius ferri, exclamat : “Quid me quaeritis interficere hominem, qui veritatem vobis locutus sum?” Horum patrem esse testatur Cainum, quem Satanam vocat, ut qui illius sint similes.  … Caeterum ne penitus interciderent, signo notati sunt. Servatae enim sunt, ut testatur Scriptura reliquiae. Exierunt quoque, ut Cainus, e conspectu Dei ; Numenque sic nos alloquitur : “Cum multiplicaveritis orationem, ego non exaudiant, cum manus vestra sanguinibus repletae sint”. Interfecerunt enim ducem et auctorem vitae. Praeterea clamaverunt: “Sanguis ejus super nos et super liberos nostros.” Sed hic sacratus cruor pro nobis fusus vociferatur adversus Judaeos, et secundum eloquium Pauli, meliora quam sanguis Abeli.

4 thoughts on “Procopius of Gaza and Matthew 27:25

  1. What language was the commentary originally written in since we are told that Procopius spoke Aramaic and didn’t presumably know Greek? Or did he use an amanuensis and/or a translator?

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