The “Glaphyra” of Cyril of Alexandria and Matthew 27:25

Cyril of Alexandria wrote quite a number of commentaries on the Old Testament.  There is the De adoratione et cultu in spiritu et veritate, in 17 books, in the form of a dialogue with a certain Palladius.  There is the massive line-by-line Commentary on Isaiah, in 5 books; and his Commentary on the minor prophets, with which we have been concerned recently.  There is also a collection of fragments from a Commentary on the Psalms, collected by Angelo Mai.  But not all of these are genuine.[1]

But there is also the Glaphyra, the “Elegant Comments”, in 13 books, which he deals with select passages from the Pentateuch.  7 books are devoted to Genesis, 3 to Exodus, and 1 book each to Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  It appears in the Patrologia Graeca volume 69, cols. 9-678, and as far as I know has not been translated into English, or any other modern language.  The work was also translated into Syriac in the 6th century by Moses of Agel, and fragments of this translation are extant.

The work begins with a preface (cols.9-10) in which he makes clear that the purpose of his exegesis is to show that “the end of the law and the prophets is Christ.”

These notes are necessary, for I find that an online search on Cyril of Alexandria and Glaphyra produces almost no information.  But of course our interest is his references to Matthew 27:25, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”  The TLG gives 4 results in the Glaphyra in Pentateuchum {4090.097}, when searched:

  • PG 69 page 44 line 17: τῶν ὅλων Κύριον, καὶ τετολμήκασιν εἰπεῖν ἐκ πολλῆς ἄγαν ἀνοσιότητος, «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.» Ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν αἷμα τοῦ Ἄβελ
  • PG 69 page 349 line 29: Ἕτερον γὰρ, οἶμαι, παρὰ τοῦτό ἐστιν οὐδὲν τὸ ἀσυνέτως εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ Χριστῷ· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.»
  • PG69 page 629 line 17: ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ἡγούμενον· πυῤῥὰ δὲ ὅτι τῆς οἰκονομίας ὁ τρόπος ἐφ’ αἵματι γέγονε δι’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν. Ἄμωμος δὲ, διὰ τὸ ἀπλημμελές· οὐ γὰρ οἶδεν
  • PG 69 page 649 line 17: Χριστῷ, ταῖς ἑαυτῶν κεφαλαῖς καταγράφουσι τὸ δυσσέβημα, λέγοντες· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.» Οἱ δὲ τῆς παρ’ αὐτοῦ γλιχό-

So let’s go and look at the first of these.  As ever I give the Latin text, which I can OCR using Abbyy Finereader 12 Screenshot, rather than the Greek which I cannot; and translating from it.

The first passage, col. 44, is on Genesis, the story of Cain and Abel.

For everywhere they [the Jews] live, as strangers and foreigners, and fearful, and that which is right for free-born men, without liberty.  Now Cain received the sign so that they might not kill him.  For not all Israel was ruined.  But the rest were made saved, as the prophet said, who understood this and prophesied, saying “If the Lord of the Sabbath had not left us a seed, we would have been like Sodom and Gomorrha.”  For this reason also the divine psalmist, lest Israel might be dissolved in the world, called upon the God of the whole world, saying, “Do not kill them, lest they forget your law.”  So Cain went out from the face of the Lord.  For so it is written, “And Cain went out from the face of the Lord.”  The same thing happened to the Israelites, to whom it was spoken by the voice of the prophet, “When you stretch out your hands to me, I will turn my eyes away from you; and if you multiply your prayers, I will not hear you.  For your hands are full of blood.”   For they killed the Lord of all, and in their extreme impiety dared to say, “His blood be upon us and our children.”  The blood of Abel cried out only against his single killer.  But the precious blood of Christ cried out so greatly against the cruelty and inhumanity of the Jews, for he freed the world from sin, for he was poured out for it.  For this reason the divine Paul says, “”we come near, we who are justified by faith, by the shedding of the blood which is called better than the blood of Abel.”  I think that this must be added to what has been said: “For afterwards”, he said, “Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and gave birth to a son, and called him Seth, saying, ‘God has appointed for me another seed, in place of Abel whom Cain killed.”[2]

As usual with Cyril, we see an Old Testament story being interpreted as a prediction of the events of the New Testament.

More in due course!

  1. [1]Robert Wilken, “Cyril of Alexandria as interpreter of the Old Testament” in: The Theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria: A Critical Appreciation, A&C Black (2003) p.4.
  2. [2]Ubique enim hospites atque advenae, et trepidi, et ea quae ingenuos maxime decet, libertate carentes vivunt. Caeterum accepit Cain signum ut non interficerent eum. Periit enim non totus in universum Israel. Reliquiae autem salvae factae Sunt, juxta prophetae vocem, qui cum hoc intelligeret, praeclamavit, dicens: «Et nisi Dominus Sabaoth reliquisset nobis semen, sicut Sodoma facti essemus, et sicut Gomorrha similes essemus.»Quocirca, divinus etiam Psalmista, ne in universum absumeretur Israel, Deum totius universi rogavit, dicens: «Ne interficias eos, ne quando obliviscantur legis tuae.» Praeterea egressus est Cain a facie Domini. Ita enim scriptum est:«Et egressus est Cain a facie Domini.» Tale quid accidit Israelitis, ad quos dictum est per vocem propheta :« Quando extenderitis manus vestras ad me, avertam oculos meos a vobis; et si multiplicaveritis orationem vestram, non exaudiam vos. Manus enim vestra sanguine plenae sunt.» Occiderunt enim universorum Dominum, et prae nimia impietate ausi sunt dicere: «Sanguis ejus super nos et super filios nostros.» Atqui sanguis Abel adversus solum interfectorem clamavit : pretiosus vero Christi sanguis fere tantum clamavit adversus Judaeorum crudelitatem atque ingratitudinem : liberavit autem mundum a peccato , utpote fusus pro ipso. Idcirco etiam divinus Paulus ait, «accedere nos, qui per fidem justificati sumus, fusione sanguinis melius loquente quam sanguis Abelis». Illud vero etiam iis quae dicta sunt adjiciendum puto : «Postquam enim, inquit, «mortuus est Abel, cognovit Adam Evam uxorem suam, et concipiens peperit filium, et vocavit nomen ejus Seth, dicens “Suscitavit enim mihi Deus semen aliud pro Abel, quem occidit Cain.»

9 thoughts on “The “Glaphyra” of Cyril of Alexandria and Matthew 27:25

  1. This is exciting! Thank you for this! From what I gather it sounds like St. Cyril is saying like Cain, there’s a mark on the Jews and we should not harm them?

  2. Is there an English translation of the “Glaphyra on Genesis” that I can read?
    I am very interested in the whole work.
    Thank you, Mike

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