How do we define “anti-semitism” so that we can use it for testing Matthew 27:25?

I’ve written now a series of posts on the use of Matthew 27:25 – “His blood be upon us and upon our children” – in Christian writers up to the 6th century.  This was provoked by the question of whether this verse was the cause of, or contributory to, anti-semitism.

In order to examine that question at all, it is  fairly obvious that you have to have some working definition of “anti-semitism” to use.  The term is very vaguely used in our day.  I am having genuine difficulty in separating something measurable from the noise of our unhappy time.  So I have been thinking about this, and trying to come up with something useful.  I don’t feel that I have succeeded, but I offer my thoughts for what they are worth.  If anyone can come up with something better, then I am all ears.

My first thought was to google for a definition.  I found nothing useful, because the definitions used were so extreme.  Indeed I found evidence that Jewish groups are lobbying in the US and EU to create formal, legally binding definitions, which define as “antisemitism” any criticism or opposition to the policies of the state of Israel.

It’s hard not to laugh at such arrogance. Just imagine if we had a crime of “antiamericanism” in England, punishable in the same manner, or a crime of “antienglishism” in the US, where the expression of any opposition to the policies of David Cameron risked fines and expulsion from your job?  One can only shake one’s head at the folly of those responsible.

Here’s another deeply daft example of over-extension of the term which I came across on Twitter today:

That is, a  bunch of pro-Israeli Americans expressing a hope for the conversion of the Jews is “anti-semitism” to this fool.   But to use the word in this manner renders it empty of meaning.

I quickly found, therefore, that definitions on Google were worthless.  We need merely change them to refer to Americans, or Britons, to see how extreme they are.

Meaningless usage need not be so crude.  Let me give a passage from Sax Rohmer, The Devil Doctor.  This Fu Manchu novel was published before the first world war, and has great charm in its way, and would appeal most likely to anyone who enjoys the gaslight era stories of Sherlock Holmes.  Here is how Rohmer begins chapter 11, “The White Peacock”:

Nayland Smith wasted no time in pursuing the plan of campaign which he had mentioned to Inspector Weymouth. Less than forty-eight hours after quitting the house of the murdered Slattin I found myself bound along Whitechapel Road upon strange enough business.

A very fine rain was falling, which rendered it difficult to see clearly from the windows; but the weather apparently had little effect upon the commercial activities of the district. The cab was threading a hazardous way through the cosmopolitan throng crowding the Street. On either side of me extended a row of stalls, seemingly established in opposition to the more legitimate shops upon the inner side of the pavement.

Jewish hawkers, many of them in their shirt-sleeves, acclaimed the rarity of the bargains which they had to offer; and, allowing for the difference of costume, these tireless Israelites, heedless of climatic conditions, sweating at their mongery, might well have stood, not in a squalid London thoroughfare, but in an equally squalid market-street of the Orient.

They offered linen and fine raiment; from foot-gear to hair-oil their wares ranged. They enlivened their auctioneering with conjuring tricks and witty stories, selling watches by the aid of legerdemain, and fancy vests by grace of a seasonable anecdote.

Poles, Russians, Serbs, Roumanians, Jews of Hungary, and Italians of Whitechapel mingled in the throng. Near East and Far East rubbed shoulders. Pidgin English contested with Yiddish for the ownership of some tawdry article offered by an auctioneer whose nationality defied conjecture, save that always some branch of his ancestry had drawn nourishment from the soil of Eternal Judaea.

Some wearing men’s caps, some with shawls thrown over their oily locks, and some, more true to primitive instincts, defying, bare-headed, the unkindly elements, bedraggled women – more often than not burdened with muffled infants – crowded the pavements and the roadway, thronged about the stalls like white ants about some choicer carrion.

Vivid stuff indeed.  This depicts a bunch of Jewish street traders in the East End of London, and a grubby and mercenary bunch they are (and probably are still, for the breed is not extinct).

Is this passage “anti-semitic”?  In the wild, woolly, political usage of today, it is undoubtedly anti-semitic.  It depicts Jews in a negative light, and that is more than enough for today’s thought police.  Favoured groups may not be depicted in any way that they dislike, and few Jews would probably care to be identified in this way, whether fairly or not.  Indeed few people of any group would like to be; but some groups have the power to enforce their will.

If we changed a few words, to describe Moslem traders, it would instantly become “islamophobic”.   Another change of scene, making the traders Negros, and it is unlikely that we would be allowed to retain our jobs, or to feed our families.

But change it again, to refer to English people in an American novel, or Americans in a British novel, and all would be well.  You may sneer at “rednecks” as you choose.  Make the mistake of then making them into Red Indians, and all hell would break loose.

These remarks are not intended to make a political statement, but to clarify what a useful definition will not be.  The examples above show that these definitions have no meaning other than to tell us which identity groups are currently in favour with those who control the media agenda in our day.  They are equivalent to “shut up, peasant”.

We may, I think, safely disregard any definition that fits into a scenario of this kind.  There is, after all, no rational or moral reason why one particular ethnico-religious group should enjoy the privilege of being above negative comment.

There is another reason to disregard this kind of definition. Is there any point whatsoever in reading through the fathers to determine whether they conform to Political Correctness as it is in 2015?  The Fathers cannot be politically correct, for they lived before it was invented.  Nor can anybody else in that period, other than accidentally.  In fact, the standard of these modern definitions keeps shifting.  There can be few more politically correct than US President Obama.  In 2008 he dismissed “gay marriage”.  The words he used in 2008, expressed in 2015 by others are now grounds for dismissal from office.  To conduct a test based on definitions derived from such shifting sources is to waste our time; and in any event every writer of antiquity – or of a period before 2010 – would fail the test.  It’s not worth doing.

Perhaps the answer is to go back 50 years.  In those happier days we did not ruin a man, or sentence his family to beggary, merely for expressing an opinion, unless that opinion was provably untrue and defamatory.  It is characteristic of modern politics that words are proof of guilt, and that the truth of those words is not a defense.  This again provides a fingerprint for what we want to avoid.

Faced with this endless nonsense, I started looking in older sources for definitions.  My search led me to a really interesting statement in Bernard Lazare, Antisemitism: Its history and causes.  The book is pre-WW2 in origin.  From p.157-8:

… the antisemitism of the Christian conservatives, says: “If modem society is so different from the old regime; if religious faith has diminished; if the political system has been entirely changed; if stock-gambling, if speculation, if capital in its industrial and financial forms, knowing no spirit of nationality dominates now and is to dominate in the future, the fault rests with the Jew.”

Let us clearly examine this point. The Jew has been living for centuries in the midst of those nations which, so it is said, are now perishing on account of his presence. Why, it may be asked, has the poison taken such a long time to work?

The usual answer is, because formerly the Jew was outside of society; because he was carefully kept apart. Now that the Jew has entered into society, he has become a source of disorder, and, like the mole, he is busily engaged in undermining the ancient foundations upon which rests the Christian state. And this accounts for the decline of nations, and their intellectual and moral decadence: they are like a human body which suffers from the intrusion of some foreign element which it cannot assimilate and the presence of which brings on convulsions and lasting disease. By his very presence the Jew acts as a solvent; he produces disorders, he destroys, he brings on the most fearful catastrophcs. The admission of the Jew into the body of the nations has proved fatal to them; they are doomed for having received him. Such is the very simple explanation which the antisemites advance to account for the changes which society is undergoing.

The accusation has not been limited to this alonc. The Jew, it is said, is not only a destroyer, but also an up-builder; arrogant, ambitious and domineering, he seeks to subject everything to himself. He is not content merely to destroy Christianity, but he preaches the gospel of Judaism; he not only assails the Catholic or the Protestant faith, but he incites to unbelief, and then imposes on those whose faith he has undermined his own conception of the world, of morality and of life.

Now this has the right sound about it.  Classically anti-semitism wasn’t about negative depictions in novels, but about plots, conspiracies, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Enemy Within, the Merchants of Death, and so on.  It was about the perception of a conspiracy by Jews to do down everyone else, in their own selfish interest.  Nor is it a perception without elements of truth, which had led to its rise in the first place.

Violence against Jews, as Jews, was also comprehended in the definition.  Pogroms against Jews in Tsarist Russia were certainly an example of anti-semitism, and seen as such.

But not all violence counted.  A boy who thumped another boy “because the latter was a Jew” was not anti-semitic, but a quarrelsome boy; a gang of men who preyed on Jews undoubtedly was.

How then do we distill this, far more genuine sentiment, into something that can be used for our examination of the Fathers?

What we may do, I think, is to ask this: does what the Fathers write intentionally tend to encourage the reader to consider Jews as a group apart, in a way that no other group is; to consider them as a sinister group, most likely plotting against the rest of us; to think of them as somehow less human, less like “real people”?  Does it tend to demonise, to marginalise?

That, it seems to me, is a testable definition of whether a given writer is, or is not, anti-semitic.

One problem with this is that we must normalise for the climate of the times.  Some of the trends in antiquity themselves may have had this effect.  Does a writer reflect his times, or shape them?


Some reflections on translation styles, provoked by a passage in the NRSV

Yesterday I was reviewing the translation of Methodius of Olympus, De cibis.  Believing that the NRSV was the modern standard academic translation, and remembering the original RSV with some affection, I recommended the use of that for biblical quotations.

But perhaps I was too hasty.  For I noticed the following passage, from Numbers 19:18, in the body of the text:

… then a clean person shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all the furnishings, on the persons who were there, and on whoever touched the bone, the slain, the corpse, or the grave.

Now this is, in fact, the language of the KJV – initially I wondered if it was some hideous neologism like “chairperson”!   But this naturally made me look at other translations.  The NIV had the infinitely more pleasant:

Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death.

The CEV, a paraphrase, runs:

Before you can be made clean, someone who is clean must take some of the ashes from the burnt cow and stir them into a pot of spring water. That same person must dip a hyssop branch in the water and ashes, then sprinkle it on the tent and everything in it, including everyone who was inside. If you have touched a human bone, a grave, or a dead body, you must be sprinkled with that water.

Which is very readable, but not quite close enough for me.

Which of the other two would we prefer to read?  The NIV.  Which is closer to the original?  Probably the NRSV, in that “Person” probably indicates the critical, career-determining distinction – in a modern US university, anyway – between ‘man’ = homo (i.e. species) and ‘man’ = vir (i.e. masculine).  But … we come here to the question of what a translation is for.

We all know that there are “translations” which are essentially “cribs”.  They are designed for people who want to work with the original language text, but don’t possess enough vocabulary even to read the words with ease.  It  goes without saying that they have no understanding of idiom or use in the original language.  Such people are not interested in what the author has to say but rather in some smaller matter – in passing an exam, or something of the kind.

There are also paraphrases, which sacrifice much pretence of following the original to assure readability.  These have their place: I have never forgotten how the Shepherd of Hermas came alive in an abridged paraphrase published by some Quakers.  If the object of a translation is to allow the author’s thought to be heard today, then a good paraphrase has claims to be heard.

Somewhere between this is the true translation.  The maker of this will not hesitate to paraphrase, where otherwise the sense would be lost in a series of choked, non-English constructions.  This was put well by T.R. Glover, in the introduction to his 1930 Loeb translation of Tertullian’s Apologeticum:

Lastly, I have to make my own apology in sending out Tertullian’s. I have long felt that a translation should reproduce on the mind of the new reader, in the new language, as far as may be, the emotional, intellectual and spiritual effect (perhaps reaction would be the more precise word) that the original produced, and was intended to produce, on the readers in the original speech. Hence the distressing impossibility of rendering Virgil or Horace, or (they say) Heine. Certain authors, like Homer and Cervantes, seem able to stand immense loss or reduction in translation.

But I think my ideal will be accepted as the right one — an extremely exacting one. But Latin is not English, and I have had, in years of reading and teaching, too abundant evidence that a literal translation produces nothing of the effect we agree to be desirable. The structure of a Latin sentence is alien to English since Dryden, or since Bunyan. We put down our sentences in a different way and build our paragraphs on another plan. Again and again I find a literal translation of a sentence or paragraph (it may be the same thing) of Tertullian produces no effect on the mind beyond sheer paralysis ; it means nothing.

But Tertullian did mean something. So I have boldly abandoned his qui‘s and quoniam‘s and ut‘s, and tried to make an English thing of his Apology. The scholar who may consult this work for a particular passage can make his own way through the Latin construction ; and I hope I may modestly say that I could sometimes have done so too. But I am translating not a passage but a book, and I aim at giving the reader who wishes to read the whole, as opposed to a paragraph, the thread and fibre and texture of the whole, and something of the spirit of it. Tertullian, using a convention as old as Isocrates, writes his book as if it were a speech. In places it is highly rhetorical. A literal translation would be hopelessly unrhetorical.

So I have broken up his sentences, and made my own, and tried to give the whole with as much as I can recapture of his oratory or rhetoric or whatever it is (in America it might be called “punch”), with the full force possible — biting, stinging, gripping stuff, — turning the reader into a listener and arguing at him. The grammar is different, the structure different, I know — but I hope there is something of the same passion, and for the same cause.

No-one who reads this blog can really disagree with these words, for it was the reading of Glover’s translation that drew a young Oxford undergraduate to think of Tertullian as someone worth reading; to obtain his own copy, and, later, to start a website called the Tertullian Project, and later still this very blog!

The NRSV, then, is clearly on the “crib” side of the argument.  The NIV stands with Glover.  I think the NIV is in the right here.


Methodius of Olympus, De Cibis – now online in English

Once again Ralph Cleminson has very kindly translated for us a work by Methodius of Olympus out of the Old Slavonic, in which alone it now survives, and made the first-ever English translation!

Dr Cleminson has done if anything a better job here than with the previous text, De Vita.  I’ve also incorporated into the footnotes some of his explanatory material on points that I found obscure, and that I think might be of general interest.

One point of general interest – Dr C. draws attention to a linguistic feature identified as a “Preslavism” – not, as I thought, a pre-Slavism, but rather something associated with the Bulgarian city of Preslav.  It was in Preslav, after the death of SS Cyril and Methodius, that a translation movement came into being in the 9th century, translating material from Greek into Old Slavonic.

The files above may also be found at here.  As usual, I have made this a public domain text: do whatever you like with them!


Origen, Homily 26 on Joshua and Matthew 27:25

Another of the last remaining references to Matthew 27:25 is found in the Homilies on Joshua by Origen, extant in a Latin translation-cum-paraphrase by Rufinus.  It is found in homily 26, and as this is short, I thought that I would post it here.  The translation is from the Fathers of the Church vol. 105,[1] and “Jesus” is of course the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua.  As usual, I omit the footnotes.

    *    *    *    *


Concerning why the rock swords were buried, and concerning the altar that the two and a half tribes that are across the Jordan erected [Jos.22]

It was said above that the sons of Israel gave a lot to Jesus on Mount Ephraim and that, when he had accepted the lot, “Jesus built a city there and dwelt in it.” But now Scripture repeats the same things again so that it may add this, that “in that city that he had built and in which he dwelt, Jesus concealed the rock swords,” that is, the knives made from stone, “with which he circumcised the sons of Israel in the wilderness.” Whence we also must repeat the exposition and explain what was added so that, God granting, the entire meaning of the Scripture may be completed.

And indeed we said above that even our Lord Jesus Christ asks us for a place he may build and in which he may live, and that we ought to become so clean of heart, and so sincere of mind, so holy in body and spirit, that he may both deign to ac-cept this place in our soul and to build it and dwell in it. And who do you think among all the people are so acceptable to God that they are worthy to be chosen for this? Or perhaps no individuals can be capable of this, but can the whole people and all the Church together barely be capable of receiving the Lord Jesus in themselves so that he may dwell in them?

Let us see, therefore, what is this place in which Jesus is bound to dwell. “In Mount Ephraim,” it says, that is, in the fruit bearing mountain. Who do you think among us are fruit bearing mountains, in whom Jesus may dwell? Surely those in whom exist “the fruit of the spirit: joy, peace, patience, love,” and the rest. Those, therefore, are the fruit bearing mountains who produce the fruit of the spirit and who are always lofty in mind and expectation. And although few are able to be like this, nevertheless, even if they are few, the Lord Jesus, who is the “true light” dwelling in them, will send forth the beams of his light also upon all the rest, those whom he has not yet, in this first round, judged worthy of his habitation.

2. Now, therefore, let us see what are the rock swords by which Jesus circumcises the sons of Israel. If you pray for us that our “word may’ be living and effective and sharper than every sword,”8 our Lord Jesus will also bring it to pass for us that the word of God that we speak to you may circumcise every un-cleanness, cut back impurities, separate vices from those who hear, and remove each thing by which the strength of the mind and natural efficiency is covered over. And thus, through the word of God, which here is called a rock sword, you too will be circumcised by Jesus and you will hear, “Today I have taken away from you the reproach of Egypt.”

For what good is it for us to have gone forth from Egypt and yet carry around with us the reproaches of Egypt? What good is it to travel through the wilderness, that is, what does it help us to have renounced this age in baptism but to retain the former filth of our behavior and the impurities of our carnal vices? Thus it is fitting, after the parting of the Red Sea, that is, after the grace of baptism, for the carnal vices of our old habits to be removed from us by means of our Lord Jesus, so that we can be free from the Egyptian reproaches.

Therefore, those rock swords and knives of stone, by which we are circumcised by Jesus a second time, are put in that place that Jesus requests and receives. In that place that he possesses in the soul of the righteous, he also conceals the swords. Often we display a sword called the Word of God, by which word sins are separated and purged from the souls of the hearers.10 There-fore, this power of the divine word is concealed in that place, to whom a discourse of knowledge and a discourse of wisdom is granted, so that at the opportune time that soul, which was filled up with the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge through the gift of the Spirit, may produce those swords in the Church and circumcise a second time those who need a second circumcision.

But because it says “rock swords,” that is, knives made from stone and not fashioned out of iron by the craft of an artisan, it indicates that this discourse of God that is able to cast away impurities from the hearts of the hearers does not come from grammatical or rhetorical art. It is neither beaten by the hammers of teachers nor polished by whetstones of studies, but it descends from that “rock that was cut without hands from the mountain and filled the earth” and distributed spiritual gifts to believers.

After these things Jesus assembles the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had served as soldiers with him to overcome the foes of the Israelites, and he dismisses them to go to their inheritance with certain gifts given to them, as it is written. Whereby this seems to indicate the mystery that “when the fullness of the nations will come in,” they receive from the Lord Jesus what was promised to them, those who had been taught and instructed by Moses and who by prayers and entreaties brought aid to us who are placed in the contest. They have not yet “attained the promises,” waiting so that our calling might also be fulfilled, as the Apostle says. But now at last with the gifts they receive from Jesus they may attain the perfection that had been deferred for them so that each one may dwell in peace with every war and every battle ceasing.

3. After this it was read to us that the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who were across Jordan had built “an immense altar.” But the other sons of Israel, not knowing why this altar had been erected, send Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, with ten men selected from each tribe. Therefore, if by chance they had made this as though departing from God, as if they had become apostates acting against the commandment of God, they would be assaulted by the other sons of Israel; but if not, the other sons might still learn the cause. But they give satisfaction about the altar and say, “We know that the true altar is among you where Jesus dwells. But we made this altar as an imitation of that altar that was erected among you, so that a type and image of the true altar may also be held among us, lest by chance tomorrow,” it says, “it may please you to say that the Jordan is the boundary between us and you and it itself determines this, and therefore you have no share in our altar.” These are the replies they sent.

But let us see what sacrament lies within this deed. The former people of the circumcision are represented in Reuben, who was the firstborn; but also in Gad, who also is the firstborn out of Zelpha; and Manasseh, no less a firstborn. But insofar as I say “firstborn,” I speak chronologically. Therefore, these things are said, not that it might be evident some division and separation is between us and those who were righteous before the coming of Christ, but that they might reveal themselves to still be our brothers even if they existed before the coming of Christ. For although they possessed an altar then before the coming of the Savior, nevertheless, they knew and perceived that it was not that true altar, but that it was a form and figure of what would be the true altar. Those persons knew this because the true victims and those who were able to take away sins were not offered on that altar that the firstborn people possessed, but on this one where Jesus was. Here the heavenly victims, here the true sacrifices are consumed. Therefore, they are made “one flock and one shepherd,” those former righteous ones and those who are now Christians.

But to prove these things I wish to make mention also of a certain story, so that, if only the Lord deigns to grant, we may be able to discover the spiritual explanation of it. Once the people fell down in the desert and died. Aaron the chief priest came and “stood in the midst of those who died and of those who lived,” so that the devastation of death might not advance even further among the rest And then came the true high priest, my Lord, and he came into the midst between those dying and the living. That is, he came between those Jews who accepted his presence and those who not only did not accept but killed themselves more completely than him, saying, “The blood of that one be upon us and upon our sons!” Whence also “all the righteous blood that has been poured forth upon the earth from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah whom they killed between the sanctuary and the altar will be required from that generation” that said, “His blood be upon us and upon our sons.”

Therefore, these are a part of the dead people because they do not properly perform either the feast of unleavened bread or the feast days. But “their feast days have been turned into sorrow and their songs into lamentations,” they who, even if they wished, could not celebrate the feast days in that place that the Lord God chose. And indeed we ourselves did not say to them, “You will have no part in this altar or in the inheritance of the Lord,” but they themselves of their own accord refute the true altar and the heavenly high priest and have been brought to such a point of unhappiness that they both lost the image and did not accept the truth. Therefore it is said to them, “Behold your house is left to you deserted.”

For the grace of the Holy Spirit has been transferred to the nations; the celebrations have been transferred to us because the high priest has passed over to us, not the imagined, but the true high priest, chosen “according to the order of Melchisedek.” It is necessary that he offer for us true sacrifices, that is, spiritual, where “the temple of God is built from living stones,” which is “the Church of the living God,” and where true Israel exists, in Christ Jesus our Lord, “to whom is the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen!”

  1. [1]Barbara J. Bruce (tr), Origen: Homilies on Joshua, in: Fathers of the Church 105 (2002), p.215-220

From my diary

Today I decided to have a go at finishing off my posts on the references to Matthew 27:25 in patristic literature.  This has really dragged on, and I want it done.

At the moment I am working near Cambridge, in the UK, which means that it is possible for me to make use of the University Library.  So I decided to pay it a visit.  I left work at 3pm, fully aware of the terrible Cambridge traffic.

Among the items I sought was access to the 11 volume complete translation of Augustine’s sermons.  This was produced by New City Press, but is not held nearly as widely as it might.  I discovered that, although the University Library did not hold a copy, it was held by the Classics Faculty, based nearby.  (Indeed it was also held by the Divinity Faculty, but they close at 4pm during the vacation).

Anyway I toodled over there, along largely empty roads, and found that I could park on a meter in Sidgewick Road, more or less outside.  The library proved to be on the right immediately inside the main entrance, and a definite pleasure to use.  There was a whole section of Augustine, and cheap photocopying.  So I obtained the item I wanted, and went on to the UL.

The other items I sought were also patristic, so I found myself in South Wing 3, looking at the usual volumes, and cursing whoever decided to split the Sources Chretiennes volumes across two widely-separated bookshelves.  To my surprise, a stooped elderly gentleman seemed to be looking at the same parts of the library – something that has never happened to me.  After a brief struggle of memory, I recognised Allan Brent, although the recognition was not mutual.  Clearly he was swotting for his paper at the Oxford Patristic Conference, now only 10 days away.

Off to the photocopier room with the volumes, to discover that only two of the five photocopiers were in working order, and both occupied, even on this quiet afternoon.  The library profiteers pretty considerably on these, charging 15c USD a page – an incredible sum.  So you would have thought that they could be bothered to make sure that they work!  But I imagine that they are used only by visitors, and so not regarded as a priority; because university members could simply borrow the books, take them down the road, and scan them for nothing.

I was slightly frustrated to discover that the edition of Apponius in the Sources Chretiennes only covered the first 3 books of the work, while I needed a passage from book 12.  Oh well.

Another source I needed was Jerome’s homilies on Isaiah, of which Thomas Scheck has produced a translation in the Ancient Christian Writers series (no. 68) this very year.  But … the volume was an absurdity!  It was about as thick as three normal volumes in that series, and impossible to handle.  One can only suppose that the editors had a brainstorm.  Come on, chaps; why didn’t you divide it into three physical volumes?

A more serious problem was the index, which, I quickly discovered, only listed three references to Matthew 27:25, whereas my search of CETEDOC had reported five.  After much wrestling with the obscure CETEDOC reference, I found that this was correct, and that the index to the ACW volume was wrong.  I suppose that preparing indexes is a tedious task, usually delegated to someone junior.  In this case it did not work.

But the end result of all this was nearly a full house of photocopies of references, which will drift online in the next day or so.  And I finished by 4:30pm, and drove back to my hotel rejoicing!


Augustine, Homily 229F and Matthew 27:25

I’ve made a bit of an effort today to finish off my series on references to Matthew 27:25 in patristic literature.  One of these references can be found in one of Augustine’s sermons, number 229F (which was one of those discovered by G. Morin in the 1930’s).

Today I was able to access the New City Press translation of all of Augustine’s sermons, in 11 very smart-looking volumes, and I thought that, as it is short, I’d just give this sermon complete.  Here it is.  I have omitted the footnotes, however.

    *    *    *    *

Date: after 418

We have believed in the resurrection of Christ, though we never saw it, on hearing the writings of those who didn’t believe, even when they saw.

1. Some people saw the resurrection of the Lord, others did not believe it when told about it; and they were chided by the Lord, now present among them, because they had not believed those who saw it and brought them the news. What a stupendous favor done to the nations, and to those born long afterward! What has God granted those who now fill the churches of Christ? The holy apostles had gone round with the Lord, heard the word of truth from his mouth, seen him raise the dead; and they didn’t believe that the Lord had risen. We though, born long afterward, have never seen his bodily presence, never heard a word from the mouth of his flesh, never observed with these eyes any miracle performed by him; and yet we have come to believe, on hearing what was written by those who at the time refused to believe. They didn’t believe a most recent event when news of it was brought them; they wrote something for us to read, we heard it, and we believe.

That the Lord Jesus, though, declined to appear to the Jews is because he did not judge them worthy to see the Lord Christ after the resurrection; he showed himself to his own people, not to strangers. And while his own people were preaching, strangers came to believe;4 and those who had been strangers became his own. I mean, many of those, as you can read in the Acts of the Apostles; many of those who crucified the Lord, who defiled themselves by shedding his blood; many of those who said, His blood be upon us and upon our children (Mt 27:25), later on came to believe the apostles bringing them the good news of the resurrection. His blood was indeed upon them, but it was to wash them, not to destroy them; well, upon some to destroy them, upon others to cleanse them; upon those to be destroyed, injustice; upon those to be cleansed, in mercy.

And now too, do all have faith? Just as at that time some of the Jews themselves believed, others did not, so too now with the nations; some have come to believe, others don’t believe. Not everyone has faith (2 Thes 3:2). Those who do have faith, though, believe by God’s grace; they mustn’t pride themselves on it. It’s a gift from God. Is the reason God chose us, do you suppose, that we were good? He didn’t choose good people, but people he wished to make good. We were all in the shadow of death, we were all being held, bundled together in the lump of sin coming from Adam. With the root infected, what sort of fruit could be born of the tree of the human race? But the one who would heal the infection came without infection, and the one who came to clean up sins came without sin.

How Jacob, in his wrestling with the angel, prefigured both the Jews who believed in Christ and those who rejected him.

2. Don’t concentrate on the Jews who are now chaff, that is, who derive from the threshing floor that was threshed then. I mean, if we were to think a bit, my brothers and sisters, from the Jews came the prophets, from the Jews the patriarchs, from the Jews the apostles, from the Jews the virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ, from the Jews later on came Paul as a believer, and so many thousands baptized on one day, from the Jews innumerable Churches of Christians. But all that grain is now stored in the granary; with the chaff the devil will be having his fun.

Believing Jews and unbelieving Jews. Where were they first condemned? In the first of them, in the father of all of them, Jacob himself, who was also called Israel. Jacob: “Supplanter” or “Heel”; Israel: “Seeing God.” When he returned from Mesopotamia with his children, an angel wrestled with him, representing Christ; and while he wrestled, though he surpassed him in strength, he still seemed to succumb to him, and Jacob to prevail. In the same sort of way the Lord Christ too succumbed to the Jews; they prevailed when they killed him.

He was overcome by superior strength; precisely when he was overcome, that was when he overcame for us. What’s that—when he was overcome was when he overcame for us? Because when he suffered, he shed the blood with which he redeemed us.

So then, that’s what’s written: Jacob prevailed over him. And yet Jacob himself, who was wrestling, acknowledged the mystery involved. A man, wrestling with an angel, prevailed over him; and when he said, Let me go, the one who had prevailed said, I am not letting you go, unless you bless me. O grand and splendid mystery! Overcome, he blesses, just as having suffered, he sets free; that is when the blessing was completed. What are you called? he said to him. He replied, Jacob. You shall not be called Jacob, he said, but you shall be called Israel (Gen 32:25-29). The imposition of such a great name is a great blessing. “Israel,” as I said, means “Seeing God”; one man’s name, everyone’s reward. Everyone’s; but provided they believe and are blessed, both Jews and Greeks. Greeks, you see, is what the apostle calls all nationalities, the reason being that the Greek language has such prestige among the nations. Glory, he says, and honor—they are the apostle’s words—glory and honor and peace to everyone doing good, to Jew first and Greek; wrath and indignation, trouble and distress on every soul doing evil, to Jews first and Greeks (Rom 2:10.9). Good for good Jews, bad for bad ones; good for good Gentiles, bad for bad ones.

If you have come to believe in Christ, recognize yourself as blessed; if you have denied Christ, recognize yourself as lame.

3. The Jews shouldn’t pat themselves on the back, and say, “There you are, Jacob all the same is our father; he prevailed over the angel and was blessed by the angel.”

We, though, reply, “People of Israel, look at yourself there. Israel isn’t what you are, it’s what you’re called, but aren’t; the name’s all wrong in you, the crime remains in you.”

But he says to me, “Look, my father is Jacob, my father is Israel. There’s the name; where’s the crime?”

“Read the story, discover yourself in it there. You see, it’s written there, And he touched Jacob on the breadth of his thigh, and it withered, and he began to limp (Gen 32:26). Jacob, one man, both blessed and lame. Blessed in whom, and lame in whom? If you have come to believe in Christ, recognize yourself as blessed. If you have denied Christ, recognize yourself as lame; it means, you see, that you are one of those about whom the prophet says, They have limped off from their paths (Ps 18:45).

Where were the holy women from, to whom the Lord first showed himself as he rose again? From the Jews, weren’t they? Where were the apostles from, who even if they didn’t believe the women when they first brought them the news, nonetheless heard Jesus himself later on, and acknowledged his rebuke, and adhered to his teaching? From the Jews, weren’t they? There’s Israel for you, blessed. But limping in many, blessed only in few; that, you see, is the breadth of the thigh—the majority of his race. It didn’t simply say, “He touched his thigh,” but the breadth of his thigh. Where you have the breadth of the thigh, you undoubtedly have the majority of the race. And what’s so surprising about that? I acknowledge the few grains, and I’m astonished at the heap of chaff? But I see what is due for the granary, and what for the flames. And now, let them listen; they’re still alive; let them correct their limping, let them come to the blessing.


From my diary

The first draft has arrived of Methodius, De cibis, translated from the Old Slavonic, using manuscript 40 of the Lavra of Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius.  It looks very good, except that the translator has used the Authorised Version as the basis for the bible quotations and allusions.  I’ve suggested that he use the NRSV instead.

The translation is being done by Ralph Cleminson, whose grasp of Old Slavonic is clearly first-rate – he suggests that the translation from Greek into Old Slavonic may have been done in Bulgaria – but of course he doesn’t know my shibboleths, or I his.  However we seem to be getting there.

One thing that I always do, when reviewing a translation – and I always review any text that I commission, no matter who does it – is to make sure that it means something.  This means reading the prose, and trying to follow the thread of the author’s thought.  It is essential for editors to do this, as it often preserves us from errors, not in translating words, but in translating sentences.  We have all seen the unhappy results of a student getting all the words right but paying no attention to what the author was saying!

It is remarkable how much the use of antique expression obstructs the modern English reader from grasping the sense of a text.  This is so, even for a reader such as myself, who habitually reads English literature from past centuries, and is currently reading the Letters of an English Country Parson, James Woodroffe, from ca. 1800.  We all know it; but perhaps we fool ourselves by thinking that the odd “thee” and “thou” is of no importance, and that stilted sentence structure is something we can overcome.  But we deceive ourselves, if we do.

This was brought home to me forcibly yesterday, when I tried to read through the draft.  I had to give up about half-way through, after realising that I had no idea what the author was saying any more!  Now my efforts were not aided by four nights of sleep deprivation and a splitting headache; but, even so, that day I did a good day’s work for someone else, so I should have been able to read a 13-page document.

Fortunately I was more successful today, and I have made various suggestions to improve the readability of the final product, and sent them off.

But we do now have a translation of De cibis.  If the translator were to drop dead, or to refuse to do anything that I have asked for, I could still fix it enough to be usable myself.

One thing that helped me, when I did read the text, was that, as I went, I started to break the text into English paragraphs.  It is remarkable how that helps, compared with just looking at the wall of text preserved in the manuscript.  It is an old journalists’ trick to over-paragraph a text for readability, and it is one that I employed today.  I commend this point to anybody intending to translate Cyril of Alexandria!!

Unlike De vita, the manuscript is divided by headings in red, which do correspond to the content.  Whether these are ancient or medieval, whether these are authorial, or whether they were added by a Greek scribe, or a Slavonic one, I do not know.

There are  two more short works by Methodius in Slavonic, which were translated into Russian by Michael Chub in the 1960’s, and are present in the ms. 40 of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra.  These are On Leprosy and On the Leech.  No trace of De Vita, or De Cibis, exists in Greek.  But this is not true of the next item, De Lepra, where a Greek fragment is preserved.   This is also the case for De resurrectione and it raises the question of what to do in such cases.

Other things being equal the original language must have priority over a version, however good.   But when we have fragments, what we mean by this is that either we have a quotation from the work, preserved in some later writer, or, worse, a catena fragment, from some medieval Greek bible commentary.  In the latter case the compiler usually modifies the opening and closing words, alters the tenses, and abbreviates etc, in order to create a running narrative.  Even a quotation may display some of these features.  So … what do we do?

My thinking at the moment is to translate both.  That is, to give the translation of the Old Slavonic as the main text.  When we get to a passage extant in Greek, give the translation of the Greek but footnote the translation of the Slavonic; or do the reverse if we think the Greek is damaged.

It will be interesting to see how it works out.

The other short work, On the Leech – such charming names, but these works are really quite interesting! – has no such problems.  That leaves us with the next text, a big one: De resurrectione, in two books.  The price of doing that at the same rate-per-word of the short works might be prohibitive, and I might try to negotiate a bulk discount, or find someone willing to do it cheaper.  Also there are substantial Greek remains, mostly from Epiphanius’ Panarion.  We have a translation of that in English already, so that raises other questions.  We’ll see what to do with this when we get there.

In other news, I’m hoping to persuade a gentleman familiar with Cyril of Alexandria’s works to finish off the translation of his Commentary on Isaiah.  This was started by Robert C. Hill, who died after translating the commentary as far as Isaiah 50.  Holy Cross Press published what he had done in 3 volumes, as I have blogged before.  To this end, I have presented him with a copy of the Hill translation.  But of course there is no obligation on him to do so.

I’ve also come across a post on Ancient World Online, directing my attention to a site listing patristic commentaries on Genesis, and referencing a book from 1912 (?) as the source.  I will look further into this next week, if time and tent-making permit.

Back in the winter, I did commission a translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis 1-3, whose fragments are preserved in Syriac and published by Sachau.  Unfortunately the translator went silent on me, and I have therefore rerouted the money put aside for this to other purposes.  Never mind.  One day it will happen, if I am spared, and if I find someone with the necessary language skills.


Severian of Gabala bibliography – another minor update

I’ve just tweaked my working bibliography of Severian again.  Here are the new files:

These replace the version in the last such post here.

UPDATE (21st July 2015): I have updated the files to include the very useful comments by Sever Voicu in the comments below – thank you.

I have also put out a commission for an English translation of CPG 4197, two short homilies on Genesis.

UPDATE (22 February 2016): A minor tweak.


The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 14 (Abbreviated)

It’s been a while since I translated any of the Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (= Sa`id Ibn Bitrik).  But I rather fancy doing some this evening.

I should add that I am working, not from the Arabic, but from the difficult-to-obtain Italian translation of Bartolomeo Pirone, and using Google Translate to do a lot of the hard work!  This is a bit rubbish in a way; but it is worthwhile because nobody ever looks at Eutychius, nobody has access to Pirone, and even an English translation of this kind should prompt interest in this neglected text.

Unfortunately this chapter of the Annals is not historical, but theological.  I am not qualified to translate this, as I don’t understand it.  So I have translated just the opening portion and the last few sentences.

When we last looked, Nestorius had just been condemned by the council of Ephesus in 433 AD.  Note that the text has clearly been edited by someone later than Eutychius, as it quotes him.

1.  Exiled, Nestorius fled to Egypt and he settled in the upper part of the country in a place called Ikhmīm, where he remained for seven years.  Then he died, and he was buried in a village called Saqlān, where there occurred, especially in the place where he was buried, a heat wave so intense that no one could walk and travel in the area.  The teaching of Nestorius was later forgotten, but it was revived long afterwards by Barsawmā, Metropolitan of Nisibis, at the time of Justinian, the king of Rum, and Qabād, son of Firuz, king of the Persians, and spread in the East, and especially among the inhabitants of Persia.  It was for this reason that the Nestorians became numerous in the East, in Iraq, in Mosul, al-Furat and Mesopotamia.  They were called Nestorians after Nestorius.  After Nestorius, Maximus was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for three years and died.  Even before he was buried, Proclus was made patriarch of Constantinople.  Proclus prayed over the body of Maximus and had him buried.  He held the office after him, for thirteen years and died.

2.  Sa`id Ibn Batrīq, the physician, said: “It seemed appropriate to respond to the Nestorians in this part of my book and to show the falsity and absurdity of their doctrine, because it is all a mistake, and in these days they have even misrepresented the original doctrine of Nestorius, asserting that he said that Christ is two Substances and two Persons, perfect God in his Person and in his Substance, and perfect man in his Person and in his Substance, and that Mary created the Christ in what is regarding his humanity, and not in respect of His divinity, as the Father, as they say, has begotten a God and not man, while Maria begot a man and not a God.”  He answers them: “If things are as you say, then Christ should be two Christs and two Sons, or one Christ a real God and a real Son of God, and one Christ a real man and one Son a real man.  Because it must have been necessary for Mary to have, or not to have, generated the Christ.  But if He was generated, He was generated either spiritually or bodily.  Now if He was generated regarding the body, [He] must be different from the one that generated the Father, and then you would need two Christs.  If He was generated spiritually, Christ will then be one Son, one Person and one Christ.  Proof of this is the example of an iron plate, which is put in the fire, and from which results a single sword, burning, cracking, sparkling and shining.  It cannot be said that it is the part of the iron to burn and shine, because the iron without the fire does not burn, nor is the glowing part that cuts from the fire because the fire in itself can only light up and burn.  In the light of this example it is so true what we Melkites say, namely that Christ is one Person, both perfect God and perfect man, and so is refuted the assertions of the Nestorians, that Christ is two.

3.  He also asks them: “Tell us about the humanity of He who to whom the divinity is united and who was called Christ: did he continue to be Christ from the moment in which He was conceived in the womb of Mary, his mother, until she bore him, while she nursed him, while He became a young man, was crucified and buried? Or maybe until he reached the age of thirty he was like one of us men, and only then was united to humanity and became Christ?”  If they answer that He was not Christ while he was in the womb of his mother Mary, and that Mary gave birth only to a man, who, until the age of thirty was like one of us and that only later the divinity was joined to humanity and became Christ, they prove in this the reliability of their doctrine, but accuse of falsity the gospel, Paul and all the books of the church and all that arises out of the Christian faith.  We respond that the divinity was united to humanity at conception and that He was Christ then, in birth and breast-feeding until he was crucified and killed, and we claim that the Virgin Mary gave birth to one God, one Christ and only one Person.

Hmm.  It looks as if this entire chapter of the Annals is theological rather than historical.  I haven’t much enthusiasm for controversies that I don’t understand.  Section 21 finishes with the following words:

To men of understanding and discernment, it is clear that Christ is One , in the union of a single Person to the Eternal Word, and that He has two natures:the divine, that has always been, and the human that he has created for himself; and the absurdity of what is professed by the Nestorians and Jacobites is also clear.  Were it not for the reluctance that we felt from the fact that this would have made our book too long, and run the risk of moving away from the goal that we have set ourself, I would have explained and proven more than I have done. But those who wish to learn these things in abridged form and clearly set forth, should read my book entitled “Book of the Dispute between the Heretic and the Christian.”  In this book, in fact, I have demonstrated the validity of the Christian doctrine, namely that of the Melkites, refuting the assertions of its opponents.

Pirone adds that this book referred to is probably the “Kitāb al-gadal bayna’l-mukhālif wa’n-nasrām”, attributed commonly to Eutychius and published under the title of “Kitāb al-Burhān” (The Book of Demonstration) in CSCO, vol. 209, tome 22, Louvain 1961.  Reservations about the authenticity of the work are expressed by “Breydy, op. cit., pp. 77-82 and cap. VI.”


Spamming to promote the NIV bible?

I have written a couple of times before about the collapse in confidence in the New International Version (NIV) of the bible.  This happened after Zondervan, the publishers, decided to revise it to be “gender neutral.”  As I wrote in my last such post:

… “gender neutrality” is not a principle of text criticism, nor of biblical theology, but a principle of the modern political movement referred to as “political correctness”.  So the publisher has acted to corrupt the translation in the interests of a modern political lobby – an incredible thing to do.

It is now the 50th anniversary of the publication of the NIV.  It is, of course, a sad anniversary, considering what has happened.  Zondervan have been trying to boost the “translation” by having a website,, which is of course their right.  The site is conspicuously silent about the controversy, I note, which is not so acceptable.

They have also, even less forgiveably, employed a PR industry firm to pester bloggers.

A few months ago I received a communication from a PR flack, via my contact form.  The message professed to be all excited about how wonderful my site was, and then seamlessly went on to say how I might like to engage with their new site, etc etc.

In other words, they sent me a spam email.  The content suggested to me that they had mined the lists of top 50 biblioblogs, and spammed the lot.  I deleted it, and thought no more of it.

Today I received another one, from the same PR flack, with the same dishonest message, professing again to be giving feedback and actually trying to get me to visit etc that sad old website.  I must confess to feeling contempt for such attempts to gain my support by such threadbare flattery.

I fear that Dante would have assigned an imaginative fate, for those who brought this about, in the Inferno. Perhaps he would have depicted them being endlessly sodomized by (gender neutral!) demons.  But then I am less imaginative than the Florentine master.