From my diary

I have updated the Acta Sanctorum blog post with a load of links to the original edition.  I wasn’t able to locate all the volumes on Google Books – although I suspect that they are all there, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

Another blasted cold has hit me – what a sickly season this is! – so I shall spend the rest of the day on the sofa.

I bought online a copy of Hunter, The mystery of Mar Saba.  This is a 1940 novel, reprinted by Zondervan in the 1960s.  It’s an interwar adventure story, but from a Christian publisher.  It is best known today because the villain is a German professor of the Higher Criticism who forges a fake gospel at Mar Saba in Palestine; and a certain Morton Smith, the supposed discoverer of the “Secret Mark” forgery in the 1950s, was supposedly familiar with it, and may have got the idea for his deed from it.

The novel is not high literature, but it is much better than I had expected, and really rather enjoyable – somewhat like the early “Saint” novels of Leslie Charteris – and it sold rather well, I believe.  Of course it is rather dated, but so are all works from the interwar period, other than the very best.  It’s on my bedside table, anyway.


Chasing some fake news about the Gospel of Barnabas

Weird websites can be a lot of fun!  Often they get hold of some obscure fact, which might pass us by.  It can be interesting to track it down.  I was reading Twitter earlier today and came across a series of tweets by an Islamic propagandist, one of which mentioned the Acta Sanctorum.  The page is headed How the Gospel of Barnabas survived.

The modern “gospel of Barnabas” is extant in Italian and Spanish, and was written in the renaissance by a renegade who converted to Islam.  It references events after 1300, so cannot be ancient.  The page is dedicated to proving that it is.

Here’s the claim that caught my eye:

In the fourth year of Emperor Zeno (478 C.E. ), the remains of Barnabas were discovered and there was found on his breast a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas written by his own hand. (Acia Sanctorum Boland Junii Tom II, Pages 422 and 450. Antwerp 1698).

All spelling as found.

Now I don’t believe for a moment that this is the actual source used by the author of that web page.  It’s clearly something copied from some undisclosed source.  But as it happens I have been collecting URLs for the original edition of the Acta Sanctorum.  So let’s go and look at these references!

It took little time to locate a copy of June volume 2, in the original Antwerp 1698 edition.  It’s on Google Books here.  For some strange reason they display it online in colour, but download is only in black and white.

The reference to p.422 can be briefly disposed of.  The text starts on p.421, and, as a note in the margin of p.422 makes plain, this is the text of the introduction by the Bollandists; “auctore D.P.”, in fact!  It is not an ancient or medieval text, although it quotes some ancient references.  In the right hand column, a few lines from the bottom, we read that the body of the apostle was found “& Evangelium supra pectus positum”.  Then at the end, we get a quote from Theodore Lector, writing around 520, and taken from a collection of assortments published in the Bibliotheca Patrum:

Reliquiae Barnabae Apostoli inventae sunt in Cypro, sub arbore cerasea, habentes sub pectore evangelium Matthaei, manu ipsius Barnabae scriptum.  Evangelium autem illud Zenon sub alia corona condidit.

The relics of the apostle Barnabas were found in Cyprus, buried under a tree, having on his chest a gospel of Matthew written by Barnabas’ own hand.  But that Zeno established that gospel under another crown.

I.e. this is the disposition of the relics in the monastery.

P.450 is here.  It’s in the Laudatio S. Barnabae Apost. (BHG 226, CPG 7400), written by “Alexander the monk of Cyprus”, from an unspecified Vatican manuscript, and translated by Francisco Zeno (p.436).  Chapter 4 is headed (p.449) “The finding of the body of St Barnabas”.  In this, section 40, in the left hand column, the Latin translation, part B, we read this:

It’s plainly Barnabas speaking, presumably in a dream, instructing someone where to find his body:

… & Evangelium manu proprie scriptum, quod a sancto Apostolo & Evangelista Matthaeo (a) excepi.

… and a gospel written in my own hand, which I took down from the apostle and evangelist Matthew (a).

It is, in fact, a copy of Matthew, not Barnabas, that is in question.  But there is a footnote here, which is also worth looking at, on p.452.  This is rather remarkable:

a. Nativus verborum sensus videtur esse, quod Barnabas evangelium, primitus Hebraice editum, propria manu exceperit ex ore ipsius met sancti Matthai, illud Graece dictantis, & et secum tulerit; sicut etiam fecisse dicitur S. Bartholomaeus: plures forsitan alii, uno eodemque tenore & tempore, citra ullam differentiam; quae inveniri deberet, si quisque suo marte propriam sibi versionem fecisset, cuius differentia nullam uspiam extat indicium.  Atque hinc factum sit, ut alii Iacobum, alii Ioannem, alii etiam Lucam vel Paulum interpretem fecerint; pro ut scilicet quoque Ecclesia evangelium legebat, ex huius vel illius Apostoli autographe.

a.  The natural sense seems to be, that Barnabas a gospel, originally written in Hebrew, with his own hand took down from the very mouth of St Matthew, speaking it in Greek, and bore it with him; just as is also said of St Bartholomew; perhaps many others, of  one and the same outlook and time, on this side of any difference….

The note is signed DP, which is a name of great authority – the Bollandist Daniel Papebroch.  The inference depends on the word that he rendered “excepi” – “took down”.  Unfortunately I don’t find the Greek text in the original at all readable – and that is the key here.

Fortunately others have read it, and printed the text.  The 19th century Paris reprint of the AASS is a bit easier to read.  July vol. 2 is here, although pagination etc is not the same.  Our section 40 is on p.445.

This seems to me to read “ξελαβον“, “I received from”, aorist.  It could indeed mean that Matthew dictated to Barnabas; but it need not.  Indeed the sense of dictation does not seem to be natural here.

But of course Papebroch was an expert, and I am not.  All the same, I can’t help feeling that he misunderstood his text here.  I don’t see any suggestion of a “gospel of Barnabas”; just of a written copy of Matthew in the hand of Barnabas, just as with Theodore Lector.

Alexander the monk seems to be a shadowy figure, who belongs to the 6th century.  The Wikipedia article mentions several scholarly articles, some giving a date as late as the 9th century, although I have not read these.

Fortunately a pre-print article by Chrysovalantis Kyriacou, “The Encomium on St Barnabas by Alexander the Monk: ecclesiastical and imperial politics in sixth-century Byzantium”, taken from an upcoming volume is online here.  This very useful article tells us much about the text (which has been edited critically since the Acta Sanctorum!), its manuscripts, and even discusses this question of “a gospel”, in note 49.  But he, like myself, sees only a copy of St Matthew here.

UPDATE: I find that the story that I am looking into is to be found in the Ragg translation of the Gospel of Barnabas, which has a long, copious and well-researched introduction.  On p.xlv of the introduction is the reference above, but the body of the text makes plain that the gospel found with the body of Barnabas was a gospel of Matthew.  So somebody has quietly ignored that.


A short Syriac legend on the Emperor Maurice – in English

Anthony Alcock has emailed in an English translation of another Syriac text.  This one is a hagiographical text, perhaps of Nestorian origin, on the Emperor Maurice.  It’s here:

Thank you!


The Saints’ Lives of St George – texts and sources

Today is St George’s Day, in England at least, and I found myself wondering what the literary sources were for his legend.  About all I know about him is the story of St George and the Dragon.  So I started looking for some kind of list of the hagiographical sources for his Vita or Saint’s life.  I found very little; so I thought that a post on what I could find would be useful.

As with every popular medieval saint, there is a massive collection of folk tales in written form transmitted in the Greek and Latin medieval manuscripts that have come down to us.  But what, precisely, exists?  And how can we find it?

Let’s start with texts.  St George is commemorated on the 23 April.  The massive collection of Saints’ Lives, the Acta Sanctorum, contains a number of “Lives” in the original language.  The relevant volume is April volume 3; the Paris 19th century reprint of this volume may be found at here.  “St George the Megalomartyr” starts on p.101, here.

The introduction tells us, interestingly, that a Life of St George appears in the Decretum Gelasianum, (online here), a 5th century list of books approved and otherwise – as a probable composition by heretics!

The old Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (1909) – online here; there is a later version but I don’t know that this is online – has a section on the Lives of St George, starting on p.93, here; St George, martyr, of Diospolis in Palestine.  Twenty different texts are listed, coded as BHG 670 – BHG 691.

The first of these (BHG 670) is interesting for its early date.  It is preserved in uncial in a 6th century palimpsest (so very early), and edited in facsimile by D. Detlefsen, “Über einen griechischen Palimpsest der k. k. Hofbibliothek mit Bruchstücken einer Legende vom heiligen Georg”, 1858.  Pleasantly it is online in high resolution at the Bavarian State Library here.  There are apparently Latin versions of this particular life, which fill out the lacunae.  But the story itself simply screams its fictional nature.  Among other ineptitudes, apparently St George is put to death and resurrected three times, in one case after being torn to pieces.  Indeed the life of Christ our Lord, with his solitary resurrection, begins to seem like a rather poor and threadbare rehearsal for the glory that is the life of St George![1]  It might be nice to get this life translated; but it may be that we need someone with both Latin and Greek for this.

The contents of the other lives are as yet unknown to me.  I hope to blog further about this.

The standard handbook on all this material, from which I have yet to read more than a page or two, is Hippolyte Delehaye, Les légendes grecques des saints militaires, Paris: Librairie Alphonse Picard, (1909) 45-76.  This is online here, and seems to be the source of all the other discussions of St George that I could find in a Google Books search, such as this one in English from Michael Collins, St George and the Dragons, (2018) here.  The page that I have linked to summarises nicely what Delehaye says about the subject.  There are archaeological remains and inscriptions which indicate that the veneration of St George dates back to the 5th century.

That’s all that I found so far.  It’s a similar sort of situation to the Saints’ Lives of St Nicholas.

Isn’t it interesting that in modern England both St Nicholas and St George are still remembered?

  1. [1]Readers may recognise the allusion to the Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass; repeated here from memory.

From my diary

It’s all rather busy right now, as it always is for me in April.

First, I’ve tried to enable “https” on the address.  It’s possible that this will cause something odd to happen.  Please let me know if it does.

I’ve got hold of the Greek text of Severian of Gabala, De sigillis sermo (On the seals; CPG 4209) and sent that over to Fr Alban Justinus, to see if he’d like to have a crack at it.  It’s supposed to have something interesting in it about the canon of scripture.  I’m also interested in Severian’s work against the Jews, but we’ll see about that sometime.

I’ve also sent the Latin text of John the Deacon, author of a medieval life of Nicholas of Myra, to a gentleman who wrote in, offering to translate something.  Let’s see what happens.

Another correspondent has written, raising questions about the translation of pseudo-Hegesippus that I have online.  There are a number of simple errors in it, it seems.  I shall write a preface containing the queries, and leave it as it is.  Ideally I would get someone to review and revise the translation – the original translator is now dead, and only did it as a quick-and-dirty exercise for a relative anyway.  I don’t have anyone at present to do that; and I can’t spare the time to do it myself.

I’m still not 100% recovered from my flu of 4 weeks.  I notice almost everyone has or has had a cold or flu.  What a sickly season it has been!  The sun arrived today, however.  This time of year is paperwork time, when the government demands that I account for all my earnings, so that they can take some of it.  Would that income tax had never been invented!


Nicholas of Myra, “Vita Compilata”, now available in English

Another of the medieval “saints’ lives” of St Nicholas of Myra, the basis for our Santa Claus, is now accessible in English.  This is the so-called Vita Compilata, or “Compiled life”, (BHG 1348c,) put together from earlier hagiographical sources.

A kind gentleman writing as Fr. Alban Justinus has translated it for us, from the Greek edition of G. Anrich.  Many thanks!

Here it is:

As ever, these are made public domain.  Do whatever you like with them, personal, educational or commercial.


Trial and Martyrdom of St Apollonius – by Anthony Alcock

Dr Alcock has sent over a translation of two texts, one Greek, one Coptic, of the Trial and Acts of St. Apollonius.  I’m a bit pressed for time this evening so I will release it as is:

It is great to have these, though.  Thank you!


The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 5 – part 3

Eutychius continues with the reign of Solomon.

7. It is told that Hīram, king of Tire, was the first king to wear purple.  The cause of this was a shepherd who had a dog.  This shepherd went, one day, together with the flock and the dog, right onto the shore of the sea.  The dog took a shell that was lying on the bank, of a color similar to purple, and ate it.  In doing so, it filled its mouth with the blood of the shell.  Seeing him in that state, the shepherd took a woollen cloth and wiped the dog’s muzzle with it.  Then he put that woollen cloth on his head, like a crown, and so he began to walk in the sun, so that all those who saw him thought that rays of fire were coming out of his head.  Learning of this, Hīram, king of Tyre, sent for the shepherd who went straight to him.  [Hīram] saw the crown, was amazed and very pleased with the color, and ordered the dyers to dye an equal.  The dyers, then, went to the seashore, looked for shells until they found them, and they smelled the purple.  This is how we got purple (36).

The length of the temple that Solomon, son of David, built was sixty cubits, the width twenty and the height one hundred.  The interior was made all overlaid with gold.  Inside the temple he built a cedar-wood tabernacle twenty cubits long, twenty wide, and twenty high.  The inside and the outside he covered in gold.  On it he had the image of the cherubim sculptured in gold; the length of each of these was ten cubits, the width was five, one on the right and the other on the left of the tabernacle.  Each of them had six wings. They kept their wings spread out over the tabernacle as if to cover it.  He brought the ark from the city of Sihyūn and placed it in this [new] dwelling place.  In front of this tabernacle he had two majestic and imposing copper columns erected, each one thirty cubits high and five wide.  He then made a crimson veil studded with all kinds of precious stones and had it hung on the columns facing the tabernacle.  Then he made a table of copper on which to lay the bread of the sacrifice, twenty cubits long, twenty wide and ten high, which was covered all with gold and precious stones.  He then brought into the temple every vessel of gold, silver or precious stone.  He then built a palace for himself and covered it with gold and silver.  Inside the palace he built the hall of judgments, a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high, with four rows of cedar columns covered with gold on which stood four porticoes carved in gold.  Then he made a great ivory throne, engraved in gold and set with precious stones, and he had it placed in the centre of this hall, and he used to sit on it when he was busy with the affairs of the people.  He finished building the temple and the palace after seven years.  From the reign of David to the end of the construction of the temple fifty-nine years had passed.

8. The tributes owed to Solomon, son of David, each year were six hundred and sixty six thousand “qintār” (37) of gold, in addition to that from trade.  His daily provision was thirty “kurrs” of flowers of flour, sixty “kurrs” (38) of flour, ten calves, twenty-two bulls, one hundred sheep in addition to deer, goats, and birds.  In the palace of Solomon there were a hundred tables of gold and on each table a hundred trays and three hundred plates of gold, and beside each plate three hundred cups of gold.

One day when Solomon was sitting in the courtroom, two women came forward carrying a baby. One said: “Yesterday, I and this woman gave birth in the same house. The son of this woman died during the night while I was sleeping. She then took her already lifeless son and put him on me, taking my son.” The other said: “This child is mine. It is the son of this woman who is dead”.  Solomon then asked that they bring him a sword and taking the child with one hand he said: “I will cut the baby into two parts and give half of it to each of you.”  But the child’s mother said: “My lord, do not divide it. Give it to her”. The other said: “Divide him, so that he is neither mine nor hers”. Then Solomon gave the child to the one who had said “Do not divide it” because, from the love that she had shown for him, he realized that she was the mother.  And the people remained in admiration of his judgment (39).

Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (40).  Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh Shīshaq (41), king of Egypt, and took her to Ūrashalīm.  Later the pharaoh left Egypt, attacked the city of ‘Āzar (42) and set them on fire.  He also burned out the Canaanites who lived in Māri‘āb (42), took their possessions and sent them to his daughter, the wife of Solomon.

9. Hearing about King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba (44) came to him with many gifts and gave him one hundred and thirty “qintār” of gold (45).  Solomon granted her all that she asked and [the queen] went away.  Solomon, son of David, married [many] women of foreign tribes, of the Ammonites, the Amalekites, the Moabites and other [peoples].  He loved them, and because of his intense love towards them they induced him to build a temple for them where he had idols placed for them to worship and sacrifice to (46).  For this reason, Solomon, son of David, was removed from the list of prophets.  Among his soldiers there were forty thousand riders on mares and twelve thousand horsemen on horses (47).


The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 5 – part 2

We’re in the Old Testament here.  Can you work out which familiar faces lie behind the Arabised names?

3. Then the king of Sūbā, called Hadad-‘Āzir, son of Rihūb (13), rose up against David, and waged war on him.  David confronted him and conquered him, killing seven thousand horsemen and twenty thousand infantrymen (14).  Then Sūris, king of Damascus (15), moved to bring help to Hadad-‘Āzir and David killed twenty-two thousand of his men.  Sūris, king of Damascus, became a slave of David.  David had all the gold and silver belts and the many jewels of the men of Hadad-‘Āzir taken and brought them to Ūrashalīm.  These jewels were then  taken by Sīsāf (16), king of Egypt, when he came to Ūrashalīm during the reign of Ragi‘ām, son of Sulaymān (17).  Following that same battle David brought to Ūrashalīm very much copper (18), and it was from this copper that Solomon made the columns, bases and doors when he built the temple.

4. After this David saw a woman named Birsāyi‘, daughter of Yliyāt (19), wife of Uriyā.  She was an attractive and beautiful woman.  In a passion, he summoned her and the woman went to him.  [David] slept with her and she conceived by him, while her husband Uriyā was with David’s lieutenant Yuwāb, fighting the tribes.  When [David] knew that [the woman] had conceived by him, he sent for Uriyā and gave him leave, and ordered him to sleep at his house that night.  Uriyā did not go home that night, but slept with the ushers in the palace [of the king].  The next day David sent him back to the war, thinking that Uriyā had spent the night at home.  By making Uriyā sleep at home, David simply waited for him to lie with his own wife, so that when she appeared that she was pregnant, he would not have had to say anything.  But since he had not slept at home, David wrote to Yuwāb to place Uriyā to fight at the head of the ark.  Yuwāb did as he was commanded and Uriyā fell fighting at the head of the ark.  After the death of Uriyā, David married his wife Birhāyi‘ and had a son.  Then the prophet Nāthān presented himself to him and said to him: “Two men lived in a village.  One was rich and possessed many sheep and oxen and the other was poor, and had only one sheep upon whose milk and wool he lived.  The rich had a man as a guest.  He took the poor man’s sheep, slaughtered it and fed it to his guest” (20).

David said to him: “What a wicked thing he did!  It is right that [the poor man] should have four [sheep] in exchange for the [stolen sheep]” (21). Then the prophet Nāthān rebuked him saying: “You are that man!” (22).  David tore his clothes, put on a rough sackcloth of wool and fasted for seven days, asking the Lord [not] to let the child die.  On the seventh day the child died.  Later the wife of Uriyā conceived a second time by David and he gave birth to Solomon.  David had twenty-four children.  Then Amnūn, son of David, who was the eldest of his children, looked at his sister on his father’s side, named Tamar, fell in love with her and lay with her.  So angry with him was the uterine brother of Tamar, named Abīshālūm, son of David, that he killed his brother Amnūn and took shelter with Thalmāni, son of ‘Imyāl, king of Kishūr (23).  Two hundred Israelites joined him and rose up against his father David, occupying Gibrun (24).  When David heard that he had occupied Gibrūn (25) he felt fear and escaped from Ūrashalīm, leaving the city.  His son went to Ūrashalīm and made his entrance.  He took his father’s concubines and fornicated with them.  Then he chased David who fled from him and passed over the Jordan. Then Yuwāb, David’s lieutenant, collected a part of his men and went out against Abīshālūm, son of David.  They came to battle in the territory of Ephraim.  Twenty thousand men fell from both sides and the battle was bitter.  Abīshālūm rode a mule and his hair became entangled with the branches of a terebinth, breaking the bone of his neck.  Yuwāh shot three arrows, hitting him in the heart and one of his men finished him with a sword stroke.  The news came to David and he felt immense pain.  Then he returned to Ūrashalīm.  Abīshālūm, son of David, had thick hair and when his hair was shaved from time to time, it actually weighed two hundred mithqāl (26).

5. There was a prophet in the time of David, Nāthān.  In his time also lived Wākhiyā as-Sīlūnī, Isāī, Hīmān and Badūthūn (27), of the tribe of Levi, and Yuwāb, son of Sārūyā sister of David, who was his lieutenant.  David and his lieutenant Yuwāb held a census of the tribes of the sons of Israel.  The sons of Israel counted by David and his lieutenant Yuwāb were forty million and a hundred thousand.  In another text it says: four million and one hundred thousand (28).  Four hundred and seventy thousand of them belonged to the tribe of Judah.  However, the tribes of Beniamin and Levi were not counted.  The number of “Sāqitūn”, of those who did not belong to the lineage of Jacob, was one thousand. God then said to the prophet Kād (29): “I had forbidden David to count the sons of Israel. So go to him and tell him to choose one of these three things: either that there is a famine throughout his kingdom for seven years; or that he is conquered and subjugated by his enemy for three months; or that death prevail for three days throughout his kingdom” (30). David chose death.  Seventy thousand people died within the space of six hours. David then begged for help from the prophet Kād.  They all implored God, who was moved to compassion on them and turned death away from them.  The high priest in the days of David was Abiyāthār, son of Abi-Mālikh (31), of the house of the priest Ālī and of Sādūq.  Now an old man, the prophet David called his son Solomon, dictated his will and gave him all the goods, jewels, gold and silver of his kingdom.  The prophet David died at the age of seventy. He had reigned for forty years.

6. After him his son Solomon reigned. He was twelve years old.  After his father he reigned for forty years. Yuwāb, David’s lieutenant, was afraid of him and took refuge in the sanctuary (32).  Solomon sent Nabā, son of Yahūnāda‘ (33) against him, who killed Yuwāb with a sword stroke and had him buried in the desert (34).  King Solomon came out stronger, and all the kings of the surrounding countries were afraid, and brought him gifts and concluded a truce with him.  Solomon surrounded Ūrashalīm with walls, and in the twelfth year of his reign began the construction of the temple.  Hiram, king of Sur, sent him many gifts, a lot of cedar, pine and fir wood, and a lot of money to make use of in the construction of the temple.  Solomon sent to Hīram each year twenty thousand “kurr” (35) of wheat and twenty thousand “kurr” of zibibbo.


The martyrdom of Theodore the Anatolian: a Bohairic Coptic text translated by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has sent in another of his excellent translations from Coptic.  This time it is a hagiographical text, the Martyrdom of Theodore the Anatolian, or Oriental.  It is translated from a Bohairic Coptic text preserved in Codex Vaticanus 63 ff. 28-54.  The text was edited by I. Balestri and H. Hyvernat in the Acta Martyrum (1907), p.34-62 (in the second half of the volume), with a Latin translation on p.30 f.  This is online here.

Here is Dr Alcock’s English translation, which is very welcome:

Most hagiographical texts belong to the 5-9th century; no doubt this does also.

There is a plate from a 9th century Morgan collection manuscript, of which details are here and here, and which contains a version of the Life in Sahidic Coptic (facsimile online at Internet Archive here).  The webpage labels him as Theodore Tiro.

There seems to be quite a  bit of confusion about the various lives of St Theodore, and whether he is one saint or two!  There are several lives in Greek, listed in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (BHG) entries 1760-1773.  Unfortunately none of the material indicates which Greek life the Bohairic corresponds to.

But it is useful to have this text in English!  Thank you!