A Roman ring with “Pilato” on it found in Israel?

A story today in Haaretz, here, has been repeated across the news outlets:

Ring of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate Who Crucified Jesus Found in Herodion Site in West Bank

The ring was found during a dig led by Professor Gideon Forster from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem 50 years ago, but only now has the inscription been deciphered

Nir Hasson | Nov 29, 2018 8:12 AM

A far better article by Amanda Borschel-Dan – timestamped 4:08pm – appears in the Times of Israel here.  This references the actual scholarly publication.

Views and cross-section of finger ring that may have belonged to Pontius Pilate (drawing: J. Rodman; photo: C. Amit, IAA Photographic Department, via Hebrew University)

The ring was first found among hundreds of other artifacts in 1968–1969 excavations directed by archaeologist Gideon Foerster, at a section of Herod’s burial tomb and palace at Herodium that was used during the First Jewish Revolt (66–73 CE). Recently, current dig director Roi Porat asked that the engraved copper sealing ring be given a thorough laboratory cleaning and scholarly examination.

The scientific analysis of the ring was published in the stalwart biannual Israel Exploration Journal last week, by the 104-year-old Israel Exploration Society. It was also popularly publicized — with slightly differing conclusions — on Thursday in Haaretz, under the headline “Ring of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate Who Crucified Jesus Found in Herodion Site in West Bank.” …

The IEJ article is vol. 68 (2018), pp.208-220, although I don’t have access to it.  The abstract in the IEJ site reads:

208.  SHUA AMORAI-STARK, MALKA HERSHKOVITZ, GIDEON FOERSTER, YAKOV KALMAN, RACHEL CHACHY and ROI PORAT: An Inscribed Copper-Alloy Finger Ring from Herodium Depicting a Krater

ABSTRACT: A simple copper-alloy ring dated to the first century BCE–mid-first century CE was discovered in the hilltop palace at Herodium. It depicts a krater circled by a Greek inscription, reading: ‘of Pilatus’. The article deals with the typology of ancient representations of kraters in Second Temple Jewish art and with the possibility that this ring might have belonged to Pontius Pilatus, the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea or to a person in his administration, either a Jew or a pagan.

The Times of Israel continues:

The IEJ’s analysis, “An Inscribed Copper-Alloy Finger Ring from Herodium Depicting a Krater,” was written by a collective of scholars including Kaye Academic College’s Art & Aesthetics Department professor emeritus Shua Amorai-Stark, and several archaeologists and academics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Malka Hershkovitz, Foerster, who excavated the ring, Yakov Kalman, Rachel Chachy, and Porat. Epigrapher Leah DiSegni, also of the Hebrew University, is credited with deciphering the inscription.

While it is unclear exactly when the ring was forged, it was discovered in an eastern garden built on a porch in a room constructed of secondary building materials. The room offered an archaeological layer which dates to no later than 71 CE, with “a wealth of finds,” including an array of glass, ostraca, pottery and decorated mud stoppers, and “an abundance” of metal artifacts, such as iron arrowheads, a large number of First Jewish Revolt coins, and one copper alloy sealing ring.

At the center of the ring is an engraved krater, a large wine vessel, which is encircled by minute “partly deformed” Greek letters spelling out “of Pilatus.” Interestingly, according to DiSegni, the direction of writing for the two words is different, and one word is “disturbed by a defect” in the metal.

According to the scholars, the bezeled ring, which has a narrow outer rim, was cast in one unit by a less-than-expert craftsman. There is evidence that the “mold for this ring was engraved quickly before pouring the melted metal or that the device was not prepared by a master smith,” they write.

The design at the center of the ring, write the authors, was likewise not necessarily elite. They reference a still unpublished clay sealing bulla that was discovered in the Temple Mount Sifting Project and archaeologists have tentatively dated to the first century CE.

The unpublished clay impression has at its center a single vessel, which is described in the IEJ article as “flanked by Greek letters placed in a manner similar to that of the letters on the ring bezel from Herodium. Like the inscription on the ring, the one on the bulla gives the name of a person (or his nickname or title).”

Of note, a motif close to the handleless large wine vessel appeared on a bronze pruta coin, which dates to 67-68 CE, years two and three of the Jewish Revolt, and depicted a handled amphora. These coins date to the same archaeological layer in which the ring was found. …

The authors, however, conclude that there is nothing in the ring’s design that makes it particularly either Roman or elite. They write that during the Second Temple period, the vessel “served as a meaningful Jewish symbol on sealing rings.”

“We propose, therefore, that this ring was made in a local workshop, perhaps located in Jerusalem,” write the authors. …

To the authors, the man described in historical texts such as Josephus, “Antiquities and Wars”; Tacitus, “Annals”; Philo, “De Legatione ad Gaium” and the New Testament would not have worn such a simple ring.

“Simple all-metal rings like the Herodium ring were primarily the property of soldiers, Herodian and Roman officials, and middle-income folk of all trades and occupations,” they write. “It is therefore unlikely that Pontius Pilatus, the powerful and rich prefect of Judaea, would have worn a thin, all copper-alloy sealing ring.”

As to whose ring it actually was, the authors offer a few suggestions, including other Early Roman period men called “Pilatus.” Likewise, the name may have referred to those under the historical Pilate’s command, a member of his family “or some of his freed slaves,” they write.

“It is conceivable,” write the authors, “that this finger ring from a Jewish royal site might have belonged to a local individual, either a Jew, a Roman, or another pagan patron with the name Pilatus.”

It did not, they conclude, belong to the Roman prefect himself.

This is sober and sensible.  Good to see that the excellent and careful scholar Leah Di Segni is the transcriber.

For those wondering, note that in the depiction of the ring that the inscription goes round with the letters “backwards” P I and then (left to right) O T A L.  To my ignorant eye this looks odd; but of course I know nothing about such items.

It is really curious that the two items from Israel both referencing the famous Pilate should both be discovered by the same archaeologist, tho.

Could this be fake?  It seems to have a provenance, but one might wonder just where it has been over the last 50 years.  People produce fakes to obtain fame or fortune, and anything like this would ordinarily be suspicious, precisely because its discoverer would be likely to obtain both.  It is reassuring to see a collective publication, therefore.  It is a great pity that no normal person can access it.

It would not be particularly surprising to find a ring associated in some way with the household of Pilate at Herodium, of course.

All the same, it is generally wise to be wary around spectacular finds.


From my diary

It’s been a very nice break at home, this summer and autumn.  But all good things must come to an end, and on Monday I shall have to go out an earn a living once more.  So I’m tidying up and winding down.

One problem that I have been struggling with for some time is that I have too many books.  Not that I keep everything I buy!  That stopped decades ago.  But I do have rather a lot of books from my youth, which I cannot bear to part with, yet which occupy many shelves in my bookcases.  I was thinking of double-banking, putting books less often consulted lower down, etc.  But then another thought came to me.

Last night I was looking at my “black library”, of technical books and materials that I keep hidden inside a bedroom cupboard – my study is a converted main bedroom – so that I don’t have to look at them on Sundays.  These have thinned out a lot lately, for nobody in IT really reads “computer books” any more.  The days when local bookshops would have groaning shelves full of them, on topics from Learning Microsoft Word to Java Enterprise in a Nutshell, are long gone.  Everybody googles for it.  The technology changes faster than ever, and the books were always less than concise.

I idly picked up a couple of standard references, not looked at in some time.  Will I need these on my new contract, I wondered?  Probably not.  I found a download of one on a pirate site, and added the book to the “out” pile.  The other I decided I could live without, and put it with the other.

One of the two “black library” cases, as it is today

The library is contained in some planks from a nearby DIY store, sawn to length at my direction and screwed together on my study floor with the aid of a power drill.  Consequently it was designed exactly to contain four shelves of computer manuals.  At the bottom it contains still training notes from commercial training courses.  All of these date from my days as a permanent employee – who but a corporation could afford those courses? – and so they are all very old.  A small space at the top was left for this and that.  The whole construction is held to the wall in the middle by a big screw through a small vertical section underneath one of the shelves.

It’s not really being used to capacity any more.  But the shelves are deep and would take two rows of books, double-banked.  So why not redesign it and use it for storing paperbacks?  The shelves are only screwed in position, and could be moved and fixed in another position.  An extra shelf or two could be inserted.  The “white oak” furniture board – which I liked a lot – does not seem to be manufactured any more, so they would not match, but with the cupboard door drawn, who would know?  Or it would not cost a huge amount to rebuild it completely.

It’s a very tempting idea.  I will turn it over in my mind, as I sit in my hotel bedroom this winter.

I must start to dispose of some of the other items too.  Luckily all the rare books have already gone.  But do I really need my paper copy of some of the books on hoaxes that I keep?  Surely a PDF would do?  On the other hand my old copy of Becker’s Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui will be kept, come what may, for leafing through it is such a pleasure.

What shall I do with the piles of old external hard disks that stand atop some of these shelves?  Packed with old copies of my hard disk as it then was, they are not exactly used often.  Probably they will be best placed in the loft!

I have a whole shelf of little C.S. Lewis paperbacks, obtained when I was at university and afterward.  These have become so much part of my mental furniture that I probably will never read any of them again.  They are perfect candidates for storage in the new black library.  But I wish I could get a PDF containing the lot, for those occasions when I need to check a quotation.  There ought to be one, surely?

Decluttering… is much more hard work than one imagines!


Another engraving of the buried Roman west gate of Lincoln

Back in March this year I wrote a post on the 19th century rediscovery of the west gate of Roman Lindum, modern Lincoln.  The Norman castle mound had buried it; and it was rediscovered when a nearby businessman sought to enlarge his own property by digging away at the mound.  Out came the gatehouse, more or less complete, only to promptly collapse!  It was then quickly reburied.  A single etching of the gate is known, which I gave there.

All this I owe to a twitter thread by the excellent Dr Caitlin Green.  But last night that thread was updated.  There is not, it seems, just the one etching.  Julian Parker wrote:

There’s another. I bought this 1836 Day & Haghe lithograph of the Western Entrance into Ancient Lindum inscribed to John, Earl Brownlow by Samuel Tuke in a Lincoln auction last night. I cannot find any other copy of it, which is intriguing …

Mr Parker then kindly posted a picture of his purchase:

This is, of course, marvellous.  Clearly the Earl instructed someone to draw the discovery.  Another tweeter added, “A great find!”, to which Mr Parker responded:

I think it may be: it shows better detail than the engraving from The Gentleman’s Magazine, the whole in a slightly less catastrophic state of collapse; possibly drawn just as they realised they’d better backfill it to avoid worse disasters!

And then he found another example of the print:

Just tracked down one at Belton House in the National Trust Collection; that would be a likely spot to find one, given it was Earl Brownlow’s house and the lithograph is inscribed to him.

Which is online here, in this rather low quality image:

We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Parker for making this known so promptly, and to the right people.  This is marvellous to have.

The stately homes of England retained their art collections until after the second world war, since when punitive taxes have progressively despoiled them.  But who knows what is out there?  Who would have thought that this existed?


UPDATE July 2021: Here is a better photograph of the print, from Twitter here.

Julian Parker bought this in a Lincoln auction in Nov 2018. It’s an 1836 Day & Haghe lithograph of the Western Entrance into Ancient Lindum inscribed to John, Earl Brownlow by Samuel Tuke.

In the same thread Peter Lorimer posted here some useful photographs of the lumps and bumps outside the medieval gate, where the Roman gate lies buried, with a reconstruction, and also some maps of the area.  These he has kindly allowed me to post here:

Location of the Roman west gate of Lincoln
The grassy mound under which lies the Roman west gate, to the left of the medieval gate.
Reconstruction of the Roman wall and gate in the modern landscape by Peter Lorimer.

Thank you Peter for posting these!


Beatitudines aliae, part 5


ϛʹ. Μακάριος ὁ | ἔχων | ἐν νῷ | τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν μέλλουσαν τὴν φοβερὰν | καὶ σπουδάσας ἰάσασθαι | ἐν δάκρυσι τὰ τραύματα τῆς ψυχῆς αὑτοῦ. (VI.  Beatus, qui mente versat formidabilem illam futuri judicii diem, & qui lacrymis vulnera animae suae curare studet.)

A slight change at the front: ὁ rather than ὃς, reflecting the fact that it is followed by a vowel.  But we still have “Blessed [is he] who” plus verb plus something it does.  We’re back to a participle, tho – “having” or better “keeping” – and then “ἐν νῷ”, “in mind”.

Then a bunch of accusatives with the definite article in between, as normal. The noun “τὴν ἡμέραν” = “the day”, its adjective “φοβερὰν” = “fearful”, and a present active participle in the same tense, number and gender, μέλλουσαν which might be given as “forthcoming”.  So: “Blessed [is he] who, keeping in mind the dreadful forthcoming day [of judgement]”?

Then into the main clause.  The word order that follows is the same as for English.  First a verb plus an infinitive: σπουδάσας is an aorist participle, active, masculine, nominative singular, “having been earnest”.  ἰάσασθαι is an aorist infinitive – presumably aorist in order to agree with σπουδάσας –  which means “to heal”. So: “and having been in earnest to heal”.

Then “ἐν δάκρυσι” the latter dative plural, so meaning “in tears”; “τὰ τραύματα”, accusative, so the object of the verbs, meaning “the wounds”.  Which wounds? Three words in the genetive singular follow: “τῆς ψυχῆς αὑτοῦ”, “of his soul”, understanding “psyche” as “soul”, as Traversari does.

But we have a problem.  There is actually no main verb.  Both clauses have an aorist participle as their verb.  This we would usually translate with an English simple past, but the aorist is not that simple. As one writer offers: “But when the aorist participle is related to an aorist main verb, the participle will often be contemporaneous (or simultaneous) to the action of the main verb” (but if the main verb is a present, the aorist will be a past tense).[1]

Traversari wimps out and renders both verbs as active present – “Blessed is he who keeps in mind … and is in earnest…”.  But that won’t do.

Morwood  tells us that the aorist is really about a single event, rather than about time.  Something happened.  The aorist indicative and its participles may place that event in the past, but even that is not always the case.[2]

I am not clear how to resolve this, so perhaps there is not alternative but to bodge it.  Doing so produces interesting effects.  If we try to insert a main verb somewhere, like “is”, it has to go in the first clause, and then the second clause must go into the present also: “Blessed is he who is keeping in mind xxx and has been in earnest to yyy”.  In fact I find that the second clause must be modified to an indicative, do what you will.  So perhaps this?

Blessed [is he] who has kept in mind the dreadful forthcoming day [of judgement], and has been in earnest to heal in tears the wounds of his soul.

Let me finish with a postscript.  While looking vainly for help on the two aorists, I encountered a most interesting looking book on sentence analysis, by none other than the excellent Eleanor Dickey, author of an essential book on Greek scholarship and scholia.  It is An Introduction to the Composition and Analysis of Greek Prose, Cambridge 2016.  There is a preview here.  Sadly the book is neither online, nor sold at a price that a man can afford.  Which is a pity.  Worth a look, if you can access it.

  1. [1]Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar, Preview, or here, p.624.  The phrase is quoted by other writers, so clearly struck a chord.
  2. [2]Morwood, Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek, p.61.  Forms other than the aorist indicative and its participles convey no information on the time of the event.

Gaffiot’s massive Latin-French dictionary online; plus Du Cange’s medieval Latin glossary

A kind correspondent wrote today to supply some obscure words in the ancient catalogue of the Regions of Rome (and their monuments) attached to the Chronography of 354.  In the process I learned that a couple of really important dictionaries for Latin have come online in searchable form.

The first of these is Felix Gaffiot’s Dictionnaire Illustré Latin-Français of 1934, which was quite unknown to me despite its importance.  Various versions are online, as the Wikipedia article indicates – there is also a downloadable PDF -, but I used this one.  Gaffiot is good for very obscure words that other dictionaries do not include.  This had entries on such obscurities as “cochlis“, meaning a stair inside a column.

The second of these is Du Cange’s Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, 1883-7, online here.  This is for medieval Latin.

I shall add both as links on the right-hand side in just a moment!


From my diary

This evening I wanted to check a point of Greek grammar, so I went to my “black library”, where the Greek and Latin grammars are stored.  My study is in a converted bedroom, which has the floor-to-ceiling sliding mirrored doors that were fitted in the 90s.  Inside this are not the clothes that such wardrobes are designed for, but shelves, at least at one end.

Upon these shelves stand books that I don’t want to see when I am weary or on holiday; which is why I call it the “black library”.  It used to contain a wide selection of computer manuals.  It does so no longer.  These days nobody reads such books, and all the materials are online, often on YouTube videos.  Only a dozen or so remain, most of them in case I need to relearn some older skill.  The rest have long since gone to a charity shop.

It also contains computer equipment, and my language books.

The Latin books I found easily enough.  Some were copies of schoolboy Latin texts, familiar to me from my schooldays, and so worth having for that reason alone, to prompt errant memory.  Most were purchases from the days when I was developing QuickLatin.

But where were my Greek books?  I could find none at all.  I was looking vaguely for a basic grammar of NT Greek, which I knew that I had.  But no luck.  I was taken aback.  Where could they be?

After some time, my tired brain offered up a faint memory.  I dimly remembered a decision to dispose of them, of deciding that I would never look at Greek again, and of the need for more space and fewer books.  How I disposed of them I could not remember.  Did I give them to a charity shop?  I suspect that I did.  But gone they certainly were.  In truth I know that I hardly ever looked at any of them.  Maybe it was a good decision.  I hate clutter, and I have too many books.

One book alone had survived, mainly – I recalled now – because I remembered annotating it when I was developing QuickGreek, and thinking that it was splendidly clear, comprehensive and concise.  It was James Morwood’s Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek (Oxford, 2001).  Off to bed I went, and turned it over in my hands.

Excellent it is indeed.  The first half was devoted to grammar; the second half to syntax.  I swiftly found the point I wanted, which – fortunately for me – was in line with my understanding.

As I handled it, a yellowed till receipt fell out from underneath the front cover.  This told me that I bought it in Cambridge, in Heffers Bookshop, together with two other books, for £9.99, in 2001.  Dimly I recalled making the purchase, downstairs in their classics department.  It seemed an age ago.

In those days I was quietly full of optimism.  My trips to Cambridge were a joy, usually undertaken in sunshine on a day-trip.  I would park at the university library, and photocopy articles.  At lunch I would walk into the city centre and buy books, and not a few of these.  The terrible experience of my first and only full-time job – fourteen wasted years of covert bullying, stress, sickness and misery – was behind me. For four years I had worked successfully and happily as a freelancer.  The Tertullian Project was well underway.  QuickLatin had been written during 1999. Most of it had been written in Microsoft Access in idle office hours on an incredibly misconceived government project that should have been completed in three months, but was running seven years late.  In 2001 I was starting to work on the never-to-be-finished QuickGreek project.  Books I needed, and Amazon was in its infancy.  Trips to Cambridge, and visits to its academic bookshops, were a delight, for it served to remind me of my Oxford days, a time when I was really very happy.

Seventeen years have passed since then.  They were good years, at least compared to those that went before.  I remember mostly sunshine.  They have passed very swiftly indeed.

It’s interesting to see that the book today is actually sold for less on Amazon UK than I paid for it 17 years ago – a mere £7.86 today in the UK ($15 on Amazon.com), and free postage with Amazon Prime.  How fortunate we are, to have Amazon.

The author, James Morwood, is dead, I see.  He was master of Wadham college, and he died last year.  This is a pity, for otherwise tonight I might have written to thank him.  It is indeed a fine, concise work.

I do not think that I shall buy back the lost Greek books.  These days much is online.  Still, looking for them brought back happy memories.  Those of us whose life is in books can always use more of those.


Beatitudines 4

Here’s the next few sections in Beatitudines aliae capita viginti of Ephraem Graecus.

δʹ. Μακάριος ὃς | γέγονεν ἁγνὸς Θεῷ | καὶ ἅγιος καὶ καθαρὸς | ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν μιασμῶν καὶ λογισμῶν καὶ πράξεων τῶν πονηρῶν. (IV. Beatus, qui castus est Deo, & sanctus ac purus a cunctis immunditiis, cogitationibusque, ac operibus improbis.)

As before, we have “Blessed [is he] who”, plus a verb, “γέγονεν” – has become (perf, indicative, active).  Then the complement, an adjective in the nominative, following by the dative – “ἁγνὸς Θεῷ”, “pure in God”. Then two more nominatives connected by “kai” – “and holy and pure”.

That gives us “pure” twice.  Now “katharos” is definitely “pure”, so perhaps we need a different word for “ἁγνὸς”, “hagnos”.  Lampe gives “chaste”, and Traversari is rendering it as “castus”, as in “castitas”, chastity, so he understood it the same way.  So let’s go with “ἁγνὸς Θεῷ” meaning “chaste in God”.

So far so good: “Blessed [is he] who has become chaste in God, and holy, and pure…”

Then we have a series of nouns all in the genetive; following the preposition ἀπὸ, “from”, which here is pushing the nouns to which it relates into the genetive case.  First of these is πάντων μιασμν.  “Pantos” is “all”, of course.  Lampe does NOT give me anything special for “miasmos”, so I’m getting “scandal” for Attic Greek.  But in the NT it means “defilement”[1] which agrees with Traversari.  Let’s stick with that: “all defilement”.

“logismoi” is thoughts of the heart, as we saw last time.  “Praxeis” is acts, deeds; “poneroi” is “evil”.  I think we may treat “logismoi and praxeis” together as qualified by “poneroi”, by introducing a comma.  All of which resolves to:

4. Blessed [is he] who has become chaste in God, and holy and pure from all defilements, and [from] evil thoughts and deeds.

εʹ. Μακάριος ὃς γέγονεν | ὅλος αὐτὸς ἐλεύθερος | ἐν Κυρίῳ | ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν πραγμάτων | τοῦ βίου τούτου ματαίου.  (V. Beatus, qui totus in Domino est liber a cunctis hujus vanae vitae rebus.)

There’s a lot of similarities here; opening words “Blessed [is he] who has become”, then stuff, then “in the Lord” following by “apo” and a genetive.

“holos autos eleutheros” – autos without article meaning “himself”, so “himself completely free” + “en Kyriow”, “himself completely free in the Lord”.

An aside: I often find it pays to google the odd bit of the Greek.  Googling “ὅλος αὐτὸς ἐλεύθερος” gave me a bonus here: it led me to the Thwaites edition of 1709, the Oxford edition which Assemani reprinted for vols 1 and 2, and for which I was hunting in vain earlier.  It’s here; and I have updated the “main” Ephraim Graecus post / bibliography accordingly.

Then the apo + genetive – “from all of the things”; then a normal genetive, “tou biou” = “of life”, then adjectives for “biou”, “toutou mataiou” so “of this pointless life”.  Putting it all together:

5. Blessed [is he] who has become | himself completely free | in the Lord | from all the things of this pointless life.

It is quite encouraging to go through a list of similar statements like this.  Not so hard on the translator!

  1. [1]See Strong’s, here.

Beatitudines aliae 3 – stepping through the Greek once more

Let’s carry on looking at the Greek of Ephraim Graecus, Beatitudines aliae capita XX.  I apologise if it’s a bit dull, but it’s useful to me.  Into section 3:

γ’. Μακάριος ὃς γέγονεν π τς γς ς ἄγγελος οράνιος κα μιμητς τν Σεραφίμ, γνος ἔχων καθ’ κάστην τος λογισμούς.

Traversari’s modern translation (which helps quite a bit in sorting out the sense):

Beatus, qui in terra est tamquam Angelus coelestis, & imitator factus Seraphim, castas assidue cogitationes habet.

(I.e. Blessed [is he], who on earth is like an angel of heaven, & has become an imitator of the Seraphim, [and] continually has pure thoughts.)

As before, we start with “Μακάριος ὃς”, “Blessed [is he] who“, and we expect a verb.  This time we’re not getting a verb in participle form, but instead a normal main verb, a 3rd person perfect indicative active, “γέγονεν”, “he has become”.  The next bit is simple; π τς γς, meaning “upon the earth”.

Then we get ς, meaning “as, like”.[1]  Alright, Traversari tipped me off; so I hunted around until I found an excuse for it!  But it still fits.  Next ἄγγελος οράνιος, i.e., like a heavenly angel.  Finally “κα μιμητς τν Σεραφίμ”, “and an imitator of the Seraphim”.

So the first clause means:

Blessed [is he], who has become, on earth, like a heavenly angel and an imitator of the seraphim…

Nothing unusual here.

But the rest gets messy.

γνος | ἔχων | καθ’ κάστην | τος λογισμούς.

The object of this clause is the accusative plural, ἁγνος τος λογισμούς =  “pure thoughts”. 

In truth, I’m not sure that I would have recognised λογισμος as “thought”, from Liddell and Scott.  I got the idea from Traversari; but I see that even in Lampe’s Lexicon of Patristic Greek (p.806), meaning 1 is “argument, faith based”.  But meaning 2 is indeed “thought”, thankfully.

ἔχων = a present participle, “having”.

But what on earth is “καθ’ κάστην”?  From googling I find that it appears in Hebrews 3:13, where καθ’ means “each”, and “hekastos” is an adjective meaning “every”, but not as a phrase.  However I find “καθ’ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν” and “καθ’ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν” both rendered as “every day” in Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek p.159

This is in fact the meaning. I find in the 1826 A new Greek and English Lexicon by James Donnegan, p.292, in the middle of the entry for hekastos the following entry:

καθ’ ἑκάστην (ἡμέραν understood), every day.

This Traversari has rendered as “continually”.  So we end up with

Blessed [is he], who has become, on earth, like a heavenly angel and an imitator of the seraphim, having pure thoughts every day”.

That was harder work than it should have been!

  1. [1]A nice discussion of conjunctions here.

Beatitudines aliae, section 2

In the comments to my last post it was pointed out that the syntax of the sentence of Beatitudines aliae capita xx is poetic, rather than prose; and the word order is accordingly weird.

The first two “chapters” – or rather sentences – are both in a similar form.  The first clause consists of:

  1. Μακάριος ὃς (“Blessed is he who”), then:
  2. A verb in participle form, meaning “having been/done/hated/whatever”.  This expects an object, but the object is displaced to the end of the clause.  Instead:
  3. A verb or two in the simple indicative, past or present – I am avoiding too much jargin here – meaning “he does/feels/whatever”.
  4. The object.

So in section 1, we had “Blessed is he who, having hated | the human life, abandoned [it]”.  But “the human life” was at the end of the clause.

Section 2 is as follows.

β’. Μακάριος ὃς μισήσας βδελύσσεται τν κακίστην μαρτίαν, Θεν μόνον γαπήσας τν γαθν κα φιλάνθρωπον.

Modern Greek translation, printed by Phrantzolas:

2. Μακάριος αυτός πού μίσησε καί άποστρέφεται την απαίσια αμαρτία, επειδή αγάπησε μόνο τόν αγαθό καί φιλάνθρωπο Θεό.

Traversari’s Latin translation, printed by Assemani:

Beatus, qui odit ac detestatur pessimum peccatum, Deumque solum bonum atque hominum amatorem diligit.

This as before gives a general sense rather than an accurate one.

A kind correspondent pointed out last time that the syntax  of the first clause is in a poetic order, so needs to be rearranged for translation purposes.  We have

Μακάριος, ὃς | μισήσας βδελύσσεται | τν κακίστην μαρτίαν,

Blessed is he, who | having hated the worst sin | loathes [it].

Where βδελύσσεται (normal meaning = loathe) is the active verb (3rd person present indicative middle/passive), and the object is “τν κακίστην μαρτίαν”  (= the worst sin), which we must pull forward after the participle, μισήσας.

A mistake I made last time was in not checking Lampe’s Lexicon of Patristic Greek.  This pays dividends again, for on p.294 I find βδελλύσσομαι given as “abhor”, which is better than loathe.

So far so good.  Now the rest of the clause, which I read as:

Θεν μόνον | γαπήσας | τν γαθν κα φιλάνθρωπον

having loved | only God | [who is] good and loves mankind.

Here I move the aorist active singular masculine participle γαπήσας (“having loved”) to the front, as all the rest are in agreement with “God”.

But this is still not right, I think.  Clearly there is something about the syntax of the second clause that I don’t know, about that aorist participle.  It feels wrong.

Googling I find that an aorist participle should mean a past event, except where the main verb is also aorist, when it can mean a contemporary event.  (It can even mean a subsequent event, rarely! Aargh!)[1]  In our context, that does make sense.

Traversari cheerfully changes the participle into an indicative, and the aorist into the present tense.  He treats it as meaning “loves / values / esteems / aspires to”, which seems about right.  But even here “loving only God…” would be closer.

Putting it together, we get:

2. Blessed is he, who having hated the worst sin, abhors [it], loving only God [who is] good and loves mankind.

Is that right?  Criticisms welcomed below!

  1. [1]See Daniel B. Wallace, here: “The aorist participle, for example, usually denotes antecedent time to that of the controlling verb.[1] But if the main verb is also aorist, this participle may indicate contemporaneous time.[2]” References: “[1]  We are speaking here principally with reference to adverbial (or circumstantial) participles. [2]  Cf. Robertson, Grammar, 1112-13. From my cursory examination of the data, the aorist participle is more frequently contemporaneous in the epistles than in narrative literature. There is also such a thing as an aorist participle of subsequent action, though quite rare.”

More on Beatitudines aliae capita xx.

There are perils to late-night writing, one of which is that you may not be that sharp!  But today I have started to look at Traversari’s translation of Ephraem Graecus’ Beatitudines aliae capita xx.  Here’s the first “chapter” (with ocr error corrected!):

I. Beatus, qui praesentem hanc vitam odit ac deserit, & in solo Deo meditatio vitae suae est.


1. Blessed [is he], who hates and abandons this present life, and in God alone is the meditation of his life.

Somewhat odd phrasing, so let’s look at the Greek, taken from the Phrantzolas edition:

α’. Μακάριος, oς μισήσας κατέλιπε | τόν βίον τούτον άνθρώπινον, καί σύν Θεώ μονωτάτω | ή μελέτη | τής ζωής αυτού | έγένετο.


1. Blessed [is he], who hated [and] abandoned | this human life, and in God alone | the pattern | of his life | there came to pass.

The “μισήσας” is an active aorist participle; the κατέλιπε is a 3rd person active aorist indicative, neither of which is obviously rendered by an English present tense.  (The έγένετο 3rd person aorist indicative middle is familiar to everyone as “there came to pass”).

I’m quite sure that Ambrogio Traversari knew vastly more Greek back in the 15th century than I know now.  But all the same… this is not a good translation.  Getting the verb tenses right is important.  It’s poetic, much the same meaning, but not good.

At this point, I am curious to know how the sentence was rendered by the late antique translator who created a Latin version of Beatitudines aliae capita xx.  Fortunately this was printed, albeit in a horrid and  hideously abbreviated incunable:

Which looks like:

Beatus qui odio habuerit hunc mundum, et solummodo (?) meditatio eius in deo fuerit.


I.e. Blessed is he who held this world in contempt, and alone his meditation was in God.

Better tense rendering, anyway, although not very close to the original.  But how interesting the use of the word “meditatio” in both cases.

At this point I consult Souter’s Glossary of Later Latin which includes uses for meditatio such as “thinking”, “study” and “carrying out”.  All the same; neither is that close to the Greek.

UPDATE: Please see the comments for corrections of my mistakes.  In particular, I should have looked at Lampe’s Lexicon of Patristic Greek for μελέτη!