The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 1 (part 2)

Let’s carry on from where we left off in September 19, 2016, when last we looked at Chapter 1.  All of this material is derived from the Old Testament, albeit with some imaginative reworking, and it is of no historical value except as indicating how people in the Muslim world thought about this narrative in the 10th century AD.

2. Shīt was two hundred and five years old when Anūsh was born.  After Adam’s death, Shīt’s family separated themselves from the family of Cain, the accursed one.  Shīt took his first-born Anūsh, Qīnān, son of Anūsh, and Mahlali’il, son of Qīnān, along with their women and their children and made them climb to the top of the mountain, where Adam was buried.  Cain and all his sons remained in the place where Abel was killed (9). Shīt’s sons lived on that mountain, pure and holy, and they heard the voices of the angels because they were close to them and they glorified and praised God together with the angels. Therefore they, together with their women and their children, were called children of God. They did not work, they did not sow, they did not reap.  They only fed on the fruits of the trees.  There was no envy among them, nor injustice, nor lies. And when they swore an oath they used to say: “No, for the blood of Abel”. They went to the top of the holy mountain every day and prostrated themselves before God by invoking blessings on the body of Adam.  When Shīt felt death approaching, he made his sons swear on the blood of Abel that none of them would ever come down from that holy mountain nor would they allow any of their children to come down among the sons of Cain, the accursed one.  Shīt lived in all nine hundred and twelve years.  Anūsh had Qīnān at the age of one hundred and ninety years.  In his time the sons of Cain, the accursed, made drums, cymbals, lyres and harps.  They were the first to work iron and copper and all that could be obtained, and they finally made tents in which they lived.

3. Anūsh was three hundred years old when Cain was killed, the accursed son of Adam and murderer of his brother Abel.  It happened that Lāmikh, the seventh descendant of Cain and a shepherd, shot a dart, as a game, that struck his grandfather Cain killing him.  Cain had continued to roam the woods, because he was a wanderer, never stopping in one place.  Cain died at the age of nine hundred and thirty years.  Anūsh lived in all nine hundred and five years.  Qīnān had had Mahlali’il at the age of one hundred and seventy years.  Feeling close to death, Qīnān called Mahlali’īl to himself and made him swear by the blood of Abel that he would not allow any of his sons to come down among the sons of Cain, the accursed.  Qīnān lived in all nine hundred and ten years.

4. Mahalali’īl had Yārid at one hundred and sixty-five years.  Qīnān died when Mahlali’il was one hundred and thirty-five years old, and was buried in the Cave of the Treasures.  When Mahlali’īl felt close to death, he called to his son Yārid and made him swear by the blood of Abel that he would not allow any of his sons to come down from the mountain among the sons of the murderer Cain, the accursed one.  Mahlali’il lived in all eight hundred and ninety-five years. Yārid had, at one hundred and sixty-two years, Akhnūkh.

Of the sons of the murderer Cain, the men behaved like stallions and whinnied after the women.  The women, in turn, were no better and behaved shamelessly like the men.  They fornicated and committed adultery among themselves, in front of everyone, in the open, and two or three men had the same woman together.  The elders were more libidinous than the young, fathers lay with their daughters and their sons with their mothers. The children did not know who their fathers were, nor did the fathers know who their children were.  They played every kind of musical instrument and the echo of their cries and their games reached the top of the holy mountain.  On hearing their cries, a hundred men among the sons of Shīt met together with the intention of descending from the mountain among the sons of Cain, the accursed one.  Yārid exhorted them to swear on the blood of Abel that they would never come down from the holy mountain, but they did not receive his words and went down.  When they were down, they saw the daughters of Cain with beautiful faces, naked and without any modesty, and were seized with burning lust.  The daughters of Cain looked at them, they saw that they were beautiful and gigantic and they fell on them like beasts, soiling their bodies.  Thus it was that Shīt’s sons perished, fornicating with the daughters of Cain.  From their union with the sons of Shīt, the daughters of Cain, the accursed, gave birth to the giants (10).  In the Torah it is said that the sons of God, also called sons of Elohīm, when they saw that the daughters of Cain were beautiful, descended to live among them and the giants were born.  They are therefore mistaken and do not know the truth, those who assert that the angels have descended among the daughters of Adam.  They were instead, the sons of Shīt, come down from the holy mountain among the daughters of Cain, the accursed, because the sons of Shīt, both for their purity and because they lived on the holy mountain, were called sons of Elohīm, that is children of God.  As for those who claim that the angels have descended among the daughters of men, well they are in error, because the substance of the angels is a simple substance and by their nature they cannot have sexual relations.  Man, on the other hand, is a compound substance and by his nature can have sexual relations, as is the case with animals.  If the angels could have sex they would not have left any woman among the daughters of the man without contaminating her.  When the sons of Shīt, who had come down from the mountain among the daughters of Cain, the accursed, wanted to return to the holy mountain, the rocks of the mountain became like fire and it was not possible for them to return to the mountain.  Later, group by group, [others also] came down from the holy mountain among the daughters of Cain, the accursed one


The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 2 – part 3 and last

Time to get back to Eutychius… This is more Old Testament stuff: Joshua.  The invasion of the Israelites into Canaan is depicted in rather similar language to the Muslim invasion, doubtless intentionally.

6. After the death of Moses, there took command of the people Yūshā‘ (29), son of Nūn, and held it for thirty-one years.  After crossing the Jordan, he besieged Rīha (30) for seven days.  On the seventh day, the sons of Israel blew the trumpets around the city of Rīha with loud clamor.  By the vehemence of their cries and the sounds of their trumpets the city walls collapsed and all the men, children and women who were in the city were killed.  After conquering Rīha, he celebrated the passover in the desert of Rīha.  Then he sent his army against the city of ‘Ānī (31) and to Bayt II (32) to have news of the city.  But the inhabitants of ‘Ānī moved against them and killed thirty-six of Yūshā‘’s men.  Then Yūsha‘ sent an army of thirty thousand men against the city of ‘Ānī.  Yūsha‘, son of Nūn, followed the soldiers secretly.  The king of ‘Ānī went out with his men against the soldiers of Yūsha‘.  The sons of Israel engaged them in a long pursuit until they had moved away from the city.  Yūsha‘, then, with his men broke into the city of ‘Ānī, destroyed it and burned it, killing all the men and women who were there.  Then he chased the king of ‘Ānī, killed his men, took the king alive and ordered him killed by making his body hang on a cross.  Yashū‘ then went up with his soldiers to the mountains of Canaan.  In the desert the sons of Israel had stopped practicing circumcision, but when they occupied the territories of the Jordan and surrounding regions and mingled with their peoples, God ordered Yashū‘, son of Nūn, to prepare knives and circumcise the sons of Israel with them.  He did as God had ordered.  There is an Ethiopian tribe, the Buğāhs (33), who still practice it today.  He then wrote for the sons of Israel the second law with his blessings and curses (34).

7. When the king of Gī‘ūn (35) heard of Yūsha‘, he wrote to him asking him to make a covenant with him and sent him many gifts.  Yūsha‘ granted him his protection and confirmed him in his charge.  When the king of Ūrashalīm, named Nīsādūq, the king of Gibrūn, the king of Yarmūth, the king of Lākhīs and the king of ‘Aqlūn (36) understood that the king of Gī‘ūn had put himself under the protection of Yūsha‘, son of Nun, they gathered, moved against the city of Gī‘ūn and besieged it.  The king of Gī‘ūn wrote to Yūsha‘, son of Nūn, informing him of the fact. Yūsha‘ gathered an army, went out to fight them and defeated them.  [The kings] sheltered in the cities of ‘Arīqā and Mafīdā (37). God rained hail stones on them that killed them.  The sun remained motionless for Yūsha‘, son of Nūn, without moving to the east or west, until God gave him victory over them and the five kings fled into the cave of a mountain where they hid (38).  Yūsha‘ took them out of the cave, killed them and had their bodies hung up. Then Yūsha‘ left the city of Mafīdā and went to the city of Libna (39). He besieged it, took it and killed the king and all who were there. From the city of Libna he marched against the city of Lākhīs, conquered it and killed the king and all who were there.

8. When the king of Ghazza became aware of the fact that Yūsha‘ had besieged the city of Lākhīs, he went out with his soldiers to help the king of Lāhīsh against Yūsha‘, son of Nūn.  But Yūsha‘ won the victory over him and killed him along with his men.  From Lāhīsh Yūsha‘ went to the city of Aqlūn, laid siege to it, conquered it and killed the king along with all the inhabitants. Then he marched against the city of Hibrun, besieged it, took it and killed the king and all who were there. Then he went out against the city of Dibīr (40), besieged it, conquered it and killed the king and all who were there.  When Yābīn, king of Hāsūr (41), heard these things, he sent messengers to the king of Marūn (42), to the king of Shimrūn (43) to the king of Akhshāf (44), to the king of Saydā (45), to the king of ar-Rāma, ai Muwābiyyūn, the Harrāniyyūn, the Awābiyyūn, ai Qarrāriyyūn, ai Yābūsāniyyūn, ai Sanābiyyūn (46) and all the inhabitants of the sea coast to gather together. The kings and all their men gathered and there were so many that they were as numerous as sand.  Then they went out to fight Yūsha‘, son of Nūn, who moved against them and routed them, killed them and set fire to their tents, and cut the hocks of their beasts and they were all pierced with the sword as far as the city of Mārūn (47) and Saydā, without anyone finding a way out. Then he took the kings and killed them. The kings that Yūsha‘, son of Nūn, killed occupying the territories were altogether thirty-five: the king of the Sanābiyyūn, the king of the Muwābiyyūn, the king of the Kan‘āniyyūn, the king of the Qarrāriyyūn, the king of the Yābūsāniyyūn, the king of the Awāniyyūn, the king of the Girsāniyyūn, the king of Ūrashalīm, the king of ‘Ānī, the king of Sābā (48), which is in the vicinity of Bayt Īl, the king of Hibrūn, the king of Yarmūt, the king of Lākhīsh, the king of ‘Adūlām (49), the king of Gadar (50), the king of Dabīr , the king of Hāsīr (51), the king of Hurmā (52), the king of ‘Arād (53), the king of Libnā, the king of Lālām, the king of Abdād, the king of Hāfir (54), the king of Fīq (55), the king of Sadūm (56), the king of Shimrūn (57), the king of Barmūth (58), the king of Hafīr (59), the king of Qadas (60), the king of Rāhib, the king of Mardūth, the king of Sīqūm, the king of Bātindūn (61), the king of Ğabal al-Ğalīl (62) and the king of Kirsā (63), who were exactly thirty-five (64). Yūsha‘ fought for six years against kings and nations until he conquered and governed the countries.

9. Later he divided the territories and countries among the sons of Israel for fourteen years, and he ruled the people for eleven years in peace and quiet.  In his day there prophesied Il‘āzar, son of Harūn, and Finhās, son of Il‘āzār, son of Harūn.  Yūsha‘, son of Nūn, died at the age of one hundred and ten years and was buried in the mountains of Ğal’ād (65) together with the flint knives which he used to circumcise the sons of Israel in Ğalğal (66).  After the death of Yūsha‘, son of Nūn, the people were administered by the priest Finhās, son of Il‘āzār, son of Harūn.  He was priest for twenty-five years.  The Jews believe that the aforementioned Finhās, the priest, is the prophet Iliyā, whom the Arabs call al-Khidr (67).


An unusual angle on the Meta Sudans

On the 15th December this image was posted, dated to the 1920s-30s:

It shows the Arch of Titus, and behind it the Colosseum, from the unusual vantage point of the Palatine hill.  But at this date, of course, it also shows the remains of the ancient Roman fountain, the Meta Sudans, which was demolished soon after by Mussolini.  Unhappily the image is too low-resolution for us to see much of it.  But each photo is precious.


Arator, his “Historia Apostolica” and its “tituli” and “capitula”

Back in October I received an email enquiring about the chapter headings in the manuscripts of Arator.  My first reaction, like yours, was to wonder who on earth was Arator!  So I thought that it might be interesting to give some information here about this obscure figure, and discuss the question posed to me.

Let’s start with Arator himself.  He lived in the early 6th century, in northern Italy, and wrote a single work, on the Acts of the Apostles, generally labelled Historia Apostolica, or sometimes De Actibus Apostolis.

Few perhaps are aware that a sixth volume of Quasten’s Patrology exists, covering the Latin authors from the end of vol. 4 up to the time of the Venerable Bede.  Sadly it exists only in Italian.[1]  Let’s hear what it has to say:


A little information on the life of this poet and his writings is given to us in the Variae of Cassiodorus and in the works of Ennodius. We know that he was originally from the north of Italy and that his father, perhaps a teacher of rhetoric and certainly a man of high culture, had provided for his early education. Following the untimely death of his father, he was taken care of by the bishop of Milan, Laurentius, and so the young boy passed, together with the great Ennodius, into the school of Deuterius, as we learn from one of the Ennodian dictiones (number 9). There in Ravenna he established a great friendship with Parthenius, nephew of Ennodius, and they began to study the classics, especially the commentaries of Caesar, but also Christian authors such as St Ambrose, “Decentius” (as a rule identified with Dracontius) and Sidonius Apollinaris. The Gothic ruler Theodoric had the opportunity to appreciate his eloquence on the occasion of his participation, perhaps in 526, in an Dalmatian embassy, and Athalaric raised him to the position of Comes domesticorum and Comes privatorum He went to Rome in an unspecified year and was named subdeacon by Pope Vigilius. For four days, between April 13 and June 1, 544 AD, he had the honor of reading his poem on the Acts of the Apostles in the Roman church of St. Pietro in Vincoli, in the presence of clerics and laity, with frequent applause and repeated invitations to read some passages again. After that all trace of him is lost.

Arator has left us a single poem in two books, the De actibus Apostolorum in which the two proemial charms are addressed to Florianus (12 couplets) and to Pope Vigilius (15 couplets); and the final metric epistle (51 couplets) is addressed to Parthenius. They are all one, if only for their illustrative character of the Aratorian poetics. Apparently the poem would appear to be a late product of that movement, inaugurated by Juvencus in the fourth century, whose obvious purpose was to excuse the rough simplicity of the biblical text by covering its contents with a metrically unexceptionable and stylistically elegant form; in other words to create a high-level Christian epic, up to the standard of the great classical tradition.

This cliché does not quite fit the Arator’s poem. In fact, Arator chooses only a few episodes of Acts, reserving the first book for those relating to Peter, and the second to those concerning Paul. He gives much space, in imitation of his predecessor Sedulius, to the allegorical and moral interpretation of the succinctly expressed events, as well as, in some cases, to the mystique of numbers. In essence, the poem fits more decisively into the didascalic strand than into the epic one. This explains and justifies the good fortune that it had in the Middle Ages, as evidenced by the numerous commentaries produced upon it between the ninth and tenth centuries.

Editions: CPL 1504-1505; PL 68, 63-252 (H.J. Arntzen, Zutphiae 1769); G.L Perugi, Venezia 1909; A.P. McKinlay, CSEL 72, Vindobonae 1951.

Studies: J. Schrödinger, Das Epos des Arator De actibus apostolorum in seinem Verhältnis zu Vergil, Progr., Weiden 1911; A. Ansorge, De Aratore veterum poetarum Latinorum imitatore, Breslau 1914; R. Anastasi, “Dati biografici su Aratore in Ennodio”: MSLC 1 (1947) 145-152; K. Thraede, “Arator”. JbAC 4 (1961) 187-196; F. Châtillon, “Arator déclamateur antijuif”. RMAL 19 (1963) 5-128; 197-216; 20 (1964) 185-225; S. Blomgren, Ad Aratorem et Fortunatum adnotationes. Eranos 72 (1974) 143-155; R.J. Schrader, Arator revalutation: CF 31 (1977) 64-77; D. Kanschoke, Bibeldichtung, Munchen 1975, 53-55; 72-74; 93-97; G.R. Wieland, The Latin Glosses on Arator and Prudentius in Cambridge University Library; Ms. Gg. 5, 35, Toronto 1983; H. Tiffenbach, Altdeutsche Aratorglossen, Paris. B.N. lat. 8318: AAWG 3, 107, 1977; L.T. Martin, The Influence of Arator in Anglo-Saxon England, in: Proceedings of the PMR Conference, Villanova 1985; P. Angelucci, I modelli classici di Aratore. Per una tipologia dei rapporti poeta-fonte. Boll. Studi Lat. 15 (1985) 40-50; R.J. Schrader, Notes on the Text. Interpretation of the Sources of Arator. VC 42 (1988) 75-78; P.A. Deproost, La mort de Judas dans l’”Historia apostolica” d’Arator. REAug 35 (1988) 75-78; Idem, Les functions apostoliques du sacre dans le poème d’Arator. BAGB (1989) 376-393; Idem, Les images de l’heroisme triomphale dans l'”Historia apostolica” d’Arator, in: SP 23, Leuven 1989, 111-118; N. Wright, Arator’s Use of Caelius Sedulius: a Re-Examination: Eranos 87 (1989) 51-64; P. Angelucci, Centralità della Chiesa e primato romano in Aratore, Roma 1990; P.A. Deproost, L’Apotre Pierre dans une épopée du VIe siècle. L'”Historia apostolica” d’Arator, Paris 1990; Idem, Notes sur le texte et l’interpretation d’Arator. VC 44 (1990) 76-82.

That’s a rather wordy description, but clear enough for our purposes.  The successful public reading in 544 is known to us from a subscriptio to several of the manuscripts in which the work is transmitted.[2]

A deeply obscure English translation appeared in 1987.[3]  A modern French edition and translation exists in Les Belles Lettres series, and there is also a Portugese one[4]

There is apparently a complex manuscript tradition, as the poem was popular in the middle ages.  Unfortunately, lacking access to McKinlay’s edition, I can’t say anything about this.

But what about the table of contents and chapter titles, with which the original enquiry was concerned?  Well, the table of contents appears in the Patrologia Latina edition, which reprints the Arntzenius edition, but only in his introduction, in columns 58-9.  Apparently the capitula – the chapter headings – were still unprinted when McKinlay started work on his edition.[5]  Here’s the start of them:

The verse numbers are no doubt modern.  My correspondent was asking about the unusual usage “De eo ubi…”, “Concerning that passage where”.  For the text is a retelling of the Acts of the Apostles, so it is perfectly reasonable to refer to the passage of scripture.

Notice how often the verb appears, not at the end as in ancient texts, but in the middle of the sentences, just as it would in a modern language.  This by itself suggests that the chapter titles are not ancient, but medieval.

McKinlay reviewed 20 manuscripts, for both the table of contents (‘tituli’) and the in-body headings (‘capitula’).  The tituli and capitula differ, as is very common.  Furthermore they were not revised capriciously by scribes, as might be supposed, but rather were handled not much less carefully than the main text.  Rather the manuscripts fall neatly into two groups. The text of the items was revised, at some point during their transmission, and made closer to the biblical text.  They predate 820 AD, when they appear in ms. Paris 12284.

It all tends to show that we need much more information on these meta-textual elements.  The statements in the handbooks that have always tended to skip over the headings as late (which they may be) and often corrupt (which they may sometimes be) need to be based on something other than anecdote.  In the last century we have seen much more care taken with these elements in the medieval manuscripts.  If this is done enough, one day a monograph will be possible which can survey the field.  But not yet!


  1. [1]Angelo di Berardino &c, Patrologia: I Padri latini (secoli V – VIII), Marietti (1996).
  2. [2]Roger P.H. Green, Latin Epics of the New Testament: Juvencus, Sedulius, Arator, Oxford (2006), p.251-2; edition and translation of the subscriptio on p.391-2.  This item is edited from mss. Voss. Q 15 and Q 86, and Vat. Pal. Lat. 1716; but another 8 mss are known.
  3. [3]R.J. Schrader, Arator’s On the acts of the Apostles (De Actibus Apostolorum), Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987.
  4. [4]Bruno Bureau, Paul-Augustin Deproost, Histoire apostolique / Arator; texte établi, traduit et commenté, Paris : Les Belles Lettres 2017; José Henrique Manso, História apostólica a gesta de S. Paulo / Arátor, Coimbra : Centro de Estudos Clássicos e Humanísticos 2010.
  5. [5]A.P. McKinlay, “Studies in Arator: I. The Manuscript Tradition of the Capitula and Tituli”, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 43 (1932), pp. 123-166. JSTOR.

Cotelerius on Pope Julius and Cyril of Jerusalem

In my last post I looked into John of Nicaea – or John of Nike, as we ought to call him – and found the full version of the De nativitate Dei text that Migne quoted briefly in the PG 33 to show that Cyril of Jerusalem wrote to Pope Julius I to find out the day of Christ’s birthday.  The story was spurious, of course, and I discussed it in the Dubious Claims post.

Migne also quoted another version of the story, with a reference to  Cotelier, Patres Apostolici, i.316 (1724).  Let us see, then, what the original has to say.

It is easy enough to find the Cotelier volume, so long as you ignore the title above and search for “SS. Patrum qui temporibus apostolicis floruerunt, Barnabae, Clementis”…, the actual title of the work, and use Cotelerius, the Latinized form.  The 17-18th century habit of giving books very long names, which inevitably were abbreviated, is a problem until you are aware of it; whereupon you search for the author on Google, and hope to find what his works were, and so guess at the real title.  The 1724 edition is a reprint, but volume 1, p.316 is here.

The passage is again longer than Migne prints, which ended with “…among many a murmur arose”, three lines from the bottom of column 1 in the page image above.  The continuation tells us that Gregory the Theologian quelled the objections to dividing the festival into two parts.

But even this longer passage clearly has been abbreviated.  Where does it come from?

Well, Cotelier tells us that it comes from a Paris manuscript, with the shelfmark “Regius 969”.  This is the shelfmark in the old royal library.  Of course the modern Bibliothèque Nationale Français has its own system.

Older literature often uses old shelfmarks.  The BNF online catalogue is not bad, but a search for “Regius 969” drew blank.  Fortunately Cotelier tells us that the “John of Nicaea” letter was edited by Combefis: “And in ms. Regius 969, from which the most learned Combefis published that work of John of Nicaea, there is another little narrative on the same subject which is not markedly different, where the bishop is called Juvenalis:…”.  Page 200, note 102 of Glen L. Thompson’s book on the correspondence of Pope Julius tells us about the letter of John of Nicaea – which is in the same ms., remember – that:

…the letter, transmitted in the fifteenth century manuscript Paris, BN, gr. 900, was first edited by Combefis (1672).  Coustant, who reprints (coll. 83-86) Combefis’ text, notes (col. 83f) that it was transcribed “ex codice Regio olim 696, nunc 2428, pag. 149“.  The same text was taken over by Migne…

So the current shelfmark of the manuscript is BNF gr. 900.  This is online here, although in a monochrome microfilm.  Thompson tells us (p.201) that our fragment is found on fol. 120 of the manuscript, under the title Ἀναγκαία διήγησις (=necessaria narratio, necessary narration), and so it is.

The header in the right-column is visible even in this reproduction, followed by the Greek text printed by Cotelier.

Sadly I can’t read the Greek text – my paleography is non-existent, and the image is poor – but Thompson says it is preceded by a note that attributes it to Juvenalis. (Edit: wrong – the text itself mentions Juvenalis; line 5 of the text after the header, at the start)

Other short pieces precede and follow it.  Here is the BNF online catalogue:

  • (f.111)Anonymi de divinis mysteriis liber, e variis SS. PP. libris : Ἡ γὰρ σάρξ μου… ;
  • (119 v°)Anonymi de illis qui V. Testamenti libros de hebraica lingua in græcam converterunt ;
  • (120 v°)Petri Antiocheni epistola de azymis, ad Dominicum Gradensem ;
  • (128 v° et 149)Joannis, Nicæni archiep., ad Zachariam, magnæ Armeniæ catholicum, epistola de Christi nativitate ;
  • (135)Joannis, Hierosolymit. archiepiscopi, epistola ad Constantinum Caballinum de sacris imaginibus ;

Note however that the catalogue actually fails to mention our piece, starting on fol. 120 recto.  (I have communicated this omission to the BNF).

The catalogue does make clear why our piece is here.  It relates the Hebrew months to the Roman months; so naturally follows on from the anonymous item on fol. 119v.

That’s about as far as we can take this.  It’s a revised item of the Pope Julius I story, in a 15th century manuscript, among a bunch of other short pieces.

I’ve uploaded the two pages of the manuscript here:

Does anybody with better paleography than me fancy transcribing the whole of our piece, starting at the top of folio 120 and continuing down to the next header in the right-hand column of the reverse of the page?


From my diary – The “upgrade” that destroys your website

WordPress has pretty much conquered the world, as far as blog engines are concerned.  Who uses anything else now?  Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, WordPress has not adopted the evil practices of other ‘net monopolies and started to censor content for political reasons.  But the monopoly cannot be good for any of us.

I noticed a few days ago that my blog menu no longer works on my Android  smartphone.  My theme – underskeleton – did once!  But somewhere along the WordPress update schedule, the developers broke it.  Nor is this the first time.  I had to move away from my original theme “unnamed” for the same reason.  “Underskeleton” has not been updated in a year, so plainly it is time to move.  But to what?

Most WordPress themes these days seem to be aimed at websites, not blogs.  The WordPress standard themes are no better.

I have just spent an hour experimenting with themes until my patience was exhausted.  What I want is simple enough – two columns, my pages not treated as navigation, the side panel accessible on mobile, a header image, and reasonable typography.  But I was unable to find anything I liked.

During the week someone mentioned to me how complicated it is becoming to create web content.  There are a million options, and even those of us who are IT professionals are drowning in the flow of information.  Yet at the same time simple things become impossible.

It’s very like how Microsoft have destroyed Visual Basic.  You just can’t get simple stuff done these days.

Likewise the Contact Form 7 is broken.  I’ve used it for years.  But the last update played havoc, and sent me loads of spam.  Why???!  I fell back on my old feedback form.  This too has had its vicissitudes – the endless upgrades to perl on the server keep removing support for bits of code that I used when I wrote it.  But mostly I can fix it easily.  WordPress on the other hand is a monster.

I sat down here over an hour ago to write a post on Cotelerius.  Instead I’ve been messing with techno-rubbish.

Thank you, WordPress.


The search for “John of Nicaea”: adventures in Byzantine prosopography

John of Nicaea is not known to the World-Wide Web.  A search for this author, whom I mentioned in my last post, was quite futile.  So I began to think about how I might find someone from the 9th or 11-12th century, potentially.  The CPG ends around the time of John Damascene, so is useless here.  But then I wondered whether “prosopography” might help; handbooks of people known from the period.

A search for “Byzantine prosopography” pointed me to two websites.

The first of these was hosted at Kings College London, so looked hopeful – the Prosopography of the Byzantine World.  But on my Android mobile it refused to work at all, kicking me back to the home page (itself useless).  On my PC, it worked but gave me nothing.  Entering “Ioannes” gave me too much, either in Free Text or in Name; entering Ioannes Nicaea gave me nothing in either.  No doubt there is some incantation that will produce results, but it defeated me.

I was more fortunate with Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit Online, although I was initially baffled at how to use it.  The entry page tells you nothing useful, and I clicked around for some time.  Eventually I downloaded a user guide in PPT format, which did not reflect the current site but allowed me to guess.

The actual answer is to use what looks like a general site search, but is not.  I have highlighted it in the screen shot below (click to enlarge):

All the rest is irrelevant.  But if you type “ioannes” in that box, you get stuff; and you also get a search that you can actually use (again I have highlighted this):

You can add a row, and suddenly you are looking at real options:

Click on the entry, and you get full details (in German; but if you use Chrome, you can right-click on the page and select “Translate”).  You can even download them as a PDF, which is helpful.

    *    *    *    *

Reading this entry made much clear.

“John of Nicaea” was actually an Armenian named Vahan, graecised as John, and was archbishop of Nike (ἀρχιεπίσκοπος Νίκης) in Thrace, not Nicaea in Bithynia.  About 861-2 he was the ambassador from Photius, the patriarch, to Zacharias, the catholicos of Greater Armenia. He was the Byzantine representative at the Council of Širakawan in 862/63.  The opening speech of this council is preserved in Armenian (unpublished, in manuscript) and attributed to him; but in reality must be by an Armenian, perhaps Zacharias.[1]  He was also the author of a tract on the Nativity of Christ (De nativitate Domini, PG 96, 1435-1450).  This work is mentioned in a letter of Photius written in 878-9, addressed to the Armenian ruler Ašot I. Bagratuni.[2]

The article gives a very useful bibliography, which is mainly about Armenian affairs, so perhaps of limited interest here.  All the same; nice to know who he is, when he lived; and even more to know how to find these things.

UPDATE: A look at the Pinakes database of Greek manuscripts shows that John of Nicaea, or Johannes Nikenus, or Iohannes Nicaenus mtr., is listed, as author 1501.  These synonyms help somewhat in doing Google searches.  I learn from the 1838 index volume of Fabricius’ Bibliotheca Graeca, p.55 – which gives a huge list of “Johns” – that Ioannes, Nicaenus Archiepiscopus is to be found in volume X, p.238.  So this is another way to locate obscure authors called “John”.  Being unfamiliar with Fabricius’ work, however, I have not been able to locate the entry, and suspect that it is wrong.  A list of volumes of Fabricius is at Links Galore here.

UPDATE: See the comment below from Tia Kolbaba with lots of up-to-date information on John of Nike, and references to articles.

UPDATE: (Feb 2023): Kurt Simmons has now produced a translation of the letter of John of Nicaea from the PG text.  It’s at here.

  1. [1]Edition: “Vahanay Nikiay episkoposi bank” (“Discourses of Vahan the Bishop of Nicaea”), ed. N. Akinean, in: Handes Amsorya 82 (1968) 257-280
  2. [2]Photios, Ep. 284 (III 4 Laourdas-Westerink).

Dubious claims: Pope Julius I decided that Jesus was born on 25 December?

Christmas comes round every year, and every year somebody will tell us that Pope Julius I (337-352 AD) in 350, or 352, or 320 – the supposed date varies – decided that Jesus was born on 25 December.  Julius lived under the Arian emperor Constantius II, and was an ally of Athanasius, but is otherwise obscure.

I don’t want to enter into the larger question of why we celebrate Christmas on 25 December.  But the association with Pope Julius I seems worth probing.

Here are some samples of the claims made:

In 350 AD Pope Julius I declared December 25 the official date and in 529 AD Emperor Justinian declared Christmas a civic holiday.[1]

By the fourth century, however, many Christian groups had begun to observe Christ’s birthday, though the day chosen for the celebration differed from place to place. Christians in the East generally celebrated on January 6; those in the West on December 25. Others set dates in March, April, or May. About 350 AD, Pope Julius set December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth. This corresponded with the Roman feast of Saturnalia, the festival of the Unconquered Sun.[2]

In the late 330s AD, Pope Julius 1 declared: “December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea.” … [3]

Pretty confident sounding!  But … no references in any case.

But it doesn’t sound right anyway.  This is the 4th century.  A Pope doesn’t have the authority to set anything for the whole of Christendom.  He’s just one of the patriarchs.  He can make a decision for his area of the world, but why would that be definitive?  How could be it “the official date”?

A more significant problem is the lack of reference.  We only know about what people in the ancient world did if they left behind some document which was copied down the years; or else an inscription, or something.  But I was quite unable to locate any reference to such an item.

Fortunately in 2015 Glen L. Thompson edited and translated the correspondence of Pope Julius I.[4]  This consists of 2 letters from Pope Julius I, and 4 letters to him.  None have any mention of the birthday of Christ.  They are all concerned with the Arian dispute.

But I learn from Dr T.’s introduction that there are a further 26 (!) pieces that have the name of Pope Julius I on them, and every one of them wrongly.  In fact, in almost every case, the name is attached fraudulently!  This is unusual in antiquity.  Some were Apollinarist works, from the late 4th century, which being banned, were circulated under other names.  Some are from the medieval period, the Forged Decretals.  25 of them do not mention the birthday of Christ.

The 26th item (given the letter Z by Dr T.) is different – it does!  It’s a letter, supposedly from Cyril of Jerusalem to Pope Julius I, and quoted in two versions, the first by an obscure medieval bishop, John of Nicaea; and the other anonymous, but probably of the same era or later.

In the letter, Cyril tells us that his clergy celebrate the birthday of Christ and the baptism of Christ together, on 6th January.  But, he adds, they find this a pain, because they have to start in Bethlehem, do the service for the birth, and then travel down to the Jordan to do the baptism service.  This, he says, they found burdensome, and they had to rush the services.  So he is writing to Pope Julius to ask if the Pope would consult the archives of the Jewish church in Jerusalem.  These, he says, were seized by the Romans under Titus when the city fell in 70 AD and transported to Rome.  Underneath the letter, the 9th century author then adds that the pope did so, and identified 25 December as the birthday of Jesus.

The item in question is listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum under the spuria of Cyril of Jerusalem as CPG 3598.  The text can be found in Greek with modern Latin translation in the Patrologia Graeca vol. 33 columns 1208-9, together with a page of introduction (online here).  There is also a discussion of it in the old Dictionary of Christian Antiquities here.

Let’s see what it says.

There are in fact two versions given in the PG.  (I’m not going to type up the Greek, but I find that Abbyy Finereader 12 reads the Latin side very well, so I append it).

The first item is by John of Nicaea, from a letter to Zacharias, Catholicos of Greater Armenia, titled De Christi Nativitate.  (I’m not sure who John of Nicaea is, but the PG says 11-12th c.; Thompson says 9th).[5]  The works of John of Nicaea as a whole are in the PG 96, and our letter is col. 1441f.  (Update: see my post here for “John of Nicaea” who turns out to be 9th century) Here is the excerpt as given in the PG 33, however.

Once upon a time, Cyril – [not he] who sent a letter to Constantine, but he who succeeded him in his see – wrote to Julius, bishop of Rome, in these words: “Great labour and expense is caused at great and solemn festivals which are celebrated together on one day.  For the readings and order of service of both festivities end up incomplete, such that the nativity and the baptism of Christ cannot be celebrated [together].  So, seeing that we cannot on one day be both [in Bethlehem, and] in the place of the baptizism, (for Bethlehem is three miles south of Jerusalem, and the Jordan is fifteen miles to the east), may we appoint your sanctity to search out all the commentaries (συγγράμματα, i.e. writings) of the Jews, which Titus Caesar looted and carried off to Rome from Jerusalem.  Possibly you will discover for a fact the day of the nativity of Christ and our God.”

Then Julius the Roman carefully enquired into this question.  When he had collected all the writings of the Jews, which were captured and taken to Rome, he discovered a certain commentary of the time of the historian Josephus, written by himself: in which he said that, in the seventh month, on the feast of Scenopegia [or Tabernacles], on the day of expiation, the angel of the Lord appeared, and the dumb priest was restored, who had remained without voice until that time when his wife Elizabeth in old age gave birth.

Scripsit aliquando Cyrillus[non is],qui epistolam ad Constantinum [leg. Constantium] dedit sed is qui post ipsum in ejus sede successit, ad Julium Romanum episcopum in haec verba: «Magnus labor ac dispendium magnis ac solemnibus festivitatibus contingit, quod una  die celebrantur. Nam ambarum festivitatum lectiones et ordo [officii] imperfecta manent, eo quod nativitas et baptisma Christi [simul] celebrari nequeant. Quoniam itaque non possumus in una die [in Bethlehem, et] in locum baptismatis occurrere (nam Bethlehem tribus millibus ad meridiem ab Hierusalem distat, et Jordanis quindecim millibus ad orientem), jubeat sanctitas tua omnia Judaeorum commentaria investigari, quae praedatus Caesar Titus Romam Hierosolymis advexit. Fortassis certo reperies diem nativitatis Christi et Dei nostri. »

Tunc Julius Romanus studiose de hac rogatione quaesivit. Cumque omnia Judaeorum scripta, quae capta et Romam deportata fuerant, collegisset, quoddam Josephi temporum historici commentarium deprehendit ab ipso conscriptum: in quo habebatur, quod mense septimo, in festo Scenopegiae [seu Tabernaculorum]. Expiationis die, Dei angelus apparuit, sacerdosque mutus redditus, sine voce mansit ad illud usque tempus, quo Elisabet uxor ejus in senectute peperit.

That is not all that helpful, really.  Cyril of Jerusalem wrote to Constantine about a fiery cross that appeared over Jerusalem; but this is a later Cyril, mentioned by Epiphanius (Panarion 66.20).

But a second version of the story exists, in which the letter is attributed not to Cyril but to Juvenalis, under the title Ἀναγκαία διήγησις.  This is in the BNF in Paris; the old royal library shelfmark was Bibi. Reg. Cod. 2428, fol. 120.[6] Here it is:

However Juvenalis, patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote to Julius, patriarch of Rome, this about the matter: “On one day I cannot be both at Bethlehem and at the Jordan.  In fact the Jordan is 25 miles east of Jerusalem, while holy Bethlehem is 6 miles to the south of the city; nor can I in one day complete both celebrations.  So I ask your sanctity, Father, that you would scrutinise the commentaries, and give us, from an accurate examination, information on this matter, written by yourself, venerable one: on what day Christ the Lord was born, and on what day baptised.  For we understand correctly that books of commentaries from the early days were transferred from Jerusalem to Rome by Titus and Vespasian.”

Having received these letters, Julius patriarch of Rome investigated the commentaries, and he found that our Lord Jesus Christ was born on 25 December, and after 30 years from his nativity was baptised by John in the river Jordan, on the 6th January.  Well, when the fathers were dividing up the festival based on this investigation, among many a murmuring arose… etc.

Scripsit autem patriarcha Hierosolymitanus Juvenalis ad patriarcham Romanum Julium ea de re: « Non possum una die conferre me ad Bethlehem et ad Jordanem. Etenim Jordanis distat ab urbe Hierusalem ad orientem milliaribus 25, sancta vero Bethlehem ad austrum civitatis milliaribus sex; nec possum una die ambo festa peragere. Rogo itaque sanctitatem tuam, Pater, ut scruteris commentaria, et des nobis ex accurata disquisitione, per tuum scriptum, venerande, ejus rei notitiam: qua die natus sit Christus Dominus, et qua die baptizatus. Probe enim scimus commentarios ab initio libros e Hierosolymis Romam delatos fuisse per Titum et Vespasianum.»

His litteris acceptis Julius Romae patriarcha investigavit commentarios, invenitque quod 25 Decembris natus est Dominus noster Jesus Christus, et post annos 30 a nativitate sua baptizatus est a Joanne in Jordane fluvio, sexta mensis Januarii. Secundum ergo hanc investigationem cum Patres festum divisissent, inter multos ortum est murmur. Etc.

That’s clear enough.  It’s the same story, with different details.  But there are obvious difficulties.

  • Juvenal of Jerusalem held the see from 422-458; Julius I held his see from 337-352.  So clearly Juvenal wrote no letter to Rome.
  • Cyril of Jerusalem held his see from 350, but the letter states that a later Cyril is involved.  Julius died in 352.
  • The DCB tells us that in Palestine the practice of combining the celebration of Christmas and the baptism of Christ continued well after these times. (p.359 n.c).  The PG introduction informs us that Chrysostom’s homily on the nativity says the same, but this I have not checked.  It also says that Basil of Seleucia (ca. 448) states in the Laudatio S. Stephani that the innovation of celebrating the nativity separately began with that Juvenal.
  • Josephus does not specify the date of the birth of Christ in any extant work.  But it seems questionable whether any such Jewish archives really existed, or at least, not by the middle of the 4th century; and how would a medieval figure know of this, other than through apocryphal works like the “letter of Pilate” cycle?

To conclude, this is a letter with no claim to authenticity.  This leaves us where we started; there is no evidence that Pope Julius I ever set the nativity of Christ to 25 December.

UPDATE: I was curious about John of Nicaea, so I went to look in the PG 96.  He wrote only this single work. Our snippet fails to clarify why this relates to December 25; but the passage is actually introduced with these words:

Caeterum quod spectat ad Salvatoris Natale, ut celebrandum constituerint 25 Decembr., in hunc modum invenimus.

The other thing to consider for the nativity of the Saviour, as ordained that to be celebrated on 25 December, we discovered in this way.

Our snippet ended with “Then Julius the Roman carefully enquired into this question.  When he had collected all the writings of the Jews, which were captured and taken to Rome, he discovered a certain commentary of the time of the historian Josephus, written by himself: in which he said that, in the seventh month, on the feast of Scenopegia [or Tabernacles], on the day of expiation, the angel of the Lord appeared, and the dumb priest was restored, who had remained without voice until that time when his wife Elizabeth in old age gave birth.”

John then continues:

Well, according to the months of the Hebrews, the first month is Nesan.  This is numbered, and from that to the seventh month proceeds in this way: Nesan, Iar, Siban, Tamous, Aph, Eloul, Tesirin. This [Tesirin] is month 7, within which the annunciation of Zachariah happened; and 6 months are counted from Nesan, i.e. March, until the annunciation of the Mother of God; in this way, Mersan, Chasili, Tapet, Sipat, Atar, Nesan, which is 6 months from Mersan until Nesan, just as it was written, “In the sixth month was the archangel Gabriel sent to Mary”; and from the month of Nesan, in which was the annunciation, nine months are counted until the nativity of the Lord, in this way: Iar, Siban, Tamus, Aph, Eloul, Mersan, Tesirin, Chasili, Tapet.  Therefore the first lunary month Tesirin happens in the month of September: and from the conception of John to the annunciation of the God-bearer we count thus: October, Novemberm December, January, February, March.  There are equally 6 months.  But from the annunciation until the nativity are numbered thus: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.  Again in month 7, on day 10 of the month, was the day of expiation; 15 however was the observance of the Scenopegia.  In that month Elizabeth conceived, on the 10th day of Tesirin, on the day of expiation, and the 23 September was the conception of John; but 4th Nesan, March 25 was the annunciation of the holy Mother of God Mary; and 5th Tamnis, 25 June, was the birthday of the Forerunner [=John], and however 9th Sapet, December 25 is the nativity of Christ our great God, and Word incarnate.  In this way did Julius Romanus the patriarch arrange the months of the Hebrews and the Romans: from which time the Roman church began with outbursts (?) of joy to celebrate the nativity of the Saviour on 25 December, and bequeathed the obligation to the whole church.

Jam ergo juxta menses Hebraeorum, primus mensium Nesan. Hic numeratur, atque ab eo ad 7 mensem proceditur, hoc modo : Nesan, Iar, Siban, Tamous, Aph, Eloul, Tesirin. Hic est mensis 7, in quo facta est annuntiatio Zachariae; ac numeratur usque ad Annuntiationem Dei Genitricis, mensis hic sextus Nesan, id est, Martius; in hunc modum, Mersan, Chasili, Tapet, Sipat, Atar, Nesan, qui est sextus mensis a Mersan usque ad Nesan, sicut scriptum est : In mense sexto missus est Gabriel archangelus ad Mariam; atque a mense Nesan, quo facta est Annuntiatio, numerantur menses novem, usque ad Domini Nativitatem, hoc modo: Iar, Siban, Tamus, Aph, Eloul, Mersan, Tesirin, Chasili, Tapet. Prima igitur luna mensis Tesirin, occurrit in mensem Septembrem: atque a Joannis conceptione usque ad Deiparae Annuntiationem sic numeramus: October, November, December, Januarius, Februarius, Martius. Fiunt simul sex menses. Ab Annuntiatione autem usque ad Nativitatem sic numerantur: Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Julius, Augustus, September, October, November, December. Porro, mense 7, die mensis 10, erat Expiationis dies; 15 autem erat solemnitas Scenopegiae. Ipso mense concepit Elisabeth, 10 die mensis Tesirim, in die Expiationis, fuitque 23 Septembris conceptio Joannis, quarta autem mensis Nesan, Martii 25 fuit Annuntiatio Dei Genitricis sanctae Mariae; quinta vero mensis Tamnis, 25 Junii, fuit Praecursoris nativitas; ac tandem 9 mensis Sapet, Decembris 25, Nativitas Christi magni Dei nostri, ac Verbi incarnati. Inque hunc modum Julius Romanus patriarcha menses Hebraeorum atque Romanorum composuit: a quo tempore, coepit Romana Ecclesia laetis gaudii celebrare Natalem Salvatoris diem 25 Decembris, tradiditque celebrandum universis Ecclesiis.

That makes more sense of the snippet given by John of Nicaea (about whom, as yet, I can find no information).  Both versions, then, give the story that Pope Julius I ordered that Christmas should be on 25 December.

UPDATE2: I had meant to look for the snippets in the Pinakes database of Greek manuscripts, but that work is not indexed.  John of Nicaea, or Johannes Nikenus, or Iohannes Nicaenus mtr., on the other hand, is indeed listed, as author 1501, together with his work De festo die natali Domini., which they number as work 2657.  Ten manuscripts are listed, from the 12th to the 17th century.

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]Glen L. Thompson, The correspondence of Pope Julius I, CUA (2015).  The important pages are p.xlii, 200-201.  Google Books Preview here.
  5. [5]DCB says published by Combefis, Haeresis Monothelit., p.298 ff.
  6. [6]According to the DCB it was printed by Cotelier, Patres Apostolici, i.316 (1724).

From my diary

My apologies for the annoying pop-up that now appears on the right of the blog, touting ReCaptcha.  This is a little bit of market-position abuse from Google, who have forced their branding into the Contact Form that I have been using, and popped it up throughout my site (!).  I will find a way to make this disappear, given time.  How nice of google to steal part of my Christmas holidays and force their way onto my blog.  Google urgently needs to be broken up.

I’ve received a whole bunch of translations of portions of Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms from Fr. Alban Justinus.  There is one more batch to go, then I will release the lot.

The translation from the Latin of a life of St George is still in progress.  I have had no time to attend to it, and the translator has been in hospital.

I’ve now finished for Christmas, thankfully – my current contract is hard work – and I hope to have time to attend to things.


Ephraim Graecus – a list of works

Just to wrap up my work on Ephraim Graecus, I’ve uploaded a list of works to the site.  This appears as a page in the right-hand side of the blog here.  I give the title of the work, in Greek, the Latin title, where the text  may be found, any translations known to me, and a link to the Greek text where it is online.

The whole list is divided into the seven sections of the Phrantzolas edition, whose titles are also given.

This is the basis for further work.  Go to it, people!