Why can’t I find this passage from Cyril of Alexandria’s “Commentary on John” in the text?

Cyril of Alexandria wrote an extensive Commentary on John in twelve books.  It is not entirely preserved.  Books seven and eight have not reached us, although a few quotations survive in the medieval bible commentaries known as the catenas.

The commentary tends to be less well-known than other patristic commentaries.  The doubtful reputation of Cyril in the west, deriving from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, ensured that the editors of the 19th century Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection omitted his works.

A correspondent writes to ask why he can’t find the text for this Latin passage, taken from this 1618 edition of Bucer, De gubernatione ecclesiae (p.50), in any modern version of Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John:

Ad cuius rei confirmationem statim profert duo testimonia ex Evangelio Ioannis et Cyrillum ita loquentem: Magnum revera apud Iudaeos opprobrium ducebatur, si quem de Synagoga eiecissent. Sicut enim nunc homicidae, vel adulteri, vel caeteri capitalibus criminibus rei ab ecclesia pelluntur: ita tunc confessores Christi a Iudaeorum synagoga eliminabantur.


On this matter confirmation is at once brought forward from two testimonies from the Gospel of John, and Cyril therefore saying, “In fact great reproach was expressed among the Jews, if someone was expelled from the synagogue.  For just as today murderers, or adulterers, or parties to other capital crimes are expelled from the church: so at that time confessors to Christ were thrown out from the synagogue of the Jews.”

Likewise Baronius in his Annales on p.398 also quotes it here like this:

This is an example of a curious feature of the early printed editions of Cyril.  We can see this in the 1520 edition (online here), which is a reprint of the 1508 first edition.  If we look at the 1520 text, it is notably different, and shorter, from that found in the parallel Greek and Latin edition of 1638 (online here).

Our passage is found in the 1520 in book 6 of Cyril’s commentary. It appears on p.242, in chapter 20.  The context is the man born blind whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  The pharisees cross-examined him about this.  It did not go well.

John 9:

30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (ESV)

Here’s p.242 of the 1520 edition, here, starting on line 2 as “id revera magnum…”.

If we look at the start of the volume, we find that the man who made the Latin translation was George Trapezuntius – literally “George from Trebizond”.  He was one of the circle of young Greek exiles around Cardinal Bessarion.

By contrast the 1638 edition, p.636-7, on John 9:34 begins here, but contains no such words.

Likewise PG 73, col. 1006. The English translation from the 19th century gives us this, for book 6:

And here again learn that what was done is typical of a true event: for that the people of Israel were going to utterly loathe the Gentiles as nurtured in sins from erroneous prejudice, any one can recognise from what the Pharisees said to that man. And they expel him, exactly as they who plead the doctrine of Christ are expelled and cast out by the Jews.

The last phrase “exactly as…” corresponds to “ita tunc confessores…”.  But the bit before doesn’t.

Well, what do we make of this?

We all know that Gutenberg devised a way to do printing ca. 1450.  This pretty much killed off the hand-copying of books, as prices fell to 20% of what they had been, and kept falling.  But printing Greek was another matter altogether. The heavily abbreviated and ligatured medieval Greek minuscules were simply a nightmare to reproduce using moveable type.  Greek manuscripts continued to be copied, often by Byzantine exiles in Venice, well into the 16th century.  Nor was the knowledge of Greek in the west nearly as widespread as that of Latin.

In consequence most Greek texts were first published in translation, in Latin.  This translation was itself often made by a Greek exile, such as those who clustered around Cardinal Bessarion.  When it was actually possible to print the Greek, it was sometimes the case that the older Latin translation did not fit with the Greek.  Perhaps it had been made from a different version of the text.

In this case, the Latin “translation” is not what the Greek has to say.  Did George of Trebizond get it wrong?

The strange answer is to be found  in a 1988 article about the use of Cyril by Erasmus in his Annotationes on John.[1]  This tells us:

The first printed edition of the Commentarium on John was the Latin translation made by George Trapezuntius before 1486, published by Josse Clichtove and printed by Wolfgang Hopyl at Paris in 1508.   But Trapezuntius had known only the first and last thirds of the Commentarium; Books 5-8, covering John, 7, 25-12, 48, were lost and hence not represented in his translation. Clichtove reports in his preface that these books are missing not only in the manuscript he used for his edition but also in three Latin and two Greek manuscripts in the library.

In a reissue of the 1508 edition made in 1513-1514, Clichtove and Hopyl inserted between the end of Cyril’s Book 4 and the beginning of his Book 9 Clichtove’s own supplement of the missing books, numbered 5-8 and composed largely from the Homilies on John by Chrysostom and the Tractates on John by Augustine. The supplement had its own preface describing what Clichtove had done and its own pagination, but in all other respects the edition was identical to that of 1508. It was the supplemented edition that was revised and reprinted in 1520, this time with new title page, colophon, and pagination.

What an extraordinary proceeding!  The publisher composed his own “books 5-8”, and sold them embedded in the old translation by George Trapezuntius!  The “preface” on p.104 of the 1520 edition is hardly visible as such, and the spurious material is clearly labelled as Cyril in the running headers at the top of the page.

Clichtove’s preface in the 1520 edition of Cyril of Alexandria’s “Commentary on John”

Based upon this misleading edition, Erasmus then quoted the material.  From Erasmus it passed into other literature of the period, including Baronius’ Annales (p.398 in this late reprint).

It’s a very interesting discovery, and a warning when dealing with old editions.

(My thanks to our correspondent, who looked up all the old editions and references which I have made use of above).

UPDATE (26/6/19): Revised with added screen-grabs and explanatory material.

  1. [1]Jane E. Phillips, “Erasmus, Cyril, and the ‘Annotationes’ on John”, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, vol. 50, No. 2 (1988), pp. 381-384. JSTOR

From my diary

A couple of things have held my attention in the last few weeks.  Firstly I have been working on the QuickLatin codebase.  The migration to dotNet is complete, and it is now a question of firing stuff at it and finding why it breaks!  I’ve also updated the dictionaries to the latest version.

Basically I can now enhance it as I like; which was the purpose behind doing all this in the first place.  It might be an idea to merge into it some translation tools that I have created over the years.  The main user of this will undoubtedly be me, so I may as well make myself comfortable.

The other piece of work is the ongoing translation of the very ancient Life of St George.  This is in 21 chapters.  The translator has done a draft of chapters 1-12, which I have revised and made ready for release.  I have in turn prepared a draft of chapters 18-21, which I have sent to the translator for comment.  I am now working on chapter 17, and using bits from it to test out QuickLatin.  The completed translation will of course be released online as public domain once it is done.

Easter is now behind us.  I had meant to do an Easter post, but somehow I got distracted.  I spent quite a bit of my downtime on Twitter fighting the “Easter is pagan” jeer that is circulated every year by the malicious and their innocent dupes.  This year the fight really got some traction behind it, and a number of people were patrolling and posting corrective links.  Alas it is probably an unwinnable battle, at least while the false story is agreeable to a certain sort of influential person; but it is something to have tried.

I have enquired about access to the Ipswich Museum files in Suffolk Record Office, in order to locate the survey of the Roman fort by the 1969 sub-aqua expedition.  The archivist has now looked at these, and found nothing.  It looks very much as if the report has been mislaid in the last 20 years.  However I can’t even go and look at the files; I’m told that permission to view the items must be obtained from Ipswich Museum, and their response time is six weeks (!)  I have written of course.  But it is a forlorn hope.

We must always be grateful for the internet and the ready availability of research materials on the web.  I certainly am!


An unexpected tale for Good Friday: The House on Lake Minnetonka That Never Existed

Today is Good Friday, and also the start of Passover; the slight divergence in the calculations this year makes for an unusual coincidence.   Good Friday is a bank holiday today, so there is peace and quiet here.  It is good to remember what the Lord did for us this day.

I thought that I would point you to an article that somehow seems appropriate to the season.  It comes from a rather unusual place, the “Captain Capitalism” blog.  The Captain is not a Christian, I should add.

The article is called The House on Lake Minnetonka That Never Existed.  It’s long, but it’s worth the read.

Many years ago, when the Captain was but a wee corporal, he was attending the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis.  Close to the campus was “the lakes.” “The lakes” included four lakes that were chained together and formed the “crown jewel” of the Minneapolis parks system.  These lakes were:

Cedar Lake
Lake of the Isles
Lake Calhoun, and
Lake Harriet.

These lakes served as the hub of nearly all outdoor summer activity in Minneapolis and to this day remain the most popular part of the Twin Cities to be during summer.  But of the four lakes “Lake of the Isles” was the most prestigious.  Here the “old money” captains of industry built their Minneapolis mansions in the 1880’s and 1900’s, and thus Lake of the Isles is perimetered by beautiful mansions and even some modern day ones as well.

Because of its proximity to the campus me and my friends would regularly bike and run around this lake.  Not only for the beauty of the lake, but the architecture of the houses that surrounded it.  And even though one would prefer to run around this lake during summer, one of my fonder memories of the Twin Cities was running around Lake of the Isles at night during winter.

Even though it may have been -5 outside, I still enjoyed running around Lake of the Isles because it gave me my goal, my inspiration, and my incentive to work hard and study hard in school.  I did not come from wealth, but at night (and not in a creepy, stalker type sense) many of the mansions would have their lights on allowing me to kind of peer into these homes and wonder about what life was like on the inside.

What was it like to have a nice warm home and not sleep in a basement?
What was it like to have so much wealth you didn’t have to worry about student loans?
Is that a wall oven I see?  Is the wife of that home making dinner?  Gosh, a home cooked meal would be great.
And forget dinner, I bet those people have nothing to worry about. They’re RICH.  They got it made.

It also helped that while running during winter it was usually Christmas time, allowing my mind to further wander and dream, speculating about awesome Christmas gifts, nuclear family meals, perhaps sitting down and watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.  And adding to this spectacle was that (at least in the 90’s) nearly every house would put up an impressive display of Christmas lights.  I may had been the only fool running around Lake of the Isles at 10PM in -5 degree weather, but it was and remains today one of my fondest memories….More



A fresco of the interior of Old St Peter’s by Filippo Gagliardi in San Martino ai Monti in Rome

Via Twitter I learned today of the existence of a fresco in the church of San Martino ai Monti in Rome, which depicts the interior of Old St Peter’s.  Here’s a somewhat muddy picture of it that I found on the web:

San Martino ai Monti: fresco of Old St Peter’s basilica, by Filippo Gagliardi (1648)

A better:

The following inset was on Google Image search, from a now vanished site:

Initially I was rather excited by this.  But, alas, it is a reconstruction. Two articles by Ann B. Sutherland in 1964 make clear that the work was done by Filippo Gagliardi.[1]

The payments to Filippo Gagliardi are simpler. Although the Filippo entertained in 1647 may not be Gagliardi, he must have been working in the church by December 1648, and had finished his fresco of the interior of Old St Peter’s by July of 1649.

Sutherland adds in footnote 131 that “There is a painting by Filippo Gagliardi, signed and dated 1640, of an Interior View of St Peter’s, in the Prado.”  Clearly the artist had made a habit of this particular theme.

But Gagliardi never saw Old St Peter’s.  Work to demolish it began in 1506, and much of the east end of the old church was quickly destroyed.  The new basilica was itself fully complete in 1626 when Gagliardi was only 20.  So his work is based on other depictions that he had seen.


  1. [1]Ann B. Sutherland, “The Decoration of San Martino ai Monti – I”, The Burlington Magazine vol. 106, No. 731 (Feb., 1964), pp. 58-67+69.  JSTOR; Ann B. Sutherland, “The Decoration of San Martino ai Monti – I”, The Burlington Magazine 106, No. 732 (Mar., 1964), pp. 114-120. JSTOR.  See p.115.

Lidar on the Roman fort at Felixstowe

A kind correspondent, David Blocker, has looked at the Lidar images that I posted, of the ruins of “Walton Castle”, the Saxon Shore Roman fort lying submerged near Felixstowe in Suffolk, and annotated them.  The results are fascinating:

Lidar image, cropped.

Then with annotation:

As a reminder, the rough sketch map drawn by the diver Jeff Errington:

He adds:

The lidar image of the Felixstowe area reveals the ruins of the Roman fort.

The lidar image roughly corresponds to the sketch made by the scuba club in the 1970’s.  There appears to be a shallow underwater channel between the beach and the offshore mound with the ruins, the groynes do not appear to be effective at retaining sand.

The lidar image hints at an under water structure  between the Walton fort ruin and the scour channel.  It is undoubtedly something that was built before the 1700s when the area was inundated.  If it did not appear on maps or drawings of that time it was probably already buried under sand, it might be a road or walls from the Roman or Norman period.   Where it extends closest to shore is approximately where the scuba club found a pile of red bricks.  What I have labelled as “scour channel” might be the Roman era streambed.  It would not be unreasonable to assume that there were out-buildings or a village near the fort walls.

Fascinating!  I wish that I knew more about the Lidar world; undoubtedly the datasets created for flood planning contained very detailed aerial images, if one could but extract them.


An interesting request: get books without paying for them!?

Like every blogger, I get a certain amount of mail.  Most of it is nice and interesting.  I’ve not had any death threats at all!

Then there is the item that reached me recently via the Chieftain Publishing website, where I advertise the two volumes that I published.  I don’t get much email from that site, because the publishing is pretty much done now.

Anyway, here is what I received.

Created On: 7 April 2019 at 08:47
From: John Rishel <Johnrishel4@gmail.com>
X-Mailer: PHPMailer 5.2.22
Subject: Crucial help to obtaining your Awesome books

I hope u all are better than well and exceeding thank you to read the following with prayerful consideration.
I recently found a couple incredible looking books by you all–Origen on Ezekiel. And Eusebius on Gospel Problems and solitions.
If was able to work would get them asap, however since some yrs ago when I’m an intense car accident when a reckless driver going well over fifty blindsided my passenger side of car…my severe spinal trauma has kept me still injured and not working. Cause of financial issues was forced to live with my mom…with limited six security $ I get of course goes to help mom pay rent and other.
Ever please if there is Any POSSIBLE way you all could EVER generously donate those books, the fruit born would increase into eternity.
Each of the authors are clearly God’s All Stars.
If you could only allow one to give, Origen on Ezekiel would be epic.
I know you all are young publisher starting out and I’m sure more than busy, though I hope and pray you all night be help !e in such a way, that would be lifechanging…Cause your amazing gift would be the Only way I could study these vital works!!!😊
Thx ever so again for ur time and prayerful consideration in these matters of interest.
Please take it Easy and better than best!!!

John Rishel
3217 SAint James Place
Mckinney, Texas. 75070. USA

May the Triume Almighty so Richly bless, protect and direct you all at Chieftain Publishing!!😇

Sadly I have been unable to find the time to reply to this.  I did look up the address in google, and it is a very nice house with an estimated value of $250,000.   Looking up the address in whitepages.com reveals a John Rishel living there, who is in his 70s, and a John Ashbrook Rishel IV in his 40s, and a Judith Rishel in her 70s, and a Xiaochun Zhao.  Searchbug.com lists four people living there; John, Katie, Leigh Ann and Xiaochun.  Who are these people, one wonders?

Yet … the author has never even googled for my “awesome books”, or he would find them freely available online in PDF form.  Nor has he realised that I blog about them here.  All he knows is that there is a website for “Chieftain Publishing” which sells a couple of expensive books. His nearly illiterate email tells us that he is not qualified to use these books!  Most of the email is clearly boiler-plate.

It looks very much to me as if Mr Rishel – or Mr Zhao? – has just searched for small publishing companies, and fired off a mass begging email to them all.   Since he obviously just wants stuff, and has no interest in the books themselves, I can only suppose that the books would then be sold for cash on eBay, or something like that.

I post his email, in case anyone else is getting them.  Clearly a scam.


A silver “votive plaque” of the 2-3rd century AD, attributed to “Mithras”

A twitter post drew my attention to an interesting item held in the British Museum since 1899.  Their catalogue page is here.  It is described as a “silver votive plaque with a figure of the god Mithras”.  Here are the pictures:

British Museum 1899,1201.3

And a zoomed in version:

Viewed up close, this is not Mithras.  Nothing about him reflects Mithraic iconography.  He is not even wearing a phrygian cap.  To me the figure looks like Attis; but I am unclear what the items that he is holding are – a dish and some sort of ball or fruit?  There seems to be an altar by his right foot, with a bird of some sort moving in front of it.  His stomach appears to be bare, which is definitely part of the iconography of Attis.

The plaque was bequeathed to the museum by Sir Arthur Wollaston Franks  in 1899.

The item is apparently catalogued in “Walters, H B, Catalogue of the Silver Plate (Greek, Etruscan And Roman) in the British Museum, London, BMP, 1921”, according to the excellent British Museum site – easily the best website of its kind known to me – and this turns out to be online at Archive.org here.  The catalogue entry is on p.59, where we read:

229. Tablet, similar. Form as the preceding. On the broad end of the leaf is a figure in relief of Mithras to the front, holding a patera in r. hand and a pine-cone in l. ; he has thick straight hair falling each side of the face, sleeved chiton and another garment over it, chlamys falling over the chest in front and caught up on the l. arm, and high boots. At his r. side is a cock to l., and behind it a small altar on which a fire burns. On the leaf are rows of raised dots.

Ht. 26 cm. Similarly acquired. Brit. Mus. Guide to Exhibition of Greek and Roman Life, p. 54, fig. 45.

The preceding two items clarify this description somewhat; they are from the same source, and are also silver votive tablets, showing Sol – definitely -, and what we are told is Luna, although why is not clear.  Both plaques have raised dots along the edge.

But the note to the “Sol” plaque adds the words: “With this were found other votive discs, now melted down.”  Of course these items come from Ottoman Turkey.  One is reminded of the way in which some of the gold found at Troy by Schliemann was stolen, and sold to a goldsmith, who melted them down and made some random Turkish-style jewellery from the metal.  So it looks as if Sir A. W. Franks purchased the items from local peasants who had uncovered them.  Whether they belong together we cannot tell.

I don’t know much about the collector, so I do not know if some travelogue exists somewhere, that explains how he acquired them.  We must just be grateful that he rescued them from the inevitable fate of precious metal in barbarous countries, and that we can look at them today.



From my diary

I was able to sit at my computer this evening for the first time and work a little on the translation of chapter 11 of the Vita of St George.  So I am clearly improving.  But I still can’t really walk, or leave the house, and I must keep my foot elevated most of the time.  So it will be a while yet.  Another chapter (12) of the vita has come in, in very rough draft, so I will have to look at that some time.

I received an email yesterday from Suffolk Record Office, suggesting strongly that the report on the sub-aqua survey of Felixstowe / Walton Roman fort has been lost.  It looks as if the archivist only looked at a catalogue, however, so there is still hope that it may just be  mislaid and might be found on examination.  This will have to wait until I am mobile again, however.

A rather large number of items have arrived in the last week or so which I have placed in my “things to blog about” folder.  One day perhaps I will get to them!