The late antique use of “Christianitas”

The word “Christianitas” became important during the Dark Ages.   Charlemagne inherited the kingdom of the Franks, and he sought to do something about the pointless barbarian kingdoms atop the decaying ruins of the Western Roman Empire.  Out of these he forged a vision of a new world, and one that his contemporaries could understand and relate to.  He connected the German idea of the High King with the idea of a Roman empire.  He made use of the only surviving Roman institution, the church.   All these forces for stability he connected together.  His kingdom did not survive him; but his vision did.  Instead of the steady decline and splintering that had preceded him, he left a world with an idea: the idea of Christendom.

The word “Christianitas” comes to mean “Christendom” at this time, in the Carolingian period.  It still retained its meaning of “Christianity”.  But as such it is important as a vehicle for stability within the medieval period and indeed beyond, into our own day.[1]

But this usage is not that found in antiquity.  It belongs to a future unimaginable to a civilised Roman, even as late as St Augustine.  The Roman collapse was unimaginable – until it happened.  So the word is used to mean “Christianity” in late antiquity.

There is in fact a monograph on the subject: Tim Geelhaar, Christianitas: Eine Wortgeschichte von der Spätantike bis zum Mittelalter, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.  This is in German, which probably means that nobody in the English- or French-speaking world has read it!  In fact the author might be wise to publish a related journal article in each language in order to raise the profile of the study.  It’s also inaccessible to me, being offline.  The English language summary of the book is interesting:

The word “christianitas” arose as an abbreviation for the medieval idea of united Christendom, which entered the historical narratives concerning Christianity, the Papacy and emperorship, the crusades and Europe. In fact, in late Antiquity and the Carolingian period “christianitas” stood for many different concepts. In this volume Tim Geelhaar disconnects the term and the idea behind it and determines the situations in which it came to be used, how it was reprogrammed and politicized. He demonstrates the historical semantics behind “christianitas” as well as the plurality of Christianized, Latinized Europe.

Fortunately the Google Books preview is generous, and so it is possible to read some of the key pages.   Page 53 for instance shows tables of authors who use the word in late antiquity.  Page 414 gives more detail on each.

Here are Dr Geelhaar’s two tables from p.53:

The authors are divided into 4 sections, as Dr G. is interested in exploring the different ways in which the word is used in late antiquity.  But note the table header: this is authors from 360-490 AD.

The first two references listed are two obscure works by pseudo-Cyprian: the Epistula ad Turasium, chapter 4 (PL 30, 278C-282A, esp. 279D), and the De singularitate clericorum, c. 7 (CSEL 3.3, p.180; PL 4, 835B-870A, esp. 841C-842A).  Dr Geelhaar tentatively assigns them to ca. 360 AD.

The Clavis Patrum Latinorum (CPL 62 and 64) lists them both as spurious, and suggests that nothing can really be known for certain about the date or author of either.  De singularitate clericorum has been attributed to an obscure Donatist writer named Macrobius, but the CPL point out that there is nothing Donatist about it, and Rufinus tells us that the Novatianists found it necessary to put forward their works under the name of Cyprian, towards the end of the 4th century.

The first real usage appears in Marius Victorinus, ca. 363, in his commentaries on Ephesians, 3:19, 4:5-6, 5:2 (CSEL 83.2, p.53 f., 58, 75 – not in the PL) and Galatians 3:10 (CSEL 83.2, p.130) and Phillipians 2:5 (p.184).  This is followed by the first of the passages in the Theodosian Code, that we looked at in my last post.

Unfortunately the text of the commentaries by Marius Victorinus was not printed until 1828, by Angelo Mai in his Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, vol 3, part 2, and the manuscripts that he used were very lacunose.  Migne of course just reprinted Mai.  The first critical text is that of Locher in the Teubner series in 1972, which is unreliable.  The reliable text is that of the CSEL, and this is not online.  I believe a German translation exists of all three commentaries; and likewise an Italian one.  But I was unable to find any English or French translation other than Cooper’s 2005 translation of the commentary on Galatians.[2]

We shall therefore have to content ourselves with only one passage, using the text given by Dr. G (p.415-6) from the commentary on Galatian 3:10, and Dr Cooper’s translation of it (p.292):[3]

3, 10. Quicumque enim ex operibus legis sunt, sub maledictione sunt. Vehementer igitur adiunxit non modo non benedici eos qui ex operibus sunt, sed etiam eos esse sub maledictione qui ex operibus legis sunt. Quod autem dixit ex operibus legis, intellegamus esse etiam opera christianitatis, maxime ilia quae saepe apostolus mandat atque ei mandatum est, pauperum memores simus et cetera quae in hoc apostolo ad vivendum praecepta retinentur, quae que opera ab apostolo omni Christiano inplenda mandatur.

For all who live based on works of the Law are under a curse (3: 10). Forcefully, then, he has added that not only are those who live based on works not blessed, but also that those who live based on the works of the Law are under a curse. Now, as he said based on works of the Law, let us understand that there are also works which belong to Christianity, especially those works which the apostle frequently commands (and also what has been commanded to him: let us be mindful of the poor) and the additional precepts for living which are included in this apostle’s writings. Each one of these works is commanded by the apostle to be fulfilled by every Christian.

Interesting stuff.

  1. [1]There is a considerable literature about all of this.  Inevitably the topic is political today.  Some references may be found in John Tolan, “Constructing Christendom”, in: J. Hudson &c, “The Making of Europe”: Essays in Honour of Robert Bartlett, Brill, 2016, p.277-298.  Google Books preview here.
  2. [2]These details from S.A.Cooper’s translation of the commentary on Galatians, p.5.
  3. [3]Stephen Andrew Cooper, Marius Victorinus’ Commentary on Galatians, Oxford University Press, 2005.

More on “Christianitas” in the Codex Theodosianus

Yesterday we saw that the earliest reference for “Christianitas” = Christianity (rather than the earlier Christanismus) was in the Theodosian Law Code (Codex Theodosianus) of 450 AD:

Christĭānĭtas, ātis, f. Christus.
I. Christianity, = Christianismus, Cod. Th. 16, 7, 7; 12, 1, 112.—
II. Meton.the Christian clergy, Cod. Th. 12, 1, 123.

I thought that I would look up these passages.

Those unfamiliar with the book should know that it is a compilation of rescripts, letters written by emperors of the dynasty of Constantine and afterwards.  Book 16 is dedicated to theological matters, and the tone of it is extremely aggressive.

Impp. theodosius et valentinianus aa. basso praefecto praetorio. post alia: apostatarum sacrilegum nomen singulorum vox continuae accusationis incesset et nullis finita temporibus huiuscemodi criminis arceatur indago. 1. Quibus quamvis praeterita interdicta sufficiant, tamen etiam illud iteramus, ne quam, postquam a fide deviaverint, testandi aut donandi quippiam habeant facultatem, sed nec venditionis specie facere legi fraudem sinantur totumque ab intestato christianitatem sectantibus propinquis potissimum deferatur. 2. In tantum autem contra huiusmodi sacrilegia perpetuari volumus actionem, ut universis ab intestato venientibus etiam post mortem peccantis absolutam vocem insimulationis congruae non negemus. nec illud patiemur obstare, si nihil in contestatione profano dicatur vivente perductum. 3. Sed ne huius interpretatio criminis latius incerto vagetur errore, eos praesentibus insectamur oraculis, qui nomen christianitatis induti sacrificia vel fecerint vel facienda mandaverint, quorum etiam post mortem comprobata perfidia hac ratione plectenda est, ut donationibus testamentisque rescissis ii, quibus hoc defert legitima successio, huiusmodi personarum hereditate potiantur. dat. vii id. april. ravennae theodosio xii et valentiniano ii aa. conss.

7. Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian Augustuses to Bassus, Praetorian Prefect.

(After other matters.) The voice of unremitting accusation shall assail the sacrilegious name of each and every apostate, and the investigation of such a crime shall not be prevented by any time limitations. 1. Although previous interdicts suffice for such persons, We repeat, nevertheless, the well known provision that after they have deviated from the faith, they shall have no power to make a testament or gift, nor shall they be permitted to defraud the law by the pretense of a sale, and on intestacy all their property shall be bestowed on near kinsmen, preferably on those who are adherents of Christianity. 2. It is Our will, moreover, that the right of action against such sacrilege shall be perpetuated to such an extent that to all persons who come to an inheritance on intestacy We shall not deny the unrestricted right of due accusation, even after the death of the sinner, nor shall We allow the action to be obstructed if it is said that nothing was adduced in attestation during the lifetime of the profane person.

But in order that the aforesaid crime may not be interpreted too broadly through the error of uncertainty, by Our present divine response. We pursue those persons who have made sacrifices or who have commanded them to be made, after they had assumed the name of Christianity.  The proved perfidy of such persons, even after death, shall be punished as follows: their gifts and testaments shall be rescinded, and their inheritances shall be obtained by those heirs upon whom this right is conferred by statutory succession.

Given on the seventh day before the ides of April at Ravenna in the year of the twelfth consulship of Theodosius Augustus and the second consulship of Valentinian Augustus. (April 7, 426)

Charming stuff.  Now from book 12, title 1, 112.  This is one of a bunch of rescripts jointly from the emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius.

Idem aaa. florentio praefecto augustali. in consequenda archierosyne ille sit potior, qui patriae plura praestiterit nec tamen a templorum cultu observatione christianitatis abscesserit. quippe indecorum est, immo ut verius dicamus, illicitum ad eorum curam templa et templorum sollemnia pertinere, quorum conscientiam vera ratio divinae religionis imbuerit et quos ipsos decebat tale munus, etiamsi non prohiberentur, effugere. emissa xvi kal. iul. constantinopoli honorio n. p. et evodio conss.

The same Augustuses to Florentius, Augustal Prefect. In obtaining the office of chief civil priest,[archierosyna] that person shall be considered preferable who has performed the most services for his municipality, and who has not, however, withdrawn from the cult of the temples by his observance of Christianity. Indeed it is unseemly, and further, that We may speak more truly, it is illicit, for the temples and the customary rites of the temples to belong to the care of those persons whose conscience is imbued with the true doctrine of divine religion, and who ought properly to flee such compulsory public service, even if they were not prohibited by law from performing it.

Issued on the sixteenth day before the kalends of July at Constantinople in the year of the consulship of Emperor Designate Honorius and of Evodius. (June 16, 386)

In 386 paganism was still the state religion.  Here the edict prohibits Christians from filling the office of chief priest.

12.1.123, from Valentinian, Theodosius and Arcadius, (July 28, 391) is about the efforts of local men to avoid being ruined by imperial taxes on those who became members of the city council.

Idem aaa. ad tatianum praefectum praetorio. dudum super his, qui relicta curia vel senatoriam dignitatem adepti sunt vel christianitatis obtentu curialium se consortio separarunt, evidens sanctionum nostrarum processit auctoritas, ut, si eorum personas vel honor vel religio defenderet, quod ex curiali substantia vel ipsi retinerent vel in alios transtulissent, obnoxium publicis descriptionibus haberetur.  1. Evidens etiam praecepto nostro tempus expressum est, ex quo consulatu, si qui de curialibus ad ecclesiam confugissent, omni scirent patrimonio curiae esse cedendum.  …

The same Augustuses to Tatianus, Praetorian Prefect.  The evident authority of Our sanctions has previously been issued in regard to those persons who have deserted the municipal councils and have either acquired the rank of Senator or by the plea of Christianity, have separated themselves from the association of decurions, to the effect that, if such persons were protected either by rank or by religion, the property from their holdings as decurions which they either retain themselves or which they transfer to others should be held obligated to public assessment.  1. A definite time limit was also defined by Our regulation, stating from what consulship they shall know that they must cede all their patrimony to the municipal council, if they should flee from the decurionate to the Church.  …

All well and good, and very official, of course.

But a kind correspondent has pointed out that the TLL contains other, potentially earlier, uses of the word, notably in ps.Cyprian.  I will discuss these next.


More on the earliest use of the word “Christianity”

I can’t believe that I forgot to hit the “Publish” button last night on yesterday’s post

Yesterday I was asking when the word “Christianity” appears in our sources.  In Greek it is Χριστιανισμός, and it appears in Ignatius of Antioch; then in Origen; and then in post-Nicene sources.  It’s not a widely-used word in surviving ante-Nicene literature, plainly. 

But today I wondered what the Latin word might be.  I thought perhaps “Christianitas”, with Romanitas in mind.  But a little searching around gave me:

Christĭānismus , i, m., = Χριστιανισμός,
I.ChristianityTert. adv. Marc. 4, 33; Aug. Civ. Dei, 19, 23, 1; Hier. in Gal. 6, 4.

Christĭānĭtas , ātis, f. Christus.
I. Christianity, = Christianismus, Cod. Th. 16, 7, 7; 12, 1, 112.—
II. Meton.the Christian clergy, Cod. Th. 12, 1, 123.

These are both from Lewis and Short, via PerseusGaffiot gave me much the same.

So the rather Germanic-sounding Christianismus is our word, originating with Tertullian – who else? – in Adversus Marcionem book 4, chapter 33, verse 8:

[8] Quasi non et nos limite in quendam agnoscamus Ioannem constitutum inter vetera et nova, ad quem desineret Iudaismus et a quo inciperet Christianismus, non tamen ut ab alia virtute facta sit sedatio legis et prophetarum, et initiatio evangelii in quo est dei regnum, Christus ipse.

As though we too did not know that John has been set as a sort of dividing-line between old things and new, a line at which Judaism should cease and Christianity should begin—not however that by the action of any alien power there came about this cessation of the law and the prophets, and the inception of that gospel in which is the kingdom of God, Christ himself.

I don’t have access as far as I know to any search tool for Latin texts like the TLG, but it does indeed make sense that Tertullian would originate the term, as the first of the Latin fathers.  Equally it makes sense that the Latin term should be the Greek term, transliterated.

But the mention of “Judaismus” is interesting.  Ignatius also uses “Christianity” as a foil for “Judaism” (Ἰουδαϊσμὸς).  Possibly the term “Christianity” exists solely because of the existence of “Judaism”, and the fact that Christians were not included in it?

I wondered how frequently Ἰουδαϊσμὸς or Ἰουδαϊσμὸν, etc was used, so I did a search.  Here again it was Ignatius, Origen, then post-Nicene writers!  Although in this case it also appears in the fragments of Porphyry’s Against the Christians.  This is surprising really.

A google search reveals that it also appears in 2 Maccabees, so perhaps my lack of results is a reflection of the search tool available to me.


What is the earliest use of the word “Christianity”?

When did the word “Christianity” actually come into use?  The Greek is Χριστιανισμός.

A certain amount of searching online brought me to an Italian article,[1] from which I learned that the first person to use the word is none other than Ignatius of Antioch.  There are 4 references, in Ignatius’ letters to the Magnesians 10,1 and 3;  Romans 3,3;  and Philadelphians 6,1.

Let’s see what he says!  The Greek is from the TLG, the translation is Lake’s Loeb, the links are to the ANF.  Note that the ANF translation online for each chapter gives first the original (“short”) text, and then the “long” text as interpolated in the 4th century by the Apollinarist heretics.  We’re quoting here the original.

Magnesians c. 10:

Ἄτοπόν ἐστιν, Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν λαλεῖν καὶ ἰουδαΐζειν. Ὁ γὰρ Χριστιανισμὸς οὐκ εἰς Ἰουδαϊσμὸν ἐπίστευσεν, ἀλλ’ Ἰουδαϊσμὸς εἰς Χριστιανισμόν, εἰς ὃν πᾶσα γλῶσσα πιστεύσασα εἰς θεὸν συνήχθη.

3. It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism. For Christianity did not base its faith on Judaism, but Judaism on Christianity, and every tongue believing on God was brought together in it.

Romans c.3:

Ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριςτὸς ἐν πατρὶ ὢν μᾶλλον φαίνεται. Οὐ πεισμονῆς τὸ ἔργον, ἀλλὰ μεγέθους ἐστὶν ὁ Χριστιανισμός, ὅταν μισῆται ὑπὸ κόσμου.

3. Nothing visible is good, for our God, Jesus Christ, being now in the Father, is the more plainly visible. Christianity is not the work of persuasiveness, but of greatness, when it is hated by the world.

Philadelphians 6:  (Strangely the ANF renders “Christianity” as “Christian doctrine”)

[Unable to locate the Greek!]

1. But if anyone interpret Judaism to you do not listen to him; for it is better to hear Christianity from the circumcised than Judaism from the uncircumcised. But both of them, unless they speak of Jesus Christ, are to me tombstones and sepulchres of the dead, on whom only the names of men are written.

The word Χριστιανισμ** appears in Ignatius, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen before the council of Nicaea, and then entirely in post-Nicene writers.

  1. [1]Enrico Norelli, “Χριστιανισμός e Χριστιανός in Ignazio di Antiochia e la cronologia delle sue lettere”, in M. B. Durante Mangoni ; D. Garribba ; M. Vitelli (ed.), Gesù e la storia. Percorsi sulle origini del cristianesimo, Trapani, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe , 2015, 171-189.  Online here.  Note that the Greek is given in a non-unicode font in the article.

Diversity of teaching and early Christianity

I’ve spent some time this evening thinking about the claim that “early Christianity was diverse”.  I have had some difficulty finding anything like a definitive statement or attempt at proof for the claim.  Rather it is simply assumed.  For instance there is this:

The wide diversity of early Christianity may be seen above all in the theological beliefs embraced by people who understood themselves to be followers of Jesus. In the second and third centuries there were, of course, Christians who believed in one God. But there were others who insisted that there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others claimed there were 365.

In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that God had created the world. But others believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. (Why else would the world be filled with such misery and hardship?) Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity as a place of imprisonment, to trap humans and subject them to pain and suffering.[1]

But of course such a statement involves quite a number of presuppositions.

Loudest of these presuppositions is the assumption that there is no such thing as Christianity, objectively.  It is assumed that it has no distinct identity, or boundaries.  Instead the author simply assumes that a “Christian”, in the passage above, is anybody who claims to be somehow a “follower of Jesus”.

Few politicians in modern society would fail this terribly undemanding “test”, however irreligious.  No muslim would fail.  But a criterion that can’t distinguish between Christians and Muslims is simply silly.

Also implicit in this passage is the idea that Christ did not teach anything in particular, and so any teaching attributed to him – however contradictory – is equally “Christian”, and equally based upon his teaching.  Yet Christ was known as a rabbi, a teacher!  His teaching and personality inspired a movement.  That movement claimed to preserve his teachings.  Whether it did so or not, there is no doubt that they tried.

In fact if we look at early Christian literature, we find everywhere a concern for right teaching.  It runs throughout the New Testament, the apostolic fathers, and indeed all the ante-Nicene literature.

This is entirely comprehensible, once we take into account the claim that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:28).  Every movement must define itself somehow.  If the early church did not define itself by these categories, then what was the unifying principle?  They tell us themselves: it was Christ and his teaching.  In Judaism you had to be a Jew by race.  That was the boundary of membership.  If you were a Jew then you were in.  If you were not a Jew, you were out.

Social groups often coalesce around race, or class, or some other shared social characteristic.  Ancient religions did the same sometimes.  Julius Caesar did not believe in the gods, but he was High Priest.  It didn’t matter what he believed: he was “in”, whether he believed or not.

This can be taken very far.  An ancient sun temple was more like a nuclear power station than a church.  It existed, and the priests existed, to ensure that the sun came up in the morning.  Do the rituals.  Who cares what the priest thinks: what matters is to get the result.  This sort of thinking is why ancient temples were often very small inside their enclosures.

These sorts of religions may be called “communal”.  The boundary is the community.

But Christianity didn’t use community as a boundary.  It used belief.  If you shared the beliefs, you were “in”; if you did not, you were “out”.   The same is true of other “creedal” religions.  This process is why creeds – formal statements of belief, often designed to combat some local threat – appear in the apostolic age and later.  Indeed they are still issued even today: the Nashville Statement is one such.

The nature of Christianity means that orthodoxy is part of the very basis on which a church exists.  Equally, the appearance of a group teaching something else is a threat to the very existence of the church.

This is a pattern, repeated again and again throughout church history.  It is quite extraordinary to find that it is routinely denied, therefore.

The work in which this denial was first set forth seems to be the work of Walter Bauer, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum, issued in 1934.  It was translated into English by Robert Kraft in the 1971 as Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.

Some years ago I attempted to read Bauer’s book, and I wrote five articles about what I found.  I didn’t get past chapter one.  I quickly became very suspicious of his methods.  But then I discovered evidence of deliberate falsification of the evidence.  I lost interest after that.  Yet Bauer’s book has enjoyed a vogue ever since.

Another book summarises what Bauer says:

Bauer has shown that second-century Christianity was a very mixed bag. There was no ‘pure’ form of Christianity that existed in the beginning which can properly be called ‘orthodoxy’. In fact there was no uniform concept of orthodoxy at all – only different forms of Christianity competing for the loyality of believers. [2]

Yet in fact even a layman like myself, examining the primary sources and examining Bauer’s book, can see that it is a fraud.  Even a layman like myself can see that such a statement such as this involves the same old assumptions that won’t bear examination.  It comes out in stuff like this:

The concept of orthodoxy only began to emerge in the struggle between different viewpoints – the party that won claimed the title ‘orthodox’ for itself!

This would be news to St Paul.

It also involves assumptions about the gnostic heretics.  It assumes that, like the Christians, these were interested in transmitting an unchanged body of teaching.

But the gnostics did not do this.  Every gnostic believed something different.  The pupils of Valentinus started their own cults.  They did so, precisely because the teaching of Christ was not important to them.  Tertullian has pointed out how each of them is connected to philosophical schools in vogue at the time.

Let us remember how ancient philosophy worked.  If you were a philosopher, you earned your living by making a name for yourself, and then attracting paying pupils.  You taught your distinctive teaching to them.  That was how you made money.  Indeed in late antiquity visitors to Athens could find themselves kidnapped on landing in order to force them to study with a particular philosopher.  Big money could be involved.

There were schools (haereses) such as the Stoics, etc; but even these varied among themselves.

This restless need for innovation was the motor for the continual speculation and intellectual exploration characteristic of Greek philosophy.  It arose from the burning need to teach something new in order to live.  At the top end it resulted in scientific advances.  At the bottom end it meant that every sophist, soothsayer or magician would eagerly pounce on something new.

The Greek magical papyri preserve spells in which various “power words” are incorporated; anything that would give it zing!  Some even use the name of Christ in this way.  We read in Acts of one bunch who tried doing just this, and got into trouble! (Acts 19:11-17)

It is natural therefore that the arrival of Christianity would attract the interest of such people.  This is why the early Christians refer to them as heretics, followers of the philosophical schools and their practices.  This is why the gnostics are interested in gnosis, knowledge, rather than faith.  It’s a whole different world.

There is not a shred of evidence that any of these people had any connection with Christ or his apostles.  Indeed they themselves acknowledge that the apostles did not teach their doctrines openly in the church.  These are “the secret teachings”, as they refer to them.  But if so, why need we believe that they have any connection whatever with the apostles?  Where is the evidence?

Bauer himself was not very bothered about the little matter of evidence.  He wrote:

When we ask how and when Christianity gained influence in this region, it is unnecessary to begin with a survey of the sources.

A systematic review of evidence was the last thing that he needed.

The ancient data says what it says.  It says that the gnostics were late-comers, outsiders, peddling stuff ripped off from Greek philosophy.  This appears to describe them all exactly.  Indeed we find such people even today, eager to acquire the churches, their money and their people in order to use them for their own purposes.  Such a process has happened in every age.  Unless, that is, we believe the Bauer theory, when it did not happen until after 325.

It all seems rather rubbish to me.

In fact let’s press this a bit further.  We saw above:

In the second and third centuries there were, of course, Christians who believed in one God. But there were others who insisted that there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others claimed there were 365.

So what are we saying here?  Jesus was a historical person.  He taught something.  Are we saying that Jesus taught that there were 365 gods?  Or not?  Yes or no?  Or that there were 30?  Yes or no?

There is not the slightest evidence for either of these claims, and the author of those words knew it.

By contrast the ancient sources tell us that John the Apostle lived to 100 AD, and that his disciple, Polycarp, came to Rome in 155 AD.  We know this from Irenaeus, who wrote around 180 AD and who knew Polycarp.  That’s evidence.

We can choose to ignore the evidence, but it is still there.  Even if we do ignore the evidence, it is reasonably obvious that Jesus did not teach at one time that there was 1 god, at another that there were 30, at another that there were 365; and that there is not the slightest evidence that he did.  It is, in a Jewish context, quite inconceivable.  So why on earth are we treating the dafter claims of people who never knew him as in some way equivalent to the testimony of those who did?

This does not strike me as scholarly.  It strikes me as nonsense.

Bauer’s work has a sinister background.  The practical effect of demolishing the accepted history of the first and second century is to make Jesus the Jew a semi-mythical figure.  It advances Bauer’s claim that Marcion, who rejected the Old Testament, was the real deal.  The same period sees German academics asserting that Galilee was non-Jewish, and that Jesus was an Aryan.

Bauer’s claims can hardly have been unwelcome to those who controlled academic funding in Germany in 1934.

Nor, I fear, can the English translation have been unwelcome to the progressive Christian-hating types who controlled academic funding in the UK and USA after 1970.

Let us hope that the popularity of the theory isn’t merely an example of the tendency of the humanities, on matters of controversy, to reflect the wishes of those non-scholars who control university funding.

  1. [1]Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, Oxford University Press, 2003, p.2.
  2. [2]James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p.3.

Catherine Nixey, “The darkening age” is back – and annoying scholars in five languages

A couple of years ago I came across a strange volume, seemingly designed to smear the ancient Christians.  It was authored by a recent arts graduate named Catherine Nixey, and titled “The Darkening Age”.  Some fawning reviews appeared in the mainstream press in England – presumably arranged by the publisher -, which was unfortunate as her facts were often in error.  One of the reviewers, I recall, clearly knew that it was nonsense, but equally clearly had been told by someone to give it a good review!

Marketing is part of the job of every publisher.  Even I have received such contacts!  But even so the coverage seemed remarkable. An unknown author on a marginal subject, of no interest to most people, yet such monochrome positivity.  The book itself is not worth reviewing. Such books are ten-a-penny. So it was really striking how heavily it was promoted.  It certainly made me wonder why, and by whom.  Sometimes a book indicates the start of a movement, although nothing more has appeared.

Ignorant of all this, I came across the author on twitter with a supposed “quote” from Chrysostom on which I commented in a post, Hunting the wild misquotation again.

Today I came across a thread in Dutch on twitter which revealed that her publisher has arranged for the book to be translated into five languages (!)

This has called forth a review by Dr Roland Kany from the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, which none of us will have seen, but was helpfully posted by the twitter account.  The title: “Just read how evil they are!”

I thought it might be interesting to read it, so I ran the review through OCR, and created a Word .docx file, which I’ll put here in case anyone would like to use Google Translate themselves.

There are gems in the review.

Apparently Miss Nixey thinks that damage to the frescos in the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome is clear evidence of the use of an axe by the early Christians.  Dr K. blandly suggests that perhaps she missed the work of Bryan Ward-Perkins in 2004, showing that the damage was caused by a failed conservation attempt in 1953.

Likewise Miss N. believes that no work of Porphyry has reached us: something that is news to those of us who have read his life of Plotinus, his four books on vegetarianism, and his introduction to Aristotle, a standard textbook in the middle ages.

And so it goes on.  After four columns, Dr. K. finishes:

Und so weiter . Man muss in Nixeys Buch mühsam nach Abschnitten suchen, die einer Überprüfung ohne Einschränkung standhalten. Wer sich zu Nixeys Themen seriös informieren will, sollte zu anderen Büchern greifen: Johannes Hahn über Gewalt von Christen und Heiden in der Spätantike, Wolfgang Speyer über Büchervernichtung und Zensur, Egert Pöhlmann zur Überlieferung von Texten und Peter Gemeinhardt über antikes Christentum und Bildung. Sie bieten, was Nixeys mittlerweile in fünf Sprachen übersetztem und von vielen Journalisten gefeiertem Buch abgeht: Fachkompetenz, Augenmaß, Bemühen um sachgerechte Darstellung und Kontextualisierung. Nixey dagegen lässt fort, was ihr nicht in den Kram passt, und fügt wahre, halbwahre und unzutreffende Behauptungen zu einem Konstrukt zusammen, dem nicht nur Einseitigkeit, sondern ein Übermaß an Falschheit vorzuwerfen ist.

In Nixey’s book, one has to laboriously search for sections that can withstand a review without qualification. Those who want to inform themselves on Nixey’s topics seriously, should resort to other books: Johannes Hahn on violence by Christians and Gentiles in late antiquity, Wolfgang Speyer on book destruction and censorship, Egert Pöhlmann for the transmission of texts and Peter Gemeinhardt on ancient Christianity and education. They offer what Nixey’s book, now translated into five languages ​​and celebrated by many journalists, lacks: factual competence, a sense of proportion, an effort for appropriate representation and contextualization. Nixey, on the other hand, ignores what does not fit into the junk, putting together true, half-true, and false claims into a construct that is not just one-sided, but an excessive falsehood.

Let us hope that Nixey’s book continues to be ignored by most people.

UPDATE: Revised after part of the article mysteriously vanished.  The book has vanished without trace, it seems.  The twitter link now seems to be dead, however.

UPDATE (Jan 2021): Removing some unnecessary comments.


Finding online manuscripts

I wrote about my frustration in being unable to locate manuscripts online, despite having the shelfmarks.  Of course I am not the only one to encounter this.  A kind correspondent has made me aware of a list of links which helps enormously.  Compiled by Albrecht Diem, at the Monastic Manuscript Project, it is here.  I shall add it to the sidebar.

I have tested this out with the list of manuscripts of Wilhelm v. Boldensele, in this post.  The result was that I located a couple more manuscripts online, which I have linked.

It was still back-breaking work.  After a few libraries, I gave up.  But it was definitely an improvement.


Blog recommendation: Papyrus Stories, by Jenny Cromwell

It’s been a while since I saw a blog that I wanted to add to the sidebar, but this evening I found one.  It’s called Papyrus Stories, and it may be found here:

There is also a linked Twitter account, @Papyrus_Stories.

The desert climate of Egypt has preserved enormous quantities of “waste paper”.  The rubbish dump of the Greek city of Oxyrhynchus in particular yielded so many in the excavations before 1914 that they are still being published a century later.

Most of these papyrus documents are things like personal letters, tax receipts, and the like.  So they shine a light into the lives of all sorts of people.

The blog posts consist of taking one such document, and telling the story that is found in it.  They are really very interesting and charming.



Where are the academic reviews of bible translations?

This evening something drew my attention to the New World Bible Translation, the English translation of the bible made by and for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I knew nothing much about it, except that it is generally derided as biased and edited to reflect the theological ideas of that group.

But I prefer not to rely on hearsay for such things, and I began to search for information.  I came across a great many webpages, all of them amateur.  I came across the Wikipedia page, full of supposed quotes by scholars.  But it was clear that the JW’s themselves have also edited it to include material advantageous to themselves.  None of the material, for or against, seemed particularly reliable to me.

At this point, I wanted to know more.  I’m not a Hebrew scholar of any description.  The Greek text is something I could read, but not as a specialist.  So what I want is the professional, unbiased opinion of someone specialising in the relevant language skills.  I want someone with no axe to grind.   In other words, I want a solid academic review.

Naturally I skipped off to JSTOR, which my university makes available to alumni, and typed in “New World Translation”.  And I came up with … nearly nothing.  One review, in fact, just over a page long, which did not seem to me to be of a high standard.

On a hunch, I repeated the search but for the “New International Version”.  Again I got nothing worth having.  I did the same for a couple of other versions, with the same result – nothing worth having.

Google searches revealed a single study, by a certain Robert H. Countess.  I have not seen this, but the information available to me did not suggest that Dr. Countess was the kind of language scholar that I was looking for.

I have begun to wonder if I am looking in the wrong place!  Some of those who read this must know.  Am I doing this wrong?  Are all the reviews of bible translations hidden away somewhere?

The taxpayer funds universities to make it possible for us to find studies of knowledge.  To make available objective information as to whether a translation of an ancient text is accurate or not – whatever the ancient text – is one of the fundamental duties of a scholar in the relevant discipline.  This is particularly true for a text like the Bible, or indeed the Koran, where an error may produce heavy social consequences.

The world is heavy with biblical scholars.  You can’t throw a brick without one popping up, it sometimes feels.  So where are the reviews?

In my ignorance, it is hard to believe that these things don’t exist.  Could that possibly be the case?

Answers in the comments, or using the Contact Me form please!


From my diary

A twitter discussion led me to update my post on an ancient Latin inscription, once visible on the casing stones of the Great Pyramid in Giza.  The inscription was recorded by a medieval pilgrim, Wilhelm von Boldensele.

As part of this, I searched for manuscripts of von Boldensele’s work.  I found a nice list, indicating the libraries that held the manuscripts.  But what I wanted to know was whether the ms. was online, and if so where.  A visit to the website of each library was an exercise in frustration.  The websites has been designed by clerks who would never use them, and functioned simply as corporate advertising.  I tried the first couple in the list, and was forced to give up.  The stress was incredible.

I can only imagine that other scholars get just as annoyed.  The best way to find manuscripts that I have encountered is simply a Google search for the shelfmark.  Sometimes it works!

One manuscript was listed as belonging to the Phillipps collection.  This was a massive collection of books assembled in the 19th century by a bibliomaniac, and which was still being sold twenty years ago.  Many of the manuscripts are in Berlin, I knew.  But I couldn’t find any of the Phillipps manuscripts on the useless Berlin library website.  Going to google, it led me to a Worldcat entry that showed that the one I wanted was actually in the University of Minnesota!  So far well and good; but again, the idea that a scholar might come to the university website to consult a manuscript had plainly occurred to nobody when that website was designed.  Who on earth reads all the smooth empty verbiage on these sites?  For what purpose would you ever read it?

I gave up in the end.  Oh well.  On to other things.  It was only an idle thought.