Tertullian and British Israelitism

A correspondent wrote to me, in search of a quotation:

In McBirnie (1973,227) writing about the 12 apostles I found a quote he states is from Tertullian. He cites Lionel Smithett Lewis ( 1955, 129) who wrote re Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury, England. Both authors cite the Tertullian reference as (Def. Fidei, 179). McBirnie’s bibliography only refers me to Lewis and Lewis has no bibliography!  I want to know what Tertullian text the quote is from.  Could you help?

The full quote is ‘The extremities of Spain, the various parts of Gaul, the regions of Britain, which have never been penetrated by Roman Arms, have received the religion of Christ.’

Roman Arms never penetrated Ireland.

The source for this is Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos, ch. 7, v.4, which reads, in the Latin of Trankle and the old English of Thelwall:

[4] For upon whom else have the universal nations believed, but upon the Christ who is already come? For whom have the nations believed,–Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and they who inhabit Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Cappadocia, and they who dwell in Pontus, and Asia, and Pamphylia, tarriers in Egypt, and inhabiters of the region of Africa which is beyond Cyrene, Romans and sojourners, yes, and in Jerusalem Jews,95 and all other nations; as, for instance, by this time, the varied races of the Gaetulians, and manifold confines of the Moors, all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons–inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ, and of the Sarmatians, and Dacians, and Germans, and Scythians, and of many remote nations, and of provinces and islands many, to us unknown, and which we can scarce enumerate?

(… et Britannorum inaccessa Romanis loca Christo …)

So where on earth does that poor translation come from?

The oldest volume that I can find is Richard Williams Morgan, St. Paul in Britain, or, The origin of British as opposed to papal Christianity, Parker: Oxford and London, 1861 (Download).  There are reprints in 1880 and 1925 – in fact one modern writer suggests nine reprints, the latest in 1984, because it was “adopted” by the British Israelite Society.[1]  The publisher is the same as for the Oxford Movement series of translations, the Library of the Fathers, curiously.  The book was significant enough to attract a Wikipedia page.

On p.146 we read:

Now we know from Tertullian that Britain was Christian before it was Roman. The Dove conquered where the Eagle could make no progress. “Regions in Britain which have never been penetrated by the Roman arms,” are his words, (A.D. 192) “have received the religion of Christ.” If this statement were correct, after the war between Rome and Britain had raged for a century and a half, from A.D. 43 to A.D. 192—and in a national point of view it is impartial testimony, for Tertullian was an African—it is obvious that the Arimathaean mission must have been founded in the heart of independent Britain, quite out of the pale, therefore, of the Roman empire. …

But on p.194-5 we find:

Tertullian, who flourished during the war of Commodus in Britain, which Dion Cassius terms “the most dangerous in which the empire during his time had been engaged,” says expressly “that the regions in Britain which the Roman arms had failed to penetrate professed Christianity for their religion.” “The extremities of Spain, the various parts of Gaul, the regions of Britain which have never been penetrated by the Roman arms, have received the religion of Christ g.”

He sounds somewhat uncertain about what Tertullian actually says here, giving the same material twice.  And the reference, “g”?  It is this:

g Tertullian, Def. Fidei, p. 179.

This is the source given in all the subsequent “quotations”, which may thus be described as descended from it.  And what is “Def. Fidei”?  Is it, perhaps Bishop George Bull’s Defensio Fidei Nicaenae?  (1688, and translated into English in 1852  by one of those who translated Tertullian for the Oxford Movement LFC)  If so, I have not been able to locate the passage.  “Defensio fidei” is the opening words of a number of books, and Morgan gives no bibliography.

Interesting to see how a book may have a long literary progeny.

  1. [1]Joanne Pearson, “Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual, Sex and Magic”, Routledge, 2007, p.35.  The author describes Williams as a maverick Welsh clergyman.

Banishing the letter “v” from the Latin alphabet

I was looking at James Morwood’s A Latin Grammar (Oxford), when I espied at the foot of the introduction (p. vii) the following words:

I am delighted to have compiled the first Latin grammar in English to have banished the letter V from the Latin alphabet. It was never there.

These words do smack rather of hubris, and one Amazon reviewer commented drily:

One bit of pretentiousness: the author is “delighted to have banished the letter ‘v’ from the Latin alphabet. It was never there.” Maybe not, but neither were lower case letters.

Just so.  It does feel rather elitist, making Latin less like modern languages.

Morwood seeks to replace Kennedy, The Revised Latin Primer, which first appeared in 1888, and was revised by Sir James Mountford in 1930.  My own copy dates is a 1998 reprint of the 1962 edition.  This certainly includes “v”.

But why did sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th century turn against writing “j” and “v”?  I have been unable to find any study of the change.  A discussion in the Textkit forums discusses the subject but gives no answer. Was it purely anglophone, or wider?  It would be most interesting to know.

Did King James issue instructions to the bible translators to change the text to hide his own sins?

An interesting discussion on twitter led me to a man who roundly asserted that King James I issued a list of instructions to the translators of the King James version of the bible, with an eye to getting his own sins omitted from it.  It sounded quite improbable.  In fact it is complete nonsense; but it drew my attention to the matter.

The King James Version or KJV has long been obsolescent and is now little used in England.  In some ways this is rather a pity; but it is now quite unfit for daily use by any other than antiquarians.  But it stands forever as a classic of the English language.

In 2005 Cambridge printed a version of the KJV, edited by David Norton, who also produced a book on the subject, his A Textual History of the King James Bible.  Norton inevitably emphasises that the “original” 1611 edition has become changed in little ways as the centuries have passed; for, of course, he was producing his own edition.  But the book contains much interesting information.

We know only a little about how the KJV was made.  King James did not, of course, supervise the work personally, deputising to Bancroft, Bishop of London.  But we do have three copies of a set of rules which seem to have been circulated among the translators.  These are extant in manuscript.  Norton tells us that British Library Add. 28721, fol. 24r; BL Harley 750; and BL Egerton 2884 fol. 6r contain the text.  The first two omit rule 15, suggesting that it was an afterthought.  Here is the text as he gives it, modernised from BL Add. 28721:

1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops’ Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.
2. The names of the prophets, and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, accordingly as they are vulgarly used.
3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, viz.: as the word ‘Church’ not to be translated ‘Congregation’ etc.
4. When a word hath diverse significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place, and the Analogy of Faith.
5. The division of the chapters to be altered either not at all, or as little as may be, if necessity so require.
6. No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot without some circumlocution so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text.
7. Such quotations of places to be marginally set down as shall serve for fit reference of one Scripture to another.
8. Every particular man of each company to take the same chapter or chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself where he think good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their part what shall stand.
9. As one company hath dispatched any one book in this manner, they shall send it to the rest to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful for this point.
10. If any company, upon the review of the book so sent, shall doubt or differ upon any place, to send them word thereof, note the place and withal send their reasons, to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at the general meeting, which is to be of the chief persons of each company, at the end of the work.
11. When any place of especial obscurity is doubted of, letters to be directed by authority to send to any learned man in the land for his judgement of such a place.
12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his clergy, admonishing them of this translation in hand, and to move and charge as many as being skilful in the tongues have taken pains in that kind, to send his particular observations to the company, either at Westminster, Cambridge or Oxford.
13. The directors in each company to be the Deans of Westminster and Chester for that place, and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew and Greek in each University.
14. These translations to be used where they agree better with the text than the Bishops’ Bible, viz.: Tyndale’s. Matthew’s. Coverdale’s. Whitchurch’s. Geneva.
15. Besides the said directors before mentioned, three or four of the most ancient and grave divines, in either of the universities not employed in the translating, to be assigned by the Vice-Chancellors, upon conference with the rest of the heads, to be overseers of the translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the fourth rule above specified.

These rules were not followed rigidly, but contain much good sense.  The “Bishop’s Bible” was in general use; the Puritans wanted to use the Geneva edition, which contained much anti-monarchical material in its notes, and translated words like ecclesia as “congregation” rather than “church”.

The translators then did not want any of this new-fangled nonsense.  Instead they wanted a bible which was not radically different from what had gone before.

This was very sound thinking, in practice if not in theory.  It is entirely possible to produce a bible which is quite uninspired, at least in a literary sense, and no more than a collection of printed pages.  Anybody who has tried to encountered the old “New English Bible” will know what I am talking about.

Norton also tells us that:

… one of the translators, Samuel Ward, gave an account of the work to the Synod of Dort (20 November 1618). The account includes specimens of the rules, beginning with a paraphrase of rules 1, 2 and 6, and then, as if they were rules, moves on to the following matters of practice.

He then quotes an abbreviated version, which he references to “Pollard, p. 142”, i.e. Pollard, A. W., ed., The Holy Bible. A Facsimile in a Reduced Size of the Authorized Version Published in the Year 1611. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1911.[1]

Pollard is online here.  The opening 142 pages reprint a great collection of useful primary documents relating to the creation of the English bible from 1525 to 1611.  The material from the Synod of Dort is given in the original Latin and in English:

The theologians of Great Britain offered a written explanation of the design and plan in accordance with which the business of the very accurate English version was instituted by the most Serene King James, of what plan was observed in distributing the work, and what rules were laid down for the translators ; with the intent that any points which might be judged useful to us might be taken from it.  A copy of this document is subjoined.

Method which the English Theologians followed in the version of the Bible.

The theologians of Great Britain, unwilling to give a sudden and unconsidered answer to so important a question, considered it their duty to hold an early consultation, and since honourable mention has been made of the very accurate English translation lately set forth, with great care and at great expense, by the most Serene King James, to notify to this numerously attended Synod the design and plan with which this sacred business was furnished by his most Serene Majesty.

Firstly, in the distribution of the work he willed this plan to be observed: the whole text of the Bible was distributed into six sections, and to the translation of each section there were nominated seven or eight men of distinction, skilled in languages.

Two sections were assigned to certain London theologians; the four remaining sections were equally divided among the theologians of the two Universities.

After each section had finished its task twelve delegates, chosen from them all, met together and reviewed and revised the whole work.

Lastly, the very Reverend the Bishop of Winchester, Bilson, together with Dr. Smith, now Bishop of Gloucester, a distinguished man, who had been deeply occupied in the whole work from the beginning, after all things had been maturely weighed and examined, put the finishing touch to this version.

The rules laid down for the translators were of this kind :

In the first place caution was given that an entirely new version was not to be furnished, but an old version, long received by the Church, to be purged from all blemishes and faults ; to this end there was to be no departure from the ancient translation, unless the truth of the original text or emphasis demanded.

Secondly, no notes were to be placed in the margin, but only parallel passages to be noted.

Thirdly, where a Hebrew or Greek word admits two meanings of a suitable kind, the one was to be expressed in the text, the other in the margin. The same to be done where a different reading was found in good copies.

Fourthly, the more difficult Hebraisms and Graecisms were consigned to the margin.

Fifthly, in the translation of Tobit and Judith, when any great discrepancy is found between the Greek text and the old vulgate Latin they followed the Greek text by preference.

Sixthly, that words which it was anywhere necessary to insert into the text to complete the meaning were to be distinguished by another type, small roman.

Seventhly, that new arguments should be prefixed to every book, and new headings to every chapter.

Lastly, that a very perfect Genealogy and map of the Holy Land should be joined to the work.

All very interesting indeed.  The royal backing for the KJV is naturally emphasised.  But what we see, in fact, is a cautious and conservative approach, resisting innovation.

The outcome of all this was the standard English bible for 400 years.

I’d like to end with a word about the context of all this.

The original tweeter was not truly interested in any of this.  Rather he intended his readers to suppose a theological claim: that the KJV was not inspired by God.

It is a very common thing to encounter arguments of this sort: that claim to be historical, but where the intention is to insinuate a theological claim that won’t bear examination and is usually a strawman, that nobody believes.  It’s always worth trying to get the insinuated claim stated.

In this case the insinuated claim is something like “human beings decided the exact words of the KJV, and some of them were wicked men, therefore this proves that your God” – said with a sneer – “did not inspire the bible”.

Basically the claimant is asserting that he knows what an inspired bible “must” look like.  It must fall from the sky, written on tablets of gold, or something.  No human hand may be involved in any way.

A cynical man might ask how the claimant knows this.  This is a statement about God; did he get a prophecy that tells him this?

This claim is not what Christians believe about the scripture.  It is merely a strawman, designed to require something that does not exist and never did exist.  Jesus himself talked about the rolls of the law as inspired; but these were written by men.  However divine inspiration works, it can certainly cope with spelling mistakes, human error, and all the business of living in an imperfect world.

  1. [1]Norton p.366, where the date of publication is amusingly given as 1611, not 1911.

The domes of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople

By accident I came across an old exchange on Twitter, criticising a reconstruction of the vanished church of the holy apostles in Constantinople.  The church was demolished by the invading Ottomans.

The church was originally constructed by Constantine, with his mausoleum at the rear, and rebuilt by Justinian.  It was in the usual square cross shape, with four aisles, each with a dome on it, and a higher central dome.

There is a depiction of it, from around 1000 AD, in Vaticanus gr. 1613, on fol. 353 (the Vatican site seems to be offline, but the ms should be here).  Here it is:

Note the tall domes, on a circular base pierced with windows.

The tweeter added images of churches following the same pattern: the church of San Marco in Venice:

Domes of St Mark’s in Venice

These may be rather higher than those of the Holy Apostles were, although it is hard to say how accurate the painted depiction is.  And the church of St Anthony in Padua likewise has domes atop circular bases:

Basilica of St Anthony in Padua

The tweet also referenced John Beckwith, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, 1986, p.222, to support the idea that the church was altered during the 10th century to raise the height of the domes:

Moreover, in spite of the lack of documentary sources the structure of the church of the Holy Apostles seems to have been thoroughly altered between 944 and 985. From representations of the church in the Menologion of Basil II (Vatican, gr. 1613) executed about 985 it appears that Justinian’s cupolas, of which four had been pendentive domes and only the central fifth had windows, were considerably modified.

In the Menologion all the domes are raised on drums pierced by windows, and the central dome is taller than the others. If the identification is correct, this form is confirmed by a miniature in two early-twelfth-century copies of the homilies of James of Kokkinobaphos (Vatican, gr. 1162, fol. 2; Paris, gr. 1208, fol. 3 verso [207]) showing a five-domed church with tall drums and windows and with the representation in one of the vaults of the Mission of the Apostles.

Now this scene is described by Nicolaos Mesarites shortly after 1200 as being in the central dome of Holy Apostles, and from his description, which is again incomplete, we learn that this decoration, though by and large conforming to the general pattern of the Twelve Feasts, was a great deal more complex than that described by Constantine of Rhodes. There were, for example, representations of St Matthew among the Syrians, St Luke preaching at Antioch, St Simon among the Persians and the Saracens, St Bartholomew preaching to the Armenians, and St Mark at Alexandria. Some of the scenes after the Resurrection are given in greater detail, such as the attempts of the priests to bribe the soldiers on guard at the Sepulchre and to suborn Pilate.

Whether this programme was worked out in the middle of the tenth century is difficult to confirm, but the church of the Holy Apostles was second only to Hagia Sophia in importance and more than once served as a model for other churches (in particular all three versions of S. Marco at Venice), and it continued to be the pantheon of the Byzantine Emperors until well into the eleventh century, the last Emperor to be buried there was Constantine VIII (d. 1028). The decoration of this church must always have been of prime importance. When the central dome collapsed after an earthquake in 1296, Andronicus II lost no time in rebuilding it.[10]

The claim that the domes were raised derives from Krautheimer’s Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture (many editions).  The claim was rejected by A.W. Epstein in “The rebuilding and redecoration of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople” (GRBS 23, 79-92, 1982; online here), mainly on the grounds of lack of evidence and the unreliability of manuscript decorations.

The original church raised by Justinian is clearly enough described by Procopius, as similar to that of Hagia Sophia but smaller, and likewise in the shape of a cross:[1]

That portion of the roof which is above the sanctuary, … is built, in the center at least, on a plan resembling that of the Church of Sophia, except that it is inferior to it in size. The arches, four in number, rise aloft and are bound together in the same manner and the circular drum which stands upon them is pierced by the windows, and the dome which arches above this seems to float in the air and not to rest upon solid masonry, though actually it is well supported. Thus, then, was the central portion of the roof constructed. And the arms of the building, which are four, … were roofed on the same plan as the central portion, but this one feature is lacking: underneath the domes the masonry is not pierced by windows.

There is a description written between 931-944 by Constantine of Rhodes, which I have just acquired, and need to read through.  It is full of flowery descriptions, so we’ll have to see what it actually contains!

  1. [1]Aed. 1.4.9-24, at 14-16.  See Loeb.

Eusebius of Caesarea, Six extracts from the Commentary on the Psalms, in English

Last year I gave a list of passages from Eusebius’ massive Commentary on the Psalms which deserved to be read in English.  Thankfully Fr. Alban Justinus stepped up and translated six of these for us, before other events drew him away.  I’d like to make that material accessible now.  Here they are:

The files can also be found at Archive.org here.

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

Our thanks to Fr. Alban Justinus for translating all this material!

Richard McCambly, Lectio Divina, and Gregory of Nyssa

An email arrives from Richard McCambly, with news that he has created a website for the practice of “lectio divina”.  It’s at http://www.lectio-divina.org/.

Dr McCambly’s site also contains his own translations of the works of Gregory of Nyssa.  These can be found here, as PDFs, under the icon of Gregory, each with an introduction.

Excellent stuff!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 1 (part 8)

We now reach the days of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.  And … this is the very last chunk of Eutychius!  We’ve now read through the lot.  What now remains is to gather all the pieces together, revise them, add whatever notes seem appropriate, and make it available online.

16. Abraham was seventy-five years old when God commanded him to leave Harrān, the land of his father, and to live in the land of Kan‘ān, i.e. Syria.  Abraham took with him his wife Sarah, who was his sister on his father’s side, because Tārih, father of Abraham, after Yūnā (81), the mother of Abraham, died, married another woman named Tuhwayt, who gave him Sarah, whom Abraham then married. Therefore Abraham used to say: “She is my sister, my father’s daughter, but she is not my mother’s daughter” (82).  He also took with him Lūt, son of his brother, and left for the land of “al-Manāriyyīh al-‘ Amūriyyah “. (= Amorites).  Here everyone was against him and they took Lūt captive.  Abraham followed their tracks and freed Lūt from their hands.

When he returned, he crossed the Jebusite mountains and met Malshīsādāq, called the king of peace, a priest of God Most High.  When Abraham saw him from afar, he fell upon his feet, embraced him and kissed him, asking him to bless him.  Malshīsādāq blessed him and offered him bread and wine.  Abraham gave Malshīsādāq a tithe of all he had.  God then revealed to Abraham, “From now on you will be greater, because I will bless you and multiply your seed.” When the kings knew of this, and heard of Malshīsādāq they came to him.  Among them were Abīmālikh, king of Ğadar, Marqāl, king of Zaghar, Aryūsh, king of Zidstar, Gardā`umir, king of ‘Ilān, Targhalī, king of Zaghlāy, Bā‘āz, king of Ghīlāth, Yā‘iz , king of Sadūm, Birshā`, king of ‘Āmūrā, Sibāth, king of Adūm, Banbū, king of Dimashq, Baqtar, king of ar-Rabba, and Sim`ān, king of the Amūriyyīn.  These twelve kings went to Malshīsādāq, called the king of peace, and when they saw him and heard his words, they asked him to go with them, but he replied, “I can’t leave this place.”  Then they consulted and decided to build him a city, saying, “Verily, this is the king of all the earth and the father of all kings.”  So they built a city for him and put him there as king.  Malshīsādāq called that city Ūrashalīm.  When Mākhūl, king of at-Tayman, heard of King Malshīsādāq, he went to see him and gave him much money.  Malshīsādāq was honoured by all the kings and they called him the father of kings (83).

As for those who say that the days of Malshīsādāq had no beginning nor that his life has ever ended, bringing as an argument what the apostle Paul says in the passage, “Of whose days there was no beginning, nor an end to his life” (84), well they show that they have not understood the meaning of the apostle Paul’s affirmation, because of Sām, son of Noah, when he took with him Malshīsādāq, taking him away from his parents, it was not written in the [holy] book how old he was when he left the east or how many years old when he died.  [It was only written that] Malshīsādāq is the son of Fāliq, son of ‘Àbir, son of Shālakh, son of Qīnān, son of Arfakhshād, son of Sām, son of Noah, but none of these his ancestors was called his father.  In fact, the apostle Paul says, “No other man of his lineage served in the Temple” (85), nor did they ever attribute him a father among the tribes.  In fact the evangelists Matthew and Luke wrote only of the founders of the tribes.  This is why the apostle Paul wrote neither the name of his father nor that of his mother.  And yet the apostle Paul does not expressly say that he had no father, but that they did not write him in the genealogies of the tribes.

Abraham was fifty-one years old when Sārūgh died in the month of Adhār, or Baramhāt (86), at the age of three hundred and thirty years (87). In the days of Abraham the people of Lut, son of Aran, brother of Abraham, indulged in vice in the cities of Sadūm and ‘Amūrā (88). God destroyed them and saved Lūt.  Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren and could not bear children.  Abraham was very rich.  Sāra diede ad Abramo una sua serva di nome Hāğar.  Hagar conceived by Abraham and bore him a son whom Abraham called Isma‘īl (89). Abraham was eighty-six years old.  At the age of ninety-nine, Abraham was circumcised and also circumcised his son Ishmael, who was then thirteen years old.  Abraham had already turned 100 when Sārah, his wife, bore him a son whom Abraham called Ishāq (90).  Sārah was ninety years old.  On the eighth day after his birth, Isaac was circumcised.  After giving birth to Isaac, Sārah said to Abraham, “Send Hāğar and her son Ishmael away from me” (91).  Abraham gave his son Ishmael money and provisions and sent him, along with his mother, to the land of Yatrib (92) and Yemen (93).  Ishmael established his home there, married there, and reproduced and lived in all for one hundred and thirty-seven years.

17. In the days of Abraham there was, in the East, a king named Kūrish, that is the founder of Sumaysāt, of Qlūdiyā and of al-`Irāq (94).  Also in his time, there reigned Khābīt (94), wife of Sīn, a priest of the mountain; he built Nissībīn and ar-Ruhā (96) encircling them with a wall, and he also built a great temple in Harrān. Then he had a golden idol made in the name of Sīn, had it placed in the center of the temple and ordered all the inhabitants of Harrān to worship it.  The inhabitants of Harrān worshipped it for fifty years.  After this, Ba`alsamīn, king of al-`Irāq, fell madly in love with Talbīn, wife of Thamūr, king of Mosul, who escaped from him by setting fire to Harrān and burning it down, together with the temple and the idol ( 97).  Abraham was fifty-nine years old when Nākhūr died in the month of Tammūz, or Abīb (98), at the age of two hundred and eight (99).

18. Abraham was fifty-seven years old when God commanded him to kill his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice on the fire.  Isaac was then thirty-seven years old.  If someone were to ask what is the proof that Isaac was thirty-seven when his father set about sacrificing him, he will be answered, “Sārah had given birth to him at the age of ninety.  Now when she heard that Abraham had taken her son Isaac and had taken him to the mountain to sacrifice him, she felt intense pain and fell ill, for the pain she had suffered, until she died.  She was then a hundred and twenty-seven years old.  Isaac, therefore, had to have been, at that time, thirty-seven years old”.  So Abraham took his son Isaac and carried him to the mountain, bringing with him wood and fire.  Abraham tied his son Isaac’s hands behind his back, sat him down on the wood and then had him stretch out in order to sacrifice him.  But an angel from heaven called to him and said to him, “O Abraham, do not sacrifice your son.  We have tested your resignation and your obedience, we have scrutinized your soul and we have spared him, moved to compassion towards you “(100).  God then ordered him to sacrifice a large ram instead of Isaac.  When Sārah heard that Abraham had taken Isaac and led him to the mountain to sacrifice him, she cried out and raised loud laments and for the intense pain and sorrow she felt, she fell ill and died that same year.  She had lived in all one hundred and twenty-seven years (101).  After Sārah’s death, Abraham married a woman named Qītūra, daughter of Biqtar, king of ar-Rabba, and had many children (102).  Abraham supplied them with provisions and sent them away, far away from Isaac.  Abraham lived all one hundred and seventy-five years.

Isaac was thirty-five years old when Tārikh died in the month of Aylūl, or Tūt, (103) at the age of two hundred and five years and he was buried in Harrān (104).  At the age of forty Isaac married a woman named Ribqa (105), daughter of Mānū’il, son of Nākhūr, brother of Abraham (106).  Isaac was sixty years old when his wife Rebecca conceived.  Her pregnancy was difficult and painful (107).  She therefore went to Malshīsādāq, who prayed for her and said to her, “In your womb there are two peoples: you will give birth to two tribes and the older will obey the younger.” (108).  Rebecca gave birth to two sons in one birth.  Isaac called the first al-‘Is and the second Ya‘qūb (109).  He called him Jacob because he had come out of his mother’s womb clinging to Esau’s heel.  Isaac loved Esau and Rebecca Jacob.  Esau was stocky, hairy and always smelled bad.  When he grew old, Isaac called his son Esau and said to him, “Take your weapons, go to the desert and bring me game.  Prepare me a good meal so that that I may eat it and bless you, before I die.” (110).

Rebecca heard this, took Jacob, made him wear Esau’s clothes, then took some kidskin and placed it on his chest, on his shoulders and along Jacob’s arms.  Then she prepared a good dish and said: “Go, go to your father Isaac and tell him: ‘I am Esau’, so that he blesses you before he dies.” (111). Jacob went to Isaac and he said to him, “Come closer”. He approached, Isaac felt and said, “Certainly the voice is that of Jacob, but the touch is that of Esau” (112).  Then Isaac ate ​​and blessed Jacob, making him head over his brother.  Then Esau came, returning from the hunt, prepared the food and took it to his father Isaac.  But his father said to him, “Who came before you and took the blessing?” Esau burst into tears and said, “My Father, do you really have only one blessing?” Isaac replied, “By now I have made him your chief. What can I do for you?” (113).  Esau approached him and Isaac blessed him, after having made Jacob his chief.  Esau then decided to kill Jacob, but Jacob fled away from his brother, sheltering in Harrān with his uncle Lābān.  At the time of Isaac, Arīhā was built (114).  Seven kings built it and each surrounded it with a wall.  Isaac was seventy-five years old when Abraham died in the month of Nīsān, or Barmūdah (115), (in another text it says: in the month of Adhār, or Baramhāt) (116), at the age of one hundred and seventy-five (117).  Isaac was one hundred and twenty-three years old when Ishmael died in the month of Nīsān, or Barmūdah (118), at the age of one hundred and thirty-seven (119).  Isaac lived in all one hundred and eighty years (120).  Esau married, at the age of 40, one of the daughters of his uncle Ishmael, named Nahlāt (121), who bore him many children.  Then he married a Canaanite named Ghadā, daughter of Alūn, the Hittite (122).  He then married other women, among them from Rum, and spread himself among them.  He had an innumerable progeny; including the Amalekites and the Qurri (123).  Esau lived in all one hundred and twenty-nine years.

19. Jacob joined his Uncle Lābān in Harrān.  His uncle had two daughters: the older one was called Liyyā, who had bleary eyes, and the younger Rāhīl (124).  Jacob fell in love with Rachel and asked his uncle to marry her who told him, “Serve me for seven years, and I will give you Rachel in marriage.” (125).  He served him for seven years, but instead he sent Liyyā, Rachel’s sister, to him.  The next day Jacob told his uncle, “I served you for seven years just because you would give me Rachel as a wife.  Why, then, did you bring in her sister Liyyā to me?” (126).  Uncle Lābān answered him, “Serve me for another seven years, and I will marry you to Rachel” (127).  He then served him for another seven years, and he gave him Rachel as his wife.  Thus Jacob married the two sisters.  Liyyā bore him Ruben (128), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issakar, and Zàbulon.  Rachel had no children.  Then she said to Jacob, “Take my slave Bilhā to conceive by you and I will have a son.” (129).  Bilhā, Rachel’s slave, gave birth to two sons by Jacob: Dān and Nifthālīm.  Liyyā then said to Jacob: “Take my servant Zilfa also, so that she may conceive of you and with my children I will have other children” (130).  Zilpha, servant of Liyya, gave birth to two sons by Jacob, ‘Ad (131) and Ashir.  Later, Rachel also conceived and gave birth to Yūsuf and Binyāmīn (132).  From these twelve sons of Jacob all the sons of Israel are descended.  Jacob then returned to the land of Kan’ān and God called Jacob Isrā’il.  Jacob was eighty-seven years old when Liyyā gave birth to Levi, his third child.  Levi’s date of birth was written down, unlike that of his other brothers, because Moses is from the lineage of Levi.  Jacob loved Joseph intensely and preferred him to his brothers.  That was why his brothers envied him and decided to kill him.  While they were grazing their sheep and their camels, they passed a caravan of Midianite merchants, Arabs of the lineage of Ishmael, who carried pine nuts, terebinth and oil headed for Egypt.  Joseph’s brothers took him and sold him for twenty dinars (133).  Joseph was seventeen.  So they took Joseph’s shirt, sprinkled the sleeves with blood and told Jacob, “A wolf has devoured Joseph.” (134).  When the merchants came with Joseph to Egypt, a servant of the Pharaoh, who was the head chef (135), bought Joseph.  His wife desired him and sent for him, but he did not bend to her wishes.  Then she spoke ill of him of her husband, saying, “This Jewish slave tried to seduce me.”  He then had him locked up in prison.

Jacob was one hundred and twenty years old when Isaac died in the month of Ayyār, or Bashans (136), at the age of one hundred and eighty, and he was one hundred and twenty when Esau died in the month of Tishrīn al-Awwal, or Bābih (137), aged one hundred and twenty-nine years old.

20. Pharaoh had the chief baker put in jail and the chief cupbearer together with Joseph.  The chief cupbearer dreamed that he was holding a bunch of grapes that he pressed and gave a drink to Pharaoh.  Joseph said to him, “It will happen just like you saw in the dream. Then remember me when you are near your lord.” (138).  The head of the bakers saw in a dream that he had on his head a tray full of bread from which the birds fed.  Joseph said to him, “You will be crucified and the birds will feed on your flesh.” (139).  Joseph’s words came true.  In fact, the pharaoh had a dream and the chief cupbearer told him, “There is a young Jew in prison who is very adept at interpreting dreams.”  Pharaoh sent for Joseph and said to him: “I saw seven fat cows come out of the sea followed by seven lean cows. The seven lean cows swallowed the seven fat cows.  I then saw seven fat ears of corn grow out of the ground followed by seven empty and dry ears.  The seven empty ears have swallowed the seven full ears.” Joseph said to him, “Your reign will be flourishing for seven years and for another seven years there will be drought and great famine.” (140).  Pharaoh then created Joseph the supreme administrator of his kingdom and gave him his ring. In the seven years of prosperity, Joseph amassed so much grain to fill countless barns.

21. Joseph was thirty years old when he married a woman named Asīnāt (141), daughter of the priest of the city of ‘Ayn Shams (142), who gave him two sons.  Joseph called the first Manasseh, who was his firstborn, and called the other Ifrām.  In the place called Minf (143), Joseph built a hydrometer to measure the increase in water from the Nile in Egypt; he had the canal called al-Manha (144) dug, and he built Hagar al-Làhūn (145).  At forty years old Levi, son of Jacob, had Qāhāt, in the territory of Kan’ān, three years before they entered Egypt.  At that time there was great famine in Egypt and in Syria.  The Egyptians bought grain from Joseph until they were left without a dìnàr or a dirham.  They therefore bought more grain by selling their property, their animals and their homes.  And when they had nothing left, they said to Joseph, “Let us sell ourselves to pharaoh and declare ourselves his slaves, but give us grain to eat and sow.” (146).  Thus Joseph bought for the pharaoh the people of the Egyptians, giving them grain to eat and to sow in exchange and making them pay the tithes of their crops, a custom that is still in force today.  Thus it was that the Egyptians became slaves of the pharaoh.  In his days lived Job the just man (147), or Ayyūb, son of Amūs, son of Zārākh, son of Rāghū’īl, son of Esau, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Abraham.  He was very rich, and God put him to the test.  However, he gave thanks and endured with a docile spirit, and God withdrew the test from him and returned his goods.

22. A severe famine struck Syria.  Jacob then said to his sons,  “Go to Egypt and buy grain.” (148)  Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt.  When Joseph saw them, he recognized them.  But they did not recognize him.  Benjamin, his twin brother, was not with them.  Joseph said to them, “Who are you? Where do you come from, and what do you want?”. They replied, “We are the sons of Jacob. We were twelve, but a wolf devoured one, whose twin brother has remained with his father.  Our father is very old and weeps for the son devoured by the wolf day and night”.  Joseph said to them:  “You are nothing but spies.”  But they swore and Joseph said, “If you tell the truth and you are not spies, leave one of you here and return to your father bringing me your younger brother, the one whose brother the wolf has devoured, to let us know if you are telling the truth.”  They left with him Simeon, and Joseph ordered that their saddlebags be filled with grain, putting in every bag some silver that belonged to his lord.  When they came to Jacob, they informed him of what had happened and each found the silver in his bag.  They then returned to Egypt to buy grain, taking with them the silver and some goods.  They also brought Benjamin, Joseph’s twin brother.  When Joseph saw him, he ordered them to be treated with all respect and he felt great tenderness and emotion for them.  Their saddlebags were filled with wheat and he ordered once again to put in each one of them the silver of his master, while in that of Benjamin he had put a golden cup that belonged to the pharaoh.  When they had left Joseph and were headed to Syria, Joseph’s servants joined them and told them:  “[Our] lord has treated you with every respect, but you have behaved in the worst way by stealing the king’s gold cup.”  They replied, “Take also the one with whom you find it, and let him be the slave of your king.” They searched in their saddlebags and found the cup in the bag of Benjamin.  The servants then took Benjamin and took him to Joseph.  The brothers came back with him and told Joseph:  “Our Lord, our father is very old.  The brother of this young man was devoured by a wolf, as we have already told you, and his father still mourns him to this day.  If you keep him with you, we will not be able to return to our father, because if he is not with us his father will die from the pain.  Leave him free, so that he may return to his father, and take as your slave whichever of us seems good to you”.  Joseph answered them,  “God forbid we take anyone but the one in whose bag we found the cup”.  Then Joseph took pity on them and said, “I am Joseph, your brother.  Do not grieve or fear”.  Joseph then went to Jacob with tents and chariots and took him, along with all his descendants, to Egypt out of the land of Canaan (149). Jacob entered Egypt in the second year of the famine (in another text it is said: in the third), together with his sons and the children of his sons, without counting the women of his sons not born of his loins, with Joseph and his two sons: there were seventy people in all.  Jacob was then a hundred and thirty years old.  He remained in Egypt seventeen years.  Levi was sixty years old when Jacob died in Egypt.  Joseph and all his sons took him to the land of Canaan and buried him there with his father Isaac. Jacob lived in all forty-seven years.

23. In Egypt Qāhāt had, at sixty years old, ‘Imrān (150).  Qāhāt was fifteen years old when Joseph died.  His brothers laid him in a coffin and buried him in Egypt.  He was one hundred and ten years old.  It is said that Joseph’s body was placed in a marble coffin and thrown into the Nile (151).  ‘Imrān was seventy-three years old when Maryam was born to him, he had completed seventy-seven years when he had Harūn and after the eightieth year Moses was born to him – on him be peace.  ‘Imrān lived in all one hundred and thirty-six years.  He was thirty-seven years old when Levi died, at the age of one hundred and thirty-seven, and when he was seventy-six Qāhāt died, at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 1 (part 7)

Let’s carry on with Eutychius’ rewriting of the Old Testament.  None of this is enormously interesting, but we, or rather I, have to trudge through it if we are to complete this translation of Eutychius.  It seems that nobody will produce an English translation direct from the Arabic.  So, as before, I am taking the Italian translation, running it through Google Translate, and making sense of what comes out.  Interestingly it looks as if the Italian-to-English translation in Google has improved since I last used it in January.

15. In the days of Rāghū there reigned the Queen of Sheba, founder of the city of Saba, for many years (60).  After her, women continued to reign in the city of Saba, until the time of King Solomon, son of David.  In the days of Rāghū there was king Qārūn (61), who built the city of Uqīnīn.  It is said that Qārūn melted gold, making bricks with which he built the city of Uqīnīn.  Rāghū was sixty-six years old when Shālakh died, in the month of Adhār, or Baramhāt (62), after having lived four hundred sixty years.  Rāghū lived in all three hundred and thirty-nine years (63).  At one hundred and thirty years Shārū‘ had Nākhūr (64). Shārū‘ was sixty-eight years old when ‘Ābir died in the month of Kānūn ath-Thānī, or Tūbah (65), at the age of four hundred and sixty-four (66).  Shāru` was seventy-seven years old when Fāliq died in the month of Aylūl, or Tūt, at the age of three hundred and thirty-nine (67). Shārū‘ lived in all three hundred and thirty years (68).

At seventy-nine Nākhūr had Tārih (69).  In his day the giants multiplied, and there lived ‘Ād (70), son of Aram, son of Sām, son of Noah.  Indeed in his time measures and weights were instituted, and also in his time the earth was shaken by a violent and fearful earthquake (71), which was the first in history.  And since there were many worshipers of idols who sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, God sent a stormy wind that like a whirlwind broke all the idols and cut down their niches, reducing them to a heap of stones in the shape of hills still visible today (72).  When Nākhūr was seventy-seven years old, Rāghū died in the month of Nīsān, or Barmūdah, at the age of three hundred and thirty-nine (73).  In his time there appeared a Persian man named Zaradasht (74) who founded the Sabaian religion.  And there was in Persia a king called Tahmūrat (75).  Some believe that a Greek named al-Yūnān son of Iraqliyūs, based in Ilyas, was the founder of the Sabaian religion; others believe he was from the city of “az-Zaytūna”, built near Athens.  The Greeks were the first to profess this doctrine and wrote many books on astrology and the motion of the universe.  It is also said that the Sabaian religion was founded by one of those who had taken part in the construction of the tower of Bābil.  Nākhūr lived in all two hundred and eight years (76).

At the age of seventy Tārih had Abraham.  In his time the king of Bābil was Nimrūd (77), the giant.  It is said that he was the first king to rule in Bābil.  He saw in the sky, in a cloud, something like a crown, and immediately summoned a metal-worker who modelled a crown and he placed it on his head.  For this reason, people said: “He was given a crown from heaven”.  It is said that he was the first to worship fire because he saw,  far to the east, a fire coming out of the earth.  Nimrūd went there, worshipped it and placed a man there who remained at the service of the fire, throwing incense on it.  From that time the magi began to worship fire and prostrate themselves before it.  The man whom Nimrūd had placed at the service of the fire was called Andishān (78).  Satan spoke to him from the belly of the fire telling him: “No one can serve the fire or learn my religion unless he has first slept with his mother, with his sister and with his daughter.”  Andishān did as Satan had told him, and from that time the priests of the magi began to have relations with their mothers, their sisters and their daughters.  This Andishān was the first to profess such a doctrine.  Nimrūd founded Adarbīğān, Bābil, Nineveh, Rāsin and many [other] cities (79).  Tarih lived in all two hundred and sixty-five years and died (80).  From Fāliq to Abraham there had passed five hundred and forty-one years; from the flood to Abraham, a thousand and seventy-two years; from Adam to Abraham, three thousand three hundred and twenty-eight years.

 

 

The Acts of John in the minutes of the Second Council of Nicaea (787)

The Greek church during the 8th century became embarassed at the naked worship of icons in the churches.  Eventually the emperor Constantine V called a synod at Hieria in 754 to deal with the situation.  This obediently passed canons condemning the worship of icons.  But over the next few years a reaction took place, and after his death, a fresh synod was  assembled in 787 at Nicaea to reverse the rulings of Hieria.  This is considered as the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and is known as Nicaea II.

After my post about the Second Council of Nicaea, a kind reader added a comment advising me that there is indeed a complete English translation of the Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea, made in 1850 by John Mendham, and downloadable from Google Books here.[1]  The passage in which the Acts of John are discussed is on pp.269-276.

Unfortunately the minutes of Hieria are lost, so we must rely on the minutes of Nicaea 2 to get any idea of their process.  It seems that the iconoclasts assembled a dossier of evidence as to the practice of the early church, and included material by anybody they could find, including Jews and heretics.  This was a risky approach, and laid itself open to unscrupulous refutation.

In the fifth session of Nicaea 2, the delegates went through the evidence given at Hieria and debunked it, section by section.  The method chosen was a crude one: if the document could be shown to be heretical in any respect, or its author had ever expressed a view different from that prevailing in Byzantium in 787 AD, then it could be ignored.  In short the whole proceeding was an argument ad hominem.

The sessions were managed by the Patriarch Tarasius, acting for the empress Irene.  Let’s hear how the session proceeded with respect to the Acts of John.

Epiphanius Deacon and Legate of Thomas Bishop of Sardinia reads from the pretended “Itinerary of the Holy Apostles”:

“The painter on the first day, having sketched him in outline, ceased : on the following day he filled up the picture with the colouring, and gave the image to the joyful Lycomedes, which having placed in his own bedchamber he set a crown upon it; which when John afterwards knew he said to him, ‘My beloved son, what meaning have you in thus going from the bath to your bedchamber by yourself? Am not I to pray with you and the rest of your brethren; or would you shut us out?’ Having said this in a sportive manner he entered with him into his bed-chamber, and be saw there the image of an old man crowned, and tapers and altars set before it, on which he addressed him thus—‘ Lycomedes, what have yon to do with this image? Which of your gods is it that is painted here? I see you still live like an heathen !’ And Lycomedes answered him—‘He alone is my God who hath rescued me and my wife from death; but if after God we may call men who have done good to us gods, then thou art the god who is represented in that picture, whom therefore I crown, and love, and reverence, as having been a good guide to me in the way.’ But John, never as yet having seen his own face, said to him, ‘My son, you are mocking me: am I so superior to my Lord in form? How can you make me believe that this picture is like to me?’ On which Lycomedes brought a mirror, and John having looked at himself in the mirror, and having steadfastly examined the image, said, ‘May the Lord Jesus Christ live : the image is like, but you have done amiss in making it.’”

Epiphanius went on to read from the same book where it begins, “At one time wishing to lay hold of Jesus.” And shortly after—

“They laid hands on a gross material body, but at other times when I felt Him, that which I touched was immaterial, incorporeal, and as though nothing at all was there. And when at any time being invited by some Pharisee He accepted the invitation, we went together with Him, and each of us received the appointed loaf from those who had invited us. And among the rest He also received one which, having blessed, He divided amongst us all, and from the very small portion which each received he was satisfied: our own loaves were in this way preserved entire, so that those who invited Him were much astonished. I oftentimes, when walking with Him, wished to see if any mark of His footsteps appeared; but, though I saw Him raise Himself up from the ground, yet never did I see any footsteps.

These things I now relate to you, my brethren, as it were for the sake of your encouragement in the faith; but of His great things, of His wonderful things, let deep silence be preserved, since they are unspeakable—such as could not be uttered, could not be heard. For before He was seized by the lawless Jews—they who had received their law from the lawless serpent—He assembled us together and said. ‘Before that I am delivered up to them let us sing a hymn to the Father, and so let us enter on that which is ordained.

When He had commanded us to make a circle round Him by holding each other’s hands, He Himself being in the midst. He said this, ‘Amen, obey me.’ He began to sing a hymn and to say, ‘Glory to thee, O Father,’ and we who were around Him answered the ‘Amen—glory to thee, O Word: glory to thee, O Grace: Amen—glory to thee, O Spirit: glory to thee, O Holy One: glory to thy glory: Amen—we praise thee, O Father; we give thanks to thee: the Light with whom darkness does not dwell (Amen), in which also we give thanks, saith I wish to be saved and I wish to save: Amen—I wish to be bound and I wish to loose: Amen—I wish to be wounded and I wish to wound: Amen—I wish to eat and I wish to be eaten: Amen—I wish to bear and I wish to be heard: Amen—I wish to be understood being altogether Mind: Amen—I wish to be washed and I wish to wash : Amen—grace leads the dance, I would play the late, dance ye all: Amen—I wish to be lamented, lament ye all: Amen.”

And after other things it is continued thus:

“In this manner the Lord having, my beloved, joined in the dance with us went out, and we as in a maze or in a dream fled some one way some another. But I, seeing Him suffering, could not endure to behold His passion, but fled to the Mount of Olives, weeping at that which had taken place. And when the command was given, ‘Raise up,’ He was suspended thereon about the sixth hour of the day, and darkness was over all the land.

But my Lord having stood up in the midst of the cave, and having shed light round about me, said, ‘John, by that rabble beneath I am crucified at Jerusalem; I am wounded with spears and reeds; I am made to drink vinegar and gall; but it is I that speak to thee, and that which I speak hear thou. It was I that suggested to thee to ascend into this mountain, that thou mightest hear that which it becomes the scholar to learn from his teacher, a man from God.’

Having said this, He showed me a cross of light, fixed, and around the cross a great multitude not having one form, but on the cross was one form and a like similitude : above the cross I perceived the Lord, not having any form but only a voice—a voice, not that which was ordinary with Him, but one that was truly sweet and delightful, and indeed of God Himself, saying unto me, ‘John, it was necessary that one of you should hear these words from me. I would have one to hear of that should come. The cross of light is for your sakes called by me at one time the Word, at another Mind, at another Christ, at another the Door, at another the Way, at another Bread, at another Seed, at another Resurrection, at another Jesus, at another the Father, at another the Spirit, at another Life, at another Truth, at another Faith, at another Grace.’”

Tarasius: “See how the whole of this writing contradicts the Gospel! ”

The Holy Council: “Yes, my lord, it affirms the incarnation to be mere appearance.”

Tarasius: “In the ‘Itinerary’ it is written that He neither eat nor drank, nor walked on the earth with His feet, just as the Phantasiasts teach; but in the Gospel it is written of Christ that He did both eat and drink, and that the Jews said concerning Him, ‘Behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber’ (Matt. xi. 19). Again—if, as they fable, He did not touch the earth with His feet, how is it written in the Gospel, ‘Jesus being weary with His journey sat thus on the well?’” (John iv. 6.)

Constantine Bishop of Constantia: “And this, forsooth, is the book which confirmed that false conventicle.”

Tarasius: “Really, the whole of it is quite ridiculous.”

Theodore Bishop of Catana: “See the book which overthrew the beauty of the Catholic Church.”

Euthymius Bishop of Sardis: “It became that conventicle of mischief to have its support from such a book.”

Constantine Bishop of Constantia: “What blasphemy to assert that John the Apostle took refuge in a cave at the hour of the crucifixion, when the Gospel expressly declares that John ‘went in with Him into the hall of Caiaphas’ (John xviii. 15), and that ‘he was standing by the cross of Christ with His holy Mother.’” (John xix. 25).

The Holy Council: ‘Every heresy seems connected with that book.”

Tarasius: “Alas, alas! by what heretical books do they confirm their heresy.”

Gregory Bishop of Neocaesarea: “This book is worthy of all pollution and disgrace; and yet from this we have their testimony against images in this history of Lycomedes.”

John Legate of the East: “He introduces Lycomedes crowning the image of the Apostle just as the Heathens crown their idols.”

Basil Bishop of Ancyra: “God forbid that St. John the Divine should say anything contrary to the Gospel.”

Tarasius: “Are the sentiments which have been read to you those of the Gospel?”

The Holy Council: “God forbid ! We receive neither that which precedes, nor that which follows, about Lycomedes.”

Tarasius: “He who receives that which comes last must admit that which goes before, just as did that false Conventicle.”

The Holy Council: “Anathema be to it from the beginning to the end.”

 John Legate of the East: “Behold, most blessed fathers, it has been clearly proved that the patrons of this Christianity-detracting heresy are partakers with Nebuchadnezzar and the Samaritans, with Jews and Pagans; and, not only so, but furthermore with the atheistic and accursed Manichaeans, a testimony from whom they have here brought forward; for these things are spoken by those who maintain the incarnate dispensation of God the Word to be mere appearance; but anathema be to them and to their writings.”

The Holy Council said: “Let them be anathema.”

Petronas the Patrician said to Tarasius: “My lord, if it is your pleasure, let us ask the Bishops of Ammorium and Neocaesarea, were the books themselves read at that false Conventicle?”

Gregory Bishop of Neocaesarea and Theodosius Bishop of Ammorium answered: “No, by the Lord, no book was brought forward there, but by false extracts they deceived us.”

Tarasius: “Following their own private views, they brought forward whatever suited their purpose.”

Petronas: “And, moreover, they did everything with the imperial suffrage.”

Gregory Bishop of Neocaesarea: “I have often said it, and I repeat it again, that no book or writing of the fathers appeared in our Assembly: nought but false extracts were brought forward; and so this same story about Lycomedes defiled our ears.”

John Legate of the East: “If it seem good to this Holy and Oecumenic Council, let there be an injunction restraining all henceforth from making any copy of this cursed book.”

The Holy Council said: “Let it be no more transcribed. Nor is this all—we furthermore decree that the present copy shall be committed to the flames.”

Peter the Reader cites St. Amphilochius “On the False Inscriptions of the Heretics,” which begins:—

“We account it right to expose in its true colours all their impiety and to publish abroad their deceit, especially as they put forward certain books having the superscriptions of the Apostles, by which they deceive the more simple.” And, shortly after, he continues—“But we will prove that these books, which the Apostates from our Church bring forward, are not the work of the Apostles, but the writings of Devils.” And. after other matters, he continues— “These things the Apostle John would not have said, having written in the Gospel that the Lord said from the cross, ‘Behold thy Son’ (John six. 26, 27): so that from that hour the holy John took Mary to his own house. How, then, could he say that he was not present? But this is not to be wondered at; ‘for, as the Lord is truth, so is the devil a liar; for he is a liar and the father of it, and when he speaketh of a lie he speaketh of his own’ (John viii. 24). Thus far concerning their falsities.”

Tarasius: “Our Father Amphilochius is great, and we shall attend to his words concerning this pretended “Itinerary,” and, therefore, need not be swayed by its title.

Basil Bishop of Ancyra: “Nothing can be more opposed to the Gospel than is this impious compilation. Very fitting was it that such a book should hold opinions contrary to holy images.”

“Tarasius: “The father clearly exposes over the disgraceful and vain prating of this volume.”

The Holy Council: “He does, indeed, my lord.”

Nicephorus Bishop of Dyrrachium: “My lord, this ought to have been read for the full satisfaction of all; but not the other, for it contaminates our ears.”

The Holy Council: “Yet, by way of warning, it was not amiss that even this should be read.”

Tarasius: “They who were so garrulous against holy images have brought Eusebius forward in their favour in a letter which he wrote to Constantia the wife of Licinius. Now, let us see what were the sentiments of this Eusebius.”…

And on they go, to revile Eusebius of Caesarea himself, labelling him an Arian in order to disregard his testimony to the practice of the church in the 4th century.  The translator comments freely in the footnotes on the terrible logic involved.

It is amusing to see the passage where Nicephorus, in his eagerness to comply, rushes ahead of what Tarasius wants done, and is mildly reproved.  Servility must often meet with such snubs.

It’s very interesting, at any rate, to see the official record of events.

  1. [1]John Mendham (tr), The Seventh General Council: the second of Nicaea, held A.D. 787, in which the worship of images was established: with copious notes from the “Caroline books” compiled by order of Charlemagne for its confutation, London, 1850.

The Second Council of Nicaea (787) and the Canon of the New Testament

Why on earth would anybody suppose that the Second Council of Nicea / Nicaea in 787 was responsible for deciding which books went into the bible?  It’s absurd on the face of it, considering the vast mass of patristic testimony and physical bibles that survive.

However I keep seeing ignorant people online who either state this, or seem genuinely uncertain whether they mean the First or Second councils of Nicaea.  There is a much more common myth that the canon was decided at the First council in 325, but that’s another story.

Quite by accident today I found what seems to be the source.  It is none other than Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, Oxford University Press, 2003.  It’s a popular book, not a scholarly work, so it probably circulates among atheists.  The reference I was given was to pages 41-43, in which Ehrman talks about the apocryphal Acts of John, as an example of works in which celibacy is praised.  In chapter two, pages 41-42 we find this interesting statement:

A comparable message appears in another of the Apocryphal Acts, the last we will consider in this chapter. The Acts of John narrates the legendary adventures of John, the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest disciples in the New Testament Gospels. He continues to be an important figure after Jesus’ death, according to the early chapters of the canonical Acts of the Apostles, but he quickly drops out of sight in that narrative as the book turns its entire attention to the missionary activities of Paul. Later Christians, not content with the silence shrouding John’s later life, filled the gap with numerous stories, some of which have made it into this second-century Apocryphal Acts of John.23  Once again we are handicapped by not having the complete text. It was, of course, a noncanonical book, and parts of it were theologically dubious to the proto-orthodox. It was eventually condemned as heretical at the Second Council of Nicaea in the eighth century, so that most manuscripts of it were either destroyed or lost.24

(Highlighting is mine) Buried at the back, on p.262, where few will read them, are the notes:

23. It is widely recognized that the surviving Acts of John derives from several sources; most scholars recognize that a large portion of the text (chaps. 87–105, or just 94–102) as we now have it was interpolated at a later time into the narrative. See the discussion in Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 303–4. For a translation of some of the more intriguing accounts of the Acts of John, see the excerpts from Elliott in Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 93–108; that is the translation I am following here.

24. See the discussion in Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 303–7.

This, I suspect, is indeed the source for the modern legend.  Because of course if the Second council was condemning the Acts of John, it’s “obvious” to a certain type of mind that they were discussing what should be in the New Testament.

Looking at Elliot’s excellent single volume on the NT Apocrypha, we find that the Acts of John are first attested with Eusebius in the 4th century.  On the date of the work, Elliot states (p.306):

This is normally given as late second-century, but some scholars (e.g. Zahn) who argued that the work was known to Clement of Alexandria [6] gave an earlier date. Modern scholars tend to agree that there is no firm evidence that the Acts of John was known before Eusebius.

Schneemelcher concurs (vol. 2, p.152):

It is not possible to demonstrate any use of the Acts of John in the Christian literature of the 2nd and early 3rd centuries.

On page 305, Elliot states:

(e) The proceedings of the Second Council of Nicaea (AD 787) are contained in several Greek and Latin manuscripts, and also in the Latin version by Anastasius.5 Citations in them from the Acts of John 27-8, 93-5, and 97-8 are valuable for establishing the Greek text at these points (see Junod and Kaestli CCA, pp. 344-68).

The condemnation of the Acts of John by the Second Council of Nicaea meant that the ancient Acts could only survive in clandestine copies after 787. Parts survived in the rewritings of the story of John found in Pseudo-Prochorus, and (in Latin) in Pseudo-Abdias and Pseudo-Melito.

The footnote:

5. J. C. Thilo, Colliguntur et commentariis illustrantur fragmenta actuum S. Johannis a Leucio Charino Conscriptum, i. in Universitatis Literariae Fridericianae Halis consociatae programma paschale (Halle, 1847), 14f.

This suggests that Elliot is also repeating from elsewhere, just as Ehrman was.  Is it possible that nobody ever actually looks at the statements of Nicaea II?

Schneemelcher is rather clearer:

The most important evidence of all is provided by the Nicene Council of 787, already mentioned. Its fifth session dealt, among other matters, with the Acts of John, to which the Iconoclastic Council of 754 had appealed. Here AJ 27 and the first half of AJ 28 were read out from the pseudepigraphical ‘Travels of the Holy Apostles’ as a document hostile to images, together with a large part of AJ 93-98 as a general indication of the book’s heretical character.42

Footnote:

42.  Con. Nic. II, actio V (Mansi XIII, cols. 168D-172C); critical edition of the quotations from the Acts of John in Junod/Kaestli 361-365 (Greek text) and 366-368 (Latin translation of Anastasius Bibliothecarius).  [‘Junod/Kaestli’ is the standard edition, Acta Johannis, in the Corpus Christianorum, series apocryphorum, vols 1-2, Turnhout 1983]

This gives us the reason why the book was discussed – that it had been used in the Iconoclast disputes – and a source for the council text.  There is actually an English translation of the Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), under that title in two volumes, from Translated Texts for Historians, vol. 68 (2018), translated by Richard Price, and available for only $175.  Unfortunately this is inaccessible to me, or we might hear what the council said.

The older pre-critical text of Mansi is thankfully available online here, in a very poor scan from microfilm.  Col. 167 has a section starting Ex falsis superscriptionibus itinerariorum sanctorum apostolorum, (On the false attributions of the “itineraries of the holy apostles”).  But the good stuff appears in column 171C, and continues to 175.  The delegates read out some short quotes which contradict the Gospel of John, and so must be heretical. Especially good:

Gregory of Neocaesarea said, “This codex is worthy of every condemnation and dishonour.  And they produced out of it testimonies against images!! which were copied by Lycomedes!”

John the most reverend monk and vicar of the oriental patriarchs, said, “Lycomedes brings in the crowned images of the apostles as if they were pagan idols!”

Basil bishop of Ancyra said, “God forbid that St John seem to speak contrary to his own well-established gospel!”

I don’t know who Lycomedes was – evidently an iconoclast leader – but I don’t think they liked him.

The section ends with:

John, most reverend monk and vicar of the orient pontiffs said, “If it please this holy and universal synod, let this be the sentence, that nobody henceforth shall make copies of this sordid book.”

The holy synod said, “Let nobody make a copy: not only this, but we judge that it is right that it must be thrown in the fire.

Let’s finish, for the benefit of Ehrman readers, with another quotation from him about the formation canon of the NT.  This time it’s from Truth and Fiction In The Da Vinci Code, Oxford University Press, 2004, p.74:

Teabing’s conspiratorial view of the formation of the canon is intriguing, but for the historian familiar with the actual process of how some books came to be included in the New Testament while others came to be excluded, it is filled with more fiction than fact. The historical reality is that the emperor Constantine had nothing to do with the formation of the canon of scripture: he did not choose which books to include or exclude, and he did not order the destruction of the Gospels that were left out of the canon (there were no imperial book burnings). The formation of the New Testament canon was instead a long and drawn-out process that began centuries before Constantine and did not conclude until long after he was dead. So far as we know, based on our historical record, the emperor was not involved in the process. … (75) … It was a process that took many years—centuries, actually. It was not (contrary to Teabing’s view) the decision of one person, or even just one group of persons (for example, a church council); …

Indeed so.