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, designed to smear the ancient Christians.  It was authored by a recent arts graduate named Catherine Nixey, and titled “The Darkening Age”.  Her publisher had arranged some fawning reviews in the mainstream press, 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 to give it a good review!   It was really striking how heavily it was promoted.

Ignorant of all this, I found the author tweeting smugly on twitter, and giving a supposed “quote” from Chrysostom.  The unfortunate results – for her – appeared on my blog in this article, Hunting the wild misquotation again.  The book never seemed to get much traction online, and I confess that I filed it away and forgot about it.

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 (!)  The thread also contained evidence of good reviews over there too!

The only reason that all these favourable reviews can appear, that I can think of, is money.  I assume that the publishers of the newspapers are taking money from the publisher in order to commission these reviews.  The book itself is just malicious tat, and anybody with a bit of education will know it.  It isn’t worth reviewing.  Such books are ten-a-penny.  But … it gets reviewed, and widely, and favourably.  Why?

It would be most interesting to know the sales figures.  Is this book really making money?  There’s something very dubious about all this, to my eye.  I have heard of publishe

The thread contains a review by Dr Roland Kany from the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung:

Title: “So just read how evil they are!”

I ran the review through OCR, and created a Word .docx file, which I’ll put here in case you’d like to use Google Translate.

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.

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.

Thinking about ways to display Latin syntax information in a translation tool

Most of us probably learned Latin at school.  Those lessons focused on grammar – amo, amas, amat – and also on rote learning of vocabulary.  All of this is essential, and I really wish that I could remember more of it than I can today.

But this focus means that questions of Latin syntax are often dealt with only superficially, or not at all.  I saw evidence of this, back in 2006 when I was running the project to translate Jerome’s Chronicle.  Anybody could contribute by doing an entry.  Often I would see people stumble on something like an ablative absolute, through sheer ignorance.

It occurs to me that some people reading this won’t know what that is, so I’d better try to explain as simply as I can.  Let’s look at this Latin sentence.

Urbe capta, cives fugaverunt.

???, the citizens fled.

Urbe is the ablative of the noun urbs, urbis, = city so would ordinarily mean “by/with/from the city”.  Gender is feminine.  It’s singular.

capta is also in the ablative, but is a perfect passive participle of the verb capio, capere, etc = “capture, seize”.  By itself it would mean “having been captured”.  It too is in the feminine gender, and also singular, so it agrees with Urbe in case, number and gender.

The combination is an ablative absolute – the word “absolute” is just noise – meaning “the city having been captured”, or, in better English “after the city had been captured”, and indicates time.  A noun and a participle in the ablative and agreeing with each other … start thinking “ablative absolute”.

This is a Latin construction.  The term “ablative absolute” is just a label for this Latin construction, where they put the words together to indicate something not found in the bare words individually.  It’s just one of the bits of know-how that you need for Latin, and it’s really really common.

There are many other such bits of trickery.  Students are taught how to recognise them.  This stuff is what you memorise.

Now we have quite a few tools on the web for handling Grammar.  There is my own QuickLatin, Whitaker’s Words, and probably many more that I haven’t come across.  A “lexical parser” is not that uncommon.

But none of these signal these kinds of structures.

For last week or so I’ve taken Morwood’s Oxford Latin Grammar to bed with me, and I’ve been reading through the descriptions of Latin clauses and structures which make up the second half of the book.  It is very clear, to be sure.  But tired brains do not absorb this sort of thing very well, and most readers of this blog will have jobs and other tasks to attend to.  And … do we need to rote learn these things?  Truly?

It’s a UI or UX problem, in a way – User Interface or User Experience.  How could this information be presented to somebody with a line of Latin text in front of them?  If we hover over the individual words, we can have the grammar laid out for us alright, like this:

But how do we signal to the reader that “urbe capta” is an ablative absolute, and pop up some kind of info about how to handle them?

There are two problems here.  The first is how to detect the presence of such a construction.  I suspect that those familiar with algorithms will have ideas in mind already, perhaps about “fuzzy logic” or “AI” or whatever.

Then, once we recognise that this is, or might be, such a construction, how do we signal it to the user?

I’m not sure of the answer to either of these questions, to be honest.  But I’m thinking about it.  This information could be, and should  be, captured and condensed.  It needs to be indexed in a way that allows you to find it from the sentence, rather than in the way that grammars tend to present it.

Ideas are welcome!

A little-known museum in Rome – the Case Romane del Celio.

There is a museum in Rome of which I had never heard until today.  It’s called the “Case Romane del Celio”, whch means the “Roman houses on the Caelian” hill.

The museum is underneath the basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo – St John and St Paul – on the Caelian hill.  This was built in 398 over a Roman house that the two saints had lived in.  In 1887 there were excavations, and a series of Roman houses were discovered, dating from the 1st-4th centuries AD.  There are remarkable frescoes to be seen, such as these.  I found the pictures on the Wanted in Rome website:

Access is not from inside the basilica, but from the Clivo di Scauro.  This is itself a Roman arched street, not far from the Colosseum. The museum is open every day, I believe, “except Tuesday and Wednesday and can be visited from 10.00-13.00 and 15.00-18.00.”  The museum website is here.  There’s also a lot of useful information for visitors at this commercial site.  Here’s the entrance.

It’s actually really close to the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, as we can see from Google Maps:

I’ve just used Street View to walk down it, and, as a pedestrian, you can clearly walk straight across into it from the Palatine area, without bothering about that long dog-leg down to the Circus Maximus.  So you could start at the Arch of Constantine, walk down the street, and look out for the Clivo di Scauri on the left.

I’ve never been up on the Caelian hill.  But I can see that there is quite a bit of interesting stuff up there.  The next time that I am in Rome, I shall go and have a look!

Notae in the margins of Cassiodorus, “Expositio Psalmorum”

An  interesting volume has appeared this year, which unfortunately I have not seen, but that I learned about from Jesse Keskiaho on twitter.  The book is by Evina Steinová, based on her 2016 dissertation (online here, I now find), and now in a revised book form from Brepols here as Notam superponere studui : The Use of Annotation Symbols in the Early Middle Ages (2019).  I understand that it contains an interesting piece on a work by the 6th century statesman-turned-monk Cassiodorus.

Cassiodorus’ commentary on the Psalms, the Expositio Psalmorum (= Clavis Patrum Latinorum no. 900) is a long allegorical commentary based largely on Augustine.  So long a work was set forth in three manuscript volumes each containing the commentary on 50 psalms.  It was completed at the start of 548 and dedicated to Pope Vigilius; and then reworked between 560-70 with marginal “notae” or symbols, which indicate the type of content.[1]  He provided the key to these signs at the beginning of the work.

The Latin text is printed in the Patrologia Latina vol. 70.  A more modern edition by Adriaen was printed in the Corpus Christianorum 97-8 (1958), but Walsh states that it is merely a revision of the PL text, and full of mistakes.  There is an English translation by P.G. Walsh in the Ancient Christian Writers series (in three volumes 50, 51 and 52).  A new edition was intended by James W. Halporn, who published a list of the manuscripts in “The manuscripts of Cassiodorus’ ‘Expositio Psalmorum'” in Traditio 37 (1981), p.388-396 (JSTOR).  I’m unclear that any edition ever appeared, and Halporn died in 2011.  Discussion of the tradition of the text is in Richard N. Bailey, “Bede’s text of Cassiodorus’ Commentary on the Psalms”, JTS 34 (1983), 189-193.

The Patrologia Latina text, infuriatingly, omits the notae, and the introductory list.  Here is the page on which the praefatio ends, and the commentary text begins:

Inevitably the translation by Walsh from this text also omits the notae.

The marginal notae may be seen, however, in a 9th century manuscript now in the Bibliothèque Nationale Français in Paris, shelfmark BNF lat. 14491, originally in the abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris.  This is online here in an exceedingly clear microfilm copy (the download, sadly, is low resolution).  On folio 10, following the “praefatio”, there is a list of the symbols used and their meaning:

Isn’t this gorgeous?  RA = ‘rithmetic.  Mc = music… and a little star, an asterisk = astronomy.  This section appears between the “veniamus” at the end of the praefatio and the heading of the first section of the commentary.  Transcribing as best I can:

Diversas notas more maiorum certis locis aestimabimus effigiendas.  Has cum explanationibus suis subter adiuncximus.  Ut quicquid lector voluerit inquirere per similitudines earum, sine aliqua difficultate debeat invenire.  (We will find that various symbols need to be marked in certain places, according to the custom of the ancients.  We’ve added these with their explanations below.  If any reader wishes to search by using their appearance, they ought to find them without difficulty.)

Hoc in idiomatis. Id est propriis locutionibus legis divinae.   (idioms. i.e. the correct way of speaking of the divine law)
Hoc in dogmatibus. valde necessariis.  (doctrines.  Very necessary)
Hoc in diffinitionibus.  (definitions)
Hoc in schematibus.  (figures)
Hoc in ethimologiis.  (etymologies)
Hoc in interpraetatione nominum.  (the interpretation of names)
Hoc in arte rethorica. (the art of rhetoric)
Hoc in topicis.  (topics)
Hoc in syllogismis.  (syllogisms)
Hoc in arithmetica.  (arithmetic)
Hoc in geometrica. (geometry)
Hoc in musica. (music)
Hoc in astronomia. (astronomy)

Examples of the use of these notae/symbols appear in the same manuscript, starting on the page facing the list of symbols.

In the 10th century Bamburg manuscript, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Bibl.56 (online here) we have the first page with this:

I would have made this larger, but I could see no way to download the image; only warnings about the (non-existent) copyright claimed by the German state on the image.

The 9th century Karlsruhe manuscript, Aug. perg. 155, sadly has suffered damage:

Also online is British Library Additional 16962, also 9th century, which is indeed a volume of the work, but of the third volumes: psalms 101-150.

It’s very interesting to see such a scholarly help, I must say.

  1. [1]Halporn, “Mss”, p.388.