Did Aristocritus identify Zoroaster and Christ?

In a previous post here we discussed a medieval Christian Arabic collection of apocryphal oracles by pagan philosophers, predicting the coming of Christ.  Much of this material was discovered in 2007 by Andrew Criddle, who had a further suggestion relating to it, and what follows is his work.  I post it here because it should not be lost, and currently it survives only in an archive of a now defunct message forum.[1]

The saying with which we were concerned was one which attributed to Zoroaster a famous saying of Christ.  In the manuscript Mingana Syr. 481, it took this form:

Zoroaster the Magian said to his disciples in the Book of the Elements of Science:[3] Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, will remain in me and I in him.

Dr C. notes that this is rather like another apocryphal saying, attributed this time to Augustus, which is found in several places; in the Syriac language in Bar Hebraeus, and Dionysius bar Salibi; and in the Greek language a version of it appears in John Malalas, Chronicle, book 10, chapter 5, when Augustus consults the oracle at Delphi, and gets no reply.  Asking why, the priestess replies:

The Pythia made him the following reply, “A Hebrew child ruling as god over the blessed ones bids me abandon this abode and return to Hades. (232) So now depart from our leaders”.[2]

The oracle is also found in Ms. Mingana Syr. 481:

Augustus the wise said in the Book of Astrology: There must appear a Hebrew youth, who will be called Christ and is eternal in His essence. The Eternal will make a public appearance, having the lordly power in His hand. He will raise the dead and clean the lepers and loosen the mute tongues.

The use of pagan prophecies by Syriac writers – the Arabic is just a version of this – was studied by Sebastian Brock in a couple of articles.[3]  He believed that the various Syriac versions derived from Greek, probably translated more than once.

But Sebastian Brock also suggested that most of this “pagan oracles predicting Christ” material all goes back to a single Greek work.  This was composed around 500 AD, and had the title Theosophia.  The work was in 11 books.  The work is lost, but an excerpt is preserved in one Greek manuscript, known as the “Tübingen Theosophy”, and there are fragments in other later Greek collections based upon the Theosophia.[4]

None of the remains refer to Zoroaster.  But in the Tübingen Theosophy, there is the following remark about a now lost portion of the work.

In the fourth (or eleventh) [chapter] he mentions the oracles of a certain Hystaspes, (ChRHSEIS hUSTASPOU) who, as he said, was an extremely pious king of the Persians or Chaldeans and therefore received the revelation of the divine mysteries about the incarnation of the Savior.

A section devoted to “oracles” by a Persian is precisely where we might expect to find mention of Zoroaster.

This lost work, the Theosophia, may be the same as a work of that name by a certain Aristocritus, who is known only from a medieval Greek list of anathemas, written around 1000 AD, directed at Manichaeans.  This suggestion was first made by A Brinkmann, “Die Theosophie des Aristokritos”, in Rheinische Museum fur Philologie N F 51 (1896), p. 273-80.    Not every scholar has agreed apparently.

The list of anathemas that mentions Aristocritus is known as The Long Anathema.  The text is edited with a translation by Samuel Lieu.[5]  Here is the English (p.253):

(1468A) (l anathematize) also the book of Aristocritus, which he entitled Theosophy, in which he tries to demonstrate that Judaism, Paganism. Christianity and Manichaeism are one and the same doctrine, and so that what he says will appear plausible, he attacks Mani as evil.

But this work is itself derived from a recently 6th century work, anonymous but probably by Zacharias of Mitylene, known as the Seven Chapters.  It was found in 1977 by Marcel Richard on Mount Athos, in Ms. Vatopedianus 236.  Lieu edits and translates this (p.252):

In addition to all these I anathematize in the same way that most atheistic book of Aristocritus which he entitled Theosophy, through which he tries to demonstrate that Judaism, Paganism and Christianity and Manichaeism are one and the same doctrine, with no other ulterior motive than to make all men Manichaeans, as far as he can.   For indeed he, like Manichaeus, in it makes Zarades a God who appeared, as he himself says, among the Persians and calls him the sun and Our Lord Jesus Christ, even if for the sake of deceiving and ensnaring those who come across his book which it would be more appropriate to call his “Heretical infatuation” (theoblabeia) and at the same lime his “Derangement” (phrenoblabeia), he gives the appearance of upbraiding Manichaeaus.

Dr C. comments:

This clearly indicates that Aristocritus (whether or not really a Manichaean) regarded Zoroaster and Christ as the same divine being making it plausible that in his Theosophia he would attribute things to Zoroaster originally attributed to Christ.

This then may be the original source of our saying from the Mingana manuscripts.

Interesting idea!  My thanks to Andrew Criddle for this very learned suggestion.

  1. [1]Link here:  http://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/showthread6a92.html?t=216293&page=13
  2. [2]The Chronicle of John Malalas, Byzantina Australiensia 4, p.123
  3. [3]S. Brock, “Some Syriac Excerpts from Greek Collections of Pagan Prophecies”, Vigilae Christianae 38 (1984) pps 77-90 and “A Syriac collection of Prophecies of the Pagan Philosophers”, Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica XIV Leuven (1983). Reprinted in Studies in Syriac Christianity (1992).
  4. [4]See H Erbse, Fragmente griechischer Theosophien, Hamburg (1941), and Theosophorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Teubner (1995).
  5. [5]Samuel N. C. Lieu, Manichaeusm in Mesopotamia & the Roman East, Brill (1999).