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  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.
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
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); …
For some months I’ve been collecting bits and pieces. Mostly I have nothing much to add, but they shouldn’t be lost.
Cool 9th century manuscript online as PDF
Via Rick Brannan I learn that a downloadable PDF of the Greek-Latin St Gall 9th century manuscript of Paul’s letters is online and can be downloaded as a single PDF:
Note the link on this page where you can download a PDF of what appears to be the entire Codex Boernerianus. It is beautiful.
And so you can. It’s at the SLUB in Dresden here, where it has the shelfmark A.145.b. It also contains Sedulius Scottus, I gather.
Nice to see the interlinear, isn’t it?
Codex Trecensis of Tertullian online
A correspondent advised me that the Codex Trecensis of the works of Tertullian has appeared online in scanned microfilm form at the IRHT. Rubbish quality, but far better than nothing. The ms is here. De Resurrectione Carnis begins on 157r and ends on 194r. De Baptismo begins on folio 194r and ends on 200v. De Paenitentia begins on folio 200v.
Saints lives = Christian novels?
A review at BMCR by Elisabeth Schiffer of Stratis Papaioannou, Christian Novels from the ‘Menologion’ of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks medieval library, 45. Harvard University Press, 2017, caught my eye. This contains 6 lives from Metaphrastes collection.
Even though hagiographical texts are among the most frequently translated Byzantine sources, little effort has been made so far to translate parts of Symeon Metaphrastes’ Menologion. This is primarily due to the generally unfortunate editorial situation of these texts: They are transmitted relatively standardized, but in a vast number of liturgical manuscripts.
In addition to summarizing the status of research on Symeon’s rewriting enterprise, Papaioannou explains in his introduction why he calls the texts in focus “Christian novels.” It is not unproblematic to apply this modern term, as he himself states, but he decided to do so because of the fictionality of these narratives and because of their resemblances to the late antique Greek novel. When saying this, it is important to emphasize—as Papaioannou explicitly does—that these texts of novelistic character were not understood as such by their audience. On the contrary, the Byzantines regarded these texts as relating true stories, written for edification and liturgical purposes (see pp. xiv-xviii).
It’s an interesting review of a neglected area of scholarship where the tools for research – editions and translations – are not available.
Full-text of the Greek Sibylline Oracles online for free
Annette Y Reed broke the story on Twitter: it’s J. Geffcken, Die Oracula Sibyllina, Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1902, which has turned up at Archive.org here. A useful transcription, rather than the original book, is also online here.
All known mss in the Bodleian library – detailed in online catalogue
This is awesome – medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk “This catalogue provides descriptions of all known Western medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, and of medieval manuscripts in selected Oxford colleges (currently Christ Church).” Sharing ICYMI too.
How to respond to politically motivated persecution
Since the election of President Trump I have noted on Twitter a new form of anti-Christian posting. There has been an endless stream of anti-Christian jeering online, demanding “how dare you support Trump”? It is surreal to see how people who hate Christians suddenly have become expert theologians on what Jesus would do. Thankfully a certain Kurt Schlichter writes *Sigh* No, Being A Christian Does Not Require You Meekly Submit To Leftist Tyranny:
Everyone seems to want to tell Christians that they are obligated to give in. There’s always some IPA-loving hipster who writes video game reviews when he’s not sobbing alone in the dark because no one loves him tweeting “Oh, that’s real Christian!” whenever a conservative fights back. I know that when I need theological clarification, I seek out the militant atheist who thinks Christ was a socialist and believes that the Golden Rule is that Christians are never allowed to never offend anyone.
It’s a good article, and sadly necessary in these horribly politicised times. It’s worth remembering that, were times different, rightists would most certainly adopt the same lofty lecturing tone.
“If I fail to show concern for the sheep that strays, the sheep who are strong will think it’s nothing but a joke to stray and to become lost. I do desire outward gains–but I’m more concerned with inward losses” (Augustine of Hippo).
Queried as to the source, he wrote:
It’s from Sermon 46 by Augustine–the entire message is an outstanding exposition of what it means to be a shepherd of God’s people…. I translated the above from this. Here’s a good English translation as well.
That said, the VSA [Vatican Secret Archives] isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible. Of those 53 miles, just a few millimeters’ worth of pages have been scanned and made available online. Even fewer pages have been transcribed into computer text and made searchable. If you want to peruse anything else, you have to apply for special access, schlep all the way to Rome, and go through every page by hand.
But a new project could change all that. Known as In Codice Ratio, it uses a combination of artificial intelligence and optical-character-recognition (OCR) software to scour these neglected texts and make their transcripts available for the very first time.
They’ve found a way around the limitations of OCR by using stroke recognition instead of letter recognition. They open-sourced the manpower by getting students (who didn’t know Latin) to input sample data, and started getting results.
All early days, but … just imagine if we could really read the contents of our archives!
Kazakhstan abandons Cyrillic for Latin-based alphabet
The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant — and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan’s current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population — a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev’s iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it “ugly.” The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes.
The article at SlashDot instinctively opposed a change, which can only benefit every single Kazakhstani, by making a world of literature accessible. Ataturk did the same, and for the same reason.
But, as it turns out, Google provides a form where anyone can ask that a book scanned as part of Google Books be reviewed to determine if it’s in the public domain. And, despite internet companies sometimes earning a mediocre-at-best reputation for responding to user inquiries about free services, I’m happy to report that Google let me know within a week after filling out the form that the book would now be available for reading and download.
What does it mean to speak of an authorial/original/initial form of a Scriptural writing when faced with tremendous complexity in the actual data itself?
Back at ETC blog, Peter Gurry discusses this with Greg Lanier here.
Some of the difficulty, one senses, is because the interaction of the divine with an imperfect world is always inherently beyond our ability to understand. It requires revelation, which is not supplied in this case.
And with that, I think I’ve dealt with a bunch of interesting stories which didn’t deserve a separate post. Onward!
Back in 2014, I learned that the lost 4th century Latin commentary on the Gospels by Fortunatianus of Aquileia had been rediscovered by Lukas J. Dorfbauer! This was very wonderful news, and I wrote about it here. The exegesis follows the allegorical model common in Alexandria, rather than the more literalist format of Antioch.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard the good news that an English translation had been made by Hugh Houghton, and was being published by De Gruyter. This was good news, as the first translation of any ancient text is. However I assumed that this would only be accessible to researchers, and looking at the website did nothing to make me think otherwise.
But today I happened to see a tweet from the De Gruyter twitter account that the translation was available “open access”. Back I went to the site. And, after a mighty struggle, I found … that it is indeed available for download!
The trick, guys, is to look for the link on the left to “Content”, and click that. It then gives you a list of the sections of the book, each with a PDF.
Download it! Now!!
This is really excellent news, and we must all be grateful to Dr H., and also to De Gruyter for making this accessible to ordinary mortals.
The publisher’s PR men have been pushing the book to major newspapers, and accounts have appeared online from them. I think that it is right for me to say something about these.
It would be very easy to look down on some of the press coverage. The old saying is that there is no such thing as bad publicity (although in the age of Trump this theory is being tested severely, as is the trust of the public in the mainstream media). If people get the wrong idea, at least they get some idea. Does it matter if people who will never read a book get a mistaken idea? Probably not.
Some of the press reports have adopted a very stale “sensationalist” line: “This new discovery by [insert name here] rocks the foundations, yes, the foundations of Christianity!!! Just like the last one we reported singularly failed to do!!! But this time it’s real!!!”. I must confess that this type of reporting – always false – simply irritates the heck out me. It positively smells of the 1890s.
In this case the line is “This discovery proves the early Christians did not understand the bible literally, unlike those Christian scum of today”. The first such report that I saw was in the Daily Telegraph, by a certain Olivia Rudgard, online here. The heading screamed “‘Don’t take the Bible literally’ says scholar who brought to light earliest Latin analysis of the Gospels”; but the rather confused article does not substantiate this claim, and the journalist plainly knew little about early Christian exegesis. One feels sorry for Dr Houghton, who doubtless did his best. By “taking the bible literally”, the newspaper means “believe any of it”; which has nothing to do with the subject, but is how the ordinary reader will understand it. Other reports of the same sort appear in other newspapers.
A certain amount of spite must be involved in all this. The Telegraph would hardly report any early Islamic discovery in these terms, after all. But in the main it’s just a tired journalistic trope, for which Dr. H. is in no way responsible. A sensible response by Peter D. Williams appears here.
How should we respond to misrepresentations of this kind? I think there are a number of pitfalls to avoid.
What all of us want to see is the new discovery enter the mainstream, and get read. The most likely non-scholarly readers for a commentary on the gospels are the Christians. This is why the attempt to position the discovery, in the minds of the general public, as anti-Christian, is really rather poisonous. It poisons the well. It puts off readers. Almost nobody reads anti-Christian literature. No Christian wastes time on the “stunning discoveries” of liberal theologians.
So I think it is important to say that this discovery is not anti-Christian, and does NOT prove that the early Christians did not take the bible literally (i.e., believe it). The early Christians believed that the bible was the inspired word of God, just as modern Christians do. They understood it in various ways, just as we do today. They took it just as literally as we do, and for the same reasons. But they also sought “inner meanings”. We do not lack people seeking to do the same today, as anyone who has listened to attempts to explain the prophecies in the book of Daniel will know.
In the early church there was the idea that the bible could be understood as a story with an allegorical meaning. This idea is associated with the great name of Origen especially, and continued to be influential throughout antiquity. Whether correct or not, it could give some interesting insights into biblical passages.
For those who feel doubtful, we should remember that Origen’s own sermons on Ezekiel could be preached today, with minor modifications. There is not really such a great gap between these early Christians and ourselves.
So do read Fortunatianus. His interpretation is a commentary. It may be right or wrong; but it is not maliciously wrong.
And … thanks to De Gruyter for making it available online. And especial thanks to Hugh Houghton for undertaking the not inconsiderable task of making the first translation of an ancient text. Well done, both of you!
UPDATE: I misspelled the guy’s name! FortunAtianus, not FortunANtianus. Apologies!
We regularly say that the psalms with the prefix “of understanding” use this superscription to direct the listener to investigate carefully what has been said, as they need interpretation and explication, since every psalm with this prefix has dark sayings, riddles, and parables. This is indeed the case here, for we have the superscription, “of understanding, by Asaph” and immediately it says in the psalm, “I shall open my mouth in parables, I shall speak riddles as from the beginning.” (Ps. 77:2).
One must know that Matthew mentions this saying– writing about how the Savior spoke in parables, he said, “so that the passage may be fulfilled ‘I shall open my mouth in parables; I shall speak in riddles as of from the beginning’ or rather, ‘ <I shall declare things hidden> since the establishing of the world’. (1) Though Matthew paraphrased with those sorts of words what was said in this way here, there occurred a scribal error in the copies of the gospel, for it says, “so that what was said through the prophet Isaiah may be fulfilled, ‘I will open my mouth in parables’”.
It’s likely that one of the very first scribes found the text, “so that what was said through the prophet Asaph,” and supposed that it was an error because he did not realize that Asaph was a prophet. This caused him rashly to write “Isaiah” instead of “Asaph” because of his unfamiliarity with the prophet’s name.
And then he continues, with some very excellent thoughts about the scriptures, and how the devil attacks them, and uses them to attack us. On this, Alex Poulos comments:
There’s quite a bit that’s fascinating in this passage. Origen has a problem: his copies of Matthew attribute this passage to Isaiah, when it clearly comes from the psalms. His solution is text critical: he posits an emendation to change the name from Isaiah to Asaph. He even goes a step further and speculates on the reason for the change: a scribe didn’t realize who Asaph was, and substituted the name of a prophet he did know.
The situation in the mss is quite different. All of the early minuscules simply say “the prophet” without specifying a name, with one notable exception: Sinaiticus. It seems likely, however, that “Isaiah the prophet” was the reading in all of Origen’s manuscripts, as he has to resort to emendation. Not only that, he supposes that it was one of the very first scribes that made the mistake (τὶς τῶν ἀρχῆθεν γραφόντων). Perhaps the “Isaiah” reading was widespread in Caesarea in the 3rd century. Someone who knows more about the textual history of Matthew can no doubt elucidate this better than I. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that the error arose because of the formulaic nature of the clause. Matthew cites Isaiah again and again; it would be quite easy for a scribe to insert the name by accident where it doesn’t belong. As one who’s memorized portions of Matthew, I can say that keeping straight the various subtle changes from one “fulfillment formula” to the next is not easy.
But I won’t steal Alex’s thunder – read it all. It’s excellent stuff. I’ve saved a copy locally, and I doubt that I will be the only one.
This is the first fruits of Marina Molin Pradel’s marvellous 2012 discovery of a bunch of previously unknown homilies by Origen in Munich (Ms. Monacensis Graecus 314) and the excellent decision by Lorenzo Perone to publish quickly in 2015. Who can doubt that the words above are indeed the voice of Origen?
I think we must be grateful to Alex Poulos for sharing this – it is truly excellent stuff.
While I was thinking about Geza Vermes’ The Nativity, I realised that part of his difficulty with the text was his starting assumption that miracles did not happen. But this didn’t just affect the miraculous bits of the text. It actually led him into a strange wilderness of subjectivism, even with respect to non-miraculous events. The end result was a mess that rendered his book worthless as anything but a guide to its author’s beliefs and wishes.
That author grew up during a time when materialism was endemic in academia. Miracles did not happen. We are less certain of that, these days. But we might ask ourselves how we would deal with an ancient or medieval historical text that contained them, where we really didn’t believe that any of them were true.
Say that we had before us the biography of some Muslim holy man, or Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana. I think that all of us would be inclined to regard all the miracles in the text as fake; for such is the climate of our times, and perhaps our predisposition. Say that we did so regard them. How then do we deal with the text? How do we get at the useful content? What methods might we adopt?
Firstly, we might simply omit the miracles, or see if they could be related to some natural event of the time that would “explain” why contemporaries saw a miracle. We would adopt a minimal approach to the problem, and hold onto everything we could. The author of the work is not a modern writer, with reference textbooks and the internet to keep him straight, but a man who could do little more than collect what he was told, or what he saw. So we could comfortably say that some of his sources were storytellers, and that he lacked the judgement to recognise them. Of course some of the non-miraculous material will be fiction too. Even an eyewitness will be likely to include material from others. St Adomnan wrote the Life of St Columba and knew the man personally. But Adomnan continued to collect material and augment the work throughout his life. Not everything in that life is from personal knowledge.
But we could accept everything which we don’t have positive evidence against, and which is not miraculous. That is a workable position.
Secondly we might simply reject the work in toto, as a piece of fiction. If it contains miracles, everything in it is unreliable.
Now that’s fine, but presumably there is a reason why we are reading this thing at all. We need historical data. Something is causing us to read this text.
The difficulty with this approach becomes acute when you find clear references to historical events and personages, which are probable, attractive, and hard to resist including. In the latter case it will be very hard to justify using any material, and very hard to justify not doing so. Which inevitably means that we will end up with the third way.
And the third way? Well, there isn’t one. Or rather, there isn’t one that can be operated objectively. The third way is to pick and choose what suits you, assert how excellent your own judgement is (and that of your allies, if you have started a school) and just blame the poor quality of the author as an excuse for ignoring inconvenient but non-miraculous material. This approach is adopted by nearly all polemicists. Indeed we saw Vermes do just this in The Nativity, where he rejected all sorts of stuff – in Matthew and Luke – that he didn’t like, while using the Protevangelium of James without even a whisper of critical warning. But the method leads to the outcome. It’s just fiction.
Anyone seeking objectivity will inevitably try to avoid this mess of subjectivism. He will seek to have some objective reason for his choice, some principle that has evidence behind it. There is a very good reason why some writers go for the first option; that it is consistent. There seems no satisfactory way, unfortunately, to do anything else. The alternative is simply subjectivism.
Once we have a text, produced by the first method, I think we probably need to treat it with the same respect that we would any other ancient source. It will of course contain errors and mistakes, as every work of man does. But we ought to treat our output as an artefact, as something that actually exists. Rushing on, rushing to point out other failures, is where we are liable to come unstuck. Producing a text which is non-miraculous is one step. After that, we can listen to it, and see what if anything it has to teach us. Let’s keep the two stages very distinct.
The presence of Seneca’s brother, Gallio, in Corinth, during the period when Acts 18:12-17 refers to him, is attested by an inscription. The French excavators in the late 19th century found vast numbers of fragments, and Emile Bourguet in 1905 published a group, which contained a letter of Claudius, mentioning Gallio as proconsul.
However, floating in the back of my mind is the idea that, prior to this publication becoming known, some scholars questioned whether Acts was in fact in error at this point, and whether Gallio was ever in Corinth. I find this idea appears, without reference, in Anthony Thistleton, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary (2011), p.25, where the caption reads:
Prior to 1905 there was some scepticism about this Gallio allusion in Acts, but in 1905 four fragments of a letter of the Emperor Claudius relating to Lucius Junius Gallio were discovered. They were published in 1913.
The details of publication are not in fact accurate – Bourguet certainly printed them in 1905, and they were discovered earlier -, but it does confirm that the idea of a previous scepticism is not a figment of my own imagination. The same author wrote a much longer commentary in 2000, which mentions Gallio on p.29-32; but does not mention the scepticism.
Is this true? Or is it just an urban legend?
I have spent much of the last 24 hours searching older materials online for someone to express this scepticism, but I have drawn a complete blank. Even F.C. Baur in his Paulus seems to accept that the apostle appeared before Gallio in Corinth.
I am no expert on NT criticism. If any reader of this blog can identify a reference to some scholar questioning whether Gallio was there, I would be grateful to be told. The comments are open!
For my sins, which are clearly far more substantial than I had realised, I agreed last week to read through and comment on Geza Vermes’ book The Nativity: History and Legend, which I should otherwise never have read. Since it is directed to the educated layman, this educated layman feels free to offer his opinion of it.
Anyway I’ve written the desired review, so I may as well make it available here:
I wasn’t very impressed. The sort of book that consists of debunking the bible never seems like more than a piece of spite to me, whatever it professes. Why write it otherwise?
Indeed Vermes even goes so far as to sneer at the popular celebrations of Christmas. That piece of cheek towards those who paid his salary would have brought down upon him the wrath of the tabloids, had any of them bothered to read it. I’ve never forgotten seeing one of them yell on the front page “This child taught Christmas joy is evil!”, attacking some poor humble little sect that didn’t celebrate Christmas.
It’s always best to write about your enthusiasms. I am deeply glad that I am not a book critic! It must be a profession that tends to make you sneery.
But writing all this did give me a chance to think about how to deal objectively with evidently legendary or miraculous passages in historical texts in general. I will try to write a post about this.
The Catholic Encyclopedia contains the following paragraph:
The martyrdom [of St Paul] took place towards the end of the reign of Nero, in the twelfth year (St. Epiphanius), the thirteenth (Euthalius), or the fourteenth (St. Jerome).
But who is this “Euthalius”?
In medieval Greek bible manuscripts, there is a mass of commentary material. For instance, in the margins are explanatory comments, made up of chains (catenae) of quotations from the fathers.
But there is also a bunch of material of various types for the following three chunks of the New Testament; first, the letters of Paul, then Acts, and then the letters of the other apostles. This appears in manuscripts which are generally fairly late.
There is a prologue for each of these three “chunks”, and the prologue usually has a title. In each case, the title usually attributes the prologue to a certain Euthalius. In some manuscripts he is referred to in the title as “the deacon”; in other manuscripts, as “bishop of Sulca”, although this bishopric is not known.
Nothing is known for certain of this Euthalius. The prologues refer to the Chronicle of Eusebius, which means that Euthalius is later than that – perhaps much later. Any date from the end of the 4th century onwards is possible. There is a confession of faith by a much later Euthalius of Sulca, but it seems unlikely that this is the same man.
The prologue to the letters of Paul falls into three sections, the first and last being a life of St Paul. It is to this prologue that the Catholic Encyclopedia refers.
As with all commentary material, the material is made up of all sorts of things, present in different amounts in different manuscripts.
Willard considered that there are 4 different types of material, all perhaps by this Euthalius. The major pieces consist of:
The three prologues
“Lesson lists”, or “large sections” – which divide the bible text (except for the Gospels and Revelation) up into 57 readings suitable for church. These are the “Euthalian sections”, and were generally adopted in the Greek church. There is also a division of the books into short stichoi or versus (i.e. “lines”) of regular length.
Quotation lists – lists of Old Testament quotations in the bible text
Chapter lists – a list of chapter headings, kephalaia-titloi, unnumbered, which taken together indicate the contents of the letter. They do not correspond to the modern chapter divisions.
In addition there is other material, which has little claim to be considered by the same author as the prologues. This includes a Martyrium Pauli; a collection of argumenta / hypotheses, i.e. summaries of the content of each book; some miscellaneous pieces, and, at the end of some manuscripts, notably Codex H 015, a colophon. This reads as follows:
I wrote and edited this volume of Paul the Apostle, arranging it in verses according to my abilities, so that the text of our brothers may be clearly written and easy to understand, and I ask all of them for forgiveness for my audacity, that I may receive acceptance through prayer for my [work (?)].
The book was compared with a copy in the library of Caesarea, written with the hand of the holy Pamphilus.
Address: I am the Coronis, teacher of the divine doctrine. If you lend me to anyone, you should get a receipt, because borrowers are evil.
Answer: I keep you as a treasure of spiritual blessings, one which is longed for by all men, combined from many parts and adorned with writing in various colors. In truth, I will not rashly give you to anyone, nor again will I grudge the […]
The same colophon is found in the 12th century minuscule 88, where the first word is “Evagrius”. It is possible that the erased first line of Ms. 015 began likewise. Some scholars have supposed that Euthalius was really this Evagrius.
For lack of any better collective term, all this non-catena material tends to be referred to as the “Euthalian apparatus” for these books of the bible. The material also exists, naturally, in the languages into which the medieval Greek New Testament was translated, namely Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian, and Slavonic; although there seems to be no more than the list of chapter headings in Latin.
The “Euthalius” material was first edited by itself by L. A. Zacagni in 1698. His edition is conveniently reprinted by Migne in the Patrologia Graeca 85, columns 627-790. Far more useful to most of us is an English translation and commentary, with von Soden’s text, which has been published recently by Blomqvist. There is an excellent 2009 study by Willard, based on a 1970 thesis, which includes a well-organised survey of all the material and of more than 400 manuscripts. At Google Books there is a preview of an article by Dahl which seems to cover some of the discussion. There is very extensive discussion of the material, much of it from before 1914, which can be referenced from Blomqvist and Willard.
This material is perhaps mainly of specialist interest. Euthalius’ comments on Paul can only be derivative. The text of his apparatus may preserve variant readings of the bible. The development of chapter divisions must have been influenced by this work, and reflects the rise and progress of sections and chapter divisions. But all the same, it is useful to know about this work.
Let us end by hearing something from the author. Few indeed will have access to Blomqvist’s invaluable volume. So perhaps it would be useful for readers to end with most of his translation of the prologue to the letters of Paul (PG 85, cols. 693-713). I have omitted the summary of the contents of the letters in the middle. The statement, to which the Catholic Encyclopedia referred, is at the end, and I have placed it in bold.
* * * *
Prologue by the Deacon Euthalius, prefixed to the Book of the Letters of Paul the Apostle
Admiring your zealous love of learning, most honored father, I have obeyed your authority and your persuasive powers, and set out through a certain narrow strait and passage, that of scholarship, to write this prologue about the deeds of Paul. In fear of being disobedient, I promised a work far beyond my faculties, because I knew what is said in the Proverbs, that ‘the disobedient son shall perish’, while the obedient will be exempted. But come, offer your prayers for me, and, as though you were furnishing me with steering oars on both sides, stretch out your hands to God, just like the great Moses himself once extended his hands when he gave aid to Israel, drawn up for battle. Pray that even I may escape the rising winds of the air, and that keeping the course straight till the end, I may bring for you the vessel of my work into a calm harbor.
Beginning now this speech, I will describe what contains the truth. Paul the Apostle was a Hebrew by race, of the tribe of Benjamin, belonging to the party of the Pharisees, educated in the Law of Moses by Gamaliel, the faithful teacher.
Further, he lived in Tarsus, the eye-stone of Cilicia, persecuting and seeking to destroy the Church of God. For this very reason, he was present at the slaughter of Stephen, the apostle and the martyr, and he was also then taking part in the killing, as he received the mantles of all those who stoned him, to watch over them so that he could use the hands of all to kill. And he was seen everywhere as the most prominent among the rioters, eager to destroy the elect of the Church. Many and grave were the deeds that he committed against the Church, and he left nothing behind in excessive fury, because in this he believed he was acting piously and that he was setting the greatest things right, as both he himself confesses in his letters, and as Luke tells us in his second book. For not only did he in the beginning hate and turn away from the message of truth, like most Jews did, but he now nourished in himself an anger even greater than that of the whole people. For when he saw the radiance of the message and the blossoming word of truth growing stronger than the Jewish teaching, suffering because of this, and considering the greatest things offended as their teaching was being overthrown, he created in himself great zeal and eagerness directed against the nurslings of the Church, that they either should renounce the true teaching or suffer just punishment for their faith in Christ.
And when Paul at that time had received letters from the priests and the teachers to the Jews in Damascus, he set out, roaring like a violent river, thinking he would dash against the disciples in Damascus from all sides and send them into the pit of perdition. Since the Lord knew that he had somehow acquired his unjust fury from a just intention, He appeared to him in the middle of the road, and with the intensity of the light, He took away his sight. And he changed to such a degree that he who used to contrive all terrible things against the Church and planned to wipe out all the disciples, suddenly, right there, was considered His beloved and a most faithful man. For the enemy became straightaway a follower of Jesus, and having cast off his furious condition, he advanced to become an entrusted delegate, he confessed his faith in Christ and was sent to a certain Ananias, a disciple in Damascus. When God, the examiner of truth, saw that he was acting prudently and had become a better man who had left the evil ones behind, He declared that he should be exempted from punishment in no other way than this. So he went to Ananias and was baptised, he shared in unspeakable mysteries and became a remarkable defender and champion of the message.
And entrusted with a new message from God, he received a newer way to salvation. The blessed Paul changed so much that he even changed his name, having become true to his new name – for Saul indeed used to shake the entire church, but Paul had now ceased to persecute and destroy the disciples of Christ. Thus he transformed his zeal into the utmost piety, strengthening the pious disciples with letters if he sometimes happened to be absent, in order that they for the future might acquire the teaching not only through his deeds, but also through his words, and, being strengthened by both, they might carry an unshakeable stronghold of piety within their souls.
After some time, Paul again went up to Jerusalem, to see Peter. Then they also divided the whole world between them, and after Paul received the part of the Gentiles, as it befell Peter to teach the Jewish people, he traversed many cities and many lands, and he almost filled all of Illyricum with the teachings of faith in Christ. Truly, he suffered and endured countless horrors for the sake of his belief in Christ, and he went through many and various dangers for the sake of the Gospel, as he himself recounts, but, having struggled hard for faith, he vanquished them all. For at that time, God still wanted Paul, and the unspeakable plan and decision of the Lord kept him living among men until he had proclaimed the Gospel to all nations.
And in the late hour, Paul again goes up to Jerusalem to visit the saints there and to help the poor. In the meantime, sedition took hold of the city, and the people were in a great uproar, as the Jews were rousing the crowd, because they considered it a terrible and heavy burden to be accused by the man who once protected them and shared their fury, and they were eager to kill him. But soon the chief captain Lysias took him away and sent him with military escort to the ruler in Caesarea. They arrested him and brought him to the governor. Felix was his name. When Paul realized that the Jews were plotting against him, he soon appealed to the emperor before the tribunal. His case was suspended, and the plot that the Jews had prepared against him came to nothing. And now the authorities sent him to the emperor in Rome, and there he proved himself worthy in the same struggles and he worked hard for the same prizes. Finally, he even departed from life for the sake of the doctrines of truth, as he considered life with Christ better than this life, which leads to death. For when the emperor Nero shortly afterwards wanted to lead him out of this life, he in fact bestowed true and genuine life upon him, and he made the man he took from earth a citizen of the heavens. So there the blessed Paul, having fought the good fight, as he says himself, received the crown of the holy and victorious martyrs of Christ.
The Romans, having enclosed his remains in the most beautiful kingly buildings, attend a festival to his memory once a year, on the third day before the calends of July, on the fifth day of the month Panemos, celebrating his martyrdom.
[There then follows a summary of the contents of the 14 letters]
Thus, the book as a whole includes every aspect of proper social conduct arranged according to progress.
So far, let this be said about them as described in our epitome. But in the following, we will prefix to each letter a short exposition of the chapters, worked out by one of the wisest of our fathers, a Christ lover. Not only that, but by going over the reading of the text we have with scholarly method indicated briefly the accepted list of the divine testimonies, and the most accurate division of the readings. This we will present just after this prologue.
I also considered it necessary to indicate briefly the period of time covered by the preaching of Paul, by making a summary based on the chronological tables of Eusebius, the disciple of Pamphilus.
When I get the book in my hand and open it, I find that the passion of our Savior, His resurrection on the third day, and the assumption of Christ back to heaven happened in the eighteenth year of the emperor Tiberius. And I saw there that the apostles after a few days elected the well-named Stephen and his companions to serve as deacons. I learn that after this there was a huge insurrection among the Jews, as we have already stated, and that Stephen then fought his fight, while Paul indeed approved of the murder. Soon he met the leaders of the Jews and received letters to the Jews in Damascus against the disciples. But in the middle of his journey the call came to him from God. This was a short time before the end of the year. When the nineteenth year of the emperor Tiberius began, Paul began to preach the message, the story tells, and he traversed the whole world preaching faith in Christ, until the thirteenth year of the emperor Claudius, when Felix was governor in Judaea. When Paul was accused by the Jews, he defended himself before him. But he kept the Apostle for two years in the prison of Caesarea. When Porcius Festus succeeded him in office, he soon wanted to reopen his case, thus presenting a great favor to the Jews. Then, as the blessed one understood that he could not escape the treachery unless he appealed to the emperor, he did so before the tribunal and was sent to emperor Nero in Rome. With him he had Aristarchus, whom he rightly called his fellow prisoner somewhere in the letters, and Luke, who consigned the acts of the apostles to writing. So there, in the city of the Romans, Paul was again kept under guard for two whole years.
Luke tells the story up to this point in the Acts of the Apostles, as this was the time when he finished his book. Since he had no knowledge then of what happened later, he did not include his martyrdom, as Luke and Aristarchus then left him and went away. But Eusebius, who has accurately described the following period, has told us also the story of his martyrdom in the second book of his History of the Church.
He says that Paul lived as a free man, and he confirms that he preached the word of God, no one preventing him. It is said that Paul, having defended himself before Nero, was sent from the emperor as a free man to serve the message, and that he preached the gospel for ten more years. When Nero reached the height of his madness, he killed Agrippina, his own mother, and also his father’s sister, his own wife Octavia and countless other relatives. After that, he instigated a general persecution of the Christians. And thus, he was roused to bring slaughter upon the apostles. Then, having called Paul to him, he once again placed him before the tribunal. Luke was with him also this time. Then it happened, in the thirty-sixth year after the passion of our Savior, in the thirteenth year of Nero, that Paul died as a martyr by having his head cut off by the sword.
From the nineteenth year of the emperor Tiberius, when he began to preach the gospel, till his twenty-second year, there are four years, and the years of Gaius are also four, but the years of Claudius are a little less than fourteen. His successor, Nero, killed the Apostle in the thirteenth year of his reign. Paul the Apostle says this about his first defense, writing to Timothy: ‘At my first defense no one stood by my side; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.’ By this he means Nero. He says this about his second defense, in which his martyrdom was completed: ‘Fulfill your good ministry. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has drawn near.’ Shortly after this, he writes that Luke is with him again: ‘Luke, who is with me, greets you’. The entire period of Paul’s preaching is twenty-one years, another two years he spent in prison in Caesarea. In addition, he was again two years in Rome, and the last years amount to ten. Thus, all the years from his calling until his perfection number thirty-five.
But let no one rebuke me for this and reject the events following Acts, saying that Luke does not confirm them. To this a prudent man would respond: ‘My good friend, if you do not accept the period following Acts, show me,’ he would say, ‘where Luke tells the story of the martyrdom of Paul!’ For if Luke had told us about the martyrdom and estimated Paul’s stay in Rome to be only these two years, there would be no need for us to elaborate the chronology. But since he does not tell us about the martyrdom, as it happened much later than the time he covers in his book, trust for the remainder the chronicler Eusebius, and accept his history with benevolence, as a friend. For the disciples of Christ, receiving for their edification the teachings and traditions of the fathers with obedience and faith, are made heirs of the heavenly kingdom.
Article on St Paul; I first encountered the statement second hand in the strange hoax volume, “King Jesus: King of Judaea and Prince of Rome” by Ralph Ellis, p.212, which read: “It is said that his death took place in the 12th, 13th or 14th year of Nero, depending on whether you read St. Epiphanius, Euthalius or St. Jerome, which translates as either AD 66, 67 or 68.” But this unreferenced statement seems to be derived from the Catholic Encyclopedia article.↩
All this from chapter 12 of Willard’s monograph.↩
See Jack Finegan, Encountering New Testament Manuscripts, Eerdmans (1980) p.45, online here.↩
There is more information online in the old Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography article here.↩
Again see the old Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography article here; and this article, E M Thompson, Handbook of Greek and Latin paleography, chapter 6, on στίχοι.↩
An article on the Slavonic by W. Veder, “The Slavonic Translation of the Euthalian Apparatus to the Acts and Epistles”, is here.↩
Vemund Blomqvist, Euthalian Traditions: Text, Translation and Commentary, De Gruyter (2012).↩
Louis Charles Willard, A Critical Study of the Euthalian Apparatus, De Gruyter (2009). Google Books preview here. This uses the Aland numbers, rather than the shelfmarks, to refer to the manuscripts. For some reason Willard left the Greek untranslated, which means that only those with reasonable Greek can follow some of the argument.↩
N.A. Dahl, “The ‘Euthalian apparatus’ and the affiliated ‘argumenta'”, in: Studies in Ephesians, Mohr Siebeck (2000), p.231-278. Dahl is mainly concerned with mentions in the prologue of an “edition” of the Corpus Paulinum, the collection of Paul’s letters. I was unable to access more than a selection of pages.↩
It has been a while, but I have the majority of ancient church writings located, digitized, organized, and analyzed for the Gift of Tongues Project. Of course, there is always more to do, but a sound framework is in place. Here is the actual source texts along with some other apparatus.
This is a new website, and a useful resource. While the Charismatic movement of the 1980s has faded rather, the basic idea – just what do the early Christians say about the gift of tongues – is a subject that will appeal to many.
Via Haaretz (beware incredible amounts of popups, popunders and other junk), an excellent article gives us the following information:
Divers find unexpected Roman inscription from the eve of Bar-Kochba Revolt – A statue base from 1,900 years ago found at Dor survived shellfish and seawater, and to the archaeologists’ shock, revealed a previously unknown governor of Judea.
An underwater survey conducted by divers off Tel Dor, on the Mediterranean Sea, yielded an astonishing find: a rare Roman inscription mentioning the province of Judea – and the name of a previously unknown Roman governor, who ruled the province shortly before the Bar-Kochba Revolt.
Historians had thought that based on Roman records, the leaders Rome imposed on its provinces were all known.
The rock with the 1,900-year-old inscription was exposed by a storm on the seabed at a depth of just 1.5 meters in the bay of Dor. The town had been a thriving port in Roman times that even minted its own coins, which proudly proclaimed the city to be “Ruler of the Seas”.
Found by Haifa University archaeologists surveying the remains of the ancient Roman harbor at Dor in January 2016, the rock, 70 by 65 centimeters in size, was partly covered in sea creatures when it was found.
The statue base found on the seabed at Dor is only the second known mention of the province of Judea in Roman inscription. The other is the “Pontius Pilate stone” dating to around 100 years earlier. Discovered by archaeologists in 1961 at the ancient theater in Caesarea, it is a rare piece of solid evidence mentioning Pilate, prefect of Judea, by name.
The newly found inscription, carved on the stone in Greek, is missing a part, but is thought to have originally read: “The City of Dor honors Marcus Paccius, son of Publius, Silvanus Quintus Coredius Gallus Gargilius Antiquus, governor of the province of Judea, as well as […] of the province of Syria, and patron of the city of Dor.”
The name Gargilius Antiquus had been known from another inscription previously found in Dor – as the governor of a province whose name was missing from that inscription. So far, reconstructions have suggested either Syria or Syria-Palaestina as the province he was governing. Dr. Gil Gambash, head of the Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies, and Yasur-Landau were excited to read on the new inscription that Gargilius Antiquus was in fact the governor of Judea, shortly before the Bar Kochba Revolt.
The inscription outing Gargilius Antiquus was apparently the base of a statue, going by the tell-tale marks of small feet incretions on its top.
The putative statue has not been found, but it could plausibly have been of Gargilius Antiquus himself, who was not only the province’s governor but also a patron of Dor, as the inscription states.
During Israel’s War of Independence, in 1948, another statue base fragment was found at the east gate of the ancient city of Dor, with writing that reads: “Honored Marcus Paccius, son of Publius…Silvanus Quintus Coredius Gallus Gargilius Antiquus, imperial governor with Praetorian rank of the province Syria Palaestina”.
Clearly the Roman emperor, in this case Hadrian, had appointed Gargilius Antiquus as governor of the province of Judea, somewhere between 120 – 130 C.E. (perhaps around 123 C.E., succeeding Cosonius Gallus). …
(I was going to look up the other inscription, and compile the data; but I see that David E. Graves has already done this, with photographs and references, in his fine article here.)
This sort of discovery should be a constant reminder to us of a basic principle of archaeology. Absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence. We must never use lack of archaeological evidence as a reason to ignore literary evidence. Only positive archaeological evidence may be used to confute an ancient mistake.
Our knowledge of the sequence of ancient officials is not comprehensive, however impressive it may look in a nice printed modern edition.
Many of these lists are compiled by guesswork. We know how long a normal appointment would be; we have a number of people which seems about the right number in the right order; and there is suddenly “no room” for another one.
But in reality people are people. Governors are called home unexpectedly for personal or political reasons, and a stand-in holds their post for an irregular period of time until another can be sent out.
It is a terrible anachronism to imagine the Roman empire as being like a modern state. It was not. Communications and travel were slow and difficult, as it was in Europe until comparatively recently. Administration was loose. Law could be, and was, enforced capriciously. We can never say with confidence that such-and-such could never happen; only that with our limited knowledge, we do not think it accords with what we already know.
At this Christmas season, many of us will think of Luke 2:1-2:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
How much ink has been spilt, to show that Luke – and hence the bible! – is wrong at this point; or, alternatively, that it is not. The choice made, in this as other political or religious matters, depends in both cases all too often on the prejudices of those writing.
This stone, hoisted out of the sea, is a reminder that we know much, much less than we think we do. Only one stone records Pontius Pilate’s governorship. Only one stone records Gargilius Antiquus’ tenure.
Nothing is gained by pretending knowledge that we do not have; or arguing from what we do not know. Five minutes in a time machine would undoubtedly shatter our preconceptions of the ancient world in a million ways.
When the data is contradictory, we may decide to discard bits of it, especially when it fits our modern eyes. But this we must avoid. Contradictory data from antiquity always, always means that we have a little window into a situation which is more complex than the sources that have reached us reveal. Let us hold lightly to our theories.