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.
These are tremendously useful, and one can only congratulate the publishers, Peeters, and the Pontifical Institute in Rome, respectively. These highly specialist tomes now stand a chance of being read!
A few months ago I heard from John Raffan, who was industriously working on a translation of the immense Commentary on the Psalms by the 12th century Byzantine writer, Euthymius Zigabenus (or Zigadenus). He had posted on his Academia.edu page a draft of the commentary for Psalms 1-75.
Today I hear from him that he has now posted a text and translation of the complete commentary in the same place. It is here.
This is an immensely worthwhile thing to do, which must have required real grit and determination. Euthymius Zigabenus is a name that crops up in various places in discussion of biblical interpretation. It is very useful indeed, therefore, to have an edition, and still more a freely available translation, of his work on the Psalms. Thank you!
UPDATE: I had not known at the time of posting that in fact Dr Raffan has made the first complete edition of the Greek text. He writes:
“I do not wish to make inflated claims for my edition of the Psalter Commentary, but I think it is more of a ‘first complete edition’ than a ‘fresh edition’. The edition reprinted in Migne 128 was incomplete (it did not include the commentary on the Biblical Canticles) and also thoroughly corrupt, being based on a single manuscript with lacunae and interpolations.
“My prime source for the edition is the 12th century ms. from the Moscow Synodal Library (gr. 195), but this has been collated with a series of other early manuscripts from Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale), London (British Library), Constantinople (Old Seraglio Library), Sinai (Saint Catherine’s Monastery Library), Florence (Laurenziana Library) and Munich (Bavarian State Library), many of which are now available on the internet in digital form. I have barely made any use of the Migne edition, which I found virtually unusable. On the top left corner of the Greek pages I have marked the folio numbers of the Moscow ms. and I also have marked the page breaks in the text. I will need to present all this information in an introduction, but I thought is would be helpful to make the text available even before I have completed writing the introduction.
“The mss. from Moscow, the British Library and Munich also contain the Dogmatic Anthology in varying states of incompleteness.”
Many thanks indeed for this – my mistake!
Euthymius is perhaps best known for his comment on the passage in John’s gospel, in his Commentary on the Four Gospels (PG129, col. 1280 C-D), about the woman taken in adultery, that it isn’t found in the best copies of his day, or is obelised.I discussed this myself in 2009 here. I posted a version of the translation into Wikipedia – it seems that I wrote the original version of that article – and this has circulated as follows:
But it is necessary to know that the things which are found from this place to that where it is said: Therefore Jesus again spoke of these things saying, I am the light of the world: in the more exact copies, these are either not found, or marked with an obelus, because they seem illegitimate and added. And the argument for this is because Chrysostom makes no mention anywhere of this; but for us we must also declare that this, because it is not without usefulness, is the chapter on the woman taken in adultery, which is placed between these.
I hope that we will get more of his works in English soon! Dr Raffan has stated his intention to work on the Dogmatic Anthology next. I asked about this, and he wrote:
The Dogmatic Anthology is not to be identified with the Dogmatic Panoply, which is indeed an anti-heretical work and perhaps the most widely-known of the works by Zigabenus, since it is one of the main sources for the Bogomil heresy. The Dogmatic Panoply was published in the early 18th century and reprinted as volume 130 of Migne’s Patrologia Graeca.
In the wake of the Bogomil debacle, Zigabenus was commanded by the Emperor Alexios Comnenos produce the Dogmatic Panoply to provide a compendium and refutation of all heresies. In her Alexiad, Anna Comnena states that Zigadenus was chosen by her father for this task because, in addition to his skill as a Grammarian and his prowess in Rhetoric, he ‘was unrivalled in his knowledge of doctrine’. His ‘grammatical’ and ‘rhetorical’ credentials are evidenced by his scriptural commentaries (on the Gospels, the Psalms and the Pauline Epistles), but the evidence for his unrivalled knowledge of doctrine has not hitherto been found.
A number of the mss. of the Psalter commentary, however, also include a Dogmatic Anthology, which has been described by cataloguers as ‘extracts from the Dogmatic Panoply’, and has never been published. I believe, however, that this Anthology predates the Dogmatic Panoply and explains Zigabenus’ reputation for doctrinal competence and hence his invitation to produce the larger work, which incorporates most of this earlier Anthology. The Dogmatic Anthology thus provides a link between the earlier tradition of Dogmatic Florilegia, as found in the well-known Doctrina Patrum, and the various ‘Panoplies’ that followed the work promoted by the Emperor Alexios. The Anthology displays Zigabenus’ skill in paraphrasing his beloved Chrysostomos and also later writers such as Photios.
Great to see new ground being broken!
NOTE: 11/6/16. I have updated this post with additional information supplied by Dr Raffan, for which I am very grateful.
I have written a couple of times before about the collapse in confidence in the New International Version (NIV) of the bible. This happened after Zondervan, the publishers, decided to revise it to be “gender neutral.” As I wrote in my last such post:
… “gender neutrality” is not a principle of text criticism, nor of biblical theology, but a principle of the modern political movement referred to as “political correctness”. So the publisher has acted to corrupt the translation in the interests of a modern political lobby – an incredible thing to do.
It is now the 50th anniversary of the publication of the NIV. It is, of course, a sad anniversary, considering what has happened. Zondervan have been trying to boost the “translation” by having a website, thenivbible.com, which is of course their right. The site is conspicuously silent about the controversy, I note, which is not so acceptable.
They have also, even less forgiveably, employed a PR industry firm to pester bloggers.
A few months ago I received a communication from a PR flack, via my contact form. The message professed to be all excited about how wonderful my site was, and then seamlessly went on to say how I might like to engage with their new site, etc etc.
In other words, they sent me a spam email. The content suggested to me that they had mined the lists of top 50 biblioblogs, and spammed the lot. I deleted it, and thought no more of it.
Today I received another one, from the same PR flack, with the same dishonest message, professing again to be giving feedback and actually trying to get me to visit etc that sad old website. I must confess to feeling contempt for such attempts to gain my support by such threadbare flattery.
I fear that Dante would have assigned an imaginative fate, for those who brought this about, in the Inferno. Perhaps he would have depicted them being endlessly sodomized by (gender neutral!) demons. But then I am less imaginative than the Florentine master.
John Litteral writes to tell me that a complete translation of Cramer’s catena-commentary on Galatians has been made by Bill Berg, and is available at a trivial price ($12)on Amazon here (US) and here (UK).
Some will be unaware of what a catena is. The medieval church created its bible commentaries by stringing together chains of quotations from the fathers. These chain-commentaries are known today as catenas (from the Latin for chain). These often reference now lost works, and so are of value as a source for lost early Christian commentary on scripture. They tend to be found in the margins of Greek bible manuscripts; but sometimes standalone. The author of each excerpt is indicated by an abbreviation at the start.
It’s pretty hard to work with the catenas. The text is often corrupt, the author marks even more often corrupt, and the editions are all old – sometimes very old – and difficult to access. So … scholars have ducked the task of producing modern editions.
In the 19th century John Cramer published a set of catenas on all the books of the New Testament, in eight volumes. Bill Berg has attacked the catena on Galatians.
The authors cited in this catena include John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Severian of Gabala, among others.
So … if ancient biblical commentary is your thing, pick up a copy. It should certainly encourage work on this subject!
A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 — is set to be published. …
This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy.
Some sensible words of caution are here; and here at ETC, where it is suggested that the article at Live Science may be entirely derived from some public presentations. There has also been some curious snarking from one or two papyrologists, who are not involved in the discovery, presumably out of sour grapes.
Is this a genuine discovery? Who knows? But I have some concerns about all this, even based on the story as we have it.
Mark’s gospel was completed ca. 70 AD, in Alexandria, according to the ancient literary sources, and to me there seems no pressing reason to suppose that they are wrong. So it is possible, in principle, that a piece of an early copy could be found in waste papyrus in Egypt. There’s no real reason why not.
But … surely it is somewhat improbable that one of the few copies of this text in existence at that date should happen to turn up in the limited amount of mummy cartonnage that has so far been dismantled? Isn’t it? Consider the vast output of papyrus made every year in ancient Egypt, of which a certain proportion ended up as waste papyrus. What, statistically, are the chances of a 1st century copy of Mark being in that proportion? They must be slim.
We’re told that portions of Homer have turned up, and this is not a surprise. Likewise that documentary texts are found: this too does not surprise. But something that must always have been a very rare item?
Of course probability is just that; a calculation based on averages. All the same, it’s troubling.
In general, when a discovery is made which bears on matters of current interest or controversy (rather than something which was controversial in antiquity), it is wise to consider the possibility of forgery. In the renaissance people forged stone monuments supposedly from well-known figures of classical antiquity, in order to make money. Forgeries of papyri are not at all unknown.
There is a fingerprint for forgery, noted by Stephen C. Carlson. By its very nature, a forgery must be of something which is exciting to people in the period in which it is “discovered”. That’s where the money is. Nobody is going to forge something that nobody is interested in. But it is often the case that this modern excitement is over something that would not have been exciting in antiquity. It is this dichotomy that marks out a forgery.
So any “discovery” that is of current interest, that fits squarely into a matter of current agitation, or fits the political or religious views of the discoverer particularly well, must be scrutinised with rational but exceptional caution. Otherwise we will all be hoodwinked by those enterprising gentlemen in Turkey and Palestine whose attempts at forgery regularly attract interest from specialists.
A discovery of a first century fragment of a gospel fits that profile squarely. A first century gospel could not have been of special interest in antiquity, when they were composed, but it would be very interesting today!
It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to do things right; to establish the provenance of the item, to look for signs of forgery, to get a range of experts involved, and, above all, to shed as much light as possible on the item.
When P52 was identified in the 1930s, the discoverer, Colin Roberts, proceeded with extreme care. He did not publish, nor did he announce his find, until it had been examined by all the leading paleographers of the day, and a consensus reached. The wisdom of his approach is evident: his result has not been seriously questioned in 80 years, even though it contradicted the established wisdom of biblical studies at the time, and reinforced the fondest wishes of Christians.
By contrast the way in which this supposed first century fragment is being made known raises in me the worst suspicions.
The papyrus trade is a secretive one, partly because of the foolishness of the Egyptian government in declaring all finds the property of state officials, and partly because of the stupidity of western activists, who harass those involved in the black market that has inevitably arisen. It is, therefore, entirely understandable that nothing should be announced until everything is ready. And if that silence is used, as Colin Roberts did, to determine the facts and build consensus, then well and good. That’s one way to publish.
The alternative is better. It is to shine a bright light on everything. Publish the fragments now, without any very firm attributions, as soon as possible, with the provenance, and crowd-source an examination of every element of it. The truth will out, and a consensus will come into being rather rapidly, as it did for the forgery known as the “gospel of Jesus’ wife”.
Either approach is acceptable. But we seem to have neither. Instead we have the worst of both worlds.
On the one hand we have a drip-drip of non-academic reportage, excitedly making all sorts of claims, possibly based on no more than a video by somebody who may (or may not) be involved in the project at all. This feeds the fever of speculation; which, of course, increases the price that may be asked for publication, and generally increases the commercial value of the property. It seems to benefit nobody in any other way that I can see.
On the other hand, we have an entire silence on all the matters that would allow professionals to form a judgement.
It is reminiscent of some of the hype around the Coptic Gospel of Judas. That was a genuine text, and this mixture of whispers and real information is what we tended to get. I suppose, in fairness, that this may be how Americans do things, for all I know.
But it is also reminiscent of how forgers operate: people whose sole aim is to boost the value of their merchandise and make a quick buck while the going is good. For all I know, there is some Turkish forger at work, using some clever Swiss lawyer (or whatever) to control the whole process via “confidentiality agreements”, and manipulating the scholars at the far end who seek merely to recover knowledge.
If the discovery is genuine, then it is wonderful. Any recovery of lost texts from antiquity is a joy, and any very early witness to any important text is to be treasured.
But is it genuine? We cannot say. But the manner in which it is becoming known to the public does nothing to give me confidence.
So I think we need to hold our horses, and await proper publication. To me, all this is too good to be true. But let’s hope not.
The quotations come from Augustine’s letter 82, addressed to St. Jerome himself.
For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.
As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason.
I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error … (82.3)
But you will say it is better to believe that the Apostle Paul wrote what was not true, than to believe that the Apostle Peter did what was not right. On this principle, we must say (which far be it from us to say), that it is better to believe that the gospel history is false, than to believe that Christ was denied by Peter; and better to charge the book of Kings with false statements, than believe that so great a prophet, and one so signally chosen by the Lord God as David was, committed adultery in lusting after and taking away the wife of another, and committed such detestable homicide in procuring the death of her husband.
Better far that I should read with certainty and persuasion of its truth the Holy Scripture, placed on the highest (even the heavenly) pinnacle of authority, and should, without questioning the trustworthiness of its statements, learn from it that men have been either commended, or corrected, or condemned, than that, through fear of believing that by men, who, though of most praiseworthy excellence, were no more than men, actions deserving rebuke might sometimes be done, I should admit suspicions affecting the trustworthiness of the whole oracles of God. (82.5)
The translation is the 19th century one, which may be found online here.
I have never collected ancient statements concerned with the inspiration of scripture; doing so would certainly be an interesting and useful exercise. But I do recall another passage of Augustine on scripture which deserves quotation here. It is from De genesim ad litteram (On Genesis, literally expounded), book 2, chapter 9:
It is frequently asked what our belief must be about the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture. Many scholars engaged in lengthy discussions on these matter, but the sacred writers with their deeper wisdom have omitted them. Such subjects are of no profit for those who seek beatitude, and, what is worse, they take up precious time that ought to be given to what is spiritually beneficial. What concern is it of mine whether heaven is a sphere and the earth is enclosed by it and suspended in the middle of the universe, or whether heaven like a disk above the earth covers it on one side?
But the credibility of Scripture is at stake, and as I have indicated more than once, there is danger that a man uninstructed in divine revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge that he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations. Hence, I must say briefly that in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail to their salvation.
This translation is as translated by J.H.Taylor, 1982.
All of this is sensible stuff.
We must always remember that there are only two groups of Christians; those whose ultimate authority is the word of scripture, and those who have come to think it is not the ultimate authority, and so, inevitably, give the last word elsewhere — invariably to the world, then to the flesh, and finally to the devil. It is not enough to mean well; we must think well also. It isn’t very clever to be so clever that we talk ourselves out of salvation.