From my diary

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Marcionism in Edessa.  The idea that being a Christian in Edessa meant that you were a Marcionite seems to originate (rightly or not) from Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy.  Thankfully Robert Kraft arranged to translate this into English, and — mirabile dictu — to place the translation online.  The Edessa portion is here, and I need to take the time to read it and see what is actually being said, and why.  It’s rather hard to read online tho.

The excellent Andrew Criddle added a comment pointing me to a very useful paper by Sidney Griffith in After Bardaisan.[1]  This contains excerpts of Ephraim the Syrian’s Hymns against Heresies in English, all of them most interesting.  Unfortunately the Google Books preview omits selected pages.  I’d really quite like to read this book — it is infuriating that it is inaccessible.

I have been asking around to see if an English translation of Hymns against Heresies exists.  No luck so far; but a correspondant suggested that Sidney Griffith (again) might have made one.  I have written to him to ask.  If there is no translation of hymns 22 and 23, I might see if I can commission one.

Meanwhile I have resumed work on the proofing of Theodoret’s Commentary on Romans.  I got rather discouraged when I couldn’t export the results from Finereader 11 in any sensible form.  But I have started to go through the second half of this work, italicising the gospel quotations (which is how they appear in the printed version).  It’s a bit slow, but this will go online eventually.

I have also been communicating with a gentleman named Mark Vermes, who made a number of translations of interesting works back in the day, including the ‘Halkin’ Life of Constantine — a Byzantine Saint’s life — and two works by St. Augustine against the Manichaean Secundinianus.  All this material is unpublished (although I have just learned that one of the Augustine works was published somewhere), and he is willing in principle to allow it to appear online.  The next stage is to get hold of copies of these items, and digitise them.

There is no more news on the in-progress translation of the Acts of ps.Linus

I’ve been invited to the launch of a book down in London, wine and nibbles.  That has never happened to me before, and probably never will again, so I think that I shall go.  The book is a collection of posts in one of the Times blogs, and I am invited because I wrote a rather sarcastic comment on one of them, which the publishers decided to include. 

Watching the TV one evening I found myself viewing a BBC4 documentary about Pompeii.  I had never known that, among the finds at Pompeii, was a statue from India.  The item was in exactly the style of sculpture we see today — no question as to where it came from!  Doubtless it was one of the items that came across the Indian Ocean on the ships on which Cosmas Indicopleustes was to travel, centuries later.

  1. [1]Sidney Griffith, The marks of the “true church” according to Ephraem’s ‘Hymns against heresies’, in G. J. Reinink (ed.), After Bardaisan, Orientalia Louvaniensia Analecta, Peeters, 1999, p.125-140

Marcionism in Edessa

When did Marcionism arrive in Edessa, the home city of the Syriac language? What data do we have, concerning Marcionism in these parts?

The Chronicle of Edessa begins thus:

1. In the year 180 kings began to rule in Edessa.
2. In the year 266 Augustus Caesar was made emperor.
3. In the year 309 our Lord was born.
4. In the year 400 Abgar the king built a mausoleum for himself.
5. In the year 449 Marcion forsook the Catholic Church.
6. The year 465, in the month Tammuz, on the eleventh day (i.e., July 11th, 154 A.D.), Bardesanes was born.
7. Lucius Caesar, with his brother, subjugated the Parthians to the Romans in the fifth year of his reign.
8. In the year 513, in the reign of Severus, and in the reign of Abgar the king, son of Maano the king, in the month Tishrin the latter (i. e., November), the fountain of water which proceeds from the great palace of Abgar the great king increased, and it prevailed, and it went up according to its former manner, and overflowed and ran out on all sides, …

9. And in the year 517, Abgar built a palace in his own citadel (? town).
10. The year 551 Manes was born.
11. The year 614, were broken down the walls of Edessa the second time in the days of Diocletian the king.

Some argue from this that the mention of Marcion indicates a special interest in him in Edessa.[1]  Perhaps so; but no more than Bardesanes and Manes.

Eusebius, HE, book 4, chapter 30, tells us:

1. In the same reign, as heresies were abounding in the region between the rivers, a certain Bardesanes, a most able man and a most skillful disputant in the Syriac tongue, having composed dialogues against Marcion’s followers and against certain others who were authors of various opinions, committed them to writing in his own language, together with many other works. His pupils, of whom he had very many (for he was a powerful defender of the faith), translated these productions from the Syriac into Greek. …

3 He indeed was at first a follower of Valentinus, but afterward, having rejected his teaching and having refuted most of his fictions, he fancied that he had come over to the more correct opinion. Nevertheless he did not entirely wash off the filth of the old heresy.

Did Greek versions of Bardaisan’s Dialogues against Marcion come into the library at Caesarea, one wonders?  Eusebius seems to have had connections with Edessa, as his mention of the story of the letter of Jesus to Abgar shows.

At all events, this places Marcionism in the region of Edessa in the time of Bardaisan, in perhaps the late second or early third century.

A very interesting statement is that the Christians in Edessa were supposedly called Palutians, after an early bishop Palut (192-209).[2]  This information is said to come from Hymns against heresies, 22.5, and is said to tell us that it was the Marcionites who were generalled called “Christians” there.[3] Indeed I am told that Ephraim’s Hymni contra haereses refer extensively to Marcionism, as well as Mani, Bardaisan, paganism and astrology.  I’m not sure how we might access these, however. 

The statement certainly needs to be verified.  I find that J. B. Segal gives a partial quotation:[4]

Their hands have let go of everything.  There are no handles to grasp.  They even called us Palutians, but we have spewed them out and cast away [the name].  May there be a curse on those who are called by the name of Palut, and not by the name of Christ . . . Palut too did not want men to be called by his name.  If he were alive, he would curse with all curses, for he was the disciple of the apostle [Paul] who suffered pain and bitterness over the Corinthians when they abandoned the name of the Messiah and  were called by the names of men.

Segal adds that Jacob of Edessa, in his 12th letter to John the Stylite, cites this passage and  states that the Palutians were not heretics, and that Palut was an orthodox and righteous man.  Again, I’m not sure how to check this.

What other sources do we have for Marcionism at Edessa?  Clearly there are Ephraim’s Prose Refutations.  There is also Yeznik of Kolb’s On God.  And … any others?

UPDATE: The old BKV translation of Ephrem into German includes the Hymns against Heresies here.  And … I am not finding in this a statement that the Christians were commonly called Palutians, and the Marcionites Christians, but rather than the heretics called the Christians “Palutians”.  This is, no doubt, similar to the way in which religious types a century ago, who wanted the name of Christian but not the teaching called themselves “liberal Christians” and the real Christians “evangelicals”; and, when they discovered that ‘Christian’ had lost its savour, then demanded to be called “liberal evangelicals”, and the real believers “conservative evangelicals”.  But if so, this would tend to suggest that the heretics in question, described by Ephrem, did indeed want to be called “Christians”.  I wish that I knew someone who would translate this hymn for us!

  1. [1]Steven K. Ross, Roman Edessa, 2001, p.121.
  2. [2]Ute Possekel, Evidence of Greek philosophical concepts in the writings of Ephrem the Syrian, p.22.  Note 78 gives W. Bauer, Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im altesten Christentum, Beitrage zur historischen Theologie 10, 2nd ed., ed. G. Strecker, Tubingen, 1964, p.6-48, esp. 29, 33f.
  3. [3]Ephrem, Selected Prose works, p.35.
  4. [4]J. B. Segal, Edessa: the blessed city, p.81