Two opinions on Salvian’s Letter 9

While online this afternoon I came across a copy of the Eva M. Sanford, 1930, translation of Salvian’s De gubernatione dei, “On the government of God”, complete with a lengthy preface.  After some time I realised that it was something I had scanned myself, transferred to another site.

Sanford lists the works of Salvian in a discussion “III. Salvian’s Literary work”, and has something to say about the Ad Ecclesiam and Letter 9.[1]  It’s interesting, since Sanford finds no difficulty in the contents of letter 9, nor the pen-name of Timothy adopted:

Only nine of the letters are preserved; of these I have already spoken. The ninth, addressed to Salonius, is of special interest, since it explains both Salvian’s purpose in writing his four books Against Avarice, and his reasons for publishing them anonymously. Salonius feared that since the work was issued as the Address of Timotheus to the Church against Avarice, it might be mistaken for an apocryphal work of the “Apostle” Timothy.

Like the Government of God, the invective Against Avarice was written because of Salvian’s deep conviction of the dangers inherent in the persistent vices of men who called themselves Christians. Avarice was a besetting sin of many Romans, and had infected not only members of the church, but its clergy, even to the bishops themselves. The resultant neglect of the true service of God, and of the spiritual and material welfare of the church, led Salvian to “burst forth into words of lamentation” addressed to the church to which the offenders belonged. His failure to attach his own name to the book he explained not only by his desire to avoid vain glory in a service to God, but also by his conviction that the obscurity of his name might detract from the influence of his words. The pseudonym Timotheus (“Honoring God”) was chosen to indicate the motive of the work: ” Indeed, the writer thought it fitting that, writing his books for the honor of God, he should consecrate the title to his divine honor.”

In spite of this letter, and of Gennadius’ ascription of the work to Salvian, its anonymity was preserved in modern times, for it was published by Sichardus at Fol near Basel in 1528 as. the work of Bishop Timotheus, in a collection entitled An Antidote against the Heresies of All Ages.

While no one who reads the treatise Against Avarice can doubt the sincerity and depth of feeling with which it was written, the work is a curious document of the times. Avarice was considered one of the deadly sins. But it is hard now to avoid seeing some self-interest on the part of the church in the constant exhortations to the rich to give all their goods to the church in order to win remission of their sins. In its simplest form, this is the admonition of Christ to the rich young man: as it is elaborated to produce a surer conviction in the minds of fifth century Midases it is perilously close to the purchase of absolution. Some modern writers have thought the book more likely to encourage the avarice of the church than to discourage that of churchmen; others have seen in it an anticipation of the later satires against the greed of the clergy. The irony that is never far from Salvian’s writing is even more marked than usual in this indictment, but the unprejudiced reader is not likely to see in it an intention of actual satire. Nor is it sufficient to dismiss it, as Teuffel does, simply as a ballon d’essai. It was clearly written in all seriousness, albeit in bitterness of heart, with the earnest hope of exerting a salutary influence against a chief evil of the times. The author employed the arguments that experience had taught him were most likely to be effective.

That this work was written before the completion of the treatise On the Government of God is shown by the quotation from it in the latter; it may with some probability be assigned to the years 435-439. The words of Timothy to the church must have aroused much anger among ecclesiastical leaders, and apparently this antagonism made Salvian rather sensitive to criticism, though none the less determined to attack the vices of his day. …

A quotation from Ad Ecclesiam follows.

Now let us quote Bart Ehrman on the same subject, from Forgery and Counterforgery, p.84:

Sometimes forgers were called to account, as when the fifth-century ecclesiastic Salvian was caught by his own bishop forging a writing in the name of Paul’s companion Timothy. As we will see, Salvian wrote a self-serving justification in his own defense. For now it is enough to note that his bishop, Salonius, was not at all amused when he discovered that his former colleague and current underling had tried to promote his own views in the name of an authority who had been dead for four hundred years. That Salonius was upset and incensed is clear; how he reacted to Salvian’s self-defense we will never know. We learn of the incident only from Salvian himself.

The description of events is so different that we may wonder if both refer to the same basic facts.

  1. [1]p.15-17.

Is Salonius’ commentary on Ecclesiastes authentic?

In my last post I raised the question of whether the two commentaries transmitted under the name of the 5th century bishop Salonius of Geneva[1] were in fact authentic.  These consist of a commentary on Proverbs, and one on Ecclesiastes.

This evening I stumbled across a 1987 dissertation by A.M. Wolters which mentions the scholarship on the subject.[2]  He states that it has been shown that the commentary on Proverbs can be shown to be an abbreviation of Bede’s commentary on the same subject.

I may as well quote the relevant passages directly:

At this point we should make reference also to the commentary on Proverbs attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva, in which the Valiant Woman is taken as an allegory of the Church. It has recently been shown, however, that this commentary is actually the work of a much later medieval author. Accordingly, we will deal with it later under the heading Pseudo-Salonius. (p.20)

The independence of Bede’s commentary on the Song has only recently become evident. Since there are many verbal correspondences with the proverbs commentary that was long attributed to Salonius of Geneva (fifth century), Bede seemed to be heavily dependent on Salonius. As we shall see shortly, however, the commentary ascribed to Salonius is in fact dependent on Bede, not the other way around. (p.32)

Before leaving Bede we should take note of the fact that the recent critical edition of his Proverbs commentary by D. Hurst (1983) is sadly deficient. His apparatus fontium still lists the commentary of Pseudo-Salonius as one of Bede’s sources (though his Praefatio acknowledges that this is incorrect)… (p.37)

The main passage is:

In the period from Bede’s death (735) until the twelfth century there is little to report with respect to the interpretation of the Song of the Valiant Woman. …  the only literary production that is relevant to our survey during these three-and-a-half centuries is the commentary which was until recently attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva.

It would carry us too far afield to enter into the scholarly discussion surrounding the true date and author of the work published as Salonii Commentarii in Parabolas Salomonis et in Ecclesiasten. Suffice it to point out that the traditional attribution was still defended by C. Curti in the critical edition of these commentaries which he published under this title (Catania, 1964), but was challenged by the French scholar Jean-Pierre Weiss in a review of this edition. [77] Since then Weiss has elaborated on his critique in two articles, both published in 1970,[78] and come to the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius was a schoolmaster in Germany, probably of the ninth century.

Apparently quite independently of Weiss, the New Zealand scholar Valerie I. J. Flint also challenged the Salonian authorship, in yet another article published in 1970.[79] She concluded that the true author is Honorius Augustodunensis (eleventh-twelfth century), under whose name a version of the commentary was circulated in medieval Germany. We will content ourselves with the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius lived after Bede and before the early twelfth century.

The commentary on Proverbs by Pseudo-Salonius now turns out to be a thoroughly unoriginal work, composed very largely of excerpts from Bede’s commentary, occasionally supplemented with passages drawn from Gregory the Great.[80]

Pseudo-Salonius’ own contribution consists almost exclusively in the format of the commentary, which is that of a dialogue between teacher and student, no doubt for use in schools.

The section on the Valiant Woman begins as follows:

‘Teacher. Who is that Valiant Woman of whom it says: “Who shall find a valiant woman? Her price is remote and from the farthest regions?”

‘Student. The holy catholic Church is called a valiant woman. The reason she is called a woman is that she gives birth to spiritual sons for God out of water and the Holy Spirit. She is called valiant because she disdains and despises all the things of this world, whether harmful or advantageous, because of faith and love for her Creator and Redeemer.’ [My translation.] [81]

Note that in pseudo-Salonius’ commentary the reference to the alphabetic acrostic and its function is omitted, and that the allegorical interpretation is restricted to the Church, without reference to the individual soul. For the rest, the content of the commentary is drawn directly from Bede, both here and throughout the section dealing with the Valiant Woman. Though based on Bede throughout, Pseudo-Salonius’ comments are very selective, using only a fraction of Bede’s work. In fact, he gives extracts of Bede’s commentary on only nine of the 22 verses, namely 10, 14, 24, 22 [in that order], 25 and 28-31. The remaining thirteen are simply passed over in silence.

Whoever Pseudo-Salonius was, and whenever it was in the early Middle Ages that he lived, it is clear that he was a transmitter of Bede’s views of the Song, and thus of the broader allegorical tradition which interprets the Valiant Woman as the church. (p.38-41)


75.  J.-P. Weiss, “Essai de datation du Commentaire sur les Proverbes attribue abusivement a Salonius,” Sacris Erudiri 19 (1969/70) 95-96.

77. Revue des Etudes Latines 44 (1966) 482-84.

78. See his “Essai de datation” (n.75 above) and Studia Patristica X (Berlin, 1970) 161-167.

79. “The True Author of the Salonii Commentarii in parabolas Salomonis et in  Ecclesiasten,” Recherches de Theologie Ancienne et Medievale 37 (1970) 174-186.

80. See Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 87-94.

81. I am quoting from the Migne edition, 53, 989 (substituting Magister and Discipulus for Veranus and Salonius; see Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 98-99): “Magister. Quae est mulier illa fortis de qua dicit: Mulierem fortem auis inveniet? procul et de ultimis finibus pretium ejus? Discipulus. Mulier fortis appellatur sancta Ecclesia catholica; quae ideo mulier dicitur, quia Deo spirituales generat filios ex acqua et Spiritu sancto. Fortis ideo dicitur, quia cuncta saeculi hujus adversa simul et prospera, propter fidem Et amorem sui Conditoris ac Redemptoris contemnit et despicit.”

I have not been able to find Weiss’ or Flint’s articles online, unfortunately.

When given two works which clearly are verbally identical in passages, and so connected, it is more difficult to say in which direction the borrowing took place than is sometimes realised.  Not having read the arguments, I wouldn’t like to venture an opinion.  But it seems at least questionable whether these works have anything to do with Salonius.

  1. [1]PL 53, 967-1012, online here.
  2. [2]Albert Marten Wolters, The Song of the Valiant Woman (Prov. 31:10-31): A pattern in the history of interpretation (to 1600)., McMaster university thesis, 1987. Online here.

Why did Salvian place the name of “Timothy” at the head of his “Ad Ecclesiam”

I have been posting about Salvian of Marseilles, his early work Ad Ecclesiam (ca. 440 AD), which addresses the universal church under the name of “Timothy”, and what Salvian’s letter 9 can tell us about all this.

Today I would like to address the question of why Salvian placed the name of “Timothy” on his work.

Note that I have posted the FoC English translation of Salvian’s Letter 9 here, and discussed the manuscript tradition of the Ad Ecclesiam, with which alone the letter has reached us, here.

As Gennadius tells us, Salvian was a monk of the abbey of Lerins, where he taught a number of boys who were later to be bishops, including Salonius, later bishop of Geneva and the son of Salvian’s friend Bishop Eucherius of Lyons.  Salvian may have been a magister episcoporum, a term which misled medieval copyists into supposing that he himself was a bishop, but there is no evidence that he was ever more than a monk in priest’s orders.  Perhaps he was too ascetic to wish for advancement; possibly he lacked the necessary worldly wisdom that any administrator must have, especially in 5th century barbarian-infested Gaul; or there may have been some other reason.  The sources are silent, at all events.

The two surviving works of Salvian deal with similar themes in a similar way.  The later work, De gubernatione dei, on the judgement of God on a corrupt society, is dedicated to Salonius, and quotes from the Ad Ecclesiam.  It is generally accepted, therefore, that both works are by Salvian, although the Ad Ecclesiam does not have his name in its title, but is set forth from a certain “Timothy”.  Why is this?

Ad Ecclesiam deals with greed.  It attacks in the strongest language the greed of the great landed proprietors.  In the late Roman period, as now, the really wealthy paid little or no tax, and the burden fell on the middle classes and the poor.  The tax was so heavy that the humiliores were driven into serfdom by it, handing over their land to the local “big man” while remaining tied to it, in hopes of protection from the tax-gatherers.

Such a work might call down upon its author a swift revenge.  Bishops owned by the wealthy might well be able to ruin a humble monk.  It would be unsurprising, therefore, that the author might prefer to use an alias.

But we do not know that this is the reason, although it seems likely enough, as no ancient source records this.  What we do have, however, is a letter from Salvian to Salonius, discussing why “the name of Timothy is inscribed” (Timothei nomen inscriptum sit) over a book recently published (huius temporis).  Salvian adds:

Addis praeterea quod nisi rationem uocabuli euidenter expressero, dum nominantur Timothei, inter apocryfa sint fortasse reputandi.

You add, besides, that unless I state (expressero) clearly (evidenter) the reason for the name (rationem uocabuli), while they are denominated (nominantur) as by Timothy (Timothei), they may perhaps be considered among the apocrypha.

Note that this indicates that Salvian has a responsibility here; presumably he sent them to Salonius as by someone else, and he nowhere acknowledges his authorship.

In the Fathers of the Church translation of the Ad Ecclesiam, the text certainly reads as if written by an apostle.  The work begins:

Timothy, the least of the servants of God, to the Catholic Church spread throughout the world. Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord, with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Of all the other serious and mortal diseases which the old and most foul serpent breathes upon you with the terrible envy of his death-dealing rivalry and the most loathsome breath of his poisonous mouth, I do not know whether any other can undo you with a disease more bitter for faithful souls, and a stigma more loathsome for your children, than avarice. It is slavery to idolatry-a vice which many among you think of little account, when, without the fruit of mercy and kindness, you give yourselves in this life to possessions committed to you by God for a holy deed, and extend your sin even into the future after death.

Perhaps you are looking around attentively, you who are among those whom I am addressing. You do not need a lengthy examination to find out whether you are in that
category. I say all, almost all, are in that group about which I am speaking. Indeed, that former surpassing and pre-eminent happiness of the first Christians has departed. It was that happiness according to which all who knew Christ transferred their fleeting store of wordly goods to the eternal wealth of heavenly possessions. (etc)

The concern of Salonius is a real one, I think we can accept.  Note also that both Salvian and his friend Salonius agree that to be considered apocryphal is enough to say that the work would not be read.  Clearly the church of the fifth century was deeply concerned to know that the works read in its churches were authentic, and not written by unknown persons for purposes of their own.

But how did the work come into the hands of Salonius?  We may suppose, if we like, that dozens of copies were in circulation and that he picked up a copy in his local bookshop; but this seems to involve a method of publication improbable for 5th century Gaul.  We may assume that he came across it anyhow – in which case how did he work out that Salvian was involved?  Or, easiest of all, perhaps Salvian sent it to him directly, as to a friend, possibly even for comment.  For Salvian was nervous of the reaction to his book and its contents from those he attacked.

If Salvian did send it to Salonius, he must have attached a covering letter; but this has not been preserved.  However clearly Salonius thinks that the work must be issued with some kind of preface, to make clear that the Ad Ecclesiam is a contemporary work.

Salvian replies:

I have pointed out above (superius indicavi) that the books deal with issues of today and that they were written by a man of our own day (a praesentis temporis) in his zeal and love for things divine. This alone could suffice for removing completely any suspicion of apocryphal composition. Those treatises which are recognized as not being Timothy’s are not suspected as apocryphal.

As an answer to Salonius’ concern, this statement only makes sense if Salvian intended this very letter to appear at the start of the work.  For unless Salvian’s statement was attached to the work itself, so that the reader could see the words “huius temporis” (today) at the top, then Salonius’ concern is not addressed.

The manuscript tradition shows that this letter, letter 9, is only preserved when present as a preface to the work, and I have suggested that the manuscript tradition is best intelligible if it was generally transmitted in that position from antiquity.

These two factors suggest that Salvian himself positioned this letter at the front of his work before circulating it generally.

But why choose “Timothy” in the first place?  Did Salvian really intend to write an apocryphon?

It is hard to believe that a man would intentionally doom his own work to obscurity by so doing, so maybe he did not.  But this assumes that Salvian was as clear about the consequences of such an ascription as Salonius made him.  We are discussing mortal men, prone to self-deception and muddle-headedness.   We have already hypothesised that Salvian was not worldly-wise.

There is also the point that the work addresses the whole church.  This is rather an impudent thing for a humble monk to do; but perfectly acceptable for an apostle.  Both the name and addressee suggest apostolic authorship, then.

So what does Salvian say?

In these books about which I am speaking there are three things which can be asked.

Why did the author address his book To the Church? Did he use a borrowed name or his own?

If not his own, why a borrowed name?

If a borrowed name, why in particular did he choose Timothy as the name to be written?

Salvian addresses the first point, pleading that the importance of the issue justifies the act of an obscure man addressing the church.  That the author’s name is not “Timothy” he makes clear.

Why use a borrowed name?  Firstly, because the bible tells men not to hunt for credit for their good deeds.  Secondly, and he says it was his main reason, was that he believed that his own social status was very low, and using his own name would cause the people he was addressing to ignore his book.  By uncertainty of authorship in a snobbish society he might gain a hearing to address an urgent evil.

Why the name “Timothy”?  By analogy with Luke who addressed his work to “Theophilus”, a name meaning “Lover of God”, rather than to a person with a specific name.  “Timotheus” means “The honour of God”.  In this way the church could be addressed by the honour of God.

This last answer may well seem odd to us, who would never do such a thing.   It also sidesteps the question of whether Salvian did or did not have at the back of his mind the idea that an apostle’s name would serve his purpose the best.  His choice was, to say the least, a fortuitous one, if he did not intend to cause his reader to think of Timothy the apostle (although the medieval copyists all presume Timothy is a bishop).

But we must bear in mind that Salvian lived at a period when the New Testament was closed, and its contexts fixed and known.  The large churches all had a bible very similar to our own.

A man who wrote today in the name of an apostle would not expect that his work would be considered apostolic; even if he wrote “the book of Timothy the apostle” at the top of it.  It would be taken as humorous or literary; as with the “Book of Ehud” that appears regularly in the satirical magazine Private Eye.  I wonder whether the same would have been true — or that Salvian might have thought the same — by the mid-5th century?  If so, Salonius makes clear that the risk of writing an apocryphon is still real.

But it is worth noting that Salvian left the name of Timothy at the top of his work, only adding the letter 9 as a preface, and nowhere making his authorship explicit.  Evidently he didn’t feel any need to change it.   And it is still deniable; and every bureaucrat or clerk knows that deniability is the essence of avoiding accountability.  It may be, however, that Salonius assured him that his fears were groundless; for De gubernatione dei appeared under the author’s own name.

We cannot truly know what was in Salvian’s mind when he decided to put the name of Timothy at the head of his work.  The morose may speculate that he intended evil, and then blame him for the evil that they suppose he intended.  But few will find such speculations attractive.  Rather than accusing a man of a supposed evil, we will treat him as a man like ourselves, who saw the need for a pen-name, and did not foresee clearly and explicitly the consequences of using that particular one.


Some notes on the transmission of Salvian’s “Ad Ecclesiam” and Letter 9

There is an entry for Salvian in the continuation of Jerome’s De viris illustribus by Gennadius, written ca. 470 AD.  It forms chapter 68, and may be given in the NPNF translation:

Salvianus, presbyter of Marseilles, well informed both in secular and in sacred literature, and to speak without invidiousness, a master among bishops, wrote many things in a scholastic and clear style, of which I have read the following: four books On the Excellence of virginity, to Marcellus the presbyter, three books Against avarice, five books On the present judgment, and one book On punishment according to desert, addressed to Salonius the bishop, also one book of Commentary on the latter part of the book of Ecclesiastes, addressed to Claudius bishop of Vienne, one book of Epistles. He also composed one book in verse after the Greek fashion, a sort of Hexaemeron, covering the period from the beginning of Genesis to the creation of man, also many Homilies delivered to the bishops, and I am sure I do not know how many On the sacraments. He is still living at a good old age.

The “Against Avarice” is of course the Ad Ecclesiam, listed by content rather than addressee — the text given in the Sources Chretiennes edition[1] has “four books”.  The “On the Present Judgement” is the De Gubernatione Dei.  The two works alone have come down to us.

A portion of the book of letters has also survived, in a single 15th century Italian manuscript containing only 7 letters, the last of which (numbered letter 3 in our editions) is incomplete.  This manuscript exists today divided into two fragments;

  • Paris, BNF lat. 2174, fol. 113-115 (the ms. otherwise contains De Gubernatione Dei);
  • Berne, Bibl. mun. E 219, fol. 1-8, a stray quaternion of the same manuscript.

Salvian letter 8 is transmitted with the works of Eucherius of Lyons.

Letter 9 is transmitted with the Ad Ecclesiam (but not always).  Only a few manuscripts preserve the Ad Ecclesiam.

There are two medieval inventories that mention copies of the Ad Ecclesiam that existed in the middle ages.  The catalogue of the abbey of Saint-Riquier, made in 831, lists a copy.  So does the well-known 10th century catalogue of the abbey of Lorsch. Both catalogues may be found in G. Becker, Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui, 1885. Saint-Riquier is §11, p.26: 102. Timothei libri IV et tractatus Peregrini contra haereticos et epistolae Theophili ad episcopos totius Aegypti in I vol.; Lorsch is §37, p.108: 359. Timothei ad ecclesiam libri IIII et Peregrini lib. I pro catholicae fidei antiquitate. et epistolae Theophili Alexandrinae urbis episcopi contra Origenistas et aliae epistolae paschales in uno codice.  It is obvious that some relation exists between these two copies.

The surviving manuscripts are as follows (notes abbreviated from the SC edition):

  • A.  Paris, BNF. lat. 2172 (9-10th c.), from the abbey of Saint-Thierry of Reims, where it was still in 1480; later it belonged to Pierre Pithou, who edited Salvian in 1580; and later still in the Colbert and Royal collections.  Folios 1-65 contain the Ad Ecclesiam.  Letter 9 is not present.  The opening words of Ad Ecclesiam, “Timotheus minimus servorum dei … Amen” are formatted as if they were the title, but preceded by the words “incipit liber primus”, out of sequence.  Fol. 65v onwards contains the Commonitorium of Vincent of Lerins, with the title: Incipit tractatus Peregrinui pro catholicae  fidei antiquitate aduersus profanas omnium haereticorum nouitates; then various letters of Theophilus of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Salamis, and Jerome.
  • B.  Paris, BNF. lat. 2785 (10th c.).  It starts with letter 9, headed Incipit epistola Saluiani ad Salonium.  Then follows the Ad Ecclesiam, beginning with the opening words and then the incipit of book 1.  This work is followed by excerpts from Ambrose and Augustine; and then the Commonitorum, with almost exactly the same incipit as A.
  • b.  Paris, BNF. lat. 2173 (12th c.).  The beginning of the manuscript is lost; it starts part way through Ad Ecclesiam I, 4.  After Ad Ecclesiam, there are the same excerpts from Ambrose and Augustine; then the Commonitorium, and then letters of Jerome in the same order as in A.
  • C.  Berne, Bibl. mun. 315 (11th c.).  This contains a crudely abridged (by about 20%) and interpolated version of the Ad Ecclesiam, made in the 6th c., and preceded by a letter headed: Incipit prologus Timothei episcopi operis sequentis.  After the final words of the prologue — and it would be interesting to know what this says — appear the words, explicit prologi, incipit liber Timothei episcopi.
  • p.  Edition of Jean Sichard, Basle, 1528, entitled Antidoton contra diversas omnium fere seculorum haereses.  On fol. 181v-182v is the editio princeps of letter 9, with the title: Salviani episcopi Massiliensis in librum Timothei ad Salonium episcopum praefatio.  The Ad Ecclesiam then follows, with the title Timothei episcopi ad Ecclesiam catholicam toto orbe diffusam.  Then follows the Commonitorium, and then the letters of Jerome found in A and b; note that letter 99, incomplete in b, is complete in Sichard.  Sichard gives no indication of what manuscript he used, but it was probably the now lost manuscript of Lorsch.

A, B, and b are all related to one another, as is fairly obvious from the similar contents of each physical volume.  The text found in these shares certain errors and omissions, not found in the abbreviated text in C, nor in the full text in p.  No doubt these are related to the French Saint-Riquier manuscript in some way.

C and p are not related to each other, nor to the common ancestor of the Paris mss.  p. is derived from the German Lorsch manuscript, while C has its own transmission from a 6th century epitome of the text.

So we have essentially three families here; a French family, a German family, and the peculiar C manuscript.  Yet the French family is split: A does not include letter 9; B does (and the start of b is lost so we can’t tell if it did contain it).  The peculiar C ms. does not have it, and instead a substitute prologue was composed, which could suggest that a 6th century copy existed where there was no letter 9 as a preface, or alternatively that its omission was part of the activity of the 6th century editor.  The German family represented today by Sichard’s edition (p) does have it.

But the witness of the French family is confusing.  If the common ancestor of the French mss. did not contain letter 9, then where did it come from and why did it get attached to the work?  We know of no independent circulation of the letter, after all.   On the other hand it is easy to see that a short piece on the first folio might get detached, and thus a tradition started without this piece.  It would seem easiest to suppose that the French family common ancestor did indeed begin with letter 9, and that the ancestor of the B/b branch of its children omitted it, or suffered the loss of a leaf at the start.

All this tends to suggest that the Ad Ecclesiam was sent forth by its author with Salvian’s letter 9 to Salonius at the front.  Yes, the 6th century abbreviator omitted it, composing his own preface; but an abbreviator might do that anyway.  Yes, a French manuscript dropped it or lost it; but that happens in transmission.  But otherwise letter 9 is found in both the German and French versions of the full text, preceding the work.  It is, therefore, most likely in the position in which Salvian put it.

All the same, it is also worth noting that in no case is the letter treated as part of the work, as a prologus.  In each case it has a different author.  In each case the Ad Ecclesiam is attributed to Timothy.  What we learn from this, then, is that letter 9 is not an integral part of the text of the Ad Ecclesiam, as originally set forth; it was an afterthought.

This last conclusion is one that we might have reached anyway from the content of letter 9, and this we will discuss next.

  1. [1]Georges Lagarrigue, Salvien de Marseille: Oeuvres I. Les Lettres. Les livres de Timothee a l’eglise. SC 176. 1971.

The “Book of Ehud” – a modern apocryphon?

As we consider Salvian’s letter 9, discussing why his Ad Ecclesiam was written under the name of Timothy, let us also include the following item, taken from the Private Eye Annual 2009, ed. Ian Hislop.  Private Eye is a British satirical magazine, and the “Book of Ehud” is an item that appears in very similar form whenever it feels the need to comment on Israeli affairs.


OCR’d this gives the following text:

The Book of Ehud.

Chapter 94

  1. And, lo, it came to pass that the days were accomplished that the ceasefire should end between the children of Israel and the Hamas-ites, they that dwelt in the land of Gaza.
  2. And thus, as was foretold, the Hamas-ites once again sent forth into the land of Israel many rockets that are called Qassam and Faj-3 and BM-21 Grad, even unto the cities of Askelon, Ashdod and Beersheba.
  3. Then Ehud that is called Olmert waxed wroth, and summoned unto him Ehud that is called Barak, who waxed even wrother.
  4. And he also called Tzipi, the daughter of Livni, who waxed even wrother still.
  5. And they said among thmselves, “The hour is upon us. Now is the time for smiting, as we have done so many times before, to bring peace to the land of Israel.”
  6. And they wagged their heads wisely, saying, “Yea, as it worked before in the land of Lebanon, when we smote the Hezboll-ites, so it will worketh again.
  7. “Furthermore,” they muttereth privily, “there is an election coming up, and the children of Israel tendeth to choose the ones who do the most smiting.”
  8. And so it came to pass that, while the Gaza-ites were watching their televisions by night, behold, the skies were filled with a heavenly host raining bombs on them and singing “No peace on earth, ill will to men.”
  9. And, as the fire and brimstone decended on the Gaza-ites, they were slain in their hundreds, even men, women and children.
  10. And in the streets of the city of Gaza there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
  11. And Ehud cried aloud, saying, “Verily, that will teach you Hamas-ites to launch your rockets at the land of Israel.”
  12. And the Hamas-ites laughed him to scorn, and launched more rockets into the land of Israel where the people were also slain but not in quite the same numbers.
  13. If thou wouldst not know the score, looketh away now.
  14. Which is what most of the world did.
  15. The score was as follows: Gaza-ites – 400; Israel-ites – 4.
  16. Which is an good result.
  17. And Ehud said, “Behold, this showeth that the smiting is working. Never again will we see the rockets of the Hamas- ites darkening the skies of Israel… hangeth on, what is that falling from the heavens… ?”
  18. And as he spake there was an mighty boom, like unto the thunder that fills even the mighty Leviathan with dread as he slumbereth off the coast of Eilat (which currently offereth three weeks for the price of one, hurry, hurry, hurry, while Israel lasts).
  19. Then, as the smoke cleareth, Ehud saith, “Right. That’s done it. There is only one way to stop this kind of thing. More smiting!” And the children of Israel rejoiced, saying, “Too true, Ehud. For there be-eth only one language that these people of Gaza understandeth.”
  20. So Ehud sent forth a mighty army and tanks, even an hundredfold, to carry out the next round of smiting that would finally bring lasting peace to the land of Israel.
  21. Just as it hath done so many times before.
  22. And, lo, the war continued, even unto the twenty-second day.
  23. And Ehud looked upon it and saw that it was good.
  24. Then said Ehud, son of Olmert, “Let us now declare an cease-fire.
  25. “For, lo, we have achieved our objective.
  26. “Which was to get a quick war in before Obama cometh.
  27. “For Barack, son of Obama, may not looketh so kindly on our smiting as did Dubya, that is called the Burning Bush.”
  28. And so it came to pass that the smiting ceased.
  29. And the children of Israel said to themselves, “Great is Ehud for he hath prevailed over the Hamas-ites.”
  30. But the Hamas-ites, as ye mighteth expect, said to themselves, “Great is Hamas for we have prevailed over the might of Israel.”
  31. And all the nations of the world talketh amongst themselves, saying, “Something must be done – though quite what, we knoweth not what it is.”

(To be continued)

I trust that it is unnecessary to add that this is not an ancient text.  It is not intended to be part of the Old Testament.  It is not an apocryphon.  I believe that the authors of it never had the slightest intention to deceive their readers, or to lead them to suppose that it was really part of the Old Testament.

They had, as we may readily see, other motives.  The object in this case is satire, and a rather unworthy sneer at Israeli efforts at self-defence.

Whether all this would be entirely obvious — to a dull man — in 1,500 years I do not know.  I suggest that it is the contemporary nature of the events described that make all this clear to us now.

But when we come to look at Salvian’s Ad Ecclesiam, and the allegations of Bart Ehrman about it, it will be useful to have this current example to hand.


Salvian, Letter 9, to Salonius: on why he used the name Timothy when writing Ad Ecclesiam

In Forgery and counterforgery, Ehrman makes great play of the “confession” of Salvian that he forged a work in the name of the apostle Timothy.  Unfortunately he does not give the text of the letter in question.  The reference is to letter 9 in the collected letters, although it is not found in the unique manuscript of Salvian’s letters, but instead is found prefixed to the text of Ad Ecclesiam, the work in question.

Let us have the Fathers of the Church translation.[1]  I will discuss it, and E.’s treatment of it, in my next post.

*    *    *    *


Salvian to Bishop Salonius,[2] my lord and most blessed pupil, father and son, disciple by instruction, son through love and a father in honor.

You ask me, my dear Salonius, why the name of Timothy was signed to the little treatise To the Church, done recently by a certain author of our day. In addition, you add that unless I add a clear reason for using the name, while the surname of Timothy is affixed to the treatise, the books may perhaps be reckoned among the apocrypha.

I am most thankful to you for your judgment of me, by thinking that my faith is so zealous that I would not allow the authorship of a work on the church to be in doubt. Thus, a writing that is most salutary should not be lessened in value because its authorship is uncertain. I have already pointed out that the books deal with issues of today and that they were written by a man of our own day in his zeal and love for things divine. This alone could suffice for removing completely any suspicion of apocryphal composition. Those treatises which are recognized as not being Timothy’s are not suspected as apocryphal.

Perhaps someone is inquiring who is the author, if the Apostle is not the author? They are asking whether he signs his own or a different name to his books. That is true. Indeed, this can be asked, and rightly asked, provided that the inquiry can bring good to anybody. Besides, if the inquiry is useless, why is it necessary that curiosity go to all this trouble, when knowledge will not have any benefit from the curiosity?  In every volume, profit is sought more from reading the book than from the name of the author.

Therefore, if there is profit in reading, and each author, no matter who he is, possesses the wherewithal to teach his readers, what matters to him a word which cannot help those who are seeking knowledge? Most worthily the saying of the angel can be answered to this inquisitive person: ‘Do you seek the family or the hired servant?’ Since there is no profit in a name, he who finds profit in writings unnecessarily seeks the name of the writer. As I have said, this is an adequate statement of the case.

I will tell you the more obvious facts because, my Salonius, my ornament and aid, I cannot refuse you anything In these books about which I am speaking there are three things which can be asked. Why did the author address his book To the Church? Did he use a borrowed name or his own? If not his own, why a borrowed name? If a borrowed name, why in particular did he choose Timothy as the name to be written? Here is the reason for writing the books To the Church.

The writer himself, as the very writings themselves testify is so concerned in his soul for the worship and love of God that he thinks nothing must be put before God, according to that saying of Our Lord: ‘He who loves his son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.’ However, the lukewarm and negligent think this saying must be observed only in time of persecution.

As if, indeed, there is any time when anything should be preferred to God, or as though there are men who think that Christ must be considered more precious than all other things in time of persecution, but in all the remaining time He must be considered of less value. If that were the case, we would owe the love of God to persecution and not to faith. Then only will we be good when the evil persecute us. Actually, we owe a greater or certainly not a lesser love to God in times of peace than in adversity.

The very fact that He does not allow us to be afflicted by the evil is all the more reason why we should love Him. He acts toward us with the indulgence of the best and most gentle father, who wishes us, in peace and quiet, to show our faith more by works of religion than to prove our faith in persecution and bodily punishments. Therefore, if nothing is to be preferred to Him at the time when things are going badly with us, should He not also be preferred at the time when He deserves to receive more because of His indulgence? But these arguments are more fitting for another time. Let me now complete what I began.

The writer whom I have mentioned saw the manifold insidious diseases of almost all Christians and realized only that not all things did not stand in second place to God, but that almost all things were preferred to God. The drunken seem to spurn God in their drunkenness, the greedy in their greediness, the unchaste in their lust, the cruel in their cruelty.

What is more serious in all these faults is that not only are they committed with criminal violence over a long time, but they are not even corrected afterward by penance. Even in those who are said to be penitents the penance itself is rather a name than a reality, because names of things mean little if they do not possess reality. The name of virtue means nothing if it has no force.

Very many, in fact almost all, who abound in goods and are conscious of their misdeeds and greater crimes do not even deign to redeem them by confession and satisfaction, or, what is easier, by gifts and works of mercy. What is more irreligious, they neglect this not only in time of prosperity, but also in times of adversity, not only when they have security but when they are in poverty. So great is the religious disbelief of men and so grave the sloth of unfaithful souls that, when many leave their greatest wealth to their heirs, sometimes even to strangers, they think their only loss is what they donated for their own hope and salvation. Indeed, though this is serious in almost all, it is especially so in those whom even the profession of sanctity accuses of a like criminal lack of faith. This very malady is great among those who are not laymen, but it is especially so in those who arrogate to themselves the name of religious.

Thus, he who wrote this treatise saw that this evil was general and that this almost universal crime was common, not to worldly men only, but even to penitents and converts, to widows professing chastity, and to young girls consecrated at the holy altars. A sin to be reckoned as monstrous, as I have said, it has reached even to the Levites and priests and, what is much more deadly, even to the bishops. Because of this, many of those I mentioned above, who are without love and without offspring, who have neither families nor children, allot their wealth and goods not to the poor, not to the churches, not even to themselves. What is greater and more outstanding, they do not even allot it to God, but to men of the world, especially to rich men and strangers. Seeing all this, the writer’s heart was kindled, during the writing, with a zeal for God like a burning fire.

His marrow glowed with a sacred love, his zeal was unable to do otherwise in such warmth than to burst forth with a voice of sorrow. But nobody was seen more suitable than the Church, of which they who did these things were a part, to whom that voice could be directed. It is superfluous to write for one or for a few, where the case is general. Therefore, this reason convinced and compelled the writer that the books about which I am speaking be sent to the Church.

Now I speak about the second question: why the books are not titled with the author’s name. Though there is one special reason for this, I think there could have been many. First, there is that reason which derives from the mandate of God, by whom we are ordered to avoid the vanity of worldly glory in all things, lest, while we seek a little breath of human praise, we lose a heavenly reward. Consequently, God wishes us to offer prayers and gifts to Him in secret. He orders us to commend in secret the fruit of good work, because there is no greater devotion to faith than that which avoids the knowledge of men and is content with God as its witness. Our Saviour says: ‘Let not your left hand know what your right hand does, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you.’

Therefore, this reason alone could satisfy the writer for withholding and concealing his name from the title, that what he had done for the honor of his Lord he would keep for divine knowledge only, and what shunned public acclaim would become more commendable to God. The writer must confess that his principal consideration was that he himself is humble in his own eyes and lowly in his own estimation. He thinks he is the least and the last, and, what is more important, he thinks in this manner in pure faith, not by the means of an assumed humility, but by the truth of an honest judgment.

Hence, rightly thinking that others must also evaluate him as he evaluates himself, he rightly inserted a strange name on his books, lest the insignificance of his person detract authority from his salutary statements. In a way, all things said are esteemed as much as is he who says them. Indeed, so weak are the judgments of our day and almost so meaningless that they who read do not consider so much what they read as whom they read, nor so much the force and strength of what is said as the reputation of him who speaks.

For this reason, the writer wished to be completely hidden and to keep out of the way, lest writings which contained much helpfulness should lose their force through the name of the author. This is the reason for anyone who inquires why the author assumed another’s name.

There remains an explanation of why the name Timothy was chosen. To answer this question, I am about to return afresh to the author, for he is the cause of all the questions which have been raised. As he excelled in humility when he assumed a strange name, so he excelled in fear and caution when he used the name of Timothy. Indeed, he is fearful and scrupulous, and sometimes he is afraid of ‘white lies’; he fears sin so much that sometimes he fears things which should not be feared.

When, therefore, he wished to withhold his own name from the title of the book and to insert another’s name, he was afraid of falsehood even in this change of names. He thought that the sin of falsehood should never be committed in the exercise of a holy work. Being thus placed in uncertainty and doubt, he thought it would be best to follow the most holy example of the blessed Evangelist, who, affixing the name Theophilus to both beginnings of his divine works, wrote for the love of God when he was apparently writing to men. He judged it most fitting that he direct his writings to the very love of God by whom he was impelled to write.

Thus this writer about whom I am speaking made use of this argument and counsel. The Evangelist, being conscious that he had done all things in his writings for the honor of God, just as he had done all for the love of God, wrote the name Theophilus. For a like reason did this writer write the name of Timothy. For, as love is expressed by the word Theophilus, so is honor of the divinity expressed by the word Timothy. Thus, when you read that Timothy wrote To the Church, you must understand thereby that it was written to the Church for the honor of God, even that the very honor of God directed the writing. Rightly he is said to have written through whom it happened that the book was written.

For this reason, therefore, the name of Timothy is inscribed in the titles of the books. Indeed, the writer thought it fitting that, since he was writing the books for the honor of God, he would consecrate the title to the very honor of the Divinity. You have, my Salonius, my dear one, you have what you demanded. I have fulfilled the work of an ordered task. There remains, since I have discharged my part, that you discharge yours; that is, that you pray our Lord God and, by praying, ask that the books To the Church, written only for the honor of Christ, may be as profitable with God to their writer as he desires them to be profitable to all. I think this desire is not unjust. It is a desire by which someone asks that they be as profitable for his own salvation as he hopes they will be profitable to all for the love of God. Farewell, my Salonius, my ornament and help.

  1. [1]The Writings of Salvian the Presbyter, tr. by Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan.  Fathers of the Church, 1947.
  2. [2]Son of Eucherius and pupil of Salvian. Salvian dedicated the treatise
    On the Governance of God to him.

More on experimenting with Arabic and Ibn Abi Usaibia

In this post I asked if anyone had access to the following texts:

B. L. Van der Waerden, “Die Schriften und Fragmente des Pythagoras,” RESupp. 10 (1965): 843-64; see also idem, Die Pythagoreer. Religiose Bruderschaft und Schule der Wissenschaft (Zurich: Artemis, 1979), 272-73.

A correspondent kindly sent me the latter item today.  A PDF is here.

What this is about is a passage in the medieval writer Ibn Abi Usaibia (translation here), not found in the Kopf edition, but referenced by Bart Ehrman in his recent book Forgery and counterforgery.  E. indicates that the version given by Van der Waerden is unreliable, but does not repeat it.  Naturally I wanted to see what it said.  The text begins on p.272.

The writings of the older Pythagoreans

Archytas [the Pythagorean] not merely wrote a lot himself, but he collected the writings of older Pythagoreans, and of Pythagoras himself, and combined them to form a corpus.  The most detailed report on this is found in a long fragment from a work by Porphyry, given by the Arabic physician Ibn Abi Usaibia in his dictionary of physicians (5).  Porphyry distinguishes between “authentic books”, written by Pythagoras himself and the “heirs of his wisdom”, and “false books” which “were placed in the mouth of the sage and written under his name.”  After he has noted the titles of twelve such forgeries, Porphyry tells us that there were 280 “books on which no doubt rests”, and that 80 were by Pythagoras himself, and 200 by the “mature men who belonged to the group of Pythagoras, to his party, and to the heirs of his knowledge.”  These books, so he says, in particular were collected by Archytas.  They were then “forgotten, until they regained their place in a host of ways, mainly by showing their instrinsic good intent and devotion.”

The quotations given in the preceding paragraph in translation from the Arabic I owe to Mr. Matthias Schramm of Tubingen.  The latter has explicitly endorsed the following interpretation of the testimony of Porphyry.

If I understand the report of Porphyry correctly, Archytas was the first to put together a collection of the books of Pythagoras and his students.  They were unknown in Greece at this time, but preserved in Italy.  Then they were lost, and then came “wise men” — probably the Neopythagoreans — who collected them once more.

That Porphyry understood that there were two different periods of collecting and assembling, the period of Archytas, and that of the “wise men”, is indicated by the fact that Ibn Abi Usaibia, according to a communication by Mr. Schramm, uses a different verb for the collecting activity of Archytas to that of the “wise men”.

The testimony of Porphyry agrees well with that which we know from other sources.  As we saw in chapter 1, Dicaearchus, who lived a century after Pythagoras, knew of no books by Pythagoras: the Pythagoreans, so he said, kept their teachings strictly secret.  The books of Pythagoras, as Porphyry rightly says, did not become known in Hellas.  That the books came to the fore again in Italy is suggested because the learned Roman Varro (60 BC) gives as representative the opinion that there had always been “Pythagoras of Samos and Occelus of Lucania and Archtyas the Tarentine”.  As Thesleff rightly remarks, Varro also knew a corpus of Pythagorean writings, containing the writings of Pythagoras, Occelus and Archytas.

I give the German as well, for the benefit of search engines.

Die Schriften der älteren Pythagoreer

Archytas hat nicht nur selbst viel geschrieben, er hat auch die Schriften von älteren Pythagoreern und von Pythagoras selbst gesammelt und zu einem Corpus vereinigt. Die ausführlichste nachricht darüber finden wir in einem längeren Fragment aus einer Schrift von Porphyrios, das der arabische Arzt Ibn Abi Usaybi`a in seine Ärztebiographie aufgenommen hat.(5)  Porphyrios unterscheidet darin «authentische Bücher», die von Pythagoras selbst und den «Erben seines Wissens» verfaßt wurden, von «falschen Büchern», welche «dem Weisen in den Mund gelegt und unter seinem Namen geschrieben» wurden. Nachdem er die Titel von zwölf solchen Fälschungen vermerkt hat, teilt Porphyrios uns mit, daß es zweihundertachtzig «Bücher, an denen kein Zweifel besteht» gegeben hat, und zwar achtzig von Pythagoras selbst und zweihundert von den «reifen Männern, welche zur Gruppe des Pythagoras, zu seiner Partei und zu den Erben seines Wissens gehörten». Diese Bücher, so sagt er, wurden besonders von Archytas zusammengestellt. Sie seien dann «in Vergessenheit geraten, bis sich ihre Existenz bei einer Schar von Weisen, denen guter Vorsatz und Frömmigkeit eigen war, ergab». Diese Weisen hätten die Bücher «zusammengefaßt, zusammengestellt und komponiert, ohne daß sie zuvor in Hellas bekannt gewesen wären; vielmehr wurden sie in Italien aufbewahrt».

Die im vorigen Absatz in Anführungsstrichen angeführten Übersetzungen aus dem Arabischen verdanke ich Herrn Matthias Schramm, Tübingen. Dieser hat der nachfolgenden Interpretation des Zeugnisses von Porphyrios ausdrücklich zugestimmt.

Wenn ich die Mitteilung von Porphyrios richtig verstehe, so hat Archytas zuerst eine Sammlung von Büchern des Pythagoras und seiner Schüler zusammengestellt. In Griechenland waren sie zu dieser Zeit nicht bekannt, sondern sie wurden in Italien aufbewahrt. Dann sind sie verlorengegangen, und dann kamen «weise Männer» — wahrscheinlich Neupythagoreer —, die sie von neuem zusammengefaßt haben.

Daß Porphyrios zwei verschiedene Perioden des Sammelns und Zusammenstellens voneinander unterscheidet, die Periode des Archytas und die der «weisen Männer», dafür spricht auch, daß Ibn Abi Usaybi’a nach einer Mitteilung von M. Schramm für die Sammeltätigkeit von Archytas ein anderes Verbum benutzt als für die der «weisen Männer».

Das Zeugnis von Porphyrios stimmt gut überein mit dem, was wir aus anderen Quellen wissen. Wie wir im Kapitel i gesehen haben, hat Dikaiarchos, der ein halbes Jahrhundert nach Archytas lebte, keine Bücher von Pythagoras gekannt: die Pythagoreer, so sagt er, hielten dessen Lehren streng geheim. Die Bücher des Pythagoras sind also, wie Porphyrios ganz richtig sagt, in Hellas damals nicht bekannt geworden. Daß die Bücher in Italien wieder zum Vorschein kamen, stimmt auch, denn der gelehrte Römer Varro (um 60 v.Chr.) führt als Vertreter der Ansicht, daß es immer Menschen gegeben hat, «Pythagoras von Samos und Okkelos den Lukanier und Archytas den Tarentiner» an. Varro hat also, wie Thesleff richtig bemerkt, einen Corpus von pythagoreischen Schriften gekannt, in dem Schriften von Pythagoras, Okkelos und Archytas vorkamen.

(5) Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopaedie, Supplement X, Sp. 862: Schriften des Pythagoras IV, Nachtrag.

This is useful, but not really concerned with the issue of whether the students of Pythagoras felt able to write in his name.  In particular the author is clearly concerned with something else.  Finally the quotations are just snippets, not even sentences.

The RE article is not simple to find.  Pythagoras in general falls in Band XXIV of the RE, p.172 f.  But in Supp. 10 (1965), column 862-3, there is a section “IV. Nachtrag”.  This discusses Ibn Abi Usaibia.  A PDF of these two pages is here.  It likewise mentions Mr. Schramm.  In fact it becomes clear that Van der Waerden’s text is almost word for word the same!  The RE gives a few more details, but the quotations are the same too.

All this is unsatisfactory.  What we want, of course, is the text of Ibn Abi Usaibia, with which Ehrman is disagreeing.  E., it will be noted, renders “heirs of his wisdom” as “inheritors of his sciences”.

Update: I have only just realised that the “other article” above in “RESupp” is in fact the RealEncyclopadie Supplement article!  The perils of abbreviations…


Ehrman’s use of the term “forgery”

Before I go further in reviewing Ehrman’s Forgery and Counterforgery, it would be good to look at what E. means when he uses the word “forgery” — a word which he uses very frequently — and what we mean when we use the word, and whether the two are the same and of the same extent.

If we think of instances of contemporary use of the word “forgery” in current English, we may imagine a number of instances: a forged will; the forged “Hitler diaries”; a forged and discreditable letter from a public figure; or some form of forged financial document; or a forged bank note.

The man who forges a will intends to obtain property belonging to another; the man who composed the supposed “Hitler diaries” hoped to obtain money for them; a forged financial instrument is created and submitted to cheat another of money.  A forged letter from a public figure intended to discredit him is intended to steal reputation, to obtain power or influence by removing it from another.

Likewise the man who creates a forged bank note does so in order to use it to obtain goods, stealing them from his victim.  On the other hand, there have been artists who have created “art” based around an image of a bank note.  The intent, and still more the use of the item, determines whether it is a forgery, or something else.

A google search will quickly confirm that the term is morally as black as black can be, indicating a fraud, something created maliciously with the purpose of injuring others in some way, or, at the very least, indifferent as to whether others are injured.  It is not a neutral term, but has a considerable emotional loading.  As such, in any scholarly study, it must be used with care, and only for items where the forgery is generally accepted, and in which none of the readership has any personal, political, religious or emotional investment.  To do otherwise can have no other effect than to turn a book into polemic against those sections of the readership, whether intentionally or not.  The book ceases to be scholarship at that point.

The google search to which I referred will also quickly reveal the existence of a 1930 book by a certain Joseph Wheless, entitled Forgery in Christianity: a documented record of the foundations of the Christian religion, which consists of extensive quotations from patristic writers with the intent of proving that the early Christians were determined and persistent liars.  The book may be found here.  Hate-literature very frequently levels an accusation of this sort at the object of its venom, whatever this may be.

Wheless, who had been an attorney, defines forgery in his introduction, and we might usefully quote it, in order to see what a malicious person intent on harm might do with the word.

Forgery, in legal and moral sense, is the utterance or publication, with intent to deceive or defraud, or to gain some advantage, of a false document, put out by one person in the name of and as the genuine work of another, who did not execute it, or the subsequent alteration of a genuine document by one who did not execute the original. This species of falsification extends alike to all classes of writings, promissory notes, the coin or currency of the realm, to any legal or private document, or to a book. All are counterfeit or forged if not authentic and untampered.

How, then, does E. define forgery?  Verbosely and diffusely, unfortunately, or I would quote him directly, rather than in excerpts.

First he defines (p.29-30) as “pseudonymous” writings where the name at the top is not that of the person who composed it.  The name may be a pen-name, or it may be that of a “well-known person who did not, in fact, write it.”

He then divides the latter class into two; (a) works originally published without a name, or under a name which is the same as a more famous person, and later ascribed by copyists or whoever to the “well-known person”; and (b) works published under the name of a well-known person, by someone knowing full well that he was not that person.

E. states that (b) is ‘typically meant to deceive the reader … this kind of pseudepigraphy is what I am calling “forgery,” when an author claims to be someone else who is well known, at least to some readers.  Forgeries involve false authorial claims.’  He then wanders off into justifications of his usage, of no special interest now,  and all rather vague and discursive.  He’s said what he wants to say, and the rest is detail.

Many will feel rather uneasy with these definitions.   These are not conclusions, or useful ways to summarise, based on what a study of the material has revealed.  This is only chapter three, is introductory material.  Rather these are guiding principles, invented ex animo by E., for the purpose of classifying the materials he proposes to deal with.

To label every writing composed by a man under another name as “forgery” is very aggressive indeed.   Do we know this?  Do we know that, in every case, 2,000 years ago, the author intended malice, fraud and deception?  That he sat there intending to cheat the public?  It seems most unlikely.  So why use this loaded term?

But can we test E.’s definitions?  Is there a case, where we do know the background and the author’s intentions?

Let us consider the case of Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations.  These take the form of a dialogue between various persons.   We know quite a bit about the composition of the text from Cicero’s Letters to Atticus, in which he discusses it; but let us, for the moment, ignore this, and apply E.’s principles to the speakers in the text.

In the Tusculan Disputations, a number of speeches are atttributed to Scipio.  Did Scipio actually say this?  Let us say, after investigation, that the style is typically Ciceronian, and that Scipio did not write those words.  These, then, are pseudonymous.

Do these fit E.’s class ‘a’? — originally anonymous?  They do not.  The names of the speakers were always set forth as they are now.  So, by default, we come to the conclusion that Cicero was engaged in forgery, representing the opinions and words of Scipio when in fact they were his own.

Yet in fact no question of forgery arises; we learn from the Letters to Atticus that Cicero merely sought literary effect, that the speakers were all dead at the time he wrote, and that everyone understood that this was merely a literary convention.   In fact a reasonable man, reading the Tusculan Disputations, would not rush to judgement anyway.

It may be objected that speeches in a literary composition are not the same as a work transmitted independently.  This is quite true; we know from Justinus’ epitome of Pompeius Trogus that the speeches in Livy were so composed, for instance, and that this was acceptable.  It would be nice to be able to point to some similarly documented case of a whole work under another name; but none with such background comes to mind.  But the point here is that we have identified, very quickly, a case where ancient writers set forth material under the names of others, with no intent to deceive, and where no forgery is involved.  E.’s definitions fail as soon as we apply them to material where we do know quite a bit about the background.

Nor should we be surprised.  99% of ancient literature is lost.  Our knowledge of antiquity will often be rather tentative.  Our information about the authors and the process of composition of most ancient documents is minimal.  Anachronism is an ever-present danger.  Bad scholarship always starts by imposing a modern outlook onto the data.  A wise man will refrain from rushing in to denounce, to fingerpoint, to label, when he knows full well that five minutes in the company of the author would probably change his every assumption utterly.  To do otherwise is unscholarly.  Good scholarship avoids applying loaded terms to conclusions reached on the basis of little evidence.  Once emotion comes in, balance and judgement go out of the window.  Let the text speak; and let us walk warily.

Yet E. proceeds to apply these criteria of his own devising to texts where we have very little information.  He does so in order to brand the authors as forgers and – eventually – as liars.

Likewise E.’s purpose is to apply these categories, not to texts whose forgery is universally accepted and uncontroversial, but to the foundation documents of the Christian church, whose followers are everywhere.   This amounts to a direct religious statement on a matter of current controversy.  Indeed, as we have seen, he follows in the footsteps of a hate-writer in so doing.  At which point whatever scholarship E. brings to the subject is merely equipment for polemic.

This is a pity.  What it means is that, in the book as a whole, accusations of forgery will be thrown around without adequate evidence, in cases where the real position is actually unknown.  This is certain to render the book rather useless and misleading.

Finally we may reflect that E. has rather shot himself in the foot.  After all, someone who applied to E. himself the kind of black-and-white dogmatism that he proposes to apply to ancient texts might give him back some hard names at this point!  But a reasonable man would not.  E. no doubt intends no deception.  He has merely spent too much time brooding on a religious position that he does not share.   Such a process would make any man morose.


Experimenting with Arabic, and Ibn Abi Usaibia

On p.109-10, in Forgery and counterforgery, Bart Ehrman quotes a passage from medieval author Ibn Abi Usaibia (here), supposedly about Pythagoras (as translated by Carl Ernst, from a private translation):

But as for the books of Pythagoras the sage, which Archytas the Tarentine philosopher collected by himself, they are eighty books. But those that he made special effort, with all his strength, to compile, compose (ta’līf), and collect, from all the old men who were of the type of Pythagoras the philosopher, his school, and the inheritors of his sciences, man after man, these were two hundred books in number. And he who was unique in the essence of his intellect [i.e., Archytas] set aside from them the false books ascribed to the tongue of the sage and his name, which shameless people fabricated.


The criminal individuals who fabricated these lying books that we have mentioned, according to traditions that have reached us, are Aristotle the Younger, Nikos (Nuqūs) known as the essentially erroneous, one of the Cretans called Konios, Megalos, and Fūkhajawāqā (?), along with others even more reprehensible than they. And that was who proposed to them (others?) the fabrication of these lying books with the tongue of the philosopher Pythagoras and his name, so that [these writings] would be accepted among the moderns because of him, so they would honor, prefer, and share them.

The former passage is referenced as “Ed. ‘Amir al-Najjar (4 vols., Cairo: al-Hay’a al-Misriyya al-Amma lil-Kitab, 2001), vol. 1, pp. 244-45.”; the latter passage is not referenced.

The Kopf translation of Ibn Abi Usaibia is online here, made from the Muller edition, and contains no such passage.  This is rather curious.

E. quotes the passage in order to disagree with a rendering by another scholar.  He does not give the other version, only the reference (a bad habit indeed):

B. L. Van der Waerden, “Die Schriften und Fragmente des Pythagoras,” RESupp. 10 (1965): 843-64; see also idem, Die Pythagoreer. Religiose Bruderschaft und Schule der Wissenschaft (Zurich: Artemis, 1979), 272-73.

Unfortunately this is not accessible to me.  If anyone has the item, I should be glad to see it.

I wondered if I had the Arabic text on disk anywhere.  I found a couple, which were kindly sent to me some time back by a correspondent.  But … I don’t know Arabic.  So how can I work with the text?

One of the texts was a PDF, from  So I could copy and paste chunks from it into Google Translate!

Now Google Translate is not that good for Arabic; but with the aid of Kopf, I find that I can navigate a bit around the text.  There’s a table of contents at the back which gives me the rough area to look, and proper names will probably be a good guide.

On p.39 of the PDF, I find the following:

22 بندقليس
قال القاضي صاعد إن بندقليس كان في زمن داود النبي عليه السلام على ما ذكره العلماء بتواريخ الأمم،
وكان أخذ الحكمة من لقمان الحكيم بالشام، ثمن انصرف إلى بلاد اليونانيين فتكلم في خلق العالم بأشياء


22 Bandkulais
The judge said the upside that Bandkulais was in the time of David, the Prophet , peace be upon him on what was said by scientists at the dates of Nations. He was taking the wisdom of the Luqman Hakim Levant , the price went to the land of the Greeks in the creation of the world spoke things …

Or as Kopf gives it:

Pendacles. Judge Sa`id said: “Pendacles lived at the time of the Prophet David,  peace be on him, as was mentioned by the historians of the nations. He learned  wisdom from Luqmān the Sage in Damascus. Then he went to Greece, where he  discoursed on the creation of the universe in terms which suggested a denial of  the Resurrection….

We’re in the right area of the book!  The Google translate version is gibberish; but we have the Arabic text in the right area.

It is useful to be able to do this much.  On the next page, p.40, we find the following:

22 فيثاغورس
ويقال فوثاغوراس وفوثاغوريا، وقال القاضي صاعد في كتاب طبقات الأمم أن فيثاغورس كان بعد
بندقليس بزمان، وأخذ الحكمة عن أصحاب سليمان بن داود عليهما السلام بمصر حين دخلوا إليها من


22 Pythagoras
Said Fothagoras be and Fothagoraa , the judge said upward in book Nations layers that Pythagoras was after Bandkulais بزمان , taking wisdom from the owners of Solomon the son of David , peace be upon them in Egypt when they entered it from Levant , and had taken them for engineering the Egyptians, and then returned to Greece and enter them aware …

In Kopf:


Also called [in Arabic] Puthagoras and Pothagoria. Judge Sa`id said in “The Classes of Nations : “‘Pythagoras came some time after Pendacles. He  learned wisdom from the followers of Solomon the son of David, peace be upon  them, when they came to Egypt from Damascus. Prior to that he learned geometry  from the Egyptians. Then he returned to Greece, where he introduced the sciences  of geometry, natural science, and theology. On his own initiative he founded the  science of musicology and composition, in accordance with numerical  measurements, claiming that he attained this by prophetic inspiration. ….

OK.  So … let’s continue looking through the Pythagoras section.  What do we find?

On p.45, at the end of the list of sayings by Pythagoras translated by Kopf, we find a bunch more material, down to the heading “Socrates” on p.46  (Ibn_Abi_Usaybi’ah_extract in PDF):

والوقت الذي يحسن فيه السكوت، وقال الحر هو الذي لا يضيع حرفاً من حروف النفس لشهوة من
شهوات الطبيعة، وقال بقدر ما تطلب تعلم، وبقدر ما تعلم تطلب، وقال ليس من شرائط الحكيم أن لا
يضجر، ولكن يضجر بوزن، وقال ليس الحكيم من حمل عليه بقدر ما يطيق فصبر واحتمل، ولكن الحكيم
من حمل عليه أكثر مما تحتمل الطبيعة فصبر، وقال الدنيا دول، مرة لك وأخرى عليك،و فإن توليت
فأحسن وإن تولوك فَلِن، وكان يقول إن أكثر الآفات إنما تعرض للحيوانات لعدمها الكلام، وتعرض
للإنسان من قبل الكلام، وكان يقول من استطاع أن يمنع نفسه من أربعة أشياء فهو خليق أن لا يترل به
المكروه كما يترل بغيره العجلة واللجاجة والعجب والتواني، فثمرة العجلة الندامة، وثمرة اللجاجة الحيرة،
وثمرة العجب البغضاء، وثمرة التواني الذلة، ونظر إلى رجل عليه ثياب فاخرة يتكلم فيلحن في كلامه فقال
له إما أن تتكلم بكلام يشبه لباسك أو تلبس لباساً يشبه كلامك، وقال لتلاميذه لا تطلبوا من الأشياء ما
يكون بحسب محبتكم، ولكن أحبوا من الأشياء ما هي محبوبة في أنفسها، وقال اصبر على النوائب أذا
أتتك من غير أن تتذمر، بل اطلب مداواا بقدر ما تطيق، وقال استعملوا الفكر قبل العمل، وقال كثرة
العدو تقلل الهدوء، وكان فيثاغورس إذا جلس على كرسيه أوصى ذه السبع الوصايا قوموا موازينكم
واعترفوا أوزاا؛ عدلوا الخط تصحبكم السلامة؛ لا تشعلوا النار حيث ترون السكين تقطع؛ عدلوا
شهواتكم تديموا الصحة؛ استعملوا العدل تحط بكم المحبة؛ عاملوا الزمان كالولاة الذين يستعملون عليكم
ويعزلون عنكم؛ لا تترفوا أبدانكم وأنفسكم فتفقدوها في أوقات الشدائد إذ أوردت عليكم، وُذكر المال
عنده ومدح فقال وما حاجتي إلى ما يعطيه الحظ، ويحفظه اللؤم، ويهلكه السخاء، وقال وقد نظر إلى
شيخ يحب النظر في العلم ويستحي أن يرى متعلماً يا هذا أتستحي أن تكون في آخر عمرك أفضل منك

في أوله؟ وقال أنكى شيء لعدوك أن لا تريه أنك تتخذه عدواً، وحضر امرأته الوفاة في أرض غربة،

فجعل أصحابه يتحزنون على موا في أرض غربة فقال يا معشر الإخوان ليس بين الموت في الغربة

والوطن فرق، وذلك أن الطريق إلى الآخرة واحد من جميع النواحي، وقيل له ما أحلى الأشياء؟ فقال

الذي يشتهي الإنسان، وقال الرجل المحبوب عند اللّه تعالى الذي لا يذعن لأفكاره القبيحة، ونقلت من

كتاب فرفوريوس في أخبار الفلاسفة وقصصهم وآرائهم قال وأما كتب فيثاغورس الحكيم، التي انفرد

بجمعها أرخوطس الفيلسوف الطارنطيني فتكون ثمانين كتاباً، فأما التي اجتهد بكلية جهده في التقاطها

وتأليفها وجمعها من جميع الكهول الذين كانوا من جنس فيثاغورث الفيلسوف وحزبه وورثة علومه رجل



فتكون مئتي كتاب عدداً فمن انفرد بصفوة عقله وعزل منها الكتب الكذيبة المقولة على لسان الحكيم

واسمه التي اختلقها أناس فجرة، وهي كتاب المناجاة، وكتاب وصف المهن السيئة، وكتاب علم المخاريق

وكتاب أحكام تصوير مجالس الخمور، وكتاب يئة الطبول والصنوج والمعازف، وكتاب الميامر

الكهنوتية، وكتاب بذر الزروع، وكتاب الآلات، وكتاب القصائد؛ وكتاب تكوين العالم، وكتاب

الأيادي، وكتاب المروءة، وكتب أخرى كثيرة تشاكل هذه الكتب مما اختلق حديثاً؛ فيسعد سعادة الأبد،

وقال وأما الرجال الأئمة الذين اختلقوا هذه الكتب الكاذبة التي ذكرناها فإم على ما أدت إلينا الروايات

أرسطيبوس المحدث، ونقوس الذي كان يكنى عين الناقص، ورجل من أهل اقريطية يقال له قونيوس،

وماغيالوس، وفوخجواقا مع آخرين أطغى منهم، وكان الذي دعاهم إلى اختلاق هذه الكتب الكاذبة

على لسان فيثاغورث الفيلسوف واسمه، كي يقبلوا عند الأحداث بسببه فيكرموا أو يؤثروا ويواسوا، فأما

كتب الحكيم التي لا ريب فيها فهي مائتان وثمانون كتاباً، وقد كانت منسية، حتى جاء للكيان بقوم

حكماء ذوي نية وورع فحصلوها وجمعوها وألفوها، ولم تكن قبل ذلك مشهورة ببلدة لكنها كانت

مخزونة في إيطاليا، وقال فلوطرخس أن فيثاغورس أول من سمى الفلسفة ذا الاسم، ومما يوجد

لفيثاغورس من الكتب كتاب الإرثماطيقي؛ كتاب الألواح، كتاب في النوم واليقظة؛ كتاب في كيفية

النفس والجسد، رسالة إلى متمرد صقلية، الرسالة الذهبية وسميت ذا الاسم لأن جالينوس كان يكتبها

بالذهب إعظاماً لها وإجلالاً وكان يواظب على دراستها وقراءا في كل يوم؛ رسالة إلى سقايس في

استخراج المعاني، رسالة في السياسة العقلية وقد تعاب هذه الرسالة بتفسير أمليخس؛ رسالة إلى



The last bit of which reads, in Google translate:

and quoted from Book Verworius in philosophers, news stories and opinions As said wrote Pythagoras Hakim , by himself Collect Erjutts the philosopher Tarntini the Vtkon eighty books , either by painstakingly captured his College in Authored and collected from all adults who were of the genus philosopher Pythagoras and his party and heirs of Sciences man فرجل . Shall be two hundred book number it himself Besfoh mind and isolate them books Alkvebh the argument on the lips of Hakim And named اختلقها the people Fajra , a communing book , and the book describe professions bad , and science Almkhariv book Book provisions filming liquor councils , and a book to creating drums , gongs and musical instruments , and a book الميامر Priests, and sowing crops book , a book musical , The Book of poems ; composition book world , and the book Hands, and virility book , and many other books تشاكل these books than feign newly ; فيسعد happiness forever, He said the men imams who concocted this false books that we have mentioned Fa end to what led us novels Erstibus updated , and Nqos who was nicknamed missing eye , a man of the people Agheraitih said to him Qonius , And Mageealos , Kjoaca with others أطغى of them, who had invited them to fabricate these false books On the tongue philosopher Pythagoras and his name , to accept when events because of Vickramoa or influence Aoaswa , Either Hakim wrote that no doubt they are two hundred and eighty books , has been forgotten, until it came to the entity of a people Elders with the intention , devout Vhsaloha of and collected and ألفوها , before that was not famous in the town , but it was Stored in Italy , and said Vleutrkhos that Pythagoras first named philosophy to the present name, which no Pythagoras of books book Alarthamatiqi ; book panels , the book in sleep and wakefulness ; book on how to Soul and body , rebellious message to Sicily , the message gold and was named to the present name because it was written by Galen Gold إعظاما and homage was regularly on the study and its readers every day ; message to Sagaas in Extract meanings , mental message in politics has been maligned this message interpretation Omlakhos ; message to Fimdosios

“Verworius” seems to be Porphyry.  We clearly do have something about false and true books in here.

This all needs the attention of someone who knows Arabic; but isn’t it fascinating what you can get, even with none?

I wonder if anyone would care to translate the “extra bit”?


From my diary

For a few days now I have been wading through Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and counterforgery.  It’s a long book, not very well structured, and written in an off-putting way.  So it is taking time, which I rather grudge, from other things.

Much the most interesting section so far is on the question of whether or not it was acceptable for the pupils of philosophers to attribute their own works to the master, on the basis that they were, in reality, articulating the values of the school.  I don’t have strong views either way on this; in which, apparently, I differ from Dr. E.  For F&C, as I am coming to call it, addresses this in a polemical way, unfortunately.  Which is a pain.

How would you or I investigate such a topic?  Well, I think that we would gather the ancient sources that relate to the subject, tabulate them, and form an opinion based on that.  If we wrote a book, we would give the sources (in the original, with translation), as our first item.

E. doesn’t do this.  Instead he writes his opinions and offers arguments, revealing sources now and then as convenient for the purpose.  It’s deeply annoying, if you want to know the facts rather than what E. has to say.  After a while you grow to mistrust him, for this alone; for if the sources truly say what he wants us to believe, why not set them all out first, and let them speak?

I was amused to find a sudden rush of sources which (he thought) supported his view, right towards the end of the section.  Discuss one or two passages which are opposed, cast whatever doubts on them you can, then offer in a rush a load which seem to support you … yes, that’s a debater’s trick.  It’s massaging the data by the way you present it in order to cause the unwary reader to suppose that all the data favours you.  It makes an old hand like myself horribly suspicious to see that sort of thing tried, when I (truly) have no opinion on the point at issue either way.

In general, it is deeply frustrating that primary sources are generally alluded to rather than given.  One important source is a passage about Porphyry and Pythagoras from Ibn Abi Usaibia’s History of Physicians.  The only translation known to me is online; but it doesn’t contain the passage Ehrman quotes!  This suggests that perhaps the text is rather fluid; something that would not surprise me a bit with a medieval Arabic text.  Has the text even been critically edited?  An edition is listed, but since it was published in Cairo, we may reasonably wonder.

Now E. doesn’t give the Arabic; only a translation by a colleague.  He does so in order to disagree with previous scholars; who rendered it differently.  But he doesn’t indicate how they read the text.   So you can’t see the text, and you can only see his translation and not the one he discusses.  It’s very wearying.

Of course it makes it much harder for critics to disagree with him, so there’s no mystery as to why someone would write in such a fashion.  Polemicists seek to close down disagreement all the time.  But in a work of scholarship we are entitled to expect better.  We are entitled to have all the primary data — it can hardly be extensive — tabulated in a systematic chronological way, without having to look for it.

Anthony Grafton, in his book on The Footnote, describes a scholar who took a book by a despised rival, ignored the text, and simply used the footnotes as a guide to assist him in writing his own book.  One can’t help feeling that someone ought to do the same with F&C.

Sorry if that sounds grumpy.  But I resent scholarly books that make accessing learning so very difficult.