Did pseudo-Ephraim believe in the Rapture? Some notes on the manuscripts, the passage and its Greek origins

There is a Latin text from the early Dark Ages which some believe teaches the “Rapture”; the idea that, before the Tribulation described in Revelation, the saints will all be caught up in the air by God and taken away. This claim has become a subject of controversy in the USA, as has the discussion about the Latin text.

I don’t intend to discuss here the Rapture teaching. But I think that it would be interesting to look at this obscure text here, and verify the claim made about it. Will the text bear the weight placed upon it?

Also, since many of the manuscripts are online, we get to look at two critical texts and three manuscripts, and second-guess the editors!  But I do apologise for its length!

I suspect this post might interest people involved in that controversy, so I have tried to avoid jargon and explain my terms, so that any interested reader can follow the discussion. If I have failed at any point, please let me know through the comments.

First, some bibliography. It’s as well to be clear that there is a Syriac “Apocalypse of pseudo-Ephrem” which is NOT the same work; and there are a lot of Greek sermons attributed to Ephraim, all about the end of the world!

Title of the work

In the Clavis Patrum Latinorum, the index of early Christian texts in Latin, this text is CPL 1144, and given the title “Scarpsum de dictis Sancti Efrem prope fine mundi et consummatione saeculi et conturbatione gentium”, i.e. “Extract from the sayings of St Ephraim On the end of the world, the consummation of the age, and the confusion of the nations.” It is generally known for convenience as “De fine mundi”, “On the end of the world”. The title as given in the earliest known copies is given below. However I notice that in some scholarship the work is listed as “De antichristo et de fine mundi”, “On antichrist and the end of the world”.[1]

Author of the work

Ephraim the Syrian lived from 306 to 373 AD. He wrote only in Syriac. He has nothing to do with this work. But his fame was such that works under his name appear in every single language of the ancient world.

A very large collection of works in Greek can be found in the handwritten Greek books of the middle ages, where the title says that the author is Ephraim. Very few of these are in fact translations of his works, or even from works by other people in Syriac. Most of these works are of unknown authorship. These works are known for convenience as “Ephraim Graecus”. They have mostly been printed. Translations into English or French etc are few. Scholars have not worked here, for the most part.

There is also a small collection of works in Latin under the name of Ephraim in the Latin manuscripts. These are known for convenience to scholars as “Ephraim Latinus”. A collection of 6 sermons seems to be a translation of works from Ephraim Graecus. The other Ephraim Latinus texts are known as “Pseudo Ephraim Latinus”. Much of this material has never been printed. Studies by scholars are few.

The author of our work, “De fine mundi”, will be referred to (for convenience – what else?) as pseudo-Ephraim Latinus. We shall see what we can deduce about him later on.

Manuscripts

This text has reached us in a small number of handwritten medieval copies, today preserved in libraries in cities across Europe. Each manuscript is unique, and each library assigns each a code or number of some sort (known as a shelfmark). Editors give each manuscript a single letter reference (or siglum) for quick reference by scholars.

  • P = Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Français, manuscript Latin 13348. Text starts on folio (in manuscript studies each leaf is numbered, rather than each page, and the front side is the “recto” or “r”; the reverse is the “verso” or “v”) 89v and ends on 93v. Followed by a short piece from Greek of Peter the Monk, then a sermon of pseudo-Methodius. The title in the manuscript is “Scarpsum de dictis Sancti Efrem prope fine mundi et consummatione saeculi et conturbatione gentium”. The type of book-hand used tells us that the manuscript was written in the 8th century. A monochrome PDF is online here.
  • A = Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 80. Fol. 103r-104v. Then a bit of Jerome on the works of Methodius, the preface of Peter the Monk, and ps.Methodius. Same title as P. 13th century.
  • B = Vatican, Barberini lat. 671. Foll.167-171. Followed by ps.Methodius. Same title as P. No later than 13th century. Online here.
  • G = St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, ms. 108. Foll.2-10. “Sermo Isidori de fine mundi” – the author of the text is given here as Isidore, not Ephraim. The next text in the ms. is the Revelation of Ps.Methodius. About 800 AD. Online here.
  • K = Karlsruhe, Landesbibliothek, ms. 196. Text starts on folio 24r, ends 29r. “Sermo sancti Effrem de finibus seculi” (Sermon of St Ephraim on the ends of the ages). Next but one text is the Revelation of Ps. Methodius. 9th century.

This list is from Verhelst’s edition.

A Google search suggested that there might be another manuscript at Koblenz as well, but the opening words of the text (the “incipit”) indicate that this is a different unknown work.[2]

By examining copyist errors, Verhelst drew the following diagram of which manuscripts were copies of which:

X stands for the now lost original.

Editions

The Latin text has been printed twice, based upon the manuscripts.

  • P. Caspari, Briefe, Abhandlungen und Predigten aus den zwei letzten Jahrhunderten des kirchlichen Altherthums und dem Anfang des Mittelalters, 1896. Online here. Pages 208-20 contain the text (Caspari_text PDF); pages 429-472 contain Caspari’s discussion of it (Caspari_discussion PDF).
  • D. Verhelst, “Scarpsum de dictis sancti Efrem prope fine”, in: R. Lievens (ed), Pascua Mediaevalia : studies voor Prof. Dr. J.M. de Smet, Louvain, 1983, p.518-528. Online here.

Caspari edited the text based upon 4 manuscripts; Verhelst added knowledge of the Karlsruhe manuscript. The two editions differ slightly, as we shall see.

Translations

There were no translations into any language, until Grant Jeffery discovered the text, and asked Cameron Rhoades, professor of Latin at Tyndale Seminary in Texas to make a draft translation into English.[3] This translation Jeffrey published in an article:

Electronic transcriptions of the Rhoades translation have circulated on the internet, but these are apparently of doubtful accuracy.[4]

  • B. McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages, 1979. Chapter 4, pp.60-1, contains a translation of part of the work from Caspari.

Studies

Quite a few papers mention this work. Here’s a selection of those not included in the footnotes.

  • Paul J. Alexander, The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p.136 ff. The discussion that started it all, when Grant Jeffrey read it. Preview here.
  • T.L.Frazier, A Second Look at the Second Coming: Sorting Through the Speculations, p.181. This is the anti-Rapture position with discussion of de fine mundi. Preview here.
  • Gerrit Reinink, “Pseudo-Methodius and the Pseudo-Ephremian ‘Sermo de Fine Mundi’”, In: R.I.A. Nip &c, Media Latinitas: A collection of essays to mark the retirement of L.J.Engels, Steenbrugis, 1996, pp. 317-321. First page visible here. Unfortunately I was unable to access this paper. However I was able to access a discussion of his claim that De fine mundi is derived from the Apocalypse of ps.Methodius, in S. Shoemaker, The Apocalypse of Empire: Imperial Eschatology in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, 2018, p.202-3 n.94 f., which dismisses the claim as unconvincing. Preview here.
  • G. Kortekaas, “The Biblical Quotations in the Pseudo-Ephremian ‘Sermo de fine mundi’”, In: R.I.A. Nip &c, Media Latinitas: A collection of essays to mark the retirement of L.J.Engels, Steenbrugis, 1996, pp. 237-244. First page visible here. Again I was unable to access this.
  • D. Hemmerdinger-Iliadou, ‘Éphrem latin’, in: Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, vol. 4, Paris 1960, col. 815-819.
  • R. Gryson, Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut Moyen Âge, t. 1, A-H, Herder, 2007. This is said to contain an overview of the scholarship ; again I was unable to access it.

Origins of De fine mundi

Before we look at the specific passage that concerns the Rapture, in chapter 2, we ought to establish something more about the text. This is not an original composition.

C. P. Caspari (p.445) has identified no fewer than 8 works from Ephraem Graecus or Ephraem Latinus where the wording seems very close to that in De fine mundi. These were printed in the 18th century by J.S.Assemani in three volumes.[5] Let me give the page numbers and the conventional Latin titles for each:

  1. Vol. 1, p.294-99 – Beatitudine alia, capita XX. (= CPG 3935.2)
  2. Vol. 2, 222-230 – Sermo in Adventum Domini et de consummatine saeculi et in adventum Antichristi (= CPG 3946)
  3. Vol. 3, p.136-40 – In Adventum Domini, sermones III. (= CPG 4012, sermon 2)
  4. Vol. 3, p.376-80 – Sermo utilis de paenitentia, et judicio, et separatione animae et corporis (= CPG 4044)
  5. Vol. 2, 192-209 – Sermo in secundum adventum d.n.I.C. (= CPG 3944)
  6. Vol. 2, 209-222 – Sermo de communi resurrectione, de paenitentia et de caritate, et in secundum adventum d.n.I.C. (=CPG 3945)
  7. Vol. 3, 152-159 – Sermo paraeneticus de secundo adventu domini, et de paenitentia (=CPG 4016)
  8. Vol. 3, 579-81 – De die judicii (=CPG 4089) (Given in Latin)

There is quite a quantity of works here, connected to the Second Coming of the Lord, and repentance!  Nor is this all; the text is also connected to passages in the Latin Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius, with which it is transmitted.  The text really looks like something of a hodge-podge, as well it may be.[6]

Only the two works in bold relate to our passage specifically. We will ignore the remainder, except to say that they indicate that the author of this work was clearly very familiar with the Ephraim material in Greek and Latin.

Origins of chapter 2 of De fine mundi

Caspari’s discussion included a list of places where the text was parallel to that in some other work. Here is his entry for our passage.  Click on it to expand.

The Latin of De fine mundi is on the left; the parallels to the right and below.

*   *   *   *

Firstly, we need to recheck what De fine mundi actually says. Caspari prints his text from the Vatican manuscript. But since then we have Verhelst’s edition, and some manuscripts are actually online!

Here’s the text of De fine mundi, as given by Caspari. I have placed the key words in bold.

Omnes enim sancti et electi Dei, ante tribulationem quae uentura est, colliguntur et ad Dominum adsumuntur, ne quando uideant confusionem, quae uniuersum propter peccata nostra obruet mundum.

For all the saints and elect of God, prior to the tribulation that is to come, are gathered and are taken [up] to the Lord, lest they see the confusion, that will overwhelm the whole world because of our sins.

But the text given by Verhelst (p.524, l.36-39) is different:

Omnes enim sancti et electi Dei, ante tribulationem quae uentura est, colliguntur et a Domino adsumentur, ne quando uideant confusionem, quae uniuersum propter peccata nostra obruit mundum.

For all the saints and elect of God, prior to the tribulation that is to come, are gathered and will be taken by the Lord, lest they see the confusion, that will overwhelm the whole world because of our sins.

Verhelst’s apparatus shows that “ad Dominum” is just the reading of B, the Vatican manuscript, and this is online. Let’s look at it!

The text continues at the top of the next folio, 168r:

Looking at the bottom of folio 167v we find “etaddnm” (I can’t mark the overscore on the n in this post), which is abbreviated from “et ad dominum”. Note also the spelling “adsummentur”.

The other manuscripts do not say this. Here’s fol. 4 of manuscript G, the St Gall ms., with the abbreviated “a dnō” = “a domino”:

Here’s the same sentence in ms. P, with the same reading “a domino”.

Verhelst does not indicate where he gets the “adsumentur”, but we can see it in B. However both G and P have “adsumuntur” as Caspari printed it, and this is probably right.

None of this really amounts to much. It doesn’t change the meaning much, to say “taken up to God” or “taken up by God”, does it.

*   *   *   *

The order in which Caspari gives his parallels is somewhat confusing. Let’s do it a bit more systematically.

1.  Latin: De Beatitudine Animae (On the blessing of the soul)

The first parallel is in another Latin text. This is one of the 6 sermons in the Latin collection of Ephraim texts known as Ephraim Latinus; specifically in De beatitudine animae. This has the code CPL 1143.ii. This work is contained in several manuscripts. Caspari transcribes the St Gall manuscripts 92 and 93, which differ on one letter:

Omnes sancti et electi, ante tribulationem quae uentura est, collinguntur et a Domino assumuntur, ut non uideant confusionem illam magnam, quae universum obruit [obruet] mundum.

All the saints and elect, before the tribulation which is to come, are gathered and taken by the Lord, so that they may not see that great confusion, that will overwhelm [overwhelms] the whole world.

This is nearly identical to the passage in De fine mundi.  It’s pretty obvious that our author copied it from here.

Note also that the “a Domino” “by God” wording is present in the St Gall manuscripts 92 and 93 of De beatitudine animae. Here is the text as it appears in ms. 93: [7]

De Beatitudine was printed before 1500, and that version is also online:[8]

This has the same reading.

So there is very little doubt that the author of De fine mundi copied this word for word from De beatitudine animae.

The correct readings in both texts are “a Domino” and “assumuntur” – “are gathered and taken [up] by God, so that they don’t see that great confusion, that overshadows [or “will overshadow”] the whole world”.

*   *   *   *

Now let’s look at the Greek texts. Caspari really presented this data in a confusing way. I hope we can do better! I will skate lightly over the many problems that the “Ephraim Graecus” material presents to us.

  1. Μακαρισμοὶ ἕτεροι, κεφάλαια κʹ / Beatitudines aliae, capita viginti / Other blessings, 20 chapters

This Greek text (CPG 3935, 2) is the Greek original of the Latin text that we just looked at, De beatitudine aliae. It was printed in J. S. Assemani’s 6 volume edition of Ephraem Graecus, in volume 1, on column 297 C.  It’s hard to read, as you will see.  Fortunately the Greek text was retyped in modern times and is now in the TLG.[9]. Here it is:

Οἱ ἐκλεκτοὶ συνάγονται πρὸ θλίψεως τοῦ μὴ ἰδεῖν τὴν σύγχυσιν καὶ τὴν θλῖψιν τὴν μεγάλην ἐρχομένην εἰς τὸν κόσμον τὸν ἄδικον.

Electi ne videant magnam illam confusionem, atque pressuram, quae iniquum hunc mundum obruet, colliguntur.[10]

The elect are gathered together before the tribulation so that they do not see the confusion and the great suffering to come over the whole world.

Click on the image for higher-resolution:

The sense is the same, but the “gathered and taken by the Lord” idea is reduced only to “gathered”. How being “gathered” will prevent the elect from experiencing the tribulation is not stated.

At any event we can see that the translator added the “a domino assumuntur” (“taken [up] by the Lord”). Presumably this was his explanation for that very question.

The Rapture teaching references 1 Thess. 4:17, so let’s see that:

Deinde nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Christo in aëra, et sic semper cum Domino erimus. (Vulgate)

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (NIV)

Had the author used “rapientur” (“will be caught up”) instead of “assumuntur” (will be taken [up]), we would have no doubt that he was thinking of this passage. But he did not.  It would be interesting to know what the Old Latin was for this verse, however.

3.  Λόγος περὶ μετανοίας καὶ κρίσεως, καὶ περὶ χωρισμοῦ ψυχῆς καὶ σώματος / Sermo utilis de paenitentia, et judicio, et separatione animae et corporis / Sermon on penitence, and judgement, and the separation of soul and body.

When we look at the CPG for the previous item, we are informed of links to yet another Greek work. This has the code CPG 4044, and appears in Assemani volume 3, page 376.[11] It was printed from a Vienna manuscript, no 62, folio 225 f, according to Assemani. The page of interest to us is 378 (p.454 of the downloadable PDF of Assemani). There are two sentences on this page, not together, which Caspari quotes above.

The first appears at the top of Caspari, but is toward the bottom of p.378, section E, line 2.

Οἱ ἐκλεκτοὶ συνάγονται πρὸ τῆς θλίψεως, τοῦ μὴ ἰδεῖν τὴν σύγχυσιν καὶ τὴν θλῖψιν τὴν μεγάλην τὴν ἐρχομένην εἰς τὸν ἄδικον κόσμον.

Congregantur electi ante tribulationem, ne confusionem videant…

The elect are gathered before the tribution…

This is pretty much identical to the passage in Beatitudines aliae. In fact the Dictionaire de spiritualite 4, col. 815, section 10, signals “duplicia” with Assemani’s “volume 1, p.294-99” – which in fact is indeed Beatitudines aliae.

The second quote runs along the bottom of Caspari, but is at the top of Assemani 3 p.378, section A line 3f. I’ve highlighted Caspari’s quote.

Ταῦτα μένουσι τὴν ἐρχομένην σύγχυσιν καὶ τὴν θλῖψιν τὴν μεγάλην τὴν μέλλουσαν ἐπέρχεσθαι ἐπὶ πάντα τὰ πέρατα τῆς γῆς. Διὰ τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν <καὶ> διὰ τὴν ἡμῶν χαυνότητα προβαίνουσι τὰ πονηρά. [12]

Haec expectant venturam confusionem, ac tribulationem magnam, quae ventura est super omnes terminus terrae propter peccata nostra….

This is similar material, but this doesn’t include any of the “collected together and taken by God” material.

All the same, we can see quite clearly that the material in Beatitudines aliae is identical, or nearly so, to two passages in this other work in the Ephraem Graecus collection.

It should be added that neither of these Greek texts is a translation of anything in Syriac.

*   *   *   *

Let’s draw the threads together, after all those manuscript pictures and bits of Latin and Greek.  What have we discovered here?

We have discovered that in the Greek “Ephraim” material, there is a mysterious passage about the elect being gathered together before the tribulation, so that they don’t have to see the suffering.

We have discovered that one of these texts was translated into Latin, becoming De beatitudine animae, and that the translator “improved” the Greek by adding a couple of words, so that the elect are gathered and, crucially, taken away by the Lord, so that they don’t see the suffering.

We have discovered that the author of pseudo-Ephraim Latinus, de fine mundi, copied this sentence word-for-word from De beatitudine animae. Presumably he saw nothing unusual in it.

So we have a passage, appearing in two Latin authors, which says that before the Tribulation, the elect are gathered together and taken away by the Lord. We have the same passage, less explicit, in two Greek texts from which the Latin is derived. We can see that the Latin authors understood the text in that manner.

The sentence in De fine mundi is certainly copied from the Latin translation of De Beatitudine animae. The presence of “assumuntur” in the Latin, not found in the Greek, shows the author’s preference for the Latin version. Our only caveat is that we possess no critical edition of De beatitudine animae, so we cannot be sure that this wording is correct.

Other parts of De fine mundi come from a range of other works by Ephraim Graecus, for which we possess no Latin translation. Unless we hypothesise the existence of now-lost Latin translations, we must presume that the author knew Greek.

The Greek text of De beatitudine animae / Beatitudines aliae capita viginti contains the idea in similar wording, but without the “assumuntur” of the Latin. This work consists of 19 short blessings, and then, as chapter 20, a long section of text. It is hard not to look at the imbalance and feel that chapter 20 does not belong with the blessings; particularly when we look at the Sermo utilis de paenitentia and find the same ideas on the same page, although in two separate sentences. Chapter 20 is, perhaps, a summary of material culled from the sermo utilis?

It should be added that neither Greek work was translated from Syriac, as far as we know.[13]

What about the date and place of composition?  Caspari noted the reference to “Persian wars” and the decline of Rome; which places it before the Islamic conquest of Persia in 640 AD.  He noted another reference to two historic “brother emperors” which are either Valens and Valentinian, ca. 378 AD; or perhaps Honorius and Arcadius, ca. 410 AD. We know that De beatitudine animae is found in a manuscript written around 700 AD.  From all this, Bousset dated the work to the 4th century; Caspari to before 628.

Perhaps we might speculate a little ourselves.  As we have seen, the author of De fine mundi was clearly a Latin, as he copied from a form of the text only present in the Latin translation of De beatitudine animae.   So this translation must already have been made. It is known that this translation was made early, not least because a manuscript exists written around 700 AD. However the author was also clearly familiar with ideas from a range of works by Ephraim Graecus, of which no Latin translations are now known to exist. If we reject the hypothesis that a lot more of Ephraim Graecus was translated into Latin in antiquity, and then lost, we must conclude that he was also fluent in Greek, and had ready access to manuscripts. We also know that he refers to the “brother emperors”.

I suggest that the author was a westerner, living in Constantinople, sometime after the reign of Honorius and Arcadius – the brother emperors – and aware of the Roman collapse in the west, and of Persian attacks in the East, and in a place and time where there was intense interest in the subject of the end of the world, as might well have been the case in that period. The mass of western refugees in Constantinople at the second quarter of the 5th century fits this period nicely. On the other hand there was relatively little in the way of Persian wars until 502 AD, other than the brief wars of 421-2 and 440. There are references to the Nestorian debates in the Ephraim Graecus collection, and also to the Theotokos. Perhaps we might speculate from all this that De fine mundi was written by a Latin speaker in Constantinople around 450 AD?

If this is correct, it would follow that the Ephraim Graecus material used by him existed well before this date, and the Ephraim Latinus collection of 6 sermons also.

Did the author believe in the Rapture, much as modern Pre-Millenial Dispensationalists do? The cautious reader will hesitate. For we are sifting the meaning of a single sentence; and it is generally unwise to place too much reliance on a couple of words in a single sentence. There is no link to 1 Thess. 4:17, to being “caught up in the air”; only to being “taken [up]”.  Really there is not.  Does that by itself destroy the claim?  I don’t know.

What we can say that the data is consistent with Dr Jeffrey’s claim that ps.Ephraim Latinus believed in the Rapture; and indeed that the author of the Greek texts did so as well. The author states that the elect will be gathered together before the tribulation and taken away by God so that they do not see the suffering that is to come. What else, in a way, is the teaching of the Rapture than this?  The text of pseudo-Ephraim Latinus’ de fine mundi will bear this interpretation.

But … the statement is too brief for us to be certain.  Two key words cannot compel belief.  If we know of no other evidence that a modern teaching was present to the minds of 5th century believers, then we would probably be very wary of asserting it based on a single ambiguous sentence in an obscure work.  The evidence, in the end, leaves us doubtful.  The similarity may merely be an accident.

Much more research also would be needed for us to be sure that such an interpretation was possible at that period.  For any statement of this kind must be interpreted, not by the beliefs of 19th century America, but by the known beliefs of the period.  We know of no other evidence that this interpretation was in vogue.  Other interpretations are therefore more probable, as a commenter has already pointed out here, if they can be stated in a not-to-contrived manner. The wise man will be cautious.  But such a survey is beyond the scope of this already too lengthy post.

It’s certainly a very interesting text, in a neglected area of patristics.  We could use much more work on Ephraim Graecus and Ephraim Latinus and pseudo-Ephraim.

  1. [1]E.g. W. J. Aerts & G.A.A.Kortekass, “Die Apokalypse des Pseudo-Methodius: Die Altesten Griechischen und Lateinischen Ubersetzungen”, 1998. CSCO 569, subsidia 97. Preview.
  2. [2]See Christina Meckelnborg, Mittelalterliche Handschriften im Landeshauptarchiv Koblenz, p.176, preview here. It’s in Bestand 701, manuscript 128, ff. 51r-57r. 13th century. It too contains Ps.Methodius. But the incipit is “Incipit tractatus sancti Effrem translatus de Greco in Latinum de antichristo et fine mundi. Omnes quotquot estis fideles Christi…” I did not find this incipit in the CPL.
  3. [3]I have been unable to discover anything whatsoever about Cameron Rhoades. Jeffrey tells us (Armageddon: Appointment with destiny, 2009): “Professor Cameron Rhoades, professor of Latin at Tyndale Theological Seminary, translated Ephraem’s Latin text into English at the request of my friend Dr Tommy Ice and myself.”
  4. [4]Bob Gundry, First the Antichrist: Why Christ Won’t Come before the Antichrist Does, 1996, Postscript: Pseudo-Ephraem on Pretrib Preparation for a Posttrib Meeting with the Lord, note 8: “The translation reads correctly in Jeffrey’s version (p.114) but not in that of the Pre-Trib Research Centre (compare note 3 above).”
  5. [5]Assemani also did three volumes in Syriac, confusingly. Here is the title for the Greek volumes. S. Assemani, Sancti Patris nostri Ephraem Syri Opera omnia quae extant graece, syriace, latine, in sex tomos distributa. Rome 1732-46. Online here, and Vol.1 Vol.2; Vol. 3. Assemani made a complete mess of editing these texts; for details see Wilhelm Bousset’s criticism, Der Antichrist in der Überlieferung des Judentums, des neuen Testaments und der alten Kirche, Göttingen, 1895. Translated into English as The Antichrist Legend, 1986, online at Archive.org here in German and English; and D. Hemmerdinger-Illiadou, “Les doublets de l’édition de l ‘Éphrem grec par Assemani”, OCP 24 (1958), although this I have not seen.
  6. [6]Readers may be interested in the very intelligent comment on an earlier post by Matthias Gassman, here.
  7. [7]The ms. 93 is online here.
  8. [8] Ephrem Syrus, Sermones, ed. Kilianus Fischer (Piscator), Freiburg im Breisgau c. 1491, fol. 12-13v, online here.
  9. [9]beautitudines-aliae-capita-viginti (PDF)
  10. [10]I give A. Traversari’s renaissance translation for ease of comparison.
  11. [11]sermo-de-paenitentia-et-iudicio-et-separatione-animae-et-co (PDF)
  12. [12]Caspari’s quote misses the full stop part way through present in Assemani.
  13. [13]They do not appear in the list of homilies translated from Greek given at the syri.ac site.

A big hole in Patristics – the neglect of Ephraim Graecus

We all know that Christianity spread west into the Greek and Latin-speaking world.  It also spread east, into the Syriac-speaking world.  Most important of the Christian writers in Syriac is Ephraim of Nisibis, known generally as Ephraim the Syrian, or Ephrem/Effrem Syrus, who flourished in the mid-to-late 4th century and died in 373 AD.  He wrote mainly in verse.  His work proved popular, and he was translated into or copied in most of the languages of the ancient world.

Ephraim’s Syriac works now exist in fine, modern critical editions, with German translation, thanks to the immense effort of E. Beck in the CSCO series.  Admittedly nobody actually has copies of them – unless somebody has bootlegged that series to PDF without my knowledge! – but the point is that they exist.  Sebastian Brock gives a masterly bibliography of them in his St. Ephrem: A Brief Guide to the Main Editions and Translations, now online at Syri.ac here, and this includes discussion of non-Syriac materials.

There is a huge collection of materials in Greek, attributed to Ephraim the Syrian.  Brock notes:

A glance at the second volume of the Clavis Patrum Graecorum (CPG)52 will indicate that the number of texts in Greek attributed to Ephrem (CPG 3905–4175, 366–468) is exceeded only by those attributed to John Chrysostom (CPG 4305–5197, 491–672). …

The second volume of CPG (1974) and the Supplement (1998)53 provide the essential guide to ‘Ephrem Graecus’, and include references to the main secondary literature.54 The corpus is in fact very disparate in character, consisting of at least three very different elements:

  • (1) translations of genuine works by Ephrem
  • (2) translations of Syriac works not by Ephrem
  • (3) a large body of material, itself disparate in character, for which Greek is the original language. Some of the Greek texts employ a syllabic metre; these may belong to any one of the three categories.

Another scholar writes:

The Greek manuscripts of Ephraem are so numerous that in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris he is counted as the fourth most popular of the Greek Fathers, after St Chrysostom, St Gregory of Nazianzus, and St Basil. The collection of Greek manuscripts of Ephraem in the Vatican Library is almost as numerous. The earliest witness is a papyrus in the Louvre containing fragments of the Life of St Abraamios.[1]

Unfortunately this great mass of material has attracted very little scholarly attention.  What we should like to see is a list of the material, with indications of whether it is (a) really by Ephrem Syrus and translated (b) really from Syriac, if not by Ephrem or (c) clearly a Greek originally composition.  Unfortunately I don’t believe that this basic list of works plus classification exists anywhere.

Lists of Works

What we do have is a list of works in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum vols 2 and supplement:   CPG 3905-4184, supplement pp.227-250, containing supplements – mainly but not exclusively of Arabic and Old Slavonic versions.  This often indicates connections with other versions; but it is quite unclear on what this information is based.

There is also an article by D. Hemmerdinger-Iliadou, in Dictionaire de Spiritualité, vol. 4 (1960), cols. 800-815, which answers some of these questions, in a rather disorganised manner.

There is Homilies of Ephraim Graecus at the Syri.ac site here, covering only the homilies, which suggests that all the homilies have some connection with Syriac.  This claim appears to be based on the CPG data.

A rather strangely formatted bibliography (but useful) is at A Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity – Ephremiana [Greek], here.

There is also a dissertation which I have not been able to access: C. Emereau, Saint Ephrem le Syrien; son œuvre littéraire grecque, Paris (1918).

Likewise inaccesible is a festschrift where two papers seem interesting too:

  • S. P. Brock, “The Changing Faces of St. Ephrem as Read in the West”, (pp.65-80)
  • E. Lash, “The Greek Writings Ascribed to Saint Ephrem”, (pp. 81-98)

Both in K. Ware &c (edd.), Abba: the tradition of Orthodoxy in the West: festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003.

Editions

The original edition of Ephraim Graecus was that of Edmund Thwaites, S. Ephraim Syrus, Graece, e codicibus manuscriptis Bodleianis, Oxford, 1709.  This was Greek only, so in a single volume, and can be downloaded from here.

Hardly anybody uses this.  Thwaites edition was of 159 Greek works attributed to Ephraim, plus two Greek vitae.  Thwaite’s edition was made without ever leaving Oxford, so all the manuscripts that he used are in the Bodleian library.[2]

The “normal” edition of Ephraim Graecus is that of Joseph S. Assemani, Sancti patris nostri Ephraem Syri Opera Omnia quae extant graece, syriace, latine; in sex tomos distributa. Romae, 1732-1746.  The first three volumes contain the Greek and Latin versions, the last three the Syriac.  All may be downloaded from here.

But the first two volumes of Assemani were largely a reprint of Thwaites, minus the manuscript sources, so these also are based entirely on manuscripts from the Bodleian.  However he printed in parallel column the renaissance translation of Ambrogio Traversari, thereby making the edition much more useful.  His third volume contains material from other collections to which he had access.

A further problem with Assemani’s edition is the presence of doublets – passages that appear word for word in more than one work.  The CPG indicates these; but this only indicates how bad the Assemani edition is.

Yet another problem with Assemani is the sheer number of works with near-identical titles.  This causes problems in the CPG and the CPL, where the editors themselves became confused in at least one case (since fixed).

S. J. Mercati did his doctorate on Ephraem Graecus,[3] and began an edition in 1915: S. Ephraem Syri opera, textum Syriacum, Graecum, Latinum ad fidem codicum recensuit prolegominis, notis, indicibus instruxit Sylvius Joseph Mercati, Rom 1915 (online here and here).  But only a single volume (of Ephraem Graecus) appeared.

A new edition appeared 1988-98 in Greece, which I am told is from Assemani mostly.  But it also contains translations of all the texts into modern Greek.  It is Κων. Γ. Φραντζόλάς, Ὁσιοῦ Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου, Thessaloniki, 1988-98, 7 vols.[4]   A bookshop with stock is here (and my notes on using it here).  There is also a website with a list of the contents by volume here, and each work has a linked PDF containing Greek text with a Greek government copyright on it.

Translations

Twenty-seven translations exist online, at the marvellous Saint Ephrem blog here. This is run by Tikhon Alexander Pino, an Orthodox Christian husband and father, and a PhD candidate at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

Some have been translated by him; others by the late Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, whose blog is now gone but which is archived at Archive.org.  He includes links to both.

Manuscripts

I have no list of manuscripts.  But I did discover that a 6th century papyrus fragment exists of a sermon, In secundum adventum domini nostri Iesu Christu, CPG 3920.[5]

    *    *    *    *

Frankly this looks a lot like a complete mess.

It’s not obvious to me how we might begin to solve such a mess.  The presence of the “doublets” makes it particularly difficult to say what any given work does or does not contain.  This in turn makes it very hard to do work on the corpus.

So there we are.  That’s what we have.  Rubbish, isn’t it.

UPDATE 23/10/2018: Added details on the Phrantzoles modern edition.
UPDATE 02/11/2018: Added details of translations.

  1. [1]T. S. Pattie, “Ephraem the Syrian and the Latin manuscripts of De Paenitentia”, in: British Library Journal 13 (1987) 1-24. Online here.
  2. [2]Hemmerdinger-Iliadou “Démocracie. Les manuscrits de l’Ephrem grec utilisés par Thwaites”. In: Scriptorium 13 (1959) pp. 261-262; Online here.
  3. [3]So German Wikipedia.
  4. [4]Konstantinos G. Phrantzolas (google search results use various spellings like Phrantzoles, Phrantsoles, etc; but Phrantzolas is on the copyright page of the first volume.), Ὁσιοῦ Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου  ἔργα, Thessaloniki: Το περιβόλι της Παναγίας / To Perivoli tis Panagias, 1988-98, 7 vols
  5. [5]T.M.Teeter, “A fragment of Ephraim the Syrian”, in: Fabian Reiter (ed.), Literarische Texte der Berliner Papyrussammlung, (2012), pp.44-47, and table viiia. Google Books here.

Ephraim the Syrian on the Borborites / Phibionites

A rather baffling reference to “Ephraem the Syrian, Contra Haereses 79″[1] turns out to be a reference to Hymns against Heresies 22, 4, which, by happy chance, was translated for us a while back here.  Here’s the relevant section:

4D

The Arians, because they added and erred;
The Aetians, because they were subtle;
The Paulinians, because they acted perversely;
The Sabellians, because they acted with guile;
The Photinians, because they were cunning;
The Borborians, because they were defiled;
The Katharaites, because they kept themselves pure;
The Audians, because they were ensnared;
The Mesallians, because they were unrestrained.

Response: May the good one turn them to his fold!

(This stanza has no main verb: it seems to be a list of why these groups are considered heretics.)

This does not tell us much.  But it would seem that this was written before Epiphanius wrote the Panarion, as Ephraim died on 9th July 373 AD,[2] and the Panarion was written as a continuation of the Ancoratus (374 AD), and was in progress in 375 and completed in 377.[3]  If so, it must be independent of it.

The same source also refers to “Pseudo-Ephraim, Testament 58″.  I have not been able to discover what this text is, unfortunately.

  1. [1]Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia of early Christianity, 2nd ed.
  2. [2]S. Brock, A brief outline of Syriac literature, Moran Etho 9, Kottayam:SEERI, 1997,  p.22.  One wonders how so precise a date is known.
  3. [3]Panarion 1, 2; Panarion 66, 20; Quasten, Patrology III, 386 and 388.  I do not know how the Anchoratus is dated, however.

Ephraim Syrus, Hymns 23 and 24 against heresies now online in English

Adam McCollum has kindly translated for us hymns 23 and 24 from the collection of Hymns against heresies by Ephraim Syrus, and I have placed them in the public domain.  Do whatever you like with them, personal, educational or commercial.

I’ve uploaded the PDF and RTF files to Archive.org:

http://archive.org/details/EphremSyrusHymnsAgainstHeresies23And24

I will do an HTML version when I get to it.

From my diary

It’s remarkable how much one can achieve in a few dedicated days.  I’ve managed to get my new Mithras site up and functional, although far from complete.  It may be found here.

https://www.roger-pearse.com/mithras

I don’t think that there is very much more to do to the PHP scripts, which is nice.  The content needs to be reviewed, checked, and worked over, but that can happen in slow time.

One of the drivers for the new site was that I want to make use of all the photographs of statues of Mithras (etc) that are online.  The printed literature tends to have few photographs, and all of those black and white.  But there are very many colour images of statues, inscriptions, frescos, and so on, online.  These convey information … if, if, we know what we are looking at, and can get an overview of more than one of them.

The first thing that might be done is to link as many as possible to their entry in Vermaseren’s Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentum Religionis Mithriacae.  These descriptions are very useful, in that they explain much of what we are looking at.  Without this information, the images by themselves are little more than decoration.

I’ve created a few pages in the new site for individual images, but I’m not happy with how that is going.  I’m looking at the moment at how Wikimedia Commons handles images, and galleries of images.  This will require some thought, some design and some special scripting.  Since I don’t quite know what I am trying to achieve, I will put that to one side this evening.

Instead I shall review translations of Ephraim the Syrian’s Hymns against Heresies, nos. 23 and 24.  Adam McCollum has sent these in, and I need to read over them for glitches of any sort.  Once I am sure that they are complete, I will post them online and announce them.

‘Twas Christmas Eve in the workhouse…

It is now Christmas Eve.  A minority of people will be sat at home, in a traditional Dickensian family circle, waiting for Christmas.  In rather more households there will be excited children rushing around, and all blessing to them and their harried parents.

But for a great many people, including most people who spend their lives online, this evening will be spent on their own, as will tomorrow and many more days.  We need not be surprised.  In our age this is normal.  Let us never regret that we do not enjoy the kind of Christmas that the TV advertisers tell us that we all should.  The reality of this world in these days is that a great number of people will be on their own.

It is traditional for bloggers to wish their readers a happy Christmas, and I shall not omit this courtesy.  I wish everyone reading these words a merry Christmas, and every blessing.

I include in these words those who I count as my friends, and those who have worked with me during the year.

I include in these words those who have written to me, those who have encouraged me, those who have shared in this work of education and learning.

I include everyone who intends to do good to his fellow man; and I include those who are simply trying to get by.

I include those who disagree with me.  I hope that disagreement may be generous, at least on our own side.

I also include, this Christmas time, one poor unhappy soul far away.  I don’t know his name, for he has taken pains to be anonymous.  I include him because I believe that this poor soul has little to enjoy at Christmas, and is an unhappy man.  I infer this because last year he had nothing better to do on Christmas day, the best of days, than to go online and attempt to cause me an injury.  Pathetically, he failed, in that I did not even learn of his deed until months later, and didn’t care even then.  I suspect that he reads this blog occasionally.  If so, I wish him a happy Christmas, and a prosperous New Year.

This Christmas I will be blogging away, and will try to provide something for people to read.  I’m still busy with the Mithras pages, which are beginning to assume a form which is not altogether horrible.  I hope to have a couple of Hymns by St. Ephraim the Syrian, newly translated into English, for you tomorrow.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Soliciting donations

For some years now I have commissioned translations of previously untranslated texts.  These I make freely available on the web.

A correspondent has suggested that I should make it possible for generous-minded people to contribute.  As an experiment, I’ve added a “Donate” button on the right hand side.

Not quite sure how I feel about this, but if you would like to contribute, feel free to click the button.

At the moment we have a number of translations going forward.  Ephraem Syrus, Hymns against heresies 23 and 24 are in the works.  I have today commissioned a translation of “February” from John the Lydian’s, De mensibus book 4.  Just so that you know where funds go!

Ephrem Syrus, Hymn 22 against heresies now online in English

Adam McCollum has kindly translated this lengthy hymn by Ephraim the Syrian into English for us.  The translation is public domain; do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

These files can also be found at Archive.org here.

I will produce an HTML version when I can.

An Armenian version of Ephraim’s commentary on Hebrews?

An email in the ABTAPL list raised a very interesting question.

In the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, in the volume on Hebrews, there is an excerpt from Ephraim the Syrian.  Looking at the reference, we find this:

Marco Conti, trans. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Works of Ephrem in Armenian.  ACCS translation project.

Except that no publication appears to exist.  According to IVP:

Marco Conti (Ph.D., University of Leeds) is professor of medieval and humanistic Latin literature at the Ateneo Salesiano and lecturer in classical mythology and religions of the Roman Empire at the Richmond University in Rome.

In 1836, the Mechitarist Fathers in Venice published the works of Ephraim from the ancient Armenian versions, in 4 volumes.  Some of Ephraim’s works, indeed, no longer exist in the original Syriac, and the Armenian versions are all there is.  A bibliography is here.  But I have not been able to locate this Venice edition online.

However in 1895 they published a Latin translation of the commentaries on the letters of Paul.  This I did find, here.  And in the PDF, on p.217 of the PDF (p.200 of the printed text) there is the start of material on Hebrews!

It would be interesting to know whether Dr Conti prepared a complete translation of Ephraim’s Commentary on Hebrews.  I hope to find out!

Ephraim the Syrian, Hymn 23 Against Heresies

I have produced a rough translation of the BKV German translation of this hymn, mainly while reading it to see what it said.  I make no claims for reliability, but it gives an idea of what the content is. The line divisions are my own.

23.  To the same melody.

1. The twelve apostles were the cultivators of the whole world,
But no place and no location was named after their name,
Then appeared all sorts of weeds
After the cultivators had died
And the weed called the wheat by their name;
But on the day of harvest it will be destroyed.

Refrain: Blessed be He, whose harvest is imminent!

2.  They [the false teachers] teach me to hate them
Because they have hidden the secret writings that they have written
Like a man who hides his shame, so that they are not disseminated.
But the church shows her glory, her open beauty is famous.
There is no stain to hide, no flaw that must be covered,
Clear as the light its teaching radiates.

Blessed is he, who shines with its truth!

3.  Joab had captured a city; namely the capital city of the state,
But he did not therefore give it his own name.
As Joab, the commander, he had conquered,
He sent to David, who hastened there himself,
To enter in as king, and as such to name what he had conquered.
Joab acted as a servant, and it was called after the name of the king.

To you be glory from the faithful!

4.  The apostles and the prophets, the princes and the generals,
Laboured and worked, taught and lectured,
And captured towns and fortresses.
The prophets and apostles exerted themselves,
And were called by the name of God.
Our Lord worked and laboured and taught —
And was labelled a fraud,
So we should call ourselves by his name.

Blessed be He, by whose name they are exposed!

5.  The followers of Bardaisan should be asked,
How and why they are called by the name of Bardaisan,
And what was the occasion of the appointment;
Whether they are descended from him, as the Hebrews from Heber.
And if they get their teaching from him, because they are his disciples,
Then arises the accusation with his name on,
That he has devised an evil teaching.

Blessed is he who has discovered their fraud!

6.  Not everyone, however, who creates a school
Names his pupils after his own name;
The apostle taught the people, and no-one is named after his name;
In those names in which he taught did he baptise;
This name in which he baptised he taught them to honour;
He wrote that name on everything.

Blessed is he, whose name is all-worthy!

7.  Now a demon among the Greeks began to lure
Each [bride of Christ] to be a whore,
Making up whatever seemed to him attractive and plausible.
And even today he seduced women by all sorts of silly pretensions;
One he begins on through fasting,
Another by [pentitential] sack-cloth and vegetables,
Another still he captures through words.

Blessed is he who makes his wiles nothing.

8.  An ugly deception cannot be unless it decorates itself with truth,
And a lie cannot get on, without the footsteps of truth.
They won over the bride through [the semblance] of their beauty,
And this shows that they are shameful.
And after they had wooed her (for Christ) they took her for themselves,
And that reveals that they are fraudulent.
So who would not flee from them?

Blessed be he, where everyone finds his refuge!

9.  We speak these words loudly, so that we will be heard by the deaf;
You I make the arbiter, you decide, O listener;
What is greater or more noble, that you are named a Christian,
Or may be called a Christian, or a Daisanite weed?

Blessed be he, after whom everyone longs!

10.  Even before Bardaisan was, and Marcion was spoken of,
Let us go to the earliest, who are older than Marcion,
And let us see how the first churches were named,
And we want to be named by that name,
And to remove and discard the naming with later names.

Blessed be he, who through His name again is put forward!