Did Hippolytus think Christmas should be on 25th December?

It’s that time of year again.  Over the next few weeks, legions of weenies will excitedly post online various stale old myths about how Christmas is really a pagan festival.  I have already seen one tell me that it must be copied from the Germanic “Yule” and the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, oblivious of the detail that first century Romans did not borrow concepts from 8th century Saxons.  The origins of Christmas will be discussed widely, if not usefully.

Irritating as such nonsense can be, we need to resist the urge to roast those posting it.  Often they are people who mean no harm, and merely repeat what they have been told.  As 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody used to say, “Keep sweet.  You can’t do any good unless you keep sweet.”  With charm and courtesy, and deference to their religious belief that Christianity cannot possibly be true, we may encourage people to take an interest in ancient history.  It’s worth a go.

But Tom Schmidt has been doing something rather more constructive.  After translating the Chronicon and the Commentary on Daniel of Hippolytus, he’s looking at what our 3rd century author has to say on this subject, and has written a useful post on it here,  summarising his own article in PDF form available here.  The latter is very detailed indeed.

He outlines how the scholars have mostly followed the witness of one manuscript of the Commentary on Daniel, plus a quotation in “George of Arabia”.  I don’t know whether the latter is the Syriac author, George, bishop of the Arab tribes, but a reference would be good.  I’d also like to know what the manuscripts’ shelf-marks are.

Unfortunately comments seem to have been disabled on his article – which is unfortunate.


The text tradition of Hippolytus “Commentary on Daniel”

A question has reached me about the Commentary on Daniel of Hippolytus, especially with regard to the passage in 4.23.3:

For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years.  He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls. (tr. Tom Schmidt).

But what is the textual basis for this?  It doesn’t appear in the Ante-Nicene Fathers version of the text.

A look at the Sources Chretiennes (14; p. 64) edition tells me that the Greek text of the work is entirely recovered from quotations in catenas.  In a catena, each quotation appears underneath the relevant biblical verse, and is labelled with the name of the author from whom it has been taken.  So the sequence is fairly clear, even if all you have is extracts, provided that the original author wrote his commentary in the same sequence as the biblical text.

The process of recovering the commentary began with one of the great 17th century editors, B. Corderius, who printed the first fragment of the text in his Expositio patrum graecorum in psalmos, vol. 3, Anvers, 1646 on p.951.  In 1672 Fr. Combefis, Bibliothecae graecorum patrum auctarium novissimum, vol. 1, p. 50-55 printed two more important fragments, this time commenting on Susanna.  Since then various editors have accrued more and more fragments from the catenas, and are listed in Bonwetsch’s edition of 1897.  A list of mss. and editions appears on p.xxviii of Bonwetsch (p.43 of the Google books PDF).

The remains seem to be divided into four books.  The last addition to the stock was in 1911, when Dioboutonis printed new fragments from a 10th century manuscript from the monastery of Meteores.  The end result is a text which contains few obvious lacunas.  However there must still be material which is lost, especially in book 1.

The text cannot be said to be in good condition.  The manuscripts in which the material is preserved are often in a poor state, or illegible.  The most recent edition, that of Bonwetsch in the Griechische Christlicher Schriftsteller 1 in 1897 (online, thankfully) often indicates words added by conjecture or asterisks where there are gaps impossible to fill.

But one compensation is that an Old Slavonic translation exists of the entire work as it once existed in Greek.  This tells us, of course, that the Greek text must still have existed in the 10th century when these translations were made.  Four manuscripts of this translation exist, none complete, but which fortunately have their omissions in different places.  This means that we can read the whole work pretty much as it came from the hand of the author.  The most ancient manuscript is 12-13th century.  Fortunately Bonwetsch translated the Old Slavonic into German, and the translation was used by the SC editor to help with the Greek.

Our passage is extant in Greek, and appears on pp.306-7 of the SC edition.  But the SC editor queries whether part of the text –“Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus” — was interpolated by a later writer.

The apparatus of Bonwetsch (p.242; p.295 of the PDF) tells us that this passage was quoted by the Syriac writer  George, Bishop of the Arab tribes.  The apparatus also refers to George Syncellus, and Cyril of Scythopolis as using bits of it.  The text is given in mss. ABP and S; A= Athos, Vatopedi 260 / Paris suppl. gr. 682 (10-11th century); B=Chalcis 11 (15-16th c.); P=Paris gr. 159 p.469f.; S=the old Slavonic.

So… the text is reasonably well established, and reasonably reliable.  The Greek for our passage seems sound, with only a couple of bits in brackets.  We have a good early witness for the text, and also a translation in a 7th century Syriac writer and a 10th century translation.


The transmission of the Blessing of Isaac, Jacob and Moses by Hippolytus

In the Patrologia Orientalis 27, fascicle 1-2, a text called The blessing of Jacob appears.   It is a commentary on Genesis 49.  This is given in Greek, but also in Armenian and Georgian.  A French translation is included.  The Greek text seems to have been discovered relatively recently, and contains glosses at some points, as the Armenian shows.  There is also a text called The blessing of Moses printed, which is extant only in Armenian and Georgian, with a couple of fragments of Greek only.


Hippolytus’ Chronicle

I had an email this week from Tom Schmidt, who is about 670 lines of the way through the 1,000 lines of this work.  He says he intends to put his translation of the text online, which is very good news indeed!

He’s also been wondering whether a PhD in Patristics would be an opening to a career.  I had to tell him that I had no idea what careers were like in patristics — I’m a computer programmer, not an academic.  Anyone any thoughts?

My own feeling was that he should become a stockbroker, get rich, retire at 30, and do what he liked then.