Mithras and Jerome

A comment draws my attention to E. H. Henckel, De philtris.[1]  On page 39, there is an interesting statement.

Magnam vim Basilidiani suo Deo ABRASAX (quem Basilides pro summo habebat numine, nomine prorsus fictitio; Sed quod litteris contineret numerum dierum, quos annus habet absolutus: unde & B. Hieronymi suspicio erat, Abraxas esse non alium, quam Persarum Mithram, hoc est, Solem, qui annuo cursu hoc spatium conficit. …

The Basilidians [assigned] the great power to their god ABRAXAS (whom Basilides considered the greatest divinity, under a fictitious name; but because the letters contained the number of days in a complete year: from which also the blessed Jerome suspected that Abraxas was no other than Mithras of the Persians, i.e the sun, which in the course of the year completes this total. …

This is a reference to Jerome’s Commentary on Amos, book 5, ch. 9-10, which may be found amid all the other literary testimonies to Mithras here:

Basilides gives to the omnipotent god the uncouth name of Abraxas, and asserts that according to the Greek letters and the number of the cycle of the year this is comprehended in the sun’s orbit. The name Mithra, which the Gentiles use, gives the same sum with different letters.  (Geden)

Geden’s footnote explains:

I.e. Μειθπας = 40 + 5 + 10 + 9 + 100 + 1 + 200 = 365; Ἀβράξας = 1 + 2 + 100 + 1 + 60 + 1 + 200 = 365.

Numerology attracts a certain kind of mind, and it’s something to be aware of.

  1. [1]Frankfurt, 1590

A letter of Jerome to Eustochia, on the fall of Rome

I happened to come across the French translation of letters of Jerome online here — the menu on the left hand side divides them by date into several pages — and was struck by one, written in 410, to Eustochia, which mentions the fall of Rome and noble Romans turning up at Bethlehem who have lost everything.

Here’s a quick translation from the French (and why is there no translation into English of all Jerome’s letters?) —

Nothing exists that has no end; and yet the long succession of past ages must in no way be considered as the completion of anything.  Every author will run dry, unless he has amassed in advance the materials from good works, from works that have a claim to have a future, aimed at a sort of eternity and do not foresee a limit in time to their usefulness.  But let us hold on to these elementary truths: everything that is born dies; everything that can reach a peak declines.  And again: there is no work of man which reaches old age.  Who would ever have thought that Rome, that Rome which conquered in every part of the world, would collapse; that she would be at the same time the mother and the tomb of all peoples; that she would be enslaved in her turn, she who counted among her slaves the orient, Egypt and Africa?  Who would have thought that the obscure Bethlehem would see illustrious beggars at its doors, once loaded with every kind of wealth?

Since we cannot help them, let us pity them at least to the bottom of our hearts, and let us mingle our tears with their tears.   Bent under the load of our holy labours, but all the while unable to avoid a profound grief in seeing those who mourn,  and while bemoaning those who weep, we have continued with our commentary on Ezekiel, and we are nearly at the end, and we really want to finish our work on the Holy Scriptures.  It’s not about talking about the projects, but about executing them.  So then, encouraged by your repeated invitations, O Eustochia, virgin of Christ, I return to my interrupted work, and I defer to your wishes in my haste to finish the third volume.  But before starting, I commend myself to your goodwill, as well as the goodwill of those who condescend to read me; asking you to have more regard to my good intentions than my actual powers.  The former are part of the frailty of man, the latter depend on the holy will of God.

Jerome’s Commentarioli in Psalmos exists in English

An email from Andrew Eastbourne reveals that the Commentarioli does indeed exist in English already:

It looks like this Tractatus / Homily is in a FotC volume (The Homilies of Saint Jerome: 1-59 On the Psalms, translated by M. L. Ewald — “preview” at least in the US at ; in case it’s not available elsewhere, I’m attaching a screen cap) — and from “Quasten” it appears that Morin was basically convincing in arguing for Jerome’s authorship…

The screen grab of the portion we were discussing is here:

Jerome on Ps 1

Jerome, Letter to Hedibia, complete online

James Snapp Jr. has kindly run the old French translation of Jerome’s Letter to Hedibia (ep. 130) through Google translate, smartened it up a bit, and made it freely available in the public domain.  It’s here.  Many thanks, James!

As machine translators improve, there will be real public benefit in efforts like this.  Yes, we should translate from the original.  But the fact is that vast amounts of stuff exists in French which few anglophones can read, and which won’t get a translation directly.  Particularly for amateurs and enthusiasts, making a translation and placing it online really increases public interest in texts.