Moses the Black: A Fake Quote?

The following quotation has begun to spread online through “quotation” websites:

You fast, but Satan does not eat. You labor fervently, but Satan never sleeps. The only dimension with which you can outperform Satan is by acquiring humility, for Satan has no humility. – Saint Moses the Black.

Indeed this was posted on Twitter yesterday, with the comment: “An absolute banger of a quote from Moses the Black.”  The source is the OurChurchSpeaks site, also on Instagram.

But is it genuine?

Moses the Black, also known as Moses the Robber, is one of the Desert Fathers who appears in the various collections of sayings and lives.

The Apothegmata Patrum collection exists in two versions, the “alphabetical” collection, and the “systematic” collection (there is a third version, of anonymous sayings, known as the “anonymous” collection).  The “alphabetical” collection was translated by Sr Benedicta Ward, “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers – The Alphabetical Collection” (1984), and Moses the Black is on p.138-143.  But this contains nothing like our quotation.

The “Systematic” collection was translated by John Wortley, The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Systematic Collection, (2012).  This contains a number of sayings by Moses the Black, but not ours.

The “Anonymous” collection was also translated by John Wortley, The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Cambridge (2013).  The section on humility does not contain our saying.

The “Lausiac History” of Palladius also devotes a section to Moses the Black, here known as Moses the Ethiopian.  The ACW 34 (1965) translation gives this on pp.67-70.  But this too contains nothing like our quotation.

This raises questions about whether the saying is authentic.

A search in Google Books produces no results.  This is surprising, because books of sayings and quotations are in there.  It tends to suggest that this is a very recent coinage, and from an online source.

A Google search using a custom date range produced decent results only from 2022 onwards.  There were a few hits before then, but these seemed in fact to date later or otherwise be illusory.

In the absence of definite evidence, I would recommend caution.  But it looks like a fake quote.

Update: My thanks to Dr Sever Voicu who points out in the comments that this is indeed a saying of the desert fathers, although not attributed to Moses the Black.  It can be found in the “Systematic Collection”, chapter 17, paragraph 32, and is translated by John Wortley thus:

32. The fathers used to say, “The devil can imitate everything. As for fasting, he never ate; as for watching, he never slept. But humble-mindedness and love he cannot imitate. So let there be a great effort on our part to have love within us and to hate pride, through which the devil fell out of heaven.” – John Wortley, p.308.

So the saying is authentic – obviously paraphrased slightly – but the attribution is not.

Thank you, Dr V.!

I had forgotten, but I found that in 2018 I wrote a bibliographical post on the various collections of sayings.  It’s here.


“Four major challenges to discipleship”, by Justin Martyr (sort of)

Last night I saw this interesting tweet:

Justin Martyr (AD 100–165) identified four major challenges to discipleship:

1. sexual immorality
2. wealth
3. magic
4. ethnic hatred

Sub technology for magic and little has changed in almost 2,000 years

Interesting indeed, and probably entirely true.

But … Justin’s works are mainly apologetic.  So where did he say this?

The source for this, and other tweets based upon it, seems to be this tweet from 2017 by Andy Crouch:

Justin (AD 100-165) saw the four key challenges to discipleship as sexual immorality, magic, wealth, and ethnic hatred. (Apol. XIV)

I have also seen this, with added quotes, as if it was a direct quotation from the works of Justin.  Here is an example:

From a colleague: In the 2nd century, Justin Martyr named the 4 biggest challenges to Christians as “sexual immorality, magic, wealth and ethnic hatred”. Sub out magic for technology (magic w/algorithms) and not much has changed for humanity in almost 2000 years. Mike drop.

This is one way in which we get fake quotations, without anybody intending fraud.  Someone summarises in a striking way, and then others quote the summariser, and others assume the quotes refer to the author.

Thankfully Mr Crouch includes a reference, to the 1st Apology of Justin, chapter 14.  Here it is, in the old ANF translation – probably what was used:

[The demons] subdue all who make no strong opposing effort for their own salvation. And thus do we also, since our persuasion by the Word, stand aloof from them (i.e., the demons), and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son – we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live comformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all.

One sentence without taking a breath!  Thanks, Justin.  In the Fathers of the Church 6 translation by T. B. Falls (p.46-7) it is as follows:

They ensnare, now by apparitions in dreams, now by tricks of magic, all those who do not labor with all their strength for their own salvation–even as we, also, after our conversion by the Word have separated ourselves from those demons and have attached ourselves to the only unbegotten  God, through His Son. We who once reveled in impurities now cling to purity; we who devoted ourselves to the arts of magic now consecrate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who loved above all else the ways of acquiring riches and possessions now hand over to a community fund what we possess, and share it with every needy person; we who hated and killed one another and would not share our hearth with those of another tribe because of their [different] customs, now, after the coming of Christ, live together with them, and pray for our enemies, and try to convince those who hate us unjustly, so that they who live according to the good commands of Christ may have a firm hope of receiving the same reward as ourselves from God who governs all.

Which is much the same.

But is Justin Martyr talking about “the four key challenges to discipleship”?  Not really.  He’s talking about the effect that Christ has had on the lives of those who accept him.

All the same, I think Justin would probably have approved of the interpretation.


A quote from Tacitus and its source

Around the web, you will find the following:

Cornelius Tacitus: He had a certain frankness and generosity, qualities indeed which turn to a mans ruin, unless tempered with discretion.

The thought was striking, as indeed it should strike anyone who is fairly open, like myself.  But is it Tacitus?

Well it is!  It is in fact from the Histories, book 3, chapter 86, as translated by A.J.Church and W.J.Brodribb (London, 1873 in this case, p.140.)  It is a description of the character of Vitellius!



Hunting the wild misquotation – “our Father was crucified”

At Paleojudaica, Jim Davila has an odd story from an Israeli newspaper, featuring a quotation from an ancient author:

A VERY ODD STORY from Arutz Sheva:

Shocking ‘Land of Israel’ Exam Shows Christian Crosses
High school “Land of Israel” exam features Christian crosses. Is the Education Ministry trying to undermine students with Christianity?

By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 7/8/2012, 8:58 AM

High school students last week were shocked by a matriculation exam in “Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology” that showed Christian crosses and referred to a place where “our father was crucified.”


I’m really scratching my head over this:

The exam included a quote from a Christian pilgrim who visited Jerusalem and wrote in a dairy about “the little hill of Golgotha ​where our father was crucified.”

It would be very unusual for a Christian pilgrim, or any other kind of Christian, to refer to Jesus as “our father.” Either this pilgrim had some confused ideas about the Trinity or Arutz Sheva has made a mistake. I would like to know more about the source of this quotation.

The source is not far to seek, I fear.  A lazy journalist has used Wikipedia as his source, and is quoting from here, misremembering as he typed:

In 333, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, entering from the east described the result:

“On the left hand is the little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified. About a stone’s throw from thence is a vault [crypta] wherein his body was laid, and rose again on the third day. There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica; that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty.”[12]

The “reference” given is “Itinerarium Burdigalense, pages 593, 594.”  Naturally there is no indication of edition.  The Latin is online and reads:

A sinistra autem parte est monticulus golgotha, ubi dominus crucifixus est.

[594] Inde quasi ad lapidem missum est cripta, ubi corpus eius positum fuit et tertia die resurrexit; ibidem modo iussu constantini imperatoris basilica facta est, id est dominicum, mirae pulchritudinis habens ad latus excepturia, unde aqua leuatur, et balneum a tergo, ubi infantes lauantur.

The “page reference” would appear, thus, to be to the Latin.