Montanus in the Chronicle of Zuqnin

After my last post, I realised that I had a copy of Amir Harrak’s translation of parts 3 and 4 of the Chronicle of Zuqnin, which, for the section about Montanus, is based on John of Ephesus.  Here it is (Harrak, 1999, p.123-4):

549-550 The year eight hundred and sixty-one: Concerning the flood of the river that runs in Tarsus of Cilicia.

Most of Tarsus, a big city in Cilicia, was carried away, submerged and utterly destroyed by the water of the flooded river that runs through it. The other villages of the region, covering a vast area, were also swept away. Fields, vineyards and the rest of the plants were ruined; they were uprooted, dried up, and covered by earth.

At this time, the corrupting heresy of Montanus—the story of which and how it emerged was written down for us at the time of the Apostles—was ridiculed and uprooted.[3] For through the exhortation of holy John, Bishop of Asia, the bones of Montanus—he who said about himself that he was the Spirit Paraclete—Cratius (his associate),[1] Maximilla and Priscilla, his prophetesses, were found. He set them on fire and razed their temples to their foundations.

3 Michael, IV 323-325 [II 269-272] provides more information.
1 Addition based on Michael

“Michael” is, of course, Michael the Syrian, and the numbers are the volumes of the Chabot edition; Syriac in vol. IV, French in vol. II.  Here is the French, from book 9, chapter 33:

Dans le pays de Phrygie, il y a un lieu appelé Pépouza, où les Montanistes avaient un évêque et des clercs ; ils l’appelaient Jérusalem, et ils y tuaient les chrétiens. Jean d’Asie s’y rendit et fit brûler leur synagogue, sur l’ordre de l’empereur. On trouva dans cette maison un grand reliquaire de marbre scellé avec du plomb et lié par des garnitures de fer. Sur le dessus était écrit : « De Montanus et de ses femmes ». On l’ouvrit et on y trouva Montanus et ses deux femmes, Maximilla et Priscilla, qui avaient des lames d’or sur la bouche. Ils furent couverts de confusion en voyant les ossements fétides qu’ils appelaient « l’Esprit ». On leur dit : « N’avez-vous pas honte de vous être laissé séduire par cet impudique, et de l’appeler « Esprit »? Un esprit n’a ni chair ni os.» Et on brûla les ossements. —Les Montanistes firent entendre des gémissements et des pleurs. « Maintenant, disaient-ils, le monde est ruiné et va périr. » — Ou trouva aussi leurs livres honteux et on les brûla. La maison fut purifiée et devint une église.

Auparavant, du temps de Justinianus Ier (Justin), quelques personnes avaient informé l’empereur que Montanus, au moment de sa mort avait ordonné à ses ensevelisseurs de le placer à cinquante coudées sous terre « parce que, disait-il, le feu doit me découvrir, et dévorer toute la face de la terre ». Ses partisans, par l’opération pernicieuse des démons, répandaient faussement le bruit que ses ossements chassaient les démons; ils avaient suborné quelques individus qui, moyennant le pain de leur bouche, affirmaient qu’il les avait guéris. — L’empereur écrivit à l’évêque de l’endroit. Celui-ci fit creuser profondément et retirer les ossements de Montanus et ceux de ses femmes, pour les brûler. Alors, les Montanistes vinrent trouver l’évêque pendant la nuit, et lui donnèrent cinq cents dariques d’or; ils emportèrent les ossements et en apporce que les corps avaient été retrouvés tèrent d’autres; et au matin, sans que personne s’aperçût du mystère, l’évêque brûla ces ossements comme étant ceux de Montanus et de Crites (?) son associé. Mais ensuite, l’archidiacre dénonça l’évêque qui fut envoyé en exil.

Apollon, le compagnon de Paul, écrit que ce Montanus  était fils de Simon le mage; que quand son père périt, par la prière de Pierre, il s’enfuit de Rome, et se mit à troubler l’univers. Alors Apollon, (poussé) par l’Esprit, alla où il était, et le vit assis et prêchant l’erreur. Il commença à l’invectiver en disant : « O ennemi de Dieu, que le Seigneur te châtie ! » Montanus se mit à le reprendre, et dit :« Qu’y a t-il entre toi et moi, Apollon? Si tu prophétises : moi aussi ; si tu es apôtre : moi aussi ; si tu es docteur : moi aussi. » Apollon lui dit : « Que ta bouche soit fermée, au nom du Seigneur ! » Aussitôt il se tut et ne put jamais plus parler. Le peuple crut en Notre-Seigneur  et reçut le baptême. Ils renversèrent le siège de Montanus qui prit la fuite et s’échappa. — Ce récit est fini, ainsi que l’autre.

 In English:

In the country of Phrygia, there is a place called Pepouza where the Montanists had a bishop and clergy; they called it Jerusalem, and there they killed the Christians.  John of Asia went and burned their synagogue, on the orders of the emperor. In this house there was found a large marble shrine, sealed with lead and bound with iron fittings. On the top was written: “Montanus and his wives”. We opened it and found Montanus and his two wives, Maximilla and Priscilla, who had gold leaf on their mouths. They were ashamed of seeing the fetid bones which they called “the Spirit”. They were told: “Aren’t you ashamed to be seduced by this shameless wretch, and to call him ‘the Spirit’? ‘A spirit hath not flesh or bones. ‘” And the bones were burned.—The Montanists were heard wailing and crying. “Now,” they said, “the world is ruined and will perish.” — Their disgraceful books were also found and burned. The house was cleansed and became a church.

Previously, in the time of Justinianus I (Justin), some people had informed the emperor that Montanus, at the time of his death had ordered those who buried him to place him fifty cubits underground “because,” he said, “fire shall discover me, and devour the whole face of the earth”. His supporters, by the pernicious work of demons, falsely spread the rumor that his bones could cast out demons; they had bribed a few individuals who, for the bread in their mouths, claimed that he had healed them. — The Emperor wrote to the bishop of the place. He dug deep and removed the bones of Montanus and those of his wives, and burned them.  Then the Montanists came to find the bishop during the night, and gave him five hundred darics of gold; they took away the bones and ensured that the bodies recovered belonged to others; and in the morning, without anyone realising it, the bishop burned the bones as those of Montanus and Crites (?) his associate. But then the archdeacon denounced the bishop who was sent into exile.

Apollos, the companion of Paul, wrote that Montanus was the son of Simon Magus; that when his father died, by the prayer of Peter, he fled from Rome and began to disturb the world. Then Apollos (led) by the Spirit, went to where he was and saw him sitting and preaching the error. He began to curse him, saying: “O enemy of God, may the Lord punish you!” Montanus began to rebuke him, and said: “What is there between you and me, Apollos? If you prophesy: I do too; if you are an apostle: so am I; if you are a physician: so am I.” Apollos said: “Let your mouth be closed, in the name of the Lord!” He immediately fell silent and could never speak again. The people believed in our Lord and were baptized. They overthrew the seat of Montanus who fled and escaped.—  This story is finished, like the other.

 Interesting details indeed.  But it is hard not to feel sorry for the poor Montanists, plainly simple rural folk following the traditions of their families since the second century.


Digging in Pepuza

William Tabbernee and Peter Lampe successfully identified the site of ancient Pepuza a few years ago, and published their findings as Pepouza and Tymion: The Discovery and Archaeological Exploration of a Lost Ancient City and an Imperial Estate. De Gruyter, 2008.  I’ve been reading this volume this evening.

The book is unusual in that the text appears in parallel columns in English and German, followed by a Turkish text.  I think I approve of this.  Is there any pressing reason, when a team is multi-lingual, not to do this?  Paper is cheap enough, after all.  It certainly broadens the possible appeal of a text.

But in other respects the book is very disappointing.  It seems as if they were unable to do any serious archaeology.  The possible basilica in the centre of the city — the possible catacomb under it, choked with ancient demolition rubble and perhaps the site of Montanus’ grave — all this was not excavated.  There are repeated references to permission to do this, to do that.  In the end it seems as if they could only investigate the site of the Byzantine cave monastery.  It’s a disappointing tale, in short, and I’m not sure that this is the fault of Tabbernee and Lampe.

Cynic that I am, I can’t help wondering whether, as soon as they left, excavations commenced, undertaken by the local villagers, in search of the treasure the silly foreigners must have been looking for.   Let’s hope not.  But … the last work recorded was in 2004.  That’s a fair few years ago.


The end of Montanism

The author of the 8th century Syriac Chronicle of ps.Dionysius of Tel-Mahre is preserved in a single copy written ca. 903 AD.  This was preserved in the monastery of Deir al-Suryani in the Nitrian desert, but brought to the Vatican in 1715, where it is Ms. Vaticanus Syr. 162, 173ff. Some missing leaves were retrieved by Henry Tattam in 1840, and are now British Library Additional 14665.  

The Chronicle is very valuable because its unknown author made use of the Ecclesiastical History of the 6th century bishop John of Ephesus.  A large chunk of the latter still survives, but most does not.  Ps.Dionysius had access to the whole work, and quotes from it word-for-word.

The year 861 [=549-50 AD] … At this time the destructive heresy of Montanus was put to shame and uprooted.  We [=John] have written the story of how it sprang up in the (section about) apostolic times.  Now however at the incitement of John bishop of Asia the bones of Montanus were found, who used to say of himself that he was the Spirit Paraclete, and (the bones) of Kratis, Maximilla and Priscilla, his prophetesses.  (John) burned them with fire and pulled their temples down to the foundations.1

The events must have taken place at Pepuza in Phyrgia, where the cult was centred.  

We have no other 6th century accounts of this event.  But as often happens, early documents were embedded in later Syriac sources.  In this case Michael the Syrian, in the 12th century, gives us more information because he has access to other sources than just John.

In the land of Phyrgia there is a place called Pepuza, where the Montanists had a bishop and some clergy.  They called it Jerusalem, and there they killed the Christians.  John of Asia went there and burned their synagogue, on the orders of the emperor.  In this house there was found a great reliquary [=γλωσσόκομον] of marble sealed with lead and bound with iron fittings.  On it was written, “Of Montanus and his women.”  It was opened and in it were found Montanus and his two women, Maximilla and Priscilla, which had golden leaves over their mouths.  They were covered with confusion by seeing the fetid bones which they called “the Spirit”.  They were told, “Have you no shame to allow yourselves to be seduced by this rascal, and to call him the ‘Spirit’?  A spirit has neither flesh nor bones.”  And the bones were burned.   The Montanists were heard wailing and crying.  “Now,” they said, “the world is ruined and will perish.”  Their shameful books were also found and burned.  The house was purified, and became a church.

Previously in the days of Justinian I [=Justin], some people had informed the emperor that Montanus, at the time of his death, had ordered those responsible for his funeral to bury him fifty cubits under the earth, “because,” he said, “the fire must reveal me and devour all the face of the earth.”  His followers, by the pernicious operation of demons, put it about falsely that his bones were exorcising demons.  They bribed a few individuals who, for bread to eat, claimed that he had healed them.  — The emperor wrote to the bishop of that place.  He dug deep and removed the bones of Montanus and his women to burn them.  Then the Montanists came to find the bishop by night and gave him five hundred darics of gold.  They carried off the bones and brought others.  And in the morning, without anyone realising the mystery, the bishop burned these bones as being those of Montanus and Crites (?) his associate.  But then the Archdeacon denounced the Bishop, who was sent into exile.

Apollos, the companion of Paul, wrote that Montanus was the son of Simon Magus, that when his father died, by the prayer of Peter, he fled Rome and began to trouble the world.  Then Apollos, (led) by the Spirit, went to where he was and saw him sitting and preaching error.  He began to curse him, saying, “Enemy of God, the Lord will punish you!”  Montanus began to rebuke him and said, “What difference is there between you and I, Apollos?  If you prophesy, I do also; if you are an apostle, I am too; if you heal, I do too.”  Apollos said to him, “Let your mouth be closed, in the name of the Lord.”  He immediately stopped and was never again able to speak.  The people believed in our Lord, and received baptism.  They overthrew the seat of Montanus, who fled and escaped.  — This story is finished, just like the other.

Some interesting material there, evidently from at least three different sources.  The first paragraph must derive from some 6th century account, more detailed than that of John of Ephesus; or perhaps from a fuller text than ps.Dionysius had.

The second is still more interesting.  Is it possible that some of the Montanists, after the event, put about a rumour that the bones burned were not those of Montanus, in order that their cult might continue?  It’s not easy to imagine another source for this story, where the clergy are depicted as venal state hirelings.

The third moves into the realm of folk-tale.  Clearly the author had no idea when Montanus lived — although it sounds from ps.Dionysius if this was already rather murky in the 6th century — and we seem to have some sort of material from a hagiographic text about Apollos.  Perhaps Michael has simply assembled whatever he had about Montanus, regardless of consistency.

1. Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre: Chronicle.  Translated … by Witold Witakowski.  Liverpool University Press, 1996,  p.112 (the end of p.125 of the Syriac text)
2. Michael the Syrian, Chronicle. Translated into French by J.B.Chabot.  Book 9, chapter 33, in Volume 2, p. 269 of Chabot’s publication (on


Ancient references to Montanism

Daniel R. Jennings writes to say that he has compiled all the ancient references to Montanism in English into a single page.  This must be useful to everyone, I would have thought.  It’s at:

He adds:

I have attempted to compile ancient and medieval references to Montanism (the 2nd-6th century heretical group) from patristic literature. I ended up collecting references from the 2nd-12th centuries and then attempted to list them chronologically. There are a few texts that were not included but the majority of the ancient texts relating to Montanism are here (a total of some 100 pages if printed out on 8.5 x 11). For me it was a labor of love, something that I am sure you can sympathize with when it comes to the study of patristics. There are a few things that I would like to add in the future (I know that there is room for improvement to include more bibliographic data and the remaining missing texts) but I think that for the moment this can provide an excellent resource for anyone curious about the Montanists. To my knowledge there is nothing this extensive anywhere else on the web.