Bauer, Eusebius HE, Rufinus and Edessa – and the Syriac text

Yesterday I summarised, section by section, the content of chapter 1 (“Edessa”) of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy, with a view to working out just what, in plain terms, his argument was.  I shall do more on this next week, and reduce the book to a series of testable statements and propositions, which we may then evaluate.

Along the way I noticed an interesting statement to which I have referred before, but this time was able to address.

d) EH 5.23.4: At the time of the Roman bishop Victor (189-99), gatherings of bishops took place everywhere on the matter of the Easter controversy, and Eusebius still knows of letters in which the church leaders have set down their opinion. In this connection, the following localities are enumerated: Palestine, Rome, Pontus, Gaul, and then the “Osroëne and the cities there.”

The phrase “and the cities there” is as unusual as it is superfluous. Where else are the Osroëne bishops supposed to have been situated except in the “cities there”?

But what speaks even more decisively against these words than this sort of observation is the fact that the earliest witness for the text of Eusebius, the Latin translation of Rufinus, does not contain the words “as well as from those in the Osroëne and the cities there.” This cannot be due to tampering with the text by the Italian translator, for whom eastern matters are of no great concern. In those books with which he has supplemented Eusebius’ History, Rufinus mentions Mesopotamia and Edessa several times (11.5 and 8 at the end; see below, n.24).

Thus the only remaining possibility is that in his copy of EH 5.23.4 he found no reference to the Osroëne, but that we are dealing here with a grammatically awkward interpolation by a later person who noted the omission of Edessa and its environs.

Bauer references the GCS edition of Eusebius’ Church History by E. Schwartz.  We may find the volumes of the GCS edition of the HE easily enough here (part 1; books 1-5), here (part 2; 6-10, and Rufinus 10-11) and here (part 3; introduction, indexes).  EH 5.23.4 is in part 1, p.490-1, here, both Greek and Latin, at the top of the page.

Let’s first look at the manuscripts, listed at the start of part 1, and discussed in detail in part 3.

Of the manuscripts used for the Greek text, ms. A is 11th century; T = 10-11th; E=10th; R = 12th; B is 12th; D is 11-12th; M = 12th.

Of the manuscripts of Rufinus’ translation into Latin, only a few were used.  But ms. N= 8th century; P = 9th; O = 9/10th; F = 9/10th.

The difference in age, therefore, is very slight.  Bauer relies on this difference in order to privilege the version by Rufinus, but neglects to indicate to the reader how very slight it is.

But when Bauer states that the “earliest witness” for the text of this passage is the Latin translation of Rufinus, he is mistaken.  For he seems to have forgotten the Syriac translation, also referenced at the start of the GCS edition, but otherwise not discussed in that edition as far as I can see.  This was published by Wright and McLean in 1898, and may be found here.

Of the manuscripts used for the Syriac text, ms. A is dated AD 462, i.e. 5th century; ms. B is 6th century.  The editors add that the translation has evidently been transmitted through several copyists, even at this early date; Wright, indeed, believed (p.ix) that the translation was made either in Eusebius’ lifetime or soon afterwards.  There is a medieval Armenian version as well, which the editor believes is based on a Syriac text of the 4th century (p.xvii), prior to the corruptions in the Syriac.

So what does the Syriac text say, for this passage?  I am indebted to Syriacist Stephen Ring, who kindly examined it for me.  The passage may be found on p.304 of the Wright-McLean edition, between p.304 lines 13 and p.305 line 1.  This passage is given from B, according to the plan of the edition, with footnotes from Gothic A, by which the editors confusingly indicate the Armenian.

There is another written account of this inquiry and it makes known about a bishop Victor and about the bishops of other places who placed Palma as their chief and of the churches which are in Gaul ruled by Ireneus and again of Mesopotamian churches and the cities there. And also (the written account goes on) of Bakilios bishop of Corinth and many others. Those, as one government were agreed and were of one accord and from these there was one decree which those twenty-four said about it, about the division in Asia.

The Armenian contains something, given in the footnote as:

7. A. ecclesiarum et urbium quae in Mesopotamia sunt.

i.e. “of the churches and cities which are in Mesopotamia.

For convenience I give the NPNF translation of the Greek:

And there is also another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question, which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus over whom Palmas, as the oldest, presided; and of the parishes in Gaul of which Irenaeus was bishop, and of those in Osrhoëne and the cities there; and a personal letter of Bacchylus, bishop of the church at Corinth, and of a great many others, who uttered the same opinion and judgment, and cast the same vote.

The passage which Bauer dismisses as interpolated is shown to be present in a similar form in an Armenian witness to a Syriac text of the 4th century and in a Syriac witness of the 6th century.

There is, of course, a difference between “Osrhoene” and “Mesopotamia”.  Dr Ring adds:

Where the text in question has ‘those Osrhoëne’, the Syriac translator wrote ‘idte debayt nahrote’ = ‘churches of betwixt the rivers’ = ‘churches of Mesopotamia’. In my opinion, it would be reasonable to translate ‘those of Osrhoëne’ into Syriac this way.

However, the Syriac context suggests this is exactly what happened, because Osrhoëne is a political entity which had cities like Edessa, Amid and Mabbug, whereas, ‘Mesopotamian churches’ in the Syriac is an ecclesiastical entity which would not contain cities, but the Syriac goes on ‘and the cities there’ suggesting that the translator has not chosen his/her words very carefully.

It is curious that the passage is absent from Rufinus.  Possibly he either translated from a copy of the Greek which was lacking this passage, or else that he accidentally omitted it?  But that the passage was present in copies from very soon after composition can hardly be doubted.

It would of course be possible to assert that this only shows that the passage was added very early to some copies, but that Rufinus had obtained an uncorrupted copy, and the shorter form is more likely to be authentic, despite the very early date of the Syriac-Armenian witnesses.  The reader may form his own opinion on this matter.

But if we return to the main issue; is this a late interpolation, and therefore no evidence of Christianity in the time of Irenaeus in Edessa?  The answer must be no.  It is, if an interpolation at all, one made almost while the author was still breathing.  More likely, the Greek and the Syriac reflect what Eusebius actually wrote.

Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 3 – Edessa

Today I’m looking at chapter 1 of Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy, available here thanks to Bob Kraft. So I’m going to follow my own advice today and put the thesis into my own words.  However first, it’s necessary to work out what he is actually saying.

We need to remember what Bauer is trying to demonstrate, because he doesn’t come straight out with it in the introduction, nor in the chapter.  Here is Strecker’s summary, from his introduction to the 2nd edition:

In earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity.

And, as I discussed in the previous post, Bauer’s purpose seems to be to see if he can build a case that there is evidence that some (all?) of the heresies have an independent link back to Christ (and his apostles?). 

It’s important to keep clearly in mind what we are supposed to be talking about, with any thesis, in order to determine whether the material presented actually supports the thesis, and to what extent. 

Here is the original table of contents:

General History since Alexander the Great     1-2
Earliest Christianity There: Sources and Their Value
      Eusebius and the Abgar Legend     2-12
      Edessene Chronicle to the Fourth Century     12-17
Reconstruction of Earliest Christian History
      “Orthodoxy” before Kûnê in the Fourth Century (Palût)     17-22
  Predecessors and Competitors of Palûtian Christianity:Marcion, Bardesanes,
      Mani, and Their Literature (Diatessaron, Pauline Epistles)     22-32
  Kûnê and the Emergence of a Powerful “Orthodoxy”: Dissemination of the Abgar Legend, Attacks on Rival Groups,
      Vindication of Paul through Acts of Paul/”3 Corinthians”     32-43

Let’s have a page-by-page summary of what is being said.   (I’m using the sections of the online text here, since we can all see them).  For, as I remarked in my previous post, it is important to put the claims into your own words, stripped of whatever prose presented them.  I have added a couple of notes under sections where I had immediate thoughts. 

 1. A few background lines on the history of the kingdom of Osrhoene, whose capital was Edessa.

2. Irrelevant chit-chat.

3. “When we ask how and when Christianity gained influence in this region, it is unnecessary to begin with a survey of the sources ” (!!!).  Instead starts talking about the Abgar legend, referencing Eusebius’ Church History, a source from 325 AD, as the basis for the origin of Christianity in Edessa. 

RP: I don’t quite follow why Bauer begins his examination of the evidence for the origins of Christianity — whenever it did arise, in the 1st or 2nd century (? — since he refuses to engage with the NT) — with Edessa, and, when he does so, with a text which no-one believes is authentic, and is 4th century.

4.  More Abgar.  References the Doctrine of Addai, from which the Abgar text must come, assigns it late 4th century date.

5.  Notes that no-one believes the Abgar letters are authentic.  Ranting about “ecclesiastical thinking”… “only thing that remains to be asked is whether the church father’s presentation is completely useless… or whether … we may still single out this or that particular trait”.  All scholars think the latter, he says.

6. Chapter 45 of Bardaisan’s Book of the Laws of the Countries (early 3rd century) states that an Abgar became a believer and stopped pagan castrations.  Asks which Abgar this is?

RP: Cureton’s translation says this is about circumcision, not castration;  but the ANF version says castration.  Whether the king was a Christian or follower of Bardaisan is not indicated.

7.  Asserts that “when he became a believer” is not part of original text, since Syriac may contain it, but Eusebius’ quotation of it in the PE VI, ch. 10, does not. 

RP:  The PE is here.  I wonder if we can determine for ourselves whether this is right, by comparing a larger extract?

And this is not dependent on nativity, for all Jews cannot have the same natal stars.

Moreover every seventh day, wherever they may be, they abstain from all work, and neither travel nor use fire: nor does his nativity compel a Jew either to build or to demolish a house, to work, to buy or to sell on the sabbath day, although on that same day Jews beget and are begotten, and sicken and die: for these are things not dependent on freewill.

In Syria and Osrhoene many used to mutilate themselves in honour of Rhea: hereupon king Abgar at one stroke commanded that those who cut off the genital organs should also have their hands cut off, and from thenceforth no one in Osrhoene mutilated himself. (PE)

As opposed to:

It is evident that what they do is not from Nativity: for it is impossible that for all the Jews, on the eighth day, on which they are circumcised, Mars should `be in the ascendant, ‘so that steel should pass upon them, and their blood be shed.

One day in seven, also, they and their children cease from all work, from all building, and from all travelling, and from all buying and selling; nor do they kill an animal on the Sabbath-day, nor kindle a fire, nor administer justice; and there is not found among them any one whom Fate compels, either to go to law on the Sabbath-day and gain his cause, or to go to law and lose it, or to pull down, or to build up, or to do any one of those things which are done by all those men who have not received this law. They have also other things in respect to which they do not on the Sabbathconduct themselves like the rest of mankind, though on this same day they both bring forth and are born, and fall sick and die: for these things do not pertain to the power of man. 

In Syria and in Edessa men used to part with their manhood in honour of Tharatha; but, when King Abgar became a believer he commanded that every one that did so should have his hand cut off, and from that day until now no one does so in the country of Edessa. (Syriac)

From this we see that the two versions differ quite a bit more than on just this phrase.  Either the Syriac has been expanded, not just by a couple of words, but by whole sentences and in detail; or else Eusebius PE is an abbreviated version.   Which of the two is the case is a matter for specialists, of course; but on the face of it Eusebius has abbreviated, as, in quoting large chunks of big books, he was bound to do all over the place.  We might suppose that, since everyone knew that King Abgar became a Christian, there was no need to spend space on saying so.

8.  “The rest of what is adduced in support of a Christian king of Edessa appears to me to be entirely without importance.”  Africanus in his chronicle (quoted by Syncellus) calls Abgar a “holy man”, but “This is not to be exploited as a Christian confession”; Eusebius’ quotation of the same for 2235 Anno Abrahae (218 AD) says “distinguished man”.  Claims Epiphanius Panarion 56.1.3 is using Africanus when discussing Bardaisan and calling Abgar “most pious and reasonable”.

RP: I’m trying to work out where Bauer is going.  Is the thread basically to debunk any evidence in favour of a Christian king of Edessa?  If so, that explains the Abgar stuff, and the Bardesan stuff.  Eusebius’ text is only extant in a late Armenian version and in Latin.  Jerome’s Latin for 2234 AA says “Abgar, a holy man, reigned at Edessa, as Africanus maintains.” (Abgarus, vir sanctus, regnavit Edessae, ut vult Africanus.)  I presume Bauer is using Karst’s German translation of the Armenian.  I have not been able to consult Epiphanius.  But it looks as if the text of Africanus may well have read “holy”.  I don’t understand Bauer’s contention that the Christian Africanus would call a pagan monarch “holy”.

9. Syriac romance of Julian the Apostate “from a manuscript no later than the seventh century” asserts no monarch followed Christ before Constantine.

RP: The Julian romance is a 6th century hagiographical text.  I don’t understand how this is evidence.

10. There are marble columns in Edessa, which might be from a Greek pagan temple mentioned in the Chronicle of Edessa, which have an inscription in Syriac letters of ca. 200 AD mentioning a Queen Chelmath who might be the wife of Abgar, who couldn’t have become a Christian if he had a pagan wife; and if he had, the inscription showing he had a pagan wife would have been removed.

RP: Not sure I follow the argument here.

11. Dio Cassius says Abgar was cruel.  So for him, “the Christian faith cannot have had a very deep effect”.

12. The point of everything so far: “The purpose of this criticism is to contest the assumption that the presence of a Christian prince and of a state church for Edessa around the year 200 is in any way assured.”  On to the next point: “the existence of ecclesiastically organized Christianity in Edessa at this time cannot be asserted with any confidence”.  Source is Eusebius Church History.  2 quotes in this showing Christians in Mesopotamia, 1 more (5.23.4) showing them in Osrhoene.  But ancient Latin translation of Eusebius by Rufinus omits the reference to Osrhoene.  Claims this plus phrasing means it is a later interpolation in Greek text of Eusebius.

RP: We need information on the Syriac and Armenian versions also.  The former exists in an ms. from 462 AD.  I have emailed a Syriacist to look.

13.  Eusebius doesn’t know much about Mesopotamia, and doesn’t reference much material from there, so there can’t have been much to know in his day.  Back to Abgar: Asks who benefits from the forgery of the Abgar letters. Ephraem of Edessa (d. 371) knows nothing of the letter, only of the sending of Addai.  Only mention of Abgar by Ephraim is in the appendix to his commentary on the Diatessaron.  Since we have no Syriac text, we may doubt whether it is authentic.

RP. Syriac text now known.  No idea what it says!  It’s a little odd to call Ephraem Syrus “Ephraem of Edessa” – he only lived there at the very end of his life.  Note that the argument here is switching ad hoc between Edessa and Mesopotamia.  Which are we studying?  — The two are very far from identical.

14.  Speculation about motives of compiler of Abgar letters.   “Thus we find the Abgar saga to be a pure fabrication, without any connection with reality, which need not have emerged earlier than the beginning of the fourth century …, and which says nothing certain about the Christianity of Edessa in an earlier time.”  Says Acts of Thomas come “from this region” and are “much earlier.”

15.  ‘I pose the question: With respect to the history of the church of Edessa, how well does the widely held view stand up, that in the various cities at the beginning there existed communities of orthodox Christians — naturally orthodoxy is understood to involve a certain development and unfolding — who form the genuine kernel of Christianity, and alongside are minorities of those who are “off the track” and are regarded and treated as heretics? I raise the question as to how well it stands the test, and find the answer, it stands up poorly. Up to now nothing has spoken in its favor.’

RP: It looks as if Bauer has forgotten to debunk other Eusebius testimonies.  But doesn’t this argument manufacture silence and then argue from absence of evidence?

16. Chronicle of Edessa records flood of church in Edessa in 201 AD.

17.  Dionysius of Tell-Mahre (776) repeats the statement, but omits mention of church.   Bauer introduces mention of this by “Finally, it is also not my intention to seek cover behind the Chronicle of Dionysius of Tell Mahrê …” and then gives details.  Then claims unlikely that church existed, or that a pagan would have recorded it, and claims Christian interpolation.

RP: Isn’t this saying something which will undermine the reader’s trust in the text while loudly refusing to do so?  That seems a bit like manipulation of the reader to me.

18.  Strange speculative argument that a later flood and rebuilding must have been projected backwards.

19.  Extracts of Chronicle of Edessa.

20. Claim that text was composed by Christian of 6th century, but not all of it because otherwise it would mention Abgar.  Early part must be “from a person who was still aware that the earliest history of Christendom in Edessa had been determined by the names of Marcion, Bar Daisan, and Mani”, since Marcion (“Marcion departed from the church”, says the Chronicle of Edessa) and Mani never went to Edessa, this must refer to the importance of their followers; and the absence of mention of a Christian bishop is evidence of non-existence or unimportance for the same reason.  ‘If these three, and only these — with no “ecclesiastical” “bishop” alongside of them — are specified by name in a Christian Chronicle of Edessa, that indicates that the form of religion and of Christianity which they advocated represents what was original for Edessa.’  And ‘Ecclesiastically organized Christianity, with cultic edifice, cemetery, and bishop, first appears at the beginning of the fourth century’.

RP: Bauer is arguing the last point from what appears, or does not appear, in the 6th century Chronicle of Edessa

21. The first bishop mentioned is Kune.  Three previous bishops are mentioned elsewhere; Palut, Abshelma, and Barsamya; in the Doctrine of Addai and hagiographical material of the 5th century.  Only Palut will be discussed.  Statements in DA about him; DA is unhistorical, particularly any idea that Peter ordained him bishop.

RP: Doctrine of Addai is here.  Why start with obviously unhistorical material, rather than Ephraem’s statements about Palut?  Because Bauer wants to throw doubt on the whole of the data by association?  This is not good.  Is there an anti-Catholicism strain starting to appear in the material about unimportance of bishops?  A legacy of German ‘protestant’ attitudes and protestant-catholic disputes?

22. Irrelevant stuff attacking importance of bishops.

23.  More of the same.  “Links” between Antioch and Edessa in the 4th century must have been weak, since a recent biography of Chrysostom never mentions Edessa.

24. More, ending with a claim that this shows that there is “there is no confirmation of the claim” in the DA that Palut was a bishop.

25.  Ephraem’s Madrasha 22 against heretics tells us of Palut.  He was leader of the Christians in Edessa at the end of the 2nd century.  ‘But we must remove from his hand the episcopal staff …  It is quite possible that Palût’s own group called him “bishop.”‘  Says he and his congregation must have been unimportant because not mentioned in Chronicle of Edessa

26.  Most important is that Palut and his people appear later than the heretics, who were known as Christians locally.  The heretics in question must have been Marcionites.  The real Christians had to call themselves and be known as Palutians. 

RP: This is not what Ephraem actually says, tho, but an inference from it.  The heretics called them Palutians is what he says.  It does not even say that any Christian used that name, although the strength of his denunciations of anyone who allowed themselves to be so named rather suggests it.

27.  Did the Marcionites just call themselves Christians?  Bauer quotes the Life of Mar Aba, who died in 552.  Rejects text as a whole, but proposes to use this bit of it.

28.  Description of what Life says.

29.  “This story reveals that even at a relatively late date, Marcionites designated themselves as the Christians”, forcing Christians to call themselves Messianists. “Is it not reasonable to suggest that something similar was true with respect to the beginnings of Christianity in Edessa? That would be an excellent explanation of why the orthodox call themselves Palûtians until far into the fourth century, or at least are known by that name to the public.”

RP: A bit dodgy, this.  Bauer fails to point out that the events take place, not in Edessa, but some distance away in Persian-controlled Mesopotamia; not in the second century, or the fourth, but in the sixth.  The Marcionites may not have been there very long; the policies of Justinian would have caused a migration; and doubtless the Persian authorities didn’t much care.  There is no indication as to why this should relate to Edessa.  Nothing in Ephraem says that Christians usually called themselves Palutians, still less that anyone but the heretics did.

30.  Marcion, Bardesan and Mani were the heretics against whom the early writers most often write.  Aphrahat’s attack instead on Marcion, Valentinus and Mani accounted for by assertion that Valentinians turned into followers of Bardesan.  Patristic references quoted that Bardesan was influenced by Valentinus.

RP: Reference of Eusebius HE  “6.30.3” should be “4.30.3”.

31.  Ephraem Syrus names other heretics, but these are the important ones in the 4th century.

32.  Marcionites only suppressed with state aid by Rabbula in 5th century.  Hagiographical Life of Rabbula quoted as evidence.

33.  Quotes from Life about suppression of Bardesanites and Manichaeans and Jews.

34.  Attack on Rabbula for suppressing them.  “Thus it would be illegitimate for one to reason back from the situation which Rabbula had brought about by force, and to use this as a corrective to the picture that we have discovered for the time of Ephraem when orthodoxy in Edessa still occupied a quite secondary place.”

RP: Is anyone suggesting that we project Rabbula’s Edessa back onto the 2nd century?  If so, who?

35.  Claim that situation in Edessa “would hardly have been much different” to that in Armenia.  Marutha of Maiperqat quoted on the number of heretics.

RP: Text quoted is not quite clear, but references given to I. E. Rahmani in Studia Syriaca 4, Documenta de antiquis haeresibus, 1909, pp. 76-80 and Syriac pp. 43-98.  Seems to be an anti-heretical writing.  Not quite clear how this is relevant.

36.  Bauer now moves from tentative assertions to this: “In the picture that the representatives of the church sketch, it is precisely the detail about a great apostasy from the true faith that is seen to be incorrect — in any event, it is not true of Edessa. Here it was by no means orthodoxy, but rather heresy, that was present at the beginning. Christianity was first established in the form of Marcionism, probably imported from the West and certainly not much later than the year 150.”  Bardesan is later, and only disputed with Marcionites; the Christians were too insignificant.  Sources: Eusebius, HE 4.30.1; Theodoret, Haer. 1.22; Hippolytus Refutatio, 7.31.1.

RP: Sources quoted show that Bardaisan only disputed with Marcionites?  Eusebius doesn’t, and seems to reflect a period before Bardesan became a heretic; nor does Hippolytus.

37.  Irrelevant speculation about what scriptures Bardesan used in Edessa.

38.  Irrelevant speculation that Bardesan used the Diatessaron.

39.  More of the same.

40.  Speculation that if Bardesan had used the Diatessaron, and been very influential, this would explain why the Syriac churches used a book compiled by a heretic; because there were so few real Christians.

41.  More speculation about use of Diatessaron.  Letters of Paul ‘must’ have been used, because Marcion used them.  Ephraem and a Syriac canon of ca. 400 both use an order of the letters found in Marcion, which shows ‘We observe how “heretical,” or better “original” conditions affect later epochs and how even the ecclesiastical structure cannot avoid this.’

42.  Few Christians or heretics in Edessa in 2nd century (Book of the Laws of the Countries 32 and 40).  Bauer asks when Christians really became a factor: claims Kune, from the Chronicle of Edessa, is responsible.  Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite (6th century) mentions a house of Mar Kune; claims Kune was not martyred, and so the existence of a church shows that Kune was special in some way.

RP: English versions of Bardesanes book do not have chapter divisions; unable to locate texts supposed to show this.  Joshua ref to “Mar Kona” is here: “the church of Mar Kona, which had been constructed by the ancients with great pains…”.

43.  Speculation as to Kune’s period of office (early 4th century).

44.  Speculation that Kune fabricated the Abgar correspondence.  Heretics did not trace back their teaching earlier than their founders, Marcion or Bardesanes, not to Jesus; Basilides does claim teaching in secret from the apostle Matthias.

45.  Reiterates claim that Kune was forger.  “We need not make excuses for the Edessene bishop to whom we attribute such a deed. He lived in an epoch in which the growth of Christian legends flourished,…” followed by mention of 4th century frauds and accusations against bishops.

46.  Suggestion that apostles used “questionable” methods, based on homily of Jacob of Serug (6th century) containing legend about Peter and Paul.

RP: Probably the intention is to suggest that such an attitude was commonplace in the region, and attributed to apostles, rather than serious intent to attack apostles?

47.  Continued claim that Kune was forger, and that Christians generally don’t find it objectionable.

48.  “That the apostolic teaching, which is identical with the conception of orthodoxy of all times and places, had been present long before there was heresy is also the view of Edessene orthodoxy of the fourth century.” Quote from Ephraem.

49.  Claims that Bardesanes had never been a Christian, but had once been a Valentinian and had never “shared the faith of the church” (HE 4.30)Story from Theodore bar Koni about Bardesan and how he became a Christian, but later apostastised. 

RP: I think this rather misrepresents Eusebius here: “He indeed was at first a follower of Valentinus, but afterward, having rejected his teaching and having refuted most of his fictions, he fancied that he had come over to the more correct opinion. Nevertheless he did not entirely wash off the filth of the old heresy.”

50.  Story how Mani had once been a presbyter.

RP: I think the argument consists of giving obvious fictional examples of how the founders of heresies are all supposed to be clergy frustrated in personal ambition, apparently with the aim of suggesting that this common motive for schism is never actually true or cannot be relied on.  That’s logically unsound, if I got that right.

51.  The 4th century church used 3 Corinthians, the Bardesanites did not.  Since 3 Corinthians was forged as part of the Acts of Paul ca. 180, (‘Thus we see here quite clearly an officer of the “great church” perpetrating a “forgery” that focuses upon an apostle.’) after Bardesan, this shows that the failure to use the text as scripture means that the Bardesanites are a more accurate reflection of the early situation in Edessa than the real church.

52. Speculation that Kune introduced 3 Corinthians into the canon in Edessa.

53.  Speculation that Acts of Paul came to Edessa.  More speculation about Kune’s motives and actions and attitudes.

RP: Which, considering all we know about him is that he was bishop in 313 and built a church, is curious.

54.  “We are concerned with the beginnings. And the investigation of these beginnings for the history of Christianity in Edessa has made us aware of a foundation that rests on an unmistakably heretical basis. In relation to it, orthodoxy comes to prevail only very gradually and with great difficulty, becoming externally victorious only in the days of Rabbula…”

I admit that I was glad to get to the conclusion.

The next stage is to review this and boil it down into a handful of lines of argument.

Let me note one argumentation technique which I think is being used here, and is new to me.

It goes like this.  When attempting to controvert some well-established fact, he starts by finding some hagiographical text, which is obviously nonsensical, that happens to contain the statement he is attacking.  He then solemnly debunks that text as being nonsense, and associates the fact that it is nonsense with the statement he is anxious to refute.  The reader, therefore, already has in his mind the idea that some of the sources that contain the statement are untrue; has observed Bauer debunking a text which the reader already knows is false; and is pre-conditioned, unconciously, to agree with further debunking, of some real evidence for the statement.

Don’t really like this sort of thing.  Let any argument be put squarely, based on the best evidence, and that discussed.

Notes on Walter Bauer’s “Orthodoxy and Heresy” – part 2 – introductory material

When you’re dealing with some theory or other, it is usually good practice to rewrite what is said in your own words, plainly and simply and without adjectives or distractions.   English prose can be used to conceal the deficiencies of a thesis; and this is how you deal with it.

Firstly, I was looking for a summary of the subject of the first chapter.  Not found it yet, beyond the heading, “Edessa”.  Back to the introduction.  The introduction to the 2nd edition by  Georg Strecker is here.  This is helpful, as a way to see how the book is understood, and it begins as follows:

In earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity.

Two different ideas are mingled here, worryingly. 

The first statement is that heresy is not derived from orthodoxy.  Now that sounds like a falsehood, as anyone familiar with the origins of heresies knows.  But perhaps there is some evidence to be offered? 

The second is the claim that in “many” regions there were heretics before normal Christians got there.  The latter part is to be proven; but it can certainly happen, as the career of Ulfilas and the evangelisation of the Germans shows.  However that really belongs to a period when heresy does not mean “raving pagan rubbish” but “complicated theological difference”.

But … the two statements may appear in the same sentence, but they are not logically linked.  Rather the link is insinuated; if it can be shown that there were heretics in “many” areas of the Roman world before Christians were there, then plainly Christianity must be later and heresy first.  It will be interesting to see if any attempt is made to argue this claim, or if it is presumed.

The reader familiar with patristic thought will notice that the thesis of the second part is an inversion of the claim made most clearly by Tertullian, ca. 200 AD, in De praescriptione haereticorum, that heresy comes later, and that this is why it is untrue; it has no connection with the apostolic teaching.  Tertullian makes the point that the heretics cannot document their existence in the apostolic age, but in fact derive their teachings from contemporary schools (haireses) of pagan philosophy. 

Bauer has chosen to try to argue the opposite, based on the survivals of literature from the period, estimated at 1% of the total.  Tertullian, of course, lived in that period and had far, far more and better and earlier sources, as well as oral testimony of various sorts.  And those sources could be very early.  Irenaeus, who knew Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John, was contemporary with Tertullian, who uses some of his work.  Only two of Irenaeus’ works now survive; doubtless Tertullian knew them all.   When we have a positive and entirely credible statement from 200 AD on this subject, it is curious to attempt to argue the contrary.

What else can we get from this introduction, as to the purpose and subject?  Nothing.

Then onto Bauer’s own introduction.  This is strangely evasive as to the subject and purpose, and littered with self-referential flattery such as “Scholarship has not found it difficult to criticize these convictions”, etc etc.  I have highlighted a few words.

I will proceed from the view concerning the heretics and their doctrines which was cherished already in the second century by the ancient church, and will test its defensibility in hopes of discovering … a route to the goal. The ecclesiastical position includes roughly the following main points…

… historical thinking that is worthy of this name refuses to employ here the correlatives “true” and “untrue,” “bad” and “good.”

[Modern opinion] all too easily submits to the ecclesiastical opinion as to what is early and late, original and dependent, essential and unimportant for the earliest history of Christianity. If my impression is correct, even today the overwhelmingly dominant view remains that for the period of Christian origins, ecclesiastical doctrine (of course, only as this pertains to a certain stage in its development) already represents what is primary, while heresies, on the other hand somehow are a deviation from the genuine. I do not mean to say that this point of view must be false, but neither can I regard it as self-evident or even demonstrated and clearly established. Rather, we are confronted here with a problem that merits our attention.

Note that Bauer does not state explicitly what this “goal” is, although it is pretty clear that Strecker’s summary is correct. 

Note also how the term “ecclesiastical doctrine” (terminology that in English at least invokes shades of “dogma” and “inquisition”) is being used in differing senses; first to represent the view of the church in the 2nd century; then to represent the statements of Christian writers of a later period.  An “ecclesiastical opinion” of the 2nd century as to what is early or late is one that we, today, could hardly disagree with!  But using the term allows Bauer to conceal this.

What he does NOT say, and certainly should have done, is that we are not discussing some abstract “doctrine” or “teaching” or “tradition”.  What we are proposing to discuss, I hope, is the statements made by specific individuals living at a specific time and place, recorded in the literary texts that they composed, and which are available for us to consult today.  It is never a good sign when people are imprecise on this point.  All too often it is found that such imprecision easily blurs into “we can dismiss this opinion because it is merely ‘traditional'” with the implication that it is hearsay.

Bauer would have us believe, therefore, that he is examining the ancient claim that Christians come first, and heretics later.  One would have thought that it was reasonably self-evident that pagans who have never heard of Christ are unlikely to start calling themselves Christians without contact from a Christian community.  So Bauer’s real thesis must be, not to examine that claim — where he could never have enough data to contradict the positive testimonies of people living before 200 AD — but instead to see if he can build a case that there is evidence that some of the heresies have an independent link back to Christ and his apostles.

Finally he leads into the first chapter:

As we turn to our task, the New Testament seems to be both too unproductive and too much disputed to be able to serve as a point of departure. The majority of its anti-heretical writings cannot be arranged with confidence either chronologically or geographically; nor can the more precise circumstances of their origin be determined with sufficient precision.

The excuses seem rather feeble, and this creates an immediate problem for Bauer’s thesis.  The early Christian writers take their lead from the apostles and the New Testament.  In what sense can we examine their claim, while ignoring one of the main witnesses to it?  The attitude which it contains is one, which unlike Dr Bauer, is quite willing to employ terms like “true” and “untrue”.  That underlies every element of the Christian approach to heresy.  Yet it is not to be consulted? 

It is advisable, therefore, first of all to interrogate other sources concerning the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy, so that… we may try to determine the time and place of their origins.

I have chosen to begin with Edessa and Egypt so as to obtain a glimpse into the emergence and the original condition of Christianity in regions other than those that the New Testament depicts as affected by this religion.

There is certainly no reason not to look at the evidence from Edessa, and we shall do so.  However one cannot help reflecting that Syriac Christianity is not at all well documented before the 4th century. 

It seems reasonable to ask why Dr Bauer seeks for data in regions primarily known from late sources?  For if he dismisses the statements of Christian writers of the 2nd century, and won’t even consider those of later times, how will a region whose sources are nearly all 4th century help him? 

Unless, of course, his readers fail to notice this inconsistency?

I cannot avoid the reflection that, even in his introduction, Bauer is proceeding in a manner which is very much less than satisfactory.  It is very important to avoid muddy terms like “ecclesiastical opinion” in examining a specific and limited set of texts.  It is very important to clearly indicate your method and objective.  It is really important to work from the mass of the data to edge cases.   None of this he does.