Closing the brothels – the Vandals in Carthage

An interesting passage in Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization IV: The Age of Faith,: (1950), p.30.  The author summarises an argument by Salvian of Marseilles, ca. 450 AD, De Gubernatione Dei, “On the Government of God”.

The Vandal chieftain Gaiseric, on capturing Christian Carthage, was shocked to find a brothel at almost every comer; he closed these dens, and gave the prostitutes a choice between marriage and banishment. …24

An interesting statement, as part of Salvian’s theme on how much better the Germans were morally than the Romans.  But what does Salvian actually say?

The footnote, sadly, is to a number of sentences:

24.  Salvian. iv, 15;  vii, passim; and excerpts in Heitland, W. E, Agricola, 423. Boissier. II. 410, 420, and Bury, Later Roman Empire, 307.

This makes verification difficult.  Google makes it harder by hiding the fact that some of these books are freely available at the Internet Archive, in order to sell copies.  The Agricola isn’t relevant; the Bury page appears to be wrong.  Fortunately all these sources are old, and so out of copyright, and it is Boissier, p.420, who appears to be Durant’s actual source.  He even thoughtfully gives a proper reference:

Surtout ils sont chastes; c’est une honte chez les Goths d’être un débauché; chez les Romains, c’est un honneur. Le premier soin de Genséric, quand il eut pris Carthage, fut de fermer les lieux infâmes, qui se trouvaient à tous lès coins de rue, et d’éloigner ou de marier les courtisanes, et c’est à un barbare que la ville de saint Augustin doit d’avoir été purifiée.[1]

Above all, they are chaste: it is a disgrace among the Goths to be a debauchee; among the Romans, it is an honour. The first care of Genseric, when he had taken Carthage, was to close the infamous places, which were on every street corner, and to exile or marry off the prostitutes, and it is by a barbarian that the city of St. Augustine had to be purified.[1]

[1]  VII, 20, 84.

I could not find in Boissier any indication of what edition he used.  But I consulted the Sanford translation (1930), and found nothing relevant in book 7, ch. 20.  I’m not sure what “84” indicates.  But chapter divisions vary among editions.  In Sanford, in ch. 22, on p.219, I found this:

22. … I said that the cities of Africa were full of monstrous vices, and especially the queen and mistress of them all, but that the Vandals were not polluted. … For they have removed from every part of Africa the vice of effeminacy, they have even abhorred intercourse with harlots, and have not only shunned or done away with it for the time being, but have made it absolutely cease to exist. …, they removed unchastity while preserving the unchaste; they did not kill the unfortunate women, lest they should stain their prevention of vice with cruelty …. They ordered and compelled all prostitutes to marry; they transformed harlots into wives, … In this, indeed, provision was made not only that women who could not live without husbands should have them, but also that through their domestic guardians those who did not know how to protect themselves should be safe. While the marriage bond constantly bound them, even if the customary unchastity of their former lives enticed them to sin, their husbands’ guardianship should keep them from going astray.

Which is all well and good, but does not justify the claims, that there was a brothel on every street corner, and that closing the brothels was the first act of Genseric on taking Carthage.  I was unable to find these elsewhere in Salvian.


Haefner and Salvian on forgery

In Forgery and Counterforgery, Bart Ehrman makes a series of statements about Salvian of Marseilles, suggesting that the 5th century monk and moralist was guilty of forgery, and also that Salvian actually confesses to the deed in his Letter 9.

In earlier posts, I have evaluated E.’s statements against the text of the letter — not given by E., curiously — and other pieces of evidence.  These posts are accessible here.

But the outcome is that E.’s statements seem remarkably unsatisfactory.  It wasn’t at all clear to me why he believes that, e.g. Salonius was Salvian’s “own bishop”; that Salonius’ comments are angry, that Salvian circulated the work without sending it to Salonius, and so forth.   No other commentator has inferred these statements from the text, or the extraordinary conclusion.

But all the time I lacked an important piece of evidence.

In F&C, E. references, not the standard American translation of Letter 9, by Eva Sanford, which I have given in full here, but an obscure paper by Alfred Haefner, published in 1934 in the Anglican Theological Review in Canada.[1]  The journal itself was not held in some major research libraries outside the USA, and I was unable to access it.

Fortunately a correspondent has come to my rescue, and supplied me with a copy.  In view of the difficulty of access, I have placed a PDF here.

On reading it, much is explained.  For here we find the curious mis-statements which I have discussed earlier.

It would certainly be surprising under these conditions if an author, after publishing his book pseudonymously, would proceed to make an open declaration of his “fraud” and publish his reasons for resorting to such an expedient. He would seem to be thwarting his own purposes.

Yet this is precisely the kind of document we have before us. About the year 440 A.D. there appeared a pamphlet entitled Timothei ad Ecclesiam Libri IV inveighing against the avarice of the times and appealing to the church to renounce its wealth and luxury. The pamphlet begins in the biblical epistolary style: “Timothy, least of the servants of God, to the Church Catholic in all the world, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” The tract was issued under the name of Timothy, with no indications as to its true authorship. When Bishop Salonius got this tract into his hands, he seems quickly to have guessed who wrote it, and forthwith sent a letter of protest to Salvian, presbyter of Marseille. Salonius feared that the work might be mistaken for an apocryphal work of the Apostle Timothy, and demanded reasons for publishing the book pseudonymously. Thereupon Salvian wrote an answer to Bishop Salonius—the ninth of his preserved letters—in which, always speaking of the author in the third person, he set forth his reasons for adopting the pseudonym and thereby strikingly exemplified the contemporary attitude toward the practice.

This letter of Salvian’s thus seems to be a unique document. The very man who has published a pseudonymous book is divulging his reasons for doing so. It is as though we had caught the “criminal” in the act.

Here we have the ideas from F&C, in their original (and somewhat milder) form.  E. has merely dramatised them.

H. himself, if I understand his career correctly, wrote this paper while a PhD student, or little more.   He has indeed propounded an interesting theory; although not one that will resist much investigation.  His area of expertise is the New Testament; of patristics he knows nothing.  Of the milieu of southern Gaul in this period he knew less than most of us, we who have benefited by the works of Peter Brown.  Nevertheless H. — unlike E. — rightly gives a translation of most of the letter in the article, so that the subject under discussion may be accessible to the reader.

H. ends in the following words:

Even so, I do not mean to exaggerate the importance of Salvian’s letter. For on the one hand, Salvian gives us little information about pseudonymity beyond what could be inferred from our previous sources; and on the other hand the letter is too late (ca. 440 A.D.) to permit of definite and unqualified conclusions with respect to the practice of pseudonymity in New Testament times.

Emphasis mine.  H. has the common-sense to realise that the letter’s importance can be exaggerated.  It is interesting to wonder what he would have made of F&C.

Then H. points out a couple of ways in which the letter is of interest, which will again ring bells to the reader of F&C:

[the letter] seems to be the only document in which the pseudonymist is speaking in his own defense (as it were), and it may fairly be called unique in this sense.  …  Finally, the document is one of two or three which may aid us in forming a judgment on the difficult question of the ethics of pseudonymity in ancient times.

It seems very much as if E. read this article and took it for gospel truth, without investigating further.  This explains why, whenever he refers to Salvian, he presumes him already guilty, rather than demonstrating anywhere in the book that he actually is so.

In any survey of a wide area, of the sort found in F&C, it is inevitable that much must be skipped over.  But sources are primary; if they are unsound, then the mass of the book is nothing.  Here E.’s failure to engage properly and critically has betrayed him badly.

UPDATE: I have revised this post to remove some over-hasty language.  The perils of blogging when tired!!

  1. [1]A. Haefner, “A unique source for the study of ancient pseudonymity”, Anglican Theological Review 16, 1934, 8-15.

Some observations on Bart Ehrman’s presentation of Salvian’s letter 9 and “Ad Ecclesiam”

The last few posts have been concerned with establishing some basic facts about the priest Salvian of Marseilles.  I have discussed his Ad Ecclesiam; the text of “letter 9”, which he seems to have prefaced to the work; about his relationship with his friend and pupil Salonius, bishop of Geneva; and about the manuscript tradition of his work.  A previous post discussed why Salvian used the pen-name of Timothy for the Ad Ecclesiam, and whether he intended to be mistaken for Timothy the Apostle, in which I concluded that we can’t know.

It is now time to review the cause of all this activity: the statements of Bart Ehrman in Forgery and counterforgery[1] on this matter.  E. mentions it on just 8 pages of his immense tome; but it is crucial to his argument and indeed is referenced on the final page of the conclusion.

The first mention is on p.84:

Sometimes forgers were called to account, as when the fifth-century ecclesiastic Salvian was caught by his own bishop forging a writing in the name of Paul’s companion Timothy. As we will see, Salvian wrote a self-serving justification in his own defense. For now it is enough to note that his bishop, Salonius, was not at all amused when he discovered that his former colleague and current underling had tried to promote his own views in the name of an authority who had been dead for four hundred years. That Salonius was upset and incensed is clear; how he reacted to Salvian’s self-defense we will never know. We learn of the incident only from Salvian himself.

It is not ideal that a scholarly writer should anticipate his conclusions without qualification so early in the book, as doing so is liable to prejudice the unwary reader. This is particularly the case when using emotive language, and imaginative speculation that such-and-such “is clear”. For, at this point, E. has yet to show whether any of these statements are true.

A number of questions arise immediately. Salonius was bishop of Geneva. Was he really the superior of a monk of Lerins? Did 5th century monks owe obedience to secular bishops? Likewise wasn’t Salonius a friend and pupil of Salvian, rather than merely “his own bishop”.  Elsewhere I have discussed these questions, and E.’s claims do not seem to hold water.

The prose saying that  Salvian “was caught … forging”; that Salonius was “not amused … upset and incensed”, is colourful, but does anything in the source record any of this? Is E. taking his own imagination for fact, the reader begins to ask. Certainly the long-term and friendly relationship between the two men does not preclude the idea that their friendship could not hit a bump; but nothing in the data justifies us in supposing that it did.  Again, all this tends to prejudice rather than inform.

The next portion of the book to mention Salvian is the main body of E.’s criticism of him, on p.94-6.  Here, if anywhere, Salvian may be described, and the claim of forgery made against him and evaluated from all angles.  What does E. say?

Before creating a kind of taxonomy [of the motivations of forgers] of our own, we might consider the one instance, from a slightly later period, in which a forger attempted to justify his actions once they were detected.


The author was a Christian presbyter of Marseille named Salvian, who around 440 CE published the book Timothei ad Ecclesiam Libri IV.[4] The name “Timothy,” of course, had clear apostolic connections from Pauline times. In his letter to the church, “Timothy” inveighed against a community that had grown rich and soft, while advocating radical almsgiving to the church (in the divestment of property). In his concern for total commitment to the gospel and an ascetic style of life, Salvian was not far removed from the concerns of another author, from about the same time, a pseudonymous “Titus” (the other of Paul’s Pastoral companions) who wrote a scathing attack on Christians who indulged in the joys of the flesh, condemning anyone, married or not, who engaged in sexual activities. The author of the forged letter of Titus was never discovered. But the author of the forged letter of Timothy was, by none other than his own bishop, Salonius of Geneva.

Long before the incident, Salonius and Salvian had been members of the monastic community at Lerins, where, for a time, Salvian was Salonius’ teacher. But eventually the student surpassed the instructor in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and when the letter of “Timothy” came to his attention, he immediately, for reasons never given, suspected that in fact it had been written by his former teacher and colleague. He evidently confronted Salvian on the matter, and Salvian wrote a letter in self-defense.

Note that forgery is presumed from the first line of the discussion.  But is E. a scholar making a judgement, or a prosecuting counsel hammering home his charges?  Surely the claim of forgery be the conclusion of whatever investigation E. proposes to do?

It is also unfortunate that he introduces a spurious “letter of Titus” (unreferenced); this merely helps to fix the accusation in the mind of the reader.  But this letter has nothing to do with Salvian, and it would surely be better to demonstrate forgery before alleging it.

The portrait of the relationship of the two men is colourful, but unsatisfactory.  No indication is given that much of this is merely speculation; the picture of Salonius discovering the work, suspecting Salvian, and “confronting” him is imagination, given by no source but based entirely on how E.’s interpretation of the text.  Likewise the reader will not learn from this parapraph that Salonius was a son of Bishop Eucherius, and was sent to the monastery at Lerins at age 10.  Far from being co-members, Salonius was Salvian’s pupil.

In this, his ninth letter, Salvian does not directly admit to having written Timothei ad Ecclesiam. But there is really no doubt about the matter, as he explains why the pseudonymous author (of whom he speaks in the third person) did what he did. That is to say, he explains his motivations.

That Salvian is the author is generally accepted, not least because of the similarities in style and content between the work and De gubernatione dei, which quotes it.  But it is surprising to find that E., so often referred to as a textual critic, is so uninterested in the question of linguistic style, and the relationship between the two ancient texts.   Something on this question would surely have been useful to the reader.  Few will accept the argument offered instead; E. claims that one man cannot know the motivations of another, and so discussion of motivation proves authorship.

On one hand, Salvian insists, the name of an author should not matter to a reader: “In the case of every book we ought to be more concerned about the intrinsic value of its contents than about the name of its author.” So too, “Since the name [of the author] is immaterial, there is no use in asking about the author’s name so long as the reader profits from the book itself.” These pleas ring hollow, however, in light of the rest of Salvian’s self-defense: If he really thought that an author’s name did not matter, why would he write pseudonymously? Why not write in his own name? Or even better, if names do not matter, why not write the book anonymously? The question is exacerbated by the fact that Salvian otherwise wrote extensively in his own name. His De gubernatione dei still survives, and other works were known in Christian antiquity.

Salvian certainly suggests that the reader should judge the work by its content, not by the name attached to it.  This was good advice and still is.  But it is not clear how this is connected to the question of why Salvian chose to use a pen-name.  His motive for not using his own name is stated in the letter; that he was so unimportant that the objects of his sermon — very rich optimates — would ignore his book as by a mean man.  Any name was better than his own.  So the objections raised here seem more like vituperation.

As the date of his works are not known, and De gubernatione dei is later than the Ad ecclesiam, the objection in the final two sentences seems to have no force.  Salvian may have found that it was safer than he first thought to speak openly; we cannot tell.

Still, Salvian’s answer is straightforward. He recognizes his own insignificance and knows that readers do in fact think it matters who produced a writing. He therefore “wisely selected a pseudonym for his book for the obvious reason that he did not wish the obscurity of his own person to detract from the influence of his otherwise valuable book.” If the authority of a book is rooted in the prestige of an author, then obviously a pseudonym is necessary: “For this reason the present writer chose to conceal his identity in every respect for fear that his true name would perhaps detract from the influence of his book, which really contains much that is exceedingly valuable.”

The abbreviation of Salvian’s argument here obscures what I believe we should understand Salvian to be claiming, as we shall see.  Since the letter is not long, and yet is one of the longest of his “proof texts”, E. would have been far wiser to follow Armin Baum in his Pseudepigraphie and give the texts that he is referencing in full, in the original language and in translation.

Given this confession of motivation, what Salvian claims next may seem a bit surprising, if not downright duplicitous. Why did he choose the name Timothy in particular? Readers naturally took the name to refer to Paul’s Pastoral companion, hence Salonius’ distraught reaction. But in clear tension with his earlier assertion that an unknown person would not be accepted as an authoritative source, Salvian claims that he chose the name purely for its symbolic associations. Just as the evangelist Luke wrote to “Theophilus” because he wrote “for the love of God,” so too the author of this treatise wrote as “Timothy,” that is, “for the honor of God.” In other words, he chose the pseudonym as a pen name.

The “distraught” Salonius — really, the language is so emotive that one imagines that E. must have had dinner with him, and dried his tears! — is again an invention; as, indeed, are the “readers”, plural, who “naturally took the name” to refer to the apostle.  Speculation as to duplicity does not advance the argument at all.

The final objection – that using the name of Timothy contradicts Salvian’s assertion that an unknown person would not be heard – seems to misunderstand Salvian’s point in letter 9.  He is well aware that Salvian the humble monk would not be heard.  A book under a pen-name might be, precisely because it could be by anyone, and so could not be dismissed so easily.  Important people have used pen-names, after all, he may have reasoned.

Even though many critics today continue simply to take Salvian’s word for it, the explanation does not satisfy. If Salvian meant what he said, that the reason for choosing a pseudonymous name was to authorize the account—since a treatise written by an obscure or unknown person has no authority—then how can he also say that the specific pseudonymous name was not that of an authority figure (Paul’s companion Timothy) but of an unknown, obscure, and anonymous person intent on honoring God?

We may wonder how many who have published on Salvian have taken E.’s line.  Sadly he does not say.

On the last point, there seems no indication in letter 9 that Salvian thought using the name of Timothy would gain him the authority of an apostle.  His point is rather that using his own would lose him authority.

Scholars determined to follow Salvian’s lead in getting him off Salonius’ hook have pursued various angles. Norbert Brox thinks it significant that Salvian claims in the letter to be humble (“we are urged to avoid every pretense of earthly vainglory. … The writer … is humble in his own sight, self-effacing, thinking only of his own utter insignificance”); for Brox, the choice of the pseudonym was consistent with ascetic practices of self-abnegation that Salvian, in part, endorsed in the treatise of “Timothy.” Brox notes that on two other occasions in his writings Salvian quotes himself, both times anonymously. He chose, in other words, to keep himself, and so his name, out of the limelight.

E. does not explain why he is certain — for what else does the reference to “scholars determined to…” mean? — that other scholars are merely prejudiced.

Brox’ article[2] is accessible through JSTOR, so may be readily consulted.  The reader who has seen only F&C may be surprised to learn that it does not discuss the forgery issue at all.  Instead B. examines how ascetic authors treat the issue of authorship.  He concludes that several consider that it is entirely acceptable to use evasion, not for advantage, but in order to avoid advantage, to avoid being credited for doing something good.  The self-sacrifice of reputation is aimed at.  In this way B. highlights that Salvian is following a tradition in what he says, not simply making a random excuse.  E. does not seem to have adequately understood the argument made, which renders what follows somewhat irrelevant.

There is some merit to this view, but it does not really solve the problem. Quoting oneself in the third person is not the same thing as writing in the name of someone else: if keeping out of the public eye was the key, then, as I have pointed out, Salvian could have written Ad Ecclesiam anonymously. Moreover, the other examples of the literary self-abnegation that Brox cites—starting with Pauls discussion of his ecstatic removal to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians—involve instances in which an author actually uses his own name (i.e., 2 Corinthians is orthonymous). Brox does not, that is, adduce anything analogous to Salvian’s letter. What is completely analogous is the slew of forged writings from the early Christian tradition, numerous texts put in circulation by authors claiming to be apostles and companions of apostles, including letters allegedly written both to and by Timothy and Titus, canonical and noncanonical. Moreover, it should be reemphasized that Salvian did write other books using his own name.

Again this fails because it does not grasp the point that Salvian is part of a tradition, where names are concealed.  The argument that this is not precisely the same in implementation is not relevant; Brox is showing that the motive is the same, and we may suppose that the same impulse might appear in many ways.

But E. then falls into a circular argument.  His book is intended to show that Christians habitually composed apocrypha – an idea which would be news to Salonius, whether angry as E. depicts him, or not — and so he argues that Salvian is an example of this.  But in fact E. is using the example of Salvian as evidence for his proposition.

Even less convincing is the more recent claim of David Lambert that Salvian’s ninth letter was actually written as a preface to Ad Ecclesiam. It is true that in the scant manuscript tradition it is located there; but one can easily imagine why a scribe might arrange Salvians writings in that order, so as to explain the true nature of the authorship of the tractate. It can hardly make sense for Salvian to have put it there initially: the letter is a response to objections raised subsequent to the publication of the tractate, a self-defense for having circulated it under the name of someone else.

Lambert’s article is also accessible online on Google Books, in part at least, and his suggestion is interesting but not as strongly stated as it might be.

The difficulty with E.’s argument here is that there is no trace of an independent manuscript tradition for letter 9; nor of a copy of Ad Ecclesiam under Salvian’s name.  A medieval scribe could not readily associate the two, other than by finding the two together already.  The reason that the letter must certainly have been attached to the work by Salvian is that otherwise it would not serve the purpose for which it was written, in highlighting that Ad Ecclesiam is a modern work.  This I have discussed earlier.

The argument from circulation is also misconceived.  It is possible that the text circulated before letter 9 was added to it, but we do not know of any such circulation.  What we do know is that a copy reached Salonius.  But surely the most obvious reason for this is that Salvian sent it to him?  Why multiply hypotheses?  The hypothesis of general circulation at that point is not based on any evidence, it should be noted.  It should be remembered that Salvian actually dedicated the next book, De gubernatione dei to his friend, which perhaps suggests that Salvian and Salonius were in some way linked in a literary sense on a regular basis.

We do not know how Salonius reacted to Salvian’s defensive ninth letter. But it is relatively clear how he reacted to the tractate Ad Ecclesiam itself. He considered it a forgery, he objected to the literary practice, and he called the author to account for it. Moreover, it is difficult to take Salvian at his word that he never meant anyone to think that he really was Timothy, the companion of Paul. Otherwise his explanation that no one would heed an unknown or obscure author makes no sense: Who is more unknown or obscure than a person who does not exist, or one whose name is not even given? But his explanation for why he could not write the book orthonymously is of considerable value: it shows that one of the motivations for producing pseudepigraphic works was to get a hearing for ones views, by claiming to be someone who deserved to be heard. That will be a fundamental point for the rest of our study.

Before stressing its importance for the polemical forgeries of early Christianity, we would do well to consider the range of motivations for forgery attested in our ancient sources.

And suddenly we have the end of the argument: a serious of assertions and pieces of speculation.  These are all rather unsatisfactory.  Where does E. intend to show that the claim of forgery, and only of forgery, is required to explain the statements in letter 9, if not here?  But he does not.

Firstly, nothing in the letter 9 of Salvian — our only source of information — tells us that Salonius considered it a forgery.  He merely warned that it might be considered an apocryphon, and so not read, unless Salvian added a statement explaining why it was written under the name of Timothy.  Nothing in it tells us that Salvian is “defensive” – this is more invention.  We have already addressed E.’s misunderstanding of the argument from a pen-name.

Of course E. may sincerely believe that Salvian ‘must’ have meant to play with the name of Timothy the apostle.  He is, of course, entitled to his opinion; we are entitled to disagree, unless evidence is forthcoming, out of simple good breeding.  But there is no evidence for the question; and the speculation that E. then gives us does nothing to help.

E. then goes on to generalise from what he understands Salvian to say; that this shows that works may be written under the name of an apostle in order to be heard.  In fact Salvian has made no such point; rather he has advocated concealing his identity as a poor monk in order to avoid being dismissed, not taking the name of an important person in order to be heard!   But suppose that he had: to use such a statement as a general rule outside of Lerins in 5th century Gaul requires more evidence than a solitary statement, surely?  One senses that E. is tired of Salvian, and eager to get on with other topics.

So what should we make of all this?  For these are the core pages in the book at which E. attempts to show that Salvian is not merely writing under a pen-name, but is engaged in deliberate, wilful, intentional forgery of a work as being that of Timothy the Apostle.  He himself states that this is his sole example of a forger explaining himself.  The stakes for E. could hardly be higher.

Clearly the argument is flawed at many points, as we have seen.  But a case may be made in a less than ideal manner, and still be valid.  Defects of detail should never derail us from examining the merits of a case in an objective and detached manner.

There is likewise nothing of contemporary importance at stake.  Emotion is out of place.  It should be of no importance to most of us whether an obscure 5th century presbyter was, or was not, engaged in something morally dubious.  Corrupt and vicious men holding a post of clergyman have existed from Caiaphas himself down to the Glasgow Presbytery of 2012 .  Corrupt clergy certainly existed in the 5th century in Gaul, as Sidonius Apollinaris tells us.  Let us suppose that Salvian was a forger, and that Salonius caught him at it.  What is the evidence?

The fundamental problem with E.’s argument is that at no point has E. attempted to argue his case.  He has instead relied primarily on assertion, made quite a number of arguments, and indulged in a rather excessive amount of imagination and speculation.  But he has not made an argument for his case.  He has merely claimed that Salvian must have intended forgery, and let the rhetoric take care of the rest.

Certainly we may suspect that the use of the name of an apostle was less than accidental.  But we do not know this because we have no evidence on the matter.

In general it is unseemly to allege deliberate fraud without evidence.  If E. finds himself shortchanged at his college canteen at the Christmas dinner, he will be well advised to presume the server is suffering from mistake, muddle, tiredness, and confusion rather than fraud in the first instance.

Let us review the other references to Salvian in F&C.  On p.119-20:

So too in the one instance we have from late antiquity of a Christian detected in the act of forgery, Salvian of Marseilles, who indicates that had he written the book Ad Ecclesiam in his own name, rather than in the name of Timothy, no one would have paid it any heed. And so he “wisely selected a pseudonym for his book for the obvious reason that he did not wish the obscurity of his own person to detract from the influence of his otherwise valuable book.” Or, as he then says, “For this reason the present writer chose to conceal his identity in every respect for fear that his true name would perhaps detract from the influence of his book, which really contains much that is exceedingly valuable.”

Here we have merely reiteration of the guilt of Salvian as a forger, and its use for a more general argument.

On p.113:

The one instance in which we have an ancient forger explain himself is the fifth-century Salvian of Marseille. As we have seen, Salvian refuses to admit guilt but states, as we have seen, that whereas readers should not assign authority to a mere name, he wrote in the name of Timothy because his own name carried no weight or authority. Salvian claims that he did nothing wrong: the “Timothy” named in the letter was not meant to be the apostolic companion of Paul but a pure pseudonym. He was writing “for the honor of God.” This claim, as we have seen, stands in direct tension with Salvian’s simultaneous insistence that for the book to be read it needed to be produced in the name of an authority. In any event, Salvian carefully avoids any admission of guilt, and if he refuses to acknowledge what he has done, then it is impossible for us to know how he justified it to himself. Possibly Salvian and most other forgers were so conflicted by what they were doing—deceiving others when they believed deceit was wrong—that they were unable even to explain to themselves why they did what they did.

This merely repeats the earlier claims, and misunderstandings.

Finally, on p.548, the very last page of the conclusions of the book, we find this:

At an early stage of our study we considered the one instance of a Christian forger who discussed his motives for lying about his identity, Salvian of Marseille, who, among other things declared: “For this reason the present writer chose to conceal his identity in every respect for fear that his true name would perhaps detract from the influence of his book, which really contains much that is exceedingly valuable.” He had an important book to write, and no one would read it if it were attributed to a nobody like Salvian. And so he wrote it in the name of Timothy, in hopes that it would have a wide influence.

It’s a long way from all those bland phrases in the opening chapters, where the existence of pen-names and novelisations is acknowledged.  Salvian is now not writing under a pen-name; he is a forger; and not just a forger, a liar too!  The reader is led to suppose that he probably cheats at scrabble too!  The stern moralist, who dared to criticise the vicious and powerful … is not even mentioned by E. in all this.

The characteristic in all of these passages which strikes the reader most forcibly is the closed-mindedness of the author.  Salvian is introduced as a forger in every single passage.  Not once does E. consider the possibility that the subject needs investigation.  On the contrary, the allegation is considered proven as soon as made.  Everything that follows is merely elaboration, or the brushing aside of objections.  The combination of narrowness and arrogance is really very repulsive to the critical reader.

Now most sensible people subscribe to the “cock-up” theory of history, in preference to the conspiracy theory in which every action must be interpreted as deliberate and malicious.  Indeed whenever we find someone engaged in interpreting the actions of another in the most negative way possible, we may be sure that we find a polemicist with an axe to grind.

There is nothing wrong with E. advancing the hypothesis of a dishonest presbyter attempting to pass off an apocryphon upon the church, and then examining the evidence for it.  Such people have certainly existed, although a little knowledge of human nature will suggest that the majority of those so described were probably muddle-headed rather than coldly malicious.  But others were dishonest and self-serving.  Let us, by all means identify them; and let us also point out that the church was very hostile to even the suggestion of such conduct.  Nobody is invested in attempting to show that every person ever associated with the Christian Church was above any moral failing whatever; the implicit accusation is a strawman argument if ever there was one.

But it is quite surprising that E. does not engage in a critical evaluation of his own hypothesis.  By all means raise the question: but then look at it from all sides, and ask what can be said against.  Of this there is no trace.

It is the task of the scholar, not merely to advance ideas, but also to inform the discussion of them.  He should examine his own ideas critically, from all sides, and with an open mind.

E. does not do this.  He puts forward his claim, elaborates it, and then moves on.  The claim itself is false in some minor particulars.  But if we look at Peter Brown’s discussion of Salvian and his circle and his aims, and then back at Forgery and counterforgery, we see at once that E. gives us no real information.  Salvian for E. is merely a stage villain, introduced to be hissed by the audience.  In a work intended to be scholarly this will not do.

Something must be allowed for the brevity inevitable in a book of this kind, of course; but why be brief, when the example is sufficiently important to the argument of the whole book?

We are driven to say, therefore, that E.’s treatment of Salvian is neither satisfactory nor scholarly.

  1. [1]Oxford University Press, 2013.  My thanks to the press for kindly supplying me with a review copy.
  2. [2] Norbert Brox, “Quis ille auctor? Pseudonymitat und Anonymitat bei Salvian,” Vigiliae Christianae 40 (1986): 55-65.

Two opinions on Salvian’s Letter 9

While online this afternoon I came across a copy of the Eva M. Sanford, 1930, translation of Salvian’s De gubernatione dei, “On the government of God”, complete with a lengthy preface.  After some time I realised that it was something I had scanned myself, transferred to another site.

Sanford lists the works of Salvian in a discussion “III. Salvian’s Literary work”, and has something to say about the Ad Ecclesiam and Letter 9.[1]  It’s interesting, since Sanford finds no difficulty in the contents of letter 9, nor the pen-name of Timothy adopted:

Only nine of the letters are preserved; of these I have already spoken. The ninth, addressed to Salonius, is of special interest, since it explains both Salvian’s purpose in writing his four books Against Avarice, and his reasons for publishing them anonymously. Salonius feared that since the work was issued as the Address of Timotheus to the Church against Avarice, it might be mistaken for an apocryphal work of the “Apostle” Timothy.

Like the Government of God, the invective Against Avarice was written because of Salvian’s deep conviction of the dangers inherent in the persistent vices of men who called themselves Christians. Avarice was a besetting sin of many Romans, and had infected not only members of the church, but its clergy, even to the bishops themselves. The resultant neglect of the true service of God, and of the spiritual and material welfare of the church, led Salvian to “burst forth into words of lamentation” addressed to the church to which the offenders belonged. His failure to attach his own name to the book he explained not only by his desire to avoid vain glory in a service to God, but also by his conviction that the obscurity of his name might detract from the influence of his words. The pseudonym Timotheus (“Honoring God”) was chosen to indicate the motive of the work: ” Indeed, the writer thought it fitting that, writing his books for the honor of God, he should consecrate the title to his divine honor.”

In spite of this letter, and of Gennadius’ ascription of the work to Salvian, its anonymity was preserved in modern times, for it was published by Sichardus at Fol near Basel in 1528 as. the work of Bishop Timotheus, in a collection entitled An Antidote against the Heresies of All Ages.

While no one who reads the treatise Against Avarice can doubt the sincerity and depth of feeling with which it was written, the work is a curious document of the times. Avarice was considered one of the deadly sins. But it is hard now to avoid seeing some self-interest on the part of the church in the constant exhortations to the rich to give all their goods to the church in order to win remission of their sins. In its simplest form, this is the admonition of Christ to the rich young man: as it is elaborated to produce a surer conviction in the minds of fifth century Midases it is perilously close to the purchase of absolution. Some modern writers have thought the book more likely to encourage the avarice of the church than to discourage that of churchmen; others have seen in it an anticipation of the later satires against the greed of the clergy. The irony that is never far from Salvian’s writing is even more marked than usual in this indictment, but the unprejudiced reader is not likely to see in it an intention of actual satire. Nor is it sufficient to dismiss it, as Teuffel does, simply as a ballon d’essai. It was clearly written in all seriousness, albeit in bitterness of heart, with the earnest hope of exerting a salutary influence against a chief evil of the times. The author employed the arguments that experience had taught him were most likely to be effective.

That this work was written before the completion of the treatise On the Government of God is shown by the quotation from it in the latter; it may with some probability be assigned to the years 435-439. The words of Timothy to the church must have aroused much anger among ecclesiastical leaders, and apparently this antagonism made Salvian rather sensitive to criticism, though none the less determined to attack the vices of his day. …

A quotation from Ad Ecclesiam follows.

Now let us quote Bart Ehrman on the same subject, from Forgery and Counterforgery, p.84:

Sometimes forgers were called to account, as when the fifth-century ecclesiastic Salvian was caught by his own bishop forging a writing in the name of Paul’s companion Timothy. As we will see, Salvian wrote a self-serving justification in his own defense. For now it is enough to note that his bishop, Salonius, was not at all amused when he discovered that his former colleague and current underling had tried to promote his own views in the name of an authority who had been dead for four hundred years. That Salonius was upset and incensed is clear; how he reacted to Salvian’s self-defense we will never know. We learn of the incident only from Salvian himself.

The description of events is so different that we may wonder if both refer to the same basic facts.

  1. [1]p.15-17.

Is Salonius’ commentary on Ecclesiastes authentic?

In my last post I raised the question of whether the two commentaries transmitted under the name of the 5th century bishop Salonius of Geneva[1] were in fact authentic.  These consist of a commentary on Proverbs, and one on Ecclesiastes.

This evening I stumbled across a 1987 dissertation by A.M. Wolters which mentions the scholarship on the subject.[2]  He states that it has been shown that the commentary on Proverbs can be shown to be an abbreviation of Bede’s commentary on the same subject.

I may as well quote the relevant passages directly:

At this point we should make reference also to the commentary on Proverbs attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva, in which the Valiant Woman is taken as an allegory of the Church. It has recently been shown, however, that this commentary is actually the work of a much later medieval author. Accordingly, we will deal with it later under the heading Pseudo-Salonius. (p.20)

The independence of Bede’s commentary on the Song has only recently become evident. Since there are many verbal correspondences with the proverbs commentary that was long attributed to Salonius of Geneva (fifth century), Bede seemed to be heavily dependent on Salonius. As we shall see shortly, however, the commentary ascribed to Salonius is in fact dependent on Bede, not the other way around. (p.32)

Before leaving Bede we should take note of the fact that the recent critical edition of his Proverbs commentary by D. Hurst (1983) is sadly deficient. His apparatus fontium still lists the commentary of Pseudo-Salonius as one of Bede’s sources (though his Praefatio acknowledges that this is incorrect)… (p.37)

The main passage is:

In the period from Bede’s death (735) until the twelfth century there is little to report with respect to the interpretation of the Song of the Valiant Woman. …  the only literary production that is relevant to our survey during these three-and-a-half centuries is the commentary which was until recently attributed to Salonius, the fifth-century bishop of Geneva.

It would carry us too far afield to enter into the scholarly discussion surrounding the true date and author of the work published as Salonii Commentarii in Parabolas Salomonis et in Ecclesiasten. Suffice it to point out that the traditional attribution was still defended by C. Curti in the critical edition of these commentaries which he published under this title (Catania, 1964), but was challenged by the French scholar Jean-Pierre Weiss in a review of this edition. [77] Since then Weiss has elaborated on his critique in two articles, both published in 1970,[78] and come to the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius was a schoolmaster in Germany, probably of the ninth century.

Apparently quite independently of Weiss, the New Zealand scholar Valerie I. J. Flint also challenged the Salonian authorship, in yet another article published in 1970.[79] She concluded that the true author is Honorius Augustodunensis (eleventh-twelfth century), under whose name a version of the commentary was circulated in medieval Germany. We will content ourselves with the conclusion that Pseudo-Salonius lived after Bede and before the early twelfth century.

The commentary on Proverbs by Pseudo-Salonius now turns out to be a thoroughly unoriginal work, composed very largely of excerpts from Bede’s commentary, occasionally supplemented with passages drawn from Gregory the Great.[80]

Pseudo-Salonius’ own contribution consists almost exclusively in the format of the commentary, which is that of a dialogue between teacher and student, no doubt for use in schools.

The section on the Valiant Woman begins as follows:

‘Teacher. Who is that Valiant Woman of whom it says: “Who shall find a valiant woman? Her price is remote and from the farthest regions?”

‘Student. The holy catholic Church is called a valiant woman. The reason she is called a woman is that she gives birth to spiritual sons for God out of water and the Holy Spirit. She is called valiant because she disdains and despises all the things of this world, whether harmful or advantageous, because of faith and love for her Creator and Redeemer.’ [My translation.] [81]

Note that in pseudo-Salonius’ commentary the reference to the alphabetic acrostic and its function is omitted, and that the allegorical interpretation is restricted to the Church, without reference to the individual soul. For the rest, the content of the commentary is drawn directly from Bede, both here and throughout the section dealing with the Valiant Woman. Though based on Bede throughout, Pseudo-Salonius’ comments are very selective, using only a fraction of Bede’s work. In fact, he gives extracts of Bede’s commentary on only nine of the 22 verses, namely 10, 14, 24, 22 [in that order], 25 and 28-31. The remaining thirteen are simply passed over in silence.

Whoever Pseudo-Salonius was, and whenever it was in the early Middle Ages that he lived, it is clear that he was a transmitter of Bede’s views of the Song, and thus of the broader allegorical tradition which interprets the Valiant Woman as the church. (p.38-41)


75.  J.-P. Weiss, “Essai de datation du Commentaire sur les Proverbes attribue abusivement a Salonius,” Sacris Erudiri 19 (1969/70) 95-96.

77. Revue des Etudes Latines 44 (1966) 482-84.

78. See his “Essai de datation” (n.75 above) and Studia Patristica X (Berlin, 1970) 161-167.

79. “The True Author of the Salonii Commentarii in parabolas Salomonis et in  Ecclesiasten,” Recherches de Theologie Ancienne et Medievale 37 (1970) 174-186.

80. See Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 87-94.

81. I am quoting from the Migne edition, 53, 989 (substituting Magister and Discipulus for Veranus and Salonius; see Weiss, “Essai de datation,” 98-99): “Magister. Quae est mulier illa fortis de qua dicit: Mulierem fortem auis inveniet? procul et de ultimis finibus pretium ejus? Discipulus. Mulier fortis appellatur sancta Ecclesia catholica; quae ideo mulier dicitur, quia Deo spirituales generat filios ex acqua et Spiritu sancto. Fortis ideo dicitur, quia cuncta saeculi hujus adversa simul et prospera, propter fidem Et amorem sui Conditoris ac Redemptoris contemnit et despicit.”

I have not been able to find Weiss’ or Flint’s articles online, unfortunately.

When given two works which clearly are verbally identical in passages, and so connected, it is more difficult to say in which direction the borrowing took place than is sometimes realised.  Not having read the arguments, I wouldn’t like to venture an opinion.  But it seems at least questionable whether these works have anything to do with Salonius.

  1. [1]PL 53, 967-1012, online here.
  2. [2]Albert Marten Wolters, The Song of the Valiant Woman (Prov. 31:10-31): A pattern in the history of interpretation (to 1600)., McMaster university thesis, 1987. Online here.

Is Salonius’ Commentary on Ecclesiastes accessible?

A commentary on Ecclesiastes attributed to Salonius of Geneva does exist in English, I find.  This Google Books page tell us that a certain William Pollard in 1615 produced a translation under the title, A misticall exposition of doctor Salonius, borne at Vienna and bishopp of Fraunce, upon the Ecclesiastes of Salomon, in manner of a dialogue.  The book is 182 pages, although probably small ones.  But the book itself is not at the link.

Does anyone have a copy?  It must exist in one of the repositories of early English books, I would have thought.

The Latin text of the commentary itself, according to this link, is to be found in PL 53, col. 967-1012.  A quotation suggests the interlocutors in the dialogue are Salonius himself and his younger brother Veranus.  Veranus mentions that “there is a time to laugh and a time to weep”, and Salonius suggests that, far from describing our present life, it means that we weep now but will laugh and rejoice in the new Jerusalem.

But I believe that the commentary is spurious, and not in fact by Salonius himself.  The same text is also transmitted under the name of Honorius of Autun (PL 172, 311-348).

UPDATE: The Latin text is here in the PL 53 volume.


Was Salonius Salvian’s “own bishop”?

One statement that appears repeatedly in the discussion of Salvian in Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and counterforgery is that Salvian was “caught by his own bishop” in writing a forgery.   The main question is one that I am addressing in this series of posts.  But was Salonius, Salvian’s friend and former pupil, as Salvian tells us in his Letter 9, actually Salvian’s “own bishop”?

Of course E.’s book is far too broad-brush to be able to deal with points of detail like this, although it should have refrained from statements not verified, surely?  Probably E. borrows this from some other modern discussion, although I have not come across it.   But the question seems more difficult than it first appears.

A quick search will reveal that the island of Lerins,[1] where Salvian of Marseilles was a monk, is on the Riviera.  It will also reveal that Salonius was bishop of Geneva on the edge of modern Switzerland.  Dioceses can be large, but I don’t think that the 5th century bishop of Geneva can have exercised episcopal oversight in Lerins, far closer to many other cities.  Geographically that seems impossible.

But do we know that Salonius was bishop of Geneva?  It seems that we do.  In John M. Peppino’s 2009 dissertation St. Eucherius of Lyons: Rhetorical Adaptation of Message to Intended Audience in Fifth Century Provence, p.18 f., (Google books preview of Proquest item) we find a very useful discussion of the life of Eucherius and his sons Salonius and Veranus.  It seems that Salonius signed the declaration of the council of Orange in 441 AD as bishop of Geneva,[2] and was probably made bishop some time after November 439.[3]

Peppino mentions L. Duchesne’s Fastes episcopaux de l’ancienne Gaul 1 (1900), vol. 1, p.227 as a source, and this would probably repay further investigation.

Secondly, we may also ask whether a monastic community was subject to the local bishop at all.

In medieval Britain I believe that the great abbots, such as the abbot of Bury St Edmunds, saw themselves as the equals of bishops, ruling large areas of land and holding considerable political power.  But was this so in 5th century Gaul?

For all matters concerned with Catholic regulation, my first stop is always the old Catholic Encyclopedia, whose article on Abbots is here.  The section on “kinds of abbots” tells me that they all tend to have exemption from episcopal authority, of increasing degree.  Nor is this marvellous; monks (including their abbots) are laymen, not clerics.  They are not ordained and owe no ecclesiatical authority to anyone else.

A monastic community will need to have communion, however, and a priest will be needed to celebrate this.  Consequently we get things like the eastern “hieromonk”, a monk who is in priest’s orders, who can therefore “do the business” for the community.

Salvian was referred to as “presbyter”, so must have been ordained by a bishop.  Unless this happened in later life – I don’t think we know – then the ordination must have involved someone other than Salonius.  If Salvian was ordained as a young man, Salonius may not even have been born.

In conclusion, it would appear that E.’s statement that Salonius was Salvian’s “own bishop” is quite unlikely to be correct.  In view of the uncertainty, it seems doubtful that E. knew whether the statement was correct when he made it.   It may have been imagination, or borrowed from somewhere else.   I would suggest that we presume weakness rather than dishonesty, however; a principle that E. himself would have done well to follow in his book.

For E.’s argument all of this is unimportant.  It does not affect the main question whether we say that “Salvian was caught by a contemporary bishop” rather than “Salvian was caught by his own bishop”.  The latter statement is more striking, of course; but the urge to paint pictures can be an enemy of careful scholarship.

As a postscript, while researching this online I came across a Google books preview of Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (2012) which contains a vivid portrait of Salvian, his context and his work as chapter 26.  On p. 436 we find the following interesting statement:

The first known work of Salvian, written sometime between 435 and 439, addressed this theme. It was called Ad Ecclesiam—an Open Letter to the Church— and came to be known as On Avarice. Characteristically, for a member of a Provencal in-group, Salvian adopted a pen name. He was Timothy—the Timothy to whom Saint Paul had written so much advice on the management of the church. He went out of his way to justify both the pen-name and the book itself in along letter to Salonius.

A look at the footnotes (p.620) gives the following helpful addition (footnote 1):

The best studies of Salvian known to me are J. Badewien, Geschichtstheologie und Sozialkritik im Werk Salvians von Marseille, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 32 (Gottingen: Vandenhouck and Ruprecht, 1980); and, more recently, D. Lambert, “The Uses of Decay: History in Salvian’s De gubernatione dei“, Augustinian Studies 30 (1999): 115-30; and L. Pietri, “Riches et pauvres dans l’Ad Ecclesiam de Salvien de Marseille,” in Les Peres de l’Eglise et la voix des pauvres, 149-61.

Brown gives a picture of Salvian as a popular preacher in Marseilles!

  1. [1]A history of the community exists: A.C. Cooper-Marsden, The History of the Islands of the Lerins: The Monastery, Saints and Theologians of S. Honorat, 1913 (online here), although it is not useful for Salonius: see p.234.
  2. [2]Peppino gives the reference CCL 148: 87; presumably the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina vol. 148, p.87. From the Brepols site I learn that CCSL vol. 148 is C. Munier, Concilia Galliae a. 314-506, published 1963.
  3. [3]Peppino, p.19.

Why did Salvian place the name of “Timothy” at the head of his “Ad Ecclesiam”

I have been posting about Salvian of Marseilles, his early work Ad Ecclesiam (ca. 440 AD), which addresses the universal church under the name of “Timothy”, and what Salvian’s letter 9 can tell us about all this.

Today I would like to address the question of why Salvian placed the name of “Timothy” on his work.

Note that I have posted the FoC English translation of Salvian’s Letter 9 here, and discussed the manuscript tradition of the Ad Ecclesiam, with which alone the letter has reached us, here.

As Gennadius tells us, Salvian was a monk of the abbey of Lerins, where he taught a number of boys who were later to be bishops, including Salonius, later bishop of Geneva and the son of Salvian’s friend Bishop Eucherius of Lyons.  Salvian may have been a magister episcoporum, a term which misled medieval copyists into supposing that he himself was a bishop, but there is no evidence that he was ever more than a monk in priest’s orders.  Perhaps he was too ascetic to wish for advancement; possibly he lacked the necessary worldly wisdom that any administrator must have, especially in 5th century barbarian-infested Gaul; or there may have been some other reason.  The sources are silent, at all events.

The two surviving works of Salvian deal with similar themes in a similar way.  The later work, De gubernatione dei, on the judgement of God on a corrupt society, is dedicated to Salonius, and quotes from the Ad Ecclesiam.  It is generally accepted, therefore, that both works are by Salvian, although the Ad Ecclesiam does not have his name in its title, but is set forth from a certain “Timothy”.  Why is this?

Ad Ecclesiam deals with greed.  It attacks in the strongest language the greed of the great landed proprietors.  In the late Roman period, as now, the really wealthy paid little or no tax, and the burden fell on the middle classes and the poor.  The tax was so heavy that the humiliores were driven into serfdom by it, handing over their land to the local “big man” while remaining tied to it, in hopes of protection from the tax-gatherers.

Such a work might call down upon its author a swift revenge.  Bishops owned by the wealthy might well be able to ruin a humble monk.  It would be unsurprising, therefore, that the author might prefer to use an alias.

But we do not know that this is the reason, although it seems likely enough, as no ancient source records this.  What we do have, however, is a letter from Salvian to Salonius, discussing why “the name of Timothy is inscribed” (Timothei nomen inscriptum sit) over a book recently published (huius temporis).  Salvian adds:

Addis praeterea quod nisi rationem uocabuli euidenter expressero, dum nominantur Timothei, inter apocryfa sint fortasse reputandi.

You add, besides, that unless I state (expressero) clearly (evidenter) the reason for the name (rationem uocabuli), while they are denominated (nominantur) as by Timothy (Timothei), they may perhaps be considered among the apocrypha.

Note that this indicates that Salvian has a responsibility here; presumably he sent them to Salonius as by someone else, and he nowhere acknowledges his authorship.

In the Fathers of the Church translation of the Ad Ecclesiam, the text certainly reads as if written by an apostle.  The work begins:

Timothy, the least of the servants of God, to the Catholic Church spread throughout the world. Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord, with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Of all the other serious and mortal diseases which the old and most foul serpent breathes upon you with the terrible envy of his death-dealing rivalry and the most loathsome breath of his poisonous mouth, I do not know whether any other can undo you with a disease more bitter for faithful souls, and a stigma more loathsome for your children, than avarice. It is slavery to idolatry-a vice which many among you think of little account, when, without the fruit of mercy and kindness, you give yourselves in this life to possessions committed to you by God for a holy deed, and extend your sin even into the future after death.

Perhaps you are looking around attentively, you who are among those whom I am addressing. You do not need a lengthy examination to find out whether you are in that
category. I say all, almost all, are in that group about which I am speaking. Indeed, that former surpassing and pre-eminent happiness of the first Christians has departed. It was that happiness according to which all who knew Christ transferred their fleeting store of wordly goods to the eternal wealth of heavenly possessions. (etc)

The concern of Salonius is a real one, I think we can accept.  Note also that both Salvian and his friend Salonius agree that to be considered apocryphal is enough to say that the work would not be read.  Clearly the church of the fifth century was deeply concerned to know that the works read in its churches were authentic, and not written by unknown persons for purposes of their own.

But how did the work come into the hands of Salonius?  We may suppose, if we like, that dozens of copies were in circulation and that he picked up a copy in his local bookshop; but this seems to involve a method of publication improbable for 5th century Gaul.  We may assume that he came across it anyhow – in which case how did he work out that Salvian was involved?  Or, easiest of all, perhaps Salvian sent it to him directly, as to a friend, possibly even for comment.  For Salvian was nervous of the reaction to his book and its contents from those he attacked.

If Salvian did send it to Salonius, he must have attached a covering letter; but this has not been preserved.  However clearly Salonius thinks that the work must be issued with some kind of preface, to make clear that the Ad Ecclesiam is a contemporary work.

Salvian replies:

I have pointed out above (superius indicavi) that the books deal with issues of today and that they were written by a man of our own day (a praesentis temporis) in his zeal and love for things divine. This alone could suffice for removing completely any suspicion of apocryphal composition. Those treatises which are recognized as not being Timothy’s are not suspected as apocryphal.

As an answer to Salonius’ concern, this statement only makes sense if Salvian intended this very letter to appear at the start of the work.  For unless Salvian’s statement was attached to the work itself, so that the reader could see the words “huius temporis” (today) at the top, then Salonius’ concern is not addressed.

The manuscript tradition shows that this letter, letter 9, is only preserved when present as a preface to the work, and I have suggested that the manuscript tradition is best intelligible if it was generally transmitted in that position from antiquity.

These two factors suggest that Salvian himself positioned this letter at the front of his work before circulating it generally.

But why choose “Timothy” in the first place?  Did Salvian really intend to write an apocryphon?

It is hard to believe that a man would intentionally doom his own work to obscurity by so doing, so maybe he did not.  But this assumes that Salvian was as clear about the consequences of such an ascription as Salonius made him.  We are discussing mortal men, prone to self-deception and muddle-headedness.   We have already hypothesised that Salvian was not worldly-wise.

There is also the point that the work addresses the whole church.  This is rather an impudent thing for a humble monk to do; but perfectly acceptable for an apostle.  Both the name and addressee suggest apostolic authorship, then.

So what does Salvian say?

In these books about which I am speaking there are three things which can be asked.

Why did the author address his book To the Church? Did he use a borrowed name or his own?

If not his own, why a borrowed name?

If a borrowed name, why in particular did he choose Timothy as the name to be written?

Salvian addresses the first point, pleading that the importance of the issue justifies the act of an obscure man addressing the church.  That the author’s name is not “Timothy” he makes clear.

Why use a borrowed name?  Firstly, because the bible tells men not to hunt for credit for their good deeds.  Secondly, and he says it was his main reason, was that he believed that his own social status was very low, and using his own name would cause the people he was addressing to ignore his book.  By uncertainty of authorship in a snobbish society he might gain a hearing to address an urgent evil.

Why the name “Timothy”?  By analogy with Luke who addressed his work to “Theophilus”, a name meaning “Lover of God”, rather than to a person with a specific name.  “Timotheus” means “The honour of God”.  In this way the church could be addressed by the honour of God.

This last answer may well seem odd to us, who would never do such a thing.   It also sidesteps the question of whether Salvian did or did not have at the back of his mind the idea that an apostle’s name would serve his purpose the best.  His choice was, to say the least, a fortuitous one, if he did not intend to cause his reader to think of Timothy the apostle (although the medieval copyists all presume Timothy is a bishop).

But we must bear in mind that Salvian lived at a period when the New Testament was closed, and its contexts fixed and known.  The large churches all had a bible very similar to our own.

A man who wrote today in the name of an apostle would not expect that his work would be considered apostolic; even if he wrote “the book of Timothy the apostle” at the top of it.  It would be taken as humorous or literary; as with the “Book of Ehud” that appears regularly in the satirical magazine Private Eye.  I wonder whether the same would have been true — or that Salvian might have thought the same — by the mid-5th century?  If so, Salonius makes clear that the risk of writing an apocryphon is still real.

But it is worth noting that Salvian left the name of Timothy at the top of his work, only adding the letter 9 as a preface, and nowhere making his authorship explicit.  Evidently he didn’t feel any need to change it.   And it is still deniable; and every bureaucrat or clerk knows that deniability is the essence of avoiding accountability.  It may be, however, that Salonius assured him that his fears were groundless; for De gubernatione dei appeared under the author’s own name.

We cannot truly know what was in Salvian’s mind when he decided to put the name of Timothy at the head of his work.  The morose may speculate that he intended evil, and then blame him for the evil that they suppose he intended.  But few will find such speculations attractive.  Rather than accusing a man of a supposed evil, we will treat him as a man like ourselves, who saw the need for a pen-name, and did not foresee clearly and explicitly the consequences of using that particular one.


Some notes on the transmission of Salvian’s “Ad Ecclesiam” and Letter 9

There is an entry for Salvian in the continuation of Jerome’s De viris illustribus by Gennadius, written ca. 470 AD.  It forms chapter 68, and may be given in the NPNF translation:

Salvianus, presbyter of Marseilles, well informed both in secular and in sacred literature, and to speak without invidiousness, a master among bishops, wrote many things in a scholastic and clear style, of which I have read the following: four books On the Excellence of virginity, to Marcellus the presbyter, three books Against avarice, five books On the present judgment, and one book On punishment according to desert, addressed to Salonius the bishop, also one book of Commentary on the latter part of the book of Ecclesiastes, addressed to Claudius bishop of Vienne, one book of Epistles. He also composed one book in verse after the Greek fashion, a sort of Hexaemeron, covering the period from the beginning of Genesis to the creation of man, also many Homilies delivered to the bishops, and I am sure I do not know how many On the sacraments. He is still living at a good old age.

The “Against Avarice” is of course the Ad Ecclesiam, listed by content rather than addressee — the text given in the Sources Chretiennes edition[1] has “four books”.  The “On the Present Judgement” is the De Gubernatione Dei.  The two works alone have come down to us.

A portion of the book of letters has also survived, in a single 15th century Italian manuscript containing only 7 letters, the last of which (numbered letter 3 in our editions) is incomplete.  This manuscript exists today divided into two fragments;

  • Paris, BNF lat. 2174, fol. 113-115 (the ms. otherwise contains De Gubernatione Dei);
  • Berne, Bibl. mun. E 219, fol. 1-8, a stray quaternion of the same manuscript.

Salvian letter 8 is transmitted with the works of Eucherius of Lyons.

Letter 9 is transmitted with the Ad Ecclesiam (but not always).  Only a few manuscripts preserve the Ad Ecclesiam.

There are two medieval inventories that mention copies of the Ad Ecclesiam that existed in the middle ages.  The catalogue of the abbey of Saint-Riquier, made in 831, lists a copy.  So does the well-known 10th century catalogue of the abbey of Lorsch. Both catalogues may be found in G. Becker, Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui, 1885. Saint-Riquier is §11, p.26: 102. Timothei libri IV et tractatus Peregrini contra haereticos et epistolae Theophili ad episcopos totius Aegypti in I vol.; Lorsch is §37, p.108: 359. Timothei ad ecclesiam libri IIII et Peregrini lib. I pro catholicae fidei antiquitate. et epistolae Theophili Alexandrinae urbis episcopi contra Origenistas et aliae epistolae paschales in uno codice.  It is obvious that some relation exists between these two copies.

The surviving manuscripts are as follows (notes abbreviated from the SC edition):

  • A.  Paris, BNF. lat. 2172 (9-10th c.), from the abbey of Saint-Thierry of Reims, where it was still in 1480; later it belonged to Pierre Pithou, who edited Salvian in 1580; and later still in the Colbert and Royal collections.  Folios 1-65 contain the Ad Ecclesiam.  Letter 9 is not present.  The opening words of Ad Ecclesiam, “Timotheus minimus servorum dei … Amen” are formatted as if they were the title, but preceded by the words “incipit liber primus”, out of sequence.  Fol. 65v onwards contains the Commonitorium of Vincent of Lerins, with the title: Incipit tractatus Peregrinui pro catholicae  fidei antiquitate aduersus profanas omnium haereticorum nouitates; then various letters of Theophilus of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Salamis, and Jerome.
  • B.  Paris, BNF. lat. 2785 (10th c.).  It starts with letter 9, headed Incipit epistola Saluiani ad Salonium.  Then follows the Ad Ecclesiam, beginning with the opening words and then the incipit of book 1.  This work is followed by excerpts from Ambrose and Augustine; and then the Commonitorum, with almost exactly the same incipit as A.
  • b.  Paris, BNF. lat. 2173 (12th c.).  The beginning of the manuscript is lost; it starts part way through Ad Ecclesiam I, 4.  After Ad Ecclesiam, there are the same excerpts from Ambrose and Augustine; then the Commonitorium, and then letters of Jerome in the same order as in A.
  • C.  Berne, Bibl. mun. 315 (11th c.).  This contains a crudely abridged (by about 20%) and interpolated version of the Ad Ecclesiam, made in the 6th c., and preceded by a letter headed: Incipit prologus Timothei episcopi operis sequentis.  After the final words of the prologue — and it would be interesting to know what this says — appear the words, explicit prologi, incipit liber Timothei episcopi.
  • p.  Edition of Jean Sichard, Basle, 1528, entitled Antidoton contra diversas omnium fere seculorum haereses.  On fol. 181v-182v is the editio princeps of letter 9, with the title: Salviani episcopi Massiliensis in librum Timothei ad Salonium episcopum praefatio.  The Ad Ecclesiam then follows, with the title Timothei episcopi ad Ecclesiam catholicam toto orbe diffusam.  Then follows the Commonitorium, and then the letters of Jerome found in A and b; note that letter 99, incomplete in b, is complete in Sichard.  Sichard gives no indication of what manuscript he used, but it was probably the now lost manuscript of Lorsch.

A, B, and b are all related to one another, as is fairly obvious from the similar contents of each physical volume.  The text found in these shares certain errors and omissions, not found in the abbreviated text in C, nor in the full text in p.  No doubt these are related to the French Saint-Riquier manuscript in some way.

C and p are not related to each other, nor to the common ancestor of the Paris mss.  p. is derived from the German Lorsch manuscript, while C has its own transmission from a 6th century epitome of the text.

So we have essentially three families here; a French family, a German family, and the peculiar C manuscript.  Yet the French family is split: A does not include letter 9; B does (and the start of b is lost so we can’t tell if it did contain it).  The peculiar C ms. does not have it, and instead a substitute prologue was composed, which could suggest that a 6th century copy existed where there was no letter 9 as a preface, or alternatively that its omission was part of the activity of the 6th century editor.  The German family represented today by Sichard’s edition (p) does have it.

But the witness of the French family is confusing.  If the common ancestor of the French mss. did not contain letter 9, then where did it come from and why did it get attached to the work?  We know of no independent circulation of the letter, after all.   On the other hand it is easy to see that a short piece on the first folio might get detached, and thus a tradition started without this piece.  It would seem easiest to suppose that the French family common ancestor did indeed begin with letter 9, and that the ancestor of the B/b branch of its children omitted it, or suffered the loss of a leaf at the start.

All this tends to suggest that the Ad Ecclesiam was sent forth by its author with Salvian’s letter 9 to Salonius at the front.  Yes, the 6th century abbreviator omitted it, composing his own preface; but an abbreviator might do that anyway.  Yes, a French manuscript dropped it or lost it; but that happens in transmission.  But otherwise letter 9 is found in both the German and French versions of the full text, preceding the work.  It is, therefore, most likely in the position in which Salvian put it.

All the same, it is also worth noting that in no case is the letter treated as part of the work, as a prologus.  In each case it has a different author.  In each case the Ad Ecclesiam is attributed to Timothy.  What we learn from this, then, is that letter 9 is not an integral part of the text of the Ad Ecclesiam, as originally set forth; it was an afterthought.

This last conclusion is one that we might have reached anyway from the content of letter 9, and this we will discuss next.

  1. [1]Georges Lagarrigue, Salvien de Marseille: Oeuvres I. Les Lettres. Les livres de Timothee a l’eglise. SC 176. 1971.

The “Book of Ehud” – a modern apocryphon?

As we consider Salvian’s letter 9, discussing why his Ad Ecclesiam was written under the name of Timothy, let us also include the following item, taken from the Private Eye Annual 2009, ed. Ian Hislop.  Private Eye is a British satirical magazine, and the “Book of Ehud” is an item that appears in very similar form whenever it feels the need to comment on Israeli affairs.


OCR’d this gives the following text:

The Book of Ehud.

Chapter 94

  1. And, lo, it came to pass that the days were accomplished that the ceasefire should end between the children of Israel and the Hamas-ites, they that dwelt in the land of Gaza.
  2. And thus, as was foretold, the Hamas-ites once again sent forth into the land of Israel many rockets that are called Qassam and Faj-3 and BM-21 Grad, even unto the cities of Askelon, Ashdod and Beersheba.
  3. Then Ehud that is called Olmert waxed wroth, and summoned unto him Ehud that is called Barak, who waxed even wrother.
  4. And he also called Tzipi, the daughter of Livni, who waxed even wrother still.
  5. And they said among thmselves, “The hour is upon us. Now is the time for smiting, as we have done so many times before, to bring peace to the land of Israel.”
  6. And they wagged their heads wisely, saying, “Yea, as it worked before in the land of Lebanon, when we smote the Hezboll-ites, so it will worketh again.
  7. “Furthermore,” they muttereth privily, “there is an election coming up, and the children of Israel tendeth to choose the ones who do the most smiting.”
  8. And so it came to pass that, while the Gaza-ites were watching their televisions by night, behold, the skies were filled with a heavenly host raining bombs on them and singing “No peace on earth, ill will to men.”
  9. And, as the fire and brimstone decended on the Gaza-ites, they were slain in their hundreds, even men, women and children.
  10. And in the streets of the city of Gaza there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
  11. And Ehud cried aloud, saying, “Verily, that will teach you Hamas-ites to launch your rockets at the land of Israel.”
  12. And the Hamas-ites laughed him to scorn, and launched more rockets into the land of Israel where the people were also slain but not in quite the same numbers.
  13. If thou wouldst not know the score, looketh away now.
  14. Which is what most of the world did.
  15. The score was as follows: Gaza-ites – 400; Israel-ites – 4.
  16. Which is an good result.
  17. And Ehud said, “Behold, this showeth that the smiting is working. Never again will we see the rockets of the Hamas- ites darkening the skies of Israel… hangeth on, what is that falling from the heavens… ?”
  18. And as he spake there was an mighty boom, like unto the thunder that fills even the mighty Leviathan with dread as he slumbereth off the coast of Eilat (which currently offereth three weeks for the price of one, hurry, hurry, hurry, while Israel lasts).
  19. Then, as the smoke cleareth, Ehud saith, “Right. That’s done it. There is only one way to stop this kind of thing. More smiting!” And the children of Israel rejoiced, saying, “Too true, Ehud. For there be-eth only one language that these people of Gaza understandeth.”
  20. So Ehud sent forth a mighty army and tanks, even an hundredfold, to carry out the next round of smiting that would finally bring lasting peace to the land of Israel.
  21. Just as it hath done so many times before.
  22. And, lo, the war continued, even unto the twenty-second day.
  23. And Ehud looked upon it and saw that it was good.
  24. Then said Ehud, son of Olmert, “Let us now declare an cease-fire.
  25. “For, lo, we have achieved our objective.
  26. “Which was to get a quick war in before Obama cometh.
  27. “For Barack, son of Obama, may not looketh so kindly on our smiting as did Dubya, that is called the Burning Bush.”
  28. And so it came to pass that the smiting ceased.
  29. And the children of Israel said to themselves, “Great is Ehud for he hath prevailed over the Hamas-ites.”
  30. But the Hamas-ites, as ye mighteth expect, said to themselves, “Great is Hamas for we have prevailed over the might of Israel.”
  31. And all the nations of the world talketh amongst themselves, saying, “Something must be done – though quite what, we knoweth not what it is.”

(To be continued)

I trust that it is unnecessary to add that this is not an ancient text.  It is not intended to be part of the Old Testament.  It is not an apocryphon.  I believe that the authors of it never had the slightest intention to deceive their readers, or to lead them to suppose that it was really part of the Old Testament.

They had, as we may readily see, other motives.  The object in this case is satire, and a rather unworthy sneer at Israeli efforts at self-defence.

Whether all this would be entirely obvious — to a dull man — in 1,500 years I do not know.  I suggest that it is the contemporary nature of the events described that make all this clear to us now.

But when we come to look at Salvian’s Ad Ecclesiam, and the allegations of Bart Ehrman about it, it will be useful to have this current example to hand.