Amidst the detritus which daily litters my inbox comes this interesting enquiry from Tom Schmidt, a doctoral student at Yale.
He is working on an Arabic commentary on the Apocalypse by ibn Katib Qaysar, a 13th century Copt. In it he quotes from the “canons of the apostles”. The passage is as follows:
“For this reason, the end of the canons of the apostles was composed from the chronicles, [and] what was transcribed was [as follows]: ‘When the disciples had finished laying down the new traditions, and believers had multiplied upon the earth, the emperors were unbelievers under the deceptions of Satan, and they hastened to kill the believers and to torture them so that they would worship idols. In distress, [facing] adversity, and under compulsion, they were occupied with the establishment of other traditions, about 356 years [after the birth of Christ], around the time of Emperor Constantine the Great. If someone was about to obtain the crown of martyrdom hastily [and] without punishment, his situation would be prolonged and his patience would disappear, so there is no doubt that this involved protection and care.“
He wanted to know if I could identify these “canons of the apostles.” Clearly these are not the apostolic canons appended to book eight of the Constitutiones apostolorum; If I understand the text right, amidst the confusion, it seems to regard an over-hasty zeal for martyrdom, an issue much debated in the third century. But I am aware of no canons as such relating to this. and cannot help him identify the canons.
But if there is any learned reader who does recognize this, please comment, and I will pass this to Mr Schmidt.