Testamentum Domini published

Image 1I am happy to say that my version, with a fairly extensive introduction, of Testamentum Domini, has now been published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.  Get yours here.

As a taster, here is the forematter:

The work presented here was first suggested to me by Fr John Behr in 1999, but not started until 2007, after he had reminded me of his request. For a number of years, however, it was abandoned as other projects took precedence, and I despaired of my own ability to complete it. Nonetheless, an invitation from Codrington College to lecture on apocalyptic in the patristic period led to the publication of an article on the apocalyptic section of the Testament. Work restarted in earnest in 2015, at Fr John’s suggestion that I take it up again. Not for the first time I have cause to thank Fr John and all at St Vladimir’s Seminary Press for their confidence in me and for their patience.

In essence this is a translation of the Syriac text published by Rahmani in 1899, though on occasion I have understood this text differently from previous translators. Moreover, on occasion I have ventured a conjecture, and have had an eye to the Ethiopic version, and to such portions of other texts as have been published. As I note in the introduction, this falls short of what is really required, given the complexity of the textual transmission of the work and the extent to which it has been neglected, but if this serves in any way to re-ignite the interest of specialists then that is is good. The Arabic witnesses in particular need proper investigation.

My primary aim, however, is to make the work better known and readily accessible to a wide readership. Thus although the footnotes may refer to abstruse matters and to recondite secondary literature, the text can be read without reference to them, as can the introduction.

This introduction is intended to show the importance of this neglected work for liturgical history, beyond its value as a witness to Apostolic tradition. Moreover I hope to have established the (already suspected) fourth-century and Cappadocian provenance of the Testament; it is thus a work contemporary with the Cappadocian fathers. A Basilian outlook underlies the Testament, which is reason enough, beyond its valuable liturgical information, to read the work

William Gordon, preaching at the funeral of Christopher Codrington in 1710, noted that Codrington “was a great Admirer of the Fathers, particularly of St. Basil.” Sadly we must record that he followed Basil in accepting the necessity of slavery; however, his bequest for the foundation of a Basilian monastic community in Barbados, whilst never realized, was the basis for the College which I was privileged once to serve, and through which the learning of the fathers is kept alive in the West Indies.

For this we glorify you, we bless you, we give thanks to you Lord.



Filed under Testamentum Domini

10 responses to “Testamentum Domini published

  1. Vartan

    On page 128 of The Testament, near the bottom is says “Let us pray for the female presbyters, that the Lord may hear their intercessions…” I have never heard of a “female presbyter” in any ancient classical/orthodox Christian text that I’ve read so far. I’ve seen references to deaconesses, but this was something new. Can you expand on who a “female presbyter” is? I’m assuming it might be an elder widow-deaconess who serves in the front? Thank you


    • Thank-you for your interesting question.

      The phrase in question renders ܩܫܝ̈ܫܐ

      In suggesting that it might represent “an elder widow-deaconess who serves in the front” I think you are right, though I would not drag deaconesses into this, as I think they are something else altogether. There is a post below on the subject, though since writing that I have changed my mind (that was a first look, and subsequent examination of the evidence has led me to rethink; there is a draft of a paper setting out my present views on academia.edu.)

      On p57 of my book I cite the eleventh canon of Laodicea, which refers to τὰς λεγομένας πρεσβύτιδας, ἤτοι προκαθεμένας. The parallel to the widows seated in front in the Testamentum is patent, especially if you accept my argument that the Testamentum is from the same period and locale.

      There are Jewish inscriptions which use similar language (CIJ: 1.400: πρεσβῦτις (Rome), CIJ 731c πρεσβυτέρα) (Crete)), and I have a feeling the title presbytera appears in Roman inscriptions (though I do not have to tools to check at hand, and it may be some months before I am in a position to do so.) However, these are sufficiently uncertain in meaning and distant in context that we may discount them. I mention them simply to point out that references to female presbyters are not entirely restricted to this one text.

      More tellingly the term πρεσβῦτις appears in Acta Philippi 1, which refers to those in hell due to their abuse of “presbyters and female presbyters”. The context, which also mentions deacons, deaconesses, and virgins, would imply that these are ecclesiastical titles, rather than simply referring to old people.

      Thus I suspect that the term rendered was πρεσβύτιδες, and was an alternative designation of the widows of the Testamentum, who like their male counterparts, the presbyters, were older persons pursuing an ascetic life.


  2. Christian Chauvin

    Greetings, I just purchased your book, and I see you have studied this extensively. I would love to study this and the Ethiopian Testament of the Lord side by side, as I find the history it speaks of so revealing. It is a pity that this subject has not been treated more, especially among the English community. Could you assist in providing where I might secure an English translation of the Ethiopic text? I would be most grateful.

    Yours kindly,
    Christian Israel


    • Sad to say, there is no English translation of which I am aware. The only edition is that of Beylot, which is provided with a French translation (Beylot, Roger, Testamentum Domini éthiopien: Édition et traduction (Leuven: Peeters, 1984). Studying versions of these documents side by side in their different versions is indeed very revealing. Bradshaw does this in his commentary on Apostolic Tradition, and many years ago Hanssens, La liturgie d’Hippolyte : documents et études. I would encourage you in any such study.
      Thank-you for your enquiry, your comment, and your interest.


      • Christian Israel

        I appreciate the response and the recommendations.
        Very glad you are pioneering the way over this matter, and that the blog has been dedicated to this very end. Would it be fruitful for you to publish an English translation of the Ethiopic text since you are so invested into it already?
        I had recently corresponded with Alassandro Baussi regarding the Clementine literature of the Octateuch and Synodos, both of which have not received English translations, and he remarked that such a work may only be valuable if a critical edition were produced on such texts. This also seems true of all the apocryphal Ge’ez texts of the broader canon. It does seem that Beylot has done a thorough job respecting the French translation.


  3. Christian Israel

    The good news is that I did find it. The church order section is in the Hermeneia edition of Apostolic Tradition, by Bradshaw. He had James VanderKam do the translation, and I corresponded with VanderKam in hopes of finding the full text, but he said Bradshaw only requested the second portion of the Testament to be done.
    The good news is that I did find a translation also of the first section by C. Detlef, and G. Muller in New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1, which contained a side-by-side of the Ethiopic and Coptic. I appreciate the help Alistair! Still going through your publication also!


    • I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but I fear that the texts you mention are not the Ethiopic Testamentum Domini.
      The Vanderkam translation in Bradshaw et al. is the (mediaeval) Ethiopic version of Traditio apostolica, from the Senodos. The Testamentum Domini in Ethiopic forms part of the Clementine Octateuch.
      The Detlef and Muller work to which you refer is the (2nd century) Epistula apostolorum. The apocalypse which precedes this work in the Ethiopic tradition is clearly a version of the same apocalypse, which had been transmitted independently of its setting in the Testamentum, and has been put in place by a redactor in the Testamentum and in the Ethiopic Epistula.
      It is very confusing, I know.
      To return to the question of an English version of the Ethiopic Testamentum, I do not think there is much point, or much of a market. There will not be many who are interested in the fine detail of the distinctions between this version and those found in Arabic and Syriac who cannot read French.
      In general I agree, somewhat unsurprisingly, with Bausi. Critical editions should always come first. I will allow exceptions, however, when a text is of such importance for scholars in other disciplines that even a less than perfect version is better than no version at all. This is the rationale for my production of versions of Testamentum Domini and Traditio apostolica, published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press for a wide audience, which are eclectic texts drawing on the various versions available.
      If you are interested in the specific versions of church order literature in the Ethiopic tradition, I may draw your attention to John Mason Harden, The Ethiopic Didascalia (London: SPCK, 1920).


  4. Cyril Kennedy

    Dear Rev. Stewart,

    Thank you for this translation. On page 164, 2.24, the horarium concludes with a passage I am trying to understand: “Those who are chaste…remembrance of God.” I wonder if this passage has any relation to the tradition of the elders in Apostolic Tradition 41 that, at midnight, all creation stands still for a moment in praise of God. The two passages have a number of similarities (mention of angels, creation, the souls of the righteous) – but the passage in the Testamentum Domini is separated from the midnight prayer by the description of the dawn prayer. So maybe it means something else? Also, what might “reduce” mean in the first sentence?

    I’d be glad to know your thoughts, either here or via email. And thanks!

    Cyril Kennedy


    • Thank-you: that’s a good spot.
      I think you are quite right that this is a re-working of that passage of Traditio apostolica.
      Reduce, root ܒܨܪ, I take to mean not to leave any off. Indeed Rahmani renders “ne omittant (ullam ex dicits horis orationis).” You have also given me an excuse to look at the Arabic (unavailable to me, regrettably, when I undertook this translation), and the translator of the Borgia Arabic uses a form of كسل (to be lazy). So I think the point of the passage is that the ascetics should not omit any opportunity of prayer. The TA passage is then removed from its context referring to midnight to speak of the constant prayer offered by all creation, of which the ascetics of TD are to be part.
      There were some other interesting points emerging from my examination of the Arabic versions, but fear these must be left until I find a chance to post on them separately.


    • On Wed, 24 Mar 2021 06:52:28 +0000


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