Tertullian De baptismo 17.5

In Tertullian De baptismo 17.5 we read: quam enim fidei proximum videtur ut is docendi et tinguendi daret feminae potestatem qui ne discere quidem constanter mulieri permisit? Taceant, inquit, et domi viros suos consulant.

The issue is with the phrase qui ne discere quidem constanter mulieri permisit. Does constanter go with permisit or discere? In either event, what might it mean? A check of various translations betrays a certain liberty with the text to make sense of it. Thus Evans, for whom I have the utmost admiration, takes constanter with discere and renders: “…he did not allow a woman even to learn by her own right.” I find it hard to assign such a meaning to constanter. Moreover, did Paul really forbid women to learn? It seems a stretch.

There is only one extant MS of the text; the editio princeps used a further MS, now lost, where for discere it reads docere. Is this a better reading? Or might we account for both readings by emending to dicere? As such constanter belongs with permisit, which is more natural, and the entire sentence makes complete sense: “… who consistently would not even allow a woman to speak.”

This issue came up at dinner with friends last night and the possible solution came after a sleepless night turning it over in my mind! My question to them (and you) is whether this is a brilliant emendation or the desperate contrivance of an indifferent Latinist.



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3 responses to “Tertullian De baptismo 17.5

  1. “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”

    the phrase is not “keep silent” but rather “keep silence”–

    “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”

    males are also commanded to keep silence:
    “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.”

    keep silence = let him speak to himself and to God = prayer


  2. drddhannah

    Alistair, a couple, not entirely, disjointed thoughts occur to me. First, there is a real textual question whether or not vss. 34-35 are not a later gloss which has been inserted in different places in different manuscripts. There is a good discussion of the textual evidence, both internal and external, in Gordon Fee’s commentary. If Fee is right and it is a later addition to the text, then Tertullian will be one of our earliest witnesses to the addition, although of course he sheds no light here on whether the addition was placed, as it is in most Mss, at vss. 34-35 or, as in the Western Text, at the end of the chapter. (The same is true of Adv.Marc. v.8.11.)
    Second, if Tertullian has misremembered the text and in his head combined it with 1 Timothy 2.12 (which is not at all unlikely and he seems to have done the same at De Virginibus Velandis 9.1), then the reading (in the lost MS) docere becomes explicable. NB the same verb appears in 17.4, which may strengthen the case for reading it here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Darrell, grateful as always for your learning, and especially appreciate the Adv. Marc. and Virg. Vel references.
      I feel that the appearance of docere above explains the reading of the missing MS as you suggest, and indeed makes it all the less likely that the same verb should appear here, as there is an implied contrast (not only that, but even more…) Which also takes some support away from my proposed emendation, which is also weakened as I note that in the other passages Tertullian uses loquor rather than dico. I’m supposed to be doing a diglot with commentary of Bapt and Or. for a new series cooked up by Brepols As to how I ended up doing that… long story. So you will eventually see whether I persist with this emendation. The problem for me is how to take Evans’ meaning (also that of Souter) from Tertullian’s Latin here.


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