Testamentum Domini 1.37

A point of discussion has arisen between myself and Grant White with regard to Testamentum Domini 1.37. Here the translation following Cooper and McLean:

If any woman whatsoever suffer violence from a man, let the deacon accurately investigate if she be faithful and have truly suffered violence; if he who treated her with violence was not her lover. And if she be accurately thus, and if she that suffered mourn about the violence that happened to her, let him take it up to the hearing of the bishop, that she may be shewn to be in all things in communion with the Church. If he who treated her with violence be faithful, let not the deacon bring him into the church for partaking, even if he repent. But if he be a catechumen and repent, let him be baptized and partake.

The key term here is that translated “suffer violence”. The Syriac root is ܩܛܪ.

For White the passage concerns spousal violence. Thus he refers to Norman Russell Underwood, The Professionalization of the Clergy in Late Antiquity (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Berkeley: University of California, 2018), 106, who suggests that the deacon is here adopting the role of medical examiner.

In my own version I translated as “suffer compulsion”, and understood this to refer to an allegation of rape, which may prove not to be rape but consensual sex. Thus I understood that the deacon, on establishing that it is not consensual, reports this to the bishop so that no blame attaches to the woman. Then the deacon does not allow the perpetrator into the church, as he is doorkeeper, but the woman, who is a victim and not a fornicator, is permitted to communicate. The deacon’s investigation is not, therefore, the investigation of injuries to the woman but of the circumstances.

This uncertainty was a good enough excuse to pay a visit to Fr Darrell Hannah, and to consult regarding the Ethiopic text. He informs me that the Ethiopic root is ḥyl, which like the Arabic cognate حيل is suitably vague. Alas we are none the wiser as a result, though I did enjoy my trip to Ascot!

One piece of evidence which might offer support to White (and Underwood) is a brief statement of Epiphanius De fide 21.10 in which he states that deaconesses are appointed only to assist women “for modesty’s sake… if there is a need because of baptism or an inspection of their bodies.” The nature and purpose of this investigation is not stated. However, I have a recollection that the bodies of catechumens might be inspected for signs of demonic infestation, which would link in with the role of female deacons in baptism.

Here I have to ask the help of my readers as I cannot remember where I came across this! Can anyone help?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Testamentum Domini 1.37

  1. Martin Lüstraeten

    The Arabic manuscripts of the M-recension seem to be very close to the Original Greek text. Unfortunately they are that close – by means of interlinear and very close translations – that it is often hard to understand the Arabic translation. Anyway, I looked it up and it is:
    • Paris, Bib. nat. ar. 251, fol. 271b, l. 4 says: “ان كانت امراة مسرق تحب الم رجل” which is – as already stated – weird Arabic. It might be translated as “if there is a woman accusing/accused of theft who loves pain of a man”. It doesn’t make sense to me and I would advise to consult other Orientalists.
    • Vatican, ar. 150, fol. 29a, col. a, l. 14 corrects this slightly to “ان كانت امراه مسرق بحب الم الرجل” = “if there is a woman accusing/accused of theft with love to pain of man”. Same problem.
    • Mardin, Church of the Forty Martyrs 311, fol. 325, l. 10 “ان كانت امراه مسرق تحت الم رجل” which is yet another correction and demonstrates that the copyists had problems in getting a sense into this text, meaning “if there is a woman accusing/accused of theft under pain of a man”.
    • Paris, Bib. nat. ar. 252, fol. 260a, l. 29 with the addition of three points to “ان كانت امراة مشرق بحب آلم الرجل” thus transforming the verb to the meaning “if there is a woman choked by love of the pain of a man”.
    If you have access to the Bodleian Huntingdon 32 you should probably consult it too, but I guess this would need clarification too – especially since the translators of the M-recension do not care about proper prepositions or proper punctuation. It could thus also be “if there is a woman choked under pain by a man”. Anyway: It is not “حيل” here but “آلم” which is “pain” – the same word is used in the manuscripts to speak about the passion of Christ. You wouldn’t expect this word in the context of demonic infestation. I don’t know if this helps, but I would be happy to hear about your further investigations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all thank-you for taking the time to check the unedited M recension of the Arabic. That is a real blessing; notably the section is absent from the Borgian and Petersburg Arabic texts, those to which I have ready access, which is why I did not mention them.
      It is certainly far from clear… though I note that the same pair of verbs are used further below in this version (and thank-you for telling me where to look!), indicating that this is the Arabic translator’s understanding of whatever verb(s) stood in the Greek.
      If I were to hypothesize that I am right and that the matter at issue is an allegation of rape, then the possible verb in Greek might be ἁρπάζω. Because this in turn might mean “to steal” that might in turn lead to the Arabic translator’s use of a form of سرق (though the addition of آلم is not yet explained; the doubling of the verb is odd, and the construction here obscure). However, other possible Greek verbs indicating simply the use of violence do not so simply lead to the same connection with theft or taking. In other words, I think that this insight lends some support to my understanding of the text.
      The wider significance of this, which is what brought about the discussion in the first place, is that this does not supply evidence that deacons acted regularly as medical examiners. The investigation is that of circumstances, and not that of injuries.
      Thank-you again!

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