Author Archives: Alistair C. Stewart

About Alistair C. Stewart

I am the artist formerly known as Alistair Stewart-Sykes, parish priest and social/liturgical historian.

Quaestiones Melitonianae 3: fragments on baptism in Coptic

This is my third, and final, post in response to the enquiries of “Robert”, in comments below.

The final set of possibly Melitonian fragments left out of consideration in the recent re-edition of my 2001 work were omitted principally because they were first attributed to Melito after the work had gone to press.

Alin Suciu suggested, in a paper given in Claremont last year, that fragments published by Alla I. Elanskaya under the title “The Treatise on the Symbolics of Baptism and the Elements.” in The Literary Coptic Manuscripts in the A.S. Pushkin State Fine Arts Museum in Moscow (Vigiliae Christianae supp. 18; Leiden: Brill, 1994), 167-200 might represent fragments of a lost work of Melito.

I asked Dr Suciu whether he intended to publish this identification, but he stated that first he had to make new examination of the papyrus, in particular to see what further fragments might be put in place. I do hope he is successful, and look forward very much to publication.

Having said this much, I must admit to doubting the Melitonian provenance of these fragments. Their import is to discuss the interpenetration of water and spirit in the work of baptism, and the effect of the baptism of Jesus. This stoic approach is reminiscent of Tertullian in De baptismo. Spirit, however, said in the fragments to be a creation of God (thus indicating, as Suciu rightly says, an early date), is in Melito’s extant work less a person, or an object, but rather the property of God (Melito is functionally binitarian). Thus it is hard to see how spirit can be both a creature of God and the essence of God.

There is a certain link in that the fragments share with Melito’s fragment 8b the image of the sun being “baptized” nightly in the sea. However, this simply means that the authors share a stoic approach to Homeric exegesis (see, inter alia, Macrobius Saturnalia 1.23). It is also interesting that the fragments cite the conclusion to the pseudo-Hippolytean homily De theophania, which Dr Suciu, and others, believe to be an interpolation into the ps-Hippolytean work. I do not believe that it is, and so the fragments have cited this (?third-century?) text for some reason which, due to the fragmentary nature of the material, I cannot divine.

Although I do not agree with Dr Suciu that this is a lost work of Melito, it is certainly an important and early work. I am grateful to him for drawing it to my attention and for sharing with me the slides from his Claremont presentation. And I look forward with great excitement to his eventual publication.


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Quaestiones Melitonianae 2: the fragments on soul and body

round tuitA further response to the questions posed by “Robert” in comments below.

In my recent collection of Melitonian fragments I write:

There is a homily preserved in Coptic under the name of Athanasius, of which another version, attributed to Alexander of Alexandria, is extant in Syriac, which may well be the work of Melito, in whole or in substantial part. Further fragments of this homily are extant in Syriac, with some in Greek and a substantial amount in Georgian. This work would seem to be that On soul and body mentioned by Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 4.26

This is the simplified version! Actually there are no less than three Syriac witnesses to this material, one of which is also extant in Armenian (from Greek?) and (through Coptic) in Arabic and Ethiopic. In addition, attribution is made to a host of individuals apart from Melito (of Attica, says one witness!), such as Chrysostom and Epiphanius. I did not include this complex of fragments principally on grounds of length. To include such a (?complete) work in a book entitled On Pascha would be disproportionate. I did start preparing a version for inclusion, and every now and then I try to get my head round this material. I do believe that Gregor Wurst’s Habilitationsschrift included a synoptic presentation of all this material, but there is no copy in the UK of which I am aware. István Bugár, moreover, gave a paper on this material at the Oxford patristic conference in 2015, which we hope will appear in Studia patristica, in which an attempt is made at presenting a stemma of the versions.

If any reader wants to get an idea of these contents without spending a day trawling the catalogues of a research library, the Syriac version attributed to Alexander and the Coptic version attributed to Athanasius are both to be found in Wallis Budge, Coptic homilies in the dialect of Upper Egypt; edited from the papyrus codex Oriental 5001 in the British museum (London: British Museum trustees, 1910) with English translations. This book may be found on S.G. Hall, Melito of Sardis On Pascha and fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979) gives fragment 13 in English (this is one of the Syriac witnesses) and, as “new fragments” English versions of the Georgian.

I fear a deeper study will only be undertaken when I get the object pictured. However, a proper study of this work is surely a desideratum.

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Quaestiones Melitonianae 1: the Syriac apologia

In response to a request from “Robert” in comments below I am posting on the ps-Melito of Sardis, perhaps, better, Melito the philosopher, Apology.

“Robert” asks for “information.” I fear I have little. Previously I had read the apology simply with a view to whether it should be attributed to Melito of Sardis. Having decided fairly rapidly that it should not, I left it. Even now I cannot claim to have undertaken a deep study, beyond re-reading the document in W. Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum: containing remains of Bardesan, Meliton, Ambrose and Mara Bar Serapion (London: F&J Rivington, 1855), available on, (from whom any English citations here are taken), reading Jane L. Lightfoot, ‘The Apology of Pseudo-Meliton’ SEL 24 (2007), .59-110, and a skim of Sebastian Toby Nichols, ‘The Gods of the Nations are Idols’ (Ps. 96:5): Paganism and Idolatry in Near Eastern Christianity, Diss. Durham, 2014, (Available at Durham E-Theses Online: I have no particular knowledge or insight, so simply list what seem to be the key questions with some highly tentative answers and suggestions.

My initial uncertainty about calling the author “ps-Melito” or “Melito” comes about because, although it is possible that this is intended in some way to be a work of Melito of Sardis, it is also possible that this is a work which is entirely independent and by another Melito. The attribution in the title, and the statement that is was delivered in the presence of “Antoninus Caesar”, whereas obviously fictive, may be the fiction of a scribe intent on attributing the apology to Melito, but “Melito” was not an uncommon name. My feeling is that the author’s name was “Melito”; the characterization of this Melito as “the philosopher” is not one which would readily occur to a scribe with limited knowledge of the sophist of Sardis. The reference to Antoninus is, moreover, part of the fictive setting, rather than any scribal initiative, as one of the characterizations of the philosopher is that of a king who claims that he is bound to worship idols by virtue of his position. The answer is given that the king might lead his people in worshipping a true God. This indicates that an address to an emperor is part of the fictive construction.

Another question which is posed, and not answered here, is the original language of the document. Although some have argued for Greek the consensus seems to be moving in the direction of a Syriac original. Certainly there is nothing here which sounds like awkward translation. Whereas the work is clearly indebted to the Greek philosophical tradition, this does not preclude a Syriac original, as Greek philosophy was taken into Syriac speaking circles. Thus a Syriac original stemming from somewhere like Hierapolis (Mabbug) would not be unreasonable as a supposition.

An origin in Hierapolis would be consistent with the section in which the philosopher speaks of the origin of the gods in human heroes, with a catalogue of Syrian cults. However, Lightfoot suggests that this section, that which has received the most attention, is an interpolation. This is absolutely feasible; the speech makes far more sense, seems much more coherent, without this section. This, in turn, makes a Syrian origin less compelling, even while still possible.

Nichols suggests that this might be a product of the latter part of the second century. This is, again, plausible, especially if the Euhemeristic section is omitted. Lightfoot finds some possible indication of date in a part of the Euhemeristic section: “The Syrians worshipped Athi a Hadibite, who sent the daughter of Belat, who was skilled in medicine, and she cured Simi, daughter of Hadad, king of Syria ; and after a time, when the leprosy attacked Hadad himself, Athi entreated Elishah, the Hebrew, and he came and cured him of his leprosy.” Here, rather than a reference to the story of Naaman, she sees a reference to the Historia Addaei, and so suggests a terminus a quo in the fourth century. I am less than convinced; in any event, this is from a section which may be interpolated.

I am also unconvinced by any suggestion that there is literary dependence on the Apology of Aristides. Certainly there is some common material, but nothing which is unique; what they hold in common is the lingua franca of early Christian apologetics.

Finally I note that “Robert” has picked up on the reference to the final dissolution of the world by fire: “So also it will be at the last time; there shall be a flood of fire, and the earth shall be burnt up together with its mountains, and men shall be burnt up together with the idols which they have made, and with the graven images which they have worshipped; and the sea, together with its isles, shall be burnt.” There seems to be a consensus that this is a reference to II Peter. My feeling is that this refers, rather, to the ekpyrosis known in stoicism.

I am grateful to “Robert” for causing me to re-read this Bekehrungspredigt (a better characterization, perhaps, than “Apology”.) Possibly, one day, I may find time to return to it to produce something more coherent than this.


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The deacon’s garment, again

Newly published is “The deacon’s ‘garment’ at Traditio apostolica 22: an attempt at understanding” SVTQ 61 (2017), 119-122. Remember… you read it here first (see below!)

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The difficulties of interpretation in Traditio apostolica 41.6 and a suggested solution

At Traditio apostolica 41.5-6 we read:

And if indeed you are in your house, pray at the third hour and praise God. But if you are elsewhere and the occasion comes about, pray in your heart to God. For at that hour Christ was displayed nailed to the tree. For this reason also in the Old the Law prescribed that the shewbread should be offered at every hour as a type of the Body and Blood of Christ; and the slaughter of the speechless lamb is this, a type of the perfect lamb. For the shepherd is Christ, and also the bread which came down from heaven.

There is a variation in the Aksumite Ethiopic here. The text reads: “Pay careful attention to the time; for at that time we anticipate the return of Christ,” before going on to discuss the types of the shewbread and the lamb.

In any event it is hard to disentangle the logic here.

I have now come across the comments of Wenrich Slenczka, Heilsgeschichte und 9783110810080Liturgie: Studien zum Verhältnis von Heilsgeschichte und Heilsteilhabe anhand liturgischer und katechetischer Quellen des dritten und vierten Jahrhunderts (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 78; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000) at 27-29 (a catchy title if every I saw one.) This I missed, so must admit to an error of omission in the second edition of my commentary.

Slenczka suggests that the verse regarding the shewbread is a gloss on 42B.3 (the following chapter)

This (the protecting power of God) Moses showed in the paschal sheep which was slaughtered. He sprinkled the blood on the threshold and anointed the doorposts, and showed forth that faith in the perfect sheep which is now in us.

This, it must be admitted, is possible though, as Slenczka admits, would have occurred early in the process of transmission. My problem with the suggestion is that, although I can see the connection between Moses’s lamb and Christ (not hard) the logic of the shewbread is less obvious, and the connection between the placarding of Christ (which is the connection with the shewbread) and the protecting power of the blood (which is the context for the mention of the lamb and its blood in chapter 42) creates a tension almost as difficult as the crux of interpretation that the movement of the verse is meant to solve.


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Another Stewart-Vaucher dialogue, in which Dr Vaucher identifies a forgotten church order and Dr Stewart goes to Oxford and gets wet

In the comments on my post Some updates there has been something of a pooling of perplexity between myself and Daniel Vaucher. Editing the comments today I managed accidentally to delete a bunch of them. So to preserve the dialogue I have edited them all out (deleting the rest) and present them here as another Socratic dialogue in which I am reduced to aporia on one point at least. It may even continue!

DV: Thanks for updating the conspectus. I do have some more for you:

Testamentum Domini: you could add the edition by A. Vööbus, The synodicon in the West Syrian tradition. 2 vols. Louvain 1975, as well as the translations by J. Cooper and A.J. Maclean. The Testament of Our Lord Translated into English from the Syriac. Edinburgh 1902 and F. Nau, La version syriaque de l’Octateuque de Clément. Paris 1913 (where TD is book I-II)

Didascalia Apostolorum / CA I-VI: as I learn, according to M.E. Johnson, there is an edition of the arab version by H. Dawud, Ad-dasquliyah aw ta’atim ar-rusul. Cairo 1924; 3rd ed. 1967. This is beyond my language skills and needs further check.

Canons of Ps.-Basil: you could add the coptic fragments by W.E. Crum, The Coptic Version of the ‚Canons of S. Basil‘, in Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 26 (1904), 57-62.

ACS: Thank-you. Perhaps you could add the Testamentum material appropriately (NB however the Synodicon does not contain the full text of the Testamentum, only excerpts.) And certainly the Canons of Basil fragments; there are also some other fragments, see my post below from March 2014.
I am intrigued by this mention of the Arabic Didascalia however, though I cannot find the book in the Bodleian library or on COPAC, which means it will be hard to check it in person; Beyond Johnson’s bibliography the only reference I can find is an Indonesian (!) website which (having passed through Google translate!) states that this is a modern Arabic translation (ergo not a textual witness) of “The Didascalia of the apostles (the Apostolic Constitutions) edited by Hippolytus in 215.” (sic) I’m not sure which of an anonymous Indonesian website or Maxwell Johnson is the the more trustworthy source.

DV: OK. I have another one though: Canones Petri or Canones by Clement or Letter by Peter… according to Georg Graf, there is an Arabic ed. by P. Fahed, Kitab al-huda, ou Livre de la Direction: Code Maronite du Haut Moyen Age, traduction du Syriaque en Arabe par l’evêque Maronite David, l’an 1059, published 1935. And then, it is part of the Ethiopian Senodos, published by Bausi 1995. I wonder then, where are the Sahidic versions?

ACS: The Canones Petri should certainly be included… Actually it’s there already! Note there is a translation in Riedel KRQ, 165-175. Riedel opines that the work was composed in Arabic, and that the Syriac and Ethiopic are translations from Arabic.

DV: Contra Riedel, Graf, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, opines that the work goes back to a lost Greek original. I leave the question to the learned scholars with expertise in Arabic

ACS: I certainly don’t have that kind of expertise. However, I realize that if David the Maronite made a translation from Syriac to Arabic, then if it was Arabic to start with somebody must have translated it from Arabic to start with, which seems a rather strange proceeding. Presumably the Syriac (and a presumed Sahidic) are both lost. Puzzling, certainly.

DV: I’m puzzled too, and I can’t find Fahed anywhere in Switzerland, but I have Graf in front of me. He writes p. 580 f.: “das Werk gehört einer jüngeren Zeit an, ist aber nicht (wie Riedel will) arabisches Original, sondern Ableitung aus einer oder mehreren griechischen Schriften. Eingehende Untersuchungen über Quellen und Alter fehlen noch.” (footnote 1: Vansleb, Hist. S. 259: L’épitre de saint Pierre à saint Clément, mais parce qu’elle est pleine d’absurdités, je n’ai pas voulu la mettre ici).
I think, with Vansleb he refers to the Ethiopian version, which Bausi, Il Sēnodos etiopico, vol. I, p. 284-306, vol. II, p. 109-118 edited and translated. I don’t have Bausi in front of me, but his comment on the piece might be worth a check. And Kaufhold, “Sources of Canon Law in the Eastern Churches” in Hartmann/Pennington, The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law 2012, 235 and 270, refers to a Syriac version. I wonder now whether this was the piece that Maronite priest David was translating into Arabic, and whether that David’s Arabic version was the same that Riedel refered to. This is far beyond my understanding and knowledge of the Eastern languages, but it’s at least plausible that there was a now lost Greek original, which was then translated into Syriac (only: where is this version now? – I check Kaufhold again), and from there into Arabic and Ethiopic. Given the date of the translation, anno 1059, I think it would be unsafe to assume a much earlier arabic version anyway?

ACS: I will have to look into this. Gorgias has reprinted Fahed, which is a start.

DV: To make you and us wonder some more: In 2005, Kaufhold wrote in “La littérature pseudo canonique syriaque” in: Débie (ed): Les apocryphes syriaques. Paris 2005, p. 147-168 of a yet unpublished pseudo-canonique piece in Syriac with the following title: Prédication de saint Jean l’Évangeliste qui enseigna à Éphèse et prêcha de Pâcques, au sujet des choses commises de manière mauvaise et désordonée par des prêtres et des chrétiens à l’interieur de l’Église, et admonition du peuple.” With the short summary he gives, this could well be church order! It’s found in Ms Cambr. Add. 2023, fol. 83r – 159r, and, Kaufhold refers to an Arabic version which can be found in, guess, Fahed 1935…

ACS: I recognize that catalogue number! Really, I do. It is a collection of canonical material so could well contain a church order.

DV: I note in the translation of the Didascalia by Ragucci, which you just posted, the following comment:
Le recensioni arabe sono due e sono derivate e mediate da un testo copto oggi perduto, entrambe queste recensioni sono più vicine a CA, – di cui riportano anche la stessa prefazione–, che non a DA latina o siriaca.
La prima recensione è più antica ed è la più conosciuta, è detta anche Vulgata. Potrebbe essere stata tradotta da un testo copto nell’XI secolo, è suddivisa in 39 capitoli e rielabora CA I-VI, sebbene ci siano alcune omissioni in cui si verifica una significativa alterazione nella disposione del materiale e l’aggiunta del VI capitolo. Queste differenze nella disposizione degli argomenti la rendono una traduzione poco fedele. Di questa recensione Vulgata esiste un’edizione di Dāwud del 1924 che si basa su un manoscritto del patriarcato copto e su due manoscritti privati.
but she does not indicate Dawud’s edition, but refers instead to D. Spada-D. Salachas, Costituzioni dei Santi Apostoli per mano di Clemente, Urbaniana University press, Roma 2001, p. XXVII.

ACS: OK, that’s it, enoujgh confusion! I shall have to make a pilgrimage to the Bodleian and brave the hordes of tourists, the foul weather, and the horrible traffic.

ACS (several days later): Dr Vaucher, you are now the master, and I the troublesome student.
The letter of Peter, aka the canons of Clement, are indeed preserved in Arabic translation (from Syriac, presumably lost) in the Maronite canonical collection Kitab al-Huda. This was translated by the Maronite bishop David. Critical edition, as you gave it: Pierre Fahed, Kitab al-Huda ou livre de la direction: code Maronite du haut moyen age (Aleppo: Imp. Maronite, 1935). They are headed as the Canons of Clement.
The same text, headed Letter of Peter is indeed in the Ethiopian Senodos published by Bausi, as you suggested. I think Riedel must have been wrong, and these are not originally Arabic, since they were rendered from Syriac by David. I suspect that they were from a variety of Greek sources, possibly mediated through Coptic for the Egyptian branch and (obviously) through the Syriac, from which they were rendered for the Kitab al-Huda. Mind you, that’s only a hunch.
Secondly, I went looking for this Arabic Didascalia reported by Johnson. I cannot find the Dawud text, though I am sure that Ragucci’s information was entirely from the translation of Constitutiones apostolorum by Spada and Salachas, which she cites, and they in turn had it from… Graf, Geschichte I, 568. This is also, I suspect, where Johnson got it from. The correct reference as Graf gives it is: Ḥafiẓ Dawud, ad Dasquliya au ta’alim ar-rusul (Cairo, 1924). Although I could not find Dawud, I did find: Wilyam Sulayman Qilada (ed.) Kitāb al-Disqūlīyah : taʿālīm al-rusul (Cairo : Dār al-Jīl lil-Ṭibāʿah, 1979), but the source of this text I cannot say! One can reasonably imagine that it is Egyptian.
Now, M. Kohlbacher, “Zum liturgischen Gebrauch der Apostolischen Konstitutionen in Ägypten”, in J.M.S. Cowey and B. Kramer (ed.) Paramone (Archiv für Papyrusforschung Beiheft 16; Leipzig, Saur, 2004) suggests that there may be even more recensions of the Constitutiones apostolorum in Arabic (we must remember that the Arabic Didascalia is actually the Constiutiones and not the Didascalia at all.) At this point I have to confess that I can go no further with this enquiry for the present.
However, it’s not all bad news. You mentioned Kaufhold’s mention of a Prédication de saint Jean l’Évangeliste. I have checked this out.
It is worth citing Kaufhold in full:
Dans la deuxième partie du Kitāb al- Hudā apparaissent deux séries de “Canons de saint Jean l’Évangeliste” que n’avaient jusque’à présent pas été identifiés. Le première traite du patriarche, des métropolites, des êvêques, des périodeutes, des prêtres, des diacres, et la deuxième concerne le divorce. Pour les deux séries, il est expressement dit dans le Kitāb al-Hudā qu’elles ont été traduites du Syriaque. Il s’agit manifestement d’extraits de la Prédication de saint Jean l’Évangéliste que se trouve dans le manuscrit Cambridge Add. 2023…; dans ce manuscrit, les fonctions ecclésiastiques y sont traités aux f. 129v et suiv. Et les prescriptions sur le divorce aux f. 144v; et suiv., mais les textes ne correspondent pas exactement. On doit encore les regarder de plus près.
One cannot agree more with the last statement. In the footnote he states that he has his information from Desreumaux. One wonders how anyone, even Desreumaux,  knows this, as the Cambridge text is unedited. Nonetheless, Dr Vaucher, you seem to have found us a new church order!
I will update the conspectus.

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Another translation of the Didascalia

May be found here: There is also a text, though I fear I am unable to read it; possibly I don’t have the right Syriac font installed.

I particularly look forward to reading the notes, which seem fairly extensive.




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