Category Archives: Anything else

The path to Rome

In preparation for my appearance at the incontro of the Augustinianum soon I have posted a draft of my paper entitled: “From sabbath to Sunday: new evidence from Aristo of Pella” as a discussion session.

There have been some interesting observations. Come and join the fun at


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Dubious docetists: a new publication

I have just received my copy of Joseph Verheyden et al. (ed.) Docetism in the early church:the quest for an elusive phenomenon (WUNT 402; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018). This includes my essay on Ignatius’ “docetic” opponents, given at the Oxford patristic conference back in 2015. I have made reference to this before, in the post on docetism and the Didachistic Eucharist. I will now record that I sweated blood over that paper. Hopefully it was worth it.

I concluded that “docetism” was not a useful category. I am interested to find that this conclusion is widely shared by other essayists in the volume; since there was no conferring either in advance of or since the submission of the essays this speaks volumes. There are some outstanding essays here; I particularly enjoyed Allen Brent’s philsophical sophistication in identifying enlightenment philosophy of mind as an obstacle to modern understandings of ancient christology, Paul Hartog’s examination of what Ignatius might have added to the kerygma in his polemical context, and Taras Khomych’s rather literate reading of the dance of Jesus in the Acta Johannis. These were my personal highlights, but all the contributions are excellent and worth reading. Beyond the big conclusion, which is that “docetism” is a term which should be abandoned as useless, I was glad to find other points of agreement between other essays and mine, in particular Winrich Löhr’s conclusion that philosophical discourse lay behind a number of the christologies that are classified as docetic, Francis Watson’s observation that Ignatius only speaks of his “docetic” opponents’ denial of Christ’s suffering and not of their denial of any other aspect of Christ, and Jens Schröter’s acceptance of a Hadrianic date for Ignatius’ activity. However, given that there is a lot of common ground among the essays in terms of the materials examined, there is remarkably little redundancy.

The book is €134, which will put it beyond most individuals and many libraries. I am happy to share a pdf of my essay with any reader. My contact details can be found buried somewhere on this blog or on Alternatively leave a comment (if you give your address it will not be published on the blog as I can edit or delete comments before they are displayed.)

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Laurence’s name

In response to my recent posting Richard Fellows asks whether Laurentius might be a “leadership name.”

It is possible, but may equally be a (Christian) slave name. Indeed, it dawns on me, slave-naming may be the (contra-cultural) basis for leadership names. According to Varro, slaves sold at the market at Ephesus might be renamed by a trader or buyer after the seller, or the region in which they were purchased, or the city where they were bought (Varro Ling. 8.9.21). Slaves might also undergo a change of name during the period of servitude, when transferred to a new owner: P. Turner 22, a contract for a slave sale from Side in Pamphylia, identifies the “merchandise”, a ten-year-old Galatian, as “the slave girl Abaskantis, or by whatever other name she may be known.”

Thus slave-naming practice provides a cultural context for Fellows’ suggestion of “leadership names” in the Pauline churches.

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On the martyrdom of Laurence

For some time I have been quietly putting together a note on the martyrdom of Laurence in third century Rome. In essence my intent was to defend the fundamental historical core of the legend that has been received against the somewhat reductionist approach of Franchi and Delehaye.

Today I find that somebody had got there first, namely Dom Bernard Green in a conference paper from 2008 entitled “The martyrdom of St Laurence reconsidered” to be found here.

Although this is not exactly the paper I was writing, it is close enough. We agree on the substantive and central points that Laurence, as deacon, had charge of the church’s goods (and charity) and that he died under torture. I do not have the same degree of confidence in the Liber pontificalis as Green, and might point out that the use of hot plates is an attested method of torture, but these are detailed matters. There is no point my producing a paper almost identical in substance and so rest content with this posting.

The one substantive point I would add to Green’s paper, which gives it pertinence to the blog, is that Laurence’s death under torture indicates that he might have been a slave, and not a free citizen as Delehaye seems to assume. This links to the discussion below with Daniel Vaucher about slaves as office-holders. It seems that still, in the third century, it is possible to find an office-holder of servile status in Rome.


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Translating the Epicurean Tetrapharmakos

In a seminar recently, conversation turned to the tetrapharmakos “four-part remedy”, a summary of the first four of the Kuriai Doxai, (the Epicurean principal doctrines) given by Diogenes Laertius in his Vita of Epicurus. It is also found in P.Herc 1500 col. 5, contained in Philodemus’ Adversus Sophistas, offered here with the usual apologies for the strange Greek display.

ἄφοβον ὁ θεός,
ἀνύποπτον ὁ θάνατος,
καὶ τἀγαθὸν μὲν εὔκτητον
τὸ δὲ δεινὸν εὐεκκαρτέρητον.

In particular it was suggested that translations in use lack a certain pithiness, given that this was a teaching and memory aid.

This caused me to pen the following, which sacrifices accuracy (and indeed four lines) in the interest of being memorable.

An Epicurean said “See,
Fear not God and face mortalitee.
To obtain what is good,
With evil withstood,
Is as easy as A B C D.”

No copyright is claimed! And lest anyone ask what the connection to church orders is, recollect the possibility that Epicurean communities might influence the organizational and liturgical arrangements of some early Christian communities, including the Didachistic community.

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Marcion’s sabbath fasting

ReceQLntly published is my article “Marcion and the Roman Sabbath fast: a search for origins” Questions liturgiques 97 (2016), 194-204. It is recent, as the journal runs on a liturgical year which is approximately a year behind everybody else.

Although nothing to do with church orders, it may nonetheless be of interest to the same audience.

Here is the abstract:

This article examines the practice of fasting on the Sabbath found among Roman Christians and Marcionites alike. Whereas it has been suggested that Roman practice is derived from that of Marcion, this is seen as unlikely as Roman Christian fasting was uninterrupted from Friday to Saturday, whereas Marcionites kept a cena pura. The conclusion is that Roman Christian fasting is derived from the historic practice of Roman Jewish circles (where fasting on the Sabbath was an established custom). The origin of Marcionite practice is uncertain, although the practice of Jews or Christians in Pontus is a possible source.

Cet article examine la pratique du jeûne le jour du sabbat trouvé parmi les chrétiens romains et marcionites semblables. Considérant qu’il a été suggéré que la pratique romaine est dérivée de celle de Marcion, cela est considéré comme peu probable que le jeûne chrétien romain était ininterrompue de vendredi à samedi, alors que les Marcionites gardait un pura cena. La conclusion est que le jeûne romain chrétien est dérivé de la pratique historique de cercles juifs romains (où le jeûne le jour du sabbat était une coutume établie). L’origine de la pratique marcionite est incertaine, bien que la pratique des juifs ou des chrétiens de Pontus est une source possible.

A pdf of the publication can be sent on request.

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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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