Tag Archives: Alin Suciu

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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On pseudonymy and Coptic apocrypha: with thanks again to Alin Suciu

Recently published (and made available online) by the excellent Alin Suciu is his article “The Book of Bartholomew: a Coptic apostolic memoir” Apocrypha 26 (2015), 211-237.

The abstract follows:

The Book of Bartholomew (= Liber Bartholomaei) is one of the best-known apocryphal writings preserved in Coptic. The present article proposes that the text in question belongs to a peculiar genre of Coptic literature : the memoirs of the apostles. This category consists of reports attributed to the apostles concerning various topics, all related to Coptic piety and liturgical life.

Within the article he explains that a major reason for the production of these pseudepigrapha was the aetiology of feasts within the Coptic calendar. He also refers to a statement prefacing a collection of pseudepigrapha attributed to the biblical patriarchs that Athanasius had discovered them among ancient apostolic decrees (nisyntagma narcheos). This, he shows, is a common trope; I have already referred to Suciu’s making me aware of such a statement in the preface to a pseudo-Chrysostomic text, and he details others within his article.

Whereas this is an Egyptian phenomenon, further light is shed on the context of pseudonymous production shared by the church orders. It is also interesting that apostolic sanction is sought for liturgical practice, again a mark of the church orders.

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The pseudonymy game

A few weeks ago I went to a day studying pseudonymous dialogues, in particular to hear the excellent Alin Suciu, who gave a paper on pseudo-apostolic dialogues in Coptic. It keeps me out of trouble!

 What was interesting, as far as students of the ancient church orders is concerned, is the apparatus of pseudonymy in many of these dialogues, as many claim to have been found in Jerusalem, hidden in libraries. Most striking, in that context, was the introduction to ps-John Chrysostom On the four bodiless creatures in which the author states that he was in Jerusalem studying the commands (nesēntagma) in Jerusalem. Surely these syntagmata are an allusion to the setting in Jerusalem of the pseudo-apostolic church orders (e.g. the Didascalia.) A pseudonymous author thus refers to the apparatus of pseudonymy! Any further development of understanding of the church orders must come to terms with their pseudonymous nature. Bart Ehrman has made a significant contribution here, but somehow I do not think his is the last word; I tend to think of pseudonymy more as a literary game than an outright intention to deceive (forgery, in Bart’s words). What Alin’s paper particularly brings to our attention is the continuation of the literary game which we call pseudonymy.

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Stephen of Thebes and the asceticization of the catechetical tradition

I have reblogged the Ge’ez of Stephen of Thebes from the learned blog of Alin Suciu. As Suciu notes, nothing is known of this figure, beyond his monastic status; indeed I am ashamed to say that I had not previously heard of him, or of this work. However, I was immediately struck by the echoes of the catechetical tradition which entered the church order tradition from the time of the Didache on, here, as in such works as the Fides patrum and the Syntagma doctrinae, effectively asceticized through the change of audience from those being baptized to those entering monastic profession. This is perhaps a theme which needs further to be explored, and so the evidence is reblogged with thanks.

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