I recently discovered an interesting article by F. Stanley Jones in A. Özen (ed.), Historische Wahrheit und theologische Wissenschaft, Gerd Lüdemann zum 50. Geburtstag, Frankfurt 1996, pp. 87-104. In “The Genre of the Book of Elchesai”, the author collects the fragmentary evidence on the Parthian book of revelation called “book of Elchesai/Elxai”, that was brought to Rome under a “heretic” called Alcibiades towards the end of the 2nd century. Fragments and polemics remain in the works of Hippolyt and Epiphanius as well as in Origens Homily on Psalms 82, preserved in Eus. h.e. 6.38.
Jones argues against former common sense that the Book of Elchasai was an apocalyptic text. Without entering the debate about the nature of Church Orders, he states: “the primary focus of the writing is on regulating the life of Christian, which is a reasonable starting point for defining a church order.” He then lists the fragments that address the life of the Christians, which focus on the renunciation of idolatry “with the lips, not the heart”, baptism, impartation of the secret prayer, astrological instructions, instructions on the direction of prayer, the avoidance of fire, and more.
He adds further arguments to strengthen his case: the author, who seems to be a “religious authority”, uses first person singular to adress his readers, that is, the congregation. He adds examples to support the casuistic logic – and probably to convince his readers of his demands. Finally, “Elchasai was one of these leaderss who, similar to Paul, was engaged in the process of ordering early Christian life, only Elchesai wrote an actual church order rather than merely sporadic letters to congregations.”
I will have to take some time and check the fragments as well as the secondary literature that links the book of Elchasai to Judaism and Manichaism in order to fully evaluate Jones’ arguments. I tend to agree with Jones’ view, but given the fragmentary state of the book, who knows what the original was like? But the article was very interesting to read; it is a reminder that we should open our eyes in the search for more and lesser-known Church Orders.
I don’t mean the Gnomai!
A few years ago I came across a dissertation online providing a critical Georgian text (among other things) of the Hippolytean In Cant. I had long suspected that this commentary reflected mystagogy in the Hippolytean community, and was pleased to find that the author agreed with me.
I contacted Yancy Smith, the author, who now follows this blog, and suggested to him that the work should be published. There have been a few delays but he now tells me that the work will be coming out with Gorgias soon. It is to be called The mystery of anointing. It will probably cost an arm and a leg, but I will ask Santa nicely and promise to be a good boy. It will certainly be worth paying money for, I promise you.
The church-order connection lies in the light that the commentary casts on the multiple anointings in the baptismal rite of Traditio apostolica (on the assumption that this document, likewise, derives from the Hippolytean community.) But even if you are not convinced on this point (there are a few doubters, still!) there is a lot more in it than that. For a start, a usable modern translation for those of us who are Georgian-challenged!
Congratulations and thanks to the author, and to Gorgias for publishing. Respect all round!
I have now received a scan of one of the two pages at the end of the Turin codex containing the Gnomai of Nicaea. Although it is largely lacunose and, due to the darkness of the papyrus, even what is extant is largely illegible from a photograph, I can at least rest assured that this is not a missing page of gnomai simply because it is written in two columns, whereas the rest of the gnomai are in one. Unfortunately, due to an error, only one of the two pages was sent; the other page which was sent was a duplicate of one I had already received. I have pointed this out and wait… again!
In the meantime, and more positively, the introduction and main text of my second edition of Traditio apostolica has gone into the editorial process. I need only now to check the appendix (containing the Hippolytean homily on the Psalms, as before) and recast the indices. My aim was to have this done by Pentecost, so I may well be on schedule.
A publication date is in the hands of the Press, but I do not anticipate that it will be long delayed. Unlike the Gnomai…
In the Sahidic version of Apostolic Tradition 16 (the Latin being wanting) it is said of a soldier seeking baptism that he shall not “go to the task” if he is ordered, nor swear the oath. The meaning is obscure. The Aksumite Ethiopic, however, is clear that a soldier is not to offer sacrifice, not to swear the oath, and not to wear a wreath. The Canons of Hippolytus likewise reflect the prohibition of swearing and wearing of the wreath. We may thus reasonably believe that the new Ethiopic version retains the closest reflection of the original. “Not to go to the task” may be some corrupted version of the words regarding sacrifice, though I am at a loss to suggest precisely what.
The particular reason for drawing attention to this is an essay by Yoder on military service in the church orders, found at http://www3.nd.edu/~theo/jhy/writings/history/ecdisc%26ord.htm#N_40_, in which Yoder deduces on the basis of this section of Apostolic Tradition that the principal objection to military service was not the issue of the close relationship with the cultus of the emperor, as is often held. He appears to be using a translation based on the Sahidic, though I am a bit confused as to which, as he makes reference to the Latin (which is not extant for this passage!) However, the Aksumite Ethiopic seems to shift the balance somewhat.
There are a number of significant flaws in Yoder’s use of the church order material in his essay, on which I will not expatiate. It is interesting, as he himself notes, that an ethicist might find material in these documents; ethicists, however, should be as cautious in their use as liturgiologists have, in recent years, learnt to be. Which is not to say that they should not use the material, simply that they should handle it with care.