Tag Archives: Pseudonymy

The Coptic version of the Canons of Basil: a progress report

Way back in 2014 I reported on the discovery of a Coptic codex of the Canons of Basil. Alberto Camplani had confirmed to me that a codex had been discovered, and that a progress report was forthcoming. This report has now been published: Alberto Camplani and Federico Contardi, “The Canons Attributed to Basil of Caesarea: A New Coptic Codex” in Paola Buzi, Alberto Camplani, Federico Contardi (ed.), Coptic Society, Literature and Religion from Late Antiquity to Modern Times: Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies, Rome, September 17th-22nd, 2012, and Plenary Reports of the Ninth International Congress of Coptic Studies, Cairo, September 15th-19th, 2008 Vol. 2 (Leuven: Peeters, 2016), 979-992. Federico Contardi has kindly sent me a copy of this report.
Camplani and Contardi report that the codex was discovered in Sheikh Abd el-Gurna by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology under the direction of Tomasz Górecki, on a rubbish dump outside tomb 1152 (dating from the Middle Kingdom) which was reused in the Coptic Period as a hermitage. The codex is preserved in the National Museum of Alexandria, identified as Coptic Ms. 1. It is almost complete.
What is particularly interesting about this Coptic version, by distinction to the published Arabic, is the presence of much more apparatus of pseudonymy, some of which is described in the report. This links with that described by Alin Suciu in Coptic apocrypha, and discussed briefly below, and lends support to the suggestion of Camplani that the Canons should be given an Egyptian and sixth century provenance.
We look forward to the forthcoming preliminary edition by Contardi and Camplani, to be followed by an editio maior containing Arabic and Coptic.

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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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Church Order Conspectus – matter of definition

After having been added as co-author on the blog, I’d like to reply once more on the matter of defining the church order tradition, and in regards to Stewarts conspectus (see post of January 6th 2016), on which texts we could include in the list and which not.

In my dissertation, I analyze the emergence of the church orders in the context of Church history from its beginning to the early 4th century. I’ll therefore exclude here the Church Orders from the 4th to 5th centuries. I start with the premise that the texts we normally regard as Church Orders (Didache, Traditio Apostolica, Didascalia, Apostolic Church Order) share some features with regards to content. Building on Stewarts working definition, I’d propose five features:

First, the lack of a central authority in the emerging Church. Especially after the death of the Apostles, the communities were in need of a broadly accepted authority, even more so when problems went beyond singular communities or house churches. The authors present themselves as such authorities and their texts as binding for everybody.

Second, the apostolic claim and the pseudonymity. It is clearly a sign that the anonymous authors lacked authority or that they hoped to give their texts more persuasive force this way. It also originates from the fragmentation of the early church in different house communities or schools and the fact that ancient schools tended to construct some kind of lineage.

Third, questions of authority. It is apparent that Church Orders were written in contest with other Christian authorities or leaders, e.g. prophets, patrons, widows. The texts therefore deal with hierarchy and offices to regulate Church life.

Fourth, the process of canonization, which of course is complex, but most of the early Christian texts deal with the question, what is truly Christian? It leads to the formation of a canon and simultaneously, to the construction of heresy and orthodoxy. Most Christian texts deal with integration and demarcation of other doctrines or schools. So do the Church Orders, when they treat heretic literature, false teaching etc.

Fifth, problem-oriented. This is central to my argument. These texts were written to address concrete problems and questions in Christian communities, and therefore, we deal with texts written by Christians for Christians.

It is symptomatic that many modern scholars try to define the Church order tradition but fail to do so. I’m not happy neither! Steimer, Mueller, Metzger and others, in the end, always recur to the content: the attempt to “direct the conduct of Christians and of the church”. What I’d like to propose is that we should see the Church Orders in their early Christian context, and this links them to other Christian texts. There are many more texts that share all or most of the above-mentioned features. (Certainly, not all features are equally present in all texts.) And crucially, I think, some texts are not essentially different from the Church Orders, but are sometimes not called so.

We already named the Pastorals, which are in my opinion a fictional trilogy clearly with Church Order character. I’d propose the letters by the Apostolic fathers in general, although there is more differentiation necessary (we dealt with 1 Clement, but see Alexandre Faivre for reflections on other letters). But what with deutero-Pauline letters like Ephesians, Colossians, the Johannine letters?

Stewart argues that these letters were written only to one community and not to the whole Church. But then, letters were expected to be read out aloud, to circulate in a town, or sometimes to be sent on to other cities and communities (like other letters were written to be publicized, e.g. Pliny, Seneca). What is important in my opinion is that letters were clearly problem-oriented and dealt with actual questions.

The recourse to the apostolic authority is a good point too in my opinion. But where do we find it more explicit than in the deutero-Pauline letters?

Enough for now, I await vigorous opposition.

daniel vaucher




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Reading the Didascalia in Syria: insights from Judith H. Newman

Have just read Judith H. Newman, “Three contexts of Manasseh’s prayer in the Didascalia” Journal of the Canadian Society for Semitic Studies 7 (2007), 3-17 (which may be found on academia.edu). Actually I am gutted never to have come across this previously, especially as Newman is a former colleague and sometime collaborator, and can only exhort the reader to desist reading this and read her article instead.

There is a great deal packed into a small compass. I am hugely intrigued, for instance, by her suggestion that the “secondary legislation” reflects “Mishnah”, as opposed to “miqra”, and her tracing of the Didascalist’s doctrine of deuterōsis through the exegesis of Ezekiel, with more than a nod to Irenaeus.

However, what is really electrifying is her suggestion in answer to the ongoing and continuously vexing question of how the Didascalia, and other church orders, were read, used and transmitted. Starting from the observation of a bēma in the north Syrian churches, and the practice of reading from Torah, prophets, Gospels and “Acts of the apostles” from the bēma, she suggests that the Didascalia, and other pseudo-apostolic literature, was used liturgically as “Acts of the apostles.”

Which is not to say that I am instantly convinced that one could get away with reading a fresh composition as apostolic from the bēma, but I am certainly instantly intrigued, and also instantly given a context for understanding the continued production, and reading, of apostolic pseudepigrapha, namely the liturgically re-inforced memory of the apostles.

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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.


Filed under Didascalia Apostolorum