Tag Archives: Verona palimpsest

Sex and menstruation in the Didascalia

An interesting conversation today with Sarah Whitear, a graduate student at Leuven who is working on attitudes to menstruation in early Christian circles.

We discussed the passage of the Gnomai regarding Mary’s amenorrhoea (6.1, stating that due to her purity (ἁγνεία) “the way of women was not with her.”) Since editing the text (I referred to Soranus Gyn. 1.4.19-23 in which he suggests that particularly active women (such as those preparing for singing contests) do not menstruate because there is no excess nutrition which needs to be diverted into menses) I have thought further about this; my medical knowledge is limited, but I understand that secondary amenorrhoea may result from malnutrition and in particular protein deficiency. One therefore wonders, given the extremity of asceticism undergone in some circles, whether such secondary amenorrhoea was actually common among female ascetics, and the description of Mary thus typical of female ascetics known to the redactor. We also compared this statement to that of the Protoevangelium Jacobi in which Mary is removed from the temple prior to beginning menstruation.

However, the greater part of our conversation was taken up with an intriguing passage in the Didascalia: I translated, back in the day as “Therefore you should not go to your wives when they are undergoing natural flux, but hold to them…” (DA 6.22.6)

My version was fundamentally based on the Latin: Nolite convenire illis sed sustinete eas.

On this I wrote:

‘You should not go to’ is absent in Syr. which reads instead ‘And when they (your wives) are in their natural flux you should hold to them (ܢܩܦܝܢ) in the manner which is right…’ Flemming in Achelis and Flemming (1904), 223, suggests some accidental omission on the part of the Syriac translator and Vööbus (1979b), 244, similarly opines that Lat. is closer to the original and that accidental omission has occurred. However, although the suggestion of Flemming and Vööbus is followed here there is much to be said for Connolly’s assertion (1929), 255, that Syr. is ‘more in the spirit of the author’. Although CA tends to support Lat. there is little verbal correspondence, thus supporting Connolly’s suggestion that Lat. and CA are independent ‘improvements’ of the original.

I remember puzzling over this when I was translating all those years ago, so was glad to be called back to it. In general I think my footnote is fair, though perhaps I give too much air-time to Connolly. What I did not write at the time, but may now say, as I said to Ms Whitear, is that Connolly probably didn’t know what he was talking about, since he was a monk! Ms Whitear, very perceptively, pointed out that we should probably not take CA into account, as it really goes off piste here. I am convinced, having re-examined the passage. And so we are left with Latin and Syriac with no help from CA which has “improved” the original so as to obliterate it entirely.

My common sense reading of Latin is that men are being told to be good and understanding husbands while their wives are having periods, and not to attempt to have sex with them. Ms Whitear said that this was what she was thinking, so we were in fundamental agreement. The combination of common sense and the witness of the Latin indicates that this is probably the correct understanding.

The Syriac is less common-sensical, particularly if it is telling husbands to have sex with their wives while they are menstruating. However, Ms Whitear, very properly, pointed out that whereas Connolly, and many since, have taken ܢܩܦܝܢ to mean sexual congress this is by no means the most obvious meaning for the verb. We thus spent some time wondering what Greek Vorlage might have led to ܢܩܦܝܢ in Syriac and sustenere in Latin. One candidate was ἀντιλαμβάνεσθαι. This remains possible, as does (I now think) ὑπολαμβάνεσθαι. In other words we discounted the first part of the phrase, (nolite convenire in Latin) assuming it to have been omitted by the Syriac through some form of corruption.

Since then it has dawned on me, since the Syriac is probably corrupt (or taken from a corrupt Greek text), that ܢܩܦܝܢ might actually represent the word rendered in Latin as convenire. This might be συνεῖναι, which might indeed have a sexual connotation (though not exclusively so).

Here we enter the muddy waters of retroversion. If the Vorlage began: οὔκ οῦν δεῖ ὑμῖν συνεῖναι ταῖς γυναιξὶ ὑμῶν… it might have been corrupted to, or misread as, οὐκοῦν δεῖ ὑμῖν συνεῖναι ταῖς γυναιξὶ ὑμῶν… The phrase rendered as “sed sustinete eas” is missing, perhaps as a result of earlier misunderstanding.

I am not being dogmatic here. There is some corruption, and the meaning certainly is that men should not have sex with their menstruating wives, and that they should be loving and faithful husbands. The Latin is correct (I do have great confidence in the Verona Latin as an early text and careful, if painfully literal, translation.) Quite how the Syriac ended up as it did I know not. One of the two clauses is absent; the question is that of which.

Comments, corrections, and observations are welcome!



Filed under Didascalia Apostolorum, Other church order literature

Didascalia apostolorum 2.26.4

Dani Vaucher’s comment below on the “breaf” abstract from the paper on Didascalia 9 has got me thinking.

The reconstruction of passages from Greek writings preserved only in ancient translations is an uncertain business; if only I had paid more attention in Greek prose composition classes as an undergraduate! Didascalia apostolorum 2.26.4 (from chapter 9 of the Syriac) is of particular interest.

The Constitutiones apostolorum reads: ὁ μὲν οὖν ἐπίσκοπος προκαθεζέσθω ὑμῶν ὡς θεοῦ ἀξίᾳ τετιμημένος (CA 2.26.4). That it is highly paraphrastic at this point (as an adaptation, rather than a translation, of the Didascalia) is evident from both the Latin and the Syriac versions of the Didascalia.

The Latin reads: “hic locum dei sequens sicuti deus honoretur a vobis quoniam episcopus in typum dei praesedet vobis” whereas in the Syriac we read: “But (ܐܠܐ) he leads (ܡܕܒܪ) you in the place of (ܒܕܘܟܬܐ) the Almighty one. He is to be honoured by you as God (ܐܝܟ ܐܠܗܐ) since the bishop sits among you in the place (ܒܕܘܟܬܐ) of God almighty.”

There are thus two major divergences between the versions. The first is in the verb (“following” or “leading”), the second in the statement that the bishop is in the place (Syriac) or as a type (Latin) of God. It is also to be observed that the Syriac supplies an object for the verb which is not present in Latin. Thus the Syriac translator understands this as referring to something that the bishop does,  whereas the Latin understands this to mean that the bishop has second place to God.

In asking which is correct in each part the primary question is that of which Greek verb might lead to either rendition. Given that none is obvious, we ask ourselves which verb might have been misread by either translator. We may suspect the presence of a participle, given that both versions employ participial forms, rather than a simple preposition. One possibility which presents itself is the aorist participle of ἀλλάσσω, ἀλλαχθείς, meaning that the bishop exchanged places with God. This would tend to support the Latin; the suggestion, in turn is that the Syriac translator read this as ἀλλʼ ἀχθείς (thus accounting for the ܐܠܐ in the Syriac) and supplied an appropriate object. As such this is entirely plausible, and so I find that I have persuaded myself, if nobody else.

The distinction between the two versions in the second part of the phrase is easier to explain. We may certainly suspect that the Latin is correct in reading typum, representing τύπος, and that this has been read by the Syriac translator as τόπος, perhaps on the basis that τόπος has appeared immediately beforehand. At Ignatius Magn. 6 we read of the bishop that he is προκαθημένου… εἰς τύπον θεοῦ. Although the MS tradition reads τόπον here. Lightfoot suggested τύπον, and is recently followed, very persuasively, by Brent.

As a result I would venture as a retroversion: ἀλλαχθείς τοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τόπου, ὑφʼ ὑμῶν ὡς θεοῦ τιμῆσθω (or τετιμημένος ), προκαθημένου τοῦ ἐπισκόπου εἰς τύπον θεοῦ. The use of the genitive absolute in the last clause, rather than ἐπεί or ἐπειδή or some similar conjunction, is a punt on the hypothesis that the Didascalist was citing Ignatius directly. To be honest the use of a conjunction is more probable, given the quoniam of the Latin and the ܐܠܐ of the Syriac, which rather indicates that he is not citing Ignatius directly. Thus: ἀλλαχθείς τοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τόπου, ὑφʼ ὑμῶν ὡς θεοῦ τετιμημένος, ἐπεὶ εἰς τύπον θεοῦ προκαθημένος ὁ ἐπίσκοπος.

At the end of which we ask whether we have really learnt anything. Had I been persuaded by this exercise that the Didascalist had direct knowledge of Ignatius that would be worthwhile, although I suppose the lack of direct correspondence indicates a more widespread tradition. Otherwise it has simply exercised the little grey cells for a while without a great deal in the way of progress.

What is perhaps most interesting is that the Constitutiones apostolorum manifestly do not cite Ignatius. Were the redactor pseudo-Ignatius, as we are often told he is, then that would be decidedly odd.

Leave a comment

Filed under Didascalia Apostolorum