A series of posts from the Thoughts on Antiquity weblog.
Chris Weimer, who runs the Thoughts on Antiquity weblog, has invited me to participate as a team blogger, and I have gratefully accepted. This page is a running compilation of my posts on that weblog concerning the topic of canonical lists.
Canonical lists (introduction).
I am on record as saying that the study of the canon of scripture is not really my thing. However, I am very interested in tracing the attestation for the earliest Christian texts, and I have found that the canonical lists that patristic writers occasionally compile can provide useful clues and information to that end.
I might informally define attestation as answering the question of which later authors knew which earlier texts. Canonical lists can be useful in that they generally name each text explicitly; we do not have to rely on faint allusions or unclear paraphrases. They are also useful in that they are designed to be exhaustive; if a particular text does not make the list, then the list compiler probably did not regard it as authoritative. In many such cases we can even tell why the text in question was not regarded as authoritative; frequently it comes down to considering the text pseudonymous, or written by someone other than the alleged author.
What I propose to do in upcoming posts is to present a number of canonical lists, both in the original language and in English translation, and then comment on the points of interest in each list. Several of these lists have not yet, to my knowledge, been published on the internet in their original language. I may take the time as this series goes on to include a digression or two on related topics as they pop up.
While I will not refrain from drawing certain conclusions as the series progresses, my main intent is to present these lists (and certain related passages from other texts) in their original languages, conveniently, in a series of easily consulted weblog posts. I hope you enjoy it.
Nor am I entirely certain how long the series will last; suffice it to say that I have at least ten different canonical lists in mind so far, and I plan to present about one list per post.
My sincere thanks to Chris Weimer for the invitation to join Thoughts on Antiquity as a team blogger.
Canonical lists (part 1, the Marcionite canon).
I probably should have mentioned in the introduction to this series that the canonical lists I intend to post are New Testament only. That said, let us dive right in with the canon of scripture as Marcion would have it.
The limitation of my discussion to New Testament scripture would not have displeased Marcion, who rejected the Old Testament in its entirety. But he did have a short list of New Testament books of which he approved in a particular recension which left out positive references to the Hebrew scriptures or to the Jewish commonwealth. We can reconstruct his list from Irenaeus, Against Heresies, and from books 4 and 5 of Tertullian, Against Marcion.
Irenaeus notes in Against Heresies 1.27.2b:
From Irenaeus, then, we learn that Marcion used a mutilated version of the gospel of Luke alongside mutilated versions of the epistles of Paul. These are, respectively, the gospel (Evangelion) and apostle (Apostolikon) of Marcion.
In book 4 of Against Marcion Tertullian discusses the Evangelion. In 4.2.3 he affirms that Marcion failed to attribute it to any named author (all texts of Tertullian I have drawn from the ever useful Tertullian Project by fellow blogger Roger Pearse):
Tertullian may have missed one possible rationale for omitting an authorial ascription: A movement that uses only one gospel would not need to distinguish it from any other gospels. Tertullian goes on to agree with Irenaeus in 4.2.4 as to which gospel Marcion redacted:
Tertullian also agrees with Irenaeus in book 5 that Marcion edited the epistles of Paul, but he adds in 5.21.1 a crucial note on the very number of Pauline epistles in the Marcionite collection. Here he is discussing the epistle to Philemon:
Modern commentators, of course, ponder the possibility that Marcion rejected the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, not because he liked to fiddle with numbers, but rather because he either did not know of their existence or knew that they were pseudonymous.
Since Tertullian discusses in detail the modifications made to the gospel of Luke in book 4 and to the epistles of Paul in book 5, we are in a position based on those books to list the texts that Marcion accepted as canonical, as it were. It is a short list:
The order of the Pauline epistles requires comment. This is the order in which Tertullian discusses them, and it presumably reflects the Marcionite order. Tertullian discusses Galatians in 5.2-4, 1 Corinthians in 5.5-10, 2 Corinthians in 5.11-12, Romans in 5.13-14, 1 Thessalonians in 5.15, 2 Thessalonians in 5.16, Laodiceans in 5.17-18, Colossians in 5.19, Philippians in 5.20, and Philemon in 5.21.
There is also the matter of the epistle to the Laodiceans, which takes the place of that to the Ephesians. Tertullian explains in Against Marcion 5.17.1a:
It is of course interesting to note in this connection that several manuscripts, including Ƿ46 and the original hands of א and B, omit the words εν Εφεσω in Ephesians 1.1.
Finally, we should note that the epistle to the Hebrews is absent. Tertullian, who according to On Modesty 20.1-5 regarded this epistle as written not by Paul but by Barnabas, cannot rightly comment on this issue, but we do have the following from Jerome, preface to the Pauline epistle to Titus (Latin text from B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, page lxiii, lacuna his):
Whereas Tertullian with his usual sarcasm accuses Marcion of mutilating even the number of the epistles, Jerome regards the exclusion of the pastoral epistles and the epistle to the Hebrews as a dogmatic decision. I suspect, however, that Marcion, if he did know the epistle to the Hebrews, simply did not regard it as Pauline. Marcion belonged to the Roman church before his excommunication, and Roman Christians before century IV or V almost universally thought the epistle did not belong to Paul. I admit, on the other hand, that even if Marcion thought it was Pauline it would have been quite a task to cut all the Jewish elements out of it! What would remain? That seems to be the direction in which Jerome is leading us, though it is not clear to me that the same considerations would hit the pastoral epistles nearly as hard.
I have one more item to present on the Marcionite canon. There is extant in some Latin manuscripts a set of prologues to the Pauline epistles, a close inspection of which leads one to judge that they are Marcionite in origin (text from Daniel J. Theron, Evidence of Tradition, pages 79-83):
(I have had these posted on my website for a few weeks now.)
It will be noticed that these prologues include the pastoral epistles; however, as Harnack notes, writing of De Bruyne:
He has absolutely proved that these Prologues belong together (those to the Pastoral Epistles are of a different character); that they are to be ascribed to the Marcionites; and from them came into the Church.
Among the nonpastoral prologues, the epistle to Philemon is set apart as a personal letter (familiares litteras); all the churches (except that in Ephesus, discussed below) are noted for their relationship to false apostles. The pastoral epistles, however, are neither singled out as personal letters nor filled with the usual ruminations on false apostles.
Granted, the Ephesian prologue lacks any mention of false apostles, but there is an explanation at hand for this oversight. An inspection of the Colossian prologue reveals that there was almost certainly a Laodicean prologue at one point in this collection:
Why are the Laodiceans, otherwise unmentioned in these prologues, mentioned here?
Note that the words et hi (they too) imply the previous discussion of another church of Asians, and that et ipsi may well mean they themselves also, implying another church that was reached by pseudo-apostles, and that the word nec (nor) may well imply another church that the apostle did not approach, and that the words et hos may well mean them too, implying another church corrected by letter. Since there seems to be no other reason for mentioning the Laodiceans in this prologue, this other church virtually has to be that of the Laodiceans. It appears that the Ephesian prologue was designed to replace an original Laodicean prologue, and that the pastoral prologues were added by orthodox scribes so that all of the Pauline epistles would have prologues.
Note also, of course, that there is no prologue for the epistle to the Hebrews.
Implications for attestation.
How does the Marcionite canon affect modern investigations of attestation?
First, and most obviously, Marcion is an early witness, not only to ten individual Pauline letters, but indeed to a collection of Pauline letters. He is proof that some rudimentary grouping of authoritative texts was going on early in century II.
Second, Marcion is an early witness to the gospel of Luke. He may even be, in a roundabout fashion, a witness to the penning of that gospel by a companion of Paul; though he does not name the author, the traditional link between Luke and Paul would nicely explain why Marcion chose Luke as his base text. (The gospel of Matthew, with its many Jewish emphases, may have posed its own set of editing problems, but that of Mark, it seems, would have made a fine choice.)
Third, I think Marcion has to be considered a strike against the authenticity of the pastorals. Jerome may hint that Marcion removed them because of their reliance on the Jewish scriptures, but their removal mystifies Tertullian, and frankly, on the presumption that Marcion knew them and knew they were Pauline, it would mystify me, too; it seems to me that for every statement such as the law is good in 1 Timothy 1.8 there is another such as not paying attention to Jewish myths and commands in Titus 1.14. I guess I do not see why, if Marcion knew the pastorals and knew they were Pauline, he could not have taken the scissors to them as he had to do to the other Pauline epistles. (I hasten to add that this single datum, the absence of the pastorals from the Marcionite list, does not by itself prove them spurious; there are many other data to consider.)
Fourth, Marcion offers no support for the Paulinicity of the epistle to the Hebrews. I might go one step further than this neutral statement and claim that he is actually a strike against its Paulinicity, just as he is a strike against that of the pastorals, except that I imagine taking the scissors to this very scriptural epistle would have been an operation unlike no other. However, given the prevalent Roman belief that the epistle was not of Paul, I think it even more likely that Marcion simply followed suit; hence its absence from his list.
Fifth, and finally, I would be remiss to neglect the possible Marcionite impact on the canon of scripture. However, I think it is very important to specify exactly what his impact may have been; it is easy in my judgment to exaggerate the effects of his decisions. Did Marcion affect which Old or New Testament books were canonized? Without Marcion, would the church have accepted, say, the gospel of Peter but rejected, say, that of Matthew? Was it the Marcionite canon that legitimized the Pauline epistles?
My own answer to each of those questions is probably not. I do not think the actual canonicity or noncanonicity of certain books is where the Marcionite influence lies. I do not even think that the very notion of compiling a list necessarily owes itself to Marcion. Lists are natural wherever there are questions of authenticity and inauthenticity. Even modern scholars with no interest whatsoever in the canon of scripture compile lists. Take, for instance, the quite common modern listing of authentic versus inauthentic Pauline epistles. I suspect that lists of approved texts would have arisen one way or another, with or without Marcion, especially as the living memory of the age of the apostles faded.
Rather, if anything, the lasting impact of Marcion may lie with how the proto-orthodox ended up describing their authoritative texts after his demurral from proto-orthodoxy. Bernard Orchard writes on pages 126-127 of The Order of the Synoptics:
Papias, of course, is a notable and early exception to this principle; it is Justin Martyr, a contemporary of Marcion, who refers to the gospels as the memoirs of the apostles (numerous times), or as the memoirs written by the apostles and their followers (Dialogue with Trypho 103.8). When he lets slip that one of the gospels (certainly that of Mark) was written up as the memoirs of Peter (Dialogue 106.3), he does so innocently, not as trying to prove a point about authorship. Other writers either contemporary with or earlier than Marcion, when they quote the gospel materials, are just as vague as Justin, referring to the gospel (Didache 8.2; 11.3; 15.3) or gospel of the Lord (Didache 15.4), using the generic scriptural formulation as it is written (Barnabas 4.14), or talking of remembering what the Lord said (Acts 11.16; 20.35; 1 Clement 13.2; Polycarp to the Philippians 2.3).
Marcion, then, may well have pressed the issue of how best to refer to the authoritative writings of the church. For after his time we find nearly all ecclesiastical writers referring to these texts by the name of their author.
In my next installment of this series I will discuss the Muratorian canon.
Canonical lists (part 2, the Muratorian canon).
This is part 2 (not counting the introduction) in a series on ancient Christian canonical lists. Part 1 was on the Marcionite canon. My humble thanks to Stephen Carlson for including that post in Biblical Studies Carnival IX, hosted on his weblog.
The Muratorian canon has been online both in Latin and in English for some time. Peter Kirby has links to the text, and I have it on my own site as well. So I do not intend to reproduce it in its entirety here, as it is fairly lengthy. Rather, I intend to explore some of its (many) quirks and mysteries.
In what follows it is important to be aware that the Latin orthography in this text is a disaster. My quotations of the text are corrected to reflect standard Latin spelling and grammar; but sometimes the corrections are mere conjectures.
The first issue at hand is a matter of scholarly frustration; both the opening and the closing of the canon are missing. The text begins as follows in line 1:
We are not completely in the dark. The very next line names the third book of the gospel (tertium evangelii librum) as that according to Luke (secundum Lucam), and line 9 names the fourth of the gospels (quartum evangeliorum) as that of John from among the disciples (Iohannis ex discipulis). It hardly seems controversial, then, to assume that what has been cut off is a discussion of the gospels of Matthew and Mark. I am aware of no canonical list which names Matthew after Mark, so it seems virtually certain that the first line of the Muratorian canon is the end of the discussion of Mark, that of Matthew being lost in its entirety.
What then could the first line mean? It is possible that the topic is the Christians at Rome, and that the sense is that Mark was present among them and so wrote certain things down (in his gospel). The basis for this conjecture would be what certain other church fathers say about the origins of our second canonical gospel. Consider Clement of Alexandria, for example, according to Eusebius, History of the Church 6.14.6:
But this hypothesis can of course be no more than a conjecture until such time as the opening of the document is discovered.
The text ends abruptly after lines 81-85:
These losses at both ends of the text mean that precious information on its authorship and date may well be lost to us forever. In the case of the Marcionite canon we at least know who approved (and indeed who disapproved) of the selection of authoritative books; in the case of the Muratorian canon we cannot be sure.
Which naturally is not to say that scholars have not tried to ascertain such information from the text as it stands! Let us begin with the date. All attempts to date the Muratorian canon must at some point pass through lines 73-80:
There are three separate dates at stake here:
Of these dates, the episcopate of Pius seems to be the most secure. Irenaeus, who lived in Rome for a time late in century II, writes in Against Heresies 3.3.3 (Greek courtesy of Eusebius, History of the Church 5.6.4-5):
Irenaeus, writing circa 180, thus places Pius in the ninth place from the apostles, only three episcopates before his contemporary Eleutherus. Hegesippus agrees with Irenaeus regarding those later stages of the Roman succession according to Eusebius, History of the Church 4.22.3:
It may be that Irenaeus indeed has derived his succession from Hegesippus, in which case he has derived it from a contemporary, and the information is probably good.
The Liberian catalogue, century IV, has the following to say about Pius:
The Book of Popes (Latin liber pontificalis), Felician catalogue, century VI, dates Pius absolutely to the rule of the Roman emperor Antonius Pius (138-161), and even more particularly to the consulship of Clarus and Severus (146):
(Our extant text of the Shepherd actually has nothing to say about the Quartodeciman controversy over the celebration of Easter.)
Thus Pius can be fairly securely dated to the middle of century II. Dating the Shepherd of Hermas and the Muratorian canon, however, does not prove to be quite so straightforward. Both the Muratorian canon itself and the papal catalogues date the Shepherd to the episcopate of Pius and attribute it to his brother Hermas. Now, the Shepherd was certainly written by someone named Hermas; the author names himself several times throughout the work. But there is at least cause for suspicion when it comes to the datum that Hermas and Pius were brothers. In lecture VIII of his 1913 Bampton Lectures, published as The Church of Rome in the First Century, George Edmundson pointed out that the Latin title for the Shepherd was liber pastoris (book of the shepherd). The significance of this fact is that Pius, as the Felician catalogue above acknowledges, was known to have a brother named Pastor. It is but one short step from discussing the book of the shepherd to discussing the book of Pastor, for the Latin would be the same in both cases.
An alternate possibility, it seems to me, is that the Shepherd was known to have been penned by the brother of Pius, and the Latin title liber pastoris was mistakenly thought to name the author as Pastor, thus artificially giving the name Pastor to the brother of Pius.
Hermas and Pastor, or the shepherd, appear to be conflated in a poem attributed to Tertullian against Marcion (listed among the spurious works at the Tertullian Project) as follows:
It ought to be noticed that Hermas is not the shepherd, or pastor, in the Shepherd of Hermas; rather, the shepherd is an angel who appears to Hermas. Nevertheless, confusion may also have arisen from the long speech by the angelic shepherd in the ninth parable of the work. In this speech the angel identifies himself in the first person as the shepherd. In Parable 9.31.5, for example, he says: Et ego sum pastor (and I am the shepherd, also translatable as and I am Pastor); refer also to Parable 9.33.1. An inattentive reader may have confused this embedded speech with the actual words of the author Hermas, thus conflating Hermas with Pastor.
All this to say that we cannot necessarily trust the seemingly straightforward datum that Hermas, brother of Pius, wrote his book during the episcopate of the same. There is too much opportunity for confusion between Pastor, Hermas, and the shepherd.
But what now of dating the Muratorian canon itself? Fortunately, dating the Shepherd and dating the canon are two independent operations, since, even if the canon is mistaken about the date of the Shepherd, it does not follow that it has to be mistaken about the date of the episcopate of Pius. The canon regards the Shepherd as having been written recently (nuperrime), but, since it also dates the Shepherd to the episcopate of Pius, it must regard that episcopate as recent. Indeed, its very wording suggests that the episcopate of Pius is the fixed point by which the Shepherd is to be dated. Unfortunately, however, it is not clear exactly how long an interval the word nuperrime (recently) should imply, nor even how broad a span of time the phrase temporibus nostris (in our own times) is supposed to mean.
The phrase temporibus nostris (in our own times) could be easily taken as meaning that the author of the canon regards the author of the Shepherd as a contemporary; but it could just as easily be taken as merely contrasting the times of the apostles with the times after their era, since lines 79-80 forbid grouping the Shepherd of Hermas among the apostles, [since we are] at the end of their times (inter apostolos, in finem temporum). The word nuperrime (recently) is likewise too vague to pinpoint a date even to within a decade or two. Any date from the middle of century II to early century III seems possible.
So who authored the Muratorian canon? Ludovico Muratori, who published the canon in 1740, suggested Gaius of Rome. The suggestion is at first glance quite attractive. Eusebius writes of Gaius in History of the Church 6.20.3:
From this summary it follows that Gaius compiled a list of authentic scriptural writings in response to what he perceived as a deplorable Phrygian (Montanist) tendency to compose inauthentic scriptures, and this list was detailed enough to tell which Pauline epistles were genuine and which were not. The Muratorian canon, in fact, does not list the epistle to the Hebrews amongst the Pauline epistles.
Discoveries subsequent to the publication of the Muratorian canon, however, have rendered this hypothesis untenable. John Gwynn and T. H. Robinson pointed out more than a century ago certain passages from the Syrian father Dionysius bar Salibi which indicate that Gaius of Rome rejected the apocalypse of John. The Muratorian canon, on the other hand, accepts the apocalypses... of John and of Peter (apocalypses... Iohannis et Petri) in lines 71-72. So Gaius is ruled out.
An intriguing suggestion is that the author was Hippolytus, who wrote, according to bar Salibi, a work against Gaius, which work is to be identified with the head[ing]s against Gaius catalogued by Ebed-Jesu as a Hippolytan work and possibly with the book called On Behalf of the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse ([τ]α υπερ του κατα Ιωανην ευαγγελιου και αποκαλυψεως), of which only the title is preserved; it is found on the statue of Hippolytus kept at the Lateran Museum.
Robinson points out in his 1906 article the following passage from Dionysius bar Salibi, in the introduction to his commentary on the apocalypse of John:
Robinson takes the central portion of this extract as a paraphrase of Hippolytus. In the first portion bar Salibi introduces Hippolytus as contrasting Cerinthus and the Johannine texts (against Gaius, who compared them so far as to identify Cerinthus as the author of these texts); in the second, or central, portion he gives the content of this contrast; and in the last portion he agrees with what he has just offered.
That Hippolytus was the source of this information on Cerinthus is also suggested by the parallels in Epiphanius, Panarion 28.1, 4, since Epiphanius has long been suspected of plagiarizing Hippolytus in this section of his heresiology:
If both Dionysius bar Salibi and Epiphanius are paraphrasing Hippolytus, what are we to make of lines 42-46 of the Muratorian canon?
These Pauline epistles are singled out in particular, and the main themes to be expounded upon seem to be heretical schisms, circumcision, and, despite the obscurity of the comment on Romans, something to do with the relation of Christ to the scriptures; perhaps the preexistence of Christ is in view. These themes look like a bullet list, as it were, of topics to be discussed later on in the text. The Muratorian canon, it would seem, was not meant as a stand-alone list, but rather as the introduction to a polemical work of some kind. These themes also seem quite well suited to contrast, against Gaius, the teachings of the heretic Cerinthus, who approved of circumcision and questioned proto-orthodox christology, with those of the genuine scriptures.
There is more. Dionysius bar Salibi remarks further in his commentary on the apocalypse:
Likewise, lines 47-50 of the Muratorian canon also compare the seven churches in the apocalypse to the seven churches addressed by Paul:
Victorinus of Pettau makes the same connection between Paul and John in his own Commentary on the Apocalypse 1.7 (English translation slightly modified from that of Kevin Edgecomb):
Perhaps Victorinus knew the work of his fellow chiliast Hippolytus. At any rate, the Muratorian canon appears to bear a Hippolytan connection of some kind; Robinson may well be correct that Hippolytus was its author. He judges that it derives from the Head[ing]s Against Gaius. There are difficulties with this view; for example, I notice that the canon admits in lines 72-73 that some in the church do not wish the apocalypses of Peter and of John to be read in the church. Unless this is a subdued anticipation of the opinion of Gaius, it does not look like the kind of nonchalant admission one should make in a text written against a man who rejects at least one of those apocalypses. Nevertheless, the view has its merits, too, and I admit that, if Hippolytus did not pen the Muratorian canon, then we not only have no idea who did but also have to explain its parallels to material that was probably derived from Hippolytus.
If we are even marginally correct in our above discussion, it would appear that the Muratorian canon should be dated to early century III, or possibly late century II, and located in or near Rome. Which books, then, did this Roman who lived nearly two centuries after Christ accept into his canon? His list of accepted books runs as follows:
The canon also mentions books that are to be rejected:
There is nothing surprising about the fourfold gospel. Irenaeus in about 180 gives a rather contrived but obviously after-the-fact argument for the four gospels in Against Heresies 3.8.11, and before him Justin Martyr appears to have known all four gospels in the middle of century II. There is even evidence that Papias, early century II, knew all four gospels.
That the Acts of the Apostles make the list is not a shock. Late in century II Irenaeus names Luke as the author and uses this Lucan text as the very basis for chapters 12-15 of book 3 of Against Heresies. Clement of Alexandria quotes from it as authoritative in Miscellanies 5.11 and also names Luke as the author in 5.12. Tertullian calls the book the memoir of Luke in On Fasting 10.3 and strongly defends its position as scripture in Prescription 22.10-11; 23.3-5.
Nor do the epistles of Paul occasion much surprise. All thirteen epistles attributed to Paul in our present canon make the list; the unattributed epistle to the Hebrews is missing. Given the Hippolytan connections that we have already investigated, it is worth pointing out what Photius has to say about Hippolytus in Bibliotheca 121:
The reference to the epistle of Jude may be the first to that epistle by name, though some earlier writers appear to allude to it. On the other hand, Clement of Alexandria may have beaten our canon to the punch in The Instructor 3.8, where he quotes from Jude by name. Tertullian argues on behalf of 1 Enoch in On Female Fashion 1.3, using the apostle Jude (refer to Jude [1.]14-15) as an authority in its favor.
The reference to the epistles of John is puzzling, inasmuch as only two are mentioned. Since 1 John is quoted in the discussion of the gospel of John in lines 29-31, it has been conjectured that our author regarded 1 John as a sort of appendix to the gospel, and thus meant 2 and 3 John by the reference to two Johannine epistles. But this seems quite unlikely to me, given that in line 28 the author explicitly says that the quote in lines 29-31 is to be found in (one of) his epistles (in epistulis suis).
Perhaps even more puzzling is the inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon in a list that otherwise includes and explicitly excludes only New Testament works.
Most puzzling of all, in my judgment, is the omission of the (first) epistle of Peter entirely (though omission of the second epistle of Peter is par for the course). By this time in Christian history authorities both from the east and from the west were quoting from this epistle approvingly and by name. In the west Irenaeus cites it under the name of Peter in Against Heresies 4.9.2; 4.16.5; 5.7.2. Likewise Tertullian in On Prayer 20; Antidote for the Scorpion 14. In the east Clement of Alexandria cites it under the name of Peter in The Instructor 1.6; 3.11; 4.12; Miscellanies 3.11; 3.18; 4.7. That the Muratorian canon should pass over the epistle of Peter in silence is at least a bit perplexing. Perhaps there is a lacuna in the text somewhere in the vicinity of lines 68-71. Or perhaps, since this list seems to be part of a longer polemical work and not a list compiled for its own sake, the omission of 1 Peter is simply an oversight.
Two apocalypses, not just one, make the list. I presume the Greek apocalypse of Peter is intended, not the gnostic one extant in Coptic from codex VII of the Nag Hammadi library. (Mark Goodacre has made this text available in Greek on his weblog in MS Word format, and of course the English translation is available from Early Christian Writings.)
It is worth noting that the (accepted) epistle to the Ephesians and the (rejected) epistle to the Laodiceans are now, unlike in the time of Marcion, two different texts. There is an epistle to the Laodiceans extant in some Latin manuscripts from century VI and later; the James translation is available from Comparative Religion. The mystery is why the Muratorian canon would attribute this innocuous little pastiche of Pauline phrases to Marcion, but the bare fact that Marcion was known to have approved a Laodicean epistle might have led to this (mis)identification.
Finally, the last few canonical rejects in our list are a list of heretics such as Basilides, Valentinus, and Marcion. I do not know who Mitiades or Arsinoes are. The Cataphrygians would be the Montanists; the name Cataphrygians derives from the Greek label attached to that movement (by Epiphanius in Panarion 49.1, for example), namely οι κατα Φρυγας (those from among the Phrygians), since the movement reportedly began in Phrygia.
Implications for attestation.
How does the Muratorian canon affect modern investigations of attestation?
First, this canon attests to the fourfold collection of gospels. The four gospels will remain, in fact, the most stable element in the canonical lists that we have yet to investigate.
Second, we have official canonical attestation for the Acts.
Third, all thirteen canonical epistles attributed to Paul are deemed authoritative, but the epistle to the Hebrews is absent. This again must be considered a strike against its Paulinicity.
Fourth, the epistle of Jude is considered authoritative, but that of James is absent. It is my sense that modern readers of the Bible know James quite a bit better than Jude, but I think primitive Christians knew Jude better than James.
Fifth, what are we to make of the two epistles to John? Since the Muratorian canon quotes from the first epistle, that one at least must be considered authoritative (and written by John, naturally). But which of the other two is accepted? Which is rejected? It seems very odd to have to choose between 2 and 3 John, since they certainly appear to share the same author; indeed, the presumption of common authorship between these two epistles is greater than that between either of the two and 1 John, in my humble opinion.
Sixth, what are we to make of the absence of 1 Peter? I myself would count this as a strike against the authenticity of that epistle, but not a very big one, since surely by this time 1 Peter would have merited a mention, even if to reject it, since contemporaries of the canon clearly regarded it as authoritative all over the Roman world. This may be a case of accidental oversight. 2 Peter is a very different story. With very little patristic support at this point in time, it is not surprising that the Muratorian canon would fail to list it.
Seventh, the apocalypses of John and Peter are both accepted as authorities, though it is frankly admitted that not all Christians at the time were enthusiastic about either of them. The inclusion of the apocalypse of John is compatible with the author of our canon being a chiliast (like, say, Hippolytus, to use an example off the top of my head), but does not necessarily prove it.
Eighth, the ongoing battles of the proto-orthodox and the groups that they labelled as heretics have left their mark on this canonical list. The author feels the need to pointedly exclude the writings of various named heretics. Perhaps he goes out of his way to exclude them because somebody had at some point first suggested including them. Even so, however, the tone taken with these writings seems very different than that taken with the two (accepted) apocalypses and the (rejected) Shepherd of Hermas. In the latter cases, the dispute sounds like an internal affair, a debate between insiders; in the former, the dispute sounds external, like an argument with outsiders whose opinions are to be rejected in their totality (in totum, line 82). We will find a similar gradation of canonical status in other canonical lists that I will present in upcoming installments.
In my next installment of this series I will (hopefully more briefly) discuss the canon of Origen.
Canonical lists (part 3a, the Origenic canon).
Well, I tried to keep this post brief, but to no avail. I have therefore decided to divide this third installment into two sections. This will be part 3a (not counting the introduction) in my series on ancient Christian canonical lists. Part 1 was on the Marcionite canon. Part 2 was on the Muratorian canon.
I am cheating a little bit to smuggle the Origenic canon into this series, since we do not actually have a complete list of texts from the illustrious Alexandrian father. What we have instead is a list compiled by Eusebius of Caesarea about a century later. This artificial list runs as follows in History of the Church 6.25.3-14:
The immediate context of this list is the canonical list of Old Testament books in History of the Church 6.25.1-2. Origen listed twenty-two canonical books in his commentary on the Psalms, and Eusebius simply reproduced that list for us.
But it will be noticed that Eusebius has culled the elements of this New Testament list from three different Origenic works, to wit, the commentary on Matthew, the commentary on John, and the homilies on Hebrews. We cannot, therefore, read anything into the order of books presented, since Origen was not attempting to draw up an official canon, and we will likewise have to take care with those books that do not appear on this list.
In the spirit of what Eusebius has done in collecting Origenic comments on the New Testament canon, I venture to offer yet another Origenic comment from the prologue to his Homilies on Luke:
(I should mention that a Greek fragment of this more complete Latin translation by Jerome exists; it differs in wording considerably, but both the Greek and the Latin list the same rejected books, which is what matters for our purposes here.)
This brief list is the flip side of a canonical catalogue; it names several works which, as opposed to the four gospels, are by no means to be accepted with the approved books of the catholic church. Attentive readers will recall that we found an earlier example of this kind of negative list in the last few lines of the Muratorian canon.
I mentioned that this installment of my series will be divided into two sections; in the present one, 3a, I will examine the passage that Eusebius gives us, the positive list of canonical works; in the second one, 3b, I will examine the passage from the homilies on Luke, the negative list of works to be rejected as heretical.
That the four gospels make the positive list should surprise absolutely no one, but I wish to examine some of the details that Origen provides as to their composition.
The gospel of Matthew he says was composed in Hebrew letters (γραμμασιν Εβραικοις συντεταγμενον). This tradition is at least as old as Papias, according to Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.116, citing the (unfortunately lost) Papian Exegesis of the Oracles of the Lord; Papias is probably in turn citing the elder John:
Modern scholars have debated whether Papias (or John) means that Matthew actually wrote his gospel in Hebrew or whether he means that Matthew merely wrote in a Jewish manner. But the church fathers seem generally to side with the former option. Irenaeus, for instance, writes the following in Against Heresies 3.1.1 (Greek from Eusebius, History of the Church 5.8.2):
Pantaenus, according to Eusebius in History of the Church 5.10.3, found Christians in India the predecessors of whom had received the gospel of Matthew, still written in Hebrew letters, from Bartholomew. Eusebius is writing here of Christian missionaries:
Ephraem the Syrian will later go so far as to say that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, Mark in Latin, and Luke in Greek (text fortunately available online).
What Origen says about the gospel of Mark is likewise somewhat predictable, at least as part of a patristic process of bringing the second canonical gospel closer and closer to the apostle Peter himself. He writes that Mark wrote the gospel as Peter led him (ως Πετρος υφηγησατο αυτω). Papias, on the authority of the elder John, had written that Mark wrote the things that Peter had preached as he remembered them (ως απεμνημοσευσεν), according to Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.15. Such a statement certainly does not make it sound as if Peter were standing over his shoulder while he wrote. Irenaeus even states in Against Heresies 3.1.1 that Mark transmitted his gospel after the exodus (μετα εξοδεν; post excessum) of Peter and Paul; the word exodus is usually taken as a euphemism for death (and the Latin word excessum here used to translate the original Greek was a rather frequent term for death in the Latin of the day). Irenaeus, like Papias, does not make it sound as if Peter was directly involved in the production of this gospel.
Clement of Alexandria, however, placed the penning of the gospel during the lifetime of Peter, according to Eusebius, History of the Church 6.14.5-7. Even so, he admits that Peter did not actually approve the gospel: Επιγνοντα τον Πετρον προτρεπτικως μητε κωλυσαι μητε προτρεψασθαι (when Peter came to know, he neither directly prevented nor encouraged it). By the time we reach Origen, then, Mark is writing not only during the lifetime of Peter but also, apparently, by his leading. The relationship is now more direct than before, and it will eventually get even more direct than that in patristic lore. Eusebius himself, for example, writes in History of the Church 2.15.1 that Peter approved the gospel for reading in the churches. He gives both Clement of Alexandria and Papias of Hierapolis as his sources for this datum, but his more verbatim quotations elsewhere of these two fathers bely the force of his claim. Rather, the tradition has moved yet again in a more Petrine direction.
Origen also uses 1 Peter 5.13 to tie Peter and Mark together in Rome. According to Eusebius in History of the Church 2.15.2 both Clement and Papias (assuming that these two are the subject of the verb say, φασιν, in that Eusebian passage; it may rather be that the subject is, as frequently elsewhere, a generic they) did the same thing, referring to 1 Peter 5.13 in conjunction with the composition of the gospel of Mark. Perhaps this is at least partly what Eusebius means in 3.39.17 when he writes that Papias used testimonies from the epistle of Peter (κεχρηται... μαρτυριαις... απο της Πετρου).
Origen calls the gospel of Luke the gospel praised by Paul (το υπο Παυλου επαινουμενον ευαγγελιον), surely identifying the anonymous brother in 2 Corinthians 8.18 with Luke:
Not many modern scholars, I suspect, would agree with this identification, at least not for the reason given, namely, that this brother was famous among the churches for having penned the third gospel. For one thing, the gospel of Luke is usually dated to after the death of Paul. For another, Paul never demonstrably uses the word gospel to mean a written biography of Jesus. But this identification was not uncommon amongst the later fathers. For example, chapter 15 of the longer recension of the Ignatian epistle to the Ephesians makes the link, as does Jerome in chapter 7 of On Famous Men. But Origen may well be the origin (pardon the pun) of this connection.
When Origen writes of John, the author of the fourth canonical gospel, as the one who reclined upon the breast (αναπεσοντος επι το στηθος) of Jesus, he is of course making a quite common identification between the apostle John and the beloved but nameless disciple of John 13.23. Irenaeus does the same in Against Heresies 3.1.1, as does Polycrates of Ephesus in the fragment of his writings preserved by Eusebius, History of the Church 3.31.1-3, and Jerome in his prologue to the four gospels. Other writers make the same identification using different beloved disciple passages in the gospel of John. The Monarchian prologue to John, for example, uses John 19.26-27.
Origen does not list the epistles of Paul individually in the snippets that Eusebius has assembled, but he does allude to 2 Corinthians 3.6 when he writes of Paul being made ready as a minister of the new covenant, not of the letter but rather of the spirit (ικανωθεις διακονος γενεσθαι της καινης διαθηκης, ου γραμματος αλλα πνευματος) and to Romans 15.19 when he writes of him who fulfilled the gospel from Jerusalem and in a circle until Illyricum (ο πεπληρωκως το ευαγγελιον απο Ιερουσαλημ και κυκλω μεχρι του Ιλλυρικου). Origen affirms that the set of churches to which Paul wrote epistles is not perfectly identical with the set of churches in which Paul had ministered (for example, Paul had not yet visited the Roman church when he wrote the epistle to the Romans; refer to Romans 15.22-24). He also affirms that Paul wrote few lines (εγραψεν ολιγους στιχους) to each church, not a surprising sentiment given the incredible mass of work that Origen himself published during his lifetime, very much of which has perished.
Origen, unlike the surprising Muratorian canon, openly admits that Peter left an epistle to posterity, then adds that there may be also a second, for it is doubted (εστω δε και δευτεραν, αμφιβαλλεται γαρ). I briefly reviewed the attestation for 1 Peter (in Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria) in my piece on the Muratorian canon, but Origen appears to be the first to mention 2 Peter by name, though of course there are possible allusions to be found amongst earlier writers. (There is also a clear reference in the tenth of the dubious fragments of Hippolytus found in volume V of the Ante-Nicene Fathers series.) And Origen mentions it only to question its authenticity. The wording, of course, implies that both classes of people, those who accept the epistle and those who reject it, already exist as Origen puts plume to parchment. We are left in the dark as to who exactly may belong to either class.
I wrote in my post on the Muratorian canon that its listing of the apocalypse of John was consonant with, but not probative of, its author having been a chiliast (a believer in the future earthly millennial reign of Jesus Christ). Origen is my ace in the hole against the notion that only a chiliast could have approved of the apocalypse of John, since Origen himself approved of the apocalypse, even considering it to have been written by the same John as penned the fourth canonical gospel, yet was by no means a chiliast. Rather, his interpretation of this mysterious book was allegorical and symbolic rather than literal.
He adds that one epistle of John is unquestioned, but two others, which combine to make no more than a hundred lines, are questioned. Since the two that together add up to so few lines must be what we call 2 and 3 John, the approved epistle must be 1 John. This division of potential authenticity at least makes more sense to me than the awkward arrangement that we find in the Muratorian canon, in which only two epistles are (mentioned and) approved.
Eusebius adds at this point several comments by Origen concerning the epistle to the Hebrews. Origen himself appears to side with those who doubt that Paul wrote it, but he also quite ecumenically embraces those who attribute it to Paul. His final verdict, that (only) God knows (θεος οιδεν) who wrote this epistle, is one of the most famous statements ever uttered on the matter, and possibly one of the most accurate.
Origen goes on to affirm that some think Clement of Rome wrote it, others that it was Luke, whom he pointedly identifies as the author both of the gospel and of the book of the acts of the apostles (a handy remark at this point for Eusebius, since he has cited nothing from Origen so far regarding the second volume of Luke). I cannot find any earlier patristic statement on the latter alternative, that Luke also penned Hebrews, but we have already encountered a father who probably at least suggested the former, that it was Clement. Recall that Dionysius bar Salibi wrote of the Roman Hippolytus:
Hippolytus says that, in writing to seven churches, John writes just as Paul wrote thirteen letters, but wrote them to seven churches. That to the Hebrews he does not judge to be of Paul, but perhaps of Clement.
I say that Hippolytus probably made this suggestion because, if indeed Hippolytus was known for attributing this epistle to Clement, it may be thought a little odd that Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, would write under codex 232 of his Bibliotheca:
Why does Photius group Hippolytus with those who simply denied Pauline authorship? Why does he not place Hippolytus among those who put forward Clement? The answer may be that Photius intends to distinguish between actual authors, not between translators. What Hippolytus probably suggested is, not that Clement translated the epistle from Hebrew, but rather that he actually composed it. What stuck out for Photius, then, was that this hypothesis severed the Pauline connection, whereas those who said that Clement translated the epistle could still regard Paul as the author of the postulated Hebrew original.
Implications for attestation.
How does the positive Origenic canon affect modern investigations of attestation?
First, we notice that the fourfold gospel is still with us; it is in fact here to stay. No known orthodox writer after Gaius of Rome denies any of the canonical four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Origen is quite conscious of this universal approval, noting that these four alone are not doubted under heaven.
Second, the epistles of Paul are approved as a corpus.
Third, 1 Peter is approved, but it is Origen who mentions 2 Peter for the first time in history by name, only to note that it is doubted.
Fourth, we now have a nonchiliast approving of the apocalypse of John. Furthermore, Origen cleanly identifies the author of the gospel of John with the author of the apocalypse and the author of at least one of the epistles (1 John) that go by that name, and very possibly that of the other two (2 and 3 John), as well.
Fifth, the authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews is a live issue, and is apparently being vigorously debated at this time.
Sixth, I ought to point out that the urge to define a canon is shared between east and west at this juncture. Marcion and the Muratorian canon are western representatives of the canonical process, while Origen, hailing from Alexandria, later a resident of Caesarea, is decidedly eastern (as is the man to whom we owe this Origenic canonical catena, Eusebius).
Next time I will turn to consider our second Origenic passage, the one from his homilies on Luke which lists gospels that are to be absolutely rejected.
Canonical lists (part 3b, the Origenic canon).
This post is the second part of my treatment of the Origenic canon. In 3a I discussed a catena of Origenic comments put together by Eusebius. In this post I will discuss another Origenic passage, one that lists apocryphal gospels. My sincere thanks to Phil Harland for listing this series of mine in Biblical Studies Carnival X.
It is now time to discuss the following passage from the prologue to his Homilies on Luke:
Origen is playing off the wording of Luke 1.1, which claims that many have taken in hand to arrange a narrative (πολλοι επεχειρησαν αναταξασθαι διηγησιν) of the founding events of the Christian faith. The Alexandrian father takes these words in a pejorative sense, as meaning that some took matters into their own hands when compiling a gospel while others, namely the four canonical evangelists, were inspired by the holy spirit.
In taking these Lucan words in this manner, and then actually listing some of the gospels whose authors he classifies among those who took matters in hand, Origen ends up implying that these heretical gospels preceded the gospel of Luke. I am not certain that Origen was aware of this implication of his argument. Elsewhere in Christendom one of the staple arguments against the noncanonical gospels was that their authors wrote too late. We have already seen that the Muratorian canon denies the Shepherd of Hermas canonical status for its having been written recently, in our own times (nuperrime temporibus nostris). And Clement of Alexandria, in the generation immediately preceding that of Origen, writes in Miscellanies 7.17 (English translation slightly modified from that from the Ante-Nicene Fathers series):
This entire line of argumentation, with its charming image of Marcion as already a grand old don in the underworld of heretics, depends on the canonical texts preceding the heretical texts in time.
Thus I doubt that Origen really intended to imply that, say, Basilides preceded Luke. In (over)interpreting Luke 1.1, he has in his zeal, I think, unintentionally led to heretical priority as an undesirable byproduct to which he would probably object if pressed on the matter. (Or perhaps he would argue that the evangelist Luke was writing prophetically of those who would eventually pen these gospels; but this is mere speculation on my part.)
The actual list of heretical gospels seems ad hoc, given merely for the sake of example. It does not appear to be exhaustive in any sense, nor does it appear to be tied together thematically. Origen is simply listing gospel writings off the top of his head.
With one barely possible exception, Origen is not alone in condemning any of the subcanonical texts on the list, and all but one of them may be found condemned by his contemporary Hippolytus in his Refutation of All Heresies. Indeed Origen appears to have known the work of Hippolytus. In On Famous Men 61 Jerome counts on his list of Hippolytan works a certain exhortation on the praise of our Lord and savior, in which text Hippolytus signals that he is speaking in the church in the presence of Origen (praesente Origene se loqui in ecclesia significat). Jerome adds that Ambrosius urged Origen to write scriptural commentaries in emulation of him (in huius aemulationem), that is, in emulation of Hippolytus. As we run through this Origenic list, then, we shall keep our eyes on what Hippolytus has to say about each heretical text.
The first text on the list is the gospel according to the Egyptians. Perhaps fittingly, Clement of Alexandria in Egypt is our first and principal source for this apocryphal gospel, mentioning and quoting from it several times. In Miscellanies 3.13, for instance, he writes:
This quotation bears a striking resemblance to 2 Clement 12.2:
It also recalls Thomas 37; here I give it as rendered in papyrus Oxyrhynchus 655, column 1:
Refer also to Thomas 22. No such saying, however, appears in the gospel of the Egyptians found by that title in codex III of the Nag Hammadi library. Were there two texts that went by that title? Or is there some confusion going on between various texts and traditions?
A certain David Ross has argued online that Clement is in fact giving the gospel of Thomas a new nickname when he refers to the Egyptian gospel:
Such hypotheses are always worth making and investigating, for they aim at reducing our total number of lost texts in the name of parsimony. In this case, the lost gospel of the Egyptians would not actually be lost at all; it would be none other than our extant gospel of Thomas.
I do not think that this particular piece of parsimony will work, however. Clement himself appears to attribute several other sayings to his Egyptian gospel that are not found in Thomas. He writes in Miscellanies 3.9, for instance:
Clement says that he supposes (οιμαι) that this saying is extant in the Egyptian gospel. It is worth thinking about the possibility that Clement knows this gospel only through the Cassianus that he cites in Miscellanies 3.13. But a bit further on in the same passage he adds:
Then, a little later again, he writes:
These dominical statements to Salome all look like patches from the same quilt. If they also hail from the gospel according to the Egyptians, then that gospel can hardly be the gospel of Thomas. Nor is Clement is our only witness to the Egyptian gospel. When Hippolytus refers to the gospel according to the Egyptians, he may be referring to the text from Nag Hammadi, though the fit is far from perfect. Refutation 5.7.8b-9a:
The Nag Hammadi gospel of the Egyptians does refer to the chaos a few times; but I cannot find that it refers to the changes of the soul as such, though there are lacunae in the text, and perhaps Hippolytus is reading these changes out of the various aeons discussed therein. With a bit of imagination, then, it may be possible to claim that Clement and Hippolytus are referring to two completely different texts, Clement to the gospel of Thomas, as mediated through Cassianus, and Hippolytus to our Nag Hammadi gospel.
But I think that the testimony from Epiphanius stands against such a view. The Egyptian gospel from Nag Hammadi begins by equating the great invisible spirit with the father, then proceeds to enumerate the three powers that came from it, to wit, the father, the mother, and the son. Epiphanius mentions the trinity of father, son, and spirit when he refers to what he calls the Egyptian gospel in Panarion 62:
These words, however, are said to have been spoken in the Egyptian gospel by the savior to his disciples, yet the Nag Hammadi text lacks such dialogue; indeed, it lacks any mention of disciples at all. It seems to me, then, that it is better to suppose that there once was indeed a gospel of the Egyptians that is now lost to us; it would have contained dialogue between Jesus and his disciples (so Epiphanius) and Salome (so Clement), much as we find in the gospel of Thomas, but also would have contained gnostic speculations, placed onto the lips of Jesus, similar to those found in our Nag Hammadi text (so Hippolytus and Epiphanius). For I do not think that any extant text really satisfies the references from any one of our commenting fathers, let alone from all three of them.
(But I insist on the caveat, which I shall revisit later in this post, that not every patristic quotation is necessarily to be taken at face value. Sometimes the fathers did confuse various texts, attributing statements to one from memory that were actually in another, or conflating two or more texts from free association of word or theme. In this particular case I find the combination of Clement and Epiphanius in favor of the dialogue format and the combination of Hippolytus and Epiphanius in favor of the gnostic speculations strong enough to posit a lost text. But I would not go so far as to say that the case is absolutely a lock.)
Given that the Egyptian gospel probably existed in its own right, then, I would say that Origen is probably referring to it here, even if his only information about it might have come from his predecessor Clement and his contemporary Hippolytus.
The second text on the list is the gospel according to the twelve. This exact title is original to Origen, as far as I know, but we are not left bereft of guidance as to the identification of this text. In Against the Pelagians 3.2 Jerome refers to the gospel according to the Hebrews as according to the apostles, or, as most would term it, according to Matthew (secundum apostolos, sive ut plerique autumant iuxta Matthaeum). It does not seem farfetched to suggest that a gospel known as that according to the apostles might also be known as that according to the twelve. Indeed, the Latin version of Origen at this point has iuxta duodecim apostolos instead of the shorter Greek title. Is this then, as Jerome would have it, the same text as the famed gospel according to the Hebrews? Not necessarily. The titles of the various Jewish-Christian gospels were apparently confused in the patristic period, and Jerome is chief among those fathers who wrote confusingly about these gospels.
I think that the gospel according to the twelve, or the gospel according to the apostles, is the gospel of the Ebionites. Epiphanius provides the main clue in Panarion 30.3, writing of the Ebionites:
The Ebionite gospel, then, was called both according to Matthew and according to the Hebrews. According to another passage from Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13, the Ebionite gospel boasted the following line:
In context it is indeed the apostles who are speaking here in the first person plural. This snippet makes sense of calling the Ebionite gospel the gospel according to the twelve (Origen) or according to the apostles (Jerome), and the fact that all the Jewish-Christian gospels were called the gospel according to the Hebrews would account for any confusion on the part of Jerome, who seems rather to be referring to a Nazoraean gospel, not the Ebionite. Finally, Origen regards this gospel as heretical, a judgment which makes more sense with respect to the Ebionite gospel than with respect to the gospel of the Hebrews, which was widely respected among the fathers.
For further information, I recommend Aurelio de Santos Otero, Los evangélios apócrifos, pages 47-49; I also highly recommend A. F. J. Klijn, Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition, in its entirety.
The third text on the list is the gospel of Basilides. Not a few commentators, however, are of the opinion that this title may be misleading, for what Basilides is better attested to have written is actually a commentary in twenty-four books. Clement of Alexandria, for example, quotes from the twenty-third book of this commentary in Miscellanies 4.12. Thus some scholars ascribe our Origenic statement on a gospel of Basilides to this commentary. Others feel that Basilides wrote a work apart from this commentary to which Origen assigned the genre of gospel, but that even this (presumably much shorter) work was not what we would tend to call a gospel. Aurelio de Santos Otero, for example, writes as follows on page 74 of Los evangélios apócrifos:
[El evangelio de Basílides n]o se trata de un evangelio apócrifo propiamente dicho, sino de una compilación, hecha a base de los sinópticos, in que Basílides fue intercalando sus ideas gnósticas.
I would translate: [The gospel of Basilides d]oes not apply to an apocryphal gospel properly speaking, but rather to a compilation, made on the basis of the synoptics, into which Basilides inserted his own gnostic ideas.
The extant quotations that we have from Basilides would seem to support this assessment, for none of which I am aware come off sounding like a gospel per se; rather, they each sound like an interpretation of gospel materials.
Regardless of the exact nature of this text, Basilides himself provides us with important attestation for several other primitive Christian texts, particularly the gospels of Luke and Matthew.
As for Luke, Hippolytus writes of Basilides in Refutation 7.14:
The very wording here, if we can trust Hippolytus, suggests a comment(ary) on an already extant text, for Basilides is apparently referring to that which is spoken (το ειρημενον). The quotation which follows is from Luke 1.35, in which the angel Gabriel is announcing the virgin birth to Mary. The remarks about the ogdoad and hebdomad and about the demiurge both interrupt the Hebraistic parallelism of the Lucan passage and seem intended to define or fill out what has gone before. In other words, Basilides is interpreting Luke.
As for Matthew, Epiphanius writes in Panarion 24.5.2:
We can probably not read very much into Epiphanius calling Basilides a collector, since even if Basilides and Matthew were both tapping into a third text or tradition Epiphanius would probably interpret the overlap as a Basilidean theft from Matthew. Nevertheless, again, the words attributed to Basilides here make it look very much as if Basilides is quoting from an already extant text, now defining or filling out who are the men and who are the animals. The reference is to Matthew 7.6, and if Basilides is indeed referring to this passage then he is interpreting Matthew.
Unless we are to imagine a very lively oral tradition surviving deep into century II, Basilides also attests to the synoptic gospels in general in that he offers a rather unique interpretation, according to Irenaeus in Against Heresies 1.24.4, of the incident involving Simon of Cyrene (refer to Matthew 27.31b-32 = Mark 15.20b-21 = Luke 23.26). According to Hippolytus, Refutation 7.15, Basilides also appears to cite John 2.4. In chapter 12 of his Miscellanies Clement of Alexandria also offers a quotation from Basilides which seems to be interpreting 1 Peter 4.12-19, thus providing attestation for this epistle, as well.
Thus, on the face of it, Basilides himself attests to the existence and circulation of quite a number of primitive Christian texts no later than the middle of century II in Alexandria. Had his work survived the centuries in a more complete state, I might have had occasion to insert a post in this series dealing with the Basilidean canon!
The fourth text on the list is the gospel of Thomas. This text is the easiest to identify, precisely because it (unlike every other text on our Origenic list) is extant today, both in Greek fragments and in Coptic translation from the Nag Hammadi cache. Refer to my own page on this gospel for general information and even more informative links to online resources.
But I would like to take this opportunity to touch again upon a useful caveat about ancient quotations of lost works (which I mentioned above in connection with the Egyptian gospel). Since we possess the gospel of Thomas, it might be instructive to compare patristic quotations of it to the text itself. I have in mind in particular the following quotation from Hippolytus, Refutation 5.7.20-21, writing of the Naassenes:
The saying about the kingdom of the heavens being within a man has a parallel in Thomas 3 (both Greek and Coptic), and our extant text of Thomas 4 (both Greek and Coptic) has a saying about seeking out a child of seven days (not years), but the saying about the fourteenth year does not appear in our extant gospel of Thomas. Either Hippolytus has attributed this one of his three statements to this gospel in error or the version of Thomas in his hands was not quite like ours. Admittedly, a comparison and contrast of the Greek fragments with the Coptic translation of this text will point to divergent editions of the gospel; but it also seems possible that Hippolytus was conflating the gospel of Thomas with some other text or tradition known to and used by the Naassenes. I have no firm answer to this question, but merely wish to point out that not every patristic quotation of a lost work is necessarily the end of the story of attestation.
The fifth and final text on the list is the gospel of Matthias. But there may have been more than one text circulating under the name of Matthias. Clement of Alexandria refers to a text that he calls the traditions of Matthias in Miscellanies 2.9 and 7.13. Is this gospel of Matthias the same text?
We have multiple attestation for the importance of Matthias (refer to Acts 1.23-26) among some gnostic groups. Clement of Alexandria writes in Miscellanies 3.4 of certain gnostics:
And Hippolytus writes in Refutation 7.8:
It is therefore quite conceivable that different gnostics or gnostic groups produced different gnostic texts and independently named them after Matthias. We may never know for certain unless we were to find an actual text or two capable of explaining all the patristic references.
Echoing the title used by Origen, the Gelasian decree (available online in Latin) lists a gospel of Matthias (evangelium nomine Mathiae) as an apocryphon (apocryphum), as does the list of sixty books (available online in English translation).
Implications for attestation.
We have seen several examples of indirect attestation in this endeavor. I have already pointed out that the gospel of Basilides, if Hippolytus and Epiphanius are quoting it correctly, attests to several New Testament books. But each of our other apocryphal texts from this Origenic list also bears potential witness to other primitive Christian works.
There seems to be little doubt that the Ebionite gospel depended on the gospels of Matthew and Luke, at least. And Origen is, with the possible exception of some vaguer comments by Irenaeus, our earliest father to attest to the Ebionite gospel... provided our interpretation of his title is accurate.
The gospel of the Egyptians would attest at least to the figure of Salome, familiar to us from Mark 15.40; 16.1. It is more difficult to determine whether this attestation would also extend to the gospel of Mark itself, since it is at least possible that Salome gained some fame in her own right apart from Mark (though her absence from the other canonical gospels may stand against that option).
Whether the gospel of Thomas attests the gospels is, of course, hotly debated. Some scholars suppose that it is completely independent of any of the canonical four, while others prefer to think that it presumes all four together; and there are positions staked out all along the spectrum between these two poles (Stevan Davies even suggests that Mark depended upon Thomas, and not vice versa).
Finally, the gospel or traditions of Matthias may attest to the Lucan volumes, since it is in Acts 1.23-26 that Matthias appears as a replacement for Judas, and Clement of Alexandria even mentions in Miscellanies 4.6 the opinion of some in his day that the Zaccheus who appears in Luke 19.1-10 was actually Matthias. But it is also possible (as with Salome) that Matthias may have gained some fame in his own right apart from Acts 1.23-26, and Clement does not explicitly attribute the equation of Zaccheus and Matthias to any text.
It ought to be noticed that these indirect attestations are much more tenuous than the direct attestations in which an author quotes from an extant book by name.
In my next installment I will discuss the Eusebian canon.
Canonical lists (part 4a, the Eusebian canon).
This post is part 4a of my series on ancient canonical lists, and was longer in the making than I had anticipated. Job and family matters have unfortunately been pressing on my blogging time.
The canon of scripture is one of the most pervasive themes in the great history of the church that Eusebius of Caesarea assembled. It closely parallels another of his dearest themes, that of the apostolic succession. As Eusebius runs through the various churchmen whom he regards as standing in the tradition of the apostles, he frequently collects passages and snippets from those churchmen that give some idea of the personal canon of each. Indeed, we have already seen such a catalogue compiled by Eusebius on behalf of the great Alexandrian father Origen.
Eusebius neatly and helpfully summarizes his own personal canon in History of the Church 3.25.1-7. In this list he divides the books into four categories. This present post will deal mainly with the first two of those categories; the next post, part 4b, will deal mainly with the last two.
It will be most convenient to break this catalogue down into its four parts and simply list the books in each.
Undisputed books (ομολογουμενοι):
Disputed books (αντιλεγομενοι):
Epistle of James.
Illegitimate books (νοθοι):
Acts of Paul.
Gospel of Peter.
What a superbly textured glimpse into the state of canonical affairs early in century IV! This unique fourfold breakdown along a spectrum from more to less authoritative and accepted gives us a very clear picture of how the church at large treated these various texts. That Eusebius had his finger on the pulse of his time is clear. It is customary to say that Athanasius (whose list I will present as part of a future installment) was the first to compile a list that matches our own modern New Testament canon, but I think that Eusebius deserves at least an asterisk here; it turns out that the sum total of his first two categories (undisputed and disputed) is also cleanly identical to our own modern canon.*
* This statement is true only if Eusebius counted the epistle to the Hebrews among the Pauline epistles. But that this was indeed the case seems quite clear from the facts that (A) this epistle does not appear elsewhere on the list, (B) in History of the Church 3.3.4 Eusebius writes in his own words of the fourteen (not thirteen) Pauline epistles, and (C) in History of the Church 3.38.1-5 he seems to side with those fathers who opined that Paul wrote the epistle in Hebrew and Clement of Rome translated it into Greek.
The one little wrinkle, of course, is the famous double placement of the apocalypse of John; it makes the list twice, once among the undisputed books and again among the illegitimate books. Why would Eusebius have done this?
There can never be an absolute answer to this question, since of course nothing up front was cruelly forcing Eusebius into this course of action. In retrospect, however, it ought hypothetically to be possible to explain why he decided to list the apocalypse of John twice.
I note that Eusebius seems to have reserved the list
of disputed books for those texts for which the earliest attestation
was fairly late, usually late century II. The epistle of Jude is
not cited by name earlier than either the Muratorian canon
or Clement of Alexandria; that of James is not named until Origen.
The second epistle of Peter, likewise, is not named until Origen,
and then only to be recognized as a disputed work. As for the second
and third epistles of John, the Muratorian canon mentions two
Johannine epistles only (a mystery, to be sure), and Irenaeus is
just as mysterious; in Against
Heresies 3.16.5 he paraphrases 1 John 2.18-22 as from what
he calls the epistle of John, but then in 3.16.8 he quotes 2 John
* Given that the Muratorian canon mentions only two Johannine epistles and Irenaeus refers to 1 and 2 John as if they were from the same epistle, it is worth thinking about the possibility that 1 and 2 John were combined in some circles and considered to be a single Johannine epistle while 3 John was considered a second Johannine epistle. This is not my preferred reconstruction, but the merging of these peculiar data from Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment does carry a certain appeal.
The apocalypse of John would seem out of place in this group of disputed books, for, as we shall see, it enjoys rather early attestation. It would thus fit in more properly with the books in the first category, the undisputed books, and indeed that is where Eusebius initially places it. The books in this esteemed category, while perhaps a mixed bag with respect to attestation if listed one by one, are more evenly attested in earliest church history when considered within the groups that Eusebius has given us.
For example, while it is true that, say, the gospel of Luke is not actually named very early (it is first named by Irenaeus), this text is nevertheless part of the fourfold gospel, of which Matthew and Mark are attested by name as early as Papias. Furthermore, Eusebius knew that Marcion had edited a version of Luke for his own purposes, and Eusebius would almost certainly have interpreted a reference such as the one found in Justin Martyr, Dialogue 103.8, as a direct quotation of Luke (Justin writes that according to the [apostolic] memoirs Jesus sweat great drops of blood, an incident found only in the most commonly received text of Luke 22.42-44). Given that Eusebius, like the rest of the fathers and nearly every modern commentator, knew that the same person who penned the third canonical gospel also composed the Acts of the Apostles, this text too would be an easy candidate for the undisputed category, despite its comparably late attestation by name (Irenaeus, I believe, is the first to quote from it by name; refer, for instance, to Against Heresies 3.13.3; 3.14.1). Not to mention that Papias refers to Justus called Barsabbas, whom Eusebius explicitly links to Acts 1.23 in History of the Church 3.39.9-10.
Likewise, not all of the epistles of Paul are attested very early, but, once we grant that some of them are attested as early as Ignatius (refer to Ephesians 12.2; Romans 4.3) and Clement of Rome (refer to 1 Clement 47.1), we have to admit that to consider all fourteen as genuinely Pauline, as Eusebius did, entails placing them all in the same category.
The gospel of John is not necessarily attested very early by name, but Eusebius would surely have interpreted a reference such as the one found in Justin Martyr, Apology 1.61.4-5, as a direct quotation of John (Justin affirms that Christ said that, unless one is born again, one will not enter the kingdom of heaven, a saying found only in John 3.3). As for 1 Peter and 1 John, Eusebius writes in History of the Church 3.39.17 that Papias used testimonies from these two epistles, giving the pair of them an extremely early attestation.
In short, each book in this first group is attested by the middle of century II if we consider each book with the broader group, if any, to which it belongs and if we look at things from the Eusebian point of view. I doubt that Eusebius exactly intended to draw a line of attestation somewhere after Justin Martyr and before Irenaeus, but that he was indeed concerned with early attestation is clear, for example, from History of the Church 3.3.5-7, in which he admits that some of the most ancient writers used (των παλαιτατων... συγγραφεων κεχρημενους τιμας) the Shepherd of Hermas.
The apocalypse of John is attested just as early as most of the texts in this first category. Justin Martyr writes in Dialogue with Trypho 81.4:
And Eusebius himself intimates in History of the Church 3.39.5-6 that Papias was intimately acquainted with the John who wrote the apocalypse and not with the John who wrote the gospel. Given the close association of both Papias and the apocalypse of John with chiliasm, it seems reasonable to suppose that Eusebius thought Papias knew the apocalypse. It also appears quite likely that Papias did cite the book explicitly, and Eusebius simply did not mention it in his works, since Andrew of Caesarea writes in the preface to his work On the Apocalypse:
After both Papias and Justin, of course, Irenaeus and a whole line of chiliasts (Hippolytus, Methodius, Victorinus, and others) would embrace this mysterious book wholeheartedly. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, we have noted that even the illustrious Origen, according to History of the Church 6.25.8, accepted the apocalypse of John. It is easy to see why Eusebius, an Origenist at heart, would have placed this book in his first category.
Eusebius, however, also knew that mighty patristic voices had contended against the book. He himself mentions Gaius of Rome in History of the Church 3.28.1-2:
In History of the Church 7.25.1-27 he quotes the antichiliast Dionysius of Alexandria at length to the effect that the John who wrote the apocalypse was not the apostle John who wrote the gospel. In a study that in many ways anticipates modern literary criticism, Dionysius mounted a formidable argument for two authors named John based on differences in vocabulary and style, differences in authorial self-expression, the wide availability of the name John, the barbarisms in the apocalypse not shared by the gospel, and the tradition of two distinct tombs in Ephesus bearing the name of John. The argument is well worth reading in its entirety, and I have recently made it available on my page on the apocalypse.
So Eusebius had a problem. On the one hand, the apocalypse enjoyed remarkably early attestation, like the books in his first category (and unlike the books in his second), but on the other hand quite a few ecclesiastical writers rejected it completely, like the books in his third category. His solution was to enlist the book in both relevant categories, each time with the qualifying phrase if it appears right (ει[γε] φανειη). Eusebius, always ecumenical in his approach, thus attempted to appease both sides of the raging debate.
In studying this unusual double entry of the apocalypse of John we have now had occasion to touch upon the attestation for all the books in the first two categories. There remain the last two categories, the illegitimate and the spurious, which I will handle in my next installment.
Canonical lists (part 4b, the Eusebian canon).
This post is part 4b of my series on ancient canonical lists.
Eusebius writes in History of the Church 3.25.1-7:
I again break this catalogue down into its four parts and list the books in each.
Undisputed books (ομολογουμενοι):
Disputed books (αντιλεγομενοι):
Epistle of James.
Illegitimate books (νοθοι):
Acts of Paul.
Gospel of Peter.
In post 4a of this series I dealt with the first two categories, the undisputed and disputed books. In this present post I will deal with the last two categories, the illegitimate books and another category which Eusebius does not actually name (unless we count the descriptors improper and irreligious as a category name), but which I am calling spurious just for convenience.
On the surface of things, it might seem like going overboard to list a category beyond illegitimate, and certainly any work placed in this last category should qualify as an illegitimate text in some way, but Eusebius avoids any actual overlap between these last two categories by relegating orthodox texts to the former and unorthodox texts to the latter. Both of these categories will give us a chance to look at some texts that we have not yet discussed.
The Acts of Paul are, to the best of my knowledge, first attested by Tertullian, who writes in On Baptism 17.5a:
Tertullian thus affords us a precious glimpse into part of the process of forming the canon of scripture. Here a text, apparently considered orthodox, is explicitly rejected on the grounds that it was composed falsely. This basis requires comment, since the extant text known as the Acts of Paul is not pseudonymous; it makes no authorial claim to be falsified. The falsity of the text, then, must rest with its contents; it claims to be the acts of Paul, but Paul performed no such acts. This is indeed the reason for which Tertullian takes the text to task; he disputes that the role of women in the days of Paul is accurately related in this document. Tertullian, then, rejected this text because it was known to be fictional.
Jerome writes amusingly of the Acts of Paul in On Famous Men 3, the chapter about Luke:
You can learn more than you ever wanted to know about this
baptized lion in chapter 4 of The
Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla: Studies on the Apocryphal Acts
of the Apostles 2, by Tamás Adamik,
available online in
The next illegitimate work on the list is the Shepherd of Hermas. We have already had the opportunity to look at this text in conjunction with our discussion of the Muratorian canon. But I wish to add that this book was, next to (some of) the books of the New Testament, probably the most popular Christian work in antiquity before the time of Eusebius. It is attested generously amongst the church fathers and also amongst the Oxyrhynchus papyri.
Irenaeus quotes from Mandate 1.1 of the Shepherd as scripture in Against Heresies 4.20.2. It is indeed in this sense alone, I think, that Eusebius calls the book illegitimate; I think he is saying that it is not really scripture, not that it is not really written by Hermas at an early date. Clement of Alexandria quotes from the book frequently, and Tertullian famously calls it the Shepherd of the adulterers (pastore moechorum) because of its laxness with regard to repentance.
Oxyrhynchus papyri 5, 404, 1172, 1599, 1823, 1873, 3526, and 3527 are fragments of the Shepherd, as are Berlin papyri 5104, 5513, 6789, and 13272. Attestation is just not much of a problem for this book by Hermas; it outstrips the attestation for a number of New Testament texts.
The next three texts on this list (the apocalypse of Peter, the epistle of Barnabas, and the teaching of the twelve) share a common feature: In the early period all three are attested primarily by Clement of Alexandria.
Eusebius writes as follows of Clement in History of the Church 6.14.1:
Recall that the Muratorian canon accepts two apocalypses, namely those of John and of Peter. But it appears from what Eusebius says about Clement that the illustrious Alexandrian father actually wrote some sort of brief commentary on this apocalypse, right along with the catholic epistles and the epistle of Barnabas. Of all the ancient Christian texts lost to us, surely there are few whose loss is more keenly felt than that of the Outlines, or Hypotyposeis, of Clement. Only the discovery of the five lost books of Papias would be of possibly more value.
Proof that Clement appreciated the epistle of Barnabas is abundant in another of his major works, the Miscellanies, or Stromata. Clement quotes explicitly from Barnabas at least seven times in books 2 and 5. One of these quotations comes at 2.6:
For the precedent in calling Barnabas an apostle, see Acts 14.4, 14. In Miscellanies 2.20 Clement calls Barnabas an apostolic man, one of the seventy (see Luke 10.1, 17), and a fellow worker with Paul.
I mentioned that Tertullian famously calls the Shepherd of Hermas the Shepherd of the adulterers; in context, he does so comparing it (unfavorably) with a text he calls the epistle of Barnabas. However, the epistle he has in mind is apparently the epistle to the Hebrews. His words, in On Modesty 20.2, are:
I doubt it can be clearly decided whether Barnabas really wrote the epistle to the Hebrews but was mistakenly given the epistle of Barnabas in church tradition or whether Tertullian has confused the two epistles, naming the epistle to the Hebrews after the epistle of Barnabas. That both epistles draw heavily on Old Testament typology probably would have contributed to any confusion between them.
We move on to what are called the teachings of the apostles (των αποστολων αι λεγομεναι διδαχαι). Eusebius uses the plural teachings here, but there is little doubt that he means the teaching of the Lord through the twelve apostles to the gentiles or nations (διδαχη κυριου δια των δωδεκα αποστολων τοις εθνεσιν), commonly called the Didache.
This text was known only through patristic references like this one until 1873, when the metropolitan Bryennios discovered a Greek manuscript containing it, along with the epistle of Barnabas, the long form of the Ignatian letters, and both epistles of Clement. It is now apparent that the Didache was absorbed almost whole into the Apostolic Constitutions (century IV) and used in the Didascalia (century II or III).
Clement of Alexandria again provides our earliest solid attestation. He writes in Salvation of the Rich Man 29:
Didache 9.2 refers to the holy vine of David (της αγιας αμπελου Δαυιδ) in conjunction with the eucharistic cup. But this overlap between Clement and the Didache could be chalked up to a common tradition. Miscellanies 7.12 also refers to concepts that overlap Didache 8.1 (fasting on Wednesday and Friday) and 14.1 (gathering on the day of the Lord), but again the explanation could be a common tradition.
Far more conclusive is what Clement has to say in Miscellanies 1.20:
Clement says that the saying about falsehood and thievery derives from scripture, and Didache 3.5 is the only candidate of which I am aware.
Oxyrhynchus papyrus 1782, dated to century IV, contains Didache 1.3c-1.4a; 2.7b-3.2a.
The next book on the list of illegitimate works is the apocalypse of John, which we have already examined in some detail in part 4a, since Eusebius included it twice on his list.
This brings us to the ever interesting gospel according to the Hebrews, the last illegitimate work on the list. Clement of Alexandria yet again provides us with our earliest explicit attestation for this lost Jewish-Christian gospel. He writes in Miscellanies 2.9:
He repeats the substance of this line in Miscellanies 5.14:
This saying finds a parallel in the apocryphal oracle that Eusebius attributes to the cult of Simon Magus. Eusebius writes in History of the Church 2.13.7 of the followers of Simon:
Similar sayings may also be found in Thomas 2 and amongst the fragments of the lost traditions of Matthias.
But overall the attestation for the gospel of the Hebrews is notoriously complex; refer to my page on the Jewish-Christian gospels for more information.
The next sublist that Eusebius offers is the catalogue of works of which none of the ecclesiastical men in the [apostolic] succession has in any way seen fit to make mention in his writing (ων ουδεν ουδαμως εν συγγραμματι των κατα διαδοχας εκκλησιαστικων τις ανηρ εις μνημην αγαγειν ηξιωσεν). These are not works that were rejected from the canon; they were never close enough to the canon to be rejected. Eusebius gives a list of three apocryphal gospels and two apocryphal acts.
The first gospel is that of Peter. Eusebius himself provides us with the text of our earliest patristic attestation to this gospel in History of the Church 6.12.2-6; 6.13.1a. The text is that of Serapion, bishop of Antioch late in century II, and its title is, appropriately enough, About the Gospel Called According to Peter. This book, like so many others from antiquity, has been lost; but Eusebius preserves a fragment in which Serapion admits to having originally allowed the gospel to be read. Then he learned that the community, at Rhossus, that had been reading this gospel was inclining toward docetism; immediately he forbade its further use. Even so, Serapion goes on to affirm that most of the things in the gospel were correct, but then he announces that he will list the incorrect things. And then Eusebius breaks off the quotation.
Origen is our next patristic source. He writes in On Matthew 10.17:
Τους δε αδελφους Ιησου φασι τινες ειναι, εκ παραδοσεως ορμωμενοι του επιγεγραμμενου κατα Πετρον ευαγγελιου η της βιβλου Ιακωβου, υιους Ιωσηφ εκ προτερας γυναικος συνωκηκυιας αυτω προ της Μαριας.
We have to take Origen at his word here, since the text as we have it is fragmented and covers only the passion of Jesus, with nothing about the dominical family. Our main textual source is the Akhmîm fragment from the codex known as Panopolitanus, or Cairensis 10759, discovered in 1892. However, a much briefer fragment is also preserved in papyrus Oxyrhynchus 2949, dated to century II or III. Further information may be found on my gospel of Peter page.
Eusebius next lists the gospel of Thomas. Like the gospel of Peter, this text was known only from patristic quotations for a very long time. Then, in 1945, the Nag Hammadi cache was discovered, and the gospel of Thomas was one of the texts preserved, in Coptic, in codex II. It was then discovered that three Greek fragments of the gospel had been extant since the twenties in the form of papyri Oxyrhynchus 1, 654, and 655. We have already found the opportunity to discuss the gospel of Thomas and its earliest patristic attestation in Hippolytus in post 3b on the Origenic canon.
The third gospel on the list is that of Matthias, and again we have already discussed its attestation briefly in post 3b.
The two acts on the list are those of Andrew and of John. Eusebius himself in this catalogue provides our earliest explicit attestation to both of these texts, though it is possible that Origen knew at least the acts of John, this possibility arising from the Origenic tradition that Eusebius quotes in History of the Church 3.1.1 to the effect that John was alloted Asia, where he lived for some time and died; but it seems just as likely to me that this was standard ecclesiastical tradition as that Origen got it straight from the acts of John.
It is at this stage in church history that my own knowledge of affairs begins to sharply decline. I am not singularly qualified to comment very much about the state of the canon after century IV or V. But this series is not over. I still have a handful of canonical lists both in the original Greek or Latin and in my own English translation that I intend to post on this weblog. The main difference between this second leg of the series and the first leg, which this post concludes, is that now each post will consist mainly of the text and translation, with fewer comments on my part (for better or for worse).
In my next entry, then, I will post the Cheltenham canonical list discovered by the great Theodor Mommsen.
Canonical lists (part 5, the Cheltenham canon).
This post is part 5 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
Theodor Mommsen discovered the Cheltenham canon, which is usually dated to century IV, in a manuscript of century X in a private library in Cheltenham, England. He published it in 1886. The New Testament part of the list runs as follows:
Let me lay out the canon in list format:
As I noted in my last post, I will keep my comments very brief.
First, this is our first encounter in this series with the concept of stichometry, the measurement of ancient texts by στιχοι (stichoi). In this case, of course, the measurement is by versus, which Latin term I have rather mechanically translated as verses. Certainly our modern versification system is not in view here.
I think what is being counted is either lines on a manuscript or sense units (phrases or sentences divided according to sense). But of course the number of lines would vary from scribe to scribe and from codex to codex (or scroll to scroll). And the number of sense units would surely be a rather subjective matter.
Second, whichever system is being employed, the stichometry of this list might well explain its most mysterious feature. The last two items call for an explanation. What does it mean to count three epistles of John, but only one, and two epistles of Peter, but only one?
I agree with what Glenn Davis writes on his Cheltenham canon page. We have already seen that Origen knew of three Johannine epistles, but completely approved only the first, and also knew of two Petrine epistles, but likewise completely approved only the first. It appears that the compiler of the Cheltenham list agreed with Origen. But he apparently had a problem. He had inherited his stichometric counts from someone who accepted all the Johannine and Petrine epistles. He knew that to mention only one epistle from each of these apostles would sour the count, so he compromised: The three epistles of John together have 350 lines, but I accept only one of them; the two epistles of Peter together have 300 lines, but I again accept only one of them. This appears to me to be the best explanation of the last two lines of the canon.
The compiler of this list was quite conservative in other ways, too. He apparently rejected the epistles of James and Jude, and he counts only 13 Pauline epistles, undoubtedly leaving out that to the Hebrews.
In my next installment I will offer the (rather less conservative) canonical list found in the Apostolic Constitutions.
Canonical lists (part 6, the Apostolic Constitutions canon).
This post is part 6 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
The pseudo-Clementine Apostolic Constitutions are a fascinating Christian document from century IV. Their genre is that of church order, similar in style to the Didache, the Didascalia, or the so-called Apostolic Church Ordinance, all of which are discussed in the Catholic Encyclopedia entry hosted by New Advent.
Book 8 contains the 85 Apostolic Canons in its last chapter, and the last of these canons contains a list of the canonical books of both Testaments of the Bible.
Apostolic Constitutions 8.47.85b:
Doubtless it will help to see these works in list format:
Several oddities stand out in this list.
First, both epistles of Clement make the list. Counting the first epistle as canonical is rare; counting the second is practically unique, at least to date. Eusebius does imply in History of the Church 3.38.4 that some churchmen in his day regarded it as genuine:
Second, the author of our list counts his own eight-volume work amongst the canonical books! I am not aware of any other list that does this, though the warning in Revelation 22.18-19 perhaps bears a somewhat similar character. Of course, the author is passing himself off as Clement of Rome, so he is not actually claiming that a contemporary text (contemporary to someone living in century IV) is canonical in so many words; he is claiming that the historical Clement wrote mysteries and did not publicize them. I suspect that this is a way of explaining why nobody would have heard of these eight volumes during the centuries intervening between I and IV.
Third, the position of the book of Acts is interesting. It is listed at the very end, even after the 8 books of Clement.
It also bears mentioning that this list includes the fullest complement of catholic epistles that we have seen. We have noted that Eusebius of Caesarea named all seven of the catholic epistles that are now deemed canonical (1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude, James), but placed all but 1 Peter and 1 John into his disputed category. Our present list makes no such distinction; all are equally canonical, it would appear.
The epistle to the Hebrews is apparently counted amongst the Pauline epistles, since the number is given as 14. That the apocalypse of John, then, should be excluded from this otherwise very inclusive list surprises me a bit, but it ought to be remembered that the apocalypse was one of the very last books to enjoy catholic status as a canonical book.
In my next post of this series I will consider the canon of the Jerusalem father Cyril.
Canonical lists (part 7, the canon of Cyril).
This post is part 7 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
Cyril was bishop of Jerusalem and at the center of several Christian controversies in the middle of century IV (refer to his Catholic Encyclopedia entry for a brief overview). But our interest is in the canonical list that he drew up in 4.36 of his Catecheses, or Catechetical Lectures (text from Daniel J. Theron, Evidence of Tradition, page 116; English translation my own):
As usual, I offer this canonical catalogue in a more contemporary list format:
This list of 26 books is exceptional in only a couple of ways.
First, of course, it omits the apocalypse of John; however, the term exceptional is probably not the most appropriate one to use of this eventuality, since (as we have seen time and time again) the apocalypse was ever one of the most controversial of texts to dance around the ragged edges of the canon.
Second, the Pauline epistles are here listed (climactically) after the seven catholic epistles. Note that the former are numbered as fourteen, thus counting the epistles to the Hebrews as Pauline, while the latter are numbered as seven, thus apparently counting the same epistles to which we are by now accustomed: James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; Jude.
A brief negative digression of great interest for the study of church heresiology intrudes into this otherwise positive list; I refer, naturally, to the mention of the gospel of Thomas in connection with the Manichaeans. Cyril had encountered the Manichaeans, and he mentions them often (and not favorably) in his writings.
The Manichaeans were founded by Mani, a Persian, late in century
III. Until early in century XX, all that we knew of the Manichaeans
came from secondary sources, to wit, Christian patristic texts
usually meant to attack Manichaeism. Primary sources, that is,
actual Manichaean texts, were finally discovered in Turfan, in the
Xinjiang province of China. A translation of at least some of these
texts is available online in
Cyril is one of our earliest patristic sources for Manichaeism. A bit after his canonical list, in Catechetical Lectures 6.21, Cyril affirms that Mani had three disciples and that their names were Thomas, Baddas, and Hermas. This tradition is one of many among the church fathers pertaining to the disciples of Mani. In the Acta Archelai the three are Thomas, Addas, and Hermas, and each is given his own mission field. Sometimes a certain Mari replaces Hermas on the list, and other variants abound as well. For those with access to JSTOR, I recommend the summary of the evidence, including a very helpful tabulation of the three disciples and the various patristic sources, in Mani's Disciple Thomas and the Psalms of Thomas, Vigiliae Christianae, volume 34, number 1 (March 1980), pages 47-55, by F. Forrester Church and Gedaliahu G. Stroumsa.
The purpose of the article is to dispute the ascription, made by C. R. C. Allberry, of the Psalms of Thomas to the disciple of Mani by that name; Church and Stroumsa prefer to identify the Thomas in the title with Judas Thomas, the disciple of Jesus, along the same lines as the gospel of Thomas, the acts of Thomas, and the other Thomasine literature.
One problem with ascribing these psalms, even pseudonymously, to a disciple of Mani is that Thomas, while appearing in so many Christian texts written to attack Manichaeism, never appears, according to Church and Strousma, in the actual Manichaean literature that we now have. Church and Strousma do not doubt that there existed a disciple of Mani named Thomas (though others have indeed raised such doubts), but it is possible that Christians have attributed to him more than his fair share out of confusion.
Church and Strousma add that Addas (or, as Cyril would have it, Baddas) seems secure as an historical follower of Mani, though even here there seems to have been much confusion between this Manichaean disciple and the legendary founder of Syrian Christianity, Addai. They also add, with regard to the third disciple, Hermas:
Of Hermas, there is nothing. It is possible that the name was fashioned as suitable to Egypt.
However, one of the Manichaean texts, listed as M 788r2-8 in the
The holy spirit also took as his mounts Simon..., James, Cephas, Mariam, Martha, Paul, Peter, Thecla, BHYR, ...and Hermas the shepherd, and they became apostles in the various lands and kept the religion in a state of purity.
This Hermas must be the author of the Shepherd.* It seems, then, that all three of the principal disciples of Mani may have suffered from confusion with much earlier Christian figures, namely Judas Thomas, Addai (Thaddeus), and the Hermas who penned the Shepherd. This confusion would be all the more natural given that the Christian discussions of the first Manichaean disciples seem to be noticing, and sometimes perhaps inventing, parallels with the first Christian disciples. Indeed, Mani is often given an extended group of 12 disciples; whether he himself chose 12 disciples or the 12 are merely a Christian patristic device, the connection with the 12 apostles is obvious.
* In my post on the Muratorian canon I noted that pseudo-Tertullian had incorrectly confused Hermas, the author, with the shepherd in the text, who is actually an angel who appears to Hermas. This Manichaean text would seem to be another confusion of the two.
Which brings us back to Cyril and the gospel of Thomas. Church and Strousma state in note 30 of their article:
Cyril of Jerusalem seems to be the first to credit Mani's disciple [Thomas] with writing the Gospel of Thomas....
We have seen that the potential for confusion* certainly exists; has Cyril, then, confused Judas Thomas with the Manichaean Thomas? On the one hand, Cyril is specifically writing of pseudepigraphical texts in 4.36 (ψευδεπιγραφα), and he states that the gospel of Thomas has been anointed with the sweetness of its evangelical title (ευωδια της ευαγγελικης επωνυμιας επικεχρωσμενον). We have found Eusebius making the same accusation, to wit, that the heretics were passing off certain texts as if (ως) they were of Peter or of Thomas or of Matthias. On the other hand, however, Cyril certainly states in 6.31 that the gospel of Thomas was written by one of the disciples of Manes (Mani). Perhaps what he means to say overall is that the Manichaean Thomas, having written the gospel, took advantage of his identity of name with the earlier Thomas, disciple of Jesus. In such a case the name Thomas, as part of the title of this gospel, would be both true and false as an attribution.
* That the gospel of Thomas is clearly attributed internally to Judas Thomas, both in the Coptic and in papyrus Oxyrhynchus 654 (in which the name Judas has to be reconstructed on the basis of the Coptic, but Thomas, because of the και at the beginning of line 3, is clearly a nickname for the missing praenomen), is no objection to later writers having confused the two Thomases; sometimes the fathers had not even read the texts they discussed, and in this particular case Cyril seems to be trying to have his cake (the gospel of Thomas is attributed falsely to the apostle by that name) and eat it too (the gospel was written by another Thomas, disciple of Mani).
Regardless of the exact nuance with which we ought to read Cyril on this matter, it is clear that he is mistaken in his attribution of the gospel of Thomas to the Manichaeans, unless he is writing of another and completely unattested gospel by that name. For the gospel of Thomas, as we have seen in our discussion of the Origenic canon, is attested by Hippolytus and by Clement of Alexandria long before the advent of Manichaeism. There seems to be little reason to doubt, however, that the Manichaeans appreciated the gospel of Thomas in a way that Cyril of Jerusalem clearly did not.
In my next installment of this series I will look at the canon of Athanasius.
Canonical lists (part 8, the canon of Athanasius).
This post is part 8 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
Athanasius was the highly influential bishop of Alexandria and a key figure in the christological debates of century IV. His interest to us here lies in his thirty-ninth festal letter, dated to year 367, in which he gives a list of canonical books whose New Testament portion completely matches in number and contents (but not in sequence) the 27 books printed in most modern Bibles. (I noted, however, in part 4 of this series that Eusebius of Caesarea deserves at least an asterisk in this regard.)
An English translation of the complete letter is available from Dr. Claude Mariottini (most of the other instances of this letter on the web consist only of excerpts). I here give the portions of this festal epistle that are most relevant to the New Testament canon:
It seems to me that Athanasius might have confused the canonical order of the Pauline epistles with the order in which Paul wrote them, for he says that they are written in order thus (τη ταξει γραφομεναι ουτως). But the order of these epistles in our modern Bibles appears to be based primarily upon the length of each letter, secondarily upon the distinction between letters to churches and letters to individuals, and in a tertiary sense possibly also upon the perceived need to keep letters to the same church or individual side by side. The letter lengths, by word counts according to the twenty-seventh edition of Nestle-Aland, are as follows (thanks are due to Julian Jensen for these statistics):
The only anomalies, on the above principles, are the epistle to the Ephesians (which both Athanasius and most modern Bibles list after that to the Galatians, a situation for which I have no ready explanation) and that to the Hebrews. The explanation for the position of Hebrews is probably historical, since this epistle was not at all universally accepted as Pauline; its current position in the canon situates it ambiguously, and therefore perfectly, between the Pauline and the catholic epistles; Athanasius, on the other hand, has it listed between the ecclesiastical and the personal letters, which perhaps indicates an ambiguity of a different kind, since it is not addressed directly to any given church.
I would like to point out a possible connection between this festal letter and the cache of texts discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. I think it was James M. Robinson who first suggested that these texts, which often bear a distinctly gnostic flavor, may have come from the nearby monastery of Pachomius, and had been buried as a protection against those who would destroy them because of what Athanasius had written in his festal letter about the use of unauthorized church texts.
I regard this as a plausible conjecture, but do not see how it might rise to anything more than a plausible conjecture at this time. I find nothing in the festal letter itself about destroying heretical texts, though of course there is nothing to say that diligent churchmen might not take their own action against certain texts based on the disapproval expressed in the letter. On the other hand, we do know that monks did not always limit themselves to officially sanctioned texts. The extant Greek portion of the gospel of Peter was discovered in the tomb of a Christian monk, and Cyril of Jerusalem records an exchange between himself and a monk who appears to accept (a version of) the gospel according to the Hebrews, which Cyril obviously regards as heretical.
In my next installment I will consider the canon of Epiphanius.
Canonical lists (part 9, the canon of Epiphanius).
This post is part 9 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, writes in his magnum opus, the Panarion, at 76.22:
Epiphanius runs his Old Testament and New Testament lists together, and of course the Old Testament list is not what concerns us in this series, but I should mention that Epiphanius is certainly not alone in numbering the books of the Hebrew Bible as 22; already in Against Apion 1.8 (38) the Jewish historian Josephus gives the same number.
Let me also add that Epiphanius elsewhere gives a more exact list of the Hebrew books. I can do little better than to refer the reader to Kevin Edgecomb, who has an interesting blog entry on the list of Old Testament books given elsewhere both by Epiphanius and in codex Hierosolymitanus (otherwise famous for containing the Didache).
Now, then, let me arrange the New Testament books in basic list format as usual:
Very little stands out as exceptional except perhaps for the mention of the two apocryphal wisdom books at the end. I noted in a previous post in this series that the Muratorian canon lists the wisdom of Solomon, seemingly as a New Testament book. At first glance, Epiphanius perhaps appears to do the same thing, since the New Testament separates the two wisdom books from the Old Testament notice where we might expect them. However, our treatment of these two books ought to be tempered by how Epiphanius treats them in other parts of his work. He has already written, for example, the following in Panarion 8.6:
Here Epiphanius appears to classify the wisdom of (the son of) Sirach and the wisdom of Solomon with the other apocryphal books, implying that these two, while special or representative enough to be singled out, are also apocryphal books. Returning to our list, then, we can see that Epiphanius has named these two books at the end of what already appears to be a pretty complete list, ending with the apocalypse of John (not always a guaranteed entry to any canonical list, as we have seen). On the other hand, we should not be too quick to dismiss these works from the Epiphanian canonical list, since he still seems by his wording to number them among the divine scriptures (γραφαις θειαις), and the very fact that he seems compelled to mention them at nearly every canonical opportunity points, in my judgment, to his esteem for these books, even if he knows they belong, at best, to the periphery of the canon.
While the rest of this Epiphanian list poses few if any problems regarding the actual canon of scripture, it is not free of other difficulties. The section of text stretching from the fourteen epistles of Paul to the catholic epistles (και εν τεσσαρσικαιδεκα επιστολαις του αγιου αποστολου Παυλου, και εν ταις προ τουτων και συν ταις εν τοις αυτων χρονοις πραξεσι των αποστολων καθολικαις επιστολαις Ιακωβου και Πετρου και Ιωαννου και Ιουδα) is not at all easy to translate. Daniel Theron, on pages 119-121 of Evidence of Tradition, renders it as follows:
...and in the fourteen Epistles of the holy Apostle Paul, and in the Catholic Epistles of James and Peter and John and Jude, before these [Epistles of Paul] and with the Acts of the Apostles, which is simultaneously with [the Epistles of Paul]....
Theron also gives the Latin translation of Migne, Patrologia Graeca 42, columns 559 and 562, at this point; I have consulted Migne and have transcribed a tiny bit more than Theron did:
...et S. Pauli XIV Epistolis, necnon et Apostolorum Actis, quae vel superiora illis tempora, vel posteriora continent; catholicis item Epistolis, Jacobi, Petri, Joannis et Judae....
I would translate: ...and the fourteen epistles of saint Paul, and indeed also the Acts of the Apostles, which contain the times either anterior or posterior to them; likewise the catholic epistles of James, of Peter, of John, and of Jude....
Obviously the sense is a trifle obscure. But I would hazard a guess that Epiphanius is reconciling two different canonical orders. We have seen that in some canonical lists the Pauline epistles precede the catholic epistles, while in others the catholic precede the Pauline. Also, the book of Acts can be somewhat movable. Epiphanius lists the Pauline epistles first, right after the gospels, but then backtracks to place both the Acts and the catholic epistles before the Pauline letters in some (possibly chronological) way. He winds up mentioning the various book groupings in the following order...:
...but describing them in a different sequence:
The former order is a little odd. It is very much like the order found in most modern Bibles, but the placement of the Acts is quite different. Nevertheless, the Apostolic Constitutions canonical list comes close, the principal difference being that in the Constitutions the book of the Acts is postponed to the very end of the list. Likewise, the canon discovered by Mommsen differs from our Epiphanian list only in its placement of the catholic epistles after the apocalypse of John.
The latter order, however, ought to look familiar; it is the order given by Athanasius, whom I discussed in my last post in this series, and before him by Cyril, with the exception that Cyril omitted the apocalypse of John.
I submit the possibility, therefore, that Epiphanius knew one canonical order that looked very much like the one given in the Cheltenham canon discovered by Mommsen and the one given in the Apostolic Constitutions, and another that looked very much like the one given by Cyril and Athanasius, and that he creatively combined the two orders, listing the various sections in the former order but describing them as falling in the latter order.
In the next installment of this series I will present the canon approved by the synod of Laodicea.
Canonical lists (part 10, the Laodicean synod canon).
This post is part 10 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
Canons 59-60 of the Laodicean synod (year 360):
The Laodicean synod took place in circa 363 and resulted in the publication of 59 or 60 canons or decrees to be accepted by the churches of Anatolia. The exact number (59 or 60) is uncertain because several important manuscripts and witnesses to the canons lack the last decree, the very one most relevant to our present inquiry. For canon 59 decrees that only canonical books ought to be read in church; it is canon 60 that goes on to provide the actual lists of canonical books for both testaments, and the easiest explanation for the fact that number 60 is missing in several key witnesses (summary available on the CCEL page that renders the last decree) is that the original Laodicean canons did not include the actual list of canonical books, a lack that later churchmen must have felt, since one can hardly limit oneself to canonical books if one does not know the official list of them. Somebody then did what had to be done; he added a canonical list so that the instruction of canon 59 might be carried out.
The decrees of this synod are available in English translation at Reluctant Messenger and in Greek at a native Greek site that I have recently found. (My list above skips the Old Testament books, but you can find them on these two web pages.)
So what kind of list was added to the Laodicean canons to form canon number 60? In terms both of contents and (so far as we can tell) of order, the Laodicean list replicates that of Cyril of Jerusalem, whose canonical list we have already looked at. Both canons place the four gospels first in order, then mention the Acts of the Apostles, then the catholic epistles (and both give the order James, Peter, John, Jude), then the fourteen Pauline epistles. Since Cyril does not name either the gospels or the Pauline epistles, we cannot very well compare the canonical order within those sections, but the overall order is identical; and both lists omit the Revelation of John, yet another testament to the ongoing controversy that hounded that book throughout antiquity. (It has occurred to me how fitting it is that a purportedly Laodicean canon list should omit the very book that gives the Laodicean church a black eye, as it were, in Revelation 3.14-22, but I feel quite certain that this connection is sheer coincidence.)
My next entry in this series will present the Carthaginian synod canon.
Canonical lists (part 11, the Carthaginian synod canon).
This post is part 11 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
At long last I continue this survey of canonical lists with that of the third council of Carthage, held in the year 397. Fortunately, this post will be brief, since this council presented exactly the 27 books of the New Testament found in most modern Bibles; the only twists, as it were, are the order of the catholic epistles and the status of the epistle to the Hebrews:
.... Liceat autem legi passiones martyrum cum anniversarii eorum dies celebrantur.
Likewise it was pleasing that nothing should be read in the church under the name of the divine scriptures except the canonical scriptures. The canonical scriptures, then, are these: .... Of the New Testament: Four books of the gospels, one book of the acts of the apostles, thirteen epistles of the apostle Paul, and one of his to the Hebrews, two of the apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, and the apocalypse of John, one book. .... But let it be allowed that the passions of the martyrs be read when the days of their anniversaries are celebrated.
Note that the gospels, the acts, the Pauline epistles, the catholic epistles, and the apocalypse all appear, as sections, in the order familiar to us today; note also, however, that the catholic epistles appear in a slightly different order than we are used to. Our modern Bibles list them in the order James, Peter, John, and Jude; the Carthaginian list, however, lists them in the order Peter, John, James, and Jude. This order seems rather intuitive to me; the key disciples Peter and John appear together, and then the brothers of Jesus, James and Jude, appear together.
The epistle to the Hebrews makes the list, but its wording of inclusion is suspicious; thirteen epistles of Paul are reckoned, and only then is the epistle of his (of Paul, that is) to the Hebrews counted. I suspect this separate wording reflects the ongoing debate, already witnessed at several junctures throughout these posts, about the authorship of this majestic epistle. It was attributed to Paul rather early, but it was also doubted as his just as early, if not earlier.
It is important to keep in mind that, even after Constantine, church matters, including canonical issues, were not altogether settled in all quarters of the catholic church.
My next entry in this series will present the Claramontanus catalogue.
Canonical lists (part 12, the Claromontanus catalogue).
This post is part 12 of my series on ancient canonical lists.
Codex Claromontanus, whose siglon in the standard critical texts of the New Testament is the letter D (or the number 06), is an uncial manuscript, containing only the Pauline epistles, dating to century VI. (Knowledgeable readers may recall that codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, which contains only the gospels and acts, along with a bit of 3 John, is also assigned the letter D, but the number 05. This is merely a convenience on the part of textual scholars, so as to provide a codex D both for the gospels and for the Pauline epistles, since the two codices sharing this letter do not overlap in contents.)
Inserted immediately after the letter to Philemon, however, is a catalogue, not only of the Pauline epistles, but indeed of the entire Bible, both the Old and the New Testament. Claromontanus is a Greek codex, yet this catalogue appears in Latin:
What a strange list! I will briefly run through the anomalies and any other salient points.
First, this is our first example in this series of a stichometry, that is, a tally of the line counts (each line being called a versus in Latin, which gives us our English word verse; we ought not to think of our modern chapter and verse divisions while reading this list).
Second, the gospels are listed in their so-called western order: Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark. This is, for example, the order in which the gospels are presented in codex Bezae (whose individually scanned pages can be accessed from the index helpfully put together by Jan Krans on the Amsterdam NT Weblog.
Third, the epistle to the Hebrews is missing. By itself this fact is not such a great surprise; we have seen how other lists omit it, evidently from doubt as to its Pauline authenticity. Interestingly, the epistle to the Hebrews is not missing amongst the contents of codex Claromontanus itself. In fact, it appears immediately after this canonical catalogue! Nevertheless, the fact that this epistle fails to appear in this list may mean absolutely nothing, given the next anomaly.
Fourth, the epistle to the Philippians and both epistles to the Thessalonians are missing. These absences are canonically unprecedented, so far as I am aware, and it therefore seems quite likely that the scribe copied this catalogue poorly from its exemplar and skipped a few lines; it is also quite possible that the epistle to the Hebrews occupied one of those skipped lines.
Fifth, the position of the epistle to the Colossians is odd; it comes after the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) and before Philemon. I admit I have no handy explanation for this positioning. (For it seems unlikely to me that the compiler would have correlated contents of these two epistles in order to link them in the list, however appropriate such a link might seem to modern scholars; compare the names in Colossians 4.9-10, 14 with those in Philemon [1.]10, 24.)
Sixth, two Petrine epistles make the cut, but they are listed as epistles to Peter instead of from Peter! I have noted this in my indentation of the list. The original catalogue is not actually indented in any way, but I have taken the liberty of doing so for the sake of clarity. And the addressing of these epistles to Peter makes it seem, in the context of the catalogue, as though they are actually Pauline epistles, from one apostle to another. Doubtless this is merely a clumsy error.
Seventh, the order of books near the end of the list is strange; it is a bit strange that the epistle to Barnabas (not deemed canonical in most lists) should come before the apocalypse of John, and it is rare to find the book of the Acts of the Apostles coming after both of these texts, although we have seen that the Apostolic Constitutions list does much the same thing (but without naming the apocalypse).
Eighth, and finally, this list contains quite a few apocryphal texts; enjoying their infrequently proferred canonical status are the epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd (of Hermas), the acts of Paul, and the apocalypse of Peter. Recall that the Muratorian canon list accepted the apocalypse of Peter (while allowing that some rejected it), but rejected the Shepherd of Hermas.
I have placed this list in its current position in this series based on the chronological dating of its manuscript, codex Claromontanus, to century VI. But I think I agree with those scholars (a majority, if I am not mistaken) who suppose that the list itself dates to considerably earlier, to century III or IV. It is hard for me to imagine such a freewheeling list popping up so late in the game; I think it had to have been either copied from or at least based on a much earlier list, one composed at a time when the contents of the canon were not quite so settled.
My next entry in this series will present the stichometry of Nicephorus.
Canonical lists (part 13, the stichometry of Nicephorus).
This post is part 13 of my series on ancient canonical lists. It is also the last part that I intend to post, with the exception of a brief conclusion to the entire series.
Nicephorus was the patriarch of Constantinople very early in century IX. To the end of his Chronography of world history from Adam to his own day is appended a stichometry (a list of text lengths similar to the one found in the Claromontanus catalogue) of both Old and New Testament books, along with disputed and apocryphal books from both testaments. This is by far the longest list we have seen in this series.
I do not think it is altogether certain that Nicephorus is the author of this appendix. The author is sometimes designated as pseudo-Nicephorus. I am, quite frankly, unacquainted with the arguments either pro or con, but the actual authorship does not very much impact the contents of the list itself for our purposes.
I know I have been concentrating only on the New Testament books in this series, but it seems only fair, given the comprehensive nature of this catalogue, to include the Old Testament books as well, especially since the two testaments are intertwined with one another in the list itself. But I shall, as usual, confine my (very brief) comments to the New Testament books.
Nicephorus (pseudo-Nicephorus?), appendix to the Chronography:
Keep in mind that the στιχοι, corresponding to the Latin term versus in the Claromontanus catalogue and translated here in cognate fashion as verses, are not our modern verses. They are lines in columns of text.
Several features of this list deserve notice. First, the Pauline epistles include, as has become customary by now, the epistle to the Hebrews. Second, the stichometry omits the apocalypse of John from its main list, placing it instead among the disputed books. This apocalypse simply did not get much respect in many quarters for a very long time in church history. Third, the rest of the New Testament list is complete by modern standards.
The division between disputed and apocryphal books is interesting, to say the least. The disputed books are the apocalypses of John and of Peter (linked also on lines 71-73 of the Muratorian canon), the epistle of Barnabas, and the gospel according to the Hebrews. The apocryphal books, however, include both the usual suspects (the gospel of Thomas, for instance) and other texts that not everyone would think of as tiptoeing on the edges of the canon (such as the epistles of Ignatius and of Polycarp). Our modern distinction between the canonical New Testament and the apostolic fathers was not in place. The inclusion of Ignatius and Polycarp on this list seems to be evidence that somebody somewhere tended to or wanted to count these fathers as scripture.
My next post in this series will be a brief conclusion consisting principally of links to online information on the canonical lists.
Canonical lists (conclusion).
This post will serve as a conclusion to my series on ancient canonical lists. This series has been a long time in the making; my introductory post and this concluding post are separated by nearly two and a half years.
In this post I intend to do only two things. First, here is an index to all the posts in this series:
Second, here are several links that I have found useful for studying matters of canonicity:
Lists and Catalogues of New Testament Collections (Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders).
I sincerely hope that this series has proven or will prove useful for anyone trying to trace the attestation and canonicity of the various New Testament (and related) texts.