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The Apology of Aristides: Texts and Studies 1 (1891) pp. 52-64. Selected Notes on the Syriac Version


[Note to the online text: the majority of these notes are concerned with or cite copious quantities of the Syriac text.  This page includes only a selection of those notes likely to be of use to English-speaking readers]

p. 35, 1. 7. The demonstration of Divine Providence from the contemplation of the heavenly bodies is common to all forms of Theistic teaching: consequently it occurs freely in Christian Apologetics. We may compare the following passages:

Melito, Oration to Antoninus Caesar (Cureton, Spic. Syr, p. 46). "He hath set before thee the heavens, and He has placed in them the stars. He hath set before thee the sun and the moon, and they every day fulfil their course therein... He hath set before thee the clouds which by ordinance bring water from above and satisfy the earth: that from these things thou mightest understand, that He who moveth these is greater than they all, [Syriac] and that thou mightest accept the goodness of Him who hath given to thee a mind by which thou mayest distinguish these things."

Origen, De Principiis, II. 1. 5. "But that we may believe on the authority of Holy Scripture, that such is the case, hear how in the books of Maccabees, |53 where the mother of the seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed: for she says, ' I ask of thee, my son, to look at the heaven and earth, and at all things which are in them, and beholding them, to know that God made all these things when they did not exist.'" [2 Macc. vii. 28.]

Id. iv. 1. 7. "The artistic plan of a providential Ruler is not so evident in matters belonging to the earth, as in the case of the sun, moon and stars."

l. 11. Cf. Melito, Oration p. 50. "He made the lights that His works might behold one another, and lie concealcth Himself in His might from all His works."

ll. 14, 15. A comparison with the Armenian suggests that something has fallen out here. The Syriac cannot be translated as it stands. The Greek unfortunately fails us at this point.

1. 19 (r^ 19). The early Christian teachers emphasised strongly this belief that the world was made for the sake of man: consequently we must not assume, if we find the same statement in Justin Martyr, that the idea was borrowed from Aristides, for it is a part of the regular second -century teaching. The following parallels may be quoted:

Justin, Apol. I. 10. [Greek]

Dial. 41. [Greek].

Ps. Justin, Ep. ad Diogn. 10. [Greek].

i. 23. Cf. Philo, Fragments, p. 70: [Greek]

Id. de Fortitudine § 3. [Greek] |54 

Acta Mar Kardaghi (ed. Abbeloos, p. 30): [Syriac]

l. 28. The same philosophical opinion will be found almost in the same words in Eustathius contra Arianos quoted in John of Damascus, Parallels p. 314, [Greek] 

l. 30. We may compare the following passages from Justin and from the Epistle to Diognetus, in view of Jerome's statement that Justin imitated Aristides, and the modern theory of Doulcet as to the authorship of the anonymous epistle to Diognctus.

Justin, Apol. I. 9.  [Greek] 

Justin, Apol. II. 6.[Greek]

Justin, Dial. 4. [Greek]

Justin, Apol. I. 10. [Greek]

Ep. ad Diogn. 3. [Greek]

p.36, l. 18. 'The head of the race of their religion.' This seems to be a conflation of the two phrases which occur lower down: ' the head of their race,' and ' the beginning of their religion.' It should be simply ' the head of their race,' as we see from the Greek.]

l. 23. The Armenian has ' Kadmus the Sidonian and Dionysus the Theban.' Cf. Herod. II. 91 [Greek]. But Kadmus is a Sidonian in Eur. Bacch. 171 and Ovid, Met. iv. 571.

[l. 27. The statement that the people received the name of ' Hebrews ' from Moses is peculiar to the Syr. and Arm. translations.]

l. 29. The writer not only deduces the name of the Christians from the title of their founder, but he is also ready, like Justin and other |55 fathers, to compare the name with the Greek word xrhsto&j, as we shall see in the closing chapter. The following parallels may be noted in Justin. Justin, Apol. I. 12. [Greek] ; Dial. 63. [Greek]; Ibid. 138. [Greek]

l. 32. With the closing words of this sentence we may compare the Syriac Acts of John (ed. Wright), p. 37, [Syriac] where we should correct the text so as to read "and when formed as a child in the womb He was. with His Father."

l. 34 . The Gospel is clearly a written one, and not the general message (eu)agge/lion). In c. xvi. we again find Aristides offering the Emperor the Christian Scriptures.

p. 37, l. 1. Another instance of the formula 'He was crucified by the Jews,' beyond those to which we have already drawn attention, may be found in a fragment of Melito preserved by Anastasius Sinaita; [Greek] for which the Syriac rendering is given by Cureton, Spic. Syr.

In later times we may expect to find similar language, though the expression itself disappears from the Creed. In Acta Mar Kardaghi p. 37 we have the following (loquitur Satanas), [Syriac] and again in p. 74 [Syriac]. The idea of the Jews being the special agents of Satan in the Crucifixion |56 comes out also in an unpublished a)ntilogia& between the Devil and Christ, which is preserved in a MS. at Jerusalem (Cod. 66, S. Sep.), where we read [Greek]. 

[Compare also the Letter of Pilate in the Acts of Peter and Paul § 42 (Tisch. Acta Apocr., Lips. 1851, p. 17): [Greek]]

l. 20. The injunction to have a care that your gods be not stolen is not uncommon with the early Christians, and it is not improbable that they were able to refer to special and notable cases of violation of temples and mutilation of images. We may refer, at all events, to the following parallels: Justin, Apol. I. 9. [Greek]; Ep. ad Diogn. 2. [Greek]

l. 26. Compare c. vii. From the "Teaching of the Apostles" (c. vi. 3) onwards, idolatry is known as a 'worship of dead gods': e.g. Melito, Oration p. 43, "But I affirm that also the Sibyl has said respecting them, that it is the images of kings, who are dead, they worship."

p. 38, l. 1 (co 19). The writer now proceeds to discuss the views of those who either sought the First Principle in one of the elements or imagined it to be located in one of the heavenly bodies. And it is common for the early Christian writers to demolish the philosophic schools in detail according as they found them referring the origin of all things to water, as Thaïes; or air, as Anaximenes; or fire, as Heraclitus; or earth, as Pherecydes and Xenophanes. We may compare Plutarch De placitis philosophorum i. 3, and then notice how the Christian apologists deal with the matter. The writer of the Epistle to Diognetus thinks that, if a god is to be found amongst the elements, one element or created thing is as good as another: Ep. ad Diogn. 8. [Greek].

Melito deals even more shortly with the matter, and in a rude common-sense manner says that we may call a creature God without making it to be divine:

Oration, p. 42. "And if, therefore, a man...say that there is another God, it is found from his own words that he calleth some created thing God. For if a man call fire God, it is not God, because it is fire; and if a man call the waters God, they are not God, because they are waters; and if this earth which we tread upon, and if those heavens which are seen by us, and if the sun, or the moon, or one of those stars which run their course by |57 ordinance and rest not, nor proceed by their own will—and if a man call gold and silver gods: are not these things that we use as we please?"

It will be seen that their treatment of the subject was superficial, no other treatment being, in fact, necessary. Aristides, however, takes the matter more seriously and examines each case in detail by the light of his previously stated axioms concerning the divine nature.

p. 39, l. 1 This phrase, 'your majesty,' does not in any way suggest that more than one person is addressed.

l. 25 He is referring to Apollo, Poseidon and Asklepios: cf. Tertullian, Apol. 14, Hic Apollinem Admeto regi pascendis pecoribus addicit, ille Nepturii structorias operas Laomedonti locat. Est et illis de lyricis (Pindarum dico) qui Aescolapium canit avaritiae merito, quia medicinam nocenter exercebat, fulmine iudicatum. |58 

l. 21. The translator gives the Syriac name for Saturn, [Syriac] . In the Classical Review for June 1890, p. 259, Prof. Margoliouth reviewing Budge's Pseudo-Callisthenes remarks as follows, "On p. 9 after the name of each planet we are told what the Persian for it is: surely this implies that the book which the translator had before him was in Persian. I will quote one of these, because Mr Budge has by accident missed the truth. The name of Saturn is omitted from the list, but instead we read, the colour [Syriac] of a black stone, and the horoscopus of helani which is called in Persian Farnüg'. Mr Budge would emend Farnüg', but it is a Persian word signifying Saturn ...... Hence [Syriac] 'colour' must stand for a word signifying Saturn; and this will be the Persian [Persian] which the translator has read [Persian] 'colour'." It would seem to be a more direct process simply to emend the Syriac into [Syriac].

p. 42, l. 2. The amours of the gods are, as might have been expected, the staple of early Christian apologetics. A few references may be given in illustration of the scornful summary of Olympic history given by Aristides.  Justin, Apol. I. 21. [Greek]; Justin, Apol. I. 25. [Greek]; Recog. Clément, x. 22. "Antiopen Nyctei versus in Satyrum corrupit: ex qua nascuntur Amphion et Zethus; Alcmenam, mutatus in virum eius Amphitryonem; ex qua nascitur Hercules: Aeginam Asopi, mutatus in aquilam, ex qua nascitur Aeacus. Sed et Ganymedem Dardani mutatus nihilominus in aquilam stuprat; Mantheam Phoci, mutatus in ursum; ex qua nascitur Arctos: Danaen Acrisii, mutatus in aurum; ex qua nascitur Perseus: Europen Phoenicis, mutatus in taurum; ex qua nascitur Minos, et Rhadamanthus Sarpedonque: Eurymedusam Achelai, mutatus in formicam; |59 ex qua nascitur Myrmidon: Thaliam Aetnam nympham, mutatus in vulturem; ex qua nascuntur apud Siciliam Palixi: Imandram Geneani apxid Rhodum, mutatus in imbrem: Cassiopiam, mutatus in virum eins Phoenicem; ex qua nascitur Anchinos: Ledam Thesti, mutatus in cycnum; ex qua nascitur Helena: et iterum eandem, mutatus in stellam; ex qua nascuntur Castor et Pollux: Lamiam, mutatus in upupam: Mnemosynen, mutatus in pastorem; ex qua nascuntur Musae novem: Nemesin, mutatus in anserem: Semelen Cadmiam mutatus in ignem; ex qua nascitur Dionysus," etc.

See also Ps. Justin, Oratio ad Gentiles = Ambrose, Hypomnemata (Cureton, Spic. Syr. pp. 63, 64) for a similar sketch to that of Aristides.

[l. 4. Pasiphae is an erroneous insertion in the Syriac.

l. 11. 'Castor and Polydeuces and Hélène and Paludus.' This last word is a vox nihili; and the confusion has arisen in the following manner. The Greek has 'Castor and Hélène and Polydeuces.' The Syriac scribe has written Polydeuces in its more obvious position immediately after Castor, and then the second Polydeuces has suffered corruption.]

l. 31. For the ornaments made by Hephaestus, and sarcastic Christian remarks thereon, we may cite: Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos, c. viii.[Greek] |60 

p.44, l. 31. [The paragraph on Rhea and the following one on Proserpine are not in the Greek.] The Fathers not infrequently allude to the myth of Rhea and Atys. [Cf. Tatian, ad Gfraecos, 8, [Greek]]

The story is apparently Phrygian in origin, though very similar in its details to forms from the further East. Lucian (De dea Syra, 33) describing the three images in the temple at Hierapolis says that the first two are Zeus and Hera, and the third [Greek]. Baethgen (Beiträge zur Semitischen Religionsgesckichte) p. 73 most ingeniously conjectures this to be a misunderstanding of Lucian's; [Greek] which last stands for Atti or Atys: the name appearing in a variety of forms, sometimes alone, sometimes combined with other deities, and sometimes as a factor in proper names: o.g. in Bardesanes De Fato we are told that the men of Edessa down to the time of Abgar used to sacrifice their foreskins to Tharatha: this seems to be a late form [Hebrew]; or Istar + Atta.

As to the establishment of dances in honour of Atys, these are a characteristic feature of Semitic orgiastic worship. One of the best illustrations is the temple of Baal-Marcod, which stands on a spur of the Lebanon above Beyrout, and where there are many inscriptions from the ancient temple built into the walls of a modern convent. The name implies Lord of Dances and in one inscription given by Waddington (Inscr. Syr. No. 1855) is directly paraphrased as koi/rane kw&mwn.

p. 45, l. 22. According to our apologist Isis fled to Byblos in Syria; and this agrees with Plutarch De Iside et Osiride, that Byblos was a sanctuary of Isis; now we know from Lucian De Dea Syra c. 6 that the great sanctuary at Byblos was a sanctuary of Aphrodite Bubli/n (cf. Strabo xvi. 2, p. 362). We should therefore have to assume that |61 Byblos was the centre at once of an Isis-cult and an Aphrodite-cult which is the same thing as an Astarte-cult, for our apologist tells us to equate the Greek Aphrodite to the Syrian Astera. We must then assume either that the two forms of worship existed side by side, or that there had been a fusion of the two cults, the latter hypothesis being favoured by the similarity between the case of Aphrodite weeping for Tammuz and Isis lamenting Osiris. Moreover the confusion extends to the personalities of Osiris and Adonis: and Movers quotes from Stephanus of Byzantium as follows: [Greek]

Whether, then, we pay attention to the dead gods or the wailing goddesses, there is a great similarity in the matter of the two religions. And we have suggested that in the sanctuary at Byblos the two cults may have been carried on side by side. One other question suggests itself, viz. whether they may not both be modifications of some earlier worship. We have some reason for believing that the original Byblos-worship was that of the Assyrian Baaltis, for Philo Byblius says that this city was the gift of Cronos to Baaltis. Now this Baaltis, the Assyrian mother of the gods, appears in the west in a Greek form, first under the name of Mylitta by a common change in the pronunciation of b and m. But this Mylitta is affirmed by Herodotus to be capable of equation with Aphrodite (i. 131 [Greek]) and this would lead us to recognize in the sanctuary at Byblos an original sanctuary of Mylitta.

p.46, l. 3. The local variation in the Egyptian worship appears in Herodotus and is alluded to by the Christian fathers: Herod. II. 69. [Greek]; Justin, Apol. I. 24.[Greek]; Recog. Clement, v. 20. " Nam alii eorum bovem qui Apis dicitur colendum tradidere, alii hircum; alii gattas; nonnulli ibin; quidam serpentera; piscem quoque, et caepas et cloacas, crepitus ventris, pro numinibus habendos esse docuerunt: et alia innumerabilia quae pudet etiam nominare."

[See Mayor's notes to Juv. Sat. xv., for a storehouse of references on this point.]

Of the objects of worship mentioned by Aristides, some are rather difficult to identify. The first question that arises is with regard to the animal denoted by [Syriac]. In the Dublin MS. of the Fables of Syntipas, Fable 45, we find [Syriac]. The word therefore stands for a cat. The fable to which we have referred is |62 No. 40 in Landsberger's Fabeln des Sophos. The Syriac reference is due to Prof. Bensly.

l. 27. Here the language may be illustrated by a reference to Justin, Apol. I. 9, [Greek]; and Ep. ad Diogn. 2, [Greek]

p. 49, l. 1. The description given of the Christians in this chapter recalls in many points the " Teaching of the Apostles." To begin with, we have the golden rule in a negative form, which may be compared with the first chapter of the Teaching, and with a similar Syriac sentence |63 given as a saying of Menander in Land, Anecdota i. 69, from Cod. Mus. Britt. 14658, fol. 166 r, as follows: [Syriac]which is a very different rendering from that of Aristides, and may be suspected from its ascription to Menander to be a translation of some metrical form of the golden rule.

The version in Aristides, from its setting in the text of the Apology, between two precepts against idolatry, viz. idols in the form of man, and meats offered to idols, reminds one of the Codex Bezae which completes the rule of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts xv. 29) by adding the words [Greek]. But whether the sentence stood in this connexion in the primitive Didascalia, we cannot say. 

Other parallels will suggest themselves, as when Aristides describes Christian practice in words that seem to answer to [Greek] which does not differ much from c. ii. of the Teaching. The parallelisms, however, are only just sufficient to suggest an acquaintance with the Teaching on the part of Aristides; and his whole presentation of Christian ethics is vastly superior to anything in the Didaché, and can only be paralleled for beauty and spirituality in the pages of Tertullian.

p. 50, l. 37. The belief that the world stands by reason of the Christians occurs also in the following passages: Justin, Apol. I. 45. [Greek]; Justin, Apol. II. 7. [Greek]; Ep. ad Diogn. 6. [Greek]

The extract from the Epistle to Diognetus is nearer to the idea of Aristides than the passages quoted from Justin.

p. 51, l. 2. The expression [Syriac] which we have rendered " rolling themselves," occurs again in Melito, Oration (Cureton, Spic. Syr. p. [Syriac], 25), |64 (" Why rollest thou thyself upon the earth, and offerest supplication to things which are without perception?")

l. 36. The concluding words may be compared with Justin Dial. 58, [Greek].

It will be seen that we have given especial attention to the illustrations furnished to the text of our author by the undoubted writings of Justin and by the Epistle to Diognetus. We have not, however, been able to agree with the opinion of Doulcet in reference to the latter writing, nor with the tradition of Jerome in reference to Justin's imitation of Aristides. It may, however, be taken for granted, from the parallels adduced, that Justin and Aristides are nearly contemporary.

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