The "body and blood of Mithras" myth

This is just a collection of materials so far, mostly by myself and Andrew Criddle.  'Live' areas are asterisked.  

See also the private notes.

The Question:

A common supposed quotation came my way in usenet, and I have been spurred to try to track it down. 

This quote is attributed to Mithras: "He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation."

The usual source seems to be Freke and Gandy.

But a google search reveals that their quote is based on Vermaseren, Mithras the Secret God.


It's already clear that the 'quote' is wrong, and has nothing whatever to do with Mithras. The connection to Mithras is merely an imaginative hypothesis of Cumont's, without any actual evidence for it.

In fact the quote is a mistranslation of something attributing a saying of Jesus to Zoroaster, not to Mithras.

The texts in which this version appears are all in Arabic.

* One of them (Ms. 142) is definitely dealing with medieval texts about talismans in which people from antiquity like Aristotle, Alexander, and Zoroaster appear as names, unconnected to any real historical knowledge of the subject. We still need a translation of the end of this, and I am still trying to locate the rest of the Italian translation.

* The other is an Arabic commentary on the Creed (Ms. 481), about which we know little, but which I'm trying to get translated (for money).

There is also a reference in Theodore bar Koni to something of the same kind. IIRC we have evidence of the state Persian cult of Zoroastrianism pretending that Jesus was an avatar of Zoroaster, as a debating trick, in order to resist the rise of Christianity in Persia in Sassanid times by sowing confusion.

Hypothesis: once the idea of Jesus=Zoroaster reborn was commonplace among the fire-priests, then it would be natural for them to quote bits of Jesus' words and ascribe them to "Zoroaster's avatar", or just "Zoroaster". Thus we would get the words of Jesus quickly attributed to Zoroaster. These might then be preserved, as with Theodore bar Koni, in Syriac literature, and so find their way as convenient into Arabic literature. This would account for all the references we have.

Freke and Gandy

These are probably the real source of most quotes.  They reference Godwin.


This is p.28.  It has no reference, but probably goes back to Vermaseren. 

"Jocelyn Godwin turns out to be trained as a musicologist (although listed as a "Historian of the esoteric") and his Mystery Religions in the Ancient World gets two stars from Amazon."


M. Vermaseren, "Mithras: the secret god", pp.103-4:

Justin records that on the occasion of the meal the participants used certain formulae comparable with the ritual of the Eucharist, and in this connection mention may be made of a medieval text, published by Cumont, in which of Christ is set beside the sayings of Zarathushtra. The Zardusht speaks to his pupils in these words: 'He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation....' Compare this with Christ's words to his disciples: 'He who eats of my body and drinks of my blood shall have eternal life.' In this important Persian text lies the source of the conflict between the Christians and their opponents, and though of later date it seems to confirm Justin's assertion.

This is an English translation of M. J. VERMASEREN, Mithras de geheimzinnige god, (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1959): the translation into English was made by Therese and Vincent Magaw.  (Unfortunately it seems that the translators misunderstood the text, as we will see).

Non-specific and unidentified reference to 'Cumont'.

From this, one might infer that the ancient source referred to might be the "Zardusht-nama" (Book of Zoroaster), a 13th century text. 

The Cumont turns out to be an article in Revue Archeologique.

M. J. VERMASEREN, Mithras de geheimzinnige god, (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1959), p. 83.

[83] "Justinus vermeldt dat de maaltijd gepaard ging met enige formules (met' epilogoon tinon)." Ook deze kunnen veel gelijkenis vertoond heb-[84]ben met die van het Avondmaal. Een middeleeuwse tekst, welke door Cumont werd gepubliceerd, is in dit verband bijzonder interessant. Want hierin wordt de waarheid van Christus gesteld tegenover het woord van Zarathustra; deze Zardasht sprak nog tot zijn leerlingen: 'Wie niet van mijn lichaam zal eten en van mijn bloed zal drinken, zodat hij zich met mij vermengt en ik mij met hem vermeng, die zal het heil niet hebben...'. Maar Christus sprak tot zijn leerlingen: 'Wie Mijn Lichaam eet en Mijn bloed drinkt, zal het eeuwig leven hebben.' Deze belangrijke tekst plaatst ons midden in de strijd tussen de Christenen en hun tegenstanders en kan, hoewel laat in datum, misschien de bewering van Justinus bevestigen.

Note the absence of any mention of a "Medieval Persian" text -- this was added by the English translators.  There is no article "The" before "Zardasht"; it looks like it's meant as a reference to a man, not to the title of the book. The English translator added that one too.

Andrew Criddle notes:

Where the English translation of the Dutch goes really weird is in the last sentence. The original speaks of "this important text" - Deze belangrijke tekst - the English translation reads "this important Persian text".

FWIW Google translates the last sentence as "This important text places us in the battle between the Christians and their opponents and, though late in date, perhaps confirms the claim of Justin." (slightly rearranged)

A google search reveals that "Mithras the Secret God" was translated by Therese and Vincent Megaw: Vermaseren, M.J. Mithras: The Secret God. Translated by T. Megaw, and V. Megaw. London: Chatto and Windus, 1963.  V.Megaw is listed in COPAC as John Vincent Stanley Megaw, author of quite a few archaeological books.


About the Zardust-nama (or Zartushtnamah):

This gives us:

"Other works in Persian. Besides the Rivayats, several works, both in prose and in verse, have reached us. The most important of these is the Zartusht Namah or Book of Zartusht composed in verse by Zartusht Bahram Pazdu in the thirteenth [460] century.2 The account of the life of the prophet is based upon the Pahlavi works.

[2] West, GIrPh. 2.122, 123; Eastwick, tr. in English in Wilson's Parsi Religion, p. 477-522; Rosenberg, Le Livre de Zoroaster.

Wilson's Parsi Religion is online complete.  I have examined the translation of the Zartusht-Namah in Wilson, but I couldn't see the lines in question. References to 'Meher' are being treated as 'Mithra'.  There seems to be some question of whether this text is faintly genuine, even as what it purports to be.

Cumont, Revue Archéologique 25 (1946) pp. 183-195.

The article by Cumont is in Revue Archeologique 1946 vol 25 pages 183-195 Un Bas-Relief Mithriaque du Louvre. It refers (pps 193-195) to an Arabic manuscript in Syriac characters (Garshuni) in the Mingana collection in Birmingham England (Manuscript 142 in Catalogue of the Mingana collection of Manuscripts. v 1).

Here is an English version of the relevant parts:

St. Justin and Tertullian see in these mithraic meals a satanic imitation of the Christian communion [1]. The Greek apologist, recalling how the eucharist was instituted, ends by observing that the perverse demons imitated it in the mysteries of Mithras, and he refers to ritual formulas which were marked on the bread and the cup presented to the worshipper during his initiation; they must have offered some resemblance to the words pronounced by Jesus in the last supper [2].

A strange passage in a late work may perhaps compensate for the reticence of Justin, who scrupled to reproduce the pagan formulae. An Arab manuscript in Syriac characters (Karshuni) of the Library of Birmingham [3] containing a homily or pastoral letter, the theme of which is to put side by side the false pretentions of the Jews and Magians and the true wisdom of Christianity. The motif which is repeated with monotonous rigour, is that the devil has accomplished a series of miracles among the unbelievers, but, to these false miracles, God has opposed true ones.

Speaking about the Magi [193.1], the unknown author asserts that Zoroaster, having built pyres, exhorted his followers to throw themselves into the fire, and that they would seem to perish in the flames; and then coming out safe and well, they would appear to have come back from the dead, but this was only an illusion produced by magic spells. But Christ measured himself against Zoroaster, and by really bringing people back from the dead, made the propaganda of the Magi in the whole world pointless.

Then the Christian writer adds: "This Zardasht again says to his disciples: whoever does not eat of my body and does not drink of my blood, so that he mixes with me and I mix with him, he will not have salvation... But Christ says to his disciples: Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will have eternal life. [193.2]"

The first part of this passage really goes back to a Mazdaean tradition, according to which similar wonders proved the divine mission of Zoroaster. In his childhood, he is thrown into a large bonfire at the instigation of the wizards, but the burning flames save him and his mother finds him alive [195.1]. Later, one reads elsewhere, the prophet being withdrawn on a mountain, a rain of fire set fire to him, but the Persians, who had come to pray in this place, see the prophet appear unharmed [195.2].

When the author of the Arab homily claims to have consulted a book of the Magi, the title of which unfortunately could not be deciphered, he appears to be telling the truth. There is thus some probability that he also found in this book the words which he gives to Zoroaster addressing his disciples.

So had this book transferred to the person of the founder of Mazdaeism that which the Mithraists applied to the Bull; that it was necessary, in a mystical meal, to consume its flesh and to drink its blood? Perhaps. But our medieval source is so confused that it would be labour lost, I believe, to try to clarify this.

It is not doubtful that certain Magi moved their traditions closer to the doctrines of the Church and claimed for themselves the priority. A Mazdaean myth, stripped of its true sense, was called upon to prove that Jesus, whose miraculous star was to announce the birth to the astrologers of Persia, was an avatar of Zoroaster [195.3]: "He will arise, says he, from my family and my line; I am him, and he is me; I am in him, and he is in me " These words offer a singular analogy with those of the anonymous Arab "so that he mixes with me and I mix with him".

F. Cumont.

1. Tertullien. De praescr. haeret.. 40 : Mithra celebrat et panis oblationem et imaginent resurrectionis inducit. »

2. Justin. Apol. I, 66 ...

3. A. Mingana, Catalogue of the Mingana collection of manuscripts (Birmingham, Selley Oak colleges library) Cambridge, 1933. Ms. Mingana, n° 142, ff. 48 - 61. --- Our attention was drawn to this manuscript by Fr. Vosé, whose erudition as an orientalist has again allowed us to profit from his discoveries. Our friend Mr. Levi della Vida agreed to undertake to translate the Karshuni work which interested us, with his proven competence, and he proposed to study in it more detail and determine its sources and date. The war has unfortunately halted his research; let us hope, only temporarily.

193.1. We reproduce here the translation of what this difficult to access and sometimes not very comprehensible work says about the Magi. f. 158 b: "As for the sect of the Magi, we will say again to you what did Zardasht in the time of L d. yû. n (or c. d. yû. n), the 82nd king after Adam. He started pyres, and accomplished prodigies which induced souls to obey him. Among his various miracles, he excited people to throw themselves into the pyres, and those who saw them believed that they burned, but all this was art of sorcery. After some time, as they always found them in the pyres, the people believed (f. 159 a) that they were resuscitated, as the book Z. b. h. r. and other books of the Magi attest. This Zardasht again says to his disciples: whoever does not eat of my body and does not drink of my blood, so that he mixes with me and I mix with him, he will not have salvation." When his works became famous, and his followers spread in the world, they boiled and drank beef.

193.2. Jean, VI, 53; cf Matth., XXVI, 26. — On the introduction of a similar formula into Manicheism, cf Alberry, Das manichäische Bema-Fest (Zeitschr. F Neutest. Wissenschaft, 1938, XXXVII, p. 7).

195.1. Dinkart, VII, 3, 8 s. (West, Pahlavi Texts, V, 36), Zad-Sparam, XVI, 7 (Ibid., p. 146). The same story in the Persian Zarâtust Nama (Rosenberg, Le livre de Zoroastre, 1904, c. 8, p. 12).

195.2. Dion Chrysost... Or.. XXXVI, 39. cf. our Mages hellénisés. I, p. 29 ; II, p. 143. In the same way at the end of the world, the just will traverse a river of fire without feeling the burning (Boundahish, XXX. 18).

195.3. Theodore bar Koni, in Mages hellénisés, vol. II, p. 128 (translation of P. Peeters) ; cf. vol. I, p. 52 ff.

Cumont, Mithraic Studies

A posthumous article by Franz Cumont (tr. E. D. Francis), The Dura Mithraeum, in J.R.Hinnells, Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies vol. 1, p.151ff, has an additional detail in footnote 171 on p.181:

171 Justin, Apol. 1.66 (cf. TMMM 1, p. 230). On this parody of the Eucharist, see my article in RA 1946, pp. 183 f., especially 194, where I discuss a Syriac text in which certain Magi have apparently substituted the body of Zoroaster for the flesh of the bull in their sacrificial feast. The text in question is entitled The Book of the Elements (στοιξεῖα) of the World: note that precisely those elements are represented in the Mithraic versions of the banquet.

Some pages from the article are here.

Mingana Ms. 142

Here is the text:

Here is the catalogue entry:

with a larger version here.

Transliterating the Syriac we get:
Mention also is made of the god bnd'ritos, who was worshipped until the arrival of Christ.

On folio 59a it is said that Zoroaster (zrdšh plus a seyame -- why is this plural?) said to his disciple, "Anyone who does not eat my body and drink my blood and mix with me and I with him, will have no salvation."

Perhaps Cumont refers to "le Zardusht"? If so perhaps either Vermaseren or his English translators understood as "the Zardusht" instead of "Zoroaster", and hence we get the bogus reference to the Zardusht-namah in the English version of Vermaseren.

Theodore bar Koni

Cumont refers to a similar passage in Theodore bar Koni.

Bar Hebraeus, The Book of the Bee (, has a version of the passage in Theodore_bar_Koni

Zârâdôsht says to him, 'He shall descend from my family; I am he, and he is I; he is in me, and I am in him."

** Theodore's use and the reference in Cumont above to him need to be followed up **

Giorgio Levi Della Vida's translation of Ms. Mingana 142

Levi della Vida has a Wikipedia entry as a Jewish-Italian orientalist.  I obtained this from among Cumont's papers at the Academia Belgica in Rome.  Unfortunately it is incomplete, missing the final page or pages; exactly the ones that Cumont used for the article above.  The Academica Belgica have written back to say that they can't find any more of Della Vida's translation. I fear the last couple of pages are gone for good.  Giorgio Levi della Vida's scholarly papers are supposedly with the Accademia dei Lincei (fondazione Caetani). I've written to them asking for assistance.


The translation probably provides a context for the material about Zoroaster.

I think this is a Christian polemic from the early Islamic period (9th to 10th century CE) against the 'astral magic' involving talismans which was allegedly based on the Sabian paganism or quasi-Paganism of Harran.

In Ronald Hutton's account of the Sabians in Witches Druids and King Arthur he claims (p 143) that their supreme God 'the Lord' was apparently called al-Bughadhariyuin whether this is related to Bandaritus I'm not sure.

IF this text is about Sabian syncretistic paganism then it could be of real importance for this very obscure subject.

(If I'm right about the approximate date then the text may have been originally Arabic rather than a Syriac text later translated into Garshuni.)

"Aristotle and Alexander seem to be just names in some book of magic, not a reference to any real work by either -- are there letters between Alexander and Aristotle anywhere?"

There is the Secret of Secrets book a text on astrology and astral magic and other things in the form of Aristotle's teaching of Alexander  Possibly Zoroaster is involved as the reputed author of the (pseudo) Chaldean Oracles.

Further comment:

Although Zoroaster did indeed have various astrological/mystical/gnostic works falsely attributed to him, the attribution of the (pseudo) Chaldean Oracles to Zoroaster is (on reflection) probably too late to be relevant.

It is first solidly witnessed by Pletho in the last years of Christian Byzantium and was accepted by Renaissance Hermetists but it cannot be shown to have benn held by the Arabs.

Didn't Porphyry refute the authorship of some book ascribed to Zoroaster? It's not in Eunapius, tho, so I'm not sure how I know this.

See The Life of Plotinus by Porphyry
Many Christians of this period--amongst them sectaries who had abandoned the old philosophy, men of the schools of Adelphius and Aquilinus--had possessed themselves of works by Alexander of Libya, by Philocomus, by Demostratus, and by Lydus, and exhibited also Revelations bearing the names of Zoroaster, Zostrianus, Nicotheus, Allogenes, Mesus, and others of that order. Thus they fooled many, themselves fooled first; Plato, according to them, had failed to penetrate into the depth of Intellectual Being.

Plotinus fequently attacked their position at the Conferences and finally wrote the treatise which I have headed Against the Gnostics: he left to us of the circle the task of examining what he himself passed over. Amelius proceeded as far as a fortieth treatise in refutation of the book of Zostrianus: I myself have shown on many counts that the Zoroastrian volume is spurious and modern, concocted by the sectaries in order to pretend that the doctrines they had embraced were those of the ancient sage.
Some of the works mentioned have been found at Nag Hammadi (eg Zostrianos) but not the one attributed to Zoroaster.

Academica Belgica wrote:

"About your request, I have looked for supplementary pages, but I didn't find anything else. I have only found an extract from "Revue archeologique" with Cumont's handwritten notes. Inside, there are a letter from "fr. P.J. de Menasce (?) O.P." and a little paper with Cumont note. I send you all (see enclosures).

Finally, the book "Mithraic studies" doesn't contain a posthumous article of Franz Cumont, but objections to Cumont's theories: R. L. Gordon, "Franz Cumont and the Doctrines of Mithraism" in J. R. Hinnells (ed.), Mithraic Studies I, Manchester 1975, pp. 215-48; J. Hinnells, "Reflections of the Bull-Slaying Scene", in Mithraic Studies II, pp. 290-312.


It is pps 151-214 in Mithraic Studies I (the R L Gordon article immediately follows it) It has the title 'The Dura Mithraeum' by Franz Cumont translated and edited by E D Francis (I have the book open in front of me as I write)

The relevant portion is p 181 particularly foot note 171
... On this parody of the Eucharist see my article in RA 1946 pps 183f, especially 194, where I discuss a Syriac text in which certain Magi have apparently substituted the body of Zoroaster for the flesh of the bull in their sacrificial feast. The text in question is entitled The Book of the Elements (STOIChEIA) of the World note that precisely these elements are represented in the Mithraic versions of the banquet.

Unpublished letter to Cumont from Fr. P.J. de Menasce, OP.

The Academia Belgica had a look for the missing pages of Della Vida, but found something much more interesting; a letter written to Cumont.  Here is a picture of the note, which was found tucked inside own Cumont's offprint of the RA article. I cannot read Cumont's scribble, but the reference to "the book of elements" in Ms. Mingana 481 is clear enough.

with a larger version here.

English version:


After reading the fine article in the Revue Archaeologique which you had the great kindness to send me, for which I thank you very much, I dug out some photocopies of some Mingana manuscripts which I had made in 1938, and I found a letter of yours of 3rd December 1938 where, concerning Mingana Ms. 142, you already outlined the parallel with the famous text of Justin.

Please permit me two observations:

1. One relates to the translation (of Mr. Levi della Vida) quoted in your note 1 on page 194: with the text before me, I think that it should be translated:

"After some time, the people believed that they were resurrected, and that they were found in their houses."
The text does not say 'house of fire' as it says it in the phrase where the expression is, quite rightly, translated by 'pyree'. This signifies, I think, that, by a magical operation they were made to come back to them. However this is of no importance... No more important is the detail that numbered the folios of the manuscript 158b and 159a instead of 58b and 59a, where, for the first letter of the name of the king contemporary with Zardasht, a 'c' has been substituted for the ' (ayin).

2. The second relates to another Karshuni text of the Mingana collection, Ms. Syr. 481, which contains a parallel text which I translate for you here:
folio 225b lines 17-20: "And Zardusht the Mage says, in the Book of the Elements of the World, to his disciples: He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I remain in him."
This mention of the book of "stoixeia" is more suggestive than the mysterious "z b h r" of manuscript 142, but may help explain the latter.

The Greek word passed into Syriac and into Arabic (istaqis or istuqus) and remains in the language of classical philosophy down to Avicenna. It is very interesting to see these texts of such late origin throw some light on the archaeology of Mithraic monuments and connect them to the literary tradition of Hellenised mages. I hope, this winter, to go to Rome and to have the opportunity to visit the Mithraea of which you speak in your article of the Academie des Inscriptions.

In offering you my thoughts here once again, I hope that you find here, Sir, assurance of my most profound respect.

Fr. P. J. de Menasce O. P.


My stab at the scribbles:

.... que ?eusement .......
sous figures dans les representations
mithraiques du banquet et qu.. (qu'on?)
etablis .
sans un(e?)
mystique entre les
tou kos-
mou et
le ban-quet sa
cre' (e-accent aigu)

Note: a private email from Dr. Khalil Samir tells me that this is Fr. Jean-Pierre de MENASCE OP (1902-1973).

Ms Mingana 481

Menasce's reference to Ms. Mingana 481 leads us here.

Here is the text:


With hope in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we [begin to] write (select?) statements of wise philosophers that they pronounced concerning the coming of our Lord, glory be to Him, many generations before His arrival, from a Book of Secrets famous among them on the science of astronomy. This is about the Incarnation of Christ the Lord, praise be to Him.

The first [statement]: Hermes the wise said in his book entitled Book of the Nine Stones, in which he addresses his son saying: Know, my son Natana, that there must be a descent of the Awesome Cause and the Boundless Fire, rays of the Perfect and Self-Subsisting Cause, who is in no need of anything else. It will walk upon the earth in veils made for It, and thereupon will return to Its elevated state and the footstool of Its throne, without [spatial] motion. O my son Natana, open your eyes and the eyes of your heart and preserve that with which I entrust you in the storehouses of your mind. The Cause of causes will encompass you.

He said also: (222r) Justice (?) will be abolished, and the mighty nation will branch out (?) and demand what does not belong to it in truth. Then the days of the Hidden One will appear. He is the Father who will be upon the earth, and the impure peoples and their sages will conspire untruly against the King of kings.

He said also: Woe, Azur will work miracles in Roman Qaytilun (?). This will be abolished (?) by two wise old men who will be killed therein by its king. These two old men will work many wonders and will remain therein forever, for they are those who annihilate the rule (?) with dreadful wounds. For they are the two [messengers] sent by the Cause and the Fire to appear in the universe.

Hermes the wise said: The eastern star of Sagittarius will move from East to West, and the direction of prayer (will remain there?) for two years and a half. Then it will return to its center and dominion. This is the star called the Star of Annunciation. It will lead the way to the sages coming from the East to [great] the Eternal King who is to appear, to venerate Him (222v), and to present to Him their offerings. Many infants will be killed on His account in the middle of the earth, while the Hidden Fire will enter the land of Egypt. Astrologers will go there. The two peoples will become one, for the [period of] one hundred eighty three revolutions of Saturn, the old man Saturn, which they call Zuhal.[1] For it traverses the heavens every thirty years. The number will be (determined?) by the revolutions of the sphere[s], o my son, on account of the appearance of that ancient God, who had been expected for five thousand and five hundred years.

He said also: O my son Natana, take images for yourself mighty (?) as the philosophers. O my son, do not sit in the company of the ignorant, and if you do happen to sit with them, do not speak in their company concerning the wisdom that I have disclosed to you. O my son, look forward toward the Light which is born of the Light which proceeds from the True Light, the Wisdom, the Word, and the Life. If you teach this to someone who is ignorant or unworthy, he will take this from you and mock you. (223r) However, if he is noble, do not deprive him of this, for you would be doing injustice to him. If his speech is true, grant him this by way of speech and in secret. If he memorizes this, this will become a prayer, and will testify for him in truth.

He said also: O my son, there must be a solar eclipse, which will last from the sixth hour of the day to the ninth hour, not in the time [appointed] for an eclipse, but on account of the Hidden One. He will be calumniated, and sought after, and killed by His people. His people will pay him evil for His granting (?) them good. The houses and temples of the gods will fall, and the Hidden One will gain power over them and over the entire creation.

He said: O my son, at that time the dead will come to life, and the Hidden One will work wonders, for He will walk upon the earth with power and give good tidings to human beings.

Hermes said also: From that time, which is the entrance of the Hidden Light into Egypt, after fifty revolutions of the old man Saturn (...?). From Hermes to the coming of Christ there will pass one thousand and five hundred years.

Anasolus said: O my son, the great king, pure without blemish, you are great indeed, the master of human beings, whom everyone sees in your glory (?), you have no blemish, the mighty king who has power over all things, both mortal and immortal.

Anasolus said: These powers are three divine names, one from His power and dominion, of the One God, which no one shall see, and a power that no one can meet, nor perceive its nature. All things came into being from these powers.

Archos the wise said: Three names in one divinity, by which all things came into being.

Arposh (?) the wise said: The imperceptible Light is one only, and it is the Thought in every available moment. The Word born of Him is perfect in all respects and makes all things.

Plato said: The Ancient Cause, which is the grace, [is the one] dispensed to all (?). The second [2] cause is the Intellect that created all things (224r). The third cause is the Soul, which created life, which is the life of every living being.

Aristotle said: He is God the Word. When He, being perfect in every birth, was born and created a mother (?) [for Himself] among the nations, He descended and lived in [the realm of] nature, and by nature He commanded water to loosen (?), and it became wine.

Plato said also: One is the Highest God on high, whose imperceptible Word a maid conceived. This, o my son, is like a sharp ax (?) clothed with fire. He goes through her womb and rules the world, and offers it to His Father as an offering. The name (?) of the maiden is the virgin.

Plato said in the Book of Secrets: The supremely High One will appear upon the earth and raise the dead and show his lordly signs. Thereupon He will return to His awesome throne, and will not come back (?) until the day of the Great Judgment.

Yonion the wise said: He is the Ancient the Mighty, who sits over the heavens, clothed in flame[s] (224v) of fire and light; His kingdom shall have no end. He will appear upon the earth, raise the dead, cure the sick, and show His lordly signs. Thereupon, he will return to His celestial throne, for He is in the highest heavens. At the time of His appearance upon the earth, the Persians will come to present Him with their offerings, for He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, whose kingdom shall have no end.

Plato said: The Trinity is one God, who alone is supreme. His Word indwelled a virgin maiden, without change (?), overshadowing her without intercourse, and she conceived. This is similar to the fire present in the world, who will catch everything and present [it] as an offering to His Father. He will reside in this house, i.e. the body.

Yanfus the wise said: The Thought, which is like fire, which is divinity and life everlasting (?), and an immutable light which will be seen upon the earth. He will (ascend?) into the sky and command (...?).

He said also: He will descend in purity and shine forth [as] the Lord upon the earth, and (225r) the Persians will come with gifts, and He, praise be to Him, will offer guidance of the Great and Mysterious (?) God. He will appear upon the earth, being higher than the Word and superior to the Intellect, and will never cease.

Augustus the wise said in the Book of Astrology: There must appear a Hebrew youth, who will be called Christ and is eternal in His essence. The Eternal will make a public appearance, having the lordly power in His hand. He will raise the dead and clean the lepers and loosen the mute tongues.

Aristotle said in his book, entitled Celestial Sciences: You shall not see the True God except behind a veil by which His light is concealed from your vision, so that your eyes may not (go blind?) from His sight. But when He appears, one will be able to realize the greatness of His rule. By this you will understand that He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Aristotle said also in his letter to Alexander the king: Be earnest, o king, in the pursuit of the water of life. You shall not find water of life except in a Man (225v) who is to appear in the world, clothed in this world's clothes. If you find Him, you will find the water of life with Him. He will feed you with His food from the eternal Tree of Life. Water of life will be flowing from His hands.

He said in his treatise entitled the Book of Treasures: The treasure of life is the God Adonai, who is to appear in the universe. Those in the graves will hear His voice and will rise.

Yanfus the wise said: Glory (?) to you, o thrice-blessed, who is God the eternal (?), who shall die and abolish death clearly, when He will rise after three days.

Plato the wise said: No, by Him who sent me, verily they do not know what they speak, nor what they do. By this he means the priests of the sons of Israel who deny his words cited above.

Zoroaster the Magian said to his disciples in the Book of the Elements of Science:[3] Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, will remain in me and I in him.

To the Awesome Father, and to the Son who helped and assisted, and to the Holy Spirit who perfected may there be Glory now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.[4]

[1] This is the Arabic term for Saturn.

[2] MS: stable. But I suspect the original reading was "second" which is easily misread as "stable" in Arabic letters. This would indicate that the MS was copied (directly or indirectly) from a manuscript in Arabic letters.

[3] So in the text. However "of the World" is a possible reading, if a small emendation is made.

[4] The last sentence (a copyist's addition) is written in Syriac rather than Karshuni.

Here is the catalogue page:

with a larger image here. The complete catalogue entry for Ms Mingana 481 is here.

Comments by Andrew Criddle:

In this text the son of Hermes is called Natana. In the Greek Hermetic literature the son of Hermes is called Tat. The translator says this text was apparently originally in Arabic Script before being converted to Garshuni. In Arabic Script the confusion between initial n and initial t is very easy. Hence I suspect that the son of Hermes was originally something like Tatana?

I also have a striong suspicion that Arposh was originally Orpheus.

On a more general level:

This text is full of exaggerated Christian claims about Pagan writers anticipating Christ. At face value the claim about Zoroster should be regarded with the same dubiousness as the claims about Plato and Aristotle.

Something like the claim in the prophecy attributed to Zaradosht

I am he, and he is I; he is in me, and I am in him
could easily have been rewritten to produce this, given the degree of freedom shown in rewriting things attributed to Plato Aristotle et al.

Not only does this text clearly tell us nothing about Mithraism, it may tell us little about what Zoroastrians genuinely claimed about Zoroaster.

Arabic texts related to Ms. Mingana 481 - Al-Majd/Al-Majdalus

Searching in Google for Ms. Mingana 481 brings more information.  It seems that there are two commentaries on the Nicene Creed, which may contain this material.  Georg Graf (below) tells us that Al-Majd wrote one, and gives a list of 10 manuscripts.

But according to the Abu Al-Majd Ibn Yu'Annis article on Abū Yu'annis (by Dr Khalil Samir, taken from The Coptic Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 1991), Al-Majd and Al-Majdalus are two different people, and the mss.  must be divided accordingly.

"Only two manuscripts are known, of which only one is complete, in the Vatican Library (Arabic manuscript 158, foI. 148r-157), copied in 1357 by TūMA IBN AL-NAJĪB LUTFALLĀH AL-MAHALLĪ. 

"The other manuscript is also from the fourteenth century and of Egyptian provenance (National Library, Paris, Arabe 205, fols. 79v-84v). The last third of the commentary (corresponding to fol. 154r, I. 12, to foI. 157v, 1., 22, of the Vatican manuscript) is now missing. 

"The other ten manuscripts given in Graf (vol. 2, p. 450) do not refer to this text.

"Abū al-Majd's Commentary was published in 1940 by Constantine Bacha, in Volume 7 of Al-RisĀlah al-Mukhallisiiyyah in several issues, and reedited the same year in a small fascicule of thirty-five pages. "

But our interest is in Abu al-Majdalus's Commentary on the Creed:

"Abū al-Majdalūs's Commentary is considerably longer, covering fifty large pages in the oldest complete manuscript (Oriental Library, Beirut 569a, dated 1452). 

"At the article "he was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary," Abū al-Majdalūs' Commentary cites several messianic witnesses from among pagan philosophers: the KitĀb al-AsrĀr attributed to Plato (cf. Graf, Vol. 1, p. 486, sec. 3); the KitĀb al-'Ulūm al-'Ulwiyyah and the Letter to Alexander attributed to Aristotle (cf. Graf, Vol. 1, p. 485, sec. 4); the 'Ilm al-TanjĪm attributed to the philosopher Augustus (cf. Graf, Vol. I, pp. 485, sec. 3, and 486, sec. 4); and a text attributed to a certain Yūniyūn or Yūthiyūn, depending upon the manuscripts, as yet unidentified.

"Abū al-Majdalūs' Commentary is found most frequently in manuscripts of Syrian provenance; however, it could be of Coptic origin. In fact, the oldest known manuscript (not noted by Graf) (Ambrosian Library, Milan, I 10 Sup), is dated curiously 4 Tūt/1 Aylūl of the year A.M. [10]38 1 September A.D. 1321; its provenance is probably a Copt in Syria, where there were many Copts at this period.

"Graf lists ten manuscripts of this work.... To these should be added:


"Löfgren, 0., and R. Traini. Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Vicenza, 1975-1981."

Note that the Mingana Catalogue col. 586 refers to Ms. Mingana 308 (see below) while col. 889 refers to Ms. Mingana 481 (see above).  Graf's list of 10 mss of Al-Majdalus is as follows:


The article distinguishes the commentary of Abu al-Majd and that of Abu al-Majdalus. The commentary with the pagan quotes which is probably found in Mingana 481 is that of Abu al-Majdalus.  The Commentary published in 1940 is that of Abu al-Majd. Has the commentary of al-Majdalus  been published?

Fr. Khalil Samir SJ, the author of that article about the Arabic commentary on the creed from which Ms. 481 is an abstract, works at CEDRAC, an institution at St. Joseph University in Beirut. I have written to him to ask about getting hold of the full text.


Graf's list of 10 mss of Al-Majdalus is as follows:

Samir adds:


Georg Graf's entry on Al-Majd

Geschicte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, Vol. 2, pp.449-450:

137. Abu 'l-Magd ibn Yuwannis (Yu'annis, Yunus) 1. Dieser Name verknüpft sich mit der Autorschaft einer "Erklärung des nizänischen Symbolum", in der zu den einzelnen Artikeln Belegstellen aus dem A. T. beigebracht und kommentiert werden. Als prophetische Zeugnisse für den christlichen Glauben werden auch die "Philosophen" Plato, Aristoteles, Augustus u. a. angeführt. Aus dem Titel und der Einleitung (in den 2 ältesten Hss) ist zu entnehmen, dass der Vfr. Priester war und aus der Stadt Minyah Beni Husaib in Oberägypten stammte, ferner dass die Abfassung auf Veranlassung des Bischofs Gabriel von Qüs geschah, der Abu 'l-Magd um Aufstellung von Beweisen für die christliche Lehre angegangen hatte. Im Hinblick auf die älteste handschriftliche Bezeugung muss die Zeit des Vfrs. vor der Mitte des 14. Jahrh. liegen.

1 Auf falscher Lesung und Nachschrift beruhen die Namensentstellungen Abul-Magedus, filius Junes (Ang. Mai), Abu 'l-Magd ibn Lus (de Slane), Abu 'l-Magdalus, al-Magdalus (Cheikho und Sbath).

Hss: Vat. ar. 158 (J. 1357), ff. 148r-157v. Par. ar. 205 (14. Jh.), ff. 79v-84v, unvollst. Bairut 569a (J. 1452), S. 183-231; 569b (J. 1897 nach einer Hs in Dair aš-Šuwair), S. 124-158. --- Mingana syr. 308 (karš., J. 1804), ff. 80v-96v. Sbath 47 (karš., J. 1863), S. 163-308; 701 (17. Jh.); Fihris 168 (3 Hss). Šarfeh ar. 16/2; II 3 (18. Jh. ?)1. Wenn für diese letzten Hss syrischer Provenienz bemerkt wird, dass der Vfr. melchitischer Priester und im J. 992 Ch. (!) in Diyarbakr als melchitischer Priester gestorben sei, so handelt es sich wohl nur um eine willkürlich zusätzliche Glosse eines Kopisten oder eines Lesers.

1 Das gleiche Werk vielleicht auch unter den Anonyma unten.


137. Abu 'l-Magd ibn Yuwannis (Yu'annis, Yunus) 1.

This name is linked with the authorship of an Explanation of the Nicene Creed, in which for each article references from the Old Testament are given and commented on.  The "philosophers" Plato, Aristotle, Augustus, etc, are brought in as prophetic proofs of the Christian faith.  From the title and introduction (in the two oldest manuscripts) we learn that the author was a priest and came from the town of Minya Beni Husaib in Upper Egypt.  In addition we learn that the work was commissioned by the bishop Gabriel of Qus, who instructed Aby 'l-Majd to draw up a list of proofs for the Christian teaching.  Because of the oldest manuscript witness, the author must have lived before the middle of the 14th century.

1  The following names are based upon a false reading and postscript: Abul-Magedus, filius Junes (Ang. Mai), Abu 'l-Magd ibn Lus (de Slane), Abu 'l-Magdalus, al-Magdalus (Cheikho und Sbath).


[Note: See Khalil Samir above: the following 10 mss are not of the work by Al-Majd, but of a work by Al-Majdalus]

A Syrian provenance can be noted for these last manuscripts, that the author was a melkite priest and died in 992 AD in Diyarbekir as a melkite priest.  But this is probably only an arbitrary gloss by a copyist or a reader.

1 The same work perhaps also is anonymous.

Mingana Ms. 308 catalogue entry

Dr Samir's article refers to col. 586, which is Ms. Mingana 308. This appears to contain a copy of the Abu al-Majdalus commentary:

Andrew Criddle hypothesis

I think I know the origin of this quote.

What follows involves various arguments on circumstantial evidence but I will try and justify the steps.

Step 1 Mingana 142 is as Christian Arabic/Syiac works go rather unusual, an attack on paganism/magic which seems to have little or no known good parallels. Mingana 481 is much more mainstream. It is an example of the defence of Christianity by the use of collections of supposed prophecies by pagan philosophers about Christ. Mingana 142 is probably a modification of this sort of material for the rather unusual purposes of the author.

Mingana 481 has various parallels with other collections of pagan prophecies used in this way. Apart from the obvious like Plato and Aristotle we have Augustus which presumably refers to the oracle found in Syriac in BarHebraeus and Dionysius bar-Salibi and in Greek in Malalas

The Oracle which was given to Augustus of the house of Octavianus when he wanted to learn who would reign after him 'A Hebrew child shall be called God, Christ who will reign over the blessed, being thus eternal he shall leave his dwelling place and come and return to our dwelling place.
(I've checked in the Mingana catalogue and it explicitly says that 481 includes Augustus (given in Garshuni without translation) as well as Plato Aristotle and Zoroaster among the philosophers quoted.)

Step 2 Sebastian Brock has studied the use of pagan prophecies by Syriac Christians in Some Syriac Excerpts from Greek Collections of Pagan Prophecies Vigilae Christianae 38 1984 pps 77-90 and A Syriac collection of Prophecies of the Pagan Philosophers Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica XIV Leuven 1983 reprinted in Studies in Syriac Christianity 1992.

Brock claims that several independent translations from Greek into Syriac are involved but that most of this material ultimately goes back to a single Greek work This work is, he argues, the Theosophia originally composed in eleven books in Greek c 500 CE maybe in Alexandria. The work does not survive as such but there is a fragment, an abstract (the Tubingen Theosophy) and various later Greek collections based on the Theosophia. See H Erbse Fragmente griechischer Theosophien (Hamburg 1941) Theosophorum Graecorum Fragmenta Teubner 1995.

There is no reference to Zoroaster in the surviving remains of the Theosophia however the Tubingen Theosophy says

"In the fourth (or eleventh) [chapter] he mentions the oracles of a certain Hystaspes, (ChRHSEIS hUSTASPOU) who, as he said, was an extremely pious king of the Persians or Chaldeans and therefore received the revelation of the divine mysteries about the incarnation of the Savior."
The chapter about Hystaspes has not survived which is where we might expect to find claims about Zoroaster.

Step 3 So far the suggestion that the sayings about Zoroaster in the Mingana texts go back to the Theosophia has only the flimsiest basis however we may have much stronger evidence. A Brinkmann Die Theosophie des Aristokritos Rheinische Museum fur Philologie N F 51 (1896) 273-80 was the first to suggest that the Theosophia of which the Tubingen Theosophy is an abstract should be identified with the Theosophia of Aristokritos/Aristocritus which people repudiating Dualism in favour of Orthodox Christianity were required to Anathematize in late 1st millennium Byzantium. The Long Anathema says

I anathematize also the book of Aristocritus which he entitled Theosophy, in which he tries to demonstrate that Judaism Paganism Christianity and Manichaeism are one and the same doctrine and so that what he says will appear plausible he attacks Mani as evil.
A number of scholars have agreed with Brinkmann others have disagreed. The direct evidence for Brinkmann's position is not all that impressive but it does avoid postulating two similar but independent works called Theosophia

Step 4 Bidez and Cumont in Les Mages Hellenises had drawn attention to the passage in the Long Anathema condemming Mani's alleged worship of Zoroaster. However we have recently recovered the original text on which the Long Anathema was based a sixth century work probably by Zacharias of Mitylene. Originally published by the late Abbe Marcel Richard in 1977 it is discussed thoroughly by Samuel Lieu in An Early Byzantine Formula for the Renunciation of Manichaeism in Manichaeism in Mesopotamia and the Roman East 1994 pps 203-305. The pasage about Aristocritus reads

In addition to all these I anathematize in the same way that most atheistic book of Aristocritus which he entitled Theosophy through which he tries to demonstrate that Judaism Paganism and Christianity and Manichaeism are one and the same doctrine with no other ulterior motive than to make all men Manichaeans as far as he can. For indeed he like Manichaeus in it makes Zarades a God who appeared as he himself says among the Persians and calls him the sun and our Lord Jesus Christ even if for the sake of deceiving and ensnaring those who come across his book which it would be more appropriate to call his Heretical Infatuation and at the same time his dearangement he gives the appearance of upbraiding Manichaeus.
This clearly indicates that Aristocritus (whether or not really a Manichaean) regarded Zoroaster and Christ as the same divine being making it plausible that in his Theosophia he would attribute things to Zoroaster originally attributed to Christ.

Conclusion It is prima facie plausible that (like similar material) the claims about Zoroster go back to the Theosophia. If this is the same as the work by Aristocritus we now know that he identified Zoroaster and Christ. Hence it seems likely that we have access in the Mingana manuscripts to some of the material about Zoroaster which caused the original form of the Theosophia to be anathematized and may have ensured that it survived only as extracts.

Andrew Criddle


"I agree that 142 looks like a derivative of 481, and the idea that the latter is using some form of collection of pagan testimonies for Christianity seems entirely reasonable and normal. Iw ill have to look these references up; Brock's assertion appears to be the key one.

This Aristocritus is indeed rather obscure as he does not feature in the index of any of the patrologies that I have here. I will need to visit a library to learn more about him."

"Aristocritus is extremely obscure

My previous post contained everything that is explicitly said about him and an important part of that was not available until relatively recently.

The weakest part of my case may be the claim (plausible and quite widely held but unproven) that the philosophia of Aristocritus is the same as the philosophia of an unnamed author of roughly the same time of which large portions survive (eg the Tubingen Theosophy).

Without (at least provisionally) accepting the identity of the two philosophias we know very little of what Aristocritus taught."

Entry on collection of prophecies from Georg Graf's Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Litteratur

In vol. 1 of Graf ('The translations') at the end of the section on patristic literaturem on pp. 483-6, there is a section on these prophecies of Christ in pagan writers, which refers explicitly to this part of Ms. Mingana 481.

English translation:

145.  Messianic proofs from pagan philosophers

The apologetical literature of the Christian orient used the doubtful evidence of falsified statements of ancient pagan authors and invented oracular sayings to confirm the divinity of Christianity and the truth of its teaching, as was also done to an almost indeterminable extent by Greek and late antique apologists 1.  Collections of such proofs of differing extent and with changing text also were taken into the Arabic language in theological works, where they appear both among collections of quotations and patristic citations or separately in the manuscripts.  

Greek ecclesiastical writers could point to Cyril of Alexandria 2, Didymus 3, and Theodotus of Ancyra 4, etc as examples.  In both cases there are prophecies of the divine Trinity, the incarnation of the Word, the virgin birth of Jesus, the visit of the Magi, the massacre of the innocents, the divinity of Jesus, his miracle-working, and his passion, which depend either on the tendentious interpretation of real and attributed works and biographies, or on the expansion of pagan books of revelation (such as the Sibylline books).

1 On the existence of such prophecies see A.Delatte, Le déclin de la Legende des VII Sages et les prophéties theosophiques, in Le Musée belge 27 (1923) 97-111.  (English here)

Without referring to this publication, the immense quantity of important texts and their mutual relationship is examined by A. von Premerstein, Griechisch-heidnische Weissagungen über christliche Lehre in Handschriften und Kirchenmalereien {=Greek pagan prophecies about Christian doctrine in manuscripts and church paintings}, in Festschrift der Nationalbibliothek in Wien, 1926, pp. 647-666. 

An informative study on the origin and character of oracles created and used for Christian apologetic is given by Eduard Bratke in his book, Das sogenannte Religionsgespräch am Hof der Sasaniden {=The so-called religious dialogue at the court of the Sassanids} [T. u. U. N. F. 4, 3 a], Leipzig 1899, pp. 129-139.

2 Contra Julianum lib. I, PG 76, 549 ff.

3 De Trinitate lib. II, c. 27, PG 39, 753 ff.

4 In s. Deiparam et in nativitatem Domini, PG 77, 1430 ff.

However authors writing in Arabic do not draw from the first source, naturally.  Their writings stand at the end of a line of development (not individually identifiable) which for some comes from Greek, although much contorted and developed, and for others derives from Syriac and Coptic sources.  For already a preliminary and in no way conclusive investigation of the Arabic material, and a comparison with the readily available Greek texts 1 shows that they have comparatively few quotations in common in substance, let alone verbatim, and that -- at the simplest level -- the number of witnesses derived from earlier Christian writings increases.  The latter feature is explained by the fact that through distortion and corruption the number of Greek (and non-Greek) names increases, and also names are transmitted in a form which cannot easily be attributed to their supposed origin.

The alleged prophecies of pre-Christian authors are used in the theological works of the following authors writing in Arabic 2

Melkites: 'AbdallĀh ibn al-Fadl (11th century), in the 32nd chapter of his anthology "The Great Book of Benefits" (often circulated separately); and, at a later but somewhat indefinite date, Gerasimus, Superior of the Monastery of St. Simeon at Antioch, in his five-part apology for Christian doctrine (= G) 3.

Nestorians: The authors of 2 (3) theological encyclopedias which share the same name (in the original), the "Tower book"; i.e. MĀrĪ ibn SulaimĀn (= M; 12th century) 4 

1 The most important publications are: 

2 More on this in vol. 2.

3 Found in Ms. Beirut 548 (16th century), ff. 243-271; this portion is also transmitted separately in many manuscripts.

4 According to Vat. ar. 108 (13th century), ff. 53r-54r.

 and 'Amr ibn MattĀ (14th century) 1, also the plagiarist SalĪbĀ ibn YūhannĀ.

Jacobites: An anonymous explanation of the Nicene Creed, Vat. ar. 148 (end of the 16th century), ff. 38v-40r (= J).

Copts: The earliest users of this kind of litterature is the bishop Severus ibn al-Muqaffa' of al-Ašmūnain (10th century) in his polemical "Book of the Councils" (= S) 2, and YūhannĀ ibn SabbĀ' (=John ibn Saba, 14th century) in a theological-practical manual (= JS) 3.  The proofs mentioned by the latter are all borrowed, either from S or from M.

Free-standing collections may be found in the following Mss: 

The principal pagan witnesses in the previously mentioned works and collections for the value of Christian belief are the great philosophers and classics of the Greeks, including the apocryphal Hermes Trismegistus, the "Seven sages of Athens", sayings from the Delphic oracle, usually cited simply as "Apollo", also the Sybil, other less well-known personalities, and then outside of the Hellenic culture the biblical Balaam, a sage whom the emperor Augustus consulted, often as "Augustus" himself, oracles to the Egyptian Pharaoh, and the Persian Darius, Zoroaster and Manes.

An (incomplete) overview in alphabetical order is given here, with the places where the text can be found.

Aemilius (?) der Philosoph (G). 

Anthimus (G). 

Apollo (M; V=K1 from "Athanasii Magni Commentarius de templo Athenarum", PG. 28, 1429 A; new edition by Delatte, Le déclin. . ., p. 109; 4 G; probably also a 5th citation under the name of Apollonius)

Aristotle (V = K1; 1 G from Pitra loc. cit., pp. 306; 1 G from the "fourth philosophical book" of Aristotle; + 1 G; 1 S from his book with the title "The higher knowledge" [KitĀb al-'ulūm al-'alĪya], only in substance = J; 1 S from his letter to Alexander = J, here under the name of Pythagoras; 1 S from his "Book of treasures" [K. al-kunūz] =J; + 1 S).

1 Only very incompletely in autograph in Vat. ar. 110. 

2 In Cairo 111 (1544 AD), ff. 268v-270v.  This portion was not included in the printed edition in Patrologia Orientalis III, 2, which is online here at Gallica.

3 P. Or. XVI pp. 639-642

"A wise man ('arrĀf) of Augustus" (2 V = 2 K1; S = J in part; G). 

BĀbĀs (for Bias? V = K1). 

Balaam (V = K1 = K2). 

Chilon (? - M "KĪlĀ[n]us"). 

Darius (G "Darius the wise"; V = K1 "Darius, the son of the king"). 

Democrates (M = JS). 

Dionysius the Areopagite (G, about a solar eclipse).

Hermes (M like Didymus in Pitra loc. cit., p. 305; PG. 39, 755-760, and Cyril of Alexandria, PG. 76, 556A; one part of this also in G; + 1 M = JS; + 2 M; 1 G like Cyril in Pitra p. 306; PG. 76, 553 A; + 1 G similar to Cyril, PG. 76, 552 D; + 7 G; + 1 G, answer of Hermes to a question of Pharaoh: what is the great star? Reference to the holy Trinity, whereupon Pharaoh allows the consecration of a temple to the divine Trinity and the Word of God; 3 V = 3 K1; 1 S=1 J; 1 S = JS; + 5 S). 

Jason (M = JS "NĀsūn"). 

Ilon (? — M "Ajūlun" = JS). 

Manes (M "MĀnĪ" = SJ in part; + 1 M). 

Marius (? — M). 

Miletus (M = JS with mutilated name). 

Numetius (G). 

Origen "the wise" (J). 

Orpheus (with mutilated name G as Cyril, PG. 76, 552 C; 2 V = 2 K1; S). 

Two temple oracles to Pharoah at the time of Moses (G). 

Philo (M). 

An unknown philosopher (V = K).

Plato (2 S, in a different recension 2 V = 2 K1; + 1 S from the "Book of the secrets" [KitĀb al-asrĀr] = JS, in an expanded recension V; + 2 S; M; 4 G). 

Plutarch (G as Pitra p. 306; with mutilated name [?] V = K). 

Porphyry (G, abbreviated from Cyril in Pitra p. 306, PG. 76, 554 B, and Didymus id. 39, 760; + 1 G; V = K1; M, similarly in Gotha ar. 2882, f. 18v). 

Pythagoras (M, weakly similar to Cyril PG. 76, 548 C). 

Pythia (? — V "FūbijĀ" = K1 FurbĪja ?). 

The Sibyl (V = K; 3 G, from which a shortened piece with similar wording in JS; all of these pieces are missing from "Sibyllinischen Weissagungen", ed. J. Schleifer). 

Socrates (M; G). 

Solon (G, on the passion of Jesus). 

Sophocles (V = K1; a second piece attributed to him may possibly be present, but with mutilated name; G). 

Themistocles (Gotha ar. 2882, f. 19 r). 

Thucydides (G). 

Titon (? — J "AtĀṭun; a shorter recension in S "yūnĪyūn"). 

Xenophon (G, similar to Cyril, PG. 76, 552 A). 

Zoroaster the philosopher (V = K1; 1 K1; J, in substance similar to the first Hermes citation in S).

Mutilated, with a still uncertain name: ( 2 S + 2 S + 1 S; M; 5 different in G; 1 V = 1 K1 + 1 V = 1 K1 = K2; 1 V = 1 K1).

More on Aristocritus

Andrew Criddle:

I've found an important recent study by P F Beatrice Anonymi Monophysitae Theosophia a new attempt to reconstruct the Theosophia. (It had been in effect mislaid in the Cambridge University Library's cataloguing process, but after I made enquiries staff very kindly located and catalogued it.)

Important points are that

i/ Beatrice regards the Theosophia of Aristokritos as quite different from the Theosophia partially preserved in works such as the Tubingen Theosophy.

ii/ He emphasizes the centrality of the original behind the Tubingen Theosophy for later works citing non-Christian sources in support of Christianity, particularly in the case of Syriac and other Eastern works. He claims that works such as the Baalbek Oracle were originally part of the Theosophia

iii/ Beatrice emphasizes the Monophysite origins of the Theosophia

I am not entirely convinced by his claim i/ and I will try and say more about this later. (I agree that if the two Theosophia are the same work then the abjuration formula seriously misrepresents the work, but I think such misrepresentation is more plausible than Beatrice does)

Beatrice has argued both in this work and in Le Livre d'Hystaspe aux mains des Chretiens pps 357-382 in Les Syncretismes Religieux dans le Monde Mediterraneen Antique that the prophecy attributed to Zoroaster in Theodore Bar-Koni and later writers comes from the Theosophia.

He gives an English translation of Theodore which I will quote.

Sitting near the spring of waters at Glousa of Hurin, at the place chosen for bathing by the ancient kings, Zoroaster opened his mouth and spoke thus to his disciples, Hystaspes, Sassan and Mahman.

I address you, my friends and my sons, whom I have nourished with my doctrine. Listen to me, and I shall reveal to you the wondrous mystery about the great king who must come into the world. Indeed, at the end of times, at the moment of dissolution which puts an end to them, a child will be conceived and will be formed with all his limbs in the womb of a virgin untouched by man. He will be like a tree with fine branches and laden with fruit, standing on arid ground.

The inhabitants of that land will oppose his growth and strive to uproot him from the ground, but they will not succeed. Then they will seize him and kill him on the scaffold; the earth and the sky will go into mourning for his violent death and all the families of nations will weep for him. He will open the descent into the depths of the earth; and from the depth he will rise towards the Most High. Then he will be seen coming with the army of light, borne on white clouds, because he is the son conceived by the Word which generates all things.

Hystaspes said to Zoroaster:

He of whom you said all that, whence comes his power ? Is he greater than you, or are you greater than he ?

Zoroaster said to him:

He will arise from my family and my lineage. He is I and I am he. He is in me and I am in him. When the beginning of his coming is made manifest, great wonders will appear in the sky. A bright star will be seen in the middle of the sky, its light will be greater than that of the sun. Now, my sons, you the seed of life, issued from the treasure of light and of the spirit, which has been sown in the soil of fire and water, you will have to be on your guard and watch out for what I have told you, waiting for it to come about, because you will know in advance of the coming of the great king, whom captives await so that they may be set free.

So now, my sons, guard the mystery that I have revealed to you; let it be written in your heart and preserved in the treasure of your souls. And when the star of which I spoke arises, let messengers be sent by you, laden with gifts, to adore him and make offers to him. Do not neglect him, lest he makes you perish by the sword, for he is the king of kings and it is from him that all receive the crown. I and he are one.

John Ibn-Saba, "The precious pearl: concerning the ecclesiastical sciences" (PO 16.4)

This contains a lot of the same material as Ms. Mingana 142.  I learned about it from Graf.

Andrew Criddle comments:

It is also interesting that the version of the Zoroaster story found in John ibn Saba and Ms 142 appears to be secondary to the form found in Ms. 481 and S. 

We have two contexts for the Zoroaster quote.

Context 1 is part of a list of supposed pagan predictions/prophecies/foreshadowings of Christ.

Context 2 is part of a denunciation of astral magic and demonic parodies of Christianity.

Context 1 is in its origins pre-Islamic, it is originally Greek but has been expanded within the Syriac and other Eastern churches. Its early forms such as the Theosophia already use (pseudo)-Zoroastrian material.

Context 2 is post-Islamic found only in non-Greek sources and appears to be related to Islamic-period polemics against the Sabaeans.

Context 2 is later than Context 1; and importantly the Ibn-Saba material in chapters 19 and 20 which is context 2 material is followed in chapter 21 with context 1 material.

IE an important witness to the Zoroaster quote in Context 2 has clearly drawn heavily from context 1 material.

AFAIK the witnesses to the Zoroaster quote in Context 1 show no other signs of familiarity with Context 2 material.

The Ancient Novel and Beyond

By Stelios Panayotakis, Maaike Zimmerman, Wytse Hette Keulen, Brill (2003) ISBN 9004129995.  This contains on p.17 a reference for works on the "Sayings of the Philosophers", which is probably our category.  Unfortunately the entries are unclear:  Brock is probably Sebastian Brock's papers.  Goodman and Strohmaier I don't know.  The idea tha tthe collection was reworked by Hunain ibn Ishaq is interesting.  Follow these up. 


Getting hold of manuscripts in Cairo

In response to a question in Hugoye, John Lamoreaux tells me:

Graf (almost always) refers to the Cairo MSS via the numeration of his own catalogue. This catalogue combines material from both the Coptic Patriarchate and the Coptic Museum. 

If you let me know the number of the MS in which you are interested, I can tell you which library it is in and get you its real shelf number.

If you need copies of any of the MSS, the folks at BYU have a complete set of microfilms, both the old items and the new items -- with many thanks to G. Browne. Kristian Heal would be the best person to contact.

To which I responded:

I'm interested in 'Cairo 111': "Severus ibn al-Muqaffa' of al-Ashmûnain (10th century) in his polemical "Book of the Councils" (= S)  2...[2] In Cairo 111 (1544 AD), ff. 268v-270v. This portion was not included in the printed edition in Patrologia Orientalis III, 2." (Graf vol. 1. p-483-6)

And he replied:

Graf nr 111 is found in the Coptic Museum. Its shelf number there is Theol. 196. It is also described in Simaika's catalogue under nr. 53. In the film collection at BYU, it is found in Roll A15-4.

The collections of 'pagan' prophecies are interesting, and deserve a great deal of further research. There are similar collections in circulation among the Melkites of medieval Syria. Unfortunately, we still know next to nothing about them.

I wrote to Kristian Heal to get hold of a copy of those pages of that ms. - But no answer received. Have sent emails to people working with mss at BYU (1st Feb 2008).  Gary Gillum responded and obtained images of the three pages:

An English translation of these three pages was made by Youhanna Youssef.

It looks as if we start in the middle of the pagan prophecies and need a page or two before this.  I have written to Gary Gillum and asked.

Hunain ibn Ishaq, Sayings of the philosophers; Abu'l Wafa Mubashshir ibn Fatik; Bocados de oro

A search in google and google books suggests that a work of this title exists, although Graf does not list it:

Hunein Ibn Ishak (809-873). The Sayings of the Philosophers, written by Hunein Ibn Ishak, a Nestorian Christian who was born in Syria and wrote in Syriac and Arabic, has been translated into Hebrew, Spanish and other languages, and became a very popular book among the intellectuals of the early Middle Ages in Europe and the Middle East. This book, however, is highly significant of the deformation of Greek philosophy in the sixth and seventh centuries. 

Hunein was a learned man. He wrote an Introduction into the Science of Medicine, a Syriac-Arabic dictionary and grammar, and many other books. He traveled a great deal and collected Greek manuscripts, which he either translated into Syriac or Arabic, or used as sources for his own books. 

Without any doubt, Hunein was a careful writer and faithful translator, but the texts of the manuscripts he had at hand ere spoiled, because the copyists had been incapable of understanding what they copied, and each succeeding scribe had added new errors to those of his predecessors. Thus Hunein confounded Socrates and Diogenes, or Plato with Bias. Even his own philosophy, whether it consisted of original thoughts or of quotations, is more characteristic of the fate of certain Greek thoughts in a time of spiritual decay. 

This also links to an excerpt from this work:

At a Greek holiday, four philosophers met in a temple which was adorned with golden pictures. These philosophers were the pillars of wisdom. They talked about the objects of wisdom, and discussed the philosophical  principles of wisdom, while mentioning sayings of the old thinkers.

One of them said: This meeting shall not be forgotten. For the friends of wisdom will always like to learn wisdom. Now, we will utter wise sentences to be remembered by late generations so that posterity may learn from them. They shall be a moral school for those who come next, and established wisdom for those who come long after us. 

The first said: Through noble souls and pure thoughts the spirits soar up to the air of spiritual understanding in the realm of light and power 
which are hidden to those who glance at the real world.... (etc) 

This led me to google books where I found Adamson/Taylor, Cambridge companion to Arabic philosophy and Sears Jayne, Plato in Renaissance England which contains the following.  This refers to Hunain ibn Ishaq.

But it then goes on to discuss the Caxton text, which derives from an Arabic text by Abu'l Wafa Mubashshir ibn Fatik (1019-1097).  The title of this was Muhtar al-Hikam (Wise sayings), in 23 chapters dedicated to: Seth, Hermes, Thoth, Asclepius, Homer, Solon, Zeno, Hippocrates, Pythagoras, Diogenes, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander, Ptolemy, Assaron (?), Loqman, Eunapius, Mahada-Gis (?), Basil, Gregory, Galen, plus Miscellaneous authors.  Each chapter contains a biographical sketch of the author, and then a collection of sayings and anecdotes.  The Alexander section is from ps.Callisthenes.  The miscellaneous chapter contains no biographical material.  Most sayings are anonymous but some are by Protagoras.

An Old Spanish version, Bocados de oro (Sayings of gold) translates the lot.  A medieval Latin version, Liber philosophorum moralium, omitted all except Greek philosophers.

A critical edition of the Old Spanish translation of the collection of sayings is available:  

Title details: Bocados de oro. Kritische Ausgabe des altspanischen Textes von Mechthild Crombach. 
Series: (Romanistische Versuche und Vorarbeiten ; no. 37.)
Published: Bonn: Romanisches Seminar der Universita?t Bonn, 1971. 
Physical desc.: pp. xlv, 204. 21 cm.

Have ordered Bocados de oro.

Material from a Wikipedia article on Baruch  

The Arabic-Christian legends identify Baruch with Zoroaster, and give much information concerning him. Baruch, angry because the gift of prophecy had been denied him, and on account of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, left Palestine to found the religion of Zoroaster. The prophecy of the birth of Jesus from a virgin, and of his adoration by the Magi, is also ascribed to Baruch-Zoroaster.[23] It is difficult to explain the origin of this curious identification of a prophet with a magician, such as Zoroaster was held to be, among the Jews, Christians, and Arabs. De Sacy[24] explains it on the ground that in Arabic the name of the prophet Jeremiah is almost identical with that of the city of Urmiah, where, it is said, Zoroaster lived. However, this may be, the Jewish legend mentioned above (under Baruch in Rabbinical Literature), according to which the Ethiopian in Jer. xxxviii. 7 is undoubtedly identical with Baruch, is connected with this Arabic-Christian legend. As early as the Clementine "Recognitiones" (iv. 27), Zoroaster was believed to be a descendant of Ham; and, according to Gen. x. 6, Cush, the Ethiopian, is a son of Ham. According to the "Recognitiones",[25] the Persians believed that Zoroaster had been taken into heaven in a chariot ("ad cSlum vehiculo sublevatum"); and according to the Jewish legend, the above-mentioned Ethiopian was transported alive into paradise,[26] an occurrence that, like the translation of Elijah,[27] must have taken place by means of a "vehiculum." Another reminiscence of the Jewish legend is found in Baruch-Zoroaster's words concerning Jesus: "He shall descend from my family",[28] since, according to the Haggadah, Baruch was a priest; and Maria, the mother of Jesus, was of priestly family. 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church Baruch is venerated as a saint, and as such is commemorated on September 28 (which, for those who follow the traditional Julian Calendar, falls on October 11 of the Gregorian Calendar). 

23.        Compare the complete collection of these legends in Gottheil, in "Classical Studies in Honor of H. Drisler," pp. 24-51, New York, 1894; Jackson, "Zoroaster," pp. 17, 165 et seq. 
24  "Notices et Extraits des MSS. de la Bibliothèque du Roi," ii. 319 
25 iv. 28 
26 "Derek Ere? Zu??a," i. end 
27 II Kings ii. 11 
28 Book of the Bee, ed. Budge, p. 90, line 5, London, 1886 

Article by Gottheil

Beirut Ms. 548 ff.243-271 (Gerasimus)

According to vol. 2 of Georg Graf, p.83, the 5 book apology of the Abbot Gerasimus, of the abbey of Simeon the Wonderworker, near Antioch, contains in book 4 extracts about Christ from the OT, from later Judaism (Josephus), from pre-Christian religion ('Sabeans' and Greek philosophers) and from the Koran.

No printed text seems to exist.  However extracts about the philosophers and the koran are to be found in Beirut Ms. 548, pp. 243-271, Graf says.  I have obtained images of these 30 pages, and a translation would be good.

A possible theory of origins of all this

There are a number of questions about all this material.

  1. How did these collections of material come into being, given that most of them are clearly inauthentic?
  2. Did the authors simply invent them?
  3. How do we account for quotations moving from one author to another?
  4. How do we explain the way in which pagan authors are made to speak like fathers of the church?
  5. Why do we have so many 'authors' whose names are unintelligible?
  6. Is this material derived from Syriac, or even Greek, and if so, how? 

I have devised the following theory.

If we examine one of the earliest collections, that in Didymus the Blind (q.v.), we find a handful of quotations from pagan authors interspersed with commentary and interpretation.  The authors includes the Sybil, Orpheus, Hermes Trismegistus, and Plato -- but this time, Plato Comicus, not Plato Philosophus whom we would usually understand.  If we examine similar material in the slightly later Contra Julianum of Cyril of Alexandria, we find some of the same material, but given as being from other books than Didymus gives it.  We know that Cyril quotes his pagan authors mainly from quotations in the Fathers -- in particular Eusebius of Caesarea -- rather than from the original sources.  If we have collections being assembled, not from reading the pagans, but from reading the fathers, this process must become standard in later writers, as the pagan texts become less accessible.

Christian authors did sometimes quote pagan authors in support of Christian views.  This begins in the second century, when Justin is at pains to defend the illegal and despised religion by suggesting that its beliefs and practises were individually no more exotic than some found in legal or mainstream pagan religious practise (without, of course, trying to tell people who knew different that Christianity was paganism).  Clement of Alexandria continued this; and Eusebius in his Praeparatio Evangelica goes through Plato and Aristotle and illustrates Christian teaching throughout, as a way to bring pagans over to Christianity.

Ancient copies of texts were not punctuated in the way that a modern text would be.  In particular it could be hard to see where a quotation finished.  If Plato said something which could be understood in a Christian sense:

Plato: God is abstract.

Someone quoting this might then write his own comment after it to make the sense explicit:

Plato says God is abstract.  So we see that God is spirit.

Without any dishonesty, this could easily be read as (and quoted as):

Plato says, "God is abstract, so we see that God is spirit".

A subsequent reader, likewise looking for a quotation in support of Christian beliefs, might then quite sincerely quote this as:

Plato says that God is spirit.

And the process could then go round the loop again several times, the 'quotation' from Plato getting more and more Christian with each pass of the loop.  This explains why the quotations are often like the Fathers; because they are, in fact, the Fathers speaking!

We have only scattered witnesses to the collections of sayings in circulation.  But we can see that they tended to be combined (JS is the product of S and M), and it is likely that division and recombination would happen in every case, as an author adapted material from whatever collections he had to hand for whatever purpose he needed.  This process explains the manner in which the size of the collection continues to increase, as we pass from the Greek to the Syriac to the Arabic versions.

It is similarly easy to see how quotations can move from being attributed to one philosopher to another, when copying takes place.  If the name is omitted, the quotation will be attached to the preceding quotation, thereby changing authorship.  The next excerptor may only use part of the double-length quotation.  So:

Plato: quote 1.  Aristotle: quote2.

can become, in careless copying:

Plato: quote 1. quote2.

A subsequent excerptor, uninterested in quote 1, will render this:

Plato: quote 2.

And the process is complete.

We can see in some of the Arabic sources that material is feeding in from fictional sources as well.  The stories about Alexander and Aristotle relate to those told in the Secret of Secrets.  There was no reason why someone compiling a set of useful proof-quotations should not include material from these as well, in ignorance of their nature.

Finally the people using this material were probably not very educated in ancient literature.  Most of the people were just names, no doubt.  If we imagine that in some cases words were misread as names -- the lack of vocalisation would assist such mistakes --, this might account for the presence of very obscure figures or names that are otherwise unknown in the collections; particularly if a subsequent and better educated copyist has 'corrected' a name into the name of a figure familiar from Eusebius or some other source of ancient history.  Thus we get 'quotations' from Augustus, perhaps.

A small stock of material from Greek sources was enough to prime the 'stew', starting in the late 4th or early 5th century.  It would soon be translated into Syriac or similar compilations made in Syriac, just as catenas are made in Syriac as well as in Greek; the driver for making them is the same in both languages.  In time, the Syriac compilations would be translated into Arabic, and both Syriac and Arabic versions would continue to be augmented.  Perhaps they even augmented each other?

Zoroaster would certainly find his way into such collections.  We might leave aside his identification with Baruch -- which could place him anyway inside collections of Jewish predictions of Christ rather than pagan ones.  But the genuine Persian story of a virgin giving birth to a mighty king at the end of the world is quite enough for some now-forgotten Syriac writer in contact with Persian sources to include some kind of snippet from this source.  It is perhaps unlikely that this would happen after the Islamicisation of Persia, which sets a terminus ante quo for the arrival of Zoroaster into the collections.

Once Zoroaster was 'in the pot', simmering with all the other material, his name might easily be attached to any of the sayings already in the pot.  We even have evidence of a saying attributed to him in J being similar in substance to one attributed to Hermes in S.  Thus, I suggest, did our saying arise.  It never had a genuine Persian backstory; it is merely a piece of patristic comment on some now unidentifiable material, to which the name of Zoroaster became attached sometime during the early middle ages.

To be continued.  Proposed work: get a translation of a complete text of the Arabic commentary.  


Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.

This page has been online since 28th September 2007

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