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The Ds Commentary on Books Fall 2017

  • Semitica Language Academy


This edition reviews several biblical and classical texts. Particular attention is given to the volume 'The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Experts on the Ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman World, and Modern Astronomy.
Fall 2017
In This Issue
1. Sean Freyne, The Jesus Movement
and its Expansion: Meaning and Mission.
Eerdmans (2014) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 1
2. Peter Barthel and George van Kooten,
The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi:
Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the
Experts on the Ancient Near East, the
Greco-Roman World and Modern
Astronomy. Brill (2014) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 5
3. Ken Barry, The Wiley Blackwell
Companion to Patristics. Wiley Blackwell
(2015) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p 12
4. Give Due Regards to: Richard Hunter and
Stephen P. Oakley, Latin Literature and its
Transmission. Cambridge (2016) . . . . . . . . p. 14
Sean Freyne,
The Jesus Movement and its Expansion:
Meaning and Mission.
Eerdmans (2014). Pp. xii, 383.
ISBN 978 0 8028 6786 5. $35.00 (pb).
In the late 19th century, liberal specialists of theology
sought to purge the Gospel narratives of their “mytho-
logical” content. Deletions of so many pericopae led to
in-print confrontations between broad-minded the-
ologians and conservative ones. Bitter feelings mani-
fested on both sides. In the end, rather than scoring
through certain biblical accounts, the reinterpretation
of them in light of proclamatory biblical texts was
renewed. Therefore some extraordinary reports sur-
rounding Jesus in the four Evangelists were saved from
elimination, even if H.E.G. Paulus (1761-1851), F.C. Baur
(1792-1860) and D. Strauss (1808-1874) deemed them
irrelevant to the acquirement of knowledge.
The minimalist deductions of scholars from that time
were revived and remain in print. Despite the extensive
efforts of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, and others,
the academic recovery of the historical Jesus has
moved no further than the main free-thinking princi-
ples extant in the early 60s (for comparison, see P.J.
Achtemeier, ‘Is The New Quest Docetic?’', Theology
Today , (1962), Vol. XIX, No. 3, pp.355-368). Eminent
Published reviews are in abundance today. Some of them are online and others are on library book-shelves. There
are a few privately circulated pamphlets whose essays enjoy the merit of a large circulation; even if the distribution is not
to an interdisciplinary readership whose interests concern the ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome and of the region of
the Fertile Crescent.
Generally, specialized investigations of ancient texts taken up by Biblicists, Classicists, Orientalists and
Theologians, forego academic interaction with textual transcriptions which fall outside their own fields of study. The
enormous amount of research conducted along precise lines of work, and later issued for public consumption, means
that the price of attainment in these spheres of genius is prohibitive.
The following review-essays are distributed for professional Divines, issued in order to exhibit decisive ideas to
human reason, and to fill up an obvious gap in studies involving the control of two or more disciplines. As an assem-
blage of occasional papers, at times various critical texts, and volumes and/or extended articles will be discussed. It is
my hope that some measurable contribution to critical scholarship may be had from these appraisals.
Editor: D. Antoine Sutton. Contact info:
PO Box 362, Red Cloud, NE 68970 or
Details Debate
Dissent Discussion
Discovery Delight
A Forum for Passionate
Polemic, which is Academically Described
ISSN: 2376-4627
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Discovery Delight
Divines of the past now are deceased; but other capa-
ble scholars came to the fore. Newer questions were
produced. Most of them evinced similar solutions from
bygone days which scholars refashioned for contempo-
rary critical discussions.
Prior to his death, Sean Freyne (1935-2013) studied
afresh the subject of Jesus. Freyne was Emeritus
Professor of Theology at Trinity College Dublin and
former Director of Mediterranean and Near Eastern
studies there. Moreover he was recognized as a first-
rate New Testament scholar. Numerous benefits have
been conferred on readers of his books and articles.
His researches into ancient Galilean constructs, and of
how those constructs influenced the writing of the
principle histories of Jesus, are well known. His capac-
ity for synthesis was great, combining interdisciplinary
studies of Hellenistic and Roman periods with analyses
of the ‘historical’ Jesus in Second Temple Judaism.
Massive learning informs his final research project,
and it gives a new impulse to researches into Galilean
Christian origins.
The overall value of studies of Jesus, like this one, is
hard to assess. It isdifficult to determine if divinity stu-
dents will find it useful because the reconstruction
supplied is so far and away from what is stated in the
primary texts. In several places it appears to indulge in
fantasy, going further than what may be had in the ear-
liest depictionsof the arenas in which Jesus and his dis-
ciples moved. Specialists will not fail to note that Sean
Freyne’s (hereafter SF) suggestions regarding Jesus’
divine mission are not easy to reconcile with the evi-
dences he puts forward. The volume is written in excel-
lent English; footnotes stand under the text. The recov-
ery of the truths of antiquity requires that we acknowl-
edge the difficulty of the task; but one misses discus-
sion on Second Commonwealth Israel and its influ-
ence on Galilean settings.
SF mistrusts any idea that reeks of a narrow canonici-
ty, seemingly forgetting that heterodox opinions, too,
create their own orderly rules of dissent. Critical schol-
arship, when defined in this mode of study is the nat-
ural result of researches conducted by someone fully
imbued with pure skepticism: i.e., a quality which
prompts one to believe that ancient writers were all
biased propagandists and that the only trustworthy
interpreters of their ancient contexts are those scholars
whose Post-modern intellect is free of partiality.
Similar viewpoints have been in the marketplace for no
less than 2 centuries; but these views were entirely
unknown within the Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts of
the earliest Church Fathers. To correctly recast the
image of Jesus for present day readers one should jux-
tapose opposing perspectives. The unadventurous
beliefs of the Patristic era must be put side by side with
the audacious conjectures posited in the period of
Enlightenment, one that was characterized by belief in
the powerof human reason. All arguments aside, those
authors whom readers find to be credible ultimately
receive enthusiastic support.
This book is an expansion of the Schafer lectures SF
gave at Yale in 2010. There is little that is new in the
book, much of it having been distilled through SF’s
other publications on Jesus and his relation to Galilee.
However, the expansion of it all is noteworthy, and the
possession of it all in a single volume is crucial to stu-
dents if only for reference purposes. Each thesisadmits
of SF’s vast learning of primitive Christianity. The value
of his writings likelywill neither decrease nor increase:
most of them appeared in festschrifts or collections of
essays. Peer-reviewed journals never were the ideal
forum to display the formations of his thinking. The
book ranges widely.
After the 10 page ‘Introduction’, several features
deserve special notice. In Chapter 1 (pp.13-51): ‘Galilee
of the Gentiles’, SF clarifies the meaning of the terms
Jew, Judean and Jewish. Correctly, I believe, he claimed
“the name Ioudaios came to be associated with those
who worshipped in and were supporters of the
Jerusalem sanctuary, irrespective of where they were
born or resided” (p.16). Archaeological materials sup-
port his arguments throughout. Since Israel had been
“encircled” by Canaanite cities, SF believed the use of
the referent Galilee/circle alluded to the later encircling
of the area by Greek cities (eg.,pp.23;257). He demon-
strates with ease (p.47) that the “Jews in both Galilee
and Jerusalem did not wholly turn their back on the
Greek world”. In Chapter 2 (pp.52-89): ‘The Roman
Presence’, SF offered an encyclopedic assessment of
Roman influences on Israel from c.31BC unto AD135.
Surveying the possibilities led SF to examine engrav-
ings and images on various series of coins. One also
learns that Herod was askilled Augustan propagandist:
(p.63) “Herod the Great had established a temple to
Roma and Augustus in the north of his kingdom”.
Chapter 3 (pp.90-132): ‘Palestinian Economy and
Society’ treats of the Ptolemaic period. The underlying
theme of the material is this: “… one can say that the
impact of Hellenization on the economy of the whole
country, north and south, was to introduce specializa-
tions in terms of production, with the emphasis on
exports to Egypt, especially oil, wine and wheat” (ital-
ics mine, p.95). Accordingly the failure of the
Hasmonean state was crowned by Pompey's intrusion
into the Temple's sacred space (p.111). SF stated “It is
generally agreed that Herod, like other client-kings,
did not have to pay tribute to Rome” (p.114); but one
must not forget that Herod was an astute politician,
wanting to rebuild the Jerusalem temple to ease the
anger directed at him by Jews who detested his intro-
duction of Roman imperial games in the holy city.
Chapter 4 (pp.133-186): ‘Situating Jesus’ contains
Josephus’ statement on Christ from Antiquities 18. 63-
64 (p.149). SF’s description of Jesus comports with all
that is noted in that citation: the Gospels are used to
firm up Josephus' account. With dexterity, Chapter 5
(pp.187-241), ‘The Jesus Movement in Jerusalem and its
Later History’, follows Luke’s 2-volume literary outline.
He disagrees with modern scholars who believe that
Luke’s Gospel is untrustworthy, who aver that ‘at no
time was there a genuine community of believers that
existed in Jerusalem.Chapter 6 (pp.242-272): In
‘Remembering Jesus and Broadening Horizons in
Galilee I: The Sayings Sources’, SF inspects the so-called
Q (Urtext) and The Gospel of Thomas and The
Didache as origin-texts for understanding the emer-
gence of Galilean Christianity. Theexamination is thor-
ough. Chapter 7 (pp.273-312): For ‘Remembering Jesus
and Broadening Horizons II: The Gospels of Mark and
Matthew’, he evaluates what may or may not be known
of the roots of Aramaic/Syriac Christianity in Syria and
Palestine. Yet he presses the issue for Lower Syria and
upper Galilee as sites of origin for the composition of
Mark and Matthew. Chapter 8 (pp.313-350): ‘Into theSec-
ond Century’, reviews trajectories of thought among
the Apostolic Fathers; Epilogue (pp.351-355) and
Further Reading (pp.356-363) and indices (pp.364ff.).
As is obvious from the above précis, SF brings a
remarkable imagination to bear on ancient material. In
its construction, the volume seems to compress several
would-be books intoone. Learned proposals, if accept-
able require more than a few particles of evidence to
support them. Although eloquent, indistinctness
attends much of SF’s desired clarifications: the mission
of Jesus remains unclear because the person of Jesus is
inaptly defined. Many points of detail elicit comment.
Criticism of SF’s positions by competent authorities
has not abated. The length of this review is an attempt
to acquire for the late SF the utility the volume could
possess if supplemented by wider reading. A few vol-
umes that I mention below were unavailable to SF
when this last volume of his entered the marketplace.
The “Introduction” contains chapter summaries of the whole
book. I wish that this procedure would be abandoned. It is
likely provided for journal reviewers who would not read the
entirety of a book anyhow; a brief history of how recent
scholarship in the past half-century has treated Galilean
influences on Jesus' career might have afforded beneficial
reading matter. SF’s historical views of ancient societies
along the Mediterranean need to be balanced by reading
Fergus Millar, Rome, The Greek World and the East (3
vols.2002-06), especiallyvolume 3, The Greek World, The Jews
& The East. SF’s judgments on Israel’s literature during the
Second Temple Period up to the Mishnaic era require rectifi-
cation, stances which may be corrected by reading The
Cambridge History of Judaism, volume 2: edd. W.D. Davies
and L. Finkelstein, The Hellenistic Age (1990), volume 3: edd.
W. Horbury, W.D. Davies, and J. Sturdy, The Early Roman
Period (1999), and volume 4: ed. S.T. Katz, The Late Roman-
Rabbinic Period (2006). On asmaller scale butfor scholarship
with pronounced views see Solomon Zeitlin, The Rise and
Fall of the Judean State (3 vols.1962-1978). Although the latter
is dated, and any archaeological discussions therein no
longer admit of authority, the rabbinic scholarship yet is
unrivalled. In most places, SF’s interpretations of biblical
texts are open to discussion (e.g., see his remarks on Mk.
7:24-30, p.144). On page 5, writing of the widow casting in
money in the Temple at Mark 12:42, SF says, “The story illus-
trates the gulf between rich and poor within Jerusalem
society and highlights theissue of social inequality in Roman
Judea”. The story does not illustrate or highlight anything of
the kind. No reason is offered in the Gospel for the cause of
her penury.
Afterwards, readers are informed summarily that “Luke’s
account in Acts has somewhat distorted our understanding
of the Christian mission as a whole” (pp.7-8). Exactly what
are those distortions, readers are not told. As is typical in
western culture today, true assertions regarding anti-Jewish
attitudes in theearly churchare noted (p.9); butSF, like other
specialists of the New Testament, seem unaware of anti-
Christian attitudes extantin ancient Jewish societies and rab-
binical texts. It is correct to say that Antiochus IV Epiphanes
(c.215BC-164BC) might have thought of himself as a form of
Hellenic deity, manifested to reign, but it is somewhat mis-
leading to state (p.13) “He saw himself as the new Alexander
and…”. SF cites Josephus profusely. Aside from a disbelief in
his remarks on Alexander of Macedon’s visit to Jerusalem
(p.15), SF accepts Josephus’s statements throughout asunfail-
ing. However, I was happy to learn that in the Anthologia
Graeca 7.417.1f, Meleagre deemed Gadara to be “the new
Athens in Assyria” (p.34). SF is correct when he says “the
arrival of Rome in the East in no way halted the promotion of
Greek culture” (p.53). F. Altheim (1898-1976) averred that
Rome's history essentially begins with its contacts with Greek
civilization (cf.Epochen der Romischen Geshichte von den
Anfangen bis Zum Beginn der Weltherrschaft, Klostermann,
Notwithstanding, SF does not inform readers of what Rome
imbibed from her eastern neighbors and transmitted to
Galilee or to greater Israel: e.g., were any Iranian ideas medi-
ated through Judaism? And SF does not reveal a quotation’s
author (loc.cit.), “Captured Greece conquered the arms of its
capturers”. There he is citing the Roman poet, Horace (Ep. II.
1.156-7). SF’s translation is infelicitous. The most frustrating
aspect of SF’s labors is thelack of philological interest or text-
critical discussion on the texts he undertakes to clarify. SF
gives priority to passages in Mark. The theory of Markan pri-
macy (here I do not argue for it or against it) derives from
Germany, being theorized during the 19th century Teutonic
Renaissance when German scholars pioneered new pathways
in the science of Gospel criticism and in biblical and classical
studies (a fruit of which is visible in K.L. Schmidt’s (1891-
1956) 1923 treatise, The Place of the Gospels in the General
History of Literature, University of South Carolina Press,
rep.2002). The basic ideaof Markan primacy is that Matthew
and Luke drew on the Gospel of Mark for their material. But
now Johannes Weiss’ (1863-1914) reconstruction of the pur-
ported Q[uelle] source (a hypothetical collection of sayings
of Jesus), and the solutions of Markan theorists, need to be
reevaluated; but see, inter alia, R.L. Lindsey (1917-1995), A
Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark (Jerusalem:
Dugith, 1973) for a specialized linguistic theory of Hebraic
origins of Luke's text and for Lukan priority. Few New
Testament scholars find the time to do the preliminary text-
critical researches necessary to form anauthoritative founda-
tion for their hypotheses of Gospel origins. SF, too, is one
who (I believe) takes an outdated stance, and places confi-
dence in views he has not confirmed to be true by rigorous
method. He claims that “The book of Daniel” [was] “written
at the height of the crisis generated byAntiochus Epiphanes”
(p.74). On the next page he said “It is generally accepted that
in writing his gospel Luke used Mark’s earlier account as one
of his primary sources” (p.75). Whatever it’s general accept-
ance, the worth of a scholarly consensus depends on the
credible value of each individual’s scientific contribution.
Accord is useful. The study of a text’s composition is impor-
tant. And M.L. West’s (1937-2015) dictum regarding popular
dates of the Iliad is worthy of recall. He wrote: “I suspect that
most of those who subscribe to an eighth-century dating do
so because most other people do; they have always been led
to believe that this was the approved opinion, and they are
unaware of the grounds for revising it”, cf. ‘The Date of the
Iliad’ in Hellenica: Volume I: Epic, (Oxford: 2011), p.188.
That same critique applies to SF’s textual beliefs. In a
moment of veiled introspection SF writes “the emphasis in
recent scholarship on Jesus’ Galilean ministry has given rise
to a serious danger of the specter of a non-Jewish Jesus
emerging in another guise” (pp.135-6). If true, the statement
is self-reflective and imposes blame on SF’s own scholarship,
which demonstrates less acquaintance with Jesus’ actions
and moral statements and with their parallels within the rab-
binic milieu. The facts of several arguments are question-
able. To a large extent SF exaggerates the presence of a Greco-
Roman imprint on Gospel reports, even misunderstanding
the significance of right belief for Jews. For example, on page
287, “Being Jewish in the Greco-Roman world meant being
different. Orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy was the hall-
mark of a good Jew.” The compilers of the Mishnah, editorsof
the Palestinian Talmud and its Babylonian illustrators might
cavil about his understanding of Pharasaic Rabbinism in
He still took the Essene/Qumran-Scrolls link for granted
(pp.110;137); although the presupposed link has disintegrated
in recent times. SF writes “Mark, more than the other
Evangelists… aligns Jesus with folk medicine as thiswas prac-
ticed throughout the Mediterranean world rather than with
the more scientific approach to illness…” (p.152). But folk
doctors were not divine, and as far as the texts state, Jesus did
not administer natural remedies or herbal medicines of any
kind. So unique was his method that he claimed that all he
had received came from his heavenly father. He disclaimed
the extant descent of any transmission of knowledge used by
him for curativepurposes. SF’s placementof Mark's Gospel in
the category of folklore has a touch of romance about it. He
puts forth the hypothesis that “The crucifixion and subse-
quent resurrection are central to all these accounts, but
unlike Paul’s and later theology, where Jesus’ death is under-
stood as an “atoning sacrifice for sin…”” (pp.198,259). This
theory sets aside the tradition that John the Baptist once
alleged, that ‘Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the
sins of the world’: i.e., a sin-bearing or an atoning sacrifice.
Such a conjecture leads SF further to assume that “the
emphasis of the early speeches is on the fact of the Judean
leaders’ complicity in the unjust handing over of Jesus to
Pilate and his subsequent vindication by God” (loc. cit.): that
is partly true. Even still, he appeals for the use of Nag
Hammadi documents in situating the emergence of the
Christian movement (see p.248f.). Indeed thesewritings con-
sist of texts which shed littlelight on the period heis address-
ing. So why give a hearing to texts whose origins are c. 250
years after the crucifixion of Jesus? Their influence on early
Christians (in Israel) overall is about as remote as the influ-
ence of c.late-1st century AD Ebionites on Christians outside
ancient Palestine lands. To make room for these Nag
Hammadi texts in scholarly debate, writers have attempted
to lower their dates of composition, while simultaneously
augmenting the date of New Testament texts to as late a
period as possible (cf.p.316). Quite possibly Talmudic texts
were of little value to SF because as he iterates “… rabbinic
texts are extremely difficult to date” (p.245).
In complete agreement with distinguished Harvard
Professor, Karen King, he cites her remark on how contem-
porary scholars can reinterpret, in better and more precise
ways, the terms ‘heretical’ and ‘orthodox’ in the history of
early Christian sects.
An adequate framework for historical descriptions
of early Christian diversity needs to recognize that
all religions contain ever-shifting, competing, and
contradictory claims, plural possibilities and alter-
native voices. . . [Yet] typologies of the varieties of
early Christianity instead frequently constitute
attempts to define and categorize unique and
essential qualities of distinct theological systems or
social groups. Essentializing categories tend to reify
the complex, overlapping, multifarious clusters of
material that constitute the continually shifting,
interactive forms of Christian meaning-making and
social belonging into homogenous, stable, well-
bounded theological or sociological formations”
(p.315; partially quoted again at p.343).
The citation does not do justice to King’s scholarship. That
paragraph in truth is very difficult to decipher because it is
vague and obscure. Still, the content of the extract frames the
doorway through which SF enters into the many misunder-
standings he has of the Apostolic Fathers’ views in chapter 8.
As a volume that provides context for modern readers
who want to know more about the Jesus movement
and its expansion or about New Testament passages,
this volume has its merits. In terms of the exegesis of
specific biblical texts, on the whole the expositions are
untrustworthy. Whether one believes in miraculous
occurrences or not, these notions are extant in the
Gospels. Historians should explicate what the passages
clearly state. To contend that an event is mythic or is
unreal may be a form of demythologization (cf. R.
Bultmann & Five Critics, Kerygma and Myth: A
Theological Debate, ed. H.W. Bartsch (Harper & Row,
1961), but it disfigures a caricature transmitted in the
early church. A myth typically has a non-temporal
framework in which human beings and divine persons
participate in similar series of actions. If a critic is to
recover the earliest form of a text, then one should
argue in favor of it or against it from a philological
standpoint rather than from an ahistorical theological
bias. There are varying opinions on diverse subjects
which he fails to bring to readers’ attention. Many of
them have been around for some time (cf. F. A. Murphy
and T.A. Stefano, The Oxford Handbook of Christology,
Oxford, 2015). SF’s Jesus is an academic creation, unfa-
miliar to most lay-readers of Gospel texts and to read-
ers of writings of the Apostolic Fathers: neither is he
virgin-born. Discussion of any sense of Christ’s ‘keno-
sis’ goes unrealized (cf. D. Brown, Divine
Humanity: Kenosis Explored and Defended, SCM, 2011
and O. D. Crisp, God Incarnate: Explorations in
Christology, T&T Clark, 2009). Jesus is presented by SF
as the son of God only in a sense akin to Heracles as the
son of Zeus (cf. J.S. Siker, “From Sinful Birth to Virgin
Birth’ (pp.63-97) in Jesus, Sin and Perfection in Early
Christianity, Cambridge, 2015 and A.T. Lincoln, Born of
a Virgin? Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition and
Theology, Eerdmans, 2013 or R. Gromacki, The Virgin
Birth: A Biblical Study of the Deity of Jesus Christ,
Kregel, 2002). When related in the book, Jesus’ death
was a tragedy but it was not vicarious (cf. D.W.
Chapman and E.J. Schnabel, The Trial and Crucifixion
of Jesus, Mohr Siebeck, 2015). SF said relatively little
about the manner in which Jesus died, which is funda-
mental to recorded orations of the earliest believers
who were diffused throughout the region, certainly to
all the discourses in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. D.L.
Allen, The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and
Critical Review, B&H Academic, 2016) and M. Hengel,
The Atonement: The Origins of the Doctrine in the New
Testament, SCM Press, 1981). In addition, SF asserts
(p.194) “the resurrection of Jesus is properly under-
stood not as an event in time and space but as a vindi-
cation by God of Jesus’ life…” (cf. M. Licona, The
Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical
Approach, IVP Academic 2010 and N.T. Wright, The
Resurrection of the Son of God, Fortress Press, 2003,
even R. Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate,
Oxford Press, 2003). The Jesus presented by SF is a
bland version of a Messianic personage, onethat would
have been as equally uninteresting to 1st century per-
sons as this book will be to 21stcentury Christians, Jews
and Muslims who may be curious about this subject.
To conclude, on page 347 SF declared that “Another
shared aspect of the champions of orthodoxy is their
claim that only they can interpret the Scriptures cor-
rectly.” I do not agree with this claim. It is contentious,
and it disregards the fact that champions of hetero-
doxy may claim too to be the only guardians of truth.
However, this volumedoes little to explain why ancient
Christians found Jesus' teaching so fascinating, and
why authors of canonical and non-canonical texts
revered him as a divine wonder-worker.
Errors: on p.248 SF wrote ‘Thomas is the Aramaic word
for “twin” and Didymus is its Greek translation’. That is
true in part, but to be exact: “Thomas” is the English
rendering of the Aramaic term, Toma, a Syriac form (of
Thomas), which continues to be used in Syriac vernac-
ular speech. At page 362, ‘Further Reading’ section:
“Nashrallah, L.,” should read “Nasrallah, L.,”.
The Star of Bethlehem:
Peter Barthel and George van Kooten,
The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi: Interdisciplinary
Perspectives from the Experts on the Ancient Near
East, the Greco-Roman World and Modern Astronomy.
Leiden: Brill, (2014). Pp. 695 (pb).
Policies enacted during the reign of Augustus (63BC-
AD14) spurred a resurgence of interest in astronomical
matters. Numismatic evidence exists in abundance to
attest his use of astral configurations for political pur-
poses. Poets and prose writers alike devoted them-
selves to similar pursuits. Both literate and illiterate cit-
izens were more than acquainted with some proce-
dures and explanations of astrology and astronomy.
Birth-signs were important to many persons. At the
time that Jesus of Nazareth was born, it was alleged
that an astral sign was given to travelers from afar,
guiding them to the site of the Christ-child. Critics dis-
pute the validity of Gospel birth-claims. Obviously it
was a magnificent sight to behold, if taken to be true.
Gospel writers assume its verity. That phenomenon
was not unparalleled. The literary forms of other legends
also contained natal affirmations. Consequently many
questions arise. Aboveall, were examples extant during
the Greco-Roman age which might be able to clarify
the journey from east to west undertaken by the magi?
This volume is the result of a symposium of a unique
kind: designed to reply to some of these unanswered
academic queries, and specifically tostudy what may or
may not be true in Gospel accounts of a sign appearing
at the timeof Jesus’ birth. The volume is thick: much is
said about the 220-word Greek text of Mat. 2.1-12.
Numerous details call for comment. Only select state-
ments will be evaluated. A summary of each article
would require the writing of a small monograph.
Before critical comments are given, and for reader-ref-
erence, the contents of the book are supplied.
There are six sections: PART 1: FROM KEPLER TO
TION OF THE STAR – 1Kepler’s De Vero Anno (1614),
O. Gingerich; 2The Historical Basis for the Star of
Bethlehem, M. R. Molnar; 3A Critical Look at the
History of Interpreting the Star of Bethlehem in
Scientific Literature and Biblical Studies, A. Adair;
4An Astronomical and Historical Evaluation of
Molnar's Solution, B.E. Schaefer; 5Astronomical
Thoughts on the Star of Bethlehem, D.W. Hughes;
6De Ster der Wijzen (1920): A Forgotten Early
Publication about the Star of Bethlehem, T. de Jong.
What, If Anything, P. Barthel; 8The Astronomical
Resources for Ancient Astral Prognostications, A.
GY AND THE MAGI – 9Mesopotamian Astrological
Geography, J.M. Steele; 10 The Story of the Magi in the
Light of Alexander the Great’s Encounters with
Chaldeans, M. Ossendrijver; 11 Pre-Islamic Iranian
Astral Mythology, Astrology, and the Star of
Bethlehem, A. Panaino. PART 4: ASTROLOGY IN THE
GRECO-ROMAN WORLD – 12 Matthew’s Magi as
Experts on Kingship, A. de Jong; 13 Greco-Roman
Astrologers, the Magi and Mithraism; 14 The Star of
Bethlehem and Greco-Roman Astrology, Especially
Astrological Geography, S. Heilen.
The World Leader from the Land of the Jews: Josephus,
Jewish War 6.300-315; Tacitus, Histories 5.13; and
Suetonius, Vespasian 4.5, J. W. van Henten; 16 Stars
and Powers: Astrological Thinking in Imperial Politics
from the Hasmoneans to Bar Kokhba, K. v. Stuckrad;
17 Balaam’s ‘Star Oracle’ (Num 24:15-19) in the Dead
Sea Scrollsand Bar Kokhba, H.R. Jacobus. PART 6: THE
EARLY CHRISTIAN WORLD – 18 The Star of the Magi
and the Prophecy of Balaam in Earliest Christianity,
with Special Attention to the Lost Books of Balaam,
D.D. Hannah; 19 Matthew’s Star, Luke’s Census,
Bethlehem, and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, A.
Mertz; 20 Matthew, the Parthians, and the Magi: A
Contextualization of Matthew’s Gospel in Roman-
Parthian Relations of the First Centuries BCE and CE,
G. v. Kooten; Epilogue and Indices.
It is a high honor for an academic when a scholarly
theme generated by him or her becomes the occasion
for a conference. Molnar’s intensive studies have given
professionals a strong inducement to reexamine con-
ventional notions and his theory has been hailed for its
resourcefulness. His accomplishment is great. Biblical
and non-biblical scholars have directed their attention
to the birth narrative of Jesus in Matthew, and he has
converted a large part of the scholarly community to
his beliefs. Final judgments on his work will depend
largely on the findings of competent scholarswho, too,
have applied their genius to the same sources upon
which he has relied.
Two reasons are given for this publication: (1) to com-
memorate J. Kepler’s (1571-1630) work, and (2) to
engage and to assess M. Molnar’s 1999 volume The Star
of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. Distinguished
scholars were brought together “for an open, non-
polemical scholarly discussion” (p.xii). It is enough to
say that there is sufficient polemic which does not
delimit the critical value of the book. Article 1is incor-
rectly titled Kepler’s De Vero... . Other than the two
extended quotes (pp.13, 14-15), the essay actually offers
a description of Kepler’s De Stella Nova. The author
claims that Matthew’s Gospel contains phrases thatare
translations of “standard astrological nomenclature”
(p.4). E.g., seeking references for types of clausal
anaphora he alleges that “in the east”, “went before”
and “stood over” all are astrological expressions. His
clarifications are suspicious. In point of fact the say-
ings are graphic, directional, and discoverable in Greek
and Roman poets and prose-writers of that day. Even if
Matthew did convert them, they are translations of
what? - Latin, Cuneiform? This point Gingerich never
Molnar’s contribution, article 2, is the focal point of
most of the papers, comprising an examination of the
star’s historical basis. The study places emphasis on
how Matthew incorporated into his account terms and
concepts that were foreign to his background. Molnar
speculates that “these bits of information… were con-
veyed by people who were probably uncomfortable
with terminology from this pagan practice of celestial
divination” (p.20). Moreover “Matthewprobably strug-
gled with the arcane astrological jargon he heard…
(p.30). Molnar’s claims of ‘probable’ ineptitude on
Matthew’s part do not seem sensible. There seem to
me to be no technically astrological or horoscopical
expressions in the Greek. The same uneasiness Molnar
claims to experience in reading the gospel of
Matthew’s language comes over me too each time I
read Molnar's explication of Greek terms for express-
ing “in the east or at its rising” (p.19). A precise, philo-
logical study of the Greek text, with rigorous controls,
would have held in reserve his desire to reassign mean-
ings to Greek words to which they do not correspond.
One weakness of Molnar’s theory is that he super-
imposes Roman astrological constructs on thewhole of
these eastern texts. He contends that Judea fell under
Aries, presuming that the astrological formation
covering Syria subsumed Palestine. Using Molnar’s
horoscopic map, it is not possible to understand why
the magi arrived in Jerusalem and eventually came to
Bethlehem rather than travel to Sidon, Ebla or
Damascus orsomewhere in Syria, - the latter, to which
van Kooten believes they travelled (p.597). Thetexts do
not say the magi came to Bethlehem because of
horoscopic insights, but because of the predictive
interpretation “wise men” made of older, Hebrew texts.
Rightly Molnar notes that the Jews did not embrace
Greek astrology (p.33); but wrongly he believes Greek
astrology largely replaced the Babylonian Omen
astrology in Persia, and that the magi likely followed
Greco-Roman astrological discourses. He cites in sup-
port of his view the distinguished scholar D. Pingree
(1933-2005). He also should have taken into account
the publications of the Orientalist W.B. Henning
(1908-1967), who noted that among the Zoroastrians,
Alexander III of Macedon (356BC-323BC) was remem-
bered as a monster who defiled sacred books and mur-
dered their priests. It is unlikely that the Persian magi
of Jesus’ day would have discarded their revered com-
putations in order to replace them fully with
Hellenistic theory.
Readers are not told by Matthew that the magi
informed Herod “about their interpretation of a past
celestial event” (p.19), although that assertion is
plausible. The text says they merely answered a query
from Herod regarding the time the starappeared (Mat.
2.7). Reliance on evidence furnished by Roman coins is
the principal motive behind Molnar’s conversion to his
interpretation of Matthew’s documentary material.
The coins cited by Molnar are said to reveal the place
where the Star of Bethlehem appeared in the sky. He
believes [Jupiter] Aries the Ram was visible at Jesus’
birth. That is possible, if he dispenses with his concur-
rent premise of Jupiter’s occultation. Still, the verity or
falsity of Matthew’s remarks is not in jeopardy by
Molnar’s line of reasoning. Whatever the magi saw was
not portrayed by Matthew as a constellation that was
superimposed in the skyward canvas above. The
description (Mat. 2.9) is of the same star which the
magi previously met in the east, a star at low altitude,
distinguishable from the fixed stars. Matthew intends
for his readers to trust that it had descended to a height
low enough to be followed by magi. The directions
are so clear that it indicates the exact location of the
Molnar is fixated on the 17 April 6BC date for Jesus’
birth. His justifications need revision. The constella-
tion Aries did not signify royal birth at all times, nor
did ancient people assign that interpretation until a
ruler associated with Aries arose to power and glory.
The destinies inculcated in people by natal signs of the
zodiac were mysteriously imprecise; Augustus placed
his natal sign on coins. But the constellation Capricorn
told no one beforehand that he would become an
emperor of vast lands. Justin (c.3rd cent. AD) records
that the birth of Mithradates VI of Pontus in c.135BC
was accompanied by a blazing comet that illuminated
the skies for 70 days; but this is written centuries after
the event. Doubtless no one wrote of the comet at the
time of its origination as foretelling Mithradates VI
Eupator’s rise to power, but as people looked back on
that event and observed Mithradates’ greatness, they
came to see the comet as an omen of the king’s destiny
(cf. J.T. Ramsey, Mithradates, the banner of Ch’ih-yu,
and the Comet Coin, HSCP, 99, (1999), 197-253).
Several writers during the Roman Empire contem-
plated Jesus’ nativity. For example, Clement of
Alexandria (AD150-AD215) preserved the chronologi-
cal account of Basilides (floruit c. AD117-AD138), who
assigned Jesus’ birth to the 28th year of Augustus
(2BC), the year a census was ordered to be taken
(Strom., 1 XXI, 145, 1-146). Clement and other early
Christian sources should be taken into account in this
academic debate. Again, of Luke 2.1-21, Molnar claims
that the author is “very vague about the heavenly hosts”
(p.21), hinting the author may not be referring to
angels. The Greek text itself is a formidable obstacle to
Molnar’s interpretation.
Regrettably overconfidence intrudes into Molnar’s
investigation when, for instance, he refers to one of his
publications as, “my seminal Sky & Telescope article...
(p.18) and when he states in his ‘Conclusion’, pp.37-40:
“I have proved that there were astrologers who recog-
nized Aries the Ram as the astrological sign of Judea.”
As well, he gives the impression that before him most
people were “unfamiliar with astrology as it was prac-
ticed during Roman times” and seemingly were misled
by “clever ideas”, while “people of faith have tip-toed
around the inconvenient astrological basis of the
account.” Although Molnar’s paper exhibits a laudable
commitment to the explication of texts, his is a parti-
san approach in which he declares on page 30, “the
astrological context of the passage leads us from a
miraculous apparition to an explainable natural
Yet many ancient Greek and Roman texts defy simplis-
tic interpretations. Scholars of ancient texts should
strive to be attentive to the traditions inherited by the
writers and to the preconceptions of the audience for
which the texts were written. By leaving out of account
historical comments of Apostolic Fathers and Patristic
Fathers et al., Molnar fails to show that Matthew or
Luke mean anything other than what each gospel
states. His discussion relies heavily on secondary
authorities who provide historical data that cannot be
tied markedly to Matthew’s text. Misinterpretations of
Matthew’s idiom and Luke's language occur regularly
in Molnar’s paper.
Article 3is an orderly, intellectual survey of what com-
mentators in scientific literature and biblical studies
have said about the star. Adair bypasses patristic and
medieval material, although he does offer an even-
handed review of Molnar’s theory (pp.45-47); but his
idea of Manilius’ aims in Astronomica are founded on
Dr. Steven Green’s proposal about Manilius’ artistry
(see Disclosure and Discretion in Roman Astrology,
Oxford, 2014), whoalleges Manilius purposely prevent-
ed readers from understanding astrological sections of
his poem (p.49). It is doubtful, in my opinion, that
Molnar can overcome the objections to his theory set
forth in this paper. And taken in tandem with Heilen’s
learned article, 14, who meticulously stands up to
Molnar’s Aries/Judea theory, there is little of substan-
tive value left to support it. Included in Heilen’s inno-
vative essay is the splendid Figure 14.1 (survey of extant
Greco-Roman systems of astrological geography), and
Heilen’s ‘Philological Appendix’ (pp.344f.) on Greek
“astrological” terms in Mat. 2:1-12 renders “Molnar’s
theory, despite his rhetoric of evidence, implausible”
Schaefer prefers rational solutions. Article 4provides
support for, and an analysis of, Molnar’s horoscopic
arrangements. He has followed Molnar’s publications
for years. He thinks that the reason no one previously
was able to “come up with an astrological solution is
simply that modern astronomers and scholars of many
types have an aversion to astrology” (p.91). He gives his
assent to Molnar’s theory, writing “Finally we have in
his solution simple and natural explanations for the
operation of thestar” (p.99). There areplus points: viz.,
figure 4.1 (the dawn sky on 17 April 6 BCE from
Jerusalem) is exceptional and one is obliged to study
Schaefer is not diffident: he says he controls an “exten-
sive and definite knowledge based on theory and
observation” (p.94) and confesses too that “this calcu-
lation is based on my accurate knowledge of the extinc-
tion coefficients in ancient Jerusalem in springtime”
(p.96); quite the reverse, Matthew’s Greek text in no
way demonstrates that the writer was Hellenized (loc.
cit; despite Hughes’ claim of the wide acceptance of
that view, p.104.), only that the author knew Greek.
Schaefer’s knowledge of celestial science is patent. The
writing is lucid. His ability to combine it with his elu-
cidation of the Star of Bethlehem event does not rise to
the highest standards.
Article 5: for Hughes the object of this scholarly study
is to conjecture that the star narrative fits into three
categories: that of miracle, fiction and reality. If one
settles on any but category three, then “there is little
the astronomy community can contribute” (p.104).
Hughes believes the magi were “likely Zorastrian
astrologers.” Accordingly, he appends a mini astrologi-
cal geography: “Pisces = Judea, Aries = Syria, etc.
(p.113), putting the birth of Jesus “somewhere between
8 and 4 BCE” (p.109). He argues that Matthew, by not
applying his usual phrase ‘thus it was fulfilled…,’
missed a chance at joining the star narrative to Num.
24.17, ‘a star shall arise out of Jacob’ (p.105; van Kooten
seems to agree with Hughes, cf. pp.602-609). But
something is amiss, if ancient readers perceived the
designation ‘Jacob’ to be representative of the nation of
Israel as a whole, astute readers may not have missed
the link at all. Indeed Helen Jacobus, in article 17, is
convinced and quite convincing whenshe writes “if the
Bar Kokhba movement knew of a messianic tradition
associated with the ‘star of Balaam’ oracle, then it is
possible that the writer of the Gospel of Matthew did
as well” (p.419). I would replace the word “possible”
with “likely”. Hughes’ section on The Clue Provided by
the Possessive Pronoun “His” (pp.111-114) is successful;
he familiarized himself with aspects of interpretation
of this event in Patristic times. Hughes reckoned the
magi might have thought Jesus was born on Tuesday 15
September, 7 BCE (p.128).
Article 6: T. de Jong proposes to outline the work of
Dominicus Sloet (1855-1938). Like article 1, De Ster der
Wijzen (1920)…, too is inaptly named. Through 20
pages the theories of several eminent persons are
traced. The paper is didactic. He formulates some
responsible judgments. There is a 3 page biographical
note on Sloet, and no more than 2 pages of notes on his
actual work, De Ster… . T. de Jong wanted to "convince
the reader that his [Sloet’s] little book deserves to be
saved from oblivion” (brackets mine: p.139). However,
if he did not want the volume to be neglected in future
studies he should not have disregarded it so in this
present one. In article 7Barthel, along with T. de Jong,
believes that comets “were generally seen as bad
omens” (pp.145, 164). True, but the deduction is one-
dimensional. There is evidence to suggest that the
same sign can be construed diversely by different
people. In the case of Mithradates’ birth the comet was
a portent of the pleasant will of the gods (see again my
remarks on Molnar above). The paper turnson person-
al admissions: e.g., “My longtime curiosity on the sub-
ject… [sic] (p.162) and “For quite a number of years, I
have been fascinated…” (165). Astute appraisals of
plausible and implausible explanations are delivered.
Barthel comes down on the side of a partial historicity
of the Star of Bethlehem story, believing it “is too good
(and too detailed) not to be partly true” (p.170).
In article 8Jones’ penetration of Babylonian astral
texts is deep, and he is displeased with the assertion
that astrology and astronomy were interchangeable
terms, and that such debate is “meaningless” (p.171). So
he imagines a new reality in which “there was a high
degree of separation between astronomy and astrology
in ancient texts and documents” (p.173). But “texts and
documents” for whom? Is this division restricted to the
area of Mesopotamia? He argues in favor of a subtle
distinction in the meanings of the terms ‘astronomy’
and ‘astrology’. Then he cites a text - Tetrabiblos 1.1 -
whose wording is an impediment to his thesis because
Ptolemy (c.AD100-170) uses those terms in ways that
are expressive of the same respect in both the
Tetrabiblos and in the Almagest. One must remember
that diverse contents of tablets and papyri represent
only fragments of the aims and objectives of writers;
they do not signify the fullness of what writers per-
ceived about a subject. Basic truths epitomized in
Manilius’ Astronomica undergird some of Ptolemy’s
beliefs. Proving dependency is not possible, but the
two of them personify a kind of astronomy which
entails peculiar inspiration in humans. Since the sub-
ject at-hand is the Star of Bethlehem, would it not have
been better to scrutinize the resources available at the
time of Jesus’ birth or somehow to have linked “event-
driven” and “date-driven” astrological resources to
those used [by Jews] during the early phases of the
Roman Empire?
Presumably articles 9-11 were commissioned to
acquaint readers with astral precepts to which
Chaldean and Median magi would have been accus-
tomed, and to publicize the mechanisms some of them
exploited for astral predictions. Steele endeavors to
“survey the evidence for different types of astrological
geography [AG] in the various astrological texts”
(p.202). AG is commonly labeled Geographical
Rulership by practitioners, and it has a long history of
descent. As a branch of critical study effected by pres-
ent-day researchers it is contrived, entirely unknown to
ancient parties in Babylon; but it is a modern construct
engineered to further comprehend primordial tradi-
tions. Steele treats of a theory of four lands where
“various characteristics of an observed astronomical
phenomenon are attested” (p.203). It is an ambitious
and fascinating study. In future researches questions
still will abound about what forms of astrology/astron-
omy were the magi practising, Babylonian, Persian or
Parthian? No one author in this book seems to be able
to confirm for readers the kind to which the magi were
accustomed. Notwithstanding, Ossendrijver suggests
the story of the magi is similar “to accounts of
Alexander the Great’s interactions with Chaldean
astrologers”. He suggests the “possibility of depend-
ence” by Matthew (p.217). Ossendrijver suggests that
Arrian’s description of Alexander’s sacrifice to objects
in the heavens in the Anabasis “makes sense as a dis-
torted reference to hepatoscopy” (p.220). Distorted in
what way? The Greek word there at III.7.6 for offering
or sacrifice [by fire] is too generic to confine it to the
process of divination through liver organs, though
Alexander certainly was not unfamiliar with it.
Ossendrijver’s paragraphs teem with suggestions. He
has an intimate knowledge of his subject. He knows
myriads of things, but he muddles Alexander-histories
with the story of the magi.
With so much attention given to the Matthean account
of Jesus’ birth, A. Panaino’s brilliant, philological study
of its composition and technical terminology was
needed. It should be prized highly. The results of his
study led him to only one conclusion: “Molnar’s theory
that Matthew was referring to a horoscopic diagram…
does not find support either in the text of the gospel or
in other, later sources explicitly referring to the birth of
Jesus and the magi” (p.257). Panaino argues that earli-
er Iranian religions did not realize any form of profes-
sional astronomy or evolved astral divination. I beg to
differ. I cannot assent to the view that later classical
sources are all deficient in their transmission of early
Iranian ritual beliefs and at the same time uphold the
view that a Professor of Iranian Studies in the 21st cen-
tury is correct in all his critical interpretations of the
same sources.
Herodotus and other ancient writers seemed to be
accurate in these matters: that select classes of persons
(i.e., magi) in early Babylonian and Iranian religions
were adeptat astral sciences. Panaino believes the term
magi carried “negative connotations” for uniformed
[Greek] authors. I agree with him, but for a different
reason, when he says of Matthew that “it is very
improbable that he wanted to introduce controversial
actors such as astrologers and magicians, whose role
would have been not only ambiguous but strongly
compromised” (p.239). In my estimation Matthew’s
narrative may reveal a literary clue overlooked in these
discussions, that faraway, pagan magi were converted
by what they saw, and afterward came from the east to
worship a Jewish God-child. These events would
symbolize the international character of the Jewish
Messiah’s mission put forward by Matthew’s
depiction of him.
Article 12: A. de Jong’s paper deserves high marks. It is
an original contribution on the literary role the magi
fulfilled as “experts in kingship”. Magi is defined by de
Jong to denote two things: (1) Zoroastrian priests and
(2) experts in magic; but if Quintus Curtius Rufus is
correct in his History of Alexander V.1.19-22, as cited on
page 217, there is a 3rd option for magi as 'singers' or as
a ‘chorus’ used for special circumstances of imperial
import. Let us not forget that magi stood guard at
Cyrus's tomb (Strabo Geo. 15.3.7). De Jong does not
believe they were astrologers (p.282), only that they
were a “group of specialists” known for their “authori-
tative knowledge on kingship” (loc. cit.).
Article 13: the author of The Religion of the Mithras
Cult in the Roman Empire (2006) included some unex-
pected observations. Beck contends that Matthew’s
account was copied from the ‘journey of Tiridates I of
Armenia to Rome in 66 CE.’ For him the star is second-
ary to the act of adoration the magi paid to Jesus,
which, in Beck’s mind resembled the homage shown
by Tiridates to Nero and to Mithras. He avers the ‘star’
segment is an interpolation (p.287). His reconstruction
of the account is as follows:
‘The terminus ante is of course the compos-
tion of Matthew in about 90 CE. The precise
circumstances of its genesis are irrecoverable,
but I would imagine something like this: a
group of Antiochene Christians proclaiming,
“Yes! And the true king and savior of the world
was visited and adored by magi, too!” The
“star” was then fitted intothe narrative. Maybe
there was a separate, pre-existing story about
it, maybe not’ (p.287).
The date he puts forward is undecided. Conceivably
several literary components of the tapestry of
“Matthew’s” material derive from oral sources noted
down possibly during Jesus’ career (e.g., 5-7, 13).
Besides, Beck’s task required equal competency in the
management of several disciplines. The declarations of
overt links to Mithraism are tenuous. Neither the
above citation, nor arguments given to support the
main premise of the essay, displays the best of his skills
in text-criticism and the history of transmission of
Part 5 contains much that is attractive. In article 15 van
Henton says “Most messianic passages in Second
Temple literature present the Messiah as a ruler of the
Jews who acts within the framework of an end-time
scenario" (p.364). Question: is there any other kind of
framework or scenario in which a Jewish Messiah is
needed? The function of a Jewish Messiah is to bring
an end to one era and to inaugurate an entirely new
one. Naturally, his appearance demands the termina-
tion of an old epoch. The first sentence of article 16
says “It was a widespread belief in the ancient
world–and beyond–that the movements of the stars
are directly linked to events on earth…(p.387). They
were linked in what way? The latter clause is imprecise
and needs rearrangement to read ‘events on earth are
directly linked to the movements of the stars. As it
stands in the text it may imply a causal quality that was
not understood by persons of the ancient Near East or
of Greece and of Rome: that in antiquity people
trusted that the movements of luminary objects over-
head reacted in conformity to earthly events; an excep-
tion may be the appearance of a comet at a birth or at
one’s death.
Article 18: from Hannah’s hand readers receive a wel-
come supplement to scholarship. One learns that
Irenaeus (AD130-AD202) is the earliest writer to typo-
logically use the gold, myrrh and frankincense as “indi-
cations of Christ’s royal status, divinity, and future
death and burial” (p.436). He traces the literary history
of a tradition that accepts magi as descendants of
Balaam. It is a tradition that is foundational to under-
standing the Books of Balaam, an early “apocryphal
text, attributed to or named for Balaam” (p.454).
In article 19 readers cross the threshold into wide
arenas of cynicism. Merz disbelieves Matthean and
Lukan accounts. The symposium provided her “an
opportunity to re-engage with questions about the reli-
ability of some important historical facts (or fictions?)
underlying the traditions of Jesus’ descent and nativ-
ity” (p.463). Agreeing with the “majority of historical
investigators” sheasserts there is “a very high degreeof
probability” that Jesus “was a real person” (p.465). Yet
she believes biographical texts typically consist of leg-
endary material, particularly “those parts of the narra-
tive that are devoted to the hero's nativity and youth”
(p.466). In heropinion Bethlehem was not Jesus’ birth-
place, and there are “serious reasons to doubt that a
family consciousness of Davidic lineage was present at
the moment of Jesus’ birth” (p.491). Straightforwardly
she doubts the “historical core in the depiction of the
magi” and she affirms, “The hope of getting verifiable
data beyond doubt through astronomy must be recog-
nized as an illusion (p.475). Her paper is a sobering
piece of scholarship, purposely out of step with all
“orthodox” Christian writers through the ages.
Article 20: the final contribution by van Kooten
engages in investigations of special points, and
deserves much praise. It consists of over 130 pages. He
has omnivorous reading habits and is a polymath in
the severest sense of the word. He summarizes the
assorted papers, noting similarities and differences,
even identifying new questions and objections. Since
he - to use his own words - has “studied all theavailable
evidence for the magi and Parthians in Greco-Roman
writings…, (p.499) he believes he can award adequate
answers to the queries raised. Van Kooten makes evi-
dent that magi had ventured west on occasion prior to
Jesus’ birth (p.504). Based on a comparison of biogra-
phical details of Alexander the Great’s birth with Jesus’
nativity, van Kooten submits “These parallels at least
show that Greek readers of Matthew’s Gospel would
not be surprised about the themes featured here”
(p.506). That is putting it mildly. If they were reading
Luke’s account of the nativity, the theme of the ‘Son of
God’ would be unmistakable. Surely Greek readers of
Matthew, who were not of Jewish background, would
have found the Greco-Hebraic syntax of the Star of
Bethlehem account, and specific references to his ful-
fillment of Jewish prophecies, perplexing.
There is an extensive version of Roman and Parthian
relations proffered (pp.519-592). The parallelism goes
too far at page 586 when he attempts to illustrate sim-
ilarities in two texts ondivination: one of magi who vis-
ited Sulla (Velleius Paterculus, Comp Rom. Hist. 2.24.3)
and the other of magi in Matthew 2. The magi in the
former scenario, he says “apply the method of physiog-
nomy, basing their predictions on the outer physiolog-
ical appearance of the foreign ruler, in the case of Jesus
they follow an astrological method.” Van Kooten
stands up to Heilen (pp.597-598), but his arguments
are delicate. Astral arrangements do not provide exact
locations to which magi should travel to invest kings.
The political machinations van Kooten envisions are
inconsistent with the evidence he adduces, despite his
claim that “The reference of Aries to Syria or Persia in
geographical astrological theories would mean that
such a birth would take place in one of these areas. And
as I have added, contemporary Parthian-Roman rela-
tions in the Augustan era would have drawn the magi's
attention to Syria…” (p.599).
Van Kooten dispenseswith an overriding Jewish milieu
of Matthew’s Gospel in order to posit a more charitable
Babylonian/Parthian setting (pp.619-627). Abraham is
transformed, made to characterize a kind of Chaldean
astronomer; and because of Roman politics Herod
“would not have dared to hurt Parthians” [Magi]. Jesus
is juxtaposed to Zoroaster, his Sermon on the Mount
being a type of communal constitution. In van
Kooten’s mind, compositionally at least, Jesus’ exposi-
tion must be a simile, some genus of Matthean literary
adaptation, seeing that Zoroaster also was known as a
“giver of constitutions and laws.” The historical data
are used uncontrollably: as noted above, amid each
section are buried slips that are inaccurate to the testi-
monies of writers he cites. His bibliography is the
fullest that I have seen in sometime.
Further notes. Molnar’s hypothesis requires a parallel inves-
tigation of ancient kings whose narratives were composed by
persons who might have made use of birth signs to augment
a ruler’s majestic status. If the language ‘in the east’ - ‘at its
heliacal rising’ is so important to Molnar’s and others’
hypothesis, then why is the phrase wise men or magi “from
the east” (Mat. 2.1)’ neglected in word-studies? Were the
magi ‘from the heliacal rising’? Doubtful, is it not? – ‘east’,
therefore, designates a direction and is of no astrological
consequence at all. For that matter, all the magi may not have
come from one location or f rom the samedistrict prior to the
commencement of their mission. Each may have come from
a different site. Matthew’s text is vague on exact beginnings.
On the other hand, there is no clear consensus among con-
tributors on whether the magi were Persian (e.g., see
pp.237,271) or Babylonian (e.g., 227,594); but van Kooten
writes “it seems likely that these magi must be understood as
being connected to the court of Parthians” (p.497,n.4).
Moreover the glut of dates for Jesus’ birth given in this book
is frustrating. Hughes admitted as much: “Here we encounter
our first problem… astronomers are presented with a times-
pan that extends from early 8 to late 1 BCE” (p.106). Molnar
is reproved more than once for not acknowledging his pred-
ecessors who worked these same fields (e.g., p.391, n.10), as if
he was unaware of their work. Indeed he knew very well of
their efforts, and through close reading one can see that he
constructed his theory accordingly. Molnar’s terminology
reveals his dependency on the works of others by the same
measure in which he believed Matthew’s vocabulary proved
him to be ineffectual with his use of “astrological language”.
Some participants at the symposium consigned high degrees
of cognition to ancient readers. Readers of the ‘Star of
Bethlehem’ texts (whatever their social standing) were
obliged to recognize Mithraic mysteries, Parthian liturgy,
Greek anecdotal material, Babylonian allusions etc. I doubt
that most readers in antiquity had the abilities with which
contemporary scholars credit them. Modern academics on
average possess fewer of these skills than did the readers of
Matthew’s day. Lastly, in the epilogue Barthel and van Kooten
consolidate each author’s position, fixing them under three
distinct rubrics: The fully skeptical view, the minimalist view
and the maximalist view. I am unaware of Heilen's personal
beliefs, but readers of his article may be astounded to see his
name listed in the first category (see page 343 and the 1st
paragraph of page 344).
One century later, the hypothesis of F.X. Kugler (p.155)
still intrigues. Nonetheless another idea, no less plau-
sible than the astrological/astronomical one that is
argued all over this volume, may be noted. Matthew 1
and 2 utilize dream-events (e.g., 1.20; 2.12-13,19). The
star scene perceived by the magi ‘in the east’ (in
Mesopotamia or Medo-Persia?) and later ‘in the west’
(in Bethlehem), also could be interpreted plainly, not
as a visible planetary arrangement, but just as all the
other prospects, as celestial visions or daydreams. This
image certainly is uniform with the context and its lan-
guage. It is far more convincing, and it reflects the
power of invention of reverie that clearly manifests
itself up to the incident at Matthew 27.19 where the
previous night a nightmare betrayed itself to Pilate’s
wife. These dreams are so-called involuntary portents.
Greco-Roman tales, Jewish folklore and other ancient
Near Eastern literature employ similar episodes in var-
ious reports of holy persons whose lives were con-
firmed by other-than-natural phenomena.
Despite the censures registered above, by any measure-
ment this book is beneficial. The book raises vital
problems of transmission of astral knowledge. Readers
will benefit from study of it, though they, if at all criti-
cal, will not be convinced by all of it. Most essays are
forceful and will exert influence in their relevant fields
of study. The volume itself is a contribution to the
advancement of astral science and to the progress of
biblical criticism. Altogether it warrants considerable
approval. Congratulations to each author for their
vigor and industry, and for the stimulus which
prompted their incisive analyses and thorough
K. Barry,
The Wiley Blackwell Companion
to Patristics.
Wiley Blackwell (2015).
Pp. xvi, 530. ISBN 978 1 118 43871 8. $195.00 (hb).
Patristic studies are experiencing an upsurge of pub-
lished materials. Students in this field should warm to
this latest installment of the Wiley Blackwell
Companions to Religion series. Changes have been
coming for some time. The patriarchal nature of the
label “Patristic Fathers” has been off-putting to some
for decades. Presently “Patristics” is nominally desig-
nated as ‘Early Christian Studies’ in a few departments
of research and in academic societies. The former
heading once could embrace the formative starting
points of religions of all types; but the newer name
identifies one religious sub-group only.
The study of Patristics is a natural bridge to cross for
those persons who have delved into the development
of ancient Christian literature. All research in this dis-
cipline is central to studies of the formations of sectar-
ian confessional statements and theologies of
Christian doctrine prior to the so-called Middle Ages.
Arbitrary dates confine the period. The arguments of
yesteryear were not exactly the same as today’s argu-
ments. The medieval mind inclined toward tradition in
ways now unthinkable; but their knowledge of ancient
texts and writers exceeds that of the finite minds of
those who correctly try to give explanation of their
The Table of Contents contains a brief Preface, Notes
on Contributors, and is followed by 33 chapters.
Part I Introduction p.1: 1 The Nature and Scope of
Patristics 3, Ken Parry; Part II Collecting the Fathers
p.13: 2 Byzantine Florilegia 15, Alexander Alexakis; 3
Modern Patrologies 51, Angelo Di Berardino; Part III
Studies in Reception History I: Individual Fathers
p.69: 4 Irenaeus of Lyons 71, Denis Minns; 5 Clementof
Alexandria 84, Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski; 6 Origen of
Alexandria 98, Mark Edwards; 7 Athanasius of
Alexandria 111, David M. Gwynn; 8 Ephrem of Nisibis
126, Andrew Palmer; 9 John Chrysostom 141 Wendy
Mayer; 10 Augustine of Hippo 155, Kazuhiko Demura; 11
Cyril of Alexandria 170, Hans van Loon; 12 Shenoute of
Atripe 184, Janet Timbie; 13 Nestorius of Constanti-
nople 197, George Bevan; 14 Dionysius the Areopagite
211, István Perczel; 15 Severus of Antioch 226, Youhanna
Nessim Youssef; 16 Gregory the Great 238, Bronwen
Neil; 17 Maximos the Confessor 250, Andrew Louth; 18
John of Damascus 264, Vassilis Adrahtas; 19 Gregory
of Narek 278, Abraham Terian; 20 Gregory Palamas
293, Marcus Plested; Part IV Studies in Reception
History II: Collective Fathers p.307: 21 The
Cappadocian Fathers 309, H. Ashley Hall; 22 The
Desert Fathers and Mothers 326, John Chryssavgis; 23
The Iconophile Fathers 338, Vladimir Baranov; Part V
Studies in the Fathers p.353: 24 Scripture and the
Fathers 355, Paul Blowers; 25 Hagiography of the Greek
Fathers 370, Stephanos Efthymiadis; 26 Liturgies and
the Fathers 385, Hugh Wybrew; 27 Fathers and the
Church Councils 400, Richard Price; 28 The Fathers
and Scholasticism 414, James R. Ginther; 29 The
Fathers and the Reformation 428, Irena Backus; 30 The
Fathers in Arabic 442, Alexander Treiger; 31 The Greek
of the Fathers 456, Klaas Bentein; 32 The Latin of the
Fathers 471, Carolinne White; 33 Reimagining
Patristics: Critical Theory as a Lens 487, Kim Haines-
People read Patristic literature for various reasons: to
observe their use of biblical quotations, and to mine
their materials for historical citations or cultural refer-
ences. Primarily readers of Patristic writings, whose
interests are religious, study these texts for their theol-
ogy. Divines have had greater success in influencing
the interpretation of these texts than have secular crit-
ics. The volume under review will not alter that fact in
any way. To be sure, one weakness of the volume is the
authors’ unawareness of the wider realms of theologi-
cal disciplines that developed through the ages. In sev-
eral places textual expositions are imprecise.
Theological conclusions, too, in this volume are not
infrequently fuzzy. All of the Fathers held variegated
beliefs that implicated several systems of doctrine.
There is exemplary scholarship. Quite a lot of thechap-
ters are noteworthy for data that is included or exclud-
ed. Of Irenaeus of Lyons, readers learn that Catholic
and Protestant alikeused him to defend theirpositions
on free will and on the presence of Christ at the com-
munion table. One misses extracts or citations for
studying what Irenaeus actually taught. The chapter on
Clement of Alexandria gives a useful synopsis of his
belief in the section “The Main Characteristics of
Clements’ Theological Pedagogy: The Purpose of Life”
(p.87). The author of the essay clearly understands
what readers need to know, that Clement’s outlook was
‘Origen of Alexandria’ traces his theological entangle-
ments. The author elucidates them plainly. Some of
Origen’s allegorical conclusions were disturbing: his
errors were many (pp.102-3). Edwards offers a prudent
evaluation: “It can be argued that the failure of the his-
torico-critical method to underwrite the historicity of
the Bible has been the cause of almost every theologi-
cal revolution in the last century. Among Protestants
and Catholics alike, it has become commonplace to
maintain that the full revelation lies ahead of us, not
behind us, and that until this consummation we must
regard all readings of scripture as provisional” (p.108).
His remarks are perceptive.
Of Shenoute of Atripe, there is no biography, context
or any quotations of value. Readers learn more about
the Roman Catholic mission to convert Coptics, and of
the rediscovery of Egyptian idiom, than of Shenoute.
The “Broader judgement” of Leipoldt that Shenoute
“means nothing in world history, (but) means every-
thing to the Copts,… (p.193)” is not dispelled by this
contribution. A question remains: what of the content
of Shenoute’s sermons or of their rhetorical construc-
tion? No answers are provided to readers. Bevan’s
‘Nestorius of Constantinople’ is an overview of signifi-
cance. Nestorius will remain a subject of heated
debate. The church of the east will revere him in ways
that academics who are unable to read Syriac fluently
cannot esteem him. Theodore of Mopsuestia is revised
in this paper to be of greater importance than
Nestorius for Syriac historical/theological studies. I
find that assumption to be dubious. But the essay on
Gregory of Palamas is enlightening. M. Plested is cor-
rect when he says “... it may be pertinent to note that
throughout the late Byzantine and early modern peri-
od the Orthodox East was vastly better informed about
contemporary Latin theology than vice versa” (p.302).
The volume certainly is worth purchasing. There still
are few, if any, single volume competitors to H.R.
Drobner, Lehrbuch der Patrologie (Peter Lang, 2004):
Transl., S. Schatzmann, The Fathers of the Church: a
Comprehensive Introduction (Baker, 2007). If readers
hope to hold in-hand something akin to edd., B.
Bitton-Askelony, T. de Bruyn, C. Harrison, Patristic
Studies in the Twenty-First Century (Brepols, 2015),
disappointment awaits. Nor does it resemble, S.
Ashbrook Harvey, D.G. Hunter, The Oxford Handbook
of Early Christian Studies (Oxford, 2008). What is
given, nonetheless, merits qualified praise. Some bril-
liant specialists played a role in the overall excellence of
the volume. In a vaguely titled “Companion to
Patristics” one would expect to find copious amounts
of extracts from critically reconstructed sources, even
elucidation of those contexts in which the texts were
originally composed. Although not applicable to every
essay, biographies, where given, often are abrupt.
Secondary sources that cite a topic are recorded pro-
fusely; but arguments of modern critics and their con-
clusions regarding the primary topics exhibit the
grandest significance. It is handy to have now a single
volume which holds so many historical keys. Readers
may now follow a text through the centuries, behold-
ing how passages were used, appreciated or depre-
ciated. To be exact, the book really is a ‘Companion to
the “Reception” of Patristics: from Late Antiquity
There are points of disagreement. Critical New Testament
scholars doubt the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus;
Patristic scholars (in this Companion) accept baldly the rela-
tionship between the “authors” to Jesus’ disciples. Despite
this, I will confine my criticisms to Parry’s opening essay,
‘The Nature and Scope of Patristics’. This piece is open to crit-
icism. There is an underlying assumption that for centuries
Catholic and Orthodox scribes and clergy-readers of these
texts misunderstood the contexts in which thewriters wrote.
However, to Parry the clarification becomes apparent when
one applies newer theoretical models of exegesis to certain
passages. The editor believes that “Late Antiquity… suffered,
together with the study of Byzantium, from indifference and
neglect, being of no interest to traditional classicists who
focused on Greece and Rome” (p.3). But how did Late
Antiquity suffer if the texts were being continually read in
specific sects? Possibly those religious sects who were read-
ing them were being neglected by scholars too. I suppose a
similar charge could be brought against Byzantine scholars
who focus on periods of time that do not include the minuti-
ae of ancient Greece and Rome. Amazingly, Parry does not
think that “modern biblical fundamentalism can be applied
to pre-modern theological thought” (p.7), but he does aver
that Post-modern concepts may be so used. Parry refers to
“advances in our knowledge” by “the application of a feminist
approach to the study of Patristics” (p.4), without relating
what those gains might be. But why not go further and also
employ a trans-gender approach to theperiod or even a Black
Theology approach to see what turns up; the confessional
approach so deplored still yields greater truth than specula-
tion because the doctrines that were confessed by those of
Late Antiquity are on record.
Source criticism requires a scrupulous reconstruction of
events before critical analysis can begin. Positing the need
for ‘allegorical’ or ‘imaginative’ readings of Patristic texts,
Parry alleges “The words may inspire us to go beyond a liter-
al sense to a level of reflection that is not easy to define, and
perhaps impossible to define,…” (p.5). If it is not “easy” or is
“impossible” to define, then it is beyond literary description.
The nuanced assessments to which he believes readers must
be brought easily misdirects. ‘Nuanced’ tends to mean that a
word or phrase may be construed along interpretative lines
drawn or marked out by specific creative methods.
Philological rigor should determine meaning. Where evi-
dence is scanty, one should say so and soldier onwards. Also,
does theologumena really denote ‘personal opinions’ in
Patristic usage?-(p.8).
Errors: page 99 “…does not end itself…” should read
…does not lend itself…”; page 209, Secondary Sources:
rather than “Bulletin of Joyn Rylands…, it should read
“Bulletin of John Rylands University…”
Give Due Regard to
R. Hunter and S.P. Oakley,
Latin Literature and its Transmission.
Cambridge (2016). Pp. xii, 192.
ISBN 978 1 107 11627 6. $120.00 (hb).
M.D. Reeve, Emeritus Kennedy Professor of Latin, is
the honoree of this publication of technical papers. In
2013 a conference was held in Cambridge to mark his
70th birthday: ‘The Editing and Interpretation of Latin
Literature’. Most of the presenters’ papers were revised
for inclusion in this volume of fourteen varied papers.
Two papers were not included. The authors did not
believe they were suitable for publication: one by W.
Fitzgerald: ‘Two Musical Versionsof Latin Love Poetry:
Carl Orff’s Catulli Carmina and Reynaldo Hahn’s
Etudes Latines, and the other by G. Williams: ‘Seneca,
the Aetna poem and Pietro Bembo’s De Aetna’.
Classicists will know of Reeve’s detailed contributions
to the recension, examination, and emendation of
ancient Latin texts (e.g., Vegetius, Epitoma Rei
Militaris, Oxford, 2004). The papers below pay tribute
to his rigorous analyses of Latin literature and to his
profuse offerings of technical [ms] reports. There are
papers on Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Cicero, Tacitus,
Catullus, Horace and Priscian. Each author's paper is a
trial and error investigation. Most of them are text-
critical in substance.
In this domain Reeve definitely distinguished himself
(see his Manuscripts and Methods: Essays on Editing
and Transmission, Rome, 2011). Upholding Reeves’
point of view are progressive scholars who believe the
text and critical apparatus should keep pace with mod-
ern researches into conjecture and into the procedures
of those who proposed textual conjectures.
Conservative academics tend to preserve the transmit-
ted text. By means of ms collation, and through their
researches, explanatory comments in defenseof anom-
alies in the text might be supplied. Often the app. crit.
displays fewer variants, using conjecture sparingly.
Both factions consider their labors to be professional,
although they understand the work of emendation dif-
ferently. One concern may be that publishers will
begin to issueeditions for conservativeand for progres-
sive groups alike. As a rule, the texts edited by conser-
vatives are deemed by progressive critics to be anti-
quated when released; but those editions whose texts
are formed by radical conjecture, conservative critics
generally assign them to the realm of literary fiction.
Through the decades Reeve made some substantial
contributions to Greek research too. Hellenic studies
are absent from this volume.
Alessandro Barchiesi, ‘Jupiter the antiquarian: The
name IULUS (Virgil Aeneid I.267-8)’. AB’s paper is a
literary study of a statement issued by Jupiter, particu-
larly of the cognomen Iulus. The application of that
name to Ascanius redefines him as ‘Little Jupiter’, a
procreator: one who may initiate a new clan. The con-
tribution is novel.
D.H. Berry, ‘Neglected and Unnoticed Additions in the
text of three speeches of Cicero (In Verrem II.5, Pro
Murena, Pro Milone)’. In Berry’s justification for his
emendatory work, a lot of phrases like “may have been”
and “there might be” are utilized. If one disagrees with
Berry’s primary premise (p.10) that “those speeches
which have historically been the most read, has
attracted a good many additions”, then the paper is
unnecessary on historical grounds. Indeed he is right.
His examinations throw a f lood of light on the process-
es of transmission, are thorough and insightful. His
vivid renderings always give what is in the Latin text:
but at Ver.II.5.83, in the first line “then” should be
deleted, just as “aspect of this” should also be deleted
in the second line (p.11).
D. Butterfield, ‘Some problems in the text and trans-
mission of Lucretius’. 5 sets of passages are discussed.
The examination of several problems is detailed. DB’s
familiarity with historical matters related to DRN is
obvious. The essay does not disappoint, but raises
many questions, answers several; but never is too dog-
matic when a verdict is desirable. Other than Deufert
(cf. below) hardly can one find another scholar per-
forming analogous Lucretian work. In the section:
‘I.305-6: clothes and critics left high and dry’, an ingen-
ious study is provided. In the end he suggests that the
presence of dispansae in 306 can be accounted for so:
“the scribe’s eyes, having written uuescunt eaedem,
wandered upwards to suspensae, which was duplicated
in the next line…. At bottom of page he notes that
dispansae “is attested in the ninth-century prosodic
florilegium of St. Gallen” (p.39). DB diminishes its
import, claiming that the excerpt “therefore adds little
weight to the testimony of OQS. Since this is so, might
there have been a type of text once extant whose read-
ings did concur with it?
G.B. Conte, ‘On the text of the Aeneid: an editor’s expe-
rience’. Conte’s work is well acclaimed. According to
him, his edition differs from R.A.B. Mynors’ edition
because of the use of 8 Carolingian codices unused by
Mynors. In this paper GC examines 10 passages. He
raises very specific objections. At 10.366 (pp.56-57)
Conte is unhappy that the sentence aspera quis natura
loci was replaced by Mynors with Madvig’s reading
aspera aquis natura loci. GC confesses “I absolutely fail
to understand how land can be said to be aspera
(‘rough with water’). Mynors possibly considered the
dangerous effects of water-soaked soil in battle, in
which steeds could get bogged down and would have
great difficulty maneuvering, especially if the terrain
was also rocky. GC’s paper is a responsible and rich
piece of scholarship, supplementary to his previous
Virgilian studies. Yet his labors have not depreciated
the value of Mynors’ edition. Happily GC pays tribute
to Richard Bentley (1662-1742), the foremost textualist
of his day, and “the most glorious of all the Masters of
Cambridge” (p.64-67).
M. Deufert, ‘Overlooked manuscript evidence for
interpolations in Lucretrius? The rubricated lines’. In
this paper an attempt is made (p.70) “to show that the
use of critical signs in the text of Lucretius at an early
stage of its transmission can be reconstructed from a
strange particularity in our extant manuscripts…
namely the rubrication of verses, reflects the applica-
tion of critical signs to these verses in an earlier, pre-
archetypal edition.” His mastery of the issues is com-
mendable; his translation of lines 744-49 is idiomatic
and precise: no superfluous words therein. MD shows
that E.J. Kenney’s rendering of omnia saecla uiuendo
uincere - ‘to live longer than any creature, even the
longest-lived’ -, isincorrect. In its placehe renders it ‘to
defeat all generations (each generation which succeeds
the previous generation) by keeping on living’ (p.76).
One query: did Zenodotus truly invent the obelus, as
claimed by MD (p.79), or was it invented by
Aristarchus? P.83: MD writes “Critical editions in
antiquity are a scholarly reaction against the practice of
forgery”. Even so, some of the annotators then may
have been ordinary laypersons and not professional
scribes. Also the “critical editions” in antiquity, too,
may have been created to preserve the cumulative
insights of other respectable commentators both in the
text and in the margins.
M.R. Gale, ‘Aliquid putare nugas: literary filiation, crit-
ical communities and reader-response in Catullus’.
This paper contains some mature reflections (cf.
pp.98-99). I cannot help but wonder how much better
it might have been if only MG had dispensed with the
literary categories (p.90) of G. Genette (cf. Paratexts:
Thresholds of Interpretation, 1997), rather than fram-
ing her arguments by them. On p.89 she speaks of a
“broad scholarly consensus” that holds that poem 1
“should be read not just as a dedication but as a pro-
gramme for some or all of what follows in modern col-
lections.” The core materials of her case typically are
vaguely construed. Psychological assessments,
whether they are deemed biographical fallacies or not,
tend to prove fallible in every way and in all circum-
stances. By what reading-strategy or on what philolog-
ical grounds can one infer that poem 1 post-dates the
“composition of the works that make up the libellus
proper” or their “assemblage into a collection” and the
“subsequent production of a high-quality presentation
copy” (p.90)? The alleged link between Catullus and
Meleager, noted on pages 93-94, is imperceptible. MG’s
translations take substantial liberties, running the risk
of qualifying for the designation ‘paraphrases’. For the
interpretation of Catullus 22.9-11, I cannot compre-
hend the value of depicting Suffenus as a “clod-hop-
ping yokel” (p.104).
E. Gee, ‘Dogs, snakes and heroes: hybridism and
polemic in Lucretius’ De rerum natura. EG set out to
‘systematically refute’ Merrill’s contention that similar-
ities between Cicero’s Aratea and Lucretius’ De Rerum
Natura should not be taken seriously. Of any parallels,
he said “…if close examination be directed to them,
most of them will prove to be mere coincidences
(p.108). She opposed his line of argument and accom-
plished her goal, and in my opinion demonstrated that
Lucretius employed allusion as a “thematic tool”. All
her glosses of Greek and Latin are interesting. P.110: for
nam uulgo fiery portenta uideres, I am doubtful about
her descriptional use of “monstrosities”. I suggest
“wondrous [things]”. There is no negative undertone in
Lucretius’ statement, but one of explicit marvel.
Throughout the critical Latin text of DRN, re-punctu-
ation is needed: e.g., for clarity, a colon “:” should be
placed after uideres. On page 117, when she ought to be
explaining Lucretius’ inventive theories, EG writes, “It
is dog eat dog in Lucretius’ universe, atoms existing in
a state of selfish-gene fundamentalism, the battle for
individual survival leaving no room for altruism.” She
seems to be reciting Charles Darwin's (1809-1882) 19th
century theory of the processes of natural selection.
S.J. Heyworth, ‘Authenticity and other textual prob-
lems in Heroides 16’. SH. investigates down to bedrock
matters of authenticity regarding epistle 16. He
believes that Reeve’s work essentially brought this
debate to a close with his 1973 article in ‘Notes on
Ovid’s Heroides’. Of it SH said “because it came with
the authority of so learned a scholar, it gave Ovidians
the confidence to follow through its implications…. We
now have an Ovid who uses polysyllabic pentameter
readings… and an Ovid… whoin Tomi is still writing
love poetry” (p.148). Thus SH concludes, “I am there-
fore confident that the two passages are (for the most
part) by the same author as the rest of 16-21, i.e. Ovid:
Reeve was right, I believe, to worry about… but these
problems should be confronted on the basis that we
are attempting to discoveran Ovidian original” (p.165).
SH’s paper is much more appropriate to the festschrift
genre, in which a contributor without fail interacts
with the honorand's work.
Moreover SH supplies excellent renderings of Latin.
Even though it is not possible always, or necessary, to
display exact syntactical correspondence, it was nice to
read sentences in which the English and Latin punctu-
ated texts, as a rule, harmonized: except at P.146, where
ln. 13 has “recepta est:” and “been received” is in fn 15;
but (p.158) at f n. 56 (the translation for 16.139-48),
there the punctuation was not revised at all. Again
(p.162), ln. 171 shows “relicta;” in the text, but “left
me … with you” in fn. 68. SH’s metrical studies are
L.B.T. Houghton, ‘Maritime Maro: Virgil’s fourth
Eclogue in Renaissance Venice’. L.B. writes of Virgil’s
influence on the artistry of Venetian texts and physical
images during the rebirth of learning. It is a well-
written piece; but the reviewer is incapable of apprais-
ing the essay’s academic value.
M. Leigh, ‘Illa domus, illa mihi sedes: on the interpreta-
tion of Catullus 68’. Several pages in ML’s paper show
flashes of brilliance (e.g., 195,207). His survey of the
relationship of lines in poem 68 illustrates a signal
problem: when a Latin phrase’s meaning is obscure,
one may imagine things about its meaning and of the
author of the text, and later upon illustrating what was
envisioned on page after page, inflexibly conclude that
the motive and intent of the author was correctly
divined by the modern interpreter. ML knows this
issue is a trap in which a scholar easily may be snared,
so he treats differing opinions with caution, writing on
page 204: “Any final account of what scriptorum
denotes is the work of the reader imaginatively recon-
structing the terms of the correspondence to which
Catullus deliberately allows no more than partial
access.” I agree. Who can definitely know what was
intended by the vague phrase ‘Gifts of Aphrodite’ or by
Catullus’ use of ‘munera’? So why not retain the ambi-
guity of the Latin in translation? The friend requested
those supernal gifts [verses?] which only Catullus
could supply, those that were able to calm a restless
soul. It is doubtful that Catullus’ personal problems
robbed him of his powers of lust; but so much grief
might have suppressed the energy needed by him to
compose lines of beauty, even ones suggestive of titilla-
tion. ML concluded that 68a and 68b consist of a uni-
fied structure (pp.217-224). There is much philological
substance in this paper.
S.J.V. Malloch, ‘Acidalius on Tacitus’. SM has made a
name for himself as a Tacitean scholar: cf. his volume,
The Annals of Tacitus Book II (Cambridge, 2013).
Students of Tacitus will be forever grateful to him for
this extensive review of Valens Acidalius’ (1567-1595)
scholarship and of his remarkable notes on Tacitus’
Annals. Alcidalius was a prodigy of an unusual kind,
SM’s presentation ensures that Acidalius’ work will be
remembered. He says on page 226, “Between the age of
Lipsius and the middle of the nineteenth century no
scholar contributed more by emendation to the estab-
lishment of the text of Tacitus… than Acidalius”: true
story. Following a brief survey of his life and of his
scholarly contributions, Acidalius’ 1607 volume of
Notae is examined. The twenty-five notes exhibited on
pages 235-6 are appealing. It is amazing what he was
able to do with “neat changes of one or two letters and
deletions” as he went about “correcting the vulgate
text” (loc. cit.).
Two Medicean mss formed the basis of Acidalius’
researches, one of the 9th century, the other of the 11th
century. Alcidalius’ interests lay specifically in emen-
dation, and SM says of him: “Historical problems do
not concern him” (p.231). SM’s examinations of certain
passages are enlightening and compel readers to think
through historical issues neglected by Alcidalius. His
life was brief. Some said that madness affected
Alcidalius unto the point of death; but a sibling remon-
strated, saying a fever removed so young a phenome-
non from the world.
L. Morgan, ‘On the good ship ingenium: Tristia 1.10’.
This paper warrants attention. LM treats a poem now
included in the category of ‘voyage poetry’. A self-con-
fessed ‘literary critic’ (p.245), his philological skills are
not few, engaging authors of various kinds to formu-
late, establish and buttress his thesis. He is answering
a question, one set out at the beginning: did Ovid lose
his poetic creative intelligence? And another, which
only appears at the paper’s end: “What was Augustus
doing by sending Ovid not to Athens or Rhodes, but to
a place outside culture (and far from libraries), if not
aiming to silence him, to destroy his poetry?” (p.260).
Images and carvings on a sea-going vessel settle the
first one. The answer to the latter query is implicit in
the fact Ovid was forced into exile by the ruler.
Ovid might havethought he had lost his ability to com-
pose poems. But the vessel taking him to the Black Sea
region contained “two emblems at either end of the
craft” (p.254). Fortuitously it was a divinely protected
sea-steed, guarded by Minerva. So what is the link
between Minerva, the ship and Ovid? So LM: “I would
say that Minerva who protects Ovid and his ship in
Tristia 1.10 figuratively… represents that creative talent
that Ovid thought lost, but here in Tristia 1.10 (and if
one steps back, by virtue of the very existence of the
book) proves its staying power” (p.256). Thepaper is an
original contribution to Ovidian studies.
S.P. Oakley, ‘The editio princeps of Priscian’s Periegesis
and its relatives’. The industry involved in collating the
17 mss under SPO’s review and documenting them in
this paper surely brought a wider smile to Dr. Reeve’s
face than it has to most readers of this essay. Few lay-
men will tarry long with it. Specialists will recognize it
for what it is and judge it accordingly as an exemplar: a
fastidious study of how one ought to investigate mss
and document their relationships for public inspection
or of how one ought not to do so. Apparently there are
three families of mss. Heexamines the largest of them.
Early in the paper, SPO relates some good news, “a
companion article will examine the tradition as a
whole” (p.264). No special considerations are made for
the non-specialist. If a reader is unfamiliar with the
person of Priscian or of what the Periegesis consists,
they will remain so still after 27 pages of tarrying with
the mechanics of his valuations. There is an excellent
tabular or list of mss witnesses, which is needed for
consultation everywhere in SPO’s discussion of errors,
[dis]similarities, etc. This technical piece is a worthy
tribute to one's master.
R. Tarrant, ‘A new critical edition of Horace. For a new
edition, RT does not follow Brink, Nisbet and
Shackleton Bailey, who believed that studies of uncol-
lated codices of Horace’s texts would not yield better
readings (p.295). RT’s “tentative plan is to examine all
manuscripts written before 1100 and to look much
more selectively at later manuscripts” (loc. cit). RT col-
lated ms Rin 2013. He recorded for the reader its
“examples of incorrect word divisions” (pp.297-8).
Moreover his intention is to produce a critical appara-
tus similar to the one he employed in the construction
of the text of his OCT Metamorphoses (2004).
The expositions of Odes on pages 302-315 are happy. In
the final pages (pp.316-321) he muses on the kind of
critical apparatus needed in a new edition. He already
had informed readers that “the main function of acrit-
ical apparatus is to allow the reader to review and ques-
tion the decisions made by the editor” (p.301).
Searching for an accurate path between Klingner's
"nearly two dozen" conjectures on the text of Horace
and Shackleton Bailey's “nearly two hundred” (p.300),
RT contrasted his own “provisional apparatus” with
those published by Klingner and Shackleton Bailey at
Od.1.31 (pp.317-8). RT’s text critical views are developed
more fully in his recently published essays, Texts,
Editors and Readers, (Cambridge, 2016).
A list of Reeve’s publications from 1967-2015, a
Bibliography, an Index of passages discussed, and a
General Index, round out the volume.
Latin Literature and its Transmission is a fine tribute to
a fine scholar whose scholarship will endure for cen-
1 When citing The Ds Commentary on Books, you may reference it by nominal abbreviation, year of issue, number of edition and paginal numeral:
e.g. DCB, (2016) No. 1, p.18. I am grateful to several academics who will remain anonymous, whose expertise on so many knotty issues was provided
to me.
Rev. D. Antoine Sutton completed his doctoral
studies at Knox Theological Seminary and is
Senior Minister of the Tabernacle in the Great
Plains, Red Cloud, Nebraska (USA). He is a
biblicist whose specialisms and reading/research
interests include: Semitic pursuits and Arabic
grammar; the poetry and textual criticism of A.
E. Housman; the text and transmission of
Manilius’ Astronomica; the origin and forma-
tion of the earliest historical traditions of Islam;
theology during the Enlightenment period;
and the use of typology as a literary and/or
theological device in the exegesis of ancient
Greek and Roman poetry and in expository
studies of Old and New Testament texts.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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