Monday, May 24, 2010

Top Five Reasons For Thinking That Irenaeus Originally Wrote in Aramaic (And the Text of Against All Heresies was Subsequently Translated into Greek)

I know that the rest of the world is utterly convinced that the material behind the Five Books Against All Heresies were originally written in Greek.  But I have don't know if I agree.  It is impossible not to notice that the original translator of Irenaeus's writings has difficulty when he is dealing with highly technical date in Syriac.  I suspect that the original editor of Irenaeus was NOT a professional translator.  He never received formal training and ended up fumbling the translation in key areas because he wasn't qualified for the job.

In any event here are the top five reasons for my suspicion that Irenaeus originally wrote in Aramaic

5. Irenaeus admits as much - The opening words of the Five Books make it explicit that Irenaeus wrote in a 'barbarous language' (i.e. not Latin or Greek)::

Thou wilt not expect from me, who am merely passing time among the Delphois and am accustomed for the most part to use a barbarous language (βάρβαρον διάλεκτον), any display of rhetoric, which I have never learned, or any excellence of composition, which I have never practised, or any beauty and persuasiveness of style, to which I make no pretensions. [AH i. pref]

4. The Marcosian Apolutrosis Prayers - as many have already noted the transcription of the baptism invocation is now utterly nonsensical:

Others still repeat certain Hebrew words, in order the more thoroughly to bewilder those who are being initiated, as follows: "Basema, Chamosse, Baoenaora, Mistadia, Ruada, Kousta, Babaphor, Kalachthei." The interpretation of these terms runs thus: "I invoke that which is above every power of the Father, which is called light, and good Spirit, and life, because Thou hast reigned in the body." Others, again, set forth the redemption thus: The name which is hidden from every deity, and dominion, and truth which Jesus of Nazareth was clothed with in the lives of the light of Christ--of Christ, who lives by the Holy Ghost, for the angelic redemption. The name of restitution stands thus: Messia, Uphareg, Namempsoeman, Chaldoeaur, Mosomedoea, Acphranoe, Psaua, Jesus Nazaria. The interpretation of these words is as follows: "I do not divide the Spirit of Christ, neither the heart nor the supercelestial power which is merciful; may I enjoy Thy name, O Saviour of truth!" Such are words of the initiators; but he who is initiated, replies, "I am established, and I am redeemed; I redeem my soul from this age (world), and from all things connected with it in the name of Iao, who redeemed his own soul into redemption in Christ who liveth." Then the bystanders add these words, "Peace be to all on whom this name rests."[AH i.21.3]

Indeed in no universe can these words "Messia Uphareg Namempsoeman Chaldoeaur Mosomedoea Acphranoe Psaua Jesus Nazaria" mean this "The name which is hidden from every deity, and dominion, and truth which Jesus of Nazareth was clothed with in the lives of the light of Christ--of Christ, who lives by the Holy Ghost, for the angelic redemption." It is worth noting Harvey's comments here - "such passages are more open to corruption than others and it is more likely that the ignorance of the transcribers should have altered barbarous expressions that they did not understand than that Irenaeus, himself of Oriental extraction should have set down a cento of unintelligible words in Hebrew or Syriac. The interpretations may be referred to another hand" [p.184]

3. The misunderstanding of 'Colorbasus' [AH i.14.1] The passage in question is "This Marcus then, declaring that he alone was the matrix and receptacle of the Sige of Colorbasus, inasmuch as he was only-begotten, has brought to the birth in some such way as follows that which was committed to him of the defective Enthymesis." Marcus, Irenaeus seems to say, boasted that he alone was allowed to become the womb and receptacle of the Sigé (Silence) of Colarbasus; the offspring to which he gave birth being the statement and revelation recorded afterwards. There is no previous mention of Colarbasus. Irenaeus has for six pages been speaking of Marcus alone. Eleven pages back he refers briefly to "a certain other Illustrious teacher of theirs" [the Valentinians]; but there is no coincidence of doctrine, and nothing to suggest that the nameless, or obscurely named [Epiphanes], heretic was himself Colarbasus, as some have supposed.

According to Philaster (Haer. 43) Colarbasus taught after Marcus and "in like manner:" his two lines of description are merely a vague echo of Marcosian doctrine. Pseudo-Tertullian combines the two names indistinguishably in one article. Their common source, the lost Compendium of Hippolytus, can have contained no special information about Colarbasus. When Hippolytus wrote the great later treatise Against all Heresies, he was evidently not better instructed. At the beginning of the sixth book he promises to describe "the doctrines held by Marcus and Colarbasus;" he devotes in due course twenty-three pages to a repetition of Irenaeus's account of Marcus; and at the end he considers he has sufficiently shown who [viz., Pythagoreans and astrologers] were the masters of Marcus and Colarbasus, "the successors in the school of Valentinus:" yet not a word is given to Colarbasus separately. Once elsewhere (iv. 13) Colarbasus is said to have "endeavoured to expound theology by measures and numbers;" but this is simply the Marcosian method.

The proceeding of Epiphanius of Salamis is more audacious. He has a separate article (Haer, xxxv. 258-262) on Colarbasus, the composition of which has been fully laid bare by R. A. Lipsius (Zur Quellengesch. d. Epiph. 167 f.). The long account of Marcus in Irenaeus is preceded by a series of short notices (mostly without names) of the chief doctrines maintained by different branches of the great Valentinian sect. The passage relating to one group distinguished as "those who are reputed to be the wiser among them," is transferred bodily by Epiphanius to Colarbasus, and with it, stranger still, the next paragraph down to the end of the chapter, though it sets forth in single sentences the doctrines of no less than five sets of Valentinians about the Saviour. The passage about the "wise" group immediately follows one on Ptolemaeus; and accordingly Epiphanius makes Colarbasus to spring from "the root of Ptolemaeus," as well as to borrow from Marcus, and attributes to him a purpose of devising a greater and more ingenious scheme than his predecessors.

Theodoret (Haer. Fab. i. 12) merely abbreviates Epiphanius, changing at the same time "Colorbasus" into "the Colorbasians." A doubtful conjecture has brought Colarbasus into a single sentence of Tertullian (adv. Val. 4), where at most no more is said than that a road was marked out for him by Valentinus; Ptolemaeus is named next, then Heracleon, Secundus, and Marcus.

All these various writers against heresies are known to have learned, directly or indirectly, from Irenaeus; and every statement of theirs about Colarbasus can be at once traced, through transcription or immediate inference, to something in the text of Irenaeus not far distant from the place where the name of Colarbasus occurs. On the other hand, the reports of doctrine have little or nothing in common, Hippolytus and his followers make Colarbasus to have taught only what Marcus taught: Epiphanius and his copyist fathers upon him the discordant views of a miscellaneous cluster of Valentinians.

The credit of detecting the cause of the confusion belongs to C. A. Heumann (Hamburgische Vermischte Bibliothek, 1743, i. 145). He got rid of the mysterious double of Marcus by pointing out that Chol-arba (כלארבע) means "All-Four" i.e. the divine Tetrad, which in the scheme of Marcus stood at the head of the Pleroma. He was less successful in dealing with the details of the text: and F. C. Baur (K.G. d. 3 erst. Jahrh. i. 204) has rightly substituted Col (קול) for Chol (The Voice of Four for All-Four). Volkmar explains the appearance of s by the Aramaic commutation of ע with צ, and the o of several authorities by Theodoret's Kossianos for Kassianos: Colassae and Colossae afford a still better illustration. (taken mostly from the Wikipedia entry 'Marcosian').

2. 'Sura Usser' - Another surprising example of Irenaeus's preference for Aramaic comes in Book Two where he says that Iesous is not the right rendering of Jesus's name but Yeshu. Notice also the section becomes particularly incomprehensible owing to what Harvey already notes is the copyists inability to deal with the complexities of arguments dealing with purely Semitic etymologies. We read:

Moreover, Jesus, which is a word belonging to the proper tongue of the Hebrews, contains, as the learned among them declare, two letters and a half, and signifies that Lord who contains heaven and earth; for Jesus in the ancient Hebrew language means "heaven," while again "earth" is expressed by the words sura usser. The word, therefore, which contains heaven and earth is just Jesus. Their explanation, then, of the Episemon is false, and their numerical calculation is also manifestly overthrown. For, in their own language, Soter is a Greek word of five letters; but, on the other hand, in the Hebrew tongue, Jesus contains only two letters and a half. The total which they reckon up, viz., eight hundred and eighty-eight, therefore falls to the ground. And throughout, the Hebrew letters do not correspond in number with the Greek, although these especially, as being the more ancient and unchanging, ought to uphold the reckoning connected with the names. For these ancient, original, and generally called sacred letters of the Hebrews are ten in number (but they are written by means of fifteen, the last letter being joined to the first. And thus they write some of these letters according to their natural sequence, just as we do, but others in a reverse direction, from the right hand towards the left, thus tracing the letters backwards.[AH ii.24]

Utter gibberish.  Completely incomprehensible to anyone ...

1. The 'Mamuel' - As Harvey already pointed out passages dealing with Hebrew or Aramaic "are more open to corruption than others and it is more likely that the ignorance of the transcribers should have altered barbarous expressions that they did not understand than that Irenaeus, himself of Oriental extraction should have set down a cento of unintelligible words in Hebrew or Syriac. The interpretations may be referred to another hand." The nonsensical passage which follows is now exception:

Inasmuch, then, as He terms those "the slaves of sin" who serve sin, but does not certainly call sin itself God, thus also He terms those who serve mammon "the slaves of mammon," not calling mammon God. For mammon is, according to the Jewish language, which the Samaritans do also use, a covetous man, and one who wishes to have more than he ought to have. But according to the Hebrew, it is by the addition of a syllable (adjunctive) called Mamuel, and signifies gulosum, that is, one whose gullet is insatiable. Therefore, according to both these things which are indicated, we cannot serve God and mammon.[AH iii.8.1]

I have taken this passage to three Semitic language specialists and they just shake their heads - 'what on earth is Irenaeus talking about?' 

Indeed I don't know how you explain all these passages away. Irenaeus is certainly not responsible for the confusion. If we imagine that he wrote in Greek one would assume that he would have been able to explain some of these ideas in such a way that later translators good understand. It is worth noting that the Aramaic misunderstandings occur in both Greek and Latin manuscripts.

I suspect that Irenaeus, who is universally acknowledged to be of 'Oriental extraction' (Schaff) wrote in Syriac - likely to Theophilus of Antioch or his successor - and that the original Greek translator (Hippolytus?) had difficulty with when the original terminology got too complex.

Still working on this ...

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