Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eric Osborn's Terrible Book On Clement of Alexandria

I have to admit, I have always thought that Osborn's Clement of Alexandria is one of the worst books on Clement ever written.  It embodies all the superficiality of Patristic scholarship that I abhor.  Here is one of the typical stupidities of the book that get me so irritated.  On the very first page of the book, Osborn outlines the life of Clement by saying:

He remained in Alexandria until in 202 persecution drove him to Palestine, where he died.[1]

This is so often repeated in books on the subject of Clement you'd imagine that there is some solid evidence in the footnote for these assertions. Instead we get this:

[1] Two letters of Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem (Eusebius HE 6.11.6 and 6.14.9), point to his death between 211 and 215.

Of course everyone just assumes that because Osborn has that PhD that these references will pan out. But just look at them and tell where the hell he gets these assertions. First HE 6.11.6:

He indicates that he sent this epistle by Clement, writing toward its close as follows: "My honored brethren, I have sent this letter to you by Clement, the blessed presbyter, a man virtuous and approved, whom you yourselves also know and will recognize. Being here, in the providence and oversight of the Master, he has strengthened and built up the Church of the Lord."

All this proves is that Clement went to Antioch after the death of Serapion sometime around the death of the Emperor Severus (c. 211 CE). How the heck this is used to prove that Clement died between 211 and 215 CE is beyond me.

Now we move on to the second reference mentioned by Osborn which does indeed reference Clement's death but in a letter from Alexander to Origen which could have been written any time before Alexander's death in 251 CE:

For we know well those blessed fathers who have trodden the way before us, with whom we shall soon be; Pantænus, the truly blessed man and master, and the holy Clement, my master and benefactor, and if there is any other like them, through whom I became acquainted with you, the best in everything, my master and brother. [HE 6.14.9]

I can't believe that all this 'certainty' about the date of Clement's death in 215 CE is based on this single reference. It's utterly shameful and it is one of the reasons why I almost never use Osborn's book. Nietzsche once argued that the unbridled need for certainty is the sign of a small mind. Osborn clearly has a small mind if this argument holds water.

Why does all of this matter? Why take such an interest in the date of Clement's death? I am starting to think that 'Theodore' of the Letter to Theodore fame might well have been Gregory the Wonderworker whose real name was 'Theodore.' Gregory came to Palestine when he was fourteen years old (c. 224 CE) to become initiated into the Alexandrian mysteries, ultimately latching on to Origen. If Clement's death took place at a date which allows for him to have corresponded with this Theodore a whole new window of possibilities opens up with respect to the context of the letter. Yet all of this can only be established when we ignore the stupid things written by people like Osborn.

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