Friday, August 12, 2011

Julius Africanus Testimony Strengthens Our Theory About Eusebius Establishing an Imprecise (and Even Deceptive) Chronology for Origen

In a series of posts over the last couple of days we have started to suggest that the dates that Eusebius gives for various figures in the Alexandrian Church are plainly wrong. The most obvious being that Origen can't have been seventeen or eighteen in the tenth year of Septimius Severus (203 CE). We have argued that Eusebius dates for Origen seem to push Origen's life forward by at least a generation. The reason for this is manifold but now I have noticed that Julius Africanus - an author who actually visited the Alexandrian Church over a hundred years before Eusebius wrote the Church History actually explicitly contradicts Eusebius's chronology.

Julius Africanus actually says that Origen was already Clement's student in Alexandria during the reign of Commodus (180 - 192 CE). This is absolutely impossible with the traditional model developed from Eusebius where Origen was supposedly born 185/186 CE:

Commodus, son of Marcus, reigned for 12 years, 5 months [...] As the most learned Africanus says: During his reign, Clement, author of the Stromata, was becoming known in Alexandria. Origen became a pupil of Clement. Montanus, the heresiarch, was also living at that time. He claimed that he himself was [the] Paraclete [ Symeon Logothetes (cod. Vat. gr. 163, f. 20r = Leo Grammaticus [71,2-11 Bekker] = Theodosius Melitenus [54,6-14 Tafel]) et ps. Symeon f. 79v-80r = Georgius Cedrenus (441,3-12 Bekker)]

It is also worth noting that the source - Georgios Cedrenus - also puts the death of Origen's father Leonides to 193 CE under Pertinax.

If we just consider for a moment the details about Origen becoming a pupil of Cleemnt for a moment, it was usual for a young man to take up a teacher of grammar by the time he was twelve to fourteen years old.  In the case of prodigies this may have occurred a little earlier but this was usually followed by instruction in rhetoric at the age of fifteen but Quintilian notes that ability rather than age should be the determining factor here.  The contemporary education system seemed to have had the student exchange his toga of boyhood (with the purple fringe) for the toga of manhood (toga virilis) from sixteen to eighteen years of age.  It was at the adoption of the toga virilis that the youth would generally decide upon studying philosophy.  Yet there are clear exceptions to the rule.  Gregory Thaumaturgus took Origen as his teacher when he was fourteen years of age.  One must imagine that Origen became Clement's student at a similar age.  So with Julius Africanus's testimony in mind we can say that the latest possible date for Origen's year of birth would be 176 CE.  The more likely year being something earlier in the same decade so he could have taken over the Catechetical School by 190 CE at the age of eighteen (= 172 CE).

So it is that our original reconstruction of Origen's conflict with Demetrius occuring during the tenth year of Commodus fits the testimony of Julius Africanus perfectly. Moreover, Julius Africanus is said to have set out for Alexandria because of the fame of its chief Heraclas - not Clement, Origen or Demetrius (who is never named as a Christian anywhere in any known passage of the Chronographiae):

From the same Africanus, there has also come to us the Chronographiae, five books in number, a project that was pursued with painstaking accuracy. In this work, he states that he himself set out on a journey to Alexandria because of the great fame of Heraclas. As we stated, Heraclas, very well-known for his discourses in philosophy and other branches of Greek learning, was entrusted with the oversight of the church there. [Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 6,31,2 (586,2-7 Schwartz)]

It is curious that Eusebius should have developed his claims about Origen being seventeen in the tenth year of Severus given his familiarity with evidence from the Chronographiae that seems to contradict that claim. Yet what is often not noticed is the fact that even the above cited reference in the Church History which Eusebius lifts from the very pages of the Chronographiae is placed into a very misleading place in the chronology in the Church History.

For if we look carefully Eusebius says that:

At this time also Africanus (i.e. the reign of Gordian = 238 CE), the writer of the books entitled Cesti, was well known. There is extant an epistle of his to Origen, expressing doubts of the story of Susannah in Daniel, as being spurious and fictitious. Origen answered this very fully. Other works of the same Africanus which have reached us are his five books on Chronology, a work accurately and laboriously prepared. He says in this that he went to Alexandria on account of the great fame of Heraclas, who excelled especially in philosophic studies and other Greek learning, and whose appointment to the bishopric of the church there we have already mentioned.

Yet the Chronologiae itself was actually written - as Markschies notes - either in the reign of Caracalla (211 - 218 CE) or Elagabalus (218 - 222 CE) based on a surviving internal reference in the text:

The shepherd's tent of Jacob preserved in Edessa was destroyed by a thunderbolt around the time of Antoninus the emperor of the Romans, as Africanus states, who has written his history up to the time of Antoninus the emperor of the Romans, as Africanus states, who has written his history up to the time of this Antoninus

Markschies fairly points out that either Emperor might have been the one referenced in the text and adding "since Africanus spent time in Edessa during the reign of Abgar VIII (the Great, see T 88, n. 1), it is possible that his original reference to Antoninus was to Caracalla (211-217); both emperors were officially called Marcus Aurelius Antoninus." The same identification is repeated in Isidore of Seville.

The text in one place references '184 years after the resurrection' which seems to indicate an original composition of 214 CE. Markischies elsewhere points to evidence that the text might have been completed as late as 221 CE. Drijvers in his The Book of the Laws of Countries that Africanus met the gnostic author Bardaisan at the court of Abgar on a visit he undertook for the Emperor Septimius Severus in the year 195 CE. Beyond this it is difficult to know when it was that he was attracted to Alexandria other than to say that Origen was not in Alexandria or Egypt at the time he visited Alexandria.

Africanus seems to have settled in Emmaus c. 220 CE before travelling to Rome in the next year. This narrows the visit to Egypt as occurring some time between 200 - 220 CE. Yet something else is worth noting here. Africanus is said to have been born in Jerusalem and acted as a 'regional ambassador' (Aram Topchyan, The Problem of the Greek Sources of Movses Xorenacis: History of Armenia) for the Alexandrian expatriate Church which developed in Palestine. It is difficult to underestimate his influence over the Imperial court of the Severan Emperors stretching from 193 - 238 CE).

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