Monday, November 26, 2012

Did the Term 'Sabellian' Develop in Latin? [Part Two]

So I think everyone would agree that Irenaeus's consistent reference to his master 'Polycarp' = many fruit(s) as 'the elder' is most interesting. This is especially so given the uncanny similarity in Lucian's farcical account of a parallel martyr who deliberately shrouds his name in mystery (= peregrinus or 'stranger'). Both men are Christians, both voluntary desire and then achieve a fiery martyrdom. Both men are associated with the letters of Ignatius. Both men contend against a man named Herod (undoubtedly the historical Herod Atticus). Both men are identified as massively influential leaders of the Christian multitude during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and on and on we go.

If we go back to the two interesting tidbits that his student Irenaeus gives us - (a) this teacher was generally addressed as 'elder' and (b) that he was associated with a Judaizing sect which emphasized celebrating Easter on the fourteenth day of the first month there is no reason to doubt the fact that 'the elder' was called sab or saba.  This is especially so given Irenaeus's confession that he is used to speaking a 'barbaric tongue' (preface to Against Heresies) and Harvey's repeated comments that Irenaeus's scriptural citations consistently agree with the old Syriac.

So let's add that one piece of information - i.e. that the Christian multitudes were led by a shadowy figure called sab or saba by his followers - to the fact that his most devoted students Irenaeus and Florinus were 'Sabellians' we have the beginnings of something.  We don't know yet what we have. Maybe it's just a random coincidence.  But it is impossible to believe in my mind that (a) Polycarp was not called 'sab' or 'saba' or (b) that his tradition was 'Sabellian' given the evidence from Against Heresies, Stuart Hall's work on Against Praxeas (= identifying Irenaeus as the monarchian Praxeas of the text), evidence of 'Sabellianisms' from Irenaeus's own work and that of the Polycarpian letters of Ignatius and finally and perhaps most significantly the consistent testimony of early Syriac chronicles that Sabellius was excommunicated by the Council of Ancyra during the reign of Hadrian (and thus testifying that Sabellius dated from the time of Polycarp).

When you put all these things together you have a group which certainly was identified as 'those of the elder' or more than likely 'those of sab or saba.'  Why is this interesting?  Because there is a long history of negative association with the 'those of Saba' people in Latin literature.  As Wikipedia explains:

Sabellians is a collective ethnonym for a group of Italic peoples or tribes inhabiting central and southern Italy at the time of the rise of Rome. The name was first applied by Niebuhr and encompassed the Sabines, Marsi, Marrucini and Vestini. Pliny in one passage says the Samnites were also called Sabelli, and this is confirmed by Strabo. The term Sabellus is found also in Livy and other Latin writers, as an adjective form for Samnite, though never for the name of the nation; but it is frequently also used, especially by the poets, simply as an equivalent for the adjective Sabine. In the modern usage it is also a synonym for the whole, or only a part, of the different Osco-Umbrian peoples and it is supposed it had effectively been their ethnic endonym from an Old italic root *sabh- : Old italic - indoeur. root *sabh-  osco-umbrian *saf- (Safineis, Safinìm) Old italic - indoeur. root *sabh-  lat. sab- (Sabini, Sabelli, Samnites, Samnium) and consequently: *safno-;*safnio; Safinìm; Samnium *safio-; Safini; Sabini as also oscan Safineis; lat. Samnites.

Strabo in his Geography (V, 3, 1) writes: The Sabini not only are a very ancient race but are also the indigenous inhabitants (and both the Picentini and the Samnitae are colonists from the Sabini, and the Leucani from the Samnitae, and the Brettii from the Leucani)

The reason this is so interesting is that the Sabines (and by implication Sabelli) so resemble the early reports about Christians that it is impossible not to see a connection.  For instance there is the story in Plutarch about the discovery of a secret underground shrine of the Sabines at the site of the Circus Maximus (the so-called 'rape of the Sabine women').

More significantly there is also that stupid story about the statue of Simon Magus in Rome.  Most of us ask - how could Justin have mistaken an ancient statue of Semo Sancus for 'Simon Magus.'  We have all asked this question and the connection with the Sabelli is the answer.  Here is the original report (the statue is on the left):

There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Cæsar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome:— Simoni Deo Sancto, To Simon the holy God. And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him. And a man, Menander, also a Samaritan, of the town Capparetæa, a disciple of Simon, and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art. He persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his. And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. And he, by the aid of the devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe, and to assert that some other being, greater than He, has done greater works. All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians; just as also those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, have yet in common with them the name of philosophers given to them. And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds — the upsetting of the lamp, and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh— we know not; but we do know that they are neither persecuted nor put to death by you, at least on account of their opinions. But I have a treatise against all the heresies that have existed already composed, which, if you wish to read it, I will give you. [Apology 26]

I think most of us who spend time trying to make sense of the 'heresies' have wondered why Justin makes this totally stupid argument here.  The context is even more bizarre - comparing Christians to strange sects of women exposing children and engaging in orgiastic rites.

But guess what?  The statue of Semo Sancus is a Sabine relic.  As we read again from Wikipedia:

The temple dedicated to Sancus stood on the Quirinal Hill, under the name Semo Sancus Dius Fidus. Dionysius of Halicarnassus writes the worship of Semo Sancus was imported into Rome at a very early time by the Sabines who occupied the Quirinal Hill. According to tradition his cult was said to have been introduced by the Sabines and perhaps king Titus Tatius dedicated a small shrine. The actual construction of the temple is generally ascribed to Tarquin the Proud, although it was dedicated by Spurius Postumius on June 5 466 BC.

In other words, no one can deny that 'the heresies' (not the later emergence of 'good Christianity' but the evil and punishable beliefs were associated with the Sabelli.  This is very significant.  The question now becomes why were the Sabellians slaughtered and was it enough like the later slaughter of Christians that someone made the connection with 'those of the elder' in the second century?

 Here is a translation of Niehbuhr's article on the Sabelli.

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