Monday, November 26, 2012

Did the Term 'Sabellius' Develop in Latin? [Part One]

Most people who read this blog know, I expect, that the term 'Christian' (= christianos') developed from Latin. The -ianus suffix is used not only to mean 'those of Christ' in the New Testament but also 'those of Herod' which is quite strange. Yet even more unusual is the fact that the earliest terminology (c. 150 CE) used to denote the various heresies (i.e. Justin, Hegesippus) uses the same Latinized Greek (i.e Marcian, Basilidian etc).  Latinisms abound in the gospel of Mark.  I have never heard a convincing explanation for the phenomenon.  So the idea that the early Christian terminology were determined by someone who spoke (or 'thought') in Latin is quite real.

Thus when we turn our attention to the figure of 'Sabellius' we have to acknowledge that it looks like a Latin word.  Certainly the obvious solution is that we are dealing with a Latin convert to Christianity.  This makes sense if Sabellius was a third century Roman.  But the Syriac references to a Council of Ancyra denouncing a certain 'Sabellius' either at the beginning or end (117 - 138 CE) of the reign of the Emperor Hadrian is problematic.  A prominent heretic with a Latin name at this early period?

Of course most of us unthinkingly accept the figure of 'Ignatius.'  The Syriac tradition that his name was 'Nurono' is only partially correct.  Seraph is certainly the original term (name?) especially given the Syriac text's consistent preservation of our Ignatius offering himself up as 'the Word of God' or an angel.  Seraph means 'fire' as well as angel.

So if Ignatius is only a Latin translation of an original Aramaic term, why was it carried out?  The answer may well be that an attempt was made to bury the individuals obsession with (a) fire and (b) being a living angel.  It is interesting that when Irenaeus cites from to the Romans he doesn't give out the name of the author.  The same kind of obscurity is found in his references to his instructor as the 'elder' or 'divine elder.'

The reader will just have to trust me that I can develop a convincing argument for Polycarp being the original author the Ignatian material.  As I see it, the Syriac material is closest to the original but still a reworking of an original letter possibly in reaction to 'the elder' being summoned to Ancyra to face the authorities.  This 'elder' (= sab, saba) was obsessed with (a) fire (b) being an angel and (c) being burned alive in a very public way to confirm he was an angel.

This figure was one and the same with the 'stranger' (= pereginus) of Lucian's 'Death of Peregrinus) and the reader should notice that the forging of the letters of the 'fiery one' is specifically addressed in Lucian's work as has long been noted by Lightfoot and others.

The point of course is that if Irenaeus succeeded at developing a parallel historical 'myth' from the original letter(s) of his master - the elder and self-described fiery messenger - where 'Polycarp' is now merely the secretary for a separate figure named 'Ignatius' who lived (and died) generations earlier.  If I am correct that all heretical groups omitted by Irenaeus (the Sabellians, the Quartodecimans, the Phrygians) were all related and ignored because they were all related to Polycarp, how does all of this fit under the heading of a condemned figure named 'Sabellius'?  My guess would be that it has something to do with (a) the fact that his master was known by the given title 'sab' and the name 'Sabellius' (or specifically 'Sabellian') can be demonstrated to be an artificial Latin construction developed from a similar (Latin or Italic) root.

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