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John of Ephesus, Ecclesiastical History, Part 3 -- Preface










                                        SUB-LIBRARIAN OF THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY                                        





                   MY DEAR DR. CURETON,

You might justly claim this Volume, since it is to you that 
we owe the splendid edition of the original Syriac. I have the 
further pleasure of offering it you, as a slight acknowledgment 
of the assistance I have derived from you in my studies.

Believe me to be,                     
Yours very truly,


OXFORD, FEB. 1860.


THE Ecclesiastical History of John, Bishop of Ephesus, was discovered by Dr. Cureton among the Manuscripts obtained by the British Museum from the convent of St. Mary Deipara, in the desert of Scete, and published in the original Syriac at the Oxford University Press in 1853. It was then his intention, as he mentions in the Preface, to have also undertaken the task of making its contents generally available by means of an English translation; but as more important labours have hitherto prevented the fulfilment of this duty, it has now, with his consent, been undertaken by myself, and I am alone responsible for the correctness with which it has been accomplished.

The chief value of this history will be found in its being contemporaneous with the events which it records; and as the author was resident at Constantinople, and a busy actor in the scenes which he describes, he had the best opportunity of obtaining accurate information : but, on the other hand, it refers to a comparatively late period of the Church, and one to which no special importance has been attached. Still, as a picture of the manners and feelings of the latter half of the sixth century, it will not be without interest to the ecclesiastical student; especially as the Eastern Church shortly afterwards was brought into collision with Mahometanism, and much new information is given us respecting the Christian Arabs of Ghassan, who |vi would naturally be the representatives of Christianity to their countrymen.

The history, as originally composed, consisted of three parts, of which the first, as our author tells us, commenced with the reign of Julius Caesar; but as it was probably nothing more than an abridgment of Eusebius, its loss is not much to be regretted. The second part must have contained many interesting particulars of the later emperors, and especially of Justinian, but the extracts from it preserved in the Chronicle of the Jacobite Patriarch, Dionysius, are principally concerned with a record of earthquakes and pestilences. From one or two of them, however, we learn almost the sole facts respecting our author upon which we can depend. The third, of which the present work is a translation, was written under the pressure of great difficulties, owing to the persecution to which John of Ephesus and the sect to which he belonged were exposed, and is consequently of a fragmentary character; for the leaves, he tells us, on which from time to time he inscribed a short narrative of passing events, had to be entrusted to various friends for concealment, and he never found time afterwards to reconstruct his work.

The extracts above referred to, and which will be found in Asseman's Bibl. Or. ii. 83-90, inform us that John of Ephesus was born at Amid, a city in the north of Mesopotamia, probably about A. D. 516; and as Syriac was the language spoken by his countrymen, it was employed by him in writing this history for their use. We subsequently find him at Constantinople, where for thirty years he enjoyed the friendship of the Emperor Justinian, and was employed by him in various important offices. Especially we are informed that he was sent on a mission in A.D. 542 to the heathens in the provinces of Asia, Lydia, Caria, and Phrygia; and so energetically did he labour among them, that in the space of four years he baptized no less than seventy thousand persons. To this mission he also refers |vii in the 230th and following pages of the present volume; and from Ephesus, the capital of the district, he took his title of Bishop.

On his return to Constantinople in A. D. 546, the Emperor confided to him the still more serious duty of making search there for such persons as, while professing to be Christians, practised in secret heathen rites: and so many men holding high offices in the state were detected by him, that the Byzantine historians, though they have not preserved his name, yet record the general consternation occasioned by these discoveries. Among the guilty were many even of patrician rank, as well as grammarians, sophists, scholastics, and physicians; but, above all, Phocas, the prefect of the city, was informed against, and, hopeless of escape, destroyed himself by poison; and his corpse, by the emperor's command, was thrown into a ditch, without the rites of burial. The rest were commanded to assemble in a church, where our author was appointed to instruct them in the doctrines of the Christian religion; and his lessons were enforced by an edict, which, besides other penalties, fixed the period of three months as the limit, beyond which their conversion must not be delayed.

In the present volume we have some further information given us respecting the heathen, and especially an account of some remarkable events which occurred in the reign of Tiberius.

A short notice of our author is also found in Gregory Bar-Hebraeus (apud Ass. B. O. ii. 329), who says that 'after S. Anthimus, John was made bishop of the Orthodox at Constantinople:' but this statement must be received with caution. We learn indeed from his description of himself in page 53, that he had the entire administration of their revenues both at Constantinople and the districts adjacent to it, and consequently he must have exercised great influence among his party, and may even have been regarded as their chief. But the whole tenor of his |viii narrative is inconsistent with the supposition of his being in any sense their patriarch, and if any one can be said to have succeeded S. Anthimus, it was Theodosius, the exiled patriarch of Alexandria.

As the name of John is borne by many writers of this period, it has been a subject of inquiry whether some one of them may not have been identical with our author. But after going over much the same ground as Dr. Land, in his work entitled, 'John of Ephesus, the first Syrian Church-historian,' I have come to the same negative conclusion. Should any be sufficiently interested in the subject to wish for the particulars, I cannot do better than refer them to his interesting volume.

For the easier understanding of our author's pages, it may be necessary to add, that he was a Monophysite: and though his party are not to be confounded with the followers of Eutyches, whom they anathematized by name, yet they refused to receive the council of Chalcedon, at which he was condemned, on the ground of its being tainted with Nestorianism. As men's minds were greatly embittered at this period by the disputes which had arisen respecting our Lord's nature, it was found impossible to enforce general obedience in the East to the council's decrees : and thus John's party held a sort of intermediate position, not being condemned by their opponents as heretics, and yet being separated from their communion. As they professed themselves ready to obey the teaching of the Fathers generally, and especially, as Renaudot testifies in his History of the Alexandrian Patriarchs (p. 143) 'to accept every thing which John Chrysostome and Cyril had taught,' they claimed as their peculiar right the appellation of 'Orthodox,' and by this name are distinguished in the following pages.

As regards the translation, it seemed scarcely possible, from the fragmentary character of the original, and the frequent loss of leaves, to give merely a verbatim rendering, |ix and I have therefore endeavoured to connect the various facts by inserting a few lines here and there, so as to carry the reader over the breaks in the narrative, and occasionally I have brought together scattered chapters relating to the same event. In all cases I have marked where the author's own words begin, by placing the reference to book and chapter in the margin: but in comparing the translation with the original, it must be kept in mind, that if the heading was more full than the opening words of the chapter, I have inserted the additional matter. These headings, which occur twice in the original, occasionally with some slight discrepancies, I have confined to the commencement of the volume. As the style of our author is heavy and cumbrous, I have also frequently been compelled to break up his sentences into periods of moderate length, and also to retrench many synonymous words, and even sentences; but in so doing, I have been careful to omit nothing which had not been said before. In a book, abounding in words not to be found in any lexicon, and which requires almost as great a knowledge of the Greek of the Byzantine historians as of the language in which it is written, errors and mistakes may naturally be expected, and will readily be excused : but I have done my best to give the exact sense of the author, as far as possible, in his own words, and yet in such a form as to prevent the perusal of him occasioning unnecessary weariness to the reader.

OXFORD, March, 1860.

[Note to the online text: It is incredible, but true, that the translator has taken no pains to mark accurately which passages are his own, and which are those of John of Ephesus.  His statement above that he marks the start of each passage -- but he doesn't mention the end of each passage! --  means only that he places in the margin a numeral.  The reader is left to imagine for himself where on the line the words of John begin.  Sometimes a reader can work it out -- in many cases the reader is left to wonder.  

The obvious remedies are two-fold.  Firstly, one could go through the text placing all obviously editorial matter in a smaller type-face, as should have been done.  This I have not attempted, because it would involve guesswork.  The second alternative is to seek out some more careful edition in French or German, and use this as a guide when doing the same.  I hope that at some time someone will do this.  The German edition of Schonfelder I have seen, and seems to be more carefully laid out, and so could be used as a guide.

As stated above, it seems frankly incredible that such a basic failure in the duty of a translator should be permitted to reach the public, even in 1860, and even on the feeble excuse of a damaged manuscript.  One wonders what the reviewers said.  Roger Pearse, 2002]

For the convenience of those who may wish to read the original Syriac, I append a Table, 1. of Errata, and 2. of Emendations.


[Note to the online text: omitted]


P. 148. 1.15, for ii. 48. read ii. 51.

P. 160. 1.16, read: The next chapter (ii. 45.) treated of the Condobaudites, and will be found in page 65 : and the next (ii. 46.) of the apostasy of the Cappadocian monks.

P. 170. 1.12, for mitre read orarium: which was a sort of tippet worn over the shoulders by priests and deacons when officiating at the communion, and by bishops at all times. See Du Cange, under w)ra&rion, and Morini Comm. de Sacris Ecclesiae Ordin. p. 174.

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