Spicilegium Syriacum (1855). Preface


THE Manuscript from which the materials for the present volume have been chiefly derived, is one of those which were obtained by Archdeacon Tattam from the Syrian convent in the desert of Nitria in the year 1843. It is now numbered 14,658 amongst the Additional Manuscripts in the British Museum. Several leaves were added in 1847 from fragments subsequently acquired by M. Pacho;1 and four more were again supplied from other fragments procured also by him from the same source in the year 1850. At present the volume consists of one hundred and eighty-eight leaves. Originally it must have had more than two hundred and twenty; for the last gathering as it now stands is numbered the twenty-second, and each gathering consisted of ten leaves. It is imperfect both at the beginning and the end, has suffered mutilations in several parts of the volume, and some of the leaves have been much stained by oil. It is written in a large bold hand in two columns: the headings of chapters and the titles of separate works are distinguished by red letters. It appears to have been transcribed about the sixth or seventh century of our era.  


The first work printed from this Manuscript is the celebrated Treatise of Bardesan on Fate, said to have been addressed to the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, commonly known as |ii Marcus Aurelius; although, with the document now complete before us, we find no intimation of its having been so addressed. Eusebius calls it, [Greek]:2 Jerome, copying him, writes, "Clarissimus et fortissimus liber quem, Marco Antonino de fato tradidit.3 Theodoretus speaks of the author in the following terms: [Greek].4 Epiphanius gives the same account in a rather extended form, supplying also the name of the person to whom Bardesan chiefly addressed himself in this Dialogue: [Greek].5 Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, speaks of the author thus : [Greek];6 and again, in his Preparatio Evangelica, he prefaces an extract from the work now before us with these words: [Greek].7 He then quotes the long extracts which I have printed, pp. 8-10 and 16-32. Photius, writing of Diodorus, Bishop of Tarsus, has the following words: [Greek] |iii [Greek].8 And again, [Greek].9

The title, indeed, of the work in this volume is Book of the Laws of Countries, and the name of the person who is introduced as having written down the dialogue is Philip (see pages 5 and 7); but it is evident that it is the same treatise as that alluded to by all these writers whose words have been now quoted. It is a dialogue. Bardesan takes the leading part in it: his discourse is addressed to his companions, one of whom is named Avida, or Abida. The subject-matter is on Fate. It affirms the precise doctrine which is attributed to Bardesan's treatise. The author declares himself to be fully acquainted with the science of Chaldaean astrology, and gives abundant proof of the same; and, further, all those passages which have been quoted as extracts from Bardesan's treatise, are found in this. Moreover, it is written in Syriac, in which most of his works were composed, although he was also well skilled in the Greek tongue, as Epiphanius 10 informs us. There can be no doubt, therefore, that we have now in our hands, in the original language of the author, and in a complete form, that celebrated Dialogue of Bardesan on Fate, written about the middle of the second century,11 which has been |iv so often referred to by subsequent writers, but of which only a comparatively small portion has hitherto been known to us.

Eusebius has inserted two long extracts from this treatise in his Praeparatio Evangelica, probably from a Greek translation made by some of those friends of Bardesan, who, as the same author, in his Ecclesiastical History, as well as Theodoretus, informs us, translated his dialogues into Greek.12 I have given both of these passages in this volume, on the same page with the English translation. Besides the Greek version preserved by Eusebius, there is also a Latin translation of the second extract, contained in the Recognitions, falsely attributed to Clement of Rome, which were modified and done into Latin by Ruffinus about the year 400.13 I have printed this, as well as the Greek,14 in juxtaposition with my own English translation, in order that the reader may at one view be enabled to compare the three, and to note their variations as well as their agreement. I have likewise appended an extract from the second Dialogue of Caesarius, brother of Gregory of Nazianzum, in which, although the name of the author be not mentioned, much has been borrowed from that same part of Bardesan's dialogue which relates especially to the laws and habits of different nations. It may be interesting and useful to compare this also with the other versions, and with the original text.15 |v 

With respect to the Author, Bardesan himself, so much has been already said by different writers,16 that the subject seems to have been exhausted; and I am not aware that I am able to bring any additional facts to light, beyond what is supplied by the treatise itself, now, after the lapse of many centuries, for the first time exhibited in its original integrity. I will therefore only quote a few passages relating to Bardesan and his opinions, which I have extracted from the famous reply of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabug, to an anonymous writer who had impugned the opinions which he had put forth in an Epistle addressed to the monks.17 They are taken from one of the Nitrian Manuscripts obtained by Dr. Tattam in 1841, now in the British Museum, No. 12,164: [Syriac] "But thou hast not been mindful of thy instructor, Bardesan, whom his disciples celebrate in their books for his patience and polite answers to every man." fol. 125, b. [Syriac] |vi  "Who so confesseth that boy which was born of the Virgin, that her child is the Highest, he assents to Bardesan." f. 127, b. [Syriac] "Therefore this also, that 'the Antient of Eternity was a boy,' we have not taken this from Bardesan, but he has made use of it as a means of concealing his own error, and took it from the doctrine of the Church." f.164. [Syriac] "There are some of them who say, that he sent down the Word a body from heaven, as thou saidest just now, and didest assent to thy teacher Bardesan ..... Because thou hast not comprehended the mind of Bardesan, who assumeth the body of Christ to be from heaven." f. 171. b.


The second tract in this volume bears the title of "An Oration of Meliton the Philosopher," addressed to Antoninus Caesar. Nor is there any thing contained in it, so far as I am competent to form an opinion, which in any way should lead |vii us to doubt of the correctness of this inscription, or to question the genuineness of the work.

It is true, as M. Bunsen states, that it appears to be entire, and yet does not contain that passage quoted by Eusebius 19 from the most famous of all Meliton's writings, his Apology to the Emperor Marcus Antoninus in defence of the persecuted Christians. Had indeed that learned ecclesiastical historian been fully acquainted with all the works of Meliton, and also distinctly stated that no other address had been made by him to any one bearing the name of Antoninus Caesar than that in which was contained the passage that he has quoted, it would then have been sufficiently evident that the work before us could not be by Meliton, if indeed it be, as it appears to me to be, complete, and not an abridgment or extract from a larger Apology: this, however, may seem to some to be uncertain.20 Eusebius himself, however, has given us to understand plainly that he did not profess to exhibit a full and exact account of all the writings, either of Meliton or of Apollinaris,21 but only of such as had come to his own knowledge. His silence, therefore, as the late venerable Dr. Routh 22 has justly observed, is not of itself to be construed as an argument against the genuineness or authority of any work bearing a name not mentioned by him, if there be no positive external testimony against it, nor any internal evidence in the work itself which |viii may render it doubtful or suspected. Maximus,23 in his Preface to the writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, says that there were very many works which Eusebius omitted to notice, because they had never fallen into his hands. And as a case in point we may observe that Eusebius has not said one word respecting the Apology of Athenagoras, presented also to Marcus Antoninus about the same time, and containing many things in common with this address, and with the other Apologies offered to the Roman Emperors at that period.

There is no reason why we must suppose that Meliton should not have written two Addresses to the Roman Emperor as well as Justin Martyr, or that one of them might not have escaped the knowledge of Eusebius, or at least have had no mention of it made by him, as well as that of Athenagoras. The Apology cited by Eusebius was probably amongst the latest, or indeed the last of all the works 24 which Meliton wrote; and internal evidence has led critics to conclude that it was presented to the Emperor Marcus Antoninus in the tenth year of his reign, after the death of his associate in the Empire, Lucius Aurelius Verus, about A.D. 169-70. External testimony by the author of the Chronicon Paschale attributes it to the same date, A.D. 169. 25 But the same writer, five years before, A.D. |ix 164-65,26 speaks also of an Apology presented by Meliton to the Emperor. Unless, therefore, we assume that he was not sufficiently well and clearly informed, and has therefore given a confused account ---- an assumption for which the silence of Eusebius cannot afford sufficient grounds ---- we can hardly draw any other conclusion from his words than that Meliton presented two Apologetical addresses to the Roman Emperors ---- the one before us, which contains rather a defence of the true religion against the Polytheism, idolatry, and incorrect ideas of the Deity entertained by Pagans; and the other, as the extract preserved by Eusebius would lead us to infer, against the persecution of the Christians on account of their faith, Indeed the passage which the author of the Chronicon Paschale cites as from Meliton's Apology, and which, from its having been given before he mentions the later date, would lead us, if there were two, to refer it to the former, seems to be sufficiently near to be almost identified with expressions found in the work before us, if we bear in mind, that it must necessarily have undergone some change in phraseology, by the translation out of Greek into Syriac, and also suppose it not to have been intended for an exact and verbatim quotation,27 but only as an allusion.

Judging merely from what we read in the Address itself, I should have been disposed to fix the date about four years earlier than that in which mention is first made of Meliton by the |x Chronicon Paschale, either to the end of 160, or the beginning of 161, a short time before the death of Antoninus Pius, and probably when his health had sensibly begun to decline. Unless, indeed, the expression be intended as generally applicable to every one whose father is still alive, the words "Be solicitous respecting thy father----so long as thy solicitude may be of avail to help him," would imply that Antoninus Pius was still surviving, although perhaps in a state to cause anxiety. In the inscription, Marcus Antoninus is designated Caesar, and not Autocrat, or Emperor. His being associated with Antoninus Pius, and taking a part in the administration of the empire, would be sufficient grounds for Meliton to address him; and in the words of the Apology cited by Eusebius, he alludes to the part which he took in the government: "During the time that thou also with him wast governing every thing." The prospect of his early succession to be the head of the state, might also have prompted Meliton to offer his opinion as to the surest means of governing a realm in peace----by knowing the truth, and living conformably thereto. At the end of the Address he refers to the children of Antoninus. Of these he had several, both sons and daughters.28

In forming an opinion from the internal evidence of the work, I cannot think with the Chevalier Bunsen, that "it bears the stamp of a late and confused composition." It seems certain, indeed, that the writer alludes most clearly to the Second Epistle of St. Peter;29 but inasmuch as I do not hold the same views as my very learned and dear friend respecting the authenticity |xi of that Epistle,30 I do not recognise, in the fact of its having been clearly alluded to in the work which we have now before us, any evidence of the "lateness" of the composition. As to the Address being "confused," it does not seem to me in this respect to differ in its method from the rest of the Apologies of the second century; with which, indeed, it has very many things in common, even to some evident mistakes, such as that of confounding the Egyptian god Serapis with the Patriarch Joseph.31 Some of the views of this writer as to the origin of Polytheism and idolatry in certain places are uncommon. They have probably been gathered from traditions at that time current in the East, but of which in these days very little is known.

I will not, however, pursue this subject further at present, but, committing the document into the hands of the reader, leave him to judge and draw his own conclusions for himself.

For an account of the other extracts attributed to Meliton, and the sources from which they have been gathered, I must refer to the notes in this volume.


The short work bearing the inscription of Hypomnemata, and attributed to Ambrose, a "chief man of Greece," is the same, with some modifications, as that known by the title of [Greek]----"Oratio ad Gentiles," which, in several copies, is attributed to Justin Martyr, and indeed has been |xii very generally received as his. Many, however, have doubted the authorship, and others have not hesitated to state their conviction that it bears internal evidence of being by a different hand from the undoubted work of Justin, The Dialogue, with Trypho the Jew.32 Assuming the authorship as it is given here to be correct, there seems to be an easy explanation why it might have come to be attributed to Justin, in the fact of its having been often classed in the same volume with his Apologies, which have in a great measure the same object in view; and thence having been supposed to be by Justin himself, a transition which the small bulk of the work may readily account for.

The Ambrose here mentioned as a chief man of Greece, and a senator, can hardly be understood to be any other than the friend and disciple of Origen, whom Epiphanius designates as one of those illustrious in the palaces of kings,33 and whose wealth enabled him to supply his master with all the necessary expenses for completing his Hexaplar edition of the Scriptures,34 and who also himself suffered martyrdom for the Christian faith. Certainly the inscription of this tract and its contents would well concur with what we know of Ambrose.35 |xiii 


We have no information respecting this author beyond what is supplied in the letter itself addressed to his son. Mara, or as Assemani 36 writes it in Latin, Maras, is not an uncommon appellation amongst the Syrians, and there have been many who have borne the name of Serapion 37.

The author speaks of himself as one whose city had been ruined, and himself also taken and detained as prisoner in bonds by the Romans, together with others whom the victors treated in a tyrannical manner, as distrustful of their fidelity to the Roman government. He describes the misery of his friends and companions belonging to the city of Samosata, and the distresses which he and they suffered when they joined themselves together on the road to Seleucia. He alludes to the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews as an act of divine vengeance for their having murdered Jesus; but he makes no direct mention of the name of Christ, and only designates him as the "wise king," who, although put to death, still lived in the "wise laws which he promulgated."

From these facts it is evident that the author wrote at a time when the Romans not long before had been making fresh conquests, or repressing rebellion in the parts of Syria about Samosata and Seleucia, and probably at a period when, on account of the persecution of the Christians, it would not have been prudent or safe to have spoken in more direct terms of Christ. Comagena and its capital Samosata were taken by the Romans in the reign of Vespasian, A.D. 72, or two years after the capture |xiv of Jerusalem by Titus.38 About twenty-three years later the persecution under Domitian began, A.D. 95.39 There would be nothing therefore incongruous in assigning, from its internal evidence, the date of this Epistle to the close of the first century. Nor would the allusion to the catastrophe of Samos at all militate against this, if it be referred to the earthquake in the reign of Augustus, from which several of the neighbouring islands also suffered.40

The mention, however, of that island having been covered with sand, as a punishment for the burning of Pythagoras, seems to me to have a direct reference to the Sibylline verses;"41 [Greek] 

I cannot therefore, in my own mind, come to any other conclusion than that this Epistle ought to be assigned to a period when the Sibylline verses were frequently cited, the age of Justin Martyr, Meliton, and Tertullian.42 This date, too, will perhaps otherwise coincide quite as well with what is read in the letter as the former. The troubles to which the writer alludes as having befallen himself and his city will apply to those inflicted by the Romans upon the countries about the Tigris and Euphrates which had been excited to rebel against them |xv by Vologeses, in the Parthian war under the command of Lucius Verus, A.D. 162-165.43 I have not found the name of Samosata especially mentioned as having suffered more than other cities in this war; but it is stated that Seleucia was sacked and burned by the Romans, and five or six thousand slain.44 The persecution under Marcus Antoninus followed very close upon this war, and as these facts equally agree with the allusions made in this Epistle of Mara, it may perhaps be nearer the truth to assign its date to the latter half of the second century rather than to the close of the first.

If indeed such be the period at which this Letter was written, there is no improbability in supposing, that the Serapion, to whom it is addressed, may be the same as he who succeeded Maximinus 45 as eighth Bishop of Antioch, about the year 190, and who himself also wrote short epistles, similar to this in purpose and tendency, for which indeed his father's might have set him a pattern.46 

[Footnotes renumbered and moved to the end]

1. 1 See the account of the acquisition of the collection in the Preface to my edition of the Festal Letters of Athanasius.

2. 1 Hist. Eccles. b. iv. c. 30.

3. 2 Catal. Script. Eccl. Edit. Erasmus, vol.i. p. 180.

4. 3 Haeret. Fabul. Comp. b. i. c. 22.

5. 4 Panarium, edit. Petau, p. 477. 

6. 5 Hist. Eccles. loc. cit.

7. 6 Praep. Evang. b. vi. c. 9.

8.  1 See Bibliotheca, Cod. 223: edit. Bekker, p. 208.

9.  2 Ibid. p. 221.

10.  3 [Greek]. Panarium, p. 476.

11. 4 At page 30 he speaks of the recent conquest of Arabia by the Romans. This took place under Marcus Aurelius: see Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, vol. ii. p. 402: thus confirming by internal evidence the account of the date of this work given by Eusebius, Theodoretus, Epiphanius, and others.

12. 1 [Greek]. Hist. Eccl. b. 4. C. 30.

13. 2 See his Preface to Gaudentius.

14. 3 Pp. 10-33.

15. 4 In giving these extracts I have followed, for Eusebius, the edition of the Preparatio Evangelica, printed at the Clarendon Press in 4 vols. by the late Dr. Gaisford, Dean of Christ Church; for the Recognitions, that of Gersdorf, Lips. 1838; and for Caesarius, that of Gallandi in the Bibiliotheca Veterum Patrum. Venet. 1765. Vol. vi. The text of this last is in a very corrupt state. Several errors might, however, easily have been amended, but I deemed it better to copy the text as I found it.

16. 1 Two authors have written works expressly on this subject----FRID. STRUNZIUS, Historia Bardesanis et Bardesanistarum. 4to. Viteb. 1710; and AUGUSTUS HAHN, Bardesanes Gnosticus Syrorum Primus Hymno-logus. Commentatio Historico-Theologica. 8vo. Lips. 1819. BEAUSOBRE has devoted an entire chapter: De Bardesanes et de ses Erreurs, c. 9, b. iv. vol. ii. in Histoire de Manichee et du Manicheisme. See also, Cave, Lardner, Tillemont, and others. Perhaps the most complete compendious notice is that by Gallandi, Bibl. Veterum Patrum, vol. i. Proleg. p. cxxii.

17. 2 See respecting this, Assemani. Biblioth. Orient. vol. ii. p. 27.

18. 1 Respecting Meliton, and the writings attributed to him, see Eusebius' account printed in this volume, p. 56, and the notes thereon; Cave's "Life of Saint Melito, Bishop of Sardis," in his Lives of the most eminent Fathers of the Church that flourished in the first Four Centuries, and the Notice in his Historia Litteraria. Fabricius, Bibl. Graec. vol v. p. 184; and Piper, De vita et Scriptis Melitonis, in "Theolog. Stud. u. Kritik" by Ullmann and Umbreit, A.D. 1838, p. 54. Dr. Routh has published all that was then known to remain of the genuine writings of Meliton in his Reliq. Sacr. vol. i. p. 113.

19. 1 See p. 57.

20. 2 M. Renan thinks it a fragment. "Melitonis Episcopi Sardium Apo-logiae ad Marcum Aurelium imperatorem fragmentum." 

21. 3 See p. 57,1. 

22.  15. 4 "Neque auctori Praefationis magis deneganda est fides, quam aliis temporum eorundem scriptoribus, ex quorum testimonio multi recepti sunt libri veterum, neque ab Eusebio, neque ab alio quoquam aequalium ejus memorati; praesertim quam infra asserat Eusebius, pervenisse opera certa quaedam ex multis Apollinarii libris." Reliq. Sacr. vol. i. p. 107.

23. 1 [Greek]: cited by Dr. Routh, Reliq. Sacr. vol. i. p. 167.

24. 2 Eusebius writes ---- [Greek], which Ruffinus translates, "Et post omnia Liber ad Antoninum Verum." b. 4. c. 26.

25. 3 In the cxxxvii. Ol. A. C. 169: [Greek], p. 484 ibid.

26. 1 [Greek].: p. 482. in the ccxxxvi. Olympiad. A. Mund. 5672: A.D. 164-65. edit. Dindorf. p. 482.

27. 2 Compare [Greek], p. 483, ibid., with "There in one God the Lord of all ----embracing stones ---- , and are willing while they themselves are endowed with senses to serve that which is insensible, p. 47, and within whom he is, and above whom," &c., p. 49.

28. 1 His two sons, Commodus and Annius Verus, were made Caesars upon the occasion of the triumph of Lucius Verus, A.D. 106. See Tillemont, Hist. Emp. vol. ii. p. 391.

29. 2 See p. 50, and the note on the passage, p. 95 below.

30. 1 M. Bunsen puts the following in the mouth of Hippolytus in his Apology: "You will, on your side, kindly abstain from quoting what yon call the Second Epistle of St. Peter. I might have been induced to do so, in order to prove my theory about the ruining of Antichrist, and the end of the world after 6000 years. But I could not in good conscience. The antient Churches did not know such a letter." Vol. iv. p. 33.

31. 2 See p. 43, and notes, p. 89.

32. 1 See Oudin, Com. de Scriptoribus Ecclesiae Antiqua, vol. i. p. 190. Otto classes it in his edition with Justin's Opera addubitata.

33. 2 [Greek]: see Panar. p. 526.

34. 3 See Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. vi. 23.

35. 4 See Cave, Historia Literaria, and Life of Origen, § x; Halloix, Origenes Defensus, b. i. c. 8. The name Ambrose, among later Syriac writers seems to have been still further contracted from [Syriac] Ambrose, to [Syriac]. Thus, in the work called [Syriac], or the Bee, c. 51, we read [Syriac], "Abres. He is called in Greek, Ambrosius. The place of his sepulture is not known." Sec also Jo. Saluca, cited by Assemani, Bibl. Orient, vol. i. p. 533. Respecting the Bee, see my Corpus Ignatianum, p. 360.

36. 1 See Bibl. Orient, vol. i. p. 643.

37. 2 Fabricius, Bibl. Graec. vol. viii. p. 192.

38. 1 See Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, vol. ii. p. 30.

39.  2 ibid. p. 121.

40. 3 See Gale, Sibyll. Orac. p. 406.

41. 4 Ibid. p. 405.

42. 5 Lactantius alludes to this line: "Et vero cum caput illud orbis occideret, et r(u&mh esse coeperit, quod Sibyllas fore aiunt," &c. Inst. Div. b. vii. p. 25.  [Note to the online edition: the footnote '5' does not appear in the text, so I have inserted the reference at the point that seemed logical to me.]

43. 1 See Tillemont, Hist. des Emp. vol. ii. p. 385.

44. 2 Ibid. p. 389.

45. 3 See Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. b. v. c. 19; and Cave's Histor. Litter.

46. 4 See Jerome, De Viris lllus. c. xii. "Leguntur et sparsim ejus breves Epistolae auctoris sui a)skh&sei et vite congruentes." Dr. Routh has given all the remains of Serapion in his Reliq. Sacr. vol. i. p. 449.

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