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Titus of Bostra in Syriac Literature

  • Nils Arne Pedersen

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  • Nils Arne Pedersen
    Faculty of Theology
    University of Aarhus

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In continuation of my book of 2004 on the work Contra Manichaeos, written around 364 c.e. by Titus, Bishop of Bostra, in the Roman province of Arabia, I shall here seek to expand and develop one aspect of the book, namely the question of the use of Titus’ works in the literature of the Syriac-speaking churches.[1]

Titus himself wrote in Greek, but soon after the work was completed, it was translated into Syriac, and this translation proved to be of particular value, since only the first half of the Greek original has survived to this day. It comes as no surprise that Titus was soon translated into Syriac, for Manichaeism had arisen in the Aramaic-speaking countries with its origin in Mesopotamia, and with a single exception (namely the Persian Šābuhragān) Mani wrote his works in a form of Eastern Aramaic that is very close to classical Syriac[2] ; the Syrian Church therefore needed to include Titus’ refutations of Manichaeism in its polemical arsenal. However, as Bishop of Bostra[3] and thereby also metropolitan of all the sees in the Roman province of Arabia, Titus’ own church province was a largely Semitic-speaking area, and previous scholars such as F. Cumont and R. Reitzenstein have argued that by virtue of his geographical position Titus must have known Nabataean and probably also Syriac and must therefore have used Manichaean texts in Syriac for his work.[4] This is far from certain, however ; what is beyond dispute is Titus’ Greek education and his use of Greek philosophy and the Greek Church fathers. As the wealth of Greek and Latin personal names found in inscriptions from the city prove, Bostra itself also contained a large Graeco-Roman population,[5] and Titus’ work must therefore be said to be a literary example of the same hellenization of Bostra to which the inscriptions bear witness.

Titus also mentions in passing that Mani wrote in Syriac. This is without doubt a negative reference, since Titus’ entire concern at this point is to portray Mani as an irrational, mythologizing barbarian, devoid of rationality and Graeco-Roman culture :

Thus he [i.e. Mani] fabulates and writes many other things like an old hag, using the Syrians’ language, both how the earth is being borne (by Atlas), since he does not shun the poetic myth, and how the showers are formed from the sweat of the archons of matter […].[6]

The context here is a polemical one, where the Manichaeans’ use of Syriac could be turned against them ; the fact that Titus’ fellow-Christians translated his work into Syriac was doubtless a quite different matter for the orthodox bishop ! At any rate the translation must have been done almost within Titus’ lifetime, as is apparent from the remarkable manuscript in which it is preserved.

This manuscript, British Library Add. 12,150, contains 255 leaves : first a translation of Pseudo-Clement’s Recognitiones, then the translation of Titus of Bostra’s Contra Manichaeos. These are followed by translations of three texts by Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-339 c.e.), namely Theophaneia, The Martyrs in Palestine and Panegyrics on the Christian Martyrs, and finally comes a martyrology. A partly damaged colophon follows on f. 254a, but some of the handwriting is still visible and states that the manuscript was completed in Edessa in 723 (in the Seleucid era, i.e. 411 c.e.). Fortunately someone has later copied, as he himself informs us in the margin on f. 239b in 1398 (in the Seleucid era, i.e. 1086 c.e.) the entire original colophon. From this copy we also learn that the writer was called Jacob.[7] This makes it the oldest preserved, dated Syriac manuscript.

Titus of Bostra’s work is in four books or treatises. The first two and the beginning of the third are preserved in two Greek manuscripts from the High Middle Ages, while the remainder of the third book and all of the fourth are only preserved in the Syriac translation, which is moreover significant for the whole text, since it is so much older than the Greek manuscripts. The title of the text isforme: forme pleine grandeur“The Discourse of Titus Against the Manichaeans,” and the subscript readsforme: forme pleine grandeur“Here end the four discourses of Titus Against the Manichaeans, translated from Greek into Aramaic.” The text of the manuscript was published in 1859 by the German orientalist, Paul Anton De Lagarde (1827-1891).[8]

Despite the manuscript with the translation being so old it must still itself be a copy ; for various errors can hardly otherwise be explained,[9] and this implies that the translation is even more chronologically close to Titus’ autograph, the very first manuscript of the text. Thus Add. 12,150 cannot have been the only Syriac manuscript with the text of Titus.

The manuscript is older than the Nestorian and Monophysite controversies that split the Syrian Church into a “Nestorian” Church (i.e. the “Church of the East”) and a “Monophysite” (“Jacobite,” “Syrian-Orthodox”) Church, and this makes it likely that the translation may have been used by both churches. The use of the translation in the Syrian Orthodox/Monophysite/Jacobite Church is also documented by some of the other Syriac manuscripts from the monastery of Deir al-Suryan which are now in London, for Wright’s catalogue from 1871 on the Syriac manuscripts in the British Museum contains a number of other testimonies to an interest in Titus of Bostra above and beyond Add. 12,150.

The fact that the same translation that exists in Add. 12,150 was used later is clear from the manuscript Add. 14,533, which according to Wright’s catalogue dates from the 8th or 9th century and contains a large collection of demonstrations against various heresies ; Wright counts 64 of these,[10] including the 51st “concerning the reason and the soul” forme: forme pleine grandeur on f. 179a, which consists of extracts from Didymus (the Blind) of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Salamis, Severus and Titus of Bostra with the heading :

forme: forme pleine grandeur

“By Titus, Bishop of Busar, from his first treatise Against the Manichaeans.”[11] Here we see the Syriac form of the city’s name, “Busar,” rather than the Graeco-Roman “Bostra.” On closer inspection the Titus extract proves to be completely identical with the translation in Add. 12,150, it being an extract from ch. I,32.[12] This was very much a principal text about what the soul is in its very nature, a text which could be removed from its polemical context and used by posterity as an authoritative statement on orthodox teaching ! Apart from the punctuation there are only a few divergences between the two Syriac manuscripts.[13] Perhaps here we are dealing with a purely Syriac compilation, though if it is based on a Greek original we could also imagine that the translator has chosen to save time by employing the existing Titus translation instead of himself translating the entire text. At any rate the quotation is a sign that the “Monophysite” Church regarded Titus as one of the authorities of the past, a “father.”

However, this anti-Chalcedonian “Monophysite” Christianity was marked by a tendency to fragment into still further factions. Among the new sects that arose within Monophysiticism and lasted for a time was the so-called “Tritheism,” gathered around the remarkable John Philoponus (pre-510-c. 565). Tritheism involved the Aristotelian concepts being applied to the doctrine of the Trinity, with the result that the three persons or hypostases of the godhead become individual natures and the godhead becomes their joint nature. Among their most active supporters was Conon, Bishop of Tarsus in Cilicia, who for this reason was exiled to Palestine. But when Philoponus in a new work denied that the resurrected body is identical with man’s earthly body, the Tritheists themselves were divided, with the “Cononites” around Conon condemning this teaching.[14]

As mentioned, by this time Titus of Bostra was a recognised authority, a “father,” whose texts were searched for significant quotations. And indeed from the Tritheists we actually have two testimonies to this : firstly in the fragments from Stephanus Gobarus’ florilegium preserved in Photius’ Bibliotheca, which contains references to Titus of Bostra and also a quotation from Contra Manichaeos I,15,[15] and secondly another Titus quotation in a Cononite florilegium preserved in Syriac translation in two manuscripts. Van Roey has published this florilegium and argues persuasively that it is an extract from a larger work against Philoponus written by Conon, Eugenius and Themistius which is also mentioned by Photius in his Bibliotheca.[16] The two Syriac manuscripts are designated Add. 14,532 (with the florilegium on f. 213vb-217vb), here designated “A”, and Add. 14,538 (with the florilegium on f. 147r-148v), here designated “B” ; they are described in Wright’s catalogue and appear to derive from the 8th and the 10th century respectively.[17]

However, Van Roey’s edition contains only the quotations not previously published, accompanied by a French translation,[18] so he does not include the Titus quotation in the florilegium but contents himself with noting that the quotation corresponds to De Lagarde’s edition (Titi Bostreni contra Manichaeos libri quatuor. Syriace) p. 148,4-9, though he adds that this is another Syriac translation.[19] Here in particular publication would be justified, for since this is a quotation from the fourth treatise of Contra Manichaeos, the Greek text is lost and the two different translations of the same quotation arouse a certain interest. In the following I therefore include the two versions in parallel. The reason why the older translation is not used by the translators of the Cononite florilegium can be explained variously. The old translation may not have been available to them, or they may have disliked it, or it may have been quicker for the translator to translate anew rather than search the old translation to find the original that the Greek Cononites had quoted.

A few comments are in order at this juncture. In relation to De Lagarde’s edition I have simply moved seyame in the word forme: forme pleine grandeur, so that as in the manuscript it appears above forme: forme pleine grandeur and not above forme: forme pleine grandeur , which is the case in De Lagarde’s edition. In addition to the minor differences between A and B mentioned in the apparatus, it should be noted that after naming the author and source A puts what appear to be παράγραφοι in the margin to mark the quotation ; B does not follow suit. In A the point hovers as a rule around midline, whereas in B it is placed at he foot of the line. Both in A and B the headings are written in a different colour ink from the one used for the actual quotations.

forme: forme pleine grandeur

In content the two texts are so close to one another that it is impossible to see if there had been variants in the Greek original from which they are translated. Otherwise the translation in A + B seems clearer and more accessible, and the punctuation is a good help, for example between forme: forme pleine grandeur and forme: forme pleine grandeur .

The text contains two arguments for the resurrection of the body. Firstly, there would have been nothing special about Jesus merely promising immortality to the soul, which by nature is already immortal. Secondly, Titus is arguing that since in this life the body has taken just as much part as the soul in the struggle for virtue against the vices, it should also have a share in the reward after death. These are of course arguments which the Cononites could employ against Philoponus.

A final example of the use of Titus’ Contra Manichaeos in the Jacobite Church is to be found in an apparent Titus-quotation in a treatise on freewill and predestination by Moše bar Kepha preserved in a manuscript from the 11th cent., Add. 14,731.[20] In f. 73a, lines 11-12 we read in red ink : forme: forme pleine grandeur, “And Titus of Busar said in those,[21] which are against Mani, these (words).”[22] As in Add. 14,533, Moše bar Kepha has used the Syriac form of the city’s name, “Busar,” rather than “Bostra,” as found in Add. 14,532/Add. 14,538. Moše bar Kepha speaks of the work as being against forme: forme pleine grandeur, “Mani,” in contrast to Add. 12,150, which, like the Greek text tradition and Jerome, speaks of the text as being against forme: forme pleine grandeur, “the Manichaeans,” which was undoubtedly the original title.[23] However, what then follows in black ink in lines 12-16 cannot be found in Contra Manichaeos, so it remains something of mystery how this error by Moše bar Kepha could have come about.

In addition to this material it must be mentioned that Wright’s catalogue mentions two further manuscripts which suggest that other works by Titus were translated into Syriac. We know that Titus was the author of a series of Homiliae in Lucam, which are only partially preserved in the form of catena fragments ; these were collected and edited by J. Sickenberger in 1901.[24] The Syriac excerpts from Titus’ Homiliae in Lucam, which are found in the manuscript Add. 17,191, imply that this work was also translated into Syriac.[25] A further manuscript exists, Add. 12,156, containing fragments of a sermon at the Feast of Epiphany attributed to Titus, which may very well be genuine.[26]

Since the London collection originates for the most part from the Jacobite Church, the Titus-quotations in question cannot tell us whether the translation preserved in Add. 12,150 was also in use in the Nestorian Church. This is most probably the case, however, for since the translation dates from before the confessional split, it was doubtless used by both churches, and this assumption is more or less confirmed by the listing of Contra Manichaeos in the Nestorian writer Abdišo’s Catalogus librorum omnium ecclesiasticorum. This catalogue of authors is in verse and written after 1315/16 ; Abdišo was himself the author of other works as well as being Metropolitan of Nisibis ; he died in 1318.[27] Here we read : “Titus wrote a controversial treatise against Mani, the madman” forme: forme pleine grandeur.[28] We note that Abdišo quite rightly characterises Titus’ work as a “controversial treatise,” whereas the translation in Add. 12,150 merely calls Titus’ work a forme: forme pleine grandeur, a “treatise” or “discourse” (the correct translation of the Greek λόγος). Like Moše bar Kepha, Abdišo also states that the work was directed against Mani, not the Manichaeans. But these minor differences in relation to Add. 12,150 must be laid at Abdišo’s door. The portrayal of Mani as mad or deluded contains a Greek pun based on the similarity between the Greek form of the name Mani, Μάνης, and μανείς, 2. aorist participle of μαίνομαι, “be mad” (because of the iotacisms they were pronounced identically, apart from the stressed accents). Normally Syriac literature, including Add. 12,150, otherwise uses the expression forme: forme pleine grandeur (“the mad Mani”) to reproduce this pun.

The limited material presented here thus shows that Titus of Bostra was used both in the Jacobite and the Nestorian Church, and we must assume that this usage could be considerably expanded if other manuscript collections were examined. These brief observations may perhaps be included in a larger picture of the reception of the Greek Church fathers in Syrian Christianity.

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