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The Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius, edited and translated by Benjamin Garsted Tom Send a noteboard - 27/01/2013 05:19:29 PM
I came across the Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius in the Dumbarton Oaks series from Harvard University Press. The Dumbarton Oaks series focuses on printing works written in the Middle Ages, in the spirit of the classical Loeb Library series. Each work is presented in the original language with a facing page translation and decent footnotes. While the introduction and footnotes do not provide a full “critical apparatus” for scholars, they are indeed useful (and in some cases, needed). The books are slightly larger than the Loeb series books, very well put together, and have a nice red bookmark sewn into the spine. Overall, based on this volume I am impressed with the series and glad that I went on a buying spree late last year and bought several other volumes from the same source.

The text that I decided to read was called the Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius. It was originally written in Syriac around 690 AD by a religiously-minded Christian (probably a monk) and falsely attributed to St. Methodius, who had lived centuries earlier, in order to make some of the “prophecies” contained in the work already true. The author clearly wrote his Apocalypse in response to the tragedy of his times – the spread of Islam by Arab armies and the fall of the Holy Land to their sword. Like most Eastern Christians, pseudo-Methodius completely ignored the Book of Revelation from the Bible, instead focusing on St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and a few obscure statements from Psalms. For some reason, the author is obsessed with Psalm 68:31 – “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God”, and invents a bizarre genealogy for Alexander the Great, namely, that his mother was named Chouseth, and that she was the daughter of Phol, King of Ethiopia (to my knowledge, there wasn’t even ever a king by that name), and that after Alexander’s death she married Byzas, King of Byzantium, whose descendants mixed with those of Aeneas to found Rome.

The Apocalypse goes much farther than this, however. Pseudo-Methodius claims that Alexander drove out the tribes of Japheth and sealed them “beyond the North” with help from God, who moved two mountains (the “Tits of the North”, according to the text) together which Alexander then sealed with asyncite, an adamantine substance pseudo-Methodius has invented himself, which cannot be blasted apart with any fire or magics known to man. Fans of science fiction may be somewhat impressed.

However, the crux of pseudo-Methodius’ prophecies concern the invasion of the Ishmaelites, whom God will set upon the nations of the Earth as punishment for their sexual sins. The entire Apocalypse begins with a graphic explanation of exactly how the descendants of Cain sinned sexually against God: οἴστρῳ ἔρωτος πορνείας αἱ τούτων κατεσχέθησαν γυναῖκες καῖ εἰς μανίαν ἐτράπησαν καὶ τοῖς ἰδίος ἄνδρασιν ὡς γυναιξὶν ἐκέχρηντο. The Ishmaelites, however, will fall upon the nations of the Roman Empire because of their sin of homosexuality in particular. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is liberally quoted, and the impression that I got was that pseudo-Methodius may have inspired, and certainly would be welcomed by, the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Romans, however, will defeat the Ishamelites in the “seventh Hebdomad”, a division of time that treats all of history as a repetition of the week of Creation and which probably is equal to a thousand years following the Biblical statement that a thousand years are as a day to God.

Pseudo-Methodius believes that Rome will deliver the peoples of the world from the oppression of the Ishmaelites because the Roman Emperor will travel to Jerusalem with the True Cross and plant it upon Golgotha and give the Empire to God. Because the Roman Emperors are the descendants of Chouseth, this will provide the meaning of “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God.” The Ishmaelites will then suffer one hundred fold what they inflicted on others, and there will be peace, during which time the Antichrist will then arise – to be born in Chorazin, raised in Bethsaida and ruling in Capernaum. Pseudo-Methodius deduces this from the fact that each of these three cities received a “woe unto thee” in the Gospels from Jesus. The asyncite will be broken by God, the cannibals of Japheth will flood over the earth, and then Enoch and Elijah will return to expose the Antichrist and Jesus will return on the clouds of Heaven in glory.

The prophecy itself is an interesting object for study from a psychological perspective, but from a scholarly and historical perspective, the more interesting part of pseudo-Methodius was the Latin translation that followed the Greek text. I was struck by the intellectual poverty of the darkest of the Dark Ages, the time before the Carolingian Renaissance when knowledge was in a tailspin and the memory of the past was being obliterated. The Latin in which the text was written was terrible from a grammatical, syntactical and, of course, orthographical perspective. There were many points when the author didn’t properly understand his source text, and at one point the editor wrote in a footnote, “The Latin translation does not so much offer a version of Sennacherib’s name as fail to recognize it”, and in another footnote, “The translator seems not to have recognized ἑῴα as the Greek word for ‘the East’ or ‘the dawn’, and so a new and obscure country entered the geography of the Middle Ages”. However, this translator, likely one “Peter the Monk”, is to be commended for actually even knowing enough Greek to translate the text in the first place. He did the best that he could while living somewhere in Northern France in the darkest days of ignorance, and although his mangled and tortured text is riddled with errors, it still caught the attention of other Church writers.

As a result, pseudo-Methodius became a very popular work in a world that saw apocalyptic visions in their everyday lives. It attempted to make some sense out of the chaos into which the post-Roman West had descended, and promised a rebirth of Latinity and order. It also was one of many works in the time to fuse Christian Scripture with the Roman Empire. Peter the Monk’s translation was copied and recopied and spread until it was one of the best known non-canonical Apocalypses in the Catholic world.

In the same volume, the editor and translator presented a work in Latin called the Alexandrian World Chronicle. This second text was an attempt at reconciling the mythological chronology of the Bible, starting with Adam and the Creation, with the mythological past of the other nations of antiquity (the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans), and setting common dates for the various events that took place. The Chronicle calculated that Christ was born 5,500 after Creation. It was not really a very exciting read, although it was at times humorous because, insofar as the Greek “eta” was pronounced the same as the Greek “iota”, Ilios was assumed to mean Helios, “sun”, and so all references to the Trojan War spoke of “the time when the Sun was beseiged by the Achaeans”. Also, the author misread each instance of κωμῳδός, “comedian”, as οἰκοδόμος, “architect”, thereby making both Aristophanes and Menander undertake a radical career change. If anything, it underscored the tenuous nature of the transmission of knowledge in a desperate time.

I think that there will be a limited audience for both works, but in general the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library is a wonderful series and resource for those interested in the time period, and I certainly think that readers of Greek and Latin will enjoy the butchery to which their beloved languages are subjected at the hands of well-intentioned but undereducated monks in the Middle Ages.

Political correctness is the pettiest form of casuistry.

ἡ δὲ κἀκ τριῶν τρυπημάτων ἐργαζομένη ἐνεκάλει τῇ φύσει, δυσφορουμένη, ὅτι δὴ μὴ καὶ τοὺς τιτθοὺς αὐτῇ εὐρύτερον ἢ νῦν εἰσι τρυπώη, ὅπως καὶ ἄλλην ἐνταῦθα μίξιν ἐπιτεχνᾶσθαι δυνατὴ εἴη. – Procopius

Ummaka qinnassa nīk!

This message last edited by Tom on 28/01/2013 at 06:26:47 AM
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The Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius, edited and translated by Benjamin Garsted - 27/01/2013 05:19:29 PM 2802 Views
It looks like a window into an unadulterated trainwreck of methodology. *NM* - 28/01/2013 09:40:55 AM 195 Views
Oh it is. - 28/01/2013 01:32:46 PM 361 Views

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