The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Copying Philostorgios

Philostorgios was a continuator of Eusebius of Caesarea as a historian, and a follower of Eusebius of Nicomedia as a Christian. That is, he was an Arian; or, as he’d call himself, a Eunomian. Arabists appreciate Philostorgios as a witness to Christianity in Arabia and “India”, mainly Yemen. Obviously its full text couldn’t survive the Trinitarian decision of the Church, but we have good excerpts – much better than those we have of, say, Uranius.

(Geographers back then couldn’t figure out dark-skinned people who lived in cities and didn’t look like subSaharans; they called such people “Indians”.)

Anna Lankina in 2011 wrote a fine Master’s thesis about Philostorgios where he focuses on Arabia (and on, er, Gothica). And we may even read it!

Lankina builds on Alanna M. Nobbs: “Philostorgius’ Ecclesiastical History: An ‘Alternative Ideology,’” Tyndale Bulletin 42.2 (1991), 271-81; “Philostorgius’ View of the Past” (Rushcutter’s Bay, 1990), 251-64 – but not “Philostorgius’ Place in the Tradition of Ecclesiastical Historiography” (St Patrick’s College, Manly, 12-15 July 1990, published 1994), 198-206.

Philostorgios was writing under Theodosius II in the fifth century AD, after the council of Nicaea and around the time of Ephesus (AD 431). This empire was Miaphysite. So our church-historian tells us little of, say, Armenian Christianity. Armenia has been famously Miaphysite; I understand that it still is. A hero of Philostorgios, one Eudoxius, was the son of a Christian martyr from an Armenian town; but to our historian, Eudoxius mattered only once he’d moved west.

Philostorgios was well-informed enough and his book well-written enough that other scholars took him seriously. Photius, writing very much later, had access to sufficient text that he included a thorough epitome, albeit in the form of a refutation. In the meantime Socrates, Sozumen, and Theodoret each drew from Philostorgios in their own way and for their own purposes.

Lankina declares (a little superlatively) that Philostorgios’ survival constitutes a “miracle”. Maybe.

I point out here Pseudo-Sebeos’s report: that in the 30s / 650s, Arab warriors came to Constantinople and demanded that the Empire submit, promoting the Arian reading of Jesus’ death. I propose that educated Greeks, at this point, would have wanted to know, basically, WTF. Where did these guys come from, and how did they acquire their ideas? To that end, the Greeks could have consulted the Periplus and the Arabika. The Arabika wasn’t around anymore – the Byzantines just had the Ethnika. Philostorgios, now… they did have that, and therein was an Arian account of Arabia. Plus, Philostorgios was more current than the Periplus and the Arabika both. So the 30s / 650s makes for an ideal time when the Byzantine court would have copied Philostorgios. The scholars were stuck behind those walls; there wasn’t much else they could do.

The AD 650 copy was a hate-copy, to be sure; the Byzantine court at the time was Monothelete, crypto-Miaphysites. Still, the Empire was on a knife’s edge, so their copy was surely an honest one. They’d have kept this copy safely locked away. But that just meant that when the Arabs were done attacking the city, after 720ish, the book didn’t get smudged.


posted by Zimri on 17:09 | link | 0 comments

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