Gospel Commentary in Latin found after 1500 years …

The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for more than 1,500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time. The extraordinary find, a work written by a bishop in northern Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century.

Saint Jerome at work

This article was originally posted by Hugh Houghton on The Conversation, August 23, 2017.

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The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for more than 1,500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time. The extraordinary find, a work written by a bishop in northern Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century.

The biblical text of the manuscript is of particular significance, as it predates the standard Latin version known as the Vulgate and provides new evidence about the earliest form of the Gospels in Latin.

Despite references to this commentary in other ancient works, no copy was known to survive until Dr Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher from the University of Salzburg, identified Fortunatianus’ text in an anonymous manuscript copied around the year 800 and held in Cologne Cathedral Library. The manuscripts of Cologne Cathedral Library were made available online in 2002.

Scholars had previously been interested in this ninth-century manuscript as the sole witness to a short letter which claimed to be from the Jewish high priest Annas to the Roman philosopher Seneca. They had dismissed the 100-page anonymous Gospel commentary as one of numerous similar works composed in the court of Charlemagne. But when he visited the library in 2012, Dorfbauer, a specialist in such writings, could see that the commentary was much older than the manuscript itself.

In fact, it was none other than the earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels.

Pearls of wisdom

In his De Viris Illustribus (Lives of Famous Men), written at the end of the fourth century, Saint Jerome, who was also responsible for the revision of the Gospels and the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Vulgate, included an entry for Fortunatianus – who had been bishop of the northern Italian diocese of Aquileia some 50 years earlier. This prominent cleric had written a Gospel commentary including a series of chapter titles, which Jerome described as “a pearl without price” and had consulted when writing his own commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

Later Christian authors, such as Rabanus Maurus and Claudius of Turin, searched for it in vain. As with so many works from antiquity, it seemed to have been lost, the remaining copies destroyed in a Vandal raid or eaten by mice in a dusty library.

Among the features which attracted Dorfbauer’s attention was a long list of 160 chapter titles detailing the contents of the commentary, which corresponded to Jerome’s description of Fortunatianus’ work. In addition, the biblical text of the Cologne manuscript did not match the standard version of the Gospels produced by Jerome, but seemed to come from an earlier stage in the history of the Latin bible.

Groundbreaking discovery

This was where the University of Birmingham came in. The university’s Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) is home to long-term projects working on new editions of the Bible in Greek and Latin. As a specialist in the Latin New Testament, I was able to compare the biblical quotations in the Cologne manuscript with our extensive databases. Parallels with texts circulating in northern Italy in the middle of the 4th century offered a perfect fit with the context of Fortunatianus.

Astonishingly, despite being copied four centuries after the last reference to his Gospel commentary, this manuscript seemed to preserve the original form of Fortunatianus’ groundbreaking work.

Such a discovery is of considerable significance to our understanding of the development of Latin biblical interpretation, which went on to play such an important part in the development of Western thought and literature. In this substantial commentary, Fortunatianus is reliant on even earlier writings which formed the link between Greek and Latin Christianity.

This sheds new light on the way the Gospels were read and understood in the early Church, in particular the reading of the text known as “allegorical exegesis” in which elements in the stories are interpreted as symbols. So, for example, when Jesus climbs into a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Fortunatianus explains that the sea which is sometimes rough and dangerous stands for the world, while the boat corresponds to the Church in which Jesus is present and carries people to safety.

There are also moments of insight into the lives of fourth-century Italian Christians, as when the bishop uses a walnut as an image of the four Gospels or holds up a Roman coin as a symbol of the Trinity.

English translation

In the form of a single (no longer anonymous) manuscript, or even a scholarly edition of the Latin text, it will still be some time before this work becomes as widely known as the famous writings of later Christian teachers such as Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome.

For that reason, I have worked closely with Dr Dorfbauer to prepare an English translation of his full Latin edition of the commentary, the first ever to be produced.

This will enable a much wider audience to take account of this rediscovered work. In fact, this English version may be the form in which most people will encounter Fortunatianus’ commentary – as studying languages is now a much smaller component in theological study and online translation tools are beginning to produce more satisfactory results.

But for the fullest appreciation of this work, it will still be necessary to put alternatives to one side and consult the original – which is how the commentary was rediscovered in the first place.

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About the Author: (Hugh Houghton)  Reader in New Testament Textual Scholarship; Deputy Director, Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing, University of Birmingham.

US Disaster Program of Episcopal Relief and Development

As you consider donating to the relief of those harmed by wind, rain, and flood after Hurricane Harvey, check out the work of our own Episcopal Relief & Development.

Begin quoteEpiscopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program connects, equips and inspires leaders of US dioceses in The Episcopal Church to prepare for hazards that might affect their communities, to mitigate the impact of disasters and to help vulnerable people make a full and sustained recovery.

Notice: Donate to the Hurricane Harvey Response Fund

The US Disaster Program works with diocesan and congregational leadership in areas that have been affected by disasters. We partner with diocesan leaders by providing technical resources and connections to others around the country who have faced similar challenges, as well as access to the Ready to Serve volunteer database. …

Read more from ERD: US Disaster Program

Lasers reveal long-hidden Roman frescoes with biblical themes

Technology, art, and faith come together.

Doorway arch fresco depicting Christ and the Apostles at the Domitilla catacombs in Rome. Frescoes dating back to the fourth century A.D. have been restored with laser technology in underground crypts. Photo courtesy of Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology

This was originally posted by Josephine McKenna on June 6, 2017 on the Religion News Service website. Additional images from the catacombs appear in the original post.

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ROME (RNS) Ancient frescoes have been rediscovered inside the 1,600-year-old Domitilla catacombs after Italian art experts used laser technology to remove centuries of grit and grime.

The catacombs, or underground cemeteries, are named after a Roman noble family and are considered the most extensive in the Italian capital, drawing thousands of tourists.

The painstaking seven-year restoration, backed by the Vatican, focused on two burial chambers commissioned by successful bakers working in ancient Rome in the fourth century.

The restoration revealed spectacular frescoes showing how wealthy Roman aristocrats abandoned their pagan mythology to embrace Christianity.

Archaeologist Fabrizio Bisconti, head of the Vatican body responsible for ancient archaeology, said many frescoes had been discovered in Rome’s catacombs over the past 25 years.

But he said the latest revelation is significant, as the rooms had been completely covered in a black patina and graffiti.

“With the use of laser, the decorative work of the two chambers is shown in all its splendor, offering us a real discovery, even though the two chambers have been known about for many centuries,” he said.

The Domitilla catacombs are close to the ancient Appian Way and contain an underground basilica and four levels of corridors, chambers and crypts where 150,000 Christians and martyrs were buried. They span more than 10 miles.

The frescoes that were brought to light had been hidden under layers of dirt, algae and smoke left behind by oil lamps.

Using lasers, restorers discovered frescoes of pagan figures as well as biblical figures such as Moses and Noah on the chambers’ surface.

One ceiling fresco features an image of Jesus on a throne and two men, believed to be saints or Christian martyrs, seated beside him.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, said the catacombs were a reminder of “the passage of conversion to the new faith” and the importance of Domitilla as a Christian burial site.

“Between the third and fourth centuries they welcomed both the common faithful and the martyrs,” Ravasi said in a statement.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, many of the catacombs were forgotten and later raided for their art treasures. They were rediscovered in the 16th century by Antonio Bosio, an archaeologist who loved to leave his name scribbled on the frescoes in charcoal.

A new museum featuring sarcophagi, busts and epitaphs is expected to open at the catacombs this month.

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More images: Lasers reveal long-hidden Roman frescoes with biblical themes

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

 

Genocide Remembrance

Remembering. Then acting to build a more just future for all.

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

Begin quoteThis day is set aside in the calendar of the church to hold in remembrance those who have died and those whose lives have been severely damaged as a result of acts of genocide: the systematic and intentional destruction of a people by death, by the imposition of severe mental or physical abuse, by the forced displacement of children, or by other atrocities designed to destroy the lives and human dignity of large groups of people.

This day is chosen for the commemoration because the international community recognizes April 24 as a day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide, the systematic annihilation of the Armenian people during and just after World War I. On April 24, 1915, more than 250 Armenian notables—civic and political leaders, teachers, writers, and members of the clergy—were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Before the cessation of conflict, it is estimated that as many as one-and-a-half million Armenians perished,…  Read more from the Episcopal Church website

From our website:

 

Collect: The Annunciation (Mar 25)

Behold the Lord’s Servant.

The Annunciation by Rossetti

Ecce Ancilla Domini! (Behold the Lord’s Servant)
Painting, 1849-1850
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 1828-1882

Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer, 240

As this Collect makes clear: it’s all connected. In the life of Jesus—and ours—their is birth, the cross and passion, death, and “the glory of … resurrection.” Let us live life fully. ~Fr. Dan

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The Annunciation (pp. 188 and 240)

In the Gregorian sacramentary this collect is used as a postcommunion prayer for the feast of the Annunciation [….] Cranmer translated it:

We beseech thee, Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known Christ thy Son’s incarnation by the message of an angel; so by his cross and passion we may be brought into the glory of his resurrection; Through the same Christ our Lord

Both the 1662 revision and this [1979] Book made changes for the sake of clarification, though the substance of the original remains. In an admirable way the collect links the Annunciation and the Incarnation with the themes associated with the time of the year [Lent] in which the feast occurs.

Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, (New York: The Seabury Press, 1981), p. 200

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Art in the Christian Tradition (Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

 

Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found?

Jesus’ home in Nazareth

Excavation site in Nazareth

This essay originally appeared on Bible History Daily from the Biblical Archeology Society on March 17, 2017. It is an updated version of a 2015 posting.

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The childhood home of Jesus may have been found underneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel, according to archaeologist Ken Dark.

The excavation site located beneath the convent has been known since 1880, but it was never professionally excavated until the Nazareth Archaeological Project began its work in 2006. In “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” in the March/April 2015 issue of BAR, Ken Dark, the director of the Nazareth Archaeological Project, not only describes the remains of the home itself, but explores the evidence that suggests that this is the place where Jesus spent his formative years—or at least the place regarded in the Byzantine period as the childhood home of Jesus.

The excavation revealed a first-century “courtyard house” that was partially hewn from naturally occurring rock and partially constructed with rock-built walls. Many of the home’s original features are still intact, including doors and windows. Also found at the site were tombs, a cistern and, later, a Byzantine church.

The remains combined with the description found in the seventh-century pilgrim account De Locus Sanctis point to the courtyard house found beneath the convent as what may have been regarded as Jesus’ home in Nazareth. Archaeological and geographical evidence from the Church of the Annunciation, the International Marion Center and Mary’s Well come together to suggest that this location may be where Jesus transitioned from boy to man.

Ken Dark also discusses the relationship between the childhood home of Jesus, Nazareth and the important site of Sepphoris. It has been thought that Sepphoris would have provided Joseph with work and Jesus many important cultural experiences. However, Ken Dark believes that Nazareth was a larger town than traditionally understood and was particularly Jewish in its identity—as opposed to the Roman-influenced Sepphoris. This is partially based on the result of his survey of the Nahal Zippori region that separates Sepphoris and Nazareth geographically.

For more on the childhood home of Jesus, read the full article “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” by Ken Dark in the March/April 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Image: Bible History Daily. Description: “This very well could be the childhood home of Jesus. It doesn’t look inviting, but this rock-hewn courtyard house was quite likely Jesus’ home in Nazareth. The recent excavation by Ken Dark and the Nazareth Archaeological Project revealed evidence suggesting this is where Jesus was raised—or at the least the place venerated as such by the Byzantine period. Photo: Ken Dark.”