Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.01.22

Martin Wallraff (ed.), Julius Africanus und die christliche Weltchronistik. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 157.   Berlin:  de Gruyter, 2006.  Pp. viii, 346.  ISBN 978-3-11-019105-9.  €91.59.  

Reviewed by Benjamin Garstad, Grant MacEwan College (
Word count: 2108 words

For those who follow these things, there has been a more or less continuous drought in substantial, if not serious, studies of the late-second and early-third century Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus, since Heinrich Gelzer published the second volume of his magisterial Sextus Julius Africanus und die byzantinische Chronographie in 1898. Apparently it never rains but it pours: the collection of essays under review here, the result of a 2005 conference in Eisenach, precedes the publication of Wallraff's edition of the fragments of Africanus' Chronographiae in collaboration with Umberto Roberto and Karl Pinggéra (Walter de Gruyter's Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, 15). Wallraff and his authors are to be commended for bringing the scholarship on one of the most original and distinctive branches of early Christian literature and on one of its seminal exponents up to date, and for adding to it in important ways.

Umberto Roberto opens the discussion with his essay, "Julius Africanus und die Tradition der hellenistischen Universalgeschichte". He portrays Africanus as a writer trying to accommodate the various historiographic precedents to which he had access: Greek Olympiad chronicles, the ethnic histories of various barbarian peoples, the late-Hellenistic universal histories of Ephorus, Theopompus, and Diodorus, and most importantly the Hebrew account of the history of the world in the Scriptures. This accommodation is supposed to lay the foundation for the new Christian genre of the world chronicle, whose all-embracing nature reflects the universal perspective of Christianity itself. Roberto's discussion of Africanus' treatment of myth and the pagan gods is marred by the fact that, while conceding the problems involved in the text, he follows Routh (1814) in assigning to Africanus a fragment which, I believe, properly belongs to the late fourth, rather than the early third century (pp.10-11).

Richard W. Burgess takes a different approach to Africanus in "Apologetic and Chronography. The Antecedents of Julius Africanus", seeing him within the ancient understanding, which equated value with antiquity. Burgess first surveys Greek chronicles, as opposed to local and narrative histories, as well as 'barbarian' and Jewish histories in Greek, and then shows that their worth for early Christian writers like Theophilus of Antioch and Clement of Alexandria was almost entirely apologetic, since they demonstrated that the Jewish precursors of Christianity to predated Greek cultural heroes. Africanus broadened the scope and intensified the accuracy of chronology as it was employed by the Apologists to create a new Christian historiography, and paved the way not only for Eusebius, but also Malalas. Burgess ends with a brief but technical appendix on Africanus' dates for the life of Christ.

Wallraff's own contribution, "Die neue Fragmentensammlung der Chronographie des Julius Africanus. Bemerkungen zur Methodik anhand einiger Dubia vel Spuria", is very much concerned with his other Africanus project, the edition of the fragments of the Chronographiae. After a brief discussion of the spurious fragments (largely from oriental authors), he lays out his reasons for his choices of the most important fragments traditionally credited, but not explicitly attributed, to Africanus. Among them are an Olympic victor list, lists of Christian bishops, and much of the material on the early history of the world. This kind of leisured defense of editorial decisions seems like a worthwhile appendage to a new edition.

Gregor Staab's essay, "Chronographie als Philosophie. Die Urwahrheit der mosaischen Überlieferung nach dem Begründungsmodell des Mittelplatonismus bei Julius Africanus (Edition and Kommentierung von Africanus Chron. fr. 1)", places Africanus in his Middle Platonic context. Staab shows that Africanus and his fellow Christian intellectuals shared with Platonists a concern over the priority of teachers and teachings as well as the demonstrable tradition of teaching and 'logos'. For Platonists these concerns came to the fore in their reading of the 'Timaeus', and likewise for Christians in their reaction to this same work. Staab examines a newly identified fragment of Africanus on the six days of Creation from Genesis, and interprets the deviations from the biblical text as deliberate allusions and responses to the 'Timaeus' and the Platonic thought it engendered.

In "The Christian Era of Julius Africanus with an Excursus on Olympiad Chronology" Alden Mosshammer leads his readers through an intricate and complex discussion of the precise dates Africanus established for the central events of Christianity. Mosshammer determines that Africanus dated the Incarnation to the 25th of March in the year 5501 from Adam (= 1 B.C.), and the Resurrection to March 25th, Olympiad 202.2, year 5532 from Adam (= A.D. 31). To thus baldly state his conclusion, however, is to fail to do justice to Mosshammer's tremendous achievement in reviewing the scholarship over the last four hundred years, examining the method of ancient chronographers in detail, painstakingly rechecking all of the dating and synchronisms attributed to Africanus, and confirming precisely two of the most influential dates in the Christian chronographic tradition.

Osvalda Andrei, "Dalle Chronographiai di Giulio Africano alla Synagoge di 'Ippolito'. Un dibattito sulla scrittura cristiana del tempo", contrary to the growing consensus of recent scholarship, presents the thesis that the 'Synagoge', a world chronicle from Creation to A.D. 235 traditionally attributed to Hippolytus of Rome, cannot be understood outside of the context of Hippolytus' genuine works and so should in fact be assigned to him. She further proposes that the 'Synagoge' was written in reaction to the Christian vision of universal history in Africanus' 'Chronographiai'. While for Africanus it was the synchronisms and accommodation of various chronographic systems into its absolute system that made Christian time universal, for Hippolytus the universality of Christian time lay in its program of salvation and its ultimate completeness.

In "Eusebius' Critique of Africanus" William Adler addresses the central issue of the relationship between the first proponent of Christian chronography and the science's most influential exponent. Eusebius cites Africanus with approval in his apologetic works, but disparages him in his chronological works. Adler explains this on the basis of the distinct purposes of the different works, which Eusebius does not always succeed in keeping separate. The standards of Eusebius' scholarship in interpreting the 'seventy weeks' of Daniel, chapter 9 are shown to be superior to the careful manipulation of Africanus. Eusebius seems to be of two minds when dealing with apologetics and chronology, citing Africanus' synchronisms favourably when they demonstrate the inferiority in time of Greek civilization, but conceding that accuracy calls for more conservative and less compelling synchronisms. Eusebius does not mention Africanus' millennialism, of which he is scathingly critical in other authors, because in comparison with these other authors Africanus offered a "soft millennialism" which put the end of the world off for some 270 years and had no dire and immediate implications. Adler ends by noting that perhaps the chief difference between the two authors was that while Africanus insisted on a neat system of thousand-year periods and rejected the difficult chronologies of the Egyptians and Chaldaeans, Eusebius was content with the loose ends and insoluble difficulties of chronology as a human, not divine, science, "completely comfortable," as Adler says, "with doubt and uncertainty".

Anna-Dorothee von den Brincken, "Beobachtungen zum geographischen Berichtshorizont der lateinischen Weltchronistik", discusses space in the world chronicles of the Latin West. While she begins her survey with the earliest world chronicles, she concentrates on Latin chronicles from the later Middle Ages. A survey is indeed what this paper is, and its findings are accordingly attenuated.

Hans-Werner Goetz continues the examination of the world chronicle in the Latin Middle Ages with "Der Umgang mit der Geschichte in der lateinischen Weltchronistik des hohen Mittelalters". He effectively traces the characteristics of the Christian world chronicle in the mediaeval period to their origins at the genre's inception. He pays particular attention to such themes as the immediacy of the past for the historians of the Middle Ages, the importance of 'exempla' from the past legitimating present reality, and the 'prophetic' role of history providing 'figures' which recur through time and give meaning to people and events.

Katherina Heyden goes some way to redress the obscurity that the chances of time and taste have imposed upon Philip of Side and his work in her paper, "Die Christliche Geschichte des Philippos von Side: Mit einem kommentierten Katalog der Fragmente". The 'Christian History' of Philip of Side (fl. first half of the fifth century) was not simply a continuation of the work of Eusebius like so many contemporary Church histories, but was fully engaged with the intellectual world of fifth-century Constantinople and indicated some of the paths that Byzantine historical writing would take. Heyden notes that Philip's work was distinguished by being a Christian world chronicle written in narrative form and narrative style, its encyclopaedic interests, and the positive view it takes of the pagan gods and oracles as prophetic messengers of the Christian Gospel.

In "Die Logotheten-Chronik: Form - Inhalt - Ideologie" Staffan Wahlgren addresses some of the preliminary problems involved in his forthcoming Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae edition of the tenth-century Chronicle of the Logothete. He quickly passes from date and identity to deal with the more complex issues of chronological organization and the arrangement of a world chronicle by ruler biographies. An understanding of these issues, as Wahlgren shows, can indicate the position of the chronicler within the turbulent ideological and political climate of tenth-century Constantinople.

Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan, "Ein neuer Fund zur armenischen Version der Eusebios-Chronik", follows suit by offering something of a preface to his new Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller edition of the Armenian material relating to the Chronicle of Eusebius. He traces the history of the discovery of manuscripts, editions, and translations into western languages of the Armenian Chronicle, paying particular attention to the misunderstandings which have occurred in this process. The new material promised in the title is found in one of the oldest Armenian paper manuscripts, a compilation of the Chronicle and Canons of Eusebius. It gives insight into the form in which Eusebian material was preserved in Armenian and the correct readings especially of proper names.

Karl Pinggéra examines some of the trends in the Oriental Christian world chronicle tradition, against a background of doctrinal disagreement, schismatic division, and shifting politics, by drawing our attention to two authors in particular in "Nestorianische Weltchronistik. Johannes Bar Penkaye und Elias von Nisibis". Johannes Bar Penkaye completed his chronicle between 687 and 692 (more or less simultaneously with the production of the Apocalypse of Ps.-Methodius) and wrote of the history of world in the understanding that its end was eminent. His view of the new Islamic domination, however, coloured as it was by sectarian opposition to the Chalcedonian position of the Empire, was not as pessimistic as that of the Apocalypse. Elias of Nisibis (975-146), as Pinggéra says, lived not only in a different time, but in a different world. The rule of Muslims was part of the status quo, and Elias acknowledges this in various ways, going so far as to include Hegira dates in his Christian chronicle and Caliphs in the king-lists. His historiography has a decidedly apologetic bent, but the audience for this apology is quite wide: Muslims and Jews, as well as other Christian sects.

In "Ethiopic Universal Chronography" Witold Witakowski provides a survey of the world chronicles or works of chronography in Ge'ez, the ancient language of Ethiopia. Most are translations from Coptic or Arabic, some represent the only surviving versions of the works in question, and some have yet to be edited and published. Witakowski's overview, therefore, serves a particularly useful service to the scholarly world in making it aware of the resources potentially available to textual critics and ancient historians in the Old Ethiopic manuscripts.

The last essay in the collection, Manfred Kropp's "Ein später Schüler des Julius Africanus zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts in Äthiopie . Heruy Wäldä-Sellase und seine Listen der altäthiopischen Königszeit", demonstrates the vitality of Africanus' historiographic method into -- barely -- living memory. He reviews the chronicle tradition in Ethiopia and its sources, and presents the king-list from the Tower of Babel to Haile-Sellasie by Heruy Wäldä-Sellase (1878-1939), an Abyssinian diplomat, statesman, and intellectual, as the capstone of that tradition. As with most of the historical works discussed in this book, the historian's context and situation are at least as interesting as his sources and place in a tradition. For Heruy Wäldä-Sellase, the politics of his day called for a legitimation of the ruling members of the Solomonid dynasty, and he could offer none better than a painstaking chronological proof of the connection of Haile-Sellase to Ham, the son of Noah, and Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. As a final note, the student of early Christian literature might here enjoy the rather novel experience of viewing a photograph of one of the authors!

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