Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.05.14 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.05.14

Otto Zwierlein, Die Urfassungen der Martyria Polycarpi et Pionii und das Corpus Polycarpianum. Band 1: Editiones criticae. Band 2: Textgeschichte und Rekonstruktion. Polykarp, Ignatius und der Redaktor Ps.-Pionius, Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte 116,1 und 116,2.   Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter, 2014.  Pp. xx, 194; xii, 425.  ISBN 9783110371000.  €149.95.  

Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus, University of Zürich (

Table of Contents Vol.1
Table of Contents Vol. 2

Otto Zwierleinʼs critical edition of the Martyria Polycarpi et Pionii is an exemplary work of scholarship. While it is self-evident what to expect from a critical edition, what Zwierlein has managed to accomplish in his two volume masterpiece is something truly exceptional. Flaws or shallow reasoning in some other critical editions are proof that (a) the task of critically editing a text is a hard job, (b) presenting such a text edition is often only noticed as a welcome service to scholars who willingly use the text without further reflection on the time consuming job someone else has done, and (c) the production of a reliable critical text with sound argumentation and transparent reasoning is not a task that we should take for granted. Zwierlein has done a brilliant job in providing scholars and post-graduate students with a first-class edition of important and influential early Christian texts.

It was wise to publish the studies and editions in two separate volumes so that each can be used on its own. The smaller first volume contains the editiones criticae. A comprehensive bibliography is followed by a brief introduction (1–4), in which Zwierlein justifies the necessity of fresh editions of the relevant textual witnesses and versions. According to Zwierlein the Martyrium Polycarpi is a more complicated and multilayered entity than has been assumed.1 The text has been subjected to crucial redactional interventions, above all by Pseudo-Pionios. In addition, the Old Armenian versions must be taken more seriously nowadays (this is also true for the Martyrium Pionii). Consequently, these new editions differ from previous ones by considering a wider range of versions (above all, the Old Armenian and the Latin) and by offering a different arrangement of textual witnesses and versions. First, Zwierlein offers the “original text” (“Urfassung”) of the Martyrium Polycarpi in Greek accompanied by an English translation by D. Kölligan (6–11). The continuous text enables readers to study the text in full before plunging into the editio critica (12–45). –

All the sigla are explained in detail (12–13) and a codicum stemma provides a brilliant overview of witnesses and versions, with the original Martyrium Polycarpi in Greek dated to ca. 161–168. The editio critica itself offers texts in three columns as follows: on the left we find the Greek text (reconstructed from Eusebius from ca. 295 and the Old Armenian text from ca. 430); in the middle, recension alpha from ca. 307–312); and on the right — by way of comparison — Eusebiusʼ text according to the edition by Schwartz (an edition based on the early text of Eusebius and recension alpha). Where appropriate there is recension beta in the middle of the page. A critical apparatus accompanies the edition at the bottom of the page. With these at hand, readers are capable of forming their own judgements and impressions about the “original” and, above all, variant readings and alternative versions.

The Old Armenian text of the Martyrium Polycarpi according to Eusebius (h.e. 4,14–46b) follows thereafter with the Armenian text and a transcription in Latin letters in two columns on the left and a German translation (by Kölligan) and the Greek text on the right, also in two columns, supplemented by notes at the bottom.

The Martyrium Pionii is presented analogously to the Martyrium Polycarpi: text and translation in full, sigla, codicum stemma, critical text (based on the oldest attainable witnesses and on version beta), and the Old Armenian text. An additional section is dedicated to the Latin version from the fifth century (136–171) facing a German translation supplemented by a critical apparatus on the left and footnotes on the right. A real treat for the informed reader is an additional chapter about the transmission, literary quality, and origin and date of the late antique Passio Pionii (172–194).

Of course, it is essential to know at least the major ancient languages Greek and Latin in order to utilize the critical editions of these two interesting texts — and some basic Armenian would be helpful. The translations, however, enable readers with rudimentary knowledge of these languages to get in contact with the texts and their transmission.

The second and more extensive volume provides information about the textual history and the reconstruction of the Martyrium Polycarpi and the Martyrium Pionii but also deals with topics relevant for a full appreciation of the texts. It is impossible to do justice to Zwierleinʼs detailed studies in a review. Every chapter on its own completely covers its topic, but taken together all the chapters form a perfect background for the editions of volume one. First, Zwierlein discusses Polycarpʼs date of death (1–36), favouring the period between 161 and 167/168. Then he deals with the Martyrium Pionii (37–101) — e.g., manuscripts and versions, reconstruction of original text, characters, and plot) — and the Martyrium Pionii (102–266), the latter forming the core of the second volume. Readers are informed in detail about manuscripts and versions, reconstructed (arche)types and comparisons, certain key topics (terms of martyrdom, polemics against Jews and Anti-Semitism, “Catholic Church” and so on), and they receive insights into certain aspects of the content and the overall redaction by Pseudo-Pionius (which occurred c. AD 400).

The next three chapters are dedicated to the Corpus Polycarpianum (267–320), the interrelations between Polycarp and Ignatius and Pseudo-Pionius (321–377), and the dates of Polycarpʼs Letter to Philipp and Ignatiusʼs Letters (378–407). Various indices (Old Testament, New Testament, Christian literature, classical literature, and a cumulative index of words, names, and subjects) facilitate navigation in the second volume and even references in footnotes are clearly indicated. For the first volume, however, indices are missing. Although for the critical editions the absence of such references is remissible, for some of the other chapters in that volume references would have been helpful.

Otto Zwierlein is to be thanked for (a) shedding new light on two interesting and significant early Christian texts, (b) taking over the laborious task of editing these texts critically, and (c) succeeding in accomplishing meticulous and very useful editions published together with enlightening studies about these texts. It is to be hoped that his work will stimulate and even re-enkindle interest in the two martyria.


1.   Cf. O. Zwierlein, Petrus und Paulus in Jerusalem und Rom. Vom Neuen Testament zu den apokryphen Apostelakten (UaLG 109; Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2013), 287–88.

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