BMCR 2005.07.28

Pseudo-Gregory of Nyssa: Testimonies against the Jews

of Nyssa Gregory, Martin C. Albl, Pseudo-Gregory of Nyssa : testimonies against the Jews. Writings from the Greco-Roman world ; no. 5. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004. 1 online resource (xxx, 172 pages).. $23.95 (pb).

This volume contains the original Greek text (on left page) of Pseudo-Gregory of Nyssa’s Ἐκλογαὶ μαρτυριῶν πρὸς Ἰουδαίους (“Testimonies against the Jews”) with English translation (right page), and an introduction and commentary by the translator.

In his introduction to this volume, Martin C. Albl [hereafter MCA] gives a concise yet highly informative account of the scholarship on the genre of Christian Testimonia or “Testimony Collections” [TCs], i.e., collections of Biblical proof-texts intended to support the basic dogmas of emerging Christianity, such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, the reality of the Holy Trinity, etc. MCA clearly explains the positions of the two major advocates of the TC(s) hypothesis: J. Rendel Harris, and C.H. Dodd.1 The former scholar, as MCA explains, “posited the existence of a single, authoritative ‘Testimony Book’ that was compiled before the earliest NT writings” (pp. xii-xiv). The latter, however, argued that several TCs emerged from the early Christian oral tradition. While it is not entirely clear which conclusion MCA accepts, he does indicate that the debate is ongoing and offers his work as an attempt to synthesize and update the Testimonia hypothesis (p. xvi); and in this he succeeds admirably. Of course, there are criticisms, albeit minor, to be made.

After discussing the TC hypothesis, MCA declares, in a section of his Introduction that is far too brief (considering the complexity of this insufficiently explored topic), that the “pseudonymous nature of the Testimonia is widely accepted” (p. xvii). While he does quote in footnote 14 some scholars (such as the editors of Migne’s Dogmatica Dubia, and the work of O. Berdenhewer) in favor of attributing this work to a Ps.-Gregory, MCA mentions, but fails to expound upon, the thesis of J. Daniélou2 in favor of attributing the Testimonies against the Jews to Gregory of Nyssa himself. A short account of the differing scholarly opinions, and in particular of Daniélou’s thesis, would have enhanced the value of this volume.

Much more informative is MCA’s section on Adversus Judaeos literature (pp. xix-xx). Despite his rather hasty acceptance of a date for the Testimonies against the Jews some time after 400 A.D. (p. xvii), MCA’s cautious conclusion that Pseudo-Gregory’s composition/compilation of the Testimonies was intended not for a Jewish audience but rather “as a convenient foil in working out particular Christian stances” (p. xx) serves as fine food for thought as one begins a perusal of his accurate and literary translation of Ps.-Gregory’s work.

Finally, at the conclusion of his Introduction, MCA states that the purpose of his study is not to comment on the work of Ps.-Gregory in particular, but rather to show how it offers some clarity for the question of the role and purpose of Testimonia literature in emerging Christian theology and dogma. “I comment not so much on Ps.-Gregory itself [sic], but rather on Ps.-Gregory as a witness to this early Christian testimonia activity” (p. xxi).

Before proceeding to the translation proper, MCA offers a handy outline of Ps.-Gregory’s Testimonies against the Jews, indicating the various Biblical verses he is quoting and/or drawing upon. In addition to the usual proof-texts concerning the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, etc., we also find sections dealing with the Church, the meaning of Baptism, and the Holy Spirit (this latter is proof of an emerging concern with the status of the Holy Spirit, a concern not prevalent in pre-Nicene theology). MCA helpfully indicates in his outline which Biblical passages are of false attribution (i.e., misquoted), summaries, or simply of uncertain origin.

As stated above, MCA’s translation is accurate and literary. However, it would have been helpful if the translator had provided more extensive footnotes on certain Greek terms, such as ἐνυπόστατος, the λόγος προφορικός / ἐνδιαθέτος distinction, etc. While these terms and concepts are discussed in MCA’s commentary, there nevertheless remains sufficient room for an account of the career of these — and other — theologically significant terms in both pagan and Christian thought. Such a discussion would have further enhanced the value of this volume.

Furthermore, MCA’s acceptance of the Testimonies as not from Gregory of Nyssa himself, but from a Ps-.Gregory, would have been bolstered if he had not only commented more extensively on the hypothesis of J. Daniélou (in favor of attribution to Gregory of Nyssa himself), but had also remarked on passages in the text that seem likely to have come from the actual Gregory of Nyssa. For example, on p. 5 (1.3) [196] there is a reference to “God, who alone is incorporeal” [ μόνου ἀσωμάτου ]. This is a concept found in Origen, whom Gregory of Nyssa is known to have studied extensively; and it also is a foundation of Gregory’s notion of διάστημα, i.e., the gap or fissure separating corporeal humanity from incorporeal deity. A footnote, or a section of the commentary, explaining this would have been of much use to the non-specialist reader of this volume.

The penultimate section of this volume (not including the Bibliography and Indices) contains the commentary by the translator, which is substantial, and provides adequate support for the TCs hypothesis. MCA shows how the work of Ps.-Gregory draws upon, and displays parallels with, other texts utilizing Biblical verses as proof-texts, likely culled from a shared exegetical tradition. MCA provides useful charts with cross-references, showing deep similarities between the Pseudo-Gregorian text and other works, such as those of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyril of Alexandria, and others. The Commentary section of this volume (pp. 83-135) is well-organized, instructive, and useful. MCA draws heavily on the secondary, as well as the primary, literature, and his overall grasp of his topic is never in doubt. A strong command of the resources, as well a concern for clarity and scrupulous attention to detail, is abundantly evident in this section.

Finally, MCA provides a valuable Appendix: “Analysis of the Quotations” (p. 137-142). It begins, in Section I, “Separate Quotations of the Same Passage,” by offering a brief concordance to the various occurrences of select Biblical passages in Ps.-Gregory’s work. Section II, “Uncertain Quotations” is particularly helpful, as it provides a list of dubious or unattributable quotations purported to be Biblical. Section III, “False Attributions,” is a list of mistakes committed by Ps.-Gregory as he compiled his list of proof-texts. Section IV, “OT Quotations (LXX-Deviant) Influenced by NT Readings,”, is a very useful chart consisting of a list of OT passages and their NT parallels. Section V is a short list of NT passages with variant readings as found in Ps.-Gregory of Nyssa. Section VI, “Allusions to NT and OT Passages,” is described by MCA as follows: “The following passages form part of Ps.-Gregory’s commentary, and are clearly not intended as direct quotations. Precise parallels in wording, however, indicate specific allusions” (p. 141). The accompanying chart serves as a helpful index of texts that likely served the author as proofs of his theological claims.

The final sections of the Appendix deal with portions of the text that include “Conflated” (VII) and “Non-Standard Passages” (VIII). These sections are valuable in and of themselves; however, I would have preferred a more comprehensive treatment of the attendant issues plaguing this study, specifically the likelihood (at least in this reviewer’s mind) that this work was indeed from the pen of Gregory of Nyssa himself.

This being said, however, MCA’s volume is a welcome addition to patristic scholarship. He is to be commended for braving the deep waters of patrology and offering us a volume worthy of citation and consultation for years to come.


1. C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-Structure of New Testament Theology (London: Nisbet 1952); J.R. Harris, Testimonies (2 volumes; Cambridge Universtity Press 1916-1920).

2. MCA cites J. Daniélou’s hypothesis involving “a parallel between a reading in Gregory’s Life of Moses 2.270 and Ps-Gregory Test. 7,” in Jean Daniélou, “Bulletin d’histoire des origins chrétiennes,” RSR 44 (1956): 621 [MCA, note 14, pp. xvii-xviii].