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It was a tragic day for the empire when Marcus Aurelius died of the plague at Sirmium on 17 March 180, just when he had conquered the barbarians and was prepared once again to put into effect his plans to organize protective provinces north of the Danube. He was succeeded by his eighteen-year old son Commodus, who had been educated for the purpose; but higher education had done little good to the son of Faustina. He broke with his father's advisers. He patched up a peace with the Marcomanni and the Quadi. No doubt everybody was tired of war.
He returned to Rome to enjoy life. In physique at least he was more like a god than his predecessors. He affected the style of some sun-god or sun-king from the east. He walked about the camp with gold dust in his hair; he competed successfully with gladiators in the arena; he transfixed ostriches running at full speed, with specially designed arrows. He left the tasks of administration to the praetorian prefects, who were the principal military and legal officials of the empire. He was no persecutor. It is unlikely that he had studied the arguments of the apologists; and it is perfectly possible that he felt that he ought to persecute as a matter of duty; but in practice he did not enforce it. Perhaps he had had more than enough of his father's stern sense of logic and public duty. But these are only surmises; it is a fact that he had, among the three hundred ladies who constituted his harem, a favourite named Marcia, who exercised considerable influence over him. She had a leaning towards Christianity.
We may begin our study of the reign of Commodus with a survey of the east, where the Christian church begins once again to come into view. We will start on our travels from Athens.
The glory of Athens, which had been revived under Hadrian, was not destined to endure a great deal longer, and the Christian schools entered into a decline after Athenagoras. We have dated his Embassy in the year 177, since it was presented to Marcus Aurelius and Commodus as co-emperors.
The fame of Athenagoras soon faded away, partly because the Athenian schools were themselves eclipsed. Eusebius seems not to have heard of him; but he was mentioned by the elegant Methodius, who wrote in the generation before Eusebius; and two of his works have come down to us, his Embassy and a treatise on the Resurrection, if indeed it is his. He can hardly be called original. He runs through the topics which had now become the regular subjects for discussion with the heathen; the injustice of the persecutions, the absurdity of the charges brought against the Christians, the pure monotheism which inspires their worship, the elevated morality which they practise, the doctrine of the Logos, and the doctrine of the daemons. We seem to have here a curriculum of studies which did not vary much from one school to another; but we may note perhaps a growing tendency to retort back upon the Greeks, or upon their gods, the charges of atheism, cannibalism and incest which were still being brought against Christians.
Athenagoras promised to write a treatise on the Resurrection as a supplement to the Embassy ; for the subject demanded more extended treatment than he could give it there. But it is not certain that the book on the subject which goes under his name is really his. The idea of a bodily resurrection was of Hebrew origin and was not very acceptable to the Greek mind, which took more naturally to the idea of the survival of the soul. The doctrine was discarded in the heretical schools, and those Christians who maintained the apostolic tradition had to fight hard to defend it. The treatise attributed to Athenagoras tries to prove that it was not merely a possibility, but a logical necessity, if one accepted the teleological doctrine of Aristotle. If it is granted that everything in the universe is designed to fulfill some purpose, it can be argued that the purpose of man's creation is not realized in this life, and therefore he must continue his existence, body and soul, in another. The author does not disdain by any means the popular Christian argument from justice; for if a man does not rise again in his body, the rewards |273 or punishments which he earned in the body cannot be appropriately enjoyed or suffered. The book is thought by some to be as late as the third or fourth century, but it follows the Embassy in the manuscripts.
If the church in Athens now diminishes in historical importance, it did not do so before it had given to the church universal a child of rare genius in the great Clement, who did something to rescue Christian thought from the pedantic and pedestrian arguments in which it was becoming involved. In the time of Epiphanius Clement was claimed by some as an Alexandrian by birth, and by others as an Athenian. The first claim may be explained as a guess or inference, based on his distinctive appellation; the second is supported by the internal evidence of his books. It is hard to read the charming chapters at the beginning of his Logos Protreptikos – The Word Persuasive – without feeling convinced that he had an Athenian background. He loved the songs and myths; he was versed in the philosophers; he had read the poets; he knew something of the Eleusinian mysteries; and he felt the beauty of all these things, even as he condemned their immoralities. He is the last exponent of the old literary tradition with its grace and charm, and its wide and level appreciation of intellectual truth wherever it may be found. He took up Justin's bold defence of the Greek intellectuals just when it seemed to be losing ground. Indeed, he went further than Justin by maintaining that Greek literature provided an excellent introduction to the study of Christianity. He had learned something from Tatian, but he did not approve his harsh and ugly asceticism or his barbarous pride. He developed an attractive and moderate asceticism of his own. He was a civilized man.
He was born of a Roman family. His full name was Titus Flavius Clemens, the same as the Roman consul and cousin of the emperor who was put to death in the nineties for his sympathy with Christianity. He was descended from the imperial family, perhaps, or from some humbler family which was dependent on the imperial house of those days. His outlook is that of the well-to-do educated classes.
We cannot be said to have any proof that he was a pupil of Athenagoras. Our documentary evidence is tantalizingly meagre. Philip of Side, the same fifth-century historian who provided us with a dubious |274 quotation from Papias about the death of St John, comes to our aid with a statement that Athenagoras was the head of the Alexandrian school, that Clement was a pupil of Athenagoras, and Pantaenus a pupil of Clement. Philip is wrong on one point at least. Pantaenus was not a disciple of Clement; he was Clement's revered master. The statement that Athenagoras was head of the Alexandrian school appears to be another blunder; but of course he may be reproducing in a garbled form some true historical statement that he found in a reputable source;for he was the head of the Alexandrian school himself in his own day and he may have had access to good records. It has been pointed out in his favour that there is a reference to camels in Athenagoras, which seems oddly out of place in Athens. It is possible, after all, that Athenagoras did go to Alexandria; but, if so, it is odd that Eusebius had not heard of him. It is certain that Clement went there, and the Athenian tradition went with him.
Clement roamed round the Christian world in the hundred-and-seventies, wandering from school to school and learning from many masters. For the most part they were exponents of the venerable oral tradition, men of the vintage of Hegesippus, younger than Papias or Polycarp but older than Irenaeus or Eleutherus. He tells the story in a careless lyrical style, which has left the exegetes baffled. Perhaps the text is not secure.
Of these, one in Greece, an Ionian; some in Greater Greece [which means southern Italy]; the one from Coele-Syria, the other from Egypt.
He appears to be speaking of three men, an Ionian in Greece, who may be Athenagoras, and two in southern Italy, one from inland Syria, and one from Egypt. None can be identified in any case.
And others in the east, one born in the land of Assyria, and the other, a Hebrew, in Palestine.
The first of these is commonly identified with Tatian.
When I came upon the last – but he was the first in power – having tracked him down concealed in Egypt, I found rest. He was the true Sicilian bee, |275 gathering the spoil of flowers from the prophetic and apostolic meadows, engendering in the souls of his hearers a deathless element of knowledge.
So they, preserving the tradition of the blessed apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the son receiving it from the father – though few were like the fathers – came by God's will to us also, to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds.
(Clem. Al., Strom, i, 1.)
What can we get in the way of plain prose out of this rhapsody? The last teacher of all is Pantaenus, who was the head of the Alexandrian school; but the metaphor of the Sicilian bee is probably no more than a stray piece of poetic diction from the poet Theocritus; it does not prove that Pantaenus came from Sicily.
At any rate, Clement began his wanderings in Greece and southern Italy, but went no farther west. He turned to the oriental churches. His first teacher in the east was an Assyrian, and we cannot help thinking of Tatian. The second was a Jewish-Christian in Palestine, where no doubt he came into touch with the tradition of James, whom he mentions next to Peter. It is most illuminating. This is how Hegesippus had travelled from city to city twenty or twenty-five years earlier. Many other Christian teachers and prophets did precisely the same thing; we think of Marcion, Valentine, Justin, Melito, Tatian, Pere-grinus, Avircius, Apelles, and Rhodo, as examples. In these oriental lands Clement picked up a tradition which was different from that of Asia or Greece or Rome. In the hundred-and-nineties, he began to write it down 'as a remedy against old age': and he was departing from precedent in doing so.
It is worth collecting his references to his oral tradition, which appears to be independent of Papias or the Papias tradition, so far as we can see. He knows a number of legends about Peter, including his contest with Simon Magus at Rome. He is the earliest witness to this. He knows that Mark composed his Gospel from the teachings of Peter, but adds that Peter commended his work and approved it for reading in the churches. He says, like Irenaeus, that it was written at Rome, a statement which is not made by Papias, at least not in the extracts known to us. He remarks that Peter had a family of children. He has a story about Peter encouraging his wife at their martyrdom. Such pictures of |276 Peter and his work at Rome were not necessarily received by him from Rome; we may be looking at the Petrine legend as it was transmitted in the east, in Syria or in Alexandria.
He has two traditions about John. One is the story of his appointing bishops in Asia Minor, when he returned from Patmos after the death of the tyrant, and his reclaiming the young Christian who had joined a band of robbers. He says that it was current in more than one locality, and that there were some who named the city where it had happened. The other is that he wrote his Gospel at the entreaty of his friends, a story which the Muratorian Fragment gives in greater detail. He has a story about James the brother of John. He says that the man who brought him to trial was converted on hearing him give his witness, and asked to be forgiven. James said, 'Peace be with thee', and kissed him, and they were beheaded together.
He more than once mentions 'James the Just' the brother of the Lord; and since he refers to Jude as a brother of the 'sons of Joseph', he must have looked on them as only half-brothers of the Lord. This is the more likely, as he had heard the tradition of the perpetual virginity of Mary. He says that after the resurrection Jesus imparted knowledge to James the Just and John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles; the rest of the apostles communicated the knowledge to the seventy disciples, among whom he includes Barnabas. The apostles Peter and James and John, though they were so highly honoured by the Lord, did not contend for glory, but made James the Just bishop in Jerusalem. His interest in James the Just suggests that he received these stories from his Jewish-Christian teacher in Palestine.
He includes Paul among the four apostles whose tradition he had received, but he has no special information about him, unless we include his opinion that he was a married man. He had heard a scandalous story about Nicolas of Antioch, the seventh 'deacon' of the Acts of the Apostles, and the way in which he treated his wife; but he refuted it out of his personal knowledge.
We have here a cycle of stories which are different from those which came down by tradition in Asia and the west; but they had descended by similar steps, though these cannot be documented now. A vigorous church life of the catholic type existed in Cappadocia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, though we do not happen to have its story; but Clement affords us a glimpse of its floating tradition. These were the tales told
|277 by the old men in the schools that he frequented. They are on a level with the tales of the first-century rabbis which are preserved in the Mishnah, or with the traditions of Irenaeus.
It is not possible to make out the history of the catholic tradition in Alexandria, which formed the foundation for the catechetical school which was presided over by Pantaenus when Clement arrived there in the hundred-and-eighties. Pantaenus had predecessors of the orthodox type, but we only know the name of one, Agrippa Castor, whose learned books refuting Basilides Eusebius had read. Unfortunately they have not survived.
The Alexandrian church inherited a large and liberal apostolic literature, which included Hebrews, 1 Clement, Hermas, the Revelation of Peter, the Preaching of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas. It is thought by many scholars that Barnabas was written in Alexandria; it is an example of learned mystical writing; it is based on the Hebrew scriptures but is ami-Jewish; it is strongly anti-docetic, and holds the catholic faith with regard to the Creation, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection. A more popular treatise was the Epistle of the Apostles, which was current in Egypt and quite probably written there. It is based on apostolic tradition, a full New Testament canon, orthodox doctrine, sacrament, and apocalypse. It is written in a simple imaginative prose to catch the popular attention.
The existence of an orthodox and conservative substratum of church life in Alexandria seems to be proved by the opposition which Clement encountered to the liberal studies which were carried on in the catechetical school. There was a solid old-fashioned uninformed body of opinion in the church which objected to his interest in Hellenic culture, and even to his practice of writing books; but, if we may judge by later Egyptian Christianity, it may have had a touch of gnosis and magic as well as apocalyptic.
Pantaenus, the Sicilian bee of Clement's encomium, was the first of the three great masters of the catechetical school which was destined to become the glory of the Alexandrian church. By the end of the century it was under the control of the bishop, but its status twenty years earlier |278 is not so clear; all we know is that Pantaenus was its leading teacher, and that Clement studied under him and became his successor.
Eusebius tells us that he had been a Stoic philosopher, and Origen bears witness that he introduced his students to the widest range of Greek literature. Origen could remember him; and Leonides, the father of Origen, had been a Christian of the same broad-minded type. Pantaenus must have expounded the Old and New Testaments, since Clement remarked that he derived his honey from the prophetic and apostolic meadows. He was a teacher of the traditional eastern type and wrote no books. All he left was a school of disciples who celebrated his fame but eclipsed it with their writings. The only quite certain statement of his which is preserved is an observation about Hebrew grammar. Eusebius had heard that at some time he went on a mission to India, and found a group of Christians, who had a copy of St Matthew's Gospel written in Hebrew characters. It had been taken there by the apostle Bartholomew. There is nothing to object to in this story, since there was a regular trade connexion from Egypt to India and Ceylon; but it is said that the name India could be applied to the coast of Arabia.
Perhaps Pantaenus was the 'blessed elder' mentioned by Clement who defended the Pauline authorship of Hebrews; he explained its anonymity by the theory that Christ himself had been the apostle to the Hebrews, and therefore Paul could not have put his own name as an apostle on a communication addressed to them. This proves, at any rate, that Hebrews was included at Alexandria with the Pauline Epistles before the time of Clement, and that the words 'To the Hebrews' appeared as its title. This title must have been supplied when the epistles were collected, just as ' To the Ephesians' was supplied at the head of that epistle. The three facts, or possible facts, about Pantaenus, are connected with the Hebrew language or the Hebrew people; they suggest an interest in Jewish Christianity, which may have been well represented in Egypt. The Gentile churches of Palestine and southern Syria formed a group which was in very close touch with Alexandria.
The two principal cities of Palestine were the old political capital Caesarea, which had a more or less continuous history since the days of Pontius Pilate, and the new city of Aelia, which had been built on the |279 site of the old Jerusalem. We have already given the list of Gentile bishops of Aelia subsequent to the Jewish defeat of 135; this list begins with the name of Mark, and ends with the name of Narcissus who became bishop before about 190. According to his own account, he was even then about ninety years old; but even if we deduct ten or even twenty years for a certain amount of exaggeration, we must conclude that he was old enough to have a very good idea of affairs in Palestine previous to the Jewish War of 132-5. The list of bishops would appear to constitute his title-deeds, as he is the last name on it.
Some rather extraordinary tales were current about Narcissus a century later, and Eusebius picked them up when he was a young man working in the libraries of Caesarea and Aelia. They doubtless had some foundation in fact, and they contribute to the picture of the man as it was impressed upon his church. Some time after he had become bishop, it was said, he disappeared from the haunts of men to cultivate 'philosophy', which meant a life of asceticism and meditation. A bishop named Dios was appointed in his place; Dios was succeeded by Ger-manion, and Germanion by Gordius; then Narcissus reappeared and resumed the episcopate, having won the admiration of all by his retirement and philosophic life. The seclusion of Narcissus, however, had not been brought about solely by a passion for philosophy; there had been certain wretched persons who could not endure his firmness and energy. They devised a plot against him and spread a number of scandals about him, which they supported by imprecating various disasters upon themselves if the charge they made were not true. During the absence of Narcissus in the deserts, these disasters fell upon them exactly in accordance with their words; and not till then did he return.It is possible, therefore, that his retirement was not entirely voluntary; though a voluntary retirement of this kind in view of dissension in the ecclesia was a course commended by Clement of Rome as honourable.
According to another story, there was no oil once in the lamps on the night of the Paschal vigil. He ordered the lamps to be filled with water which he had blessed; the water was changed into oil and burned brightly. Eusebius had actually seen some of this oil, which had been preserved into his time. The legend is of great historical interest. To this day the Greek patriarch in Jerusalem conducts a fire-ceremony on |280 the night before Easter, and the festal Epistle contained in the first chapter of 2 Maccabees strongly suggests that a fire-ceremony of some antiquity was traditional in Jerusalem; it is connected in 2 Maccabees with a well of 'thick water' which was called 'nephthar'. The Narcissus legend seems to show how seriously the Gentile church in Aelia took its position as the legitimate heir and successor of the old Jewish church or indeed of Judaism itself. The list of bishops preserved in Eusebius, the monument to James which Hegesippus speaks of as standing by the old Temple site, and the chair of James which Eusebius saw for himself, all support this idea. The chair may well have been the chair of Narcissus.
The fire-ceremony should not be looked upon as a pious fraud, since the 'thick water' was thought of, no doubt, as a strange gift of God. The Paschal fire-ceremony of the Jerusalem liturgy is vouched for in the fourth century, and has spread throughout the Christian world.
Our picture of the Antiochene church since the time of Ignatius is not quite so dim as that of Alexandria. We noted the return of Tatian from Rome with his curious theology, the organization of his 'encratite' ascetics, and the dissemination of his Diatessaron. The theological writer Theophilus, who was the opponent of the Basilidian Hermogenes, became bishop of Antioch, and went on with his learned researches and literary works. He was still engaged in these labours when Commodus became emperor in 180, since he brings his chronology down to that point; but he cannot have survived very much longer, since he was succeeded by Maximin, who was succeeded in his turn by Serapion about 192.
The books of Theophilus were useful books, a book of 'Histories', a commentary on Proverbs, a commentary on the Gospels, or rather on a harmony of the four Gospels (which we have noted is a point of contact with Tatian), his books against Marcion and Hermogenes, and his defence of Christianity which goes under the name of To Autolycus. The latter is the only one that survives.
The Autolycus to whom this book is addressed is regarded by some scholars as a fictitious character; but he has some life-like qualities when he appears. Theophilus loses sight of him for long periods; but he is brought in at the beginning of each of the three books. He is just such a character as Theophilus himself. He is prepared to go through long hours of study in the literature of the ancient world. This work must have been done in a library, and that may be where they met. That, at any rate, was a common interest. On the other hand, he was fascinated by Greek art and philosophy, which Theophilus savagely attacks.
A day came when Autolycus discovered who and what Theophilus was, and taunted him with being a Christian. Theophilus maintained that it was a good name to have, since it meant good or serviceable; which was a play on the Greek word chrestos, and one of the conventional answers. The argument went further. 'Show me your god', Autolycus had said; and this is the text of the first book, in which Theophilus is at his best. The eternal invisible God cannot be seen by mortal eyes; but he is not the far-off essence of Alexandrian speculation or Iranian mysticism; he is the creator of the universe, and can be discerned in its order and beauty. We are on the same ground that we found ourselves in studying Clement of Rome. Theophilus is one of those who see the glory of God in the order and beauty of the universe and in the processes of nature; he believes that the God whose spirit nourishes all creation and sheds light upon it will be able to raise our flesh, immortal, with the soul. He sees many resurrection processes going on in nature itself.
Autolycus says, 'Show me even one who has been raised from the dead, that I may see and believe'; but Theophilus says that he must learn to rely upon faith. He tells Autolycus of his own conversion, and refers him to the writings of the prophets, which had moved him so profoundly, closing on the certainty of judgement and the destinies of eternal life and eternal fire. It is the Christianized synagogue Hellenism which we found widespread at the beginning of the century, but it is being expounded by a skilled writer with a pleasant Greek style.
The second book contains a detailed commentary on the first chapters of Genesis, and this is the part of Theophilus, which some |282 scholars believe was used by Irenaeus.The argument is not entirely convincing. Both men may have been working from some older book such as the Six Days' Work of Rhodo. Rhodo was not a Roman. He was an Asian who spent time in Rome where he studied under Tatian. He had left Rome before he wrote his book and may have journeyed to the east in the trail of his master. Eusebius groups him with Clement of Alexandria and Narcissus of Aelia. In any case these pieces of allegorical interpretation were common property and passed from one book to another.
In his third book he attempts a chronology of the world, the object of which was to establish the antiquity of the Hebrew scriptures, our sacred writings as he calls them, in comparison with the Greek philosophers and poets, of whom he has little good to say. The work is done in the Syrian fashion rather than the Hellenic, being full of names and pedigrees and other chronicle material. A beginning of this historical work is to be found in Tatian, and Clement of Alexandria carries it on; and Clement had studied under Syrian and Jewish masters in the east. Julius Africanus, who was now growing up in Aelia as a boy or youth under Narcissus, inherited this tradition, and became the master of it.
Theophilus approaches Christian theology from the point of view of the Hebrew synagogue tradition. His faith in God springs from the contemplation of his activity in nature and in history and in liturgy and in scripture. He has a strong substantial doctrine of revelation and inspiration in nature and in history; but the revelation is primarily in the Law of Moses, and especially in the Creation narratives and the Ten Commandments, of which he gives an interesting traditional text which omits the fourth. He brings in his quotations from the prophets, and even from the Gospels, as confirmations and supplements to the Law. It is one solid unity for him. He thus has a threefold canon of holy writings rather like that of Hegesippus. He quotes from Matthew and John, naming the latter when he does so; he uses the Pauline Epistles including the Pastorals; he also used 1 Peter, to which we may probably add the pseudo-Petrine writings and 1 Clement. He wrote something on the Revelation of John, we are told, but he shows no |283 sign of the chiliasm of Papias. The church over which he presided had a catholic faith and order which had developed apart from the western theology. It was still at home in the Judaeo-Christian synagogue tradition and in the Syrian world where it had originated.
Some light is shed on the continuance of a Jewish form of Christianity in the eastern part of the empire by the story of Symmachus. The use of the old Greek Bible, known as the Septuagint, was being abandoned in the Jewish synagogue and in such Ebionite churches as used the Greek language. It was becoming to all intents and purposes a Christian book. The new translation which had been prepared fifty years before by Aquila was a scholar's handbook, and could not be used for liturgical purposes. A more literary and attractive translation had been prepared in Ephesus for use in the synagogue, and some Ebionite churches were using it, Irenaeus says; but there was room for a standard version for the Jewish churches. Such a translation was made about this time by Symmachus, a Jewish Christian of Cappadocia. It does not appear that it was ever widely used, but it had reached Alexandria by the time of Origen. About the year 235 Origen was in the Cappadocian Caesarea, a city of growing importance on the highroad through Asia Minor to the east, where he lodged with a lady named Juliana, who presented him with the original manuscript. Symmachus had also written a book of Hupomnemata, or Note-books, in which he attacked the Gospel of St Matthew; so that he seems to have belonged to some branch of Jewish Christianity which rejected the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. As his church was Greek-speaking or bilingual, it must have used some form of 'Hebrew' Gospel in a Greek translation or some shortened version of Matthew itself.
We have evidence here of a Greek-speaking Jewish Christianity with a scholarly tradition operating in the province of Cappadocia, probably in its capital city of Caesarea. We shall find other evidences of this active Jewish Christianity. The days of Jewish Christianity were numbered; but its story was not finished yet.
Syrian and Jewish forms of Christianity were spreading farther to the east. Mesopotamia was fully open to Roman and Greek travellers, and the hundred-and-eighties are the latest probable dates for |284 the
journeys of Avircius Marcellus, the Phrygian bishop, to the country beyond the Euphrates, where, he says, he found companions everywhere. Progress was fast. By about 220 Bar Daisan could speak of Christians in Parthia and Persia as well as Mesopotamia. A legend about the establishment of Christianity in India had come into existence by that time.
There were three roads to India; by sea from Egypt, by sea from the Gulf of Akaba, which was linked by road with the Roman province of Arabia, and down the Euphrates and Tigris to the Persian Gulf. Communication was slow and difficult and dangerous, but it was established; Buddhist monks had turned up in Egypt in the time of the Ptolemies; Brahmins had visited the court of Augustus; trade missions had come to the court of Antoninus. Towards the end of the second century, the Romans had built permanent trading posts on the Indian coast, and a certain amount of information was disseminated. Romantic pictures of the Brahmins were current; it was understood that they lived naked, abstained from almost all bodily appetites, and had incredible mental powers.
A religious romance about India was written around the personality of the first-century philosopher, Apollonius of Tyana. The story is told by a pupil named Damis; and it describes how he set out with a couple of stenographers, and Damis himself as his adoring friend and biographer, to renew the links between Greece and India which had been lost since the days of Alexander and his successors. The story of the journey down the Euphrates is quite interesting, and so is the arrival in India, where he finds the Brahmins far ahead of the Egyptians or any other exponents of spirituality. They had reached a peak of spiritual power which could afford to look down on mere miracles as vulgar. This story of Damis was a source-book for the official Life of Apollonius which was written early in the third century.
The interest in India appears in Christian sources too, in the report of the journey of Pantaenus and in the Syrian legends. In the Pantaenus story it is the apostle Bartholomew who is said to have taken the |285 gospel there; in the Syrian legends it is the apostle Judas Thomas. Judas Thomas, or Judas the twin, is an apostle who appears only in Syrian sources; in the Syriac Gospels for instance, and in the legend of Addai. He sends Addai to Edessa, but he does not go to Edessa himself. The Syrian Acts of Thomas tell how he went, very unwillingly, to India, and undertook to build a palace for King Gundaphor, who was a historical personage of the first century, as we know from his coins; it tells, too, how that palace was built in heaven and not on earth; for Thomas spent the king's money on the poor and the sick and the distressed. Fortunately for Thomas, the king's brother, who died opportunely at that time, returned to life, and described to the king the beauties of the palace which was awaiting him in heaven. It is not unlike the anecdote of King Monobazes of Adiabene in the Talmud (Baba Bathra), whose son Izates was a circumcised Jew.
We are not at all too early in treating these legends at this point, and it seems necessary to do so in order to bring them into comparison with the story about the mission of Pantaenus to India. Eusebius gives it simply as a tradition; but there is nothing incredible about it, since the way to India was open and India must have participated in the great expansion of oriental Christianity which was going on at this time.
The Syrian legends are better than history in one way. They are evidences of the imaginative fervour of the far-eastern Christianity of this period, which was based on ascetism, gnosis and the mystic's dream. It created fables and songs rather than doctrines and theologies. An interesting legacy from this period, or even earlier, is the Odes of Solomon, a collection of spiritual and sacramental psalms which have something of the spirit of Ignatius, and just a touch of something which resembles Valentinianism.
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He hath caused me to know himself, without grudging, by his great simplicity: his kindness hath humbled his greatness.
He became like me in order that I might receive him: he was reckoned like myself in order that I might put him on.
And I trembled not when I saw him: because he was gracious to me.
Like my nature he became that I might learn him: and like my form that I might not turn back from him.
The father of knowledge is the word of knowledge; he who created wisdom is greater than his works.
(Odes of Solomon, vii.)