Wikipedia Follies: Actes de Paul et Thècle (A critique with a grade)

[Cet article est aussi disponible en français]

For Anonymous Dissident (who removed my link to Acta Pauli from the article herein critiqued)

In view of the extended correspondence that I’ve been able to have with Anonymous Dissident, a Wikipedia editor, I’ve decided to begin to critique the Acts of Paul related articles in Wikipedia.  Let’s start with the French.  Please bear in mind that I am evaluating the French article as it looked today but that it can change at any time.

Title: Acts of Paul and Thecla (Actes de Paul et Thècle) — I suppose there is nothing wrong with the title of the article.  Shall we move to line 1?

Part One: Origine du texte

Line 1:  The Acts of Paul is an apocryphal story “of the influence of Paul on young virgin named Thecla and the novelized life of the girl” (de l’influence de Paul sur une jeune vierge nommée Thècle et la vie romancée de celle-ci.)  The Acts of Paul and Thecla is not a novelized “life” of Thecla, because it only recounts her two martyrdom experiences in Iconium and Antioch, with a short summary of how she went down to Seleucia (IV, 18), illumined many and slept a beautiful sleep.  However, the 5th century text of Ps. Basil is entitled, “Life and Miracles of Thecla”.  A part of this text is presented at “Le Champ du Midrash” as though it were the second century text (see the external link).  The proper title in Greek, however, is ΠΡΑΞΕΙΣ, “Acts” (See text in Dagron, title).

Line 2:  The probable date is 2nd century. This is true.  It is cited by Tertullian by about 205 so it must have existed before then.  But I know of no scholars who would date it before 100.  Thus, the text is second century beyond a reasonable doubt.

Line 3:  It was part of an apocryphal writing known in Coptic as the Acts of Paul, which included, in addition to the story of the life of Thecla, the third epistle to the Corinthians and the Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul. (Il fait parti d’un ouvrage apocryphe connu en copte sous le nom d’Actes de Paul comprenant, outre le récit sur la vie de Thècle, la troisième épître aux Corinthiens et l’Épitre des corinthiens à Paul.)  To say that  it was known in Coptic under the name of Acts of Paul is an understatement.  It was also known by this name in the Greek church.  The statement also fails to mention the Martyrdom of Paul, which was a part of the original Acts of Paul.  The French Wikipedia repeats the error of English Wikipedia of separating 3 Corinthians from “The Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul”.  The complete name of this apocryphon would be “The apocryphal correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians“; scholars have dubbed the two “letters” as 3 Corinthians.  Yet it is inappropriate that they should have separate Wikipedia entries, since we are dealing with single literary text.  It is especially false because of the title given to the letter of the Corinthians:  “The Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul”.  We know from 1 Cor that Corinthians had written at least one letter to Paul.  But the contents of that letter, which can be deduced by what Paul says about it, do not corresond at all to what Wikipedia has dubbed, “The epistle”; at most optimistic it is “An epistle of the Corinthians to Paul”.  But it is an apocryphal correspondence and therefore not authentic.

Line 4: According to Tertulian, this work was a forgery, ca. 160, to the glory of Paul by a Presbyter of Asia Minor, whose fraud was discovered (Selon Tertullien, cet ouvrage est un faux écrit vers 160 à la gloire de Paul par un presbyte d’Asie mineure dont la fraude a été découverte.)  In Bapt. 17.5 (the article leaves out the primary source reference), Tertullian says that the author was a presbyter who composed the text and resigned his office of presbyter (priest).  Tertullian implies it was a fraud by saying went spuriously under Paul’s name.  The main error here is that Tertullian provides no date, and the author of the line obviously has not read de Bapt. 17.5, which I reproduce here from ANF

But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul’s name, claim Thecla’s example as a licence for women’s teaching and baptizing, let them know that, in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing, as if he were augmenting Paul’s fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed [decisse = resigned, stepped down] from his office.

Line 5:  The author recognized his falsification, and he was condemned and “dechu” (deposed) of his office.  “Decisse” means to step down, while “dechu” is ambiguous, but primarily signifies, “deposed”.

Line 6: However a number of versions were published in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, and even in Latin, which explains that an number of works of the Fathers of the Church make allusion to it. “Cependant de nombreuses versions furent diffusées en grec, syriaque, arménien et même en latin, ce qui explique que nombre d’ouvrages des Pères de l’Église y fassent allusion.”  The term “numerous versions” is imprecise.  Typically, a “version” is a translation of the text.  A “recension” would be the text transmitted in a particular form.  There is for the Acts of Paul and Thecla different textual groups (W. Rordorf, forthcoming edition of CChrSA), but it is probably not proper to call them recensions.  There are versions properly called in Latin, Syriac, and Armenian;  why one would say, “even in Latin” as though Latin was some obscure language, is beyond me.  Von Gebhardt identified five independent translations in Latin.  Greek however is not a version but the original language.  Wikipedia fails to mention that there is significant papyrus of the Acts of Paul, including the part called the Acts of Paul and Thecla, in Coptic.

Part two:  Le récit

line 7-8:  several days (plusieur jours):  actually three days and nights.

line 9:  Paul teaches that it is necessary to worship a single God and to live chastely. (Paul enseigne que l’on ne doit vénérer qu’un seul Dieu et vivre chastement.) Actually the content of Paul’s teaching is a series of beatitudes on sexual continence and the resurrection.

Line 10-11: Ok.

Line 12:  Thecla listen to Paul teach all night the story of the miracles of Jesus (toute la nuit, le récit des miracles de Jesus): the Greek text does not clarify the content of what Thecla learned, except the “great acts of God”.

Line 13-15: ok.

Line 16:  Thecla rejoins Paul at Antioch. Not quite, they meet at an open tomb on the road from Iconium to Daphne.

Line 17-22: ok

Line 23: Thecla returns to Iconium and finishes her days in a little hermitage which she created (Thècle revint à Iconium et finit ses jours dans un petit ermitage qu’elle créa.)  This information may be based on Ps.Basil, “Thecla chose as her dwelling the summit of a mountain near this city, like Elijah and John the Baptist had chosen for their residence, the first Mt. Carmel, and the second the desert; …” (Thècle choisit pour sa demeure le sommet d’une montagne près de cette ville, ainsi qu’Elie et Jean-Baptiste avaient choisi pour leur résidence, l’un le Carmel et l’autre le désert ; … trans. from Encyclopedie Theologique, see below). But of course, this takes place in Seleucia of Isauria not Iconium.  All of the MS in Greek that we have say that Thecla lived out her days not Iconium, but Seleucia.

Part 3:  Sa signification — no mistakes in that section, but that’s because it is empty.

Part 4:  Notes et references

A note from Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities / Les christianismes disparus; Ehrman is notable scholar of NT textual criticism, though not a specialist of the Acts of Paul. This is not the beginning of a proper list of references to the Acts of Paul. The first work in French that should be on such a list is:  Willy Rordorf, “Actes de Paul”, Ecrits Apocryphes Chretiens, vol. 1, Bovon and Geoltran , editors, pp. 1117-1188.

Part 5:  External Links

Sur le site Le Champ du Midrash:  This actually takes you to a Google (FR) search with the terms, “Actes de Paul et Thecle.”  The first hit is Le champ du Midrash, a page which contains an excerpt from Ps. Basil of Seleucia of Isauria, a fifth century rewriting and elaboration of the Acts of Paul and Thecla.  This text is plagiarized without credit from Encyclopedie Theologique, Migne, vol 28 961f. which expressly indicates that the text purports to be from Basil, bishop of Seleucia at about the beginning of the 5th cent.  So the link sends a reader to site that has committed plagiarism and presents a 5th century text as though it were the 2nd century Acts of Paul and Thecla.

Evaluation:  If I were to rank this as a first-year university report (out of 100%)

Completeness:  70% A number of serious omissions make this article defective.  For example, it may be interesting to know that Carl Schmidt published in 1904 the an edition of the Coptic Heidelberg Papyrus which made it clear that the Acts of Paul and Thecla once belong to the ancient Acts of Paul, known to us from Origen and Eusebius of Caesarea.  This is one of several interesting MS finds that has greatly enhanced the critical knowledge of this ancient Christian text.

Accuracy:  50%: Incorrectly cites Tertullian  (as written in AD 160) without giving primary source reference.  Gives impression that Acts of Paul and Thecla was originally written in Coptic.  Twice includes factual errors in the summary of the story itself (content of Paul’s teaching to Thecla in prison; where Thecla catches up to Paul); yet anyone who has read the story should be to summarize without making errors of this nature.  It also incorrectly identifies 3 Cor as two texts with separate Wikipedia entries.

Sources:  10%: Cites one secondary source which is tangential (Ehrman), while omitting the most seminal introduction written in French (Rordorf).  Cites no other sources.

Links: 0%  Links to a website  that commits plagiarism and incorrectly identifies a 5th cent text as the 2nd cent. Acts of Paul and Thecla

Language and Organization:  83% No serious errors in French (as far as I can tell as a second-language speaker; one category is left blank, and that is awkward.  Apart from that there is no serious error of organization.

Total:  213/500 = 43%, Failing, F


10 Responses to Wikipedia Follies: Actes de Paul et Thècle (A critique with a grade)

  1. [...] La folie de Wikipédia: Actes de Paul et Thècle (Un critique et une note) This is the French version of the previous post. [...]

  2. P. W. Dunn says:

    DM, who is also in the board of Wikipedia France, responded to the French version (my translation):

    Interesting … But don’t you think that you are overestimating the level of first year students?

    My colleagues in history tell me that some of their 1st and 2nd year students put the Treaty of Rome before World War II, and other similar horrors.

    When I taught 1st year university, we had partly to give up asking students questions with a written reponse (of the type, “explain concisely …), just because the students couldn’t explain themselves in French in a few lines.

    I responded to DM: Thank you for your response. It is certainly possible that I have overestimated 1st year university students. I hope not. I would ask that the student redo the assignment until he managed to do it without too many serious mistakes. A big part of the problem would have been solved if the authors of the Wikipedia article had read the text in question (which is easily accesible in the French translation of W. Rordorf, “Les Actes de Paul”, whichi if available in the Library of the Pleiade). What would you say about third year students?

  3. Anonymous Dissident says:

    Hi. A critique of the articles is all well and good and you’ve demonstrated your point, but one has to wonder whether it might have been more constructive to put your efforts towards the direct improvement of the articles in question.

    I think the contrast between the approach you’ve taken here and the approach I know I would have taken as an outsider coming upon this situation is microcosmic of the schism that so divides scholastic circles over Wikipedia. On the one hand, some sit back and point the finger at Wikipedia’s errors in a contemptuous congealment of disgust, scepticism and indignation; while on the other hand, others buckle down and resolve to help and to contribute.

    Now, it may seem sickeningly altruistic of me, but I find myself seeing more sense in the “buckle down and do something” response. Yes, parts of Wikipedia are rubbish; yes, there are many problems with reliability and quality of information; yes, the editing model has inherent flaws – dogmatically asserting and re-asserting this is of no benefit to anyone. Jumping in and becoming involved – that’s progress.

    In expending your time preparing this critique, you’ve chosen to scoff rather than to use your expertise usefully. More than that, no-one will benefit from your disaffected whinings about the state of the articles in question.

    Now, I fully expect a riposte from you to consist of something along the lines of, “Well, I tried to contribute by linking this site, but my attempted improvement was removed by you yourself.” Please, let’s not go there. The posting of external links hardly constitutes a material improvement even when the links are ad rem (which yours were not – again, let’s eschew a resparking of that particular argument). Indeed, the addition of a couple of links pales to complete significance next to the review you’ve written, which could just as easily have been synthesised into the article itself than posted here on your platform of Wikipedia opprobrium.

    That’s about it. Whatever your views are on Wikipedia and whatever your ultimate choice is, be aware that improvements to Wikipedia that are within policy, that are sourced when sourcing is apposite, and that are of general benefit are always welcome. In the meantime, I plan to look through this commentary and make the necessary adjustments to the corresponding articles myself.

  4. P. W. Dunn says:

    Hi Anonymous:

    I’m glad to see you’re still around. Thanks for this response. Actually, this is a step in positive direction, and perhaps, we could work together. My understanding is that you are sysop and that decisions that you make have more staying power in the Wikipedia platform. Now I am not against helping out if you would back me. But I was seriously discouraged from making any changes by the removal of the link. As I explained, in my view the link to this site is an improvement, but it is apparently against the rules (at least as you have interpreted them). Perhaps a compromise is in order.

    I would agree to some extent that arriving on the Acta Pauli blog is not necessarily always helpful, because the novice reader is plunged into discussions that assumes a certain level that most won’t have. That is why it is my intention to create a online resource page for this site, which would quickly inform the reader of bibliography available on the web both on at this site and elsewhere. At this point, all of that material is available but one has to go through the entire blog in order to find it. The link at the article would then be directly to the resource page as opposed to the blog itself (but the reader of course would have access to the blog from the resource page).

    What do you think of my proposal of (1) cooperation; (2) resource page at Acta Pauli linked to articles?

    If you are amenable to my suggestion, then let me know, and I will help out on the French and English articles, and you can continue working on articles in particle physics (your passion), while watching my back on the Acts of Paul articles (my passion).

    Cheers

  5. Anonymous Dissident says:

    Hello.

    My position on Wikipedia is largely technical. While a sysop has the responsibility to act properly and model fairness and knowledge of policy, the status confers no editorial superiority and many like to think of it as somewhat janitorial.

    Nevertheless, I am very much open to your suggestion. If you have the time and are able to provide a web resource that is reliable, rigidly on-topic, adopts a professional tone, and applicable to an encyclopedia, it will be permitted and appreciated on Wikipedia. More than that, it may even be usable as source and not just an external link.

    How you wish to structure such a resource is up to you, as long as it meets the criteria mentioned above. It would be my suggestion that a /mirror/ of select Acta Pauli articles would be more suitable than direct links to them from the resource; after all, if you create a simple linkfarm, the initial problem isn’t solved and all you’ve done is created a middleman.

    Thanks.

  6. P. W. Dunn says:

    The Wikipedia article on administrators says, “For example, administrators can protect and delete pages, block other editors, and undo these actions as well.” If you as a sysop get into a controversy with an editor (I suppose what is meant is authors with a lower rank), you can block the editor. That indicates superiority, since an editor can’t block a sysop. There is a quote in the article by Jimbo Wales that agrees with you; he says being a sysop is “no big deal”, and, “I want to dispel the aura of “authority” around the position. It’s merely a technical matter that the powers given to sysops are not given out to everyone.” Frankly, that seems to me to be an apologetic reply and not a very convincing one at that. In fact, it convinces me of the contrary, that many editors have complained of the powers that sysops have.

    As for your other suggestions: The resource page I am suggesting will be a page that I create to help keep track of bibliographic items available on the WWW, including papers available on this website. The page will be hosted by Acta Pauli (so it will have a suggested url of actapauli.wordpress.com/resources). I don’t understand why that should be a problem. It is a compromise, in that the reader is not immediately subjected to what you have found as objectionable posts–but it is a compromise, in that it will obviously give access to any curious person to the rest of this blog.

  7. Anonymous Dissident says:

    I can assure you that I would soon face sanctions for blocking an editor in that kind of circumstance. Such a use of my functions would be considered a flagrant abuse of power and my adminship would be called into question. Whether or not you believe what Wales says hardly matters; if you take the time to examine the administrative atmosphere on Wikipedia, it should soon be apparent to you that the position really /is/ as I’ve described it.

    The reason I suggest a mirror is because mirroring select Acta Pauli articles is almost as simple as linking them (as far as I know), and if we mirror, we avoid all the complications associated with the Acta Pauli site itself. Still, I guess I’d prefer to make an assessment only after seeing the completed resource.

    Best of luck.

  8. rpearse says:

    … one has to wonder whether it might have been more constructive to put your efforts towards the direct improvement of the articles in question. … some sit back and point the finger at Wikipedia’s errors in a contemptuous congealment of disgust, scepticism and indignation; while on the other hand, others buckle down and resolve to help and to contribute … dogmatically asserting and re-asserting this is of no benefit to anyone. Jumping in and becoming involved – that’s progress.

    It would be hard to write more complacently than this. The fact is that Wikipedia kills contributors. The fact is that attempting to help, as an expert, merely means that your efforst — and your person and reputation — will be vilified by Randy in Boise and his enablers. Contributors are thrown over the side every day on Wikipedia. Experts try to contribute, and get a beating from trolls. Until apologists for Wikipedia such as yourself engage with this — and I note you don’t put your name to your claims — frankly, you’re just pushing propaganda.

    The sheer nastiness of Wikipedians is notorious, and you follow up your claims with an example:

    In expending your time preparing this critique, you’ve chosen to scoff rather than to use your expertise usefully. More than that, no-one will benefit from your disaffected whinings about the state of the articles in question.

    What a charming comment, from someone too scared to put his own name to his comments.

    Of course people DO benefit from “disaffected whinings” … they discover that they are not alone in finding Wikipedians hostile, hateful, ignorant and complacent.

    Now, I fully expect a riposte from you to consist of something along the lines of, “Well, I tried to contribute by linking this site, but my attempted improvement was removed by you yourself.” Please, let’s not go there.

    Whyever not? You whine about people not contributing, but you’re responsible!

    … the review you’ve written, which could just as easily have been synthesised into the article itself than posted here on your platform of Wikipedia opprobrium.

    Of course it could. And then you … or someone just as arrogant and ignorant as you … would have reverted it. And the author would have been drawn into a fight with some moron with no knowledge of the subject, but a detailed knowledge of how to wiki-lawyer. Why don’t you admit to this? You know it’s true.

    Whatever your views are on Wikipedia and whatever your ultimate choice is, be aware that improvements to Wikipedia that are within policy, that are sourced when sourcing is apposite, and that are of general benefit are always welcome.

    Bullshit. Try to make a change, and if some troll disagrees, be prepared to months of harassment. That’s the fact, not the rubbish you’ve just pretended is the case.

    In the meantime, I plan to look through this commentary and make the necessary adjustments to the corresponding articles myself.

    That is, you propose to pirate the work of someone who tried to contribute, and was obstructed by you.

    Wikipedia is shit. In particular the system of administrators is a licence for trolls to block, ban and harass the honest contributor. And you know it. Why else did you seek that status?

    Try being honest. You’re lying, throughout your comments on this post, you’re insulting the poster, who reported his experience honestly, and you’re lying to everyone who reads your words, and trying to convince them of something that you know very well is not true, and that Wikipedia itself acknowledges — that Wikipedia is anything but hostile to experts.

    • Anonymous Dissident says:

      If it weren’t for the e-mail notification I received, I’d never have seen this comment. The discussion above took place more than three years ago — I can scarcely even recall the context. I’m intrigued by your ardent opposition to Wikipedia, but respectfully note that you have failed to evidence any of your criticisms. Why should anyone believe your overwhelmingly cynical views about the power structure of Wikipedia, the supposed corruption of the administration, and the imagined hoards of unchecked trolls? I won’t deny Wikipedia has a problem with inappropriately intentioned editors and the administration could be better executed in places, but you seem to be suggesting that we’re enabling them in some sinister fashion. That’s a ridiculous allegation and nothing more than unsubstantiated gnashing of teeth.

  9. rpearse says:

    A typical troll response … “prove it to me” … followed by denial. How tedious. How predictable. How very complacent.

    Randy in Boise … hmm. Better pretend that particular Wikipedia page doesn’t exist, eh?

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