Who is Barsabas Justus Platypus and how did he not die?

June 30, 2011

According to Luke, Joseph Barsabbas called Justus was a candidate to take Judas’ place in the ranks of the twelve (Acts 1.23).  According to the Acts of Paul, Barsabas Justus Platypus is a servant in Nero’s household.  The daughters of Philip told Papias that Barsabas Justus had once taken poison and survived (apud Eusebius, h.e. 3.39).  In my Cambridge doctoral dissertation (1996), p. 52, I criticized Dennis MacDonald’s book Legend and the Apostle (1983); MacDonald wrote:

Poison was reserved for Roman officials or soldiers accused of treason.  I suggest that the story told by the daughters of Philip was not about the Barsabas Justus in Acts [Eusebius’ opinion] but about another man with the same name who according to the Acts of Paul, was in fact a Roman soldier who was saved from execution.

MacDonald offered no evidence that soldiers accused of treason would die by poisoning, or even that poison was reserved for such purposes in Antiquity.  Indeed, I’ve found that there are many texts supporting poison as a means of murdering people–the common story of putting poison secretly in a person’s food or drink.  The standard means of executing a Roman soldier was  fustuarium, death by beating or stoning by fellow soldiers.  One interesting means of Roman soldier execution was death by elephant; Alison Futrell (The Roman Games, 8) cites Valerius Maximus 2.7.13-14:

For the Younger Africanus … threw foreign deserters to wild beasts as part of spectacle [sic] he offered to the people.  And Lucius Paul [snip] … for the same fault (desertion) threw men under elephants to be trampled.

Now this is indeed interesting and perhaps you, dear reader, would permit me to suggest a solution.  Barsabas Justus was as MacDonald suggests a Roman soldier, but since poisoning was not a means a executing soliders–I’ve yet to find a single text to support such a notion–perhaps Barsabas Justus Platypus was sentenced to die by elephant trampling and yet like Thecla in Iconium, or Paul in Ephesus, he managed to escape this martyrdom. My suggestion has the advantage over MacDonald’s in that there is support from at least one text that says that Romans actually used elephants, unlike poisoning, to execute Roman soldiers!

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Logos Acts of Paul Page

June 23, 2011

A couple days ago I noticed that Acta Pauli received a hit from a Logos.com Acts of Paul page. Logos has started a wiki of “Topics” related to biblical studies. I found that they had used material from Wikipedia but had also linked to Acta Pauli and had copied over Jeremy’s bibliography. Later, I tried to edit the page and found that I could because I am user of Logos software and I was already logged in to their website.

Since it is wiki, and anyone can edit that page (just like wikipedia), I’ve decided to keep a mirror site here. I’ve eliminated most of the primary sources and many of secondary sources that Jeremy listed in his bibliography, and have left sources directly relevant to the study of the Acts of Paul, as is appropriate for such a page. Furthermore, I’ve reorganized the bibliography into texts, translations, and studies. I have also removed the Wikipedia content, which is terribly inaccurate, and explain that the Acts of Paul consists of Episodes I-XIV and listed the principle witnesses to each section. Finally, I’ve added links to relevant material directly on the page, making it far easier to access source material directly on the internet. But it remains a work in progress.


The translation of ΑΥϪΠΑΥ ΝΕΥ in Acts of Paul IX, 13

June 21, 2011

In the 1997 French edition of the Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (ed. Bovon and Geoltran), Rodolphe Kasser translated a phrase from the Coptic Bodmer XLI of Acts of Paul IX, 13 (p. 1155), “les hommes ont contracté ces pestes” (“the humans acquired these plagues”).  It would be another seven years before Kasser would publish the editio princeps of Bodmer XLI, and he now translates this phrase (R. Kasser and P. Luisier, Le Muséon 117 [2004]):  “les (hommes) se les ont acquis” (“the (humans) acquired them for themselves”);  ΑΥϪΠΑΥ ΝΕΥ (literally: “they acquired them for themselves”).

It would appear that Kasser’s “pestes” (plagues) represents “all the things that were mentioned above” through which the humans have died.  What are these things?  Gold, silver, precious stones, fornications, adulteries and drunkeness.  Yet the neither the Coptic nor the Greek texts name these things “plagues”, as Kasser has interpreted.  It would be inaccurate since the created world for the Acts of Paul is good and so even though the lust and acquisition of the first three, gold, silver and precious stones, leads to death, it is not caused by the created things themselves but by the sin of humanity against the Creator.  The Acts of Paul is an anti-gnostic text, and it should not be translated in a manner which leads the reader to think that the text would denigrate created matter.


Does ΜΝΤΡΜΝϨΗΤ translate προαίρεσις in Acts of Paul IX, 13?

June 11, 2011

Now that the Bodmer Coptic of the Acts of Paul has finally appeared in print (R. Kasser and P. Luisier, Le Muséon 117 [2004] 281-384), we can attempt to verify the multitude of ingenious readings that the German scholar Carl Schmidt made in his 1936 edition of the Greek Hamburg Papyrus.  The Bodmer MS beautifully preserves an elegant handwriting.  The Hamburg Papyrus, by contrast, is fragmentary and was copied by a non-professional scribe, making it impossible to be certain how many letters are missing from the numerous lacunae.  Today, one has to marvel at Schmidt’s incredible ability to ferret out a text from faded letters and in many cases to restore the text where there are only holes in the papyrus.  Yet with the advent of the Coptic text, it is necessary to review each of Schmidt’s suggestions, because with the Bodmer MS, we stand before a more certain and complete text.

As I work on my translation of the text into English, I’ve decided to use the following princple:

The Greek text is very lacunose, but constitutes the original language of the text. The Bodmer Coptic is, however, beautifully preserved, but it is a translation of the original. Therefore, it seems best to prefer the Greek text when the reading clear and to reconstitute the Greek text from the Coptic where it is deficient. However, when there is a conflict between Schmidt’s reconstitution of  the Greek, and the Bodmer Coptic, it seems best to prefer the latter–even when the text that Schmidt reconstitutes includes letters with under-dots, indicating that he was unable to be certain of the reading, for it seems better to prefer the Coptic which is perfectly readable over a guess based upon barely decipherable letters.

Now to our case in point, in IX, 13, Paul says to the governor and the crowd, “Make a good judgement” — λ[ά]βετε [προαίρ]εσιν ἀγαθὴν.  The Coptic has .  ϪΙ ϬΕ ΝΗΤΝ ΜΝ[ΤΡ]ΜΝϨΗΤ ΕΝΟΥΝC (“take therefore for yourselves good understanding”).  ΜΝΤΡΜΝϨΗΤ normally is translated wisdom or understanding, and is not necessarily a bad translation for προαίρεσις.   ΜΝΤΡΜΝϨΗΤ is a common translation for σύνεσις (“understanding”) in the Sahidic New Testament.  There is however the case of the post-positive οὖν, which is the equivalent for ϬΕ.  So we could leave the text as suggested by Schmidt or restore it λ[ά]βετε [οὖν σύν]εσιν, and that gives us the same number of letters as Schmidt’s suggestion.  The particular combination of λαμβάνω and σύνεσις occurs in the Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. 9.2.6:  ἀλλʼ ἐρώτα τὸν κύριον, ἵνα λαβὼν σύνεσιν νοήσῃς αὐτά (Holmes).   It should be born in mind that προαίρεσις is probably still within the realm of possibility, though it seems better in this case to turn to the more common synonym in Greek, σύνεσις,  for ΜΝΤΡΜΝϨΗΤ.


Εις Χριστος Ιησους: One is Christ Jesus

June 9, 2011

Papyrus Hamburg 1.18 (Schmidt-Schubart)

It is interesting to note that the nomina sacra in the formula, “One is Christ Jesus” (cf. 1 Cor 8.6) includes the word “one” (εις), as is made clear by the superlineal stroke above the (unabbreviated) word.  There is a tendency for words associated with name of Jesus to be made into nomina sacra, but this is the only instance that I can find of the word “one” and I would happily receive information about other cases like this.