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!


Heidelberg Papyrus – Schmidt 1904

March 20, 2009

Carl Schmidt,  Acta Pauli (1904),  transcription of  Coptic Heidelberg papyrus, (pdf 5.2 mb) pp. 1-80 including the glossary of Coptic words with German equivalents.  Access to the photos of this papyrus is found here.

Rostalski, Die Sprache der griechischen Paulusakten

March 11, 2009

Friedrich Rostalski, Die Sprache der griechischen Paulusakten mit Beruecksichtigung ihrer lateinischen Uebersetzungen.  Myslowitz: Buchdruckereri Max Roelle, 1913.  (pdf 2.15 mb)

The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy (Cambridge, 1996)

January 21, 2009

The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy in the Second Century (pdf; 1.3 mb)

At long last I offer my PhD dissertation on the world wide web.  Perhaps an explanation is necessary as to why I failed to publish it before now.  I began writing a commentary on the Acts of Paul and I hoped to exploit the written material in the dissertation.  But I have since learned that the writing of an extended argument about the Acts of Paul is very different than writing a commentary, and I find now that there will be minimal overlap in the two publications.

I am offering it as a web publication in the hopes of encouraging others to make their work available on the internet free of charge.  The internet in my view is perfectly suited for this sort of academic publication.  My work in Africa, where bibliographic material is not readily available encourages me to publish on the internet as well.  I retain the copyright and all rights are reserved.  The security features in the pdf will prevent users from using copy and paste feature, but it is possible to print the document.

My thanks to Prof. Willy Rordorf my Doktorvater; and to the late Dr. Caroline Bammel, the Rev. Dr. Lionel Wickham, and Prof. Morna Hooker, my supervisors in Cambridge; and to the late Dr. Ernst Bammel, Dr. Stuart G. Hall, and Prof. William Horbury, my examiners.

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