Translation – The Plerophories – Introduction


F. Nau, the great French schola, translated the Plerophories into French, which I am translating into English in this series of posts. This is his own introduction. The word Plerophories has the sense of a collection of materials which provide and produce an assurance and certainty in what is believed. In this case, it is a collection of testimonies which provide evidence for the negative view which the non-Chalcedonian community of the 6th century had concerning the council of Chalcedon. Successive posts will provide translations into English of 98 such testimonies.


I. The Manuscripts.

1. The main manuscript, addendum 14650 (A), is preserved in London at the British Museum. It has been written in the year 1186 of the Greeks (875 of our era) in a Jacobite script, some letters and some words are not very legible because the ink has disappeared. Plerophories run from vol. 90 r° to folio 134 v° and are divided into 89 short chapters. A reader has indicated in the margin the equivalents of a certain number of words. The manuscript is in the form of notebooks of ten sheets; notebook 16 begins at folio 90 and notebook 20 to folio 130. The middle sheet and the last page of each notebook bear the title in the margin of the top of the page: The Revelations of the Saints; this title is found fol. 94 v, 99 v, 104 v, 109 v, 114 v, 119 v, 124 v, 129 v. Numbering of the chapters is indicated, in Syriac letters, in the margins.

2. The London manuscript add. 14631 (B), of the twelfth century, also contains, fol. 17-44, most of the Plerophories. The first story and the last ones (84 to 89) are missing. Several pages are not easily legible, 19 r, 26 v, 29 r, 35 r, 42 v, or even unreadable, 17 v, 24 v, 36 v, 44 V, because rubbing has removed the ink. Other pages have a worn corner, such as 23 v, 25 r, 30 v, 34 r, 34 v, 37 r, or holes, such as 25, 33, 41. The words that appear in the margin of A are found in the text of B. One would be tempted to believe that A was based on B and that the words of B which differ were put in the margins of A, but the agreement of the two manuscripts is so great (they differ only in orthographic details) that one may believe that the oldest (A) has been corrected by a reader who has replaced unsuitable words or those which have fallen into obsolescence by better chosen words placed in the margin. Later a scribe has transcribed A, always taking the reading placed in the margin, and this transcription is none other than B. This last manuscript corrects also a lack of a numeration of A (cf. chapter 65). At the end of a line, manuscript B often writes the first letters of the word that begins the next line; we did not note this detail nor indicate the words written only in abbreviated form in the manuscripts.

3. The pseudo-Denys (Syriac manuscript of Paris, No. 284, fols 45 and 48-54) transcribed the chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 10 (in part), 11, 13. He adds a title to each chapter, and we give his variants under the letter D.

4. Michel the Syrian has summarized almost all the chapters of the Plerophories in his Chronicle (ed.J.B. Chabot, II, Paris, 1901, pp. 69-88). We quote it under the letter M.

5. Finally, in the Syriac manuscript of Berlin, Sachau 329, fol. 112-115, we have noted chapters 28, 29, 30 and another analogous story. This manuscript is Nestorian and it is rather strange that it contains narratives directed, according to their author, against the Nestorians. Their form is here so very different from that provided by the other manuscripts that we have reproduced and translated them entirely as chapters 90 to 93.

II. The Author

The book contains some autobiographical details (chapters 16, 21, 22, 23, 88, 89) about its author. His name was John, he was an Arab from South Palestine, no doubt from Ascalon; he studied law in Beirut, he is called Beith-Rufin (or simply Rufin), of Antioch. He was ordained priest in Antioch (476-478) by the patriarch Peter the Fuller, of whom he had been Secretary. He left this city when Patriarch Peter was driven from it, and he retired to Jerusalem and Palestine, where he met the solitary Isaiah and Peter the Iberian, the monophysite Bishop of Maiouma, near Gaza. The Life of Severus [Patr. Or., II, 86-87, 224-225) calls him Jean Rufus, as we have called him, and sometimes John of Antioch,

He was in Jerusalem in 485, when Peter, who had returned to Antioch, sent his synodal letter to Martyrius. He then seems to be completely attached to Peter the Iberian  (f. 1st Dec. 488), because he succeeded him as bishop of Maiouma, while others directed his monastery. [Patr. Or., II, 86). He wrote the present work while Severus was Patriarch of Antioch (512-518), cf. infra, p. 56, note 3.

III. The Object of the Work

The author wishes to resist the Council of Chalcedon. For this purpose, he reports a long series of visions, prodigies and predictions, to show that this council is only a return of the Nestorians, condemned at the first council of Ephesus. The work is therefore an interesting example of the opinion that the Jacobites, then triumphant (512 to 518), held themselves of the council of Chalcedon, and of their polemical methods. Most stories come from the circle of Peter the Iberian; they are animated by circumstantial, historical and geographical details, which add to them a new interest.

IV. Literary History

Nestorius informs us that the first council of Ephesus (431) had already been followed by similar analogous publications against him.

There would be much to say about the dreams they told; some said they had seen them about me; and others imagined something else. They amazed the listeners, namely by the saints they had seen, by the revelations they told, and by a prophecy that had been imagined … They sought to persuade everyone of what they had seen and they compared themselves to angels of light {The Book of Heraclides of Dumas, ed. Bedjan, p. 374).

The council of Chalcedon gave rise to similar narratives, and John Rufus [or: from Rufinus] wrote them in Greek shortly after 512. They were later translated into Syriac, and John of Asia probably knew this translation, (before 572), for we suppose that here, as elsewhere, the pseudo-Denys transcribed word for word according to John of Asia the chapters of the Plerophories which he inserted, before the year 775, in his compilation.

The Plerophories were also used by the editor of the History of Dioscorus, written by his disciple Theopiste (Paris, 1903), because it mentions the reports of Juvenal and Peter the Iberian (Nabarnougios); his defection, as well as that of Basil of Seleucia; the history of Leontios, evangelist of Ascalon [Pleroph., chap. 17, 18, 49, 25; 23; 52; History of Dioscorus, p. 443-146) and especially the history of Pamprepios that the Plerophories and the History of Dioscorus call Panopropios [Pleroph., ch. 21; Hist. Dioscorus, p. 148-453 and 180.

In the ninth and tenth centuries, the two manuscripts in which the Plerophories are related are found in fragments of John of Asia (add 44650) and the History of Dioscorus (add 14631). In the twelfth century, Michael the Syrian summarised the Syriac version of these tales in his Chronicle, summarised in turn by an Armenian translator (see F. Nau, On an Armenian Abridgement of the Plerophories, in Review of the Christian Orient, t. [1899], 134).

In 1897 we encountered the Plerophories in our analysis of the pseudo-Denys [Review de l’Orient chretien, t. II [1897], p. 66 and 457), we transcribed the manuscript add. 14650, and we summarized it at the XI Congress of Orientalists in September 1897 (see The Plerophoria of John of Maiouma, in the Acts of the Eleventh International Congress of Orientalists, Fourth Section, 8 Paris, 1898, p. -112), and we have translated it in the Revue de l’Orient Chretien, t. III (1898), p. 232-259, 337-392, edition apart, Paris, 1899. Mr. Clermont-Ganneau commented on several passages in our translation: Palestine at the beginning of the Sixth century and the Plerophoria of John Rufus, Bishop of Maiouma, in Recueil Oriental Archeology, Paris, 1899, t. III, § 42, and M. Krüger has quoted many extracts from it in Die sogenannte Kirchengeschichte des Zacharias rhetor, Leipzig, 1899, p. 301 sqq. In 1902, we identified in London the manuscript add 14631 in which the Plerophories are not mentioned in the catalog (see History of Dioscorus, Paris, 1903, p.13, note 1), and we have collated our copy. In 1903 and 1908, Graffin graciously gave us a reproduction of the AB manuscripts. In 1908 we transcribed fragments of manuscript Sachau 329, fol. 112-115. Finally, the abbe Briere has written a new translation that we publish with the Syriac text. It has been more agreeable for us to correct this translation We have generally noted the Greek words preserved in Syriac.

V. The Sources

The sources are always oral. These are mostly the stories of Peter the Iberian; some stories come from those around him (7, 9, 10, 11, 16, 20, 44), or are collected directly by the author (14, 21-24, 26, 47, 51, 88 , 89); it is very rare for him to invoke a written testimony (10, end, 36, 89). Only chapters 55 and 59 are theoretical and their purpose is not to tell an anecdote, but to justify the Jacobites who were reproached for being a small group and forming only a schism in the Church. In short, Jean Rufus wrote in Greek, shortly after 512, with some personal anecdotes, those he had collected from the mouth of Peter the Iberian as well as monks and visitors of the Lavra of Maiouma, near Gaza, of which he was bishop. It is a collection of Apophthegms of a new kind, which aims, not to edify, but to combat the Council of Chalcedon and its defenders.

VI. The Style

The work is loaded with words and forms of Greek origin, as can be seen by browsing the Table of Foreign Words. The translation is sometimes servile to the point of keeping the case of proper names. At other times, the translation deviates from the text, one realizes its difficulties, the alterations of certain proper names, such as Pamprepios, and especially the modifications of the biblical texts, p. 151, 153. Sacred Scripture is not quoted from earlier translations: the Syrian translator translates directly the Greek text he has before him. Manuscript A puts quotation marks in front of the biblical quotations.

The manuscripts generally bear the full forms of the perfect plural, but the semi-vowels are added or deleted in the foreign words, according to the place which the scribe has. We have endeavored to reproduce the manuscripts faithfully, except for the position of the points and the reproduction of the diacritical points, details moreover on which the manuscripts do not agree.

VII. Complementary Texts and Tables

We have added some Greek and Syriac texts little known or not known at all, ch. xciv to cv, from the manuscripts of Paris syr. 209, 335; Coislin 127; Greek fonds 881, 1631, 1596 and after the London manuscript add. 12173, to illustrate certain accounts of the Plerophories (see their contents in the Analytical Table of Contents); they are often related to the solitaries who present us with such a rich collection in the Plerophories.

We add two Syriac tables: one of the proper names and the other foreign or remarkable words; a table of Greek names and two French tables – an alphabetical table and an analytic table of contents – to facilitate research in this little work which is interesting to so many aspects of history and theology.

F. Nau

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