Revised 31 July 20:30 CST — see shaded paragraphs
4th post in the series by Roger Parvus. The complete series is archived here.
In my previous post I argued that the so-called letter to Polycarp was originally a letter from Peregrinus to the man who, after restoring order in the church of Antioch, had been installed as that church’s new bishop. The letter was one of three that the prisoner wrote after learning that the dissension in the church in Antioch had come to an end. In the other two letters – those addressed to Smyrna and Philadelphia – he urgently requested that Ambassadors of God be appointed to go to Antioch to rejoice with that church. In the so-called letter to Polycarp, on the other hand, there is an urgent request for the convocation of a most God-pleasing council and, in connection with it, the appointment of a Courier of God. This most God-pleasing council, I maintain, was convened in Antioch – not Smyrna — and it is one and the same with the gathering mentioned in Lucian’s TDOP that drew delegates “even from cities in Asia to succour, defend and encourage” the would-be martyr Peregrinus. The letters to Philadelphia, Smyrna and to Polycarp purport to have been written from the port city of Troas while the prisoner was waiting to board ship. But, as we will see shortly, they were probably written while he was waiting at a different port.
The other letters in the collection – to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome — were written before the prisoner knew the outcome of the in-fighting at Antioch. Because the four letters in this group would have been written at least a few days before the three letters in the other group I will refer to them, for the sake of brevity, as set 1 and will call the others set 2.
The set 1 letters were written in Smyrna during a stop there by the prisoner’s military escorts. The bishops of three of the churches addressed by those letters – Ephesus, Magnesia and Tralles – had traveled, accompanied by a few other members of their flocks, to visit with the prisoner at Smyrna. The letters written to their churches were likely carried back by them when they made their return trips. I see no serious reason to question that these three letters were in fact addressed to the churches they purport to address. I cannot say the same about the other set l letter: Romans.
THE LETTER TO THE ROMANS
The message of the letter to the Romans is loud and clear. It is basically a sustained plea: “Don’t try to get me released. I want to die for the Name.” But the letter contains little information about the community to which the plea was addressed. According to the letter’s inscription the intended recipients were “the church … which presides in the place of the district of the Romans” but, strangely, the praise that the inscription bestows on that church mentions nothing that is distinctive to the Roman church. Especially conspicuous by its absence from the inscription is any mention of Peter or Paul!
And unlike the other six letters in the collection, this letter not only sends no greetings to anyone by name, it doesn’t even send a general greeting or acknowledgement to the bishop, presbyters and deacons of the church! This is very strange for, remember, the prisoner explicitly says in another letter that a church doesn’t deserve the name ‘church’ if it doesn’t have a bishop, presbyters and deacons (IgnTral. 3:1). The usual excuse offered to explain this puzzling omission is to point out that the church of Rome had probably not yet embraced the idea of a monarchical bishop. But that doesn’t really solve the problem. Everyone acknowledges that Rome at least had presbyters and deacons. So why doesn’t the letter at least contain some kind of general greeting to them?
From the inscription it can also be determined that the church addressed by the letter had recently experienced a split. It had been “filtered clean from every alien stain.” Fortunately, we know, from the letter to the Philadelphians what the prisoner means by “filtered clean.” He uses it to put a positive spin on the forced or unforced departure of members from a church: “Not that I found division among you; what I found was a filtering out.” (IgnPhil. 3:1). This is the same kind of spin that we find in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” In other words: “No, don’t call what happened a ‘split.’ Those who are no longer part of our community were not true members, so let’s call it a ‘filtering out’ of the phonies. Good riddance!”
So the recipient church has recently undergone a split and, as far as can be determined from the letter addressed to it, does not even have church officials. To me this sounds very much like the kind of situation that prevailed in the church of Antioch prior to the restoration of peace there. With that suspicion in mind, let’s look at the entire inscription of this letter to see whether an original destination of Antioch for it makes sense.
“… to her that has found mercy in the bountiful power of the Father most High and Jesus Christ, his only Son; to the church that is beloved and enlightened by the will of him who willed all things which are in accordance with the love of Jesus Christ our God; to the church which holds the chief place in the district of the Romans (or: Syrians?), worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy in purity, and preeminent in love, bearing the name of Christ, bearing the name of the Father (or: a father?); which church also I greet in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the Father; to those who are united in flesh and spirit with all his commandments, being filled with God’s grace without wavering, and filtered clean from every alien stain, heartiest greetings in blamelessness in Jesus Christ.”
When I was writing my book in 2007 I was of the opinion that the central part of the above inscription was an interpolation. I now think that only a single word was changed: ‘Romans’ was substituted for ‘Syrians.’ Syria is referred to often – fourteen times – in the letter collection. The author of the letters is proud to be from ‘the church in Syria’ (e.g IgnEph. 21:2; IgnMag. 14:1; IgnTral. 13:1), and the only three times he mentions Antioch specifically, he makes it part of a phrase that includes Syria: “the church at Antioch in Syria.” (IgnPhil. 10:1; IgnSmyr. 11:1; IgnPoly. 7:1). The “chief place in the district of the Syrians” would be, then, Antioch described with a rhetorical flourish befitting the introduction of the letter.
And I have no problem seeing the effusive praise (‘worthy of this, worthy of that, worthy of the other thing’) as applicable to Antioch. This is the kind of gushing I would expect the author of the letters to say about his home church. He has no reason to say it about the Roman church. For one thing, he gives no indication of knowing anything specific about the Roman church. And he would have no patriotic reason, for his expectation of dying in an arena in the jaws of wild beasts rather than by beheading shows that he was not a Roman citizen.
Some of the expressions in the inscription seem to apply better to Antioch than to Rome. The prisoner describes the recipients of the letter as “bearing the name of Christ, bearing the name of the Father” (or: “of a father.”) If any church had the right to take legitimate pride in bearing the name of Christ, i.e. being called ‘Christians,’ it would have to be the church of Antioch. The Acts of the Apostles, arguably written about the same time as the letter collection, says that the followers of Jesus were first called ‘Christians’ at Antioch.
But what are we to make of the expression “bearing the name of the Father?” What name of the Father is meant? It apparently can’t be ‘Yahweh’ for that name doesn’t show up anywhere in the letters and, as Schoedel rightly observed, “it is generally recognized that Ignatius reflects scant interest in the Hebrew Scriptures.” (“Ignatius of Antioch,” p. 9). Moreover, what would be the connection between the name ‘Yahweh’ and the name borne by either the Antiochene or Roman Christians? No, the real solution to this problem becomes accessible once we remember that although scholars usually capitalize the first letter of ‘father’ in this verse and precede it with ‘the’ in English translation, an equally legitimate translation is “a father.” The church of Antioch bore the name of a father, for Antioch was the name of the father of Seleucus I Nicator. When Seleucus founded the city near the end of the 4th century BCE he named it after his father, Antiochus. The son is said to have built and named a total of sixteen cities after his father. I think the prisoner was trying to find some Christian significance in the name ‘Antioch’ and the filial piety behind its naming was the best he could do. He immediately took it to a new and appropriate level by adding: “which church also I greet in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the Father.”
(It is worth noting too that many scholars think that the author of the letters engaged in wordplay on the name ‘Ephesus’ at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians. One proposed root meaning of the word ‘Ephesus’ is ‘sent,’ and the prisoner appears to make a connection between it and the visitors that Ephesus “sent” to him at Smyrna. See Schoedel’s “Ignatius of Antioch,” p. 41.)
It is sometimes argued that the expression “preeminent in love” must refer to the Roman church. The Romans Christians, so the argument goes, would have been the wealthiest Christians, and so were in a position to give charitable aid to the other churches. But this is reading back the later charity of the Roman church into an earlier period. There is no evidence that the Roman church was preeminent in love in the first half of the second century. I think the prisoner has his own coreligionists in mind when he speaks of preeminence in love. In his letter to the Smyrneans he reproaches his opponents for their lack of love: “They care nothing for love, for the widow, for the orphan, for the afflicted, for the imprisoned or released, for the hungry or thirsty… It would be better for them to do works of love so that they may also rise.” (IgnSmyr. 6;2-7:1). The implication, of course, is that the prisoner and his brethren do these works of love.
So, putting this all together, I submit that the so-called letter to the Romans was actually the first letter that the prisoner wrote to his home church of Antioch. He wrote it before he knew the outcome of the strife that had recently reached a boiling point in that church. The reason he didn’t name names or greet officials in the letter is because he didn’t know who had remained faithful and who hadn’t. So in reality the actual intended recipients of this letter were limited to those indicated at the end of the inscription: those Christians at Antioch who were “filled with God’s grace without wavering, and filtered clean from every alien stain.” That is to say, those who had not wavered in the recent crisis and who, because of that fidelity, found themselves filtered clean of the unworthy deserters. The carrier of this letter would have been instructed to give it to the filtered and unwavering remnant of the church at Antioch. By this letter the prisoner was begging them: “When I get to Antioch, don’t try to prevent my execution.”
I’m afraid the remainder of this post may be a bit hard to follow, but it is an important part of my theory. Any serious attempt to understand the letters supposedly written by Ignatius is going to require getting a handle on the route the would-be martyr took. In this section I want to point out the problems that beset the route that is in the letters as they currently stand. And I want to show how, by using some information from Lucian’s TDOP, those problems can be solved and the route plausibly reconstructed.
For scholars who accept the Ignatians at face value determining the route that the prisoner took to Smyrna presents difficulties. Did his route to Smyrna pass through Ephesus or through Philadelphia? It might seem that Ephesus should get the nod, for in the letter to the Ephesians the prisoner clearly says: “You are a passageway for those put to death for God.” (IgnEph. 12:2). And in another letter written at Smyrna he indicates that his route has been “by land and sea” (IgnRom. 5:1). So did he go by ship from Antioch to Ephesus; and then by land to Smyrna? Scholars generally discount that scenario because, from the rest of the Ephesians letter, it is very clear that the prisoner had not recently been in Ephesus. He couldn’t have just passed through Ephesus in chains on his way to Smyrna and at the same time say that the Ephesians – in the person of their bishop and a few other members of their church — had hastened to see him in Smyrna when they learned that he had been arrested? (IgnEph. 1:2). If he had passed through Ephesus without stopping, wouldn’t he have said something about that in his letter? Something like: “I’m sorry I didn’t get to see any of you when I was led through your city, but it was unavoidable.”
So, most Ignatian scholars take the position that the prisoner’s route to Smyrna was through Philadelphia, not Ephesus. He was led to Philadelphia by overland route; or perhaps he went from Antioch by ship to some port on the southern coast of Asia Minor and then proceeded by land to Philadelphia. But these scenarios too have their difficulties. In the letter to the Philadelphians the author never says that he was in chains when he stopped at Philadelphia. In fact, he seems to have enjoyed complete freedom when he was there, meeting with their whole church. He says: “I thank my God that I have a good conscience in regard to you, and no one can boast that either in secret or openly I have been a burden to anyone in things great or small. And for all among whom I have spoken I pray that my words may not prove to be a witness against them.” (IgnPhil. 6:3) And: “I cried out when I was among you, I spoke with a loud voice, with the voice of God, ‘Give heed to the bishop and the presbytery and deacons.” (IgnPhil. 7:1). And apparently he said these things to the whole church, for – unlike in the letters to Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles – he nowhere says that he only saw the Philadelphians through certain visitors that they sent to him. But is it believable that his Roman escorts would have allowed him such freedom? No.
Thus the scholars who accept the Ignatians at face value have to choose between two equally bad choices. I will show later in this post that the Ephesus-problem was caused by a change made to the letters by an interpolator. And the Ephesus-problem in turn is the reason why scholars are stuck with having to choose Philadelphia as a stop on the prisoner’s path to Smyrna.
|To figure out what the actual route was we need to again look to Lucian’s “The Death of Peregrinus” for guidance. As already noted, Lucian does not say where Peregrinus was arrested. But he does say that Peregrinus, upon release from jail, went home to Parium. And secondly, he says that the reason Peregrinus went to Parium was to take care of some unfinished business. Moreover, he tells us what the unfinished business was: he went to Parium in order to try to get at his inheritance. This unfinished business existed before Peregrinus was arrested. From the time that he first banished himself from Parium he had not taken any steps to get at the money because he feared the townspeople would try to get him convicted for the murder of his father. Lucian says:“What he did to his father, however, is very well worth hearing; but you all know it—you have heard how he strangled the aged man, unable to tolerate his living beyond sixty years. Then, when the affair had been noised abroad, he condemned himself to exile and roamed about, going to one country after another.” (TDOP 10, Harmon)But about the time of his imprisonment the matter of his inheritance was again on his mind. For upon release from jail he went to Parium to see if the townspeople, in his absence, had cooled off enough to let him take possession of his father’s property. Only when he saw that was not the case did he come up with plan B: donate the property to the town and thereby silence his accusers. Lucian again:“Upon returning to his home, he (Peregrinus) found that the matter of his father’s murder was still at fever heat and that there were many who were for pressing the charge against him… The charge and complaint was still aglow, and it was probable that before long somebody would appear against him; above all, the people themselves were enraged, mourning over a good old man (as he was called by those who had seen him) so impiously slain. But observe what a plan our clever Proteus discovered to cope with all this, and, how he escaped the danger. Coming before the assembly of the Parians — he wore his hair long by now, dressed in a dirty mantle, had a wallet slung at his side, the staff was in his hand, and in general he was very histrionic in his get-up — manifesting himself to them in this guise, he said that he relinquished to the state all the property which had been left him by his father of blessed memory. When the people, poor folk agape for largesses, heard that, they lifted their voices forthwith: ‘The one and only philosopher! The one and only patriot! The one and only rival of Diogenes and Crates!’ His enemies were muzzled, and anyone who tried to mention the murder was at once pelted with stones.” (TDOP 14-15. Harmon)In light of these indications in TDOP that Peregrinus went to Parium upon release from jail and that he went there to try to get access to his inheritance, I think it is plausible to suppose that his arrest occurred in or near Parium. Often when someone is released from prison they go back to where they previously were when they were so rudely interrupted by the authorities. And in the case of Peregrinus, there is the additional consideration that he had unfinished business there. And the business — the obtaining of money — was of a nature that, if he was successful, could help him at Antioch. If the authorities were waiting for him at Parium and thwarted his plan, it would explain why he tried again after his release from jail. Now Parium is located on the Hellespont not far north of Troas, the city where, according to the letter collection, the last set of letters – set 2 – was written. Combining the indications derived from TDOP with the other conclusions I’ve reached leads me to propose the following composite scenario.
A PLAUSIBLE RECONSTRUCTION
Peregrinus left Antioch at the height of the upheaval in the church there. He decided to go to Parium to try to get access to his inheritance. His intentions may have been the best: to obtain money by the quick sale of his father’s property and put it at the disposal of the church of Antioch. Money is often helpful for winning friends and influencing people, and obtaining it may have taken on new urgency due to the crisis at Antioch. Money was the motivation for his trip. After his departure the problems in that church spilled over and became a public disturbance. Peregrinus, the most prominent member of that church, was probably blamed as the instigator and it was decided to make an example of him. A warrant for his arrest was issued.
On the way to Parium Peregrinus stopped to visit the church at Philadelphia. This would explain the freedom of action on display in the letter to the Philadelphians. The freedom was real. He was a free man when he visited them. He then went on, probably stopping at Smyrna too before continuing on towards Parium. Somewhere near Parium the authorities arrested him, put him in chains, and made arrangements to have him brought back to Antioch for punishment.
On the way back there was a stop at Smyrna. It was there that he wrote the set 1 letters: Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and his first letter to Antioch (so-called Romans). Peregrinus received visitors there not only from the church of Smyrna, but also from the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia and Tralles who had learned of his arrest. These last three churches may have thought that the prisoner was going to be escorted back to Antioch by way of Philadelphia, so – through their bishops and a few other members – they hastened to see him at Smyrna before he turned east. But in fact the prisoner was going to be brought south to Ephesus and made to board ship there for Antioch. That is why in the letter to Ephesus it is evident that he had not yet passed through that city and why he says: “You are a passageway for those put to death for God.” (IgnEph. 12:2). He was headed in their direction. And that would also explain why he told the Ephesians that he intended to write “a second treatise” (IgnEph. 20:1) for them. He may have expected he would have the time to do that while waiting to board ship in their city.
At Ephesus the prisoner learned that peace had been restored in the church at Antioch. It was at Ephesus that he wrote the set 2 letters. One of them, the second letter to Antioch (the so-called letter to Polycarp) requested that a most God-pleasing council be convoked there to thank God for the martyrdom being offered to the prisoner. The other two letters requested that Ambassadors of God be sent to Antioch to rejoice with that church.
Thus the prisoner’s route was from Parium to Troas to Smyrna to Ephesus. He then went by ship to Antioch, though not necessarily directly. There may have been some port stops along the way for he expects his last letter to Antioch will arrive there before he does: “Thus, since I could not write to all the churches, because I sail immediately… as God’s will commands, you, as one who has the mind of God, will write to the churches which lie in front… Let those who can send messengers, and have the rest send letters through those whom you send out, that you may all be glorified by a work that will live forever. You are worthy of this.” (IgnPoly. 7:1-8:1) The “churches which lie in front” would be the churches in front of Peregrinus, the churches between him and Antioch. They would include the churches in the vicinity of Antioch itself.
We are now in a position to understand how the Ephesus-problem described earlier was caused. The Christian who later modified the letters wanted to change the prisoner’s direction of travel as part of the disguise needed to conceal the prisoner’s identity. He had two sets of letters to work with: one set written at Smyrna, the other set at Ephesus. Since the letters written at Smyrna were written first, Smyrna was basically a pivot point to him. The letters written there could stay that way. It was by changing the place of composition of the second group of letters — set 2 — that he could make the direction of travel go whichever way he wanted. By making Troas instead of Ephesus the place of composition of the set 2 letters the redactor effectively turned the prisoner’s direction of travel around. Instead of heading back to Antioch, he was made to head away from it. His journey back to Antioch was turned around and made into the first part of a trip with Rome as the intended final destination.
But the redactor’s reversal of the direction of travel caused a problem, for it meant that the prisoner should have already passed through Ephesus when he wrote back – from Smyrna – to the Ephesians. In reality he hadn’t yet been in Ephesus when he wrote that letter. And it shows. And scholars could tell that he hadn’t been there. And that is why they have been stuck with having to choose Philadelphia as a stop despite the new problems that causes.
A TELLTALE EXPRESSION
The letter collection, even in its present state, contains a telltale trace of the route reversal I am proposing. Several times their author uses a word that betrays the original direction of travel. The word is ‘onaimen’ (the optative of ‘oninemi) and it means “May I have (the) joy of…; I hope to enjoy…” The route change that the later redactor introduced to the letters has prevented scholars from making much sense of the expression. Unable to give it any kind of a precise meaning, they resort to saying that it expresses some vague hope of the prisoner to obtain a blessing.
I think, however, that the author of the letters had a precise purpose in mind when he used ‘onaimen.’ He used it to express his joyful anticipation of soon being in the presence of someone or something. Thus, when he makes mention of “the deacon Zotion, whom I hope to enjoy” (IgnMag. 2:1) commentators correctly recognize in this instance that he is requesting the company of Zotion, just as, in IgnEph. 2:1, he had requested that the deacon Burrhus be allowed to stay on with him. Along the same lines, in IgnRom 5:2 he joyfully anticipates being in the presence of the wild beasts who will be the instruments of his martyrdom: “May I have the joy of (“onaimen”) the wild beasts prepared for me;” for “to be in the presence of the wild beasts is to be in the presence of God” (IgnSmyr 4:2). So when Peregrinus addresses the expression directly to the intended recipients of his letters the sense is: “I look forward to seeing you, to enjoying your company.” The redactor who later modified the letters must have realized that those words reveal too much, that they reveal who the would-be martyr was expecting to see and, by that fact, what his expected route was. And so the redactor added words like “always” and “in every way” to obfuscate the meaning. Notice that he does not add a qualifier to “onaimen” when there is no danger of revealing the true direction of travel. Thus he does not make the would-be martyr say “May I have joy IN EVERY WAY of the beasts prepared for me …” Nor does he make him say that he hopes to ALWAYS enjoy the deacon Zotion. He makes his insertions only when there is danger that the original direction of travel will be detectable without them.
Now Peregrinus was at Smyrna (IgnEph. 21:1) when he wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: “May I have the joy of you [always], if I am worthy!” Once we recognize “always” as the redactor’s addition, it is clear that since Peregrinus was looking forward to being with the Ephesians, he must have been headed in their direction. This confirms that his expected itinerary was from Smyrna to Ephesus, not from Smyrna to Troas. He was headed back to Antioch, not away from it.
As could be expected, the expression does not appear in the letters to the Philadelphians and to the Smyrneans; for Philadelphia was far off the projected route, and Smyrna lay in the opposite direction when its letter was being composed. The prisoner did not expect to be in those cities any time soon if ever again.
And again, as expected, the telltale expression or its equivalent shows up in the two letters the prisoner wrote to Antioch. To the new bishop of Antioch the prisoner says: “I rejoice all the more that I have been found worthy to see your blameless face. May I have the joy of it [in God].” (IgnPoly. 1:1). The sense in which he has been found worthy to see the bishop’s face is that, by being forcibly returned to Antioch for execution, he expects to have the joy of seeing the bishop there. And when later in the same letter he addresses the other church officials, the prisoner predictably used the expression again: “May I have the joy of you [always]” (IgnPoly. 6:2). In the other letter to Antioch the expression is absent but there is one that conveys the same meaning: “By my prayers God has granted me to see your faces, worthy of God, and I have obtained even more than I was asking. For in chains for Christ Jesus I hope to greet you …” (IgnRom. 1:1). “I hope to greet you” means pretty much the same as “I look forward to seeing you,” so where one expression is present the other one is not needed.
Finally, “May I have the joy of you” is present in the letter to the Magnesians too, this time with the added qualifier “in every way.”(IgnMag. 12:1) But it is absent from the letter to the Trallians. This is understandable. Neither Magnesia nor Tralles was directly on the would-be martyr’s expected route. Magnesia, however, was only fifteen miles from Ephesus. And since the Magnesian church sent several representatives as far as Smyrna to see him, he appears to have expected that other members of that church would make the short trip to Ephesus to visit with him. In contrast, Tralles was more than twice as far from Ephesus. And distance probably explains both why the only Trallian representative to visit the prisoner in Smyrna was their bishop Polybius, and why visits from any other Trallian brethren at Ephesus were not anticipated.
Thus it turns out that the simple expression “I look forward to seeing you” can be used to figure out the prisoner’s original direction of travel. He was on his way to Antioch and was hoping that when he arrived the most God-pleasing council of delegates would be there to congratulate him and pray for him: “Grant me nothing more than to be poured forth as a libation to God while there is still an altar ready, so that forming a choir in love you may sing to the Father in Jesus Christ.” (IgnRom. 2:2)
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