2017-10-23

Christians, Book-Burning, Temple Destruction and some balance on Nixey’s popular polemic

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

[Updated 12 hours after original posting]

I’d like to place here some balance or corrective to Tim O’Neill’s criticism of Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. James McGrath has lent his support to O’Neill’s attack on Nixey’s book by expressing disdain for both atheists and their “gullible” audiences:

When atheists misrepresent ancient Christians as typically having been intellectual terrorists who burned great works of literature and philosophy, are they not themselves doing the equivalent themselves, burning the actual history in the minds of those gullible enough to blindly accept their claims, in order to replace our accurate knowledge of the past with their own dishonest dogma and that alone?

Just this morning I see that another biblioblog has collated some “critical reactions” to Nixey’s book.

To begin, Catherine Nixey makes it clear in her Introduction that what readers are about to encounter is a one-sided polemic.

This is a book about the Christian destruction of the classical world. The Christian assault was not the only one – fire, flood, invasion and time itself all played their part – but this book focuses on Christianity’s assault in particular. This is not to say that the Church didn’t also preserve things: it did. But the story of Christianity’s good works in this period has been told again and again; such books proliferate in libraries and bookshops. The history and the sufferings of those whom Christianity defeated have not been. This book concentrates on them. (p. xxxv, my emphasis)

It seems to me a little awry to condemn an author’s work because it accomplishes what its author intended it to do. But it is more serious to give the impression that a book denies something that it clearly does not: Nixey clearly says that the Church did, also, “preserve things”. Are we to think that even in the twenty-first-century one cannot speak ill of Christian history without attracting an avalanche of hostility?

Nixey, I understand, is a journalist and is writing for a popular audience. Often she adds little imaginative (novelistic) flourishes to fill out a dramatic historical episode. The book is neither a textbook nor original research. Nixey relies heavily on secondary literature rather than original research. That said, much of her secondary sources are highly respected scholars in the field (e.g. Robert Wilken, Dirk Rohmann).

Where to begin? Let’s return to the passage quoted above. Note that Nixey does not speak of “Christians” or “Christianity” as if these terms are labels of a monolithic movement. Christians in late antiquity were divided. Yet some of the attacks (they are more attacks than fair criticisms) appear at times to speak erroneously of Christianity as a united voice with a single attitude towards pagan learning. O’Neill writes:

The idea that the loss of ancient works came as a result of active suppression by “Christian authorities” coupled with ignorant neglect is the persistent element in these laments. In her recent debut book The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, British popular history writer Catherine Nixey harps on this theme. “Works by censured philosophers were forbidden,” she solemnly assures her readers, “and bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames.” (p. xxxii) I imagine this kind of stuff sells popular books, but if we actually turn to the evidence and the relevant scholarship, we find very little to support these ideas.

It is a powerful image, this: Christianity as the inheritor and valiant protector of the classical tradition – and it is an image that persists. This is the Christianity of ancient monastic libraries, of the beauty of illuminated manuscripts, of the Venerable Bede. It is the Christianity that built august Oxford colleges, their names a litany of learnedness – Corpus Christi, Jesus, Magdalen. This is the Christianity that stocked medieval libraries, created the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, the Hours of Jeanne de Navarre and the sumptuous gold illustrations of the Copenhagen Psalter. This is the religion that, inside the walls of the Vatican, even now keeps Latin going as a living language, translating such words as ‘computer’, ‘video game’ and ‘heavy metal’ into Latin, over a millennium after the language ought to have died a natural death.

And indeed all that is true. Christianity at its best did do all of that, and more. But there is another side to this Christian story, one that is worlds away from the bookish monks and careful copyists of legend. (– Nixey, Darkening Age, p. 140f, my bolding)

If we are still willing to read Nixey’s book after such a bald assertion about what to expect we will be taken aback to find that Tim O’Neill’s warning is very wide of the mark. We would not expect to read the following passage about the philosophical works and the attitude of “Christian clerics” more widely in Nixey’s work (again with my emphasis):

Even philosophers like Plato, whose writings fitted better with Christian thought – his single form of ‘the good’ could, with some contortions, be squeezed into a Christian framework – were still threatening. Perhaps even more so: Plato would continue to (sporadically) alarm the Church for centuries. In the eleventh century, a new clause was inserted into the Lenten liturgy censuring those who believed in Platonic forms. ‘Anathema on those,’ it declared, ‘who devote themselves to Greek studies and instead of merely making them a part of their education, adopt the foolish doctrines of the ancients and accept them as the truth.’38

For many hard-line Christian clerics, the entire edifice of academic learning was considered dubious. In some ways there was a noble egalitarianism in this: with Christianity, the humblest fisherman could touch the face of God without having his hand stayed by quibbling scholars. But there was a more aggressive and sinister side to it, too. St Paul had succinctly and influentially said that ‘the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God’.39 This was an attitude that persisted. Later Christians scorned those who tried to be too clever in their interpretation of the scriptures. One writer railed furiously at those who ‘put aside the sacred word of God, and devote themselves to geometry . . . Some of them give all their energies to the study of Euclidean geometry, and treat Aristotle . . . with reverent awe; to some of them Galen is almost an object of worship.’40

And so, in part from self-interest, in part from actual interest, Christianity started to absorb the literature of the ‘heathens’ into itself. Cicero soon sat alongside the psalters after all. Many of those who felt most awkward about their classical learning made best use of it. The Christian writer Tertullian might have disdained classical learning in asking what Athens had to do with Jerusalem – but he did so in high classical style with the metonymy of Athens’ standing in for ‘philosophy’ and that prodding rhetorical question. Cicero himself would have approved. Everywhere, Christian intellectuals struggled to fuse together the classical and the Christian. Bishop Ambrose dressed Cicero’s Stoic principles in Christian clothes; while Augustine adapted Roman oratory for Christian ends. The philosophical terms of the Greeks – the ‘logos’ of the Stoics – started to make their way into Christian philosophy.51

. . . . . .

Christianity was caught in an impossible situation. Greek and Roman literature was a sump of the sinful and the satanic and so it could not be embraced. But nor could it entirely be ignored either. It was painfully obvious to educated Christians that the intellectual achievements of the ‘insane’ pagans were vastly superior to their own. For all their declarations on the wickedness of pagan learning, few educated Christians could bring themselves to discard it completely. Augustine, despite disdaining those who cared about correct pronunciation, leaves us in no doubt that he himself knows how to pronounce everything perfectly. In countless passages, both implicitly and explicitly, his knowledge is displayed. He was a Christian, but a Christian with classical dash and he deployed his classical knowledge in the service of Christianity. The great biblical scholar Jerome, who described the style of sections of the Bible as ‘rude and repellent’,49 never freed himself from his love of classical literature and suffered from nightmares in which he was accused of being a ‘Ciceronian, not a Christian’.50

. . . . . .

Philosophers who wished their works and careers to survive in this Christian world had to curb their teachings. Philosophies that treated the old gods with too much reverence eventually became unacceptable. Any philosophies that dabbled in predicting the future were cracked down on. Any theories that stated that the world was eternal – for that contradicted the idea of Creation – were, as the academic Dirk Rohmann has pointed out, also suppressed. Philosophers who didn’t cut their cloth to the new shapes allowed by Christianity felt the consequences. In Athens, some decades after Hypatia’s death, a resolutely pagan philosopher found himself exiled for a year. (pp. 147-152)

Yet those paragraphs really are from Catherine Nixey’s own book and not from Tim O’Neill’s criticism of it. Even in focussing on “the other side” of the story Nixey still reminds readers that that narrative was neither all black nor all white.

I highlighted the reference in that last paragraph to “philosophies that dabbled in predicting the future” because another one of O’Neill’s criticisms is that

Apart from these variant Christian texts, the books that the Christian emperors were most keen on rooting out were works of divination, augury and prophecy, since all later Roman emperors, pagan and Christian, saw the private consulting of auspices or the consultation of prophecies about their rule as a potential act of sedition. Nixey tries to claim this was merely a “pretext” for the destruction of hated Classical learning, though does so with little evidence. 

and that

any “bonfires” of books in this period tended to be of the works of “heretics” from non-conformist variants of Christianity rather than works of pagan scholarship.

Unfortunately, O’Neill has not followed up Nixey’s source reference to the recent scholarship of Dirk Rohmann’s book, Christianity, book-burning and censorship in Late Antiquity: studies in text transmission (2016). I have only had time to skim sections of Rohmann’s work at this stage but it seems that the evidence points to many areas of classical philosophy being closely associated with magic, divination and Christian “heresies”. We need to approach our sources and insights into the ancient world with some nuance. It is a mistake to think of Christian heresies, pagan magic and augury etc as all belonging to genres distinct and separate from ancient works of philosophy.

The Migration of Faith project:


We are an international interdisciplinary research project investigating how the banishment of hundreds of Christian clerics to a myriad of places all around the Mediterranean during the religious controversies of late antiquity shaped the institution of the Christian Church in this period and beyond. Applying both quantitative and qualitative analysis to a wide range of sources – histories, hagiography, laws, letters, treatises, epigraphy and papyri – we are working on compiling a free online prosopographical database of banished late antique clerics and their socio-spatial networks, as well as on books, articles and further events. Our project is a collaboration between the Department of History at the University of Sheffield, the HRI Digital at the Humanities Research Institute, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Halle (together with the Patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft at the Humboldt University of Berlin), the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University, the Abteilung Byzanzforschung at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the German Historical Institute in London, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from August 2014 to October 2017.

Dirk Rohmann is a research associate of the University of Sheffield-based Migration of Faith project. I will try to select passages from Rohmann’s conclusions that point out the blurring between works of ancient philosophy and other ideas and practices Christians often sought to ban. Again, the emphases are mine.

Moreover, while there have been ancient precedents to suggest that certain philosophers were characterised as magicians, in Late Antiquity magic and heresy came to be linked more clearly to these philosophical traditions. In the case of heretics, it is particular clear that there was no exact definition, but it all depended on powerful parties arguing that someone else’s opinions, even if long since accepted, were not considered as viable any longer. Heretics were thus not only understood as non-conformist Christians, but occasionally those pagans whose opinions informed Christian-heretical discourse could also be dubbed as heretics in Late Antiquity, as opposed to the modern understanding of the term heresy that is limited to Christians. Along with imperial and ecclesiastical legislation that outlawed magical, heretical and astrological texts, I have argued that within Christian communities an unwillingness arose not only to preserve texts on these subjects but also texts that were related to these genres or were considered the basis for astrological or heretical world-views.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 3092-3100). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Thus pagan philosophy itself came to be seen as the mother of heresies.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4048-4049). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

While I do not intend to argue that by implication this means that writings containing ideas of materialist philosophy were specifically targeted in censorship legislation or that these books were regularly burnt along with heretical, magical or astrological books, my argument is that an unwillingness arose among Christian scribes to preserve any of the works that included these traditions for future generations unless for the explicit purpose of refutation. 

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4065-4068). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

. . . Libanius is criticising the educational policy of the Christian administration in a generalized and non-specific way, to avoid further conflict. . . . [T]his is significant: Libanius as a pagan scholar was witnessing the Greek cultural tradition being threatened by the suppression of paganism. Although its tone therefore acknowledges the forces ranged against him, he is clearly making a stand and this should be recognized. The epilogue to this episode is that in another speech probably given in 382 Libanius expresses his hope shortly after the accession of Theodosius that the new emperor would be more tolerant than Valens, a ruler who had persecuted philosophers. . . .

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4320-4325). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Libanius and Ammianus are two examples of pagan authors who complain that the current imperial policy is responsible for the decline of ancient literature as wordly or clerical careers no longer required education in the classics. As a consequence, it is occasionally attested that institutions which preserved these traditions were shut down. It has been argued by others that Ammianus blames the physical decline of books and libraries mainly on changing interests, but on the balance of probability I have provided evidence to suggest that he occasionally criticised the changing religious climate in a way similar as Libanius did [see insert box]. While in the case of Jerome it is clear that he felt to have the authority to exclude from long-term preservation certain works that he disapproved of, I have discussed evidence from other important Christian authors to suggest that their moral engagement with ancient literary traditions had a similar long-term influence on the preservation of literature. On the one hand, it is well known that there was a broad consensus shared by both ecclesiastical and lay authors to generally exempt classical works from demonisation, although the interest in classical authors increasingly declined in western Europe after the fourth century. Augustine, for example, frequently endorsed the works of Plato, and many Christian authors of Late Antiquity were based on Plato and other ancient philosophers, whose opinions they held in high regard as long as they did not contradict the Bible. Their strategy was to allege that these positive philosophical views were themselves influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. On the other hand, it has also become clear that texts that dealt specifically with pagan religion were considered as demonical as books on magic or divination. The most obvious example for this are the pertinent works by Varro, which are quoted and discussed by Augustine, but seem to have gone lost soon after. This chapter therefore illustrates the power that was attributed to books with different contents in Late Antiquity. Keeping in mind these specific powers of books in Late Antiquity, in the next chapter I shall discuss the evidence for the destruction of libraries either intentionally or accidentally in the wake of religious riots.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 4860-4876). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Responses to Catherine Nixey’s book would be more rounded and fair if they did not appear to bend over backwards to paint “Christianity” (as if it were a monolith) in an essentially unblemished light. Some Christians were indeed pleased to see classical learning reduced to dust and ashes:

Although there is no clear indication that books were destroyed deliberately during the sack of Rome in 410, it is interesting to note that some Christian authors described these destructions as justified and welcome from an apologetical standpoint. The need to justify the destruction and the arguments used by Christian authors illuminate the power that books had at that time as well as their link to the demonical past of the Roman Empire, a view that I have presented in the previous chapters.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 5333-5337). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

Were books burned?

Yes. Not always. But at certain times and places. There was no grand Nazi-like empire-wide totalitarian conspiracy to hunt out and destroy all non-Christian works (as O’Neill misguidedly indicates is Nixey claim), but it did sometimes happen.

Particularly in the age of Justinian, book-burning was staged as a ritual act. Persecution of pagans under Justinian involved book-burning – book-burning was even enforced systematically during this time period and included an unspecific range of pagan books, if we can trust texts such as the anonymous Life of Simeon. At least, descriptions of religious inquisitions found there are confirmed in other source material. The general picture, then, is one of increased legislation and clamping down on certain avenues of thought, largely pre-Christian, but the evidence for legal enforcement is somewhat limited before the age of Justinian. Charges of magic and of paganism sometimes provided a convenient excuse for incriminating powerful individuals who would otherwise have been exempt from book-charges.

Rohmann, Dirk. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte) (Kindle Locations 2321-2327). De Gruyter. Kindle Edition.

So when O’Neill objects that

Nixey tries to claim this was merely a “pretext” for the destruction of hated Classical learning, though does so with little evidence.

he is overlooking Nixey’s source for this claim, the recent in-depth scholarly research of Dirk Rohmann that drew this conclusion.

But book burning was not the whole or even the main story, despite O’Neill’s misleading assertion:

The key point is that there was actually no blanket disapproval of “pagan” literature and scholarship, let alone the “outlawing” of it or the Nazistyle bonfires of Nixey’s fervid imagining.

O’Neill apparently failed to register much of the book, including regular summaries such as the following (after having described outright destructions by some monks and bowdlerizing edits by others):

A slow but devastating edit of classical literature was taking place. It is true that the appalling losses of knowledge that followed were not usually the result of dramatic, discrete actions – the burning of this library, the fury of that particular abbot – though these played their part. Instead, what ensured the near-total destruction of all Latin and Greek literature was a combination of ignorance, fear and idiocy. These weapons have less narrative heft, perhaps, but when left unchecked they can achieve a great deal.

Much was preserved. Much, much more was destroyed. It has been estimated that less than ten per cent of all classical literature has survived into the modern era.35 For Latin, the figure is even worse: it is estimated that only one hundredth of all Latin literature remains.36 If this was ‘preservation’ – as it is often claimed to be – then it was astonishingly incompetent. If it was censorship, it was brilliantly effective.

The ebullient, argumentative classical world was, quite literally, being erased. (p. 166)

Tim O’Neill turns to “a key scholarly monograph on the transmission of Classical works” (Tim’s description) by Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature noting that while the authors do acknowledge that some works were indeed lost because of Christian neglect and dislike — just as does Nixey. O’Neill goes on to give a fair and accurate account of what Reynolds and Wilson do say about the two sides to the story. Presumably, the tone of Nixey’s work did not encourage him to be as fair and careful in her case.

Archaeology of Religious Hatred

To underscore the complexity of the times, to remind ourselves that Christians did not all speak with one voice and that there really was a dark side to the new religion, I quote the concluding paragraphs of The Archaeology of Religious Hatred by Eberhard Sauer. Again I highlight the most pertinent points for this discussion:

While we must not overlook the element or rhetorical exaggeration, e.g. in the number of churches and monasteries allegedly constructed, archaeology has proven that the sources are basically telling the truth, and archaeological evidence helps us to gain a visual idea of the events which unrolled themselves one-and-a-half millennia ago. Some modern scholars have set themselves the target of disproving such a dramatic end by pointing out that the number of pagan votive inscriptions, works of art and temple building projects declined prior to Christian victory in the AD 330s and continued to do so thereafter. Yet, they fail to notice that the same is true for most similar non-religious monuments, thus pointing to cultural, economic and psychological changes, sparked by the Third-Century Crisis, rather than being proof for people losing their pagan faith. Furthermore, once the avalanches of Christian image destruction had gathered momentum in the fourth century, it must have seemed increasingly pointless even for committed pagans to continue to erect stone monuments whose fate was predictable. Others believe they can disprove that violence against monuments played any major role in the total transformation of the religious landscape of the ancient world in the late Roman/early medieval transition by listing temples which have yielded no traces of violent damage. Of course, the phenomena of filling temples with debris, emptying them of the cult inventory, whether out of fear of profanation or for re-use and temple destruction, took place simultaneously. By arguing that one is in opposition to the other they are missing the point. There is undoubtedly a strong causal link between the disappearance of pagan monuments and the spread of Christianity, irrespective of how much disappeared as a result of direct destruction and how much as a result of indirect pressure.As stressed above, Christianity had much to offer, such as a clear sense of purpose in life, the promise of a blissful afterlife etc. Indeed, it had been a successful and expanding minority religion within the Roman Empire even while it was still persecuted. Christianity, in particular the Nestorian denomination, had spread widely in the Persian Empire, India, central Asia and even China by the early Middle Ages. Undoubtedly it would have established itself as a world religion without the use of force and violence, yet one religion beside others (as it was in much of Asia). However, it is equally noticeable that, as far as I am aware, nowhere in Asia, Europe or Africa did it become the majority, let alone the sole, religion by the early Middle Ages with the exception of the western and eastern Roman Empire, many of its neighbours and successor states and their zones of influence. Image destruction has to be seen in the context of other oppressive measures, such as outlawing temple visits in the early AD 390s. Those who argue that paganism by and large collapsed in on itself as people had lost interest in it and waited for something more fulfilling, ought to explain why it is that Christianity became the sole religion precisely in those states which imposed it from above and normally outlawed pagan worship and tolerated or encouraged image destruction, while in the first millennium it failed to do so anywhere else. (pp. 172-173)

That last sentence deserves to be re-read, registered and dwelt upon. Its message points to the need for more Nixeys to tell the other side of the story.


Oh the irony, the irony…..

Since writing the above post the following biblioblog (BibleX) article came to my notice: Check Your Primary Sources. It links to another post (as an example of how we get things wrong if we don’t check our sources carefully), a post by Roger Pearse that scoffs at the “illiterate nonsense” of Nixey’s book.

The author of the tweet was a certain Catherine Nixey, who is an arts journalist for the Times of London.  She has a book out claiming that the Christians deliberately destroyed almost all ancient literature, or some illiterate nonsense like that.

Check your primary sources, indeed!

(The irony is that Roger Pearse obviously has not read the book and Charles Savelle merely assumes — without checking his sources himself — that RP has it wrong.)

One might almost think that some Christian scholars still have a bit to learn about scholarly approaches to criticisms of Church history after these past 1500 years.


 

74 Comments

  • John Roth
    2017-10-23 03:27:51 UTC - 03:27 | Permalink

    Interesting. My understanding is that most, if not all, of the philosophical schools contained procedures that would be considered magical today by current occult, new age and neo-pagan practitioners; pulling these apart in a particular work might be quite difficult.

    Not everything astrological vanished: the entire corpus of Hellenistic astrology has recently been translated into English, many works for the first time. The Church’s opinion of divination using astrology or geomancy wobbled back and forth many times, as did the opinion of local Church authorities. Astrology, in particular, was taught as a standard university subject as an adjunct to medicine.

  • 2017-10-23 08:01:53 UTC - 08:01 | Permalink

    Hi,

    Thank you for your link to me! But there is a slight misunderstanding in your comment. I wasn’t writing about Nixey’s book, which I tried (evidently in vain) to make clear that I had not read and was uninterested in. I was writing about a tweet that she posted which caught my eye. I mentioned her book only because promotion of it is the context of the tweet.

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-10-23 09:26:08 UTC - 09:26 | Permalink

      You wrote:

      She has a book out claiming that the Christians deliberately destroyed almost all ancient literature, or some illiterate nonsense like that.

      That’s not a comment about Nixey’s book?

      • 2017-10-24 14:51:14 UTC - 14:51 | Permalink

        You think that makes my post about the content of her book?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-10-24 20:59:57 UTC - 20:59 | Permalink

          Surely it is clear that I confined my comment to what you said about Nixey’s book and expressed no interest in anything else.

          That you made it clear that you had not read the book that you nonetheless described as “illiterate nonsense” was my point and went to the heart of the irony I was addressing.

  • Pingback: Reprint and impact of my book on book-burning | The Migration of Faith

  • Pofarmer
    2017-10-24 04:23:29 UTC - 04:23 | Permalink

    “Instead, what ensured the near-total destruction of all Latin and Greek literature was a combination of ignorance, fear and idiocy.”

    Gee, that reminds me a lot of the U.S. Right now.

  • Marginal_Jew
    2017-10-24 07:19:35 UTC - 07:19 | Permalink

    Can you please stop giving undue importance to that underqualified troll please, it’s clear that he has apologist agenda in mind

    That guy even deny Christian antisemitism or any of the documented horrible Acts of Christian cult.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-10-24 07:42:06 UTC - 07:42 | Permalink

      Who are you talking about? Who denied Christian antisemitism and when and where?

  • Domics
    2017-10-24 15:34:53 UTC - 15:34 | Permalink

    You write that according to Nixey ” Narrative was neither all black neither all white.”

    But from her book I read about the ” Near-total destruction of all Latin and Greek literature.”

    So according to the estimates she gives the narrative is for classical literature 90% black and 10% white and for Latin 99% black and 1% white.

    So in what O.Neill or Pearce are wrong? This is exactly what the primary source, Nixey’s book, claims.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-10-24 20:45:21 UTC - 20:45 | Permalink

      Your comment confuses two different things. There is no disagreements, I presume, between Nixey and O’Neill on the statistics of how much literature survived.

      The disagreement, and O’Neill’s misrepresentation, is over the narrative that is presented to explain those statistics. O’Neill has quote-mined Nixey’s book to give readers a false impression of what she actually argues.

      • domics
        2017-10-25 07:10:48 UTC - 07:10 | Permalink

        Nixey argues that the ‘near-total’ loss of the classical literature is attributable to the Christians (directly or by negligence or ignorance or fear) and that the 10% or 1% was saved almost because it could not be done otherwise (for ‘interest’) and unwillingly (she uses terms as ‘struggled’, ‘painfully’, ‘despite disdaining’, ‘awkward ‘).
        Could you explain how this could be defined as a ”narrative neither all black neither all white”?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-10-25 08:27:22 UTC - 08:27 | Permalink

          Did you read my post in full? That’s where I cited Nixey’s words and those of her sources. How much of Nixey’s book did you in fact read? Do you think I have just made up the above quotations by Nixey?

          It is surely clear that O’Neill has misrepresented Nixey’s work by omitting her words that contradict his accusations.

          Yes, Nixey explains that she has chosen to give the dark side of the narrative because the light side has been covered well enough already — and she reminds readers from time to time of that “good” side.

          Please re-read my post and respond to what I have actually written.

          Do you not like to hear the bad side of early Christianity? Should this side be suppressed or denied? If so, why? Again, how much of Nixey’s book have you read?

  • Daniel Webstore
    2017-10-25 19:53:56 UTC - 19:53 | Permalink

    The rise of christism meant that only books of interest to christian orthodoxy were copied. “Pagan” texts simply wore out or rotted away, and were lost when they were tossed in a damp corner or used as kindling, because no one was interested in investing the time and resources to copy them. Book making was a very expensive undertaking, it required much skilled specialized labor and resources to manufacture a book before the era of mass produced paper (a Chinese invention) and mechanical printing (also a Chinese invention, see Joseph Needham’s opus).
    The ancient Jewish literary corpus was erased by the Judeo-Roman wars of 66 to 135 CE.
    The decline of the Roman economy starting in the late 3rd c. meant that libraries, both state supported and private, were no longer maintained.
    The 5th c. sack of Rome resulted in the loss of state archives and private collections of books.
    The library at Alexandria, already in a state of decline, was destroyed by theocrats (take your pick whether the death blow was dealt by christians or mohammehtians).
    The library at Caesaria, based on Origen’s collection of books, was died from neglect, Jerome mentioned its parlous state in a couple of his letters.
    The single greatest loss of Greek and Latin works from antiquity probably occurred when Constantinople was sacked by Crusaders in 12O3.
    Books can only survive in a sheltered civilized environment.

  • Daniel Webstore
    2017-10-25 20:15:46 UTC - 20:15 | Permalink

    The Korean movie “Blood Rain (2005)” depicts a pre-modern paper mill and shows how important its product was, why people would kill to get control over it.
    Paper was a hugely important invention; prior to its introduction to the West, the alternatives were not particularly satisfactory, papyrus was fragile and did not have a long shelf life in the humid environment of Europe, and parchment (leather scraped thin) books were hideously expensive (over 300 lambs/large print bible) and unwieldy.
    Books were expensive and the property of communities or wealthy individuals, a book collection represented wealth, rich men hired a librarian to maintain their books (see Letters of Pliny the Younger) the way Jay Leno hires mechanics to maintain his car collection.
    When private and public wealth declined in the late Roman Empire libraries fell into disrepair.
    As noted above books need a civilization with surplus wealth and a leisure class in order to physically survive.

  • 2017-12-10 19:29:09 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

    Forgive me if I find this a weak defense of Nixey’s (terrible) book after O’Neill’s criticisms. It appears as though Nixey’s book is considered a “travesty” by serious historians. Your first argument says;

    “To begin, Catherine Nixey makes it clear in her Introduction that what readers are about to encounter is a one-sided polemic.”

    But is admitting you’re biased a good excuse for warping history into fiction and deceiving thousands of people while you’re doing it? In my view, not at all. Indeed, Nixey’s words are irrelevant to the fact that she portrayed the ancient church in a fiction-sort-of-manner. After O’Neill demonstrated that, in fact, there were no nazi-style burning of books ever in any widespread manner or widespread period of time, rather this practice only happened in tiny and sporadic times, you wrote in defense of Nixey:

    “Yes. Not always. But at certain times and places. There was no grand Nazi-like empire-wide totalitarian conspiracy to hunt out and destroy all non-Christian works (as O’Neill misguidedly indicates is Nixey claim), but it did sometimes happen.”

    O’Neill **misguidedly** indicates is Nixey’s claim? But is that not exactly what she says? Was it not Nixey who wrote “and bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames”? This was precisely what she was saying, and O’Neill got it dead on. Quite frankly, it appears as if not even you can believe just how ridiculous Nixey’s claims are, and so have to completely reinvent her ideas.

    As for book-burning again, O’Neill has already demonstrated that Jewish, pagan, and Christian books all survived at equal rates.
    https://historyforatheists.com/2017/10/lost-books-photios-bibliotheca/

    Although some copies of specific works might have been burned at specific times by specific Christians here and there, this is largely irrelevant since it’s a demonstrable fact, as historians know, that Christians as a whole preserved these works and were interested in them. This is not because, as Nixey preposterously claims, “the Christians realized their writings were soooooooo inferior to the pagans”, in fact I personally find it closer to the opposite, it was because, as John of Damascus wrote:

    “I shall set forth the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks, because whatever there is of good has been given to men from above by God, since ‘every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’”

    This was, in fact, the prevalent view at the time, otherwise no books of ancient history or paganism wuld have survived on. Yet many Christians, realizing the contributions of their predecessors, helped preserve practically all of them that are still around. We’ve already seen that Christian books simply were not preserved at a greater rate than Jewish and pagan books. Did the Christians also find their work vastly inferior to the Jews so as to preserve them? Not at all. Pagan temples also were not destroyed at great rates — the reason why there weren’t many more built after the 4th century is because the pagans were all converting to Christianity at a ridiculous place at that time and it’s hard to fund a temple when every rich pagan is getting baptised some time next Sunday. I’m currently reading Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity and it is made rather clear just how fast pagans were coming around to Christianity.

    As O’Neill pointed out, if Nixey’s nonsense that pagan claims that contradicted their own beliefs were suppressed, then why is it that ” Aristotle’s work taught that the universe was eternal and his work was not “suppressed” but was taught widely in the Greek speaking Christian East, picked up by Muslim scholars and, via them, became the dominant authority in the medieval West”?

    O’Neill is dead on in virtually every point he makes, and again, I must quote a certain Oxford historian who independently came to the conclusion that Nixey’s book is a “travesty”. It’s quite unfortunate to see that some sector of the internet atheist movement is indefinitely launching itself into a state of fringe movements and tantrums against the authority and evidence of the modern academic world. Seeing the recent crossfire between you, Carrier, and Larry Hurtado further convinced me of why people so emotionally ingrained in their ideologies will never come around to the basic facts.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-10 20:00:32 UTC - 20:00 | Permalink

      I would like to see you comment on the quotations I used to contradict O’Neill’s claims. I think you ignored half of my post, or did I miss something?

      But is admitting you’re biased a good excuse for warping history into fiction and deceiving thousands of people while you’re doing it?

      Everyone is biased. It is unavoidable. And making a special effort to present the other side of the story that has long been forgotten is quite a justifiable process if one is clear that that is what one is doing.

      If you read the quotations I cited from Nixey’s book I don’t understand why you say she “deceived thousands of people” as if she did not write those things.

      But even if you disagree with Nixey’s book and her aims and methods, is that any reason to justify a review that also distorts and misrepresents the book?

      • 2017-12-13 22:42:50 UTC - 22:42 | Permalink

        I didn’t miss half your post, I read the full thing. If we’re going to consider Nixey’s aims, we might as well consider O’Neill’s. This is his opening paragraph:

        “Catherine Nixey, The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, (Macmillan, 2017) 305 pp. Her publisher’s blurb informs us that Nixey’s book tells “the largely unknown – and deeply shocking – story” of how a militant Christianity “extinguished the teachings of the Classical world” and was “violent, ruthless and intolerant” in an orgy of destruction and oppression that was “an annihilation”. On the other hand, no less an authority than the esteemed historian of Late Antiquity, Dame Averil Cameron, calls Nixey’s book “a travesty”, roundly condemning it as “overstated and unbalanced”. And Dame Cameron is correct – this is a book of biased polemic masquerading as historical analysis and easily the worst book I have read in years.”

        Basically, he’s saying the book is a travesty, which I think he demonstrated. Nixey’s collation of historically unsound arguments, exaggerated claims and constant misrepresentation of ancient history can’t be excused by saying “well she’s biased so let’s ignore all of her errors and falsities”. You also say:

        “But even if you disagree with Nixey’s book and her aims and methods, is that any reason to justify a review that also distorts and misrepresents the book?”

        I would hate to justify a review that distorts and misrepresents Nixey’s book, but I don’t think O’Neill’s review did that (it was in my opinion fantastic). His extensive analysis of the book and exploration of the ancient world that Nixey tries to discuss gives a very convincing explanation of why the things Nixey claims is wrong. As for the quotes you provided to contradict O’Neill, I’m assuming you’re referring to the quotes about the book burning, temple destruction, views on pagan literature, etc. You heavily rely on a single monograph. I’m pretty sure I established in my previous comment (as well as something O’Neill established at length) that this was only a sporadic type of thing in the Christian world, where only a few Christians here and there would be burning books in this or that period, and every now and then a temple got destroyed. So what? This was certainly **never** the dominant view of Christians at any period, and you seem to simply not be taking into account the many great Christians, such as Origen, who prized the intellectual pursuits of the pagans and promoted reading and studying their works in order to be able to know them and respond to them in defense of Christianity better. Of course there was some book burning every now and then — Christians are by no means the only ones to have done such things, nor did they do it at greater levels than others.

        In the end of the day, Christians seem to have preserved numerous ancient pagan works and temples, and at no period did a significant number of pagan achievements ever disappear. Are you aware that you can access Plato’s entire Republic in less than a minute? Who do you think you have to thank for that? Nixey’s book offers nothing new and challenges nothing. It’s a popular level book written by a non-specialist that is inundated with mistakes. I’d welcome a criticism of church history, but only a legitimate one.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-12-14 01:48:45 UTC - 01:48 | Permalink

          Unless I missed something, you are simply ignoring half of what Nixey wrote, just as O’Neill ignores it. I quote Nixey’s words that O’Neill (and you) simply ignore.

          Well, if you want to ignore the sections of Nixey’s book that contradict your claims about it, that’s your right. God won’t strike you dead and I guess you will feel pretty good about it all.

          • 2017-12-15 01:52:42 UTC - 01:52 | Permalink

            The only words you quoted were at the very beginning where Nixey says “I know Christians did some good stuff but this is only about the bad parts.” The problem, as I have to keep repeating now, is that Nixey got that wrong too. Quite frankly, I (and I would guess O’Neill as well) couldn’t care less about what she’s not writing about, we only care about whether or not what she **does write about** is right. And it’s not. And that’s what’s important. That’s the entire point of O’Neill’s review, and a critical and lengthy review like that is very necessary. O’Neill quotes from Nixey’s book at length, and he has probably analyzed it more than any of us have.

            I mean, if you really want to talk about what Nixey does say, then read this garbage that O’Neill quoted from:

            “Intellectuals looked on in despair as volumes of supposedly unchristian books – often in reality texts on the liberal arts – went up in flames. Art lovers watched in horror as some of the greatest sculptures in the ancient world were smashed by people too stupid to appreciate them – and certainly too stupid to recreate them. The Christians could not even destroy effectively: many statues on many temples were saved simply by virtue of being too high for them, with their primitive ladders and hammers, to reach.”

            Is Nixey really just ‘focusing’ on the bad of church history and acknowledging the good, or is she really on an agenda to spew as much garbage against church history as she can feasibly imagine? Everyone who reads what Nixey has to say will come to their own conclusions. For what it’s worth, Nixey’s claims are demonstrably false. The issue you’ve picked at in your response to O’Neill is completely peripheral to what really matters.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-12-15 02:57:53 UTC - 02:57 | Permalink

              The only words you quoted were at the very beginning where Nixey says “I know Christians did some good stuff but this is only about the bad parts.”

              Oh come on, Jimmy. You obviously have not even read the post! Or you merely skimmed it with hostile intent and missed what I did quote of Nixey’s words.

              If I want to know what Nixey says I do not rely on the tendentious selections O’Neill chooses to quote. I read her entire book for myself. Have you done that or do you rely on what someone else tells you to think about what Nixey wrote?

              What’s the big deal anyway? Is it with Nixey you are upset or with anyone daring to challenge O’Neill’s presentation of a book?

              • 2017-12-15 04:12:23 UTC - 04:12 | Permalink

                Again, I’ve read your post, and I find none of it a convincing rebuttal to O’Neill at all. I’ve already explained my issues with what you wrote about the temples, book-burning, etc.

                “What’s the big deal anyway? Is it with Nixey you are upset or with anyone daring to challenge O’Neill’s presentation of a book?”

                Nixey’s book is the problem to me. Promoting historical illiteracy when things are already the way they are is the last thing we need, especially that which is polemically directed towards Christianity. I do not see what part of Nixey’s book O’Neill has not refuted (and let’s not forget which historian called it a travesty). Perhaps I should ask you a question now. Do you think the book is worth much at all?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-12-15 06:46:47 UTC - 06:46 | Permalink

                You don’t even read my comments. Otherwise you would not continue to say you read my post when you said that my post only quoted a small intro piece by Nixey. I quoted much more and you obviously did not read what I wrote.

                Of course it was not convincing to you because you only read a couple of paragraphs and said I did not write what in fact I did write in the section you did not read.

                I think if you are worried about promoting historical illiteracy you should direct your efforts to O’Neill and persuade him not to be so polemically one-sided when it comes to church history and books he reads. O’Neill propagated the same sorts of distortions with his discussion of Hannam’s God’s Philosophers — anyone reading O’Neill’s comments would think that Hannam was the model of balance, truth and undistorted enlightenment, above all criticism. One would be forgiven for thinking that O’Neill is programmed to praise any work that paints the church in a good light and condemn any work that tries to say something negative about the historical church. O’Neill does not seem interested in balance or fairness.

                I am an open source advocate and do not believe knowledge should be kept behind paywalls or price barriers of any kind.

              • 2017-12-15 22:25:47 UTC - 22:25 | Permalink

                Calm down, I had simply forgotten the second portion of Nixey’s book that you quoted. I’ve re-read it and remain unconvinced. We both seem to recognize O’Neill demolished the factuality of Nixey’s book. The real question you want to go for is “Nixey isn’t as bad as O’Neill makes her out!” That doesn’t matter, though. I don’t care at all if O’Neill is being rude to Nixey. The **only thing** I’m concerned with is whether or not Nixey’s claims are fact or fiction. And O’Neill demonstrated they are fiction.

                O’Neill is not trying to spit at anyone who doesn’t cozy up to church history, that’s ridiculous. He’s an active atheist. He just wants to piss on people who gets their facts wrong, and indeed he does a great job at it. Can you spot a single historically factual error in O’Neill’s post?

  • D.
    2017-12-14 19:37:40 UTC - 19:37 | Permalink

    “As for book-burning again, O’Neill has already demonstrated that Jewish, pagan, and Christian books all survived at equal rates. https://historyforatheists.com/2017/10/lost-books-photios-bibliotheca/

    This is absolute rubbish. The general consenus is that ancient literature suffered its greatest loss long before the ninth century. Whatever had made it into that century, was normally safe. Then, O’Neill is basing his breakdown on a translation (!) and he doesn’t say which one. The only one I am aware of is uncomplete, this tears up the whole argument. He lumps together Jewish and pagan, although Judaism is a living religion. The most ridiculous part of this is his breakdown of works lost/preserved. What methodology is that based on? A wikipedia search? Why is Cassius Dio marked as “extant” when the whole point of Photius is that he preserves excerpts of books by Dio that are lost? Why are the Acts of Chalcedon “lost” if I can now read a translation of those acts, and so on?

    ““I shall set forth the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks, because whatever there is of good has been given to men from above by God, since ‘every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’””

    Yes, indeed, there was general consensus amongst the fathers of the church that those philosophical ideas that were compatible with the bible derived not from the philosophers but were inspired by God (through instruction by Moses). I don’t know where O’Neill gets his idea from that was a debate about this as I am unware of any.

    “Are you aware that you can access Plato’s entire Republic in less than a minute? Who do you think you have to thank for that?”

    See above

    “In the end of the day, Christians seem to have preserved numerous ancient pagan works and temples”

    I would like to see one piece of evidence that Christians preserved a pagan temple that was not turned into a church, beyond the fifth century.

    • 2017-12-15 02:12:41 UTC - 02:12 | Permalink

      This is more bad atheist history that O’Neill and others work admirably hard in order to rebut. O’Neill has in fact demonstrated that, out of the ancient works we know about, 35-38% of pagan, Christian and Judaic works were preserved. Your counter-argument is this:

      “The general consenus is that ancient literature suffered its greatest loss long before the ninth century.”

      Except that counters nothing, and is in fact not even relevant to O’Neill’s argument. What exactly where you responding to here? Again, 35-38% of pagan, Christian and Judaic works were individually preserved. This means that, it appears as though that at large, the Christians who preserved the ancient works preserved them at roughly equal rates. Is there any evidence that Christian works were preserved at a greater rate? No, because the percentages are roughly equal. The loss before the ninth century “targeted” pagan works just as much as it “targeted” Christian and Judaic works.

      “I would like to see one piece of evidence that Christians preserved a pagan temple that was not turned into a church, beyond the fifth century.”

      Beyond the fifth century? There are still many pagan temples that have survived until this day, and so you seem to be confused. Or perhaps you mean “show me a pagan temple built after the 5th century that Christians preserved”. In this case, the question is still confused since there … weren’t about any pagan temples being constructed after the 5th century to begin with. After the Roman Empire turned to Christianity, the building of pagan architecture was greatly reduced as the funding for pagan architecture was mostly came from the government to begin with. Perhaps you did not know this. As O’Neill also pointed out in his lengthy review of Nixey’s book, there is only documentary evidence for the destruction/conversion of some 42 temples, and if that wasn’t a small enough number to begin with, only 4(!) of these documentary accounts have been archaeologically confirmed. Also, you wrote this regarding the John of Damascus quote:

      “Yes, indeed, there was general consensus amongst the fathers of the church that those philosophical ideas that were compatible with the bible derived not from the philosophers but were inspired by God (through instruction by Moses). I don’t know where O’Neill gets his idea from that was a debate about this as I am unware of any.”

      I can easily see through the attempt here to twist what John wrote. He wasn’t simply referring to works that were “compatible with the bible” (as O’Neill pointed out, some works Christians preserved, notably including the likes of Aristotle, were anything but compatible with the Bible), he was referring to pagan works in general. And, indeed, as O’Neill and I point out, John’s view was the general consensus, and you agree with this — that Christians recognized the intellectual achievements of the pagan, they did not true to destroy or suppress them on a large scale as Nixey claims when she writes “bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames”.

      “Why is Cassius Dio marked as “extant” when the whole point of Photius is that he preserves excerpts of books by Dio that are lost?”

      Sorry, what? Here’s a page that you can use to access all 80 books of Dio’s work. Scroll down a bit.
      http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/cassius_dio/home.html
      As for the Acts of Chalcedon, I too have found a translation of it on NewAdvent and have posted a comment on O’Neill’s post asking him about it.

      • Pofarmer
        2017-12-15 03:11:49 UTC - 03:11 | Permalink

        (as O’Neill pointed out, some works Christians preserved, notably including the likes of Aristotle,

        Uhm, my understanding is that the Christians DIDN’T preserve aristotle. Basically the Muslims did, and Aristotle was rediscovered after the reconquest of Constantinople. It was seen as important enough that Thomas Aquinas expended some pages attempting to recon Christian Theology to it.

        • 2017-12-15 04:16:14 UTC - 04:16 | Permalink

          There were about two works of Aristotle circulating in Latin before another forty or so were recovered from the Arabs, they weren’t all gone. Few people at the time new Greek and so it was increasingly hard to preserve these works (as well as other problems). Aquinas did a pretty good job.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2017-12-15 06:48:04 UTC - 06:48 | Permalink

            Oh groan!!!! Just read Nixey and you will find that she does not say all the classical works were destroyed but that many were preserved. Read the bloody book for yourself and stop relying on O’Neill to tell you what to think.

            • Pofarmer
              2017-12-15 06:57:29 UTC - 06:57 | Permalink

              Two works circulating out of 40. I mean, that’s a pretty good record. Right? Was it Aristotle or Archimedes that they found Mathematical books had been scrubbed over and converted to prayer books. Jimmy doesn’t know it, but he’s unwittingly torching his own arguments. “I mean, there weren’t any Pagan Temples after the 5th century because none were built”. No shit, that’s the friggin point

              • 2017-12-15 22:59:17 UTC - 22:59 | Permalink

                2/40 isn’t a good record, but again, I’ve made it obvious that this wasn’t due to any suppression, hence Nixey’s thesis goes splat. The fact that there were two at all still in circulation proves there was no suppression. The only reason so many were lost is because of the circumstances of the time, the same reason why Melito of Sardis, a Christian writer, is only known today from fragments and his work has been lost.

                “Jimmy doesn’t know it, but he’s unwittingly torching his own arguments. “I mean, there weren’t any Pagan Temples after the 5th century because none were built”. No shit, that’s the friggin point”

                Ugh, what’s the point then pal? That there weren’t much pagans around in the 5th century? Besides proving that most pagans had become Christian by this time, what other point are you trying to make?

        • 2017-12-15 04:18:15 UTC - 04:18 | Permalink

          I should also add that while there was a recovery of the bulk of Aristotle’s work, there was no “recovery of Plato” or “recovery of Cicero”. The failure to preserve Aristotle on part of the Europeans was an exception and not the rule, and the temporary loss certainly isn’t something to fault Christianity for, it’s something to fault improper ancient capacity of preservation of ancient works.

          • D.
            2017-12-31 09:14:07 UTC - 09:14 | Permalink

            A bit on the reception of Aristotle’s physical treatises after their reintroduction to the Latin West

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condemnations_of_1210%E2%80%931277

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-12-31 10:09:49 UTC - 10:09 | Permalink

              Just for the record, Jimmy disappeared from this forum after I suggested that his comments reminded me of earlier posters who also expressed very strong support for Tim O’Neill. Another commentator here suggested Jimmy was really Timmy O’Neill himself and after subjecting his comments to a LIWC test I have strong suspicions he is right. I don’t think “Jimmy” will be back here to respond to your comment.

      • D.
        2017-12-15 10:18:54 UTC - 10:18 | Permalink

        “This is more bad atheist history that O’Neill and others work admirably hard in order to rebut.”

        Have I given any indication of personal beliefs/view in my post above? And if not, why attach a label to anything factual that does not fit your personal views/beliefs?

        ” O’Neill has in fact demonstrated that, out of the ancient works we know about, 35-38% of pagan, Christian and Judaic works were preserved.”

        You have no idea what you are talking about. Scholarly estimates are of course that the amount of pagan works extant is closer to 1%, and probably less than that.

        “Is there any evidence that Christian works were preserved at a greater rate?”

        Again, I can’t take you serious here at all. How come that there is only one text evidently copied in a Latin monastery before the Carolingian period (e.g. Reynolds/Marshall, Texts and Transmission, p. xvii, who therefore call this period “the dark ages”). When at the same time the number of copies extant from the fathers of the church go into the thousands, rather than hundreds. How, then, can we not call this “a greater rate”? Please can you elaborate.

        “He wasn’t simply referring to works that were “compatible with the bible””

        We have already seen that it doen’t matter what John writes. In fact I find it extremely hard to recognise in his blog a single sentence related to the question at hand that could withstand scrutiny. We should be talking about what these Christian authors actually say (the “best” of the philosophers, the divinely inspired part…), if we were going to have a serious discussion about this.

        “bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames”

        Evidently, this is a reference to the magic trials reported by Ammianus, what is wrong with the reference/quotation?

        “Sorry, what? Here’s a page that you can use to access all 80 books of Dio’s work. Scroll down a bit.
        http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/cassius_dio/home.html
        As for the Acts of Chalcedon, I too have found a translation of it on NewAdvent and have posted a comment on O’Neill’s post asking him about it.”

        I agree that I was being far too kind to call John O’Neill’s “methodology” absolute rubbish. You can’t be serious in pointing me to an online source (!) What amount of fragments of the books by Cassius Dio derive from Suidas, Excerpta Constantiniana, John Xiphilinus, and so on? How does this compare to the text claimed to be available to him by Photius? Where can I see that in your online source??
        Please stop going on about “NewAdvent”. I can see that your analysis is not even based on Wikipeida, it is based on the amount of works translated into English by the early 20th century and now available on the internet. Why not look up the amount of council acts extant today from ACO (ed. Schwartz). And unless all that happens, how can I not say that the whole point of O’Neill’s blog is to spread misinformation on the internet?

        I don’t seem to be able to follow you any longer.

        • 2017-12-15 22:53:34 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

          “Have I given any indication of personal beliefs/view in my post above?”

          Of course you did, you expressed the view that O’Neill got his facts wrong.

          “You have no idea what you are talking about. Scholarly estimates are of course that the amount of pagan works extant is closer to 1%, and probably less than that.”

          No, you’re confused again. The number of manuscripts extant are about 1%, but not the actual number of surviving works. There might have been a hundred manuscripts of the Gospel of Judas ever preserved, but it only took one to survive for the document to be extant.

          “Again, I can’t take you serious here at all. How come that there is only one text evidently copied in a Latin monastery before the Carolingian period (e.g. Reynolds/Marshall, Texts and Transmission, p. xvii, who therefore call this period “the dark ages”). When at the same time the number of copies extant from the fathers of the church go into the thousands, rather than hundreds. How, then, can we not call this “a greater rate”? Please can you elaborate.”

          There are more manuscripts of the church fathers because more people read the church fathers. This is not Christians suppressing anything. We have more manuscripts of Homer than we have of Chrysostom or Ambrose. Obviously, our manuscripts for the Bible dwarf that of the church fathers. Does that mean that the church fathers were being suppressed by the Bible believers? No, and the same principal demonstrates that pagan works were not suppressed because they are dwarfed by the more important authors of the time. Many universities of medieval Europe would readily offer the works of Aristotle and other pagans for the reading of their students. Where do you think Thomas Acquinas got his copy of Aristotle from? Did he secretly slip into the Pope’s room of banned books? LOL

          “I agree that I was being far too kind to call John O’Neill’s “methodology” absolute rubbish. You can’t be serious in pointing me to an online source (!)”

          Tim O’Neill, not John(?) O’Neill. Anyways, more nonsense. I offered you a link going to penelope.chicago.edu — did you notice the .edu part at the end? This isn’t some “online source”, it’s an official educational source containing Dio’s works. Maybe I can appease you with a citation to Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library of Dio’s 80 extant books of his Roman History.
          http://www.hup.harvard.edu/results-list.php?author=3592

          Dio’s works are extant. Maybe not 100% of everything he wrote is, but not 100% of Augustine’s writings are extant either.

          “Please stop going on about “NewAdvent”. I can see that your analysis is not even based on Wikipeida, it is based on the amount of works translated into English by the early 20th century and now available on the internet. Why not look up the amount of council acts extant today from ACO (ed. Schwartz). And unless all that happens, how can I not say that the whole point of O’Neill’s blog is to spread misinformation on the internet?”

          What’s wrong with you? I agreed that the Acts of Chalcedon appears to be extant because a quick google search of mine found a translation of the thing on a website called NewAdvent. And so, for agreeing with you, you lost your mind because I have the “wrong source”. Perhaps you’re entering into a state of hysteria now that more then half your claims have been shown to be wrong.

          I’m going to repeat it again, something O’Neill has demonstrated and you continue to fail to address. The total number of surviving pagan works from the Christian era onwards (once Christians got in charge of preserving all this stuff) is roughly equal to the total number of surviving Christian works. Not I, nor O’Neill are saying there are the same number of manuscripts for both categories, nor are we saying that all the manuscripts that ever had these works are still around today. About a third of pagan works have survived and a third of Christian works have survived, at least from Photios’s collection. If you have any evidence at all to the contrary, then please provide your own analysis and we’ll see how it goes.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 07:54:38 UTC - 07:54 | Permalink

            So, I disagree with demonstrably wrong “facts” posted by a self-confessing atheist, and this makes me a “bad atheist”? I like this kind of moral reasoning!

            “About a third of pagan works have survived and a third of Christian works have survived”

            I’m afraid this is not a starting point for discussion. I can only see you are not interested in any discussion and only want to spread misinformation. Even on the HFA blog, I can only find the 1% figure.

            What is your preferred survey of Latin texts and transmission?

            If you think it’s ok that there is only one copy (manuscript) of a classical text, but thousands of church fathers, bibles or other Christian works for that time period, then this your view. Not everyone might agree. I, for one, would call this “a greater rate” in so far as it is greater by at least the factor 1000 (and deriving from a much greater amount of works that Christian orthodox works). You might disagree. Fine. You have to respect there are other opinions. Some think that 1000 is greater than one. You don’t have to assume that someone is a bad person because they think 1000 is greater than one. Even if you think this opinion is wrong.

            Yes, I agree the 13th or 14th century is different from, say, the 7th. The 16th century is still different.

            What is your defintion of extant? A line preserved by a secondary author? At least a couple of chapters from every book of a work, even if that is from secondary authors? Where can I see that in your online source?

            How about the other council acts marked as “lost” in that blog? How do the works mentioned in the unknown translation used in the blog compare to the works actually mentioned by Photius? How many books that he claimed did he have in hand really?

            I have said before there is not much gain in doing this, even if the analysis would be half-way accurate.

            Works that made it into the ninth century were usually safe (this is more evident for Latin than for Greek works, but not very different really). The problematic period of time is the one from the 4th to 8th centuries, when the codex replaced the scroll, and Christian book production kicked in. In the above we have observed that this is also the period of time when temples and pagan art work were destroyed, turned into churches, or no longer maintained.

            You appear to think that there was no amount of time in between the 4th and 13th century.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 08:58:25 UTC - 08:58 | Permalink

            I really just had a quick look at the HFA breakdown of Photius’ claimed works from the unknown translation, this all doesn’t make sense to me. For example, how about Procopius, History? Which history? How about “Nicephorus, Historical Epitome and Nicephori gregorae Byzantina historia, cura l. Schopeni, i–ii, Bonn 1829–1830? They are all claimed lost…

            As it stands, the breakdown is of no value.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 15:12:09 UTC - 15:12 | Permalink

            Also, why is Appian lost if I can find fragements of his work on the internet?

            http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Appian/home.html

            How does this compare to the amount claimed on the blog?

            How about Themistius, orations? (ed. Schenkel, Downey, Leipzig: Teubner, 1965-1974)

            How about Lesbonax, orations? (ed. Kiehr, Leipzig: Teubner, 1904)

            Dexippus?

            Gunther Martin: Dexipp von Athen. Edition, Übersetzung und begleitende Studien. Tübingen 2006

            Isn’t Lucius of Patrae, Metamorphoses, really Apuleius, Metamorphoses?

            Isocrates, letters?

            http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0246:letter=2

            Sopater, “Various extracts”?

            SYRIANI, SOPATRI ET MARCELLINI SCHOLIA AD HERMOGENIS STATUS Rhet.

            Vindanius Anatolius?

            F. N. Niclas Lips. 1781; Lagarde Geop. in serm. Syr. vers. quae supers., Lips. 1860

            Was Agapius pagan?

            Hypeirides and Andocides, orations?
            http://www.attalus.org/info/orators.html#hypereides
            http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0018&redirect=true

            Just a quick and dirty check.

          • D.
            2017-12-16 15:16:20 UTC - 15:16 | Permalink

            Did Lycurgus write a life?

            • 2017-12-16 16:47:11 UTC - 16:47 | Permalink

              “So, I disagree with demonstrably wrong “facts” posted by a self-confessing atheist, and this makes me a “bad atheist”? I like this kind of moral reasoning!”

              Huh? Bad atheist? I never said bad atheist, although I would say you’re a *wrong* atheist for denying O’Neill’s uncontroversial documentation of what survived and what didn’t.

              “If you think it’s ok that there is only one copy (manuscript) of a classical text, but thousands of church fathers, bibles or other Christian works for that time period, then this your view. Not everyone might agree. I, for one, would call this “a greater rate” in so far as it is greater by at least the factor 1000 (and deriving from a much greater amount of works that Christian orthodox works). You might disagree. Fine. You have to respect there are other opinions. Some think that 1000 is greater than one. You don’t have to assume that someone is a bad person because they think 1000 is greater than one. Even if you think this opinion is wrong.”

              I never said this makes you a bad person. I don’t know why you’re accusing me of this. I don’t know a single church father who has a thousand manuscripts of his work. If you’re saying “collectively” the church fathers had their manuscripts in the thousands, then you must also account the pagan works collectively as well, and here we find that, collectively, pagan manuscripts number in the thousands. Homer has almost 2,000 manuscripts. Herodotus has more than 100. Sophocles has almost 200. Plato and Caesar both surpass 100 as well. So, the numbers aren’t nearly as scarce as you make them out to be. And, furthermore, if there is any reason why there are more church father manuscripts, it is because more people read them. A lot more people. There are more copies of Augustine than Tacitus for the same reason as why there are more copies of Harry Potter than Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. There is no suppression, that is my point!

              “What is your defintion of extant?”

              I don’t have an exact definition, but the fact that we have literally hundreds of pages in a modern book format preserved of Dio makes me conclude Dio is extant. I found a PDF of Loeb Library’s digital version of Dio’s work, and it’s literally over 500 pages long.
              https://ryanfb.github.io/loebolus-data/L053.pdf
              If I have any definition of extant, that must surely qualify.

              “How about the other council acts marked as “lost” in that blog?”

              Why don’t you ask Tim yourself? And assuming all those council acts you think are extant but O’Neill counted otherwise, how much would it change the percentage? I have found that if you include every single ‘Acts’ as extant in O’Neill’s summary, that would raise the percentage of extant Christian works to 39%! That is not even 2% higher than what we have for the pagan/Jewish works. Is this the extent to which O’Neill got things wrong? If so, I’m afraid his proposition still works.

              “The problematic period of time is the one from the 4th to 8th centuries, when the codex replaced the scroll, and Christian book production kicked in. In the above we have observed that this is also the period of time when temples and pagan art work were destroyed, turned into churches, or no longer maintained.”

              But we’ve also observed that this book burning/temple removal was **rather rare**. As Tim O’Neill also noted that I have refreshed my memory of yesterday, he writes “Several laws were decreed to protect art works (C.Th. 16.10.15) and esteemed buildings and temples (C.Th. 16.10.18) and Lavan notes “in regions such as Africa, Greece and Italy, temple preservation seems to have been a more prominent process than temple destruction” (p. xxxvii).”

              “For example, how about Procopius, History? Which history?”

              You’ll need to expand. O’Neill lists one of Procopius’s works as extant, one as lost. As for Appian and some others you mention, mere fragments of a work is not enough for it to be extant. Is Papias extant because we have fragments of him from Irenaeus and Eusebius? No. Plus, if you really really want to include Appian as extant, Appian is a pagan anyways and so including his works as extant would be quite counterproductive to your defense of Nixey’s empire-wide-book-burning thesis or whatever nonsense she promulgates.

              Your points do not counteract O’Neill’s findings. If they do anything at all, they only shift the percentages by a few points up for both Christian and pagan works.

              • D.
                2017-12-16 17:49:03 UTC - 17:49 | Permalink

                You wrote:

                “This is more bad atheist history”…

                You completely missed my point. When I was writing about manuscripts, I was writing about the pre-Carolingian period, because it is really uncontroversial that this was the period when the greatest loss of ancient works occured:

                “How come that there is only one text evidently copied in a Latin monastery before the Carolingian period (e.g. Reynolds/Marshall, Texts and Transmission, p. xvii, who therefore call this period “the dark ages”). When at the same time the number of copies extant from the fathers of the church go into the thousands, rather than hundreds. How, then, can we not call this “a greater rate”? Please can you elaborate.”

                I was not writing about the late middle ages or early modern period! I have said this before. The 14th century is different from the 7th!

                “*wrong* atheist for denying O’Neill’s uncontroversial documentation of what survived and what didn’t.”

                I’d say O’Neill came to his assessment simply be flipping a coin. I’m not going to comment on his website as he has a very aggressive style.

                We agree that Photius at the very best had a few titles available to him from classical/pagan authors (up to c. 250) which are lost today? This is pretty much nothing in the big picture. Even this is controversial as he might as well rely on short extracts or lexicons much in the way that Suidas did (from the 6th century or earlier). In order to come to some serious conclusions, you definitely have to have good reading skills in ancient Greek, and I can’t see this from O’Neill’s credentials. Without this, no analysis is possible I’m afraid.

                So, the greatest loss of ancient works must have occurred before the ninth century. Whatever classical titles survived until that time, was safe (certainly this is true for the west, but the east is not very different).

                ” the fact that we have literally hundreds of pages in a modern book format preserved of Dio makes me conclude Dio is extant.”

                Except that a huge part of this is from secondary quotations in Byzantine extracts, but your online sources does not account for this. Therefore, the whole point of any investigation on Photius should be to try and determine if Photius had more than we have today. Seeing that this is a very important source for Roman history.

                Concerning Appian, of course the question is: did Photius have more in hand than we have today, and if so, why? Otherwise the whole analysis is useless. I can only see one item by Procopius (of Caesarea) in that list. Since Procopius wrote a number of historical works (which are extant) you can see why the whole list amounts to flipping a coin.

                Otherwise, I can really only urge you to become acquainted with recent monographs in the area rather than to rely on an internet blog! You can find material here (above), or on the other blog. Of course, you should read material arguing for either theory. And then come to own conclusions. You seem to be relying only on O’Neill’s (highly polemical and distorted) review of Nixey’s book which is not written for academic purposes (this makes it easy to say bad things about it, but O’Neill is far worse, you can see that when he mentions one law on preserving ancient art work, and turns this into “several”, and “temples” were preserved only when they were secularised or turned into churches – the law that he mentions actually gives evidence for this). Otherwise, there is no basis to discuss this further I’m afraid.

  • D.
    2017-12-14 19:54:26 UTC - 19:54 | Permalink

    Of course, the biggest flaw in O’Neill’s “methodology” on Photius is his lack of reflection about what books Photius actually has had in hand. Could it be he is relying on epitomai from the age of Justinian as was typical for that period of time?

    But this is very characteristic of O’Neill’s approach. He is distorting facts, omitting material that has the greatest relevance to the questions at hand, arguing ad hominem, and making up his statements out of thin air, with little understanding of the research involved.

    • 2017-12-17 03:48:34 UTC - 03:48 | Permalink

      “You completely missed my point. When I was writing about manuscripts, I was writing about the pre-Carolingian period, because it is really uncontroversial that this was the period when the greatest loss of ancient works occured”

      Who cares? That has nothing to do with this conversation. Did Christians widely suppress these works or did they not? That’s the only thing that matters. I continue to see a stunning deficiency of justification for this claim of Nixey.

      “We agree that Photius at the very best had a few titles available to him from classical/pagan authors (up to c. 250) which are lost today? This is pretty much nothing in the big picture. Even this is controversial as he might as well rely on short extracts or lexicons much in the way that Suidas did (from the 6th century or earlier). In order to come to some serious conclusions, you definitely have to have good reading skills in ancient Greek, and I can’t see this from O’Neill’s credentials. Without this, no analysis is possible I’m afraid.”

      Heresy. O’Neill conducted an uncontroversial analysi that doesn’t require advanced knowledge in Greek or the literature in order to be able to doublecheck. Photios, an ancient author, happens to have provided a hefty list of ancient works he had in his possessions (or something of the sort). There are about 185 of these he lists, which is a rather large sample size given the number of actual extant works we have today from the period and region in question. So, O’Neill simply divided the works into Christian versus Jewish/pagan, and examined to see at what rate each type of authors had their works preserved. As it turns out, from this large sample size, a roughly similar amount of preservation happened. That demonstrates very effectively that these documents were being preserved regardless of the authors or contents they bore.

      “So, the greatest loss of ancient works must have occurred before the ninth century. Whatever classical titles survived until that time, was safe (certainly this is true for the west, but the east is not very different).”

      OK. How does that show Nixey isn’t a loon?

      “Concerning Appian, of course the question is: did Photius have more in hand than we have today, and if so, why?”

      No, that isn’t the question. The short answer is that he did. But that doesn’t matter, Photios simply lists a bunch of authors which lets us examine the rate of preservation of the Christian texts against the rate of preservation of the Jewish/pagan texts. These authors once were extant. The **real** question is “Are they still extant?” O’Neill answers that. There is no evidence for widespread suppression of pagan books.

      “Otherwise, I can really only urge you to become acquainted with recent monographs in the area rather than to rely on an internet blog!”

      O’Neill extensively quoted from the literature and ancient accounts to basically show Nixey was full of it. Averil from Oxford calls Nixey’s book a travesty. You and Godfrey have continued to fail to show that Nixey’s arguments are valid. At what point will you admit you did yourself in by defending Nixey when you still had inadequate knowledge? As I have demonstrated in my previous response, we literally have thousands of manuscripts of pagan works. Almost 2,000 from Homer alone. Why? Will you ever admit you’re wrong?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2017-12-17 04:18:08 UTC - 04:18 | Permalink

        How much of Nixey’s book have you read?

        Why do you keep repeating points that have been addressed in the post and comments as if they had never been mentioned and we are unaware of them? You still have nowhere given any evidence that you have read the post; your comments continue to indicate you have only skimmed a few lines of it.

        Why do you insult people? Why can’t you disagree in a civil manner with others? One would almost suspect that you are channeling O’Neill’s spirit!

        • 2017-12-17 15:55:49 UTC - 15:55 | Permalink

          Neil, you’re just like Carrier in a way. When things don’t suit you, “you haven’t even read my post!!” This is quite annoying. The only person I’ve insulted is Nixey herself.

          You claim you have previously addressed my points, but surely you haven’t. I’ve already responded to every point made so far. There is still not a figment of evidence of widespread bonfires of books in any period of Christian history. I think it’s been definitively shown that these were sporadic events and that the mainstream Christian view was to preserve the pagan and Jewish works. O’Neill, as we have seen, has shown that pagan/Jewish works have survived at roughly an equal rate to Christian works. At this point, you haven’t even denied this proposition. You continue to deny what O’Neill is saying and your reason is … O’Neill is being mean to Nixey. Really? “But Nixey said that she was only presenting the bad side of church history!” Unbelievably, I’ve actually went back to O’Neill’s post and have found that he anticipated this very response. He writes, after reviewing that Nixey wrote she is only focusing on the bad side of church history:

          “A couple of Nixey’s less competent online defenders seem to believe this gets her off the hook and means she is instantly absolved of any bias. After all, they have argued, if she states outright that she is writing to redress the balance then surely she cannot be condemned for giving her book her intended slant. As we will see, however, there is a marked difference between putting some emphasis on a neglected perspective while maintaining balance and objectivity and what we find in Nixey’s book.”

          Again, what **evidence** is there that O’Neill’s historical criticisms of Nixey are wrong? Why did Averil from Oxford call Nixey’s book a travesty?

          • Neil Godfrey
            2017-12-18 03:54:03 UTC - 03:54 | Permalink

            Neil, you’re just like Carrier in a way. When things don’t suit you, “you haven’t even read my post!!” This is quite annoying. The only person I’ve insulted is Nixey herself.

            So why insult Nixey? Why?

            If you read my post then why do you say that the only quotation of Nixey’s that I presented was from a few lines at the beginning? And you have failed to address the quotations I did provide from her book. That’s why I don’t accept with seriousness your claim to have read my post.

            You claim you have previously addressed my points, but surely you haven’t. I’ve already responded to every point made so far.

            Except to what I pointed out Nixey did in fact write.

            There is still not a figment of evidence of widespread bonfires of books in any period of Christian history. I think it’s been definitively shown that these were sporadic events and that the mainstream Christian view was to preserve the pagan and Jewish works.

            Earl Doherty in an introductory blurb to his book said that one day someone wrote a story about a man who was god. Some people took that bit of introductory hyperbole as the literal argument of his book and excoriated Doherty over it. If you had read Nixey or even what I have quoted of Nixey you would surely know that in the argument of her book she did indeed say that the bonfires, though widespread, were indeed sporadic!

            You are also overstating the case to say that “mainstream Christian view was to preserve” the pagan and Jewish works. That’s a different argument again. There was no “mainstream Christian view to preserve the pagan and Jewish works” per se.

            O’Neill . . . He writes, after reviewing that Nixey wrote she is only focusing on the bad side of church history:

            “A couple of Nixey’s less competent online defenders seem to believe this gets her off the hook and means she is instantly absolved of any bias. After all, they have argued, if she states outright that she is writing to redress the balance then surely she cannot be condemned for giving her book her intended slant. As we will see, however, there is a marked difference between putting some emphasis on a neglected perspective while maintaining balance and objectivity and what we find in Nixey’s book.”

            I disagree with O’Neill’s statement. Putting emphasis on something cannot be done without upsetting an even balance. That’s what putting emphasis on something means. It means stepping aside from a balanced narrative and even-handed objectivity. It means putting emphasis on a side of the story that has too rarely been told in recent years. O’Neill’s condemnation is self-contradictory. It makes no logical sense.

            I have also read the book. I have no problem with an author making it clear what they are doing and then following through. O’Neill apparently thinks the book should be burned! On a bonfire! 😉

            Again, what **evidence** is there that O’Neill’s historical criticisms of Nixey are wrong? Why did Averil from Oxford call Nixey’s book a travesty?

            (I don’t recall reading Averil’s review. If I did I’ve forgotten it. Nixey’s book has flaws but “travesty” I suspect might be going too far.)

            O’Neill simply ignores Nixey’s reminders that she is writing a side of the story that emphasizes something not heard lately very often. I have merely tried to point out that O’Neill’s blanket portrayal of Nixey’s book is unjustified by quoting passages by Nixey that did not support O’Neill’s accusations.

            I think the evidence for both sides of Nixey’s argument should be addressed and quoted, don’t you?

      • D.
        2017-12-17 08:17:03 UTC - 08:17 | Permalink

        “There is no evidence for widespread suppression of pagan books.” …

        … in the Byzantine empire from the late 9th to 15th century. Correct. I don’t know anyone who claims that.

        • 2017-12-17 15:57:39 UTC - 15:57 | Permalink

          “… in the Byzantine empire from the late 9th to 15th century. Correct. I don’t know anyone who claims that.”

          OK then, bub. How about from the 4th to 8th centuries? Any evidence there either?

          • D.
            2017-12-17 22:24:40 UTC - 22:24 | Permalink

            I’m afraid I’m not going to give an extensive argument on the internet. You already have some examples on this blog. If you are interested in this question, you should consult academic literature mentioned here or elsewhere. It can simply not be a serious undertaking to discuss such a complicated question on any internet blog. However, very few would doubt that Christianity had a substantially negative impact on the preservation of ancient works for a variety of reasons (not just outright book-burning). So, the question should really be about order of magnitude, and there are indeed different views on that.

            All I wanted was to address the question that you mentioned above, regarding Photius’ bibliotheke. Even if the breakdown of works would be somewhat professionally done, this has very little relevance to the question at hand. Quite often, Photius simply mentions a title, with no further information whatsoever. So, it is completely unclear where he got that information from. He might have heard about it, or like Suidas, he could be relying on the lost lexicographical works that he claims to have in hand, and probably rightly so. If you look at the titles, then the percentage of classical/pagan works (up to c. 250) already is quite low. The bulk of the work is patristic literature, and some late-antique lexicons. There are hardly a dozen titles (short works) from the classical period that he claims to have but are not now preserved in full. Even in those cases, at least we have substantial parts, unrelated to Photius’ extracts, and Photius often isn’t even claiming that he has the full work. It’s an overly optimistic (19th century scholarly) view that he really had access to many of the texts he mentions. Even those few classical titles are really inoffensive: perhaps some histories, and some texts by the Attic orators now lost. (other Byzantine works don’t show anything more of significance either). There is none of the problematic stuff (e.g. non-Platonic philosophy, drama, lyrical poetry, or indeed any poetry at all, et alone pagan religion). Maybe he had half of the texts he claims? Even if we assume he had seen them all at some point, then it sounds about right that nearly half of it is now preserved (of all the works he mentions). I think you can even read this on Wikipedia. Nearly half over the course of several centuries! Even though Constantinople was eventually invaded, pillaged and sacked. Compare this to what survived from the Roman Empire at that time. How much do we have of Latin tragedies, how much of Hellenistic literature? Even though preservation of the works was not confined to Constantinople, but spread across several centres of learning.

            There is virtually no evidence for engagement with classical literature in the preceding iconoclastic period (when people had the bad habit of destroying what their adversaries wrote, this was common in that period of time). Lots of book-burning during the age of Justinian too, persecutions of pagan scholars, pagan material was banned from schools and so on. With Photius, we are already entering the period of Byzantine humanism. You can see that what had survived up to that time, was reasonably safe. This is a period very different from the 4th to 8th centuries.

            I hope this has been clear enough now!

          • D.
            2017-12-17 22:52:23 UTC - 22:52 | Permalink

            Btw, I’d be careful to follow O’Neill’s statistics on temple destruction. This is because it is nearly impossible to come to firm conclusions, let alone statistics on that question:

            “All too often, even when perfectly excavated, the remains of a temple are not sufficiently well preserved to give us reliable evidence of its abandonment history. In the case of cities that survived into the sixth and seventh centuries, as most Roman cities did, the abandoned temples became a major source of cheap stone, and were, over time, systematically taken apart, down to the level of their foundations, or even below them. In the process, any trace of their immediate post-abandonment history will have been destroyed, and, with it, any accurate indication of when and how they were abandoned.”

            Bryan Ward-Perkins, “The End of the Temples: An Archaeological Problem”, in: J. Hahn (ed.), Spätantiker Staat und religiöser Konflikt: Imperiale und lokale Verwaltung und die Gewalt gegen Heiligtümer, Berlin: De Gruyter 2011, p. 191

          • D.
            2017-12-17 23:35:54 UTC - 23:35 | Permalink

            Or look at what Gregory of Tours (2.29) wrote about Vergil (not exactly a controversial author):

            “The gods whom thou honorest are nothing they cannot help themselves nor others; for they are carved from stone, or from wood, or from some metal. The names which you have given them were of men, not of gods, – like Saturn, who is said to have escaped by flight, to avoid being deprived of his power by his son; and like Jupiter himself, foul perpetrator of all uncleanness, derider of his family, who could not abstain from intercourse with his own sister, as she herself says: “I am the sister and wife of Jupiter”. What power have Mars and Mercury ever had ? They are endowed with magical arts rather than divine power.”

            This is fairly typical stuff. Does this show that the “mainstream Christian view was to preserve the pagan and Jewish works”?

            • 2017-12-18 03:28:01 UTC - 03:28 | Permalink

              “I think you can even read this on Wikipedia.”

              LOL. You also say that some of the academic literature talking about widespread Christian suppression of pagan literature has been documented here, but in fact not a figment of it has. On the contrary, we’ve seen O’Neill document an overwhelming amount of academic resources that clearly rebuke this, and even in your most recent post, you’ve **yet** to provide evidence for Christian suppression of pagan works. You quote Vergil, however, Vergil is only refuting paganism. Is not agreeing with paganism evidence that Christians were widely suppressing pagan literature? That is a truly nonsensical thing to say.

              O’Neill doesn’t need to be trusted on temple statistics, he simply quotes the academic literature. Have you even read O’Neill’s post? O’Neill clearly documents the academic consensus. We only have the evidence of the destruction of some 40+ pagan temples being converted/destroyed, and not even 5 of those have been archaeologically confirmed. The material of temples being reused for other architecture is not the same as converting it to a church or destroying it. What else was a 7th century “engineer” supposed to do when he didn’t have much money but there was a dusty building across the street that hadn’t been attended for 200 years? He does the smart thing, basically what any logical person on Earth would do — he would use material from the abandoned building! That’s not suppression.

              The period of Justinian was quite bad for the pagans, but of course, the fact that Justinian’s time was the only time for this to actually ever happen in ancient Christian history just confirms what I’ve always been saying: pagan suppression was a sporadic thing, never widespread. You quote Vergil’s views, but fail to quote the views of Origen and Pope Damascus who promoted the studying of pagan works. Origen and Damascus were ridiculously more powerful and influential than Vergil had ever dreamed of — some say Origen was the most educated Christian of the third century. This **was** the widespread view of Christians. Historians have long rejected the claim that there was widespread suppression of paganism in the first millennium. You should read something that Peter Brown wrote.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-12-18 06:42:08 UTC - 06:42 | Permalink

                pagan suppression was a sporadic thing, never widespread

                “sporadic” is a temporal reference; “widespread” is a spatial reference. The two are not opposites of one another.

                Events can be BOTH sporadic and widespread.

                Which is what I recall Nixey saying, btw.

                Notice to readers: I recall dealing with this “Jimmy” in the past and ended up blacklisting him as a time-wasting troll. I’ve done the same to him again this time now, too.

              • D.
                2017-12-18 07:02:23 UTC - 07:02 | Permalink

                You are confusing Gregory of Tours and Vergil (author of the Aeneid, the Latin Homer). Gregory of Tours is quoting Vergil (Iovisque et soror et coniunx), but hardly in a positive way. Probably he has never read Vergil anyway, how could he?

                I think classicists would agree Vergil easily surpasses Origen.

                You are mentioning Peter Brown, so I provide some quotations (Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, London 1989).

                “Once this wedge was withdrawn, the non-Christian found himself an outlaw in a unified state … This change was the sympytom of a rapid simplification of culture” (p. 174)

                “Throughout the seventh and eighth centuries, Rome was the Mecca of bibliophiles from the less literate provinces; but a bishop from Spain needed to be told by an angel where he could find the text he wanted in the depths of the papal library. Nothing shows the change of atmosphere more clearly than the fate of the book itself. The early Middle Ages was an age of lavish book-illumination – for the written word ceased to be taken for granted in western Europe. The book itself became a holy thing … The great Gospel-books, the liturgical books, the carefully prepared anthologies of the sermons of the Fathers, came to stand apart, along with other holy objects, in the great basilica-churches that linked the men of the seventh and eighth centuries to their awesome, partly understood past … In this new environment, the Late Antique legacy was completely transformed.” (p. 176)

                “The collapse of an independent, classical elite followed swiftly: In the late sixth century the culture of the governing class of the empire finally became indistinghuisable from the Christian culture of the avarage man. An atmosphere of intolerance, manifested in the occasional savage punishments of Jews and of the few remaining pagans, show the norms of Roman law bending before the storms of public opinion … In such an atmosphere, forgrery throve – a sure sign that the past had become cut off from the present, and had become a timeless, flat backdrop.” (p. 180-81)

                “the emergence of the holy man at the expense of the temple marks the end of the classical world” (chapter “death of the classical world”, p. 108)

                “Paganism, therefore, was brutally demolished from below. For the Pagans, cowed by this unexpected wave of terrorism, it was the end of the world. ‘If we are alive,’ wrote one, ‘then life itself is dead.” (p. 104)

                So Peter Brown links the suppression of classical culture to terrorism. This is no different from Nixey’s link to Islamic state. No disagreement here. Terrorists tend to punish occasionally, not constatntly. It’s the pending threat that makes the difference.

                You can see why it is difficult to say if a temple was at some point of time destroyed or just abandoned, when normally not even the fundaments of the temple exist any longer? That this makes it difficult to come to conclusions/statistics? And who has said that all (or most) temples were destroyed rather than abandoned? They were destroyed, abandoned, secularised or turned into churches (but not maintained).

                Origen who was condemened as a heretic at several occasions?

                John of Damascus who lived in Muslim Syria?

                Yes, a lot of Christian agree that Christians are entitled to take the spoils of gold and silver from the classical literary heritage, i.e. those parts that were of use – and leave behind the rest.

                No, the age of Justinian was not the only period of time when wide-spread persecutions of pagans occurred. You even have empire-wide book burnings before that already. Then you have a period (centuries) of banning all aspects of pagan culture.

                I’d call this suppression.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-12-18 09:14:23 UTC - 09:14 | Permalink

                Fyi — “Jimmy” began ringing too many memory bells of another “jimmy” or whatever some years ago who insists he’s a most dogmatic fundamentalist and by no means the same person as Tim O’Neill — I have no idea and don’t care. He’s a troll; a waste of time. I have put him on my spam list.

                If you really want to continue a discussion with this person I am sure Tim O’Neill can put you in touch. The two have indicated in the past that they are “very close”. Check his “History for Atheists” blog or website.

  • 2017-12-15 07:34:06 UTC - 07:34 | Permalink

    The Latin West knew about Aristotle’s logic from a translation of Porphyry by Boethius in the sixth century. Later they acquired copies of Aristotle from Christian Byzantium and the Arabs.

    Jimmy, I don’t accept that we should approach a question with the assumption that the church is going to be pure and clean and innocent in all its efforts regarding knowledge and its preservation, nor do I think we should assume that the church was out to destroy every pagan authored work that promoted what became science. That might be the black and white view you read on Tim O’Neill’s blog but I don’t think its a justified way to approach historical investigations.

    But we are missing something here that is just as important. Too often it is assumed that when the Western Latin clerics wrote about or preserved works about “nature”, they were doing it out of some interest in nature itself as we might be interested in it. But in fact they were not interested in anything that could be construed as “science”. Their motivations and interest were in using such knowledge of the ancients to overthrow the arguments of heretics. Mere preservation of certain writings does not necessarily imply an interest or positive attitude towards the subjects that the ancients had.

    As D. above says, O’Neill tends to lack the nuance the comes with genuine knowledge and understanding of the things he is attempting to talk about.

    • 2017-12-15 23:14:03 UTC - 23:14 | Permalink

      “Jimmy, I don’t accept that we should approach a question with the assumption that the church is going to be pure and clean and innocent in all its efforts regarding knowledge and its preservation, nor do I think we should assume that the church was out to destroy every pagan authored work that promoted what became science. That might be the black and white view you read on Tim O’Neill’s blog but I don’t think its a justified way to approach historical investigations.”

      I agree with this. O’Neill does as well. You go on to state he does not accept this because he lacks nuance or something, but in fact O’Neill acknowledges precisely the same thing. He says that temple destruction happened, but it is nowhere near the floating monstrosity Nixey makes it out to be. He says sometimes books were burned here and there, but again, nowhere near the empire wide bonfire that Nixey makes it out to be. O’Neill is far more nuanced than any of the commenters here, probably including myself. You claim O’Neill lacks the “genuine knowledge and understanding”, but reading his blog and yours, he’s far, far more grasped with the ancient world than you or I are. He seems to have read practically all the books and he easily sifts through complicated Roman history and archaeology, at many times referring to monographs and facts of ancient history I’ve never heard of. You also wrote this:

      “But we are missing something here that is just as important. Too often it is assumed that when the Western Latin clerics wrote about or preserved works about “nature”, they were doing it out of some interest in nature itself as we might be interested in it. But in fact they were not interested in anything that could be construed as “science”. Their motivations and interest were in using such knowledge of the ancients to overthrow the arguments of heretics. Mere preservation of certain writings does not necessarily imply an interest or positive attitude towards the subjects that the ancients had.”

      Before I actually respond, do you have any actual proof of this?

    • D.
      2017-12-16 08:31:51 UTC - 08:31 | Permalink

      “The Latin West knew about Aristotle’s logic from a translation of Porphyry by Boethius in the sixth century.”

      Isn’t Pophryry the one who initiated the Great Persecution of 313? The one who later served as legal reference for book burnings? Was not Boethius executed and while waiting for this, wrote a philosophical treatise, including references to several philosophers whom the fathers of the church condemned, but not a single reference to Christianity?

      • Pofarmer
        2017-12-17 13:09:54 UTC - 13:09 | Permalink

        “Was not Boethius executed and while waiting for this, wrote a philosophical treatise, including references to several philosophers whom the fathers of the church condemned, but not a single reference to Christianity?“

        Could you expand on why this is important?

        • D.
          2017-12-17 15:00:02 UTC - 15:00 | Permalink

          The death of Boethius, along with his father in law, Memmius Symmachus, marks the end of senatorial scholarly activity and re-editing of ancient manuscripts, from which our manuscript tradition of Latin classics normally derives because these editions somehow made it into the Carolingian period, when Charlemagne placed some copies of the original texts in monasteries of the Frankish Empire.

          In his consolation, Boethius discusses such subjects as pantheism (which only re-emerged in the early modern period, e.g. Giordano Bruno), metempsychosis and even alignment of Epicurean evolution of the world with the Platonic concept of creation, and with divine providence. This could be a reflection of rhetorical discussions from a standpoint genuinely rooted in pagan philosophy.

          Because he does not mention Christianity once in this work, this could point to a (complete or partial) fall-out with Christianity (basically you had to be Christian in that position at that time), perhaps to do with his pending execution or the preceding trial (he often complains about contemporary senatorial families).

          Criticism in this work tends to be muted, e.g. there are several allusions to Theoderic (the “Tarquinian tyrant”), although Theoderic is not mentiioned once. It is unlikely the text would have made it out of his place of imprisonment had he been more open with his views.

          Treason trials of that time normally included some kind of magic charges (i.e. accusations of pagan/philosophical views not in accordance with Christianity).

  • D.
    2017-12-18 14:37:03 UTC - 14:37 | Permalink

    Perhaps to come to a conlusion, may I add to the text by John of Damascus the part omitted by O’Neill:

    “…but whatever is hostile to the Christian truth, has been identified as the darkness of the satanical error, as an invention with which to destroy our souls”.

    https://archive.org/stream/patrologiaecurs62migngoog#page/n269/mode/2up

    Does he REALLY sound like someone who embraces ALL parts of pagan philosophy rather than those which are not opposed to the bible?

    What now, do we make out the fact that we find the first part of the quotation freely circulating on the internet, the second part hardly accessible?

  • D.
    2017-12-18 15:07:39 UTC - 15:07 | Permalink

    John of Damascus then goes on to say:

    “Whatever is depraved and attached to the knowledge of false name, I shall reject. Soon I shall cover the nonsense of the heresies hateful to God, so that, having understood their falsity, we can stick even more closely to the Christian truth.”

    Then in the main part of his work (“on heresies”), John of Damascus goes on to condemn nearly all of the classical philosophers.

    https://archive.org/stream/patrologiaecurs62migngoog#page/n347/mode/2up

    I wouldn’t call this “mainstream Christianity”, but surely this is mainstream patristic heresiology.

    O’Neill is therefore probably right to conclude “This was the position that won the debate.”

    But I’m not sure if he checked his sources…?

  • D.
    2017-12-18 21:53:25 UTC - 21:53 | Permalink

    O’Neill writes:

    “What people like Nixey neglect to mention is the fact while some prominent clergy argued that the Bible and the works of the Church fathers were sufficient for a Christian’s education, others argued that all knowledge came ultimately from God and so “pagan” learning was a gift to be used. And the key point here is that these were the Christian authorities who won the debate over the use of non-Christian learning. It was not hardliners like Tertullian, Tatian or John Chrysostom who ended up setting the intellectual agenda for Christianity for the next 1000 years, it was the more liberal and open Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Basil of Alexandria and Gregory of Nazianzus. John of Damascus encouraged his readers to study “the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks” arguing that “whatever there is of good has been given to men from above by God, since ‘every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’”(Philosophical Chapters, 1958,5). Similarly, Clement argued that philosophy was worth study because “[t]he way of truth is therefore one. But into it, as into a perennial river, streams flow from all sides.”(Stromata, I.5). Modern polemicists may sneer that these Patristic writers still saw philosophy as ancillary to or “the handmaiden” of theology, but that is essentially just condemning ancient people for not holding modern priorities. The fact remains that these were the authorities whose view prevailed, not the hardliners who the polemicists always highlight.”

    This is absolutely untrue. Not one of the authors he mentions, or indeed any Christian ecclesiastical author, holds the view that “all knowledge came ultimately from God”. Only the knowledge that did not contradict the bible “came from God”. Otherwise, how would God say one thing in the bible, another to the pagan philosophers? All of these Christian authors divide pagan knowledge into “knowledge from God/the light” and “knowledge of Satan/the darkness” (ok, maybe John Chrysostom is a tad more radical…) This does not only apply to pagan philosophy, but to all areas of knowledge.

    A significant change of attitudes came with Dante Alighieri in the 14th century. While Vergil was not allowed to see the Christian realm of paradise, he could still guide Dante to its outskirts and only had to endure lighter punishments in hell than the other classical authors.

    Get your facts right!

  • D.
    2017-12-19 09:37:21 UTC - 09:37 | Permalink

    I have now also identified the source of O’Neill’s erroneous views (posted in https://historyforatheists.com/2017/10/lost-books-photios-bibliotheca/).

    He is simply relying on E. Grant, Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus, JHU 2006, p. 110. This is because the format of the reference to John is identical with Grant (he should have given the full reference, not just the abbreviation).

    However, he completely misunderstands Grant, who nowhere in his discussion of the passage claims that “all knowledge came ultimately from God”.

    On the contrary, in his earlier book (God and Reason in the Middle Ages, CUP 2001, p. 35) Grant makes it very clear that John of Damascus was a canonical author, who therefore held the right belief: “Here again lurks the theme of despoiling the Egyptians: Take all good you can from your enemies and use it for the faith”. John sees the philosophers as enemies of human kind, who had been conquered and now needed to be despoiled to demonstrate the triumph of Christianity.

    I can clearly see through O’Neill’s atheistic bias: he is attempting to accuse of heresy ecclesiastical authors, recognised by the catholic church as canonical, and thus to spread misinformation on the internet.

    The alternative view is that he could not be bothered to even consult the English translation of the work he quotes. It is simply impossible to misunderstand John of Damascus in that way!

    This is true of all of the “evidence” he purports to show. My advice would be to reconsider the blog post.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-12-19 10:11:13 UTC - 10:11 | Permalink

      I have Tim O’Neill to thank for his citations of Grant because when I followed them up I was introduced to a trenchant debate between Grant on the one hand and French and Cunningham on the other with respect to the nature of what we call science in late antiquity and the “middle ages”. I recommend reading Before Science: The Invention of the Friars’ Natural Philosophy in order to get a more nuanced and apparently more deeply researched view than one finds in Grant’s works.

      I’m not sure about Tim’s atheistic bias, though. He more often than not advocates arguments that support traditional, even conservative, Christian perspectives.

      See my comment on Jimmy at https://vridar.org/2017/12/16/was-the-name-jesus-too-common-to-belong-to-a-deity-or-archangel/#comment-83829

  • D.
    2017-12-19 10:43:39 UTC - 10:43 | Permalink

    My comment

    “I can clearly see through O’Neill’s atheistic bias: he is attempting to accuse of heresy ecclesiastical authors, recognised by the catholic church as canonical”

    was tongue in cheek of course. But at the end of the day, his writing would indeed amount to heresy. It’s more likely he didn’t check his source, or deliberately misrepresented it.

  • D.
    2017-12-29 10:23:26 UTC - 10:23 | Permalink

    O’Neill somewhere in his “review” writes:

    “Which all sounds terrible, except both the “empty shelves” and the regretful and indignant spectators of Gibbon’s lurid passage existed entirely in his imagination. The destruction of the Serapeum is one of the best attested events in the ancient world, with no less than five accounts surviving to us, from both Christian and pagan commentators. None of them mention any libraries or books.”

    Why can O’Neill not even be bothered to check any of his sources or verify any of his claims? There can be no excuse as Edward Gibbon’s work is available freely on the internet.

    Of course, Gibbon’s source is Orosius, History against the pagans 6.15 (writing in the early 5th century, a contemporary writing for contemporaries)

    “So perished that marvelous monument of the literary activity of our ancestors, who had gathered together so many great works of brilliant geniuses. In regard to this, however true it may be that in some of the temples there remain up to the present time book chests, which we ourselves have seen, and that, as we are told, these were emptied by our own men in our own day when these temples were plundered—this statement is true enough—yet it seems fairer to suppose that other collections had later been formed to rival the ancient love of literature, and not that there had once been another library which had books separate from the four hundred thousand volumes mentioned, and for that reason had escaped destruction.”

    https://sites.google.com/site/demontortoise2000/orosius_book6

    I have no words for O’Neill’s accusations that authors are making up sources, when in reality it is only O’Neill himself who makes up all of his claims and misinformation that he is attempting to spread on the internet.

    Again, this is just another example, virtually all statements in O’Neill’s “historyforatheists” blog are simply inventions of his imagination.

    Of course, he does not allow on his blog pingbacks to websites pointing out some of his mistakes, only pingbacks from websites that suit his agenda.

  • D.
    2018-01-02 13:43:38 UTC - 13:43 | Permalink

    Again for the record, I have now posted a few of the concerns I raised in this discussion on Tim O’Neill’s blog post (this is far from comprehensive, just a starting point for discussion).

    https://historyforatheists.com/2017/11/review-catherine-nixey-the-darkening-age/#comment-1069

    As anyone can see, after some hours of “moderation”, Tim O’Neill decided to publish the first few.

    However, he refused to publish/censored three follow-up posts. I therefore posts these comments here for transparency.

    POST 1

    I didn’t know that Clement of Alexandria or Philo wrote Latin or that Philo predates Christianity (i.e. teaching of Jesus Christ) or that Augustine is using that term (where?). But we agree on the rest.

    You know as I do that Islamic scholars got their ancient knowledge from expelled and persecuted scholars (even if these were Christians rather than pagans, they were still monophysites and therefore heretics). This does not seem to suggest a high degree of tolerance in the Christian world at that time.

    So, we have now moved on from your assertion that Aristotle’s view that the world was eternal “was taught widely” in the Christian world (any reader would understand your text that way) to “OK, when that idea was first reintroduced to the Latin west via the Islamic world, it was actually condemned as heretical, people saying this could lose their livelihoods and potentially had to face the Inquisition, BUT the church was more relaxed about those Aristotelian views that did not contradict the bible”. And how many “universities” were there in the Christian world in 1210? Any evidence that this view was discussed in Oxford? Otherwise we agree on this point. There is some progress here.

    Where does Nixey claim “that any works that contained such ideas were not preserved at all”? I can not see this in your text.

    So, we have now moved on from your assertion that “both the “empty shelves” and the regretful and indignant spectators of Gibbon’s lurid passage existed entirely in his imagination” to “Oh, actually there is a source for this, and Gibbon mentions it. But personally I have some doubts that this passage talks about the Serapeum, even though Orosius in context is very clear that he is actually talking about the book collections associated with the Great Library of Alexandria”. Would it not have been more honest to put it that way in your above text? Does it not make a difference?

    What is your reason to say that “In fact, the target does seem to have been the practice of divination, for purely political reasons.” – when Ammianus writes that the books burnt were normally books on the liberal arts and on law? Yes, there was a political reason: the philosophers in question attempted to restore a pagan emperor because they felt suppressed.

    Monks in charge of early transmission of texts were not normally able to understand a full word, let alone a full sentence. Their job was to identify single letters and reproduce these. They were, however, not normally able to proofread a single word, or full sentence. The corrector (the abbot) had to do this. Otherwise they would have noted if a word was grossly misspelled or full lines omitted, as the sentence does not work. In the case of Lucretius, however, Butterfield was able to show that none of the correctors or glossators (except for Dungal) was able to comprehend the meaning of the text either. This is no surprise as the text by Lucretius is extremely difficult to read. If the correctors and glossators couldn’t read the text, how would the scribes?

    As said before, there is no evidence the text circulated in ecclesiastical or monastic circles between c. 400 and 800. All copies that you mention from the Carolingian period were distributed to monasteries of the Frankish empire by order of Charlemagne and derive from the one copy recovered by Dungal and his subsequent single work of reproduction, probably from the British Isles (but not from a monastery, which did not have any classical texts at that time). Again you can read this in Butterfield (and many earlier works on the transmission of Lucretius). As Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the pope, there was little to stop him. Certainly, no medieval scholar outside of the monastery had read the text before it was recovered by Poggio. It is also very doubtful that subsequent abbots of the monastery were aware of its existence as there is no record or title.

    So, you are not going to answer any question on your “list” of Photius. Perhaps there are a dozen or so titles from the pagan-classical period which you claim are now lost, but for nearly all of these an edition exists, which is normally unrelated to Photius.

    Again, I didn’t say that you misquote Lavan et al, only that your conclusion “The point is that, given the many thousands of temples in question, a mere 43 examples does not support the idea of some kind of Empire-wide orgy of destruction.” can not be supported from your quotation because in the vast number of cases not even the fundaments of the temple are extant, and there is therefore no way to say how many temples were in reality destroyed, let alone what happened to cult objects stored in the temple. (as to Gaul you also have to account for the fact that much of late antique Gaul was occupied by Merovingian pagans, the work of temple destruction brought on by Martin of Tours was therefore pioneering in that area).

    I can understand why your “patience” with me is beginning to wear out. This is not a place for free and unbiased discussion of religious subjects.

    POST 2

    “No more than 11 of the 109 non-Christian works are lexicons and just 4 are medical works”.

    I count 7 medical compilations/works, from authors you claim are pagan. Also, 8 titles from Jewish authors (belonging to the Judeo-Christian tradition), primarily Philo, who can easily be counted to the group of “fathers of the church”, as you also agree. But there are many more “pagan” authors that do not date to before c. 250, but to late antiquity, mostly histories. Of those that do, most titles are extant today. Where you claim this work to be lost, there normally is a modern edition available, even though it might not be the full text. But how de we know Photius had the full text?

    POST 3

    Butterfield (CUP: 2013) on Sigebert of Gembloux “Lucretius: naturam clandestinam is no doubt drawn from a prosodic florilegium” (p. 287, available on google books for those that don’t want to look it up at a university library).

    So, Sigebert of Gembloux shows no indication that he was aware that the text was still in existence. He has certainly never seen it. He was, however, aware that Lucretius was a deeply heretical and magical text as the fathers of the church agreed.

    In fact, the whole footnote in Butterfied demolishes any hope that any medieval scholar had the text (and certainly that “a long line of Christian scribes … found it interesting” as you assert in the above).

    The catalogue from Bobbio lists the author but not the title (Lib. Lucretii)

    ———-

    CONCLUSION

    It is clear that Tim O’Neill is fully aware that none of the sentences he is posting on his blog could withstand scrutiny. Not one sentence that does not, at the very least, seriously distort established academic views.

    I still find it strange that Tim O’Neill purports to discuss the subject of religious censorship on his blog, and then censors factual questions, corrections, based on the most recent scholarship, and even areas of agreement, which are all politely worded, very much opposed to Tim O’Neill’s own rudeness.

    This seems to be a common habit as anyone can grasp from O’Neill’s earlier discussion with “James Aubrey”. (I take it that “I think it might be time for you to go away” has the same meaning as “I think my patience with you is beginning to wear out.”)

    Like a late-medieval inquisitor, Tim is not interested in discovering the truth, only in burning the witch at the stake.

  • D.
    2018-01-09 23:09:22 UTC - 23:09 | Permalink

    On the question of whether or not most early medieval monks were able to read the texts they were copying, see Karl Büchner, Überlieferungsgeschichte der Lateinischen Literatur des Altertums, in: Herbert Hunger (ed.), Geschichte der Textüberlieferung der antiken und mittelalterlichen Literatur, 1. Antikes und mittelalterliches Buch- und Schriftwesen, Zurich 1961, p. 314.

    They were not.

    This is classicist freshmen knowledge!

  • D.
    2018-01-10 07:57:25 UTC - 07:57 | Permalink

    “monks were only supposed to copy what they saw on the page (and not try to correct the errors they may or may not have seen in their exemplar), but this did not protect from all corruption, especially when monks didn’t understand the text in front of them.

    Language barriers frequently separated a monk from his exemplar. A Latin speaking monk may be asked to copy down a Greek text, but even if the text was in Latin, it was a very different form of Latin than what he would be used to. By the middle ages, the Latin language had regionalized and evolved into something that was nothing like the archaic Latin of Ancient Rome, both in grammar and syntax, much like the difference between modern English and Middle English. Some people thought this was for the best; Poggio, a major (and enthusiastic) figure in copying culture during the Renaissance, believed that understanding the text was not favorable, as it would introduce the possibility of more hypercorrection errors because monks would feel more comfortable correcting their own language. This would make the manuscripts more precise in their readings, but may be dangerous if a scribe was unable to recognize if he himself made a major error in copying a foreign language.”

    https://sites.dartmouth.edu/ancientbooks/2016/05/24/medieval-book-production-and-monastic-life/

  • D.
    2018-01-10 15:41:37 UTC - 15:41 | Permalink

    “Despite these literary pursuits majorly dominating monastic life, the reading culture present in monasteries was not a positive reinforcement of a love for the written word so forced upon the monks. Reading and copying were indeed treated as manual labor, and that added a negative connotation of and intense distaste for reading. Benedict’s Rule creates daily silent meals, where no one was allowed to speak for any reason, other than the “weekly reader”–the person in charge of mandating a certain holy book or other to the entire dining room (ch. 48). Even the weekly reader’s enthusiasm for reading was crushed, because the rule dictates that the reader should pray to God for salvation from pride in his important task of reading to the masses.”

    (source as above)

    Lucretius an “interesting” text for monastic readers? Lucretius the very incarnation of the deadly sin of pride? As in pride demolishing religion?

    quare religio pedibus subiecta vicissim
    opteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo

    Really??

  • D.
    2018-01-12 06:36:09 UTC - 06:36 | Permalink

    Butterfield, The Early Textual History of Lucretius’ De rerum natura, Cambridge 2013, p. 7: “no evidence survives that anyone between the tenth century and 1417 read Lucretius directly”.

    Tim O’Neill: “Even Lucretius’ De rerum natura, with its Epicurian atomism, survives to us because of a long line of Christian scribes that found it interesting even if they disagreed with many of its key ideas.” (without reference)

    The last author to disagree with Lucretius is Isidore of Sevilla (7th century). However, it is very unlikely that Isidore read Lucretius directly.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *