Making Sense of the Letters and Travels of Ignatius (Peregrinus?)

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by Roger Parvus

This post is a continuation of Invitations to Watch a Martrydom: The Letters of Ignatius (or Peregrinus). . .

In my previous post I argued that the so-called letter to Polycarp was originally a letter from Peregrinus to the man who, after restoring order in the church of Antioch, had been installed as that church’s new bishop. The letter was one of three that the prisoner wrote after learning that the dissension in the church in Antioch had come to an end.

In the other two letters (those addressed to Smyrna and Philadelphia) he urgently requested that Ambassadors of God be appointed to go to Antioch to rejoice with that church.

In the so-called letter to Polycarp, on the other hand, there is an urgent request for the convocation of a most God-pleasing council and, in connection with it, the appointment of a Courier of God.

This most God-pleasing council, I maintain, was convened in Antioch— not Smyrna—and it is one and the same with the gathering mentioned in Lucian’s TDOP* that drew delegates “even from cities in Asia to succour, defend and encourage” the would-be martyr Peregrinus.

* TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.


(added by Neil)

Two sets of letters

The letter to the Romans

Originally written to the church at Antioch

The route

Problems with traditional reconstructions

The Peregrinus hypothesis removes these problems

A plausible reconstruction

The Peregrinus hypothesis removes difficulties found in the letters

A telltale expression

A phrase seen as relatively insignificant by commentators is shown to occur consistently in a certain context and accordingly adds weight to the hypothesis that the letters were originally written by Peregrinus on his way to Antioch.


Two sets of letters

The letters to Philadelphia, Smyrna and to Polycarp purport to have been written from the port city of Troas while the prisoner was waiting to board ship. But, as we will see shortly, they were probably written while he was waiting at a different port.

The other letters in the collection—to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome—were written before the prisoner knew the outcome of the in-fighting at Antioch. Because the four letters in this group would have been written at least a few days before the three letters in the other group I will refer to them, for the sake of brevity, as set 1 and will call the others set 2.

The set 1 letters were written in Smyrna during a stop there by the prisoner’s military escorts. The bishops of three of the churches addressed by those letters—Ephesus, Magnesia and Tralles—had traveled, accompanied by a few other members of their flocks, to visit with the prisoner at Smyrna. The letters written to their churches were likely carried back by them when they made their return trips. I see no serious reason to question that these three letters were in fact addressed to the churches they purport to address. I cannot say the same about the other set l letter: Romans.


The Letter to the Romans

The message of the letter to the Romans is loud and clear. It is basically a sustained plea: “Don’t try to get me released, for I want to die for the Name.” Continue reading “Making Sense of the Letters and Travels of Ignatius (Peregrinus?)”



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

by Roger Parvus

5th post in the series by Roger Parvus. The complete series is archived here.

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.

So far I have called attention to the many similarities between Peregrinus and the author of the so-called Ignatians. I have explained that, to account for the similarities, it is not enough to simply claim that Lucian, for his portrait of Peregrinus, probably borrowed from Ignatius. It is not enough, for instance, to say with William Schoedel that “Lucian (as Lightfoot and others have suggested) probably had Ignatius in mind when he wrote the following concerning Peregrinus: ‘They say that he sent letters to almost all the famous cities more or less as testaments, counsels, and laws; and he appointed … certain of his companions as ambassadors… for the purpose, calling them messengers of the dead and couriers of the shades…” (“Ignatius of Antioch,” p. 279). Or to say with Allen Brent that “Lucian, as he describes Peregrinus, endows him with many of the characteristics of Ignatius as typical of an imprisoned Christian martyr.” (“Ignatius of Antioch – A Martyr Bishop and the origin of the Episcopacy,” p. 50). That explanation doesn’t work. That kind of borrowing by Lucian would only have compromised his ridicule of Peregrinus. He couldn’t have expected to convincingly expose Peregrinus by substituting a lot of characteristics from someone else, especially when he was writing so soon after the demise of his target. People would have noticed that his portrait was false.

But I have also now shown that the letters themselves contain puzzling features that point to a different explanation for the similarities. The similarities exist because the letters were in fact written by Peregrinus, but the puzzles exist because changes were later made to the letters to disguise his authorship. Fortunately, with help from TDOP, enough telltale traces of the true provenance of the letters remain so that the puzzles can be solved. Authorship by Peregrinus provides a more convincing reason for the urgency of the request that Ambassadors of God be sent from Asia to Antioch. And that request for Asian Ambassadors matches up with the presence of Asian delegates in Syria who, according to Lucian, helped, defended and encouraged Peregrinus. My theory also provides a more convincing reason for the request that a most God-pleasing council be convoked. And it can plausibly reconstruct the circumstances of Peregrinus’ arrest and detect the route that was originally in the letters. It can give a definite meaning to the otherwise vague expression “May I have the joy of you.” Moreover the theory can explain, for instance, why the name of Polycarp is not found in the letter to the Smyrneans, but is found awkwardly lodged in another letter. And why, for instance, only in the so-called letter to Rome is there no mention of a bishop, presbyters and deacons. And it can explain the ‘filtering out’ that has occurred in the church addressed by that letter. Other lesser anomalies find similarly satisfying solutions. And, of course, since Peregrinus at some point became an apostate, there is an overall plausible reason why a later Christian would have needed to disguise the letters if he wanted to use them.




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by Roger Parvus

Peregrinus longed to seek glory by dying like Heracles in the flames. Death of Hercules, Raoul Lefèvre, Histoires de Troyes, 15 century

2nd post in the series by Roger Parvus. The complete series is archived here.

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.

In my previous post I showed that Peregrinus, as described by Lucian, bears some resemblance to the man who wrote the letters commonly ascribed to Ignatius of Antioch, and I proposed that the reason for their similarity is that the real author of the letters was Peregrinus. In his adult life he was first a Christian, but later abandoned Christianity to become a Cynic philosopher. So, some of the similarities noted are those that existed between those two periods of his life.  According to Lucian, what characterized Peregrinus was that he “always did and said everything with a view to glory and the praise of the multitude.” (TDOP 42, Harmon). And his glory-seeking was already clearly present in his Christian days when the governor of Syria freed him because he realized that Peregrinus “would gladly die in order that he might leave behind him a reputation for it.” (TDOP 14, Harmon). So I see it as quite plausible that many of the ways he pursued glory as a Cynic would be similar to the ways he pursued it earlier as a Christian.

When, as a Cynic, he sought to die a fiery death, he sent out letters to publicize the event. Earlier, I maintain, when he sought to die a martyr’s death as a Christian, he sent out letters too, among which are the seven so-called Ignatians. As a Cynic enamored of death, he gave titles to the messengers who spread the news of his upcoming leap to glory. I submit that the similar titles present in the letter collection are an indication that earlier, as a Christian enamored of martyrdom, he had already engaged in that practice. The specific titles were different, of course, because of the difference in his affiliation. But the very idea of giving titles to the messengers is the same. And as a Cynic he proclaimed his desire to dissolve into thin air via fire so as to imitate Heracles. To this would correspond his earlier proclamation, as a Christian, that he desired to be visible no more, and to be — courtesy of a painful execution by the Romans — an imitator of the passion of his God. And, as I see it, his adoption of new names to mark important moments in his life was not something he only began once he became a Cynic. No, the greeting at the head of each of the seven letters from “Ignatius who is also Theophorus” shows that it was already there during his Christian period. His becoming a prisoner in chains for Christ was one of those moments that called for a new name. (In a later post I will come back to this and look more closely at the name he took to mark the occasion).




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

by Roger Parvus

English: Ignatius of Antioch
Image via Wikipedia

The complete series is archived here.

I am genuinely grateful to Neil for allowing me to present on his blog a series of posts explaining my theory about the letters commonly attributed to Ignatius of Antioch. It should be understood that his permission does not imply that he concurs with the theory or any part of it. These posts will be a condensed, revised version of the main arguments contained in my self-published book “A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and other Apellean Writings.” In particular I will argue

(1) that the seven Ignatian letters that comprise the ‘middle recension’ were originally letters written by Peregrinus c. 145 CE,

(2) that he was an Apellean Christian i.e. a follower of the ex-Marcionite Apelles, and

(3) that later, towards the end of the second century, the letters were modified by a protoCatholic Christian.

By way of preliminaries I would first point out that the kind of scenario I am proposing for the letters should not be dismissed out of hand. The authenticity of the letters has been questioned by many in the last three hundred years. And it is a fact that there exist versions of them that are acknowledged as spurious by all (e.g. the longer recension of the letters) and that early Christians at some point composed entire Ignatian letters that all scholars recognize as spurious (e.g. the letters of Ignatius to Mary; and to Hero; and to the Tarsians). It is likewise a fact that already in the second century many Christians, with perhaps the best of intentions, were engaged in less-than-straightforward literary efforts. Christian pseudepigraphical writing was not rare and even produced works that made it into the New Testament.

The scenario I am proposing for the Ignatians is similar. I am proposing that some letters written by Peregrinus were later reworked, so that the lofty sentiments they contain would be safe and suitable to inspire other Christians facing persecution by the state. Peregrinus was, for a time, very popular with his Christian brethren and he composed a number of written works for them. But eventually he was caught in an infraction for which they expelled him. He abandoned Christianity and embraced the Cynic discipline. So, if any of the writings of this near-martyr were to later be salvaged for use by the protoCatholics, his name would have had to be removed from them and their true provenance disguised. I maintain that his name was removed from some letters he wrote and replaced with the name of a martyr mentioned by Polycarp in chapter nine of his Letter to the Philippians: Ignatius.

I want to also point out that my theory should not be summarily dismissed on the grounds that a 145 CE date of composition for the original letters is clearly too late. Eusebius, in the fourth century, was the first to claim that the letters were written in the reign of Trajan (98 – 117 CE). A number of scholars have recognized that his dating is untrustworthy, and that the letters should be dated later. To give some recent examples: Allen Brent says “we can…, if we like, place Ignatius’ work towards the end of Hadrian’s reign (AD 135)” (p. 318 of his 2006 book “Ignatius of Antioch and the Second Sophistic.” And Paul Foster, in his “The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers” (2007), placed the composition of the Ignatians at “sometime during the second quarter of the second century, i.e. 125 – 50 CE, roughly corresponding to Hadrian’s reign or the earlier part of Antoninus Pius’ period in office” (p. 89). Timothy Barnes, in a 2008 article in ‘The Expository Times,’ concluded that the letters were written “probably in the 140s” (p. 128). And Richard Pervo, in his “The Making of Paul” published in 2010 says “A date of c. 130 – 140 is the preferable date for Ignatius” (p. 135). Earl Doherty too, in his “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man,” does not have a problem with dating the letters to the third decade of the second century. (p. 296). So I am hardly alone in abandoning the Eusebian date.

Finally, I want to acknowledge upfront that my Ignatian theory is basically a combination and development of ideas first put by others. Daniel Voelter, in his “Polykarp und Ignatius und die ihnen zugeschriebenen Briefe,’ proposed that Peregrinus was the author of the letters attributed to Ignatius. And Josephe Turmel, in his “Lettres d’Ignace d’Antioche,” (written under the pseudonym ‘Henri Delafosse’) argued that the original author of the letters was a Marcionite. Alfred Loisy, in reviewing Turmel’s theory, agreed but specified that he seemed to be a moderate Marcionite such as Apelles (“un marcionite assez mitige sur certain points… tel Apelles” – “Remarques sur la Litterature Epistolaire du Nouveau Testament,” p. 168). It occurred to me that Apelles held a number of quite distinctive doctrines and that, if indeed the letters were written by Apelles or a follower of his, traces of those doctrines might still be detectable in them. My decision to follow up on Loisy’s suggestion was the first step in the development of my theory. Continue reading “THE LETTERS SUPPOSEDLY WRITTEN BY IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH”