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The Journal of Theological Studies, NS, 2011

THE APOCALYPTIC SECTION OF TESTAMENTUM DOMINI: AN ATTEMPT AT DATING


ALISTAIR C. STEWART
Sherborne, Dorset priesttheologian@sherborneabbey.com

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Abstract
The Testamentum Domini begins with an apocalypse of independent origin. Should it be possible to date this apocalyptic fragment that, in turn, would provide a terminus a quo for dating the church order. Whereas this apocalypse is often dated to the fifth century, this article suggests that it reflects events in the Roman Empire around the time of the rise of the Sassanid Empire in Persia and the consequent persecution of Christians, and that the antichrist depicted is a Zoroastrian priest; this, in turn, indicates a third-century date.

THE Testamentum Domini is unique among the church orders in that it begins with an apocalypse. The apocalypse describes the manner in which corrupt and fratricidal rulers would arise.1 There would be signs in the heavens (a bow, horns, and lights) and on earth (as deformed and strange births are seen);2 the church would fall into corruption and there would be famine and aZiction among all nations.3 Then the son of perdition would arise,4 who should lay waste to the eastern empire:
Then Syria shall be a spoil of war and shall lament her children. Cilicia shall lift up its neck until the appearance of the one who shall judge her. For from her seat of glory there shall arise the daughter of Babylon to drink of the potion which has been mixed for her. Cappadocia, Lycia, Lycaonia shall bend their backs, as many multitudes shall be injured through their destructive wickedness. Then the camps of the barbarians shall lie open as many chariots go forth to cover the earth. Through all of Armenia, Pontus, and Bithynia the young shall fall by the sword and their sons and daughters shall be led captive, whereas those of Lycaonia shall be mixed in blood.
1 2 3 4

Testamentum Testamentum Testamentum Testamentum

Domini Domini Domini Domini

1.45. 1.67. 1.8. 1.9.


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Pisidia, which was boastful and trusted in its riches, shall be razed to the ground. A sword shall pass through Phoenicia, for they are children of corruption. Judah shall clothe herself with lamentation, and shall prepare for the day of her destruction, on account of her impurity. Then shall he gather the abomination of desolation. The east shall be opened up by him and also shall the roads be opened up by him. A sword and ame shall be in his hands, as he burns with anger and with the re of his wrath. These are his weapons for the destruction of the children of earth, the elimination of the faithful and the way of bloodshed. For his way is error, his strength is blasphemy, his hand is for deception and his right hand is for disaster and his left hand is for darkness.5
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This gure is then described:


His head is like a burning ame, his right eye is mixed with blood, his left is black and blue, as he has two pupils. His eyelashes are white, his lower lip is large whilst his thigh is delicate and his feet are at. His middle nger is broken and at. This is the sickle of desolation.6

The church order is thus presented as a means by which the church might be set in order so that the faithful may remain faithful amidst the trauma of the coming of the end. If this apocalypse could be dated it would at least provide a terminus a quo for the dating of the church order itself. The apocalypse is not the composition of the redactor of Testamentum Domini but had independent existence and has been adopted as an introduction to the church order material. For beyond the setting of this apocalypse in Testamentum Domini a clearly related apocalypse is extant in a collection of material prexed to the Ethiopic version of Epistula apostolorum.7 Beyond this there are a fragment in Latin, containing the description of the son of perdition and of signs accompanying his coming,8 and a distinct Syriac version in a manuscript in Cambridge.9 Both the Latin version and the Cambridge Syriac version have some interesting variants. The Latin concludes with the
5 Testamentum Domini 1.10, following the edition of Ignatius Ephraem II Rahmani, Testamentum Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Mainz: Kirchheim, 1899). 6 Testamentum Domini 1.11, again, here, following Rahmanis text. 7 Le Testament en Galilee de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ, ed. L. Guerrier and S. Grebaut (PO 9.3; Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1913). 8 Apocrypha anecdota: A Collection of Thirteen Apocryphal Books and Fragments, ed. M. R. James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893), pp. 1514. 9 J. P. Arendzen, A New Syriac Text of the Apocalyptic Part of the Testament of the Lord JTS, OS 2 (1901), pp. 40116.

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statement: Dexius erit nomen antichristi. This, however, is surely a scribal note which does not assist in dating the original.10 More interesting is the variation in the Cambridge Syriac. In the version of Testamentum Domini published by Rahmani the signs of the end are given as follows:
After the famines and plagues and disorders among the nations then princes who love money shall rule and come to power, who are enemies of the truth, who kill their brothers, liars, who hate the faithful, who are proud, who love gold, of a single race but not of a single mind, as each seeks to destroy the life of their allies. However, within their forces there shall be great disturbance, and ight, and bloodshed. There shall arise in the west another gentile king . . . 11

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To this we may compare the Cambridge version (here giving Arendzens translation):
After the famines and pestilences and tumults that shall be amongst the nations, then shall rise up governors, lovers of money and haters of truth, boasters, lovers of gold. Kings then shall there be reigning in the east, inglorious, thoughtless, not grown up, boys, lovers of gold, of one race but not of one mind, for each of them shall try to destroy the life of his fellow and in their dominions there shall be great oppression and ight and bloodshed. But in the west there shall arise a king of another race . . .

Arendzen suggests that the clause regarding kings reigning in the east found here and not in Rahmanis text is original to the apocalypse and has been omitted from the Testamentum Domini on the grounds rst of the repetition of the term lovers of gold, which might readily cause omission by the similarity of the word, whilst an interpolator would be less likely to introduce a term already employed, and secondly because the reference to kings reigning in the east balances the following statement about a king in the west. He goes on from there to suggest that the king in the west is Alaric and those in the east Arcadius and Theodosius II. He nds support for this identication (and consequent dating) through observing the state of Asia Minor at the time, noting that Philostorgius description of the contemporary state of aVairs in Hist. Eccl. 11.8 ts well with the description of corruption and bloodshed in Asia given by the Testamentum.12
10 Though cf. below. According to Arendzen, New Syriac text, p. 401, n. 2, Harnack considered it original. 11 Testamentum Domini 1.45. 12 Arendzen, New Syriac text, pp. 4023.

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Philostorgius is also employed by Bidez, who partially follows Arendzen, to assign a fth-century date to this apocalypse on the basis that it describes the collapse of empire under Gothic invasions. He identies the kings of the east with Constantius III and Theodosius II whilst the western king is Athaulf;13 Bidez thus compares the various apocalyptic events described in the Testamentum to some passages in the eleventh book of Philostorgius. As Bleckmann points out, however, elements such as famine and civil war, alongside heavenly signs, are part of the standard apparatus of apocalypse, and there is nothing specic which would oblige us to place this particular example in the early part of the fth century.14 The parallels adduced by Bidez are inexact. Bleckmann suggests, moreover, that the description of the eastern kings does not t with Constantius and Theodosius, as they are not of the same family. Indeed, he nds no candidate from the fth century who readily ts the guise either of the leader in the west or the princes of the east. He suggests, in turn, that the third century might be the genesis of this apocalypse. In particular he points to the identication in the Latin version pointing to Decius and, moreover, to the fact that emperors as persecutors of Christians ts more readily with a third-century milieu.15 Whereas the identication of Decius as the antichrist may well be a later interpolation, a scribal note added either to the Latin text or to its Greek original, and cannot, therefore, be used as evidence, there is nonetheless a strong possibility that the third century may provide a context for this apocalypse. In particular, the Persian invasions of the eastern empire might provide the apocalyptic atmosphere, and may indeed be being described in apocalyptic guise. Bleckmann, however, is not the rst to suggest such a context, although the earlier discussion is apparently forgotten. According to Weinel, K. F. Neumann hat aus der Antichristschilderung die Gestalt des Maximinus Thrax erkennen wollen.16 Weinel comments that the following church order
13 Joseph Bidez, Philostorgius Kirchengeschichte (3rd edn.; Berlin: Akademie, 1981), pp. cxvcxix. 14 Bruno Bleckmann, Apokalypse und kosmische Katastrophen: Das Bild der theodosianischen Dynastie beim Kirchenhistoriker Philostorg, in Wolfram Brandes and Felicitas Schmieder (eds.), Endzeiten: Eschatologie in den monotheistischen Weltreligionen (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008), pp. 1340, at 17. 15 Ibid., pp. 1819. 16 Heinrich Weinel, Die spatere christliche Apokalyptik in Hans Schmidt (ed.), EYXAPISTHPION: Studien zur Religion und Literatur des alten und

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material is nonetheless signicantly more recent. However, in keeping with the conventions of the period, no reference is given to Neumanns work. Nonetheless Karl Johannes Neumann (sic), in writing regarding the period of the martyrdom of Hippolytus and Pontianus,17 states that the apocalypse of Testamentum Domini refers to the election of Maximinius Thrax and his consequent persecution of Christians. Maximinus is not, however identied here with the antichrist, rather with the king who arises in the west. Neumann, however, does promise an excursus on Schapur I als Antichrist der Apokalypse im Testamente des Herrn but the book itself concludes in the middle of a sentence in the rst excursus. It appears that a continuation volume was to have been printed, but I have been unable to locate any copy. The same Neumann, in a review, states again that this apocalypse relates to the persecution under Maximinius Thrax.18 He goes on to state that the apocalyse concerns Shapur the rst, and, moreover, that the reference to fratricidal rulers is a reference to Caracalla and Geta. This latter identication, however, will not work as these were not eastern kings (Neumann, here, was writing before the publication of the Cambridge fragment). Nonetheless it may be worth giving further consideration to Neumanns identication of the apocalyptic events with those taking place in the far east of the empire in the third century associated with the rise of the Sassanid Empire. In this light we may enquire as to the candidates for identication as the fratricidal kings in the east. One possibility is that they are Ardashir and Shapur, who were related (though were not at war with one another); it seems more likely that they are Vologeses VI (20727) and Ardav n (21224), brothers whose a discord and civil wars brought about the rise of the Sassanid Empire. The manner in which the son of perdition sweeps through the east may then reect the manner in which the Sassanid Empire triumphs in the eastern provinces. The identication of the antichrist with Shapur apparently essayed by Neumann thus makes sense. A further candidate, however, from the same period, may also be mentioned, namely Kerdir, high priest under a succession of Sassanid Kings. In his own
neuen Testaments (Gunkel FS) (Gottingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1923), pp. 14175, at 145. 17 Karl Johannes Neumann, Hippolytus von Rom in seiner Stellung zu Statt und Welt (Leipzig: von Veit, 1902), pp. 1389. 18 Karl Johannes Neumann, untitled review in Literarisches Centralblatt fur Deutschland 20 (1894), p. 707.

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account of his activity, inscribed at Naqsh-i Rustam, he notes the extent to which he had furthered the cult of Zoroaster, whereas Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and Nazarenes and Christians and Baptists and Manichaeans were smitten in the Empire, and idols were destroyed and the abodes of the demons disrupted and made into thrones and seats of the gods.19 As such he is certainly a candidate. The catalogue of conquest to the west of Shapurs empire also has echoes of the catalogue of destruction in the apocalyptic fragment. Thus:
also in the land of Aneran, the res and magians which were in the land of Aneran where the horses and men of the king of kings reachedthe city of Antioch and the land of Syria and what is attached to the province of Syria, the city of Tarsos and the land of Cilicia and what is attached to the province of Cilicia, the city of Caesarea and the land of Cappadocia and what is attached to the province of Cappadocia, up to the land of Graecia ( Pontus?) and the land of Armenia and Iberia ( Georgia) and Albania and Balasagan up to the Gate of the Alans, Shapur, king of kings, with his horses and men conquered them all and he took booty and burned and laid them wastethere too, at the command of the king of kings, I made arrangements for the magians and the res which were in those lands, I did not let them be harmed or taken as booty, and those which anyone had thus taken as booty I took and allowed them back to their own land.
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Certain aspects of the description of the son of perdition may also point towards a Zoroastrian priest, namely that his head is stated to be like a burning ame, that one eye has two pupils, that that his nger is broken. The head like a burning ame may reect the headgear of Zoroastrian priests, representing the aming heads of the gods. Thus at Taq-i Bustan a relief showing the coronation of Ardashir II shows Mithras as a priest, with ames emanating

19 All citations here are from Kerdirs autobiographical inscription at Naqsh-e Rajab, employing the translation found at 5http://www.humanities. uci.edu/sasanika/pdf/Kerdir.pdf4 (viewed on 3 Aug. 2009). An initial version of the inscription with some account of its discovery may be found at M. Sprengling, Kartr, founder of Sasanian Zoroastrianism, American Journal of  Semitic Languages and Literature 62 (1940), pp. 197228. There is some recent discussion of the inscription and of the position of Christians under the Sassanids in Peter Bruns, Beobachtungen zu den Rechtsgrundlagen der Christenverfolgungen im Sasanidenreich, Romische Quartalschrift 103 (2008), pp. 82112, esp. 859.

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from his head. Coins similarly show Mithras with a rayed crown.21 Secondly, the statement regarding the eye with two pupils may reect a belief that the gure is some form of magus. Persons with double pupils are discussed by Pliny, and attributed to those who otherwise exercise some form of magical activity, such as oating on water.22 Finally a nger is said to be broken.23 After this the text states that he or possibly it (the nger) is a sickle of desolation. In the Syriac published by Rahmani it is clear that the son of perdition is himself said to be the sickle of desolation as the demonstrative ( ) is masculine whereas the word for nger ) is feminine. However, the Latin iste est falx is less clear ( whether the man or his digitus is intended; given that in the underlying Greek original a masculine demonstrative would refer either to the son of desolation or to his nger (d0ktulo") we may be justied in suggesting that the nger of the son of desolation is compared to a sickle which lays waste, rather than that this gure is himself said to be a sickle. Thus the Apocalypse of John similarly states that his ngers are like sickles.24 A broken nger not properly set might well be bent like a sickle. However, the curved forenger is a sign of respect or worship within Sassanid culture;25 Kerdir himself is depicted beside his own inscription at Naqsh-e Rajab with a nger which, bent, looks like a sickle and the same gesture, shown to Zoroastrian deities, is found on coins. If this gesture is transmitted through material culture and not understood beyond its cultural context it might well be seen as a broken, or overlarge, nger, like a sickle. In the light of this narrative we may return to the identity of the king in the west. It is certainly possible that the king in the west was Maximinus, as Neumann suggested. This western king enters the narrative after the kings in the east, and so the
20 An image may be viewed at 5www.hp.uab.edu/image_archive/ugp/relief03. jpg4 (viewed on 3 Aug. 2009). 21 See R. Gobl, Sasanian Numismatics (Braunschweig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1971), plates 336. 22 Nat. Hist. 7.2. 23 There is divergence among the versions as to which nger this is. The Cambridge version states that the nger is large as a sickle. 24 Found in Apocrypha anecdota, ed. James, p. 156. 25 So note Jamsheed K. Choksy, Gesture in Ancient Iran and Central Asia II: Proskynesis and the Bent Forenger, Bulletin of the Asia Institute 4 (1990), pp. 2017, at 2045.

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candidacy of Decius cannot be ruled out either. This gure is singled out as a persecutor of Christians, an enthusiastic collector of taxes and a successful military leader, criteria which t both emperors, though the statement that the king is of another race perhaps ts Maximinus better. Arendzen states that his identications of the gures of the apocalypse with those of the fth century are suggestions only, at best a working hypothesis.26 No more than that is claimed for this contrasting identication, which points towards a thirdcentury genesis for the apocalyptic material, though even if the identication of the gures with those of the Sassanids of the period is found wanting, the genesis of the apocalyptic section may well still relate to Persian persecution of Christians to the east of the empire.27 If any plausibility is admitted this means that a rather earlier terminus a quo for the Testamentum Domini overall becomes available even as a Syrian provenance is conrmed. There is no consensus on the date of this document, scholarly opinion ranging between the mid-fourth century to the sixth.28 If the apocalyptic section is from the third century, and not the fth, the former date becomes possible.
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Arendzen, New Syriac Text, pp. 4023. For an account of which see Bruns, Beobachtungen. See the discussion by Grant White, Daily Prayer and its Ascetic Context in the Syriac and Ethiopic Testamentum Domini (Joensuu: University of Joensuu, 2002), 401.