Freethought Archives > Walter R. Cassels > Supernatural Religion 

PART TWO

CHAPTER 8.

TATIAN - DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH

FROM Marcion we now turn to Tatian, another so-called heretic leader. Tatian, an Assyrian by birth, [366:1] embraced Christianity and became a disciple of Justin Martyr  [366:2] in Rome, sharing with him, as it seems, the persecution excited by Crescens the Cynic [366:3] to which Justin fell a victim. After the death of Justin, Tatian, who till then had continued thoroughly orthodox, left Rome and joined the sect of the Encratites, of which, however, he was not the founder, and became the leading exponent of their austere and ascetic doctrines. [366:4]

The only one of his writings which is still extant is his Oration to the Greeks (Logos pros Hellênas). This work was written after the death of Justin, for in it he refers to that event, [366:5] and it is generally dated between AD 170-175. Tischendorf does not assert that there is any quotation in this address taken from the synoptic Gospels; [366:6] and Dr. Westcott only affirms that it contains a "clear reference" to "a parable recorded by St. Matthew," and he excuses the slightness of this evidence by adding: "The absence of more explicit testimony to the books of the New Testament is to be accounted for by the style of his writing, and not by his unworthy estimate of their importance," [366:7] a remark which is not very pertinent, as we know nothing whatever with regard to Tatian's estimate of any such books.

The supposed "clear reference" is as follows: "For by means of a certain hidden treasure (apokryphou thêsaurou) he made himself lord of all that we possess, in digging for which though we were covered with dust, yet we give it the occasion of falling into our hands and abiding with us." [366:8] This is claimed as a reference to Matt. 13:44: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hidden (thêsaurô kekrymmenô) in the field, which a man found and hid, and for his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field." So faint a similarity could not prove anything, but it is evident that there are decided differences here, and the passage does not warrant the deduction that he must have derived it from our Matthew, and not from any other of the numerous Gospels which we know to have early been in circulation. Ewald ascribes the parable in Matthew originally to the Spruchsammlung or collection of Discourses, the second of the four works out of which he considers our first Synoptic to have been compiled. [367:1]

Although neither Tischendorf nor Dr. Westcott thinks it worthwhile to refer to it, some writers claim another passage in the Oration as a reference to our third Synoptic. "Laugh ye: nevertheless you shall weep. " [367:2] This is compared with Luke 6:25, "Woe unto you that laugh now: for ye shall mourn and weep. " [367:3] Here, again, it is not possible to trace a reference in the words of Tatian specially to our third Gospel. If there be one part of the Gospel which was more known than another in the first ages of Christianity, it was the Sermon on the Mount, and there can be no doubt that many evangelical works now lost contained versions of it. Ewald likewise assigns this passage of Luke originally to the Spruchsammlung[367:4] and no one can doubt that the saying was recorded long before the writer of the third Gospel undertook to compile evangelical history as so many had done before him.

Further on, however, Dr. Westcott says: "It can be gathered from Clement of Alexandria ... that he (Tatian) endeavoured to derive authority for his peculiar opinions from the Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians, and probably from the Epistle to the Ephesians, and the Gospel of St. Matthew." [367:5] The allusion here is to a passage in the Stromata of Clement, in which reference is supposed by Dr. Westcott to be made to Tatian. No writer, however, is named, and Clement merely introduces his remark by the words, "a certain person" (tis), and then proceeds to give his application of the injunction, "not to treasure upon earth where moth and rust corrupt" (epi gês mê thêsaurizein hopou sês kai brôsis aganizei). [367:6] The parallel passage in Matthew 6:19 reads: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt," etc. (mê thêsaurizete humin thêsaurous epi tês gês, k.t.l.). Dr. Westcott, it is true, merely suggests that "probably" or "perhaps" this may be ascribed to Tatian, but it is almost certain that it was not attributed to him by Clement. Tatian is several times referred to in the course of the same chapter, and his words are continued by the use of phêsi or graphei, and it is in the highest degree improbable that Clement should introduce another quotation from him in such immediate context by the vague and distant reference, "a certain person" (tis). On the other hand, reference is made in the chapter to other writers and sects, to one of whom with much greater propriety this expression applies. No weight, therefore, could be attached to any such passage in connection with Tatian. Moreover, the quotation not only does not agree with our Synoptic, but may more probably have been derived from the Gospel according to the Hebrews. It will be remembered that Justin Martyr quotes the same passage, with the same omission of from a Gospel different from our Synoptics. [368:1]

Tatian, however, is claimed as a witness for the existence of our Gospels, principally on the ground that he is said to have compiled a Gospel which was generally called Diatessaron (dia tessarôn) or "by four," and it is assumed that this was a harmony of our four Gospels.

Our information regarding this Gospel in the writings of the Fathers is, as we shall see, of the scantiest and most unsatisfactory description, and critics have arrived at very various conclusions with regard to its composition. Some of course affirm, with more or less of hesitation, that it was nothing else than a harmony of our four canonical Gospels; many of these, however, are constrained to admit that it was also partly based upon the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Others maintain that it was a harmony of our three Synoptics together with the Gospel according to the Hebrews; whilst many deny that it was composed of our Gospels at all, and either declare it to have been a harmony of the Gospel according to the Hebrews with three other Gospels whose identity cannot be determined, or that it was simply the Gospel according to the Hebrews itself, by which name, as Epiphanius states, it was called by some in his day. [368:2]

Before proceeding to discuss this work we must consider the date which must be assigned to Tatian's literary career. According to Eusebius, Justin suffered martyrdom AD 165, [368:3] and the generally-received theory is that his death may be set about AD 163-165. Tatian's literary activity seems to have begun after his master's death, "and after this we have to allow for his own career, first as an orthodox Christian and then as a heretic." [368:4] It is argued by some that Tatian was no longer living when Irenaeus wrote of him in the first book of his great work, which, it is said, must be dated between AD 178-190; but this is far from certain, and the expressions used by no means necessarily convey such an inference. Nor does the mention of the "Assyrian" by the Alexandrian Clement as one of his teachers, [369:1] in the first book of the Stromata, written not earlier than AD 195, throw much light upon the date, nor, indeed, the fact of Rhodon having been one of his disciples. The Address to the Greeks, the only one of Tatian's works which has been preserved, was written, as has already been said, after the death of Justin, and is generally dated about AD 170-175. This work was certainly written before he had adopted the heretical views which led to his separation from the Church, so that, at least, the date assigned to this composition is some slight indication of the phases of his career. If, therefore, we assume even AD 170 as the date of the Address, the Diatessaron, which was condemned and destroyed as heretical, must, at least, be assigned to a still later period. Dr. Lightfoot, who, without arguing the point, thought the date AD 170-175 "probably some years too late" for the Address,  [369:2] assigns the Diatessaron to AD 170; [369:3] but, unless good reasons can be given for dating the Address earlier than AD 170-175 -- and these have not been forthcoming -- it is probable that the Diatessaron, must have been compiled at a later date. The Address is completely orthodox, and no one who has attacked Tatian's later views has, apparently, been able to discover even a heretical tendency in its vigorous arguments. Some years must, therefore, reasonably be allowed to elapse before Tatian's opinions changed and led him to arrange a Harmony of Gospels in accordance with them. Probably the date assigned to it should not be earlier than AD 175-180, [369:4] and the later part of this term may be considered the more reasonable. We have no information whatever as to the date of Tatian's death.

If we examine contemporary writings, or such extracts as have come down to us, for information regarding the works of Tatian, we meet with references to several of his compositions. His pupil -- Rhodon -- as quoted by Eusebius, promises to write a work in answer to one by Tatian, in which he professes to explain certain obscurities in the sacred writings. [369:5] Irenaeus denounces some of his heretical views in no measured terms. [369:6] His disciple -- Clement of Alexandria -- refers to his treatise On Perfection according to the Saviour[369:7] and likewise attacks his peculiar opinions, but makes at the same time copious use of his Address, to the Greeks. The author of the work against the heresy of Artemon, quoted by Eusebius, cites Tatian as an apologist along with men like Justin and Clement, and as maintaining the divinity of Christ. [370:1] Tertullian, [370:2] Hippolytus, [370:3] and Origen [370:4] refer to him, and combat his opinions. None of these writers, however, make any mention of a Harmony of Gospels in connection with Tatian, nor does any writer prior to Eusebius.

The first time, then, that we hear anything of a Harmony of Gospels ascribed to Tatian, or meet with any trace of such a work, is in the mention of it by Eusebius, writing some century and a half after the Harmony is supposed to have been composed. Eusebius says in the well-known passage: "Tatian, however, their former chief, having put together a certain amalgamation and collection, I know not how, of the Gospels, named this the Diatessaron, which even now is current with some." [370:5] Beyond the mere statement that Tatian made some kind of Harmony of Gospels, which was called Diatessaron, nothing could be less explicit than this passage. It seems to be based upon mere hearsay, and the expression "I know not how" (ouk oid' hopôs) does not indicate any personal acquaintance with the composition to which Eusebius refers. Dr. Lightfoot argues, on the contrary, that, "so far from implying that Eusebius had no personal knowledge of the work, it" (the expression) "is constantly used by writers in speaking of books where they are perfectly acquainted with the contents, but do not understand the principles or do not approve the method. In idiomatic English it signifies 'I cannot think what he was about,' and is equivalent to 'unaccountably,' 'absurdly,' so that, if anything, it implies knowledge rather than ignorance of the contents." [370:6] Dr. Lightfoot gives references to a number of examples of its use in the treatise of Origen against Celsus, but when examined they do not in the least prove his point. It is certain that ouk oid' hopôs is frequently used to express partial, as well as complete, ignorance -- ignorance of something in a book, as well as absence of acquaintance with a book itself; but it always indicates ignorance, real or assumed. If we look at the passage in Eusebius itself, there is nothing to indicate that the words are intended to express anything but imperfect knowledge, or that Eusebius wished to indicate disapproval of such a work. In his Epistle to Carpianus Eusebius writes of a similar Harmony of Gospels by Ammonius not only without censure, but with approval. If his purpose had been to condemn the Diatessaron, he would have said more than this. As it is, he has chronicled the existence of the work without a detail evincing acquaintance with it; but, on the contrary, with a distinct expression of ignorance. The best critics on both sides, amongst whom may be mentioned Credner, Hilgenfeld, Holtzmann, Reuss, Scholten, Zahn, and others, are agreed in inferring that Eusebius had no personal acquaintance with the Diatessaron.

It must be admitted that the words of Eusebius give a very scant account of a work of which not a trace has been found in the extant literature of a hundred and fifty years after its supposed composition. Not only are we not told anything of the peculiarities or arrangement of its contents, but we are left in total ignorance even of the language in which it was written. This absence of information is particularly to be regretted in the case of such a work as a Harmony of the Gospels, which, from its very nature, cannot have borne an author's name, and the identification of which inevitably became more difficult as time went on. Continuing our search for information regarding it, we find the rapidly increasing Christian literature a complete blank so far as any Harmony of Gospels by Tatian is concerned. Neither Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, nor Jerome, who refer to other works of Tatian, make any reference to it. We have mentioned incidentally that, in his Epistle to Carpianus, Eusebius refers to a similar Harmony of Gospels by Ammonius. No writer mentions the Diatessaron again until we come to Epiphanius, writing about the end of the fourth century, or some two hundred years after its compilation. He makes the following remarkable statement: "It is said that the Diatessaron Gospel owes its origin to him (Tatian), which some call the Gospel according to the Hebrews." [371:1]

It is almost universally agreed that Epiphanius, the second writer who refers to the Diatessaron, had as little personal knowledge of the work as the first (Eusebius); but several important points are to be deduced from the report which he chronicles. In the first place, it is quite clear that, as has been suggested above, the name of Tatian was not attached to the Diatessaron. Had it been so, the expression, "it is said," could not have been used. By the time of Epiphanius the connection of Tatian with his Harmony had already become merely conjectural. How is the fact that some called it the Gospel according to the Hebrews to be explained? It is unnecessary to press the possibility that what had been understood to be Tatian's Diatessaron was nothing but the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which, from having matter common to our Gospels, was mistaken for a Harmony. The Gospel according to the Hebrews was, we know, used by the Encratites, the sect to which Tatian belonged, and at least nothing can be more probable than the hypothesis that, in a Harmony compiled after he had separated himself from the Church, he must have made use of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, to which his followers were attached. Two facts which we know should be borne in mind in connection with this confusion, if confusion it be, of the Diatessaron with the Gospel according to the Hebrews, that this Gospel was constructed on the lines of our first Synoptic, and that it omitted the genealogies, both of which peculiarities are said to be characteristic of the Diatessaron.

More than half a century passes before we meet with any fresh mention of Tatian's work, and then we come to a more detailed statement regarding it than we have yet discovered. Writing about AD 453, Theodoret gives the following account of what took place in his diocese:

"He [Tatian] composed the Gospel which is called Diatessaron, cutting out the genealogies and such other passages as show the Lord to have been born of the seed of David after the flesh. This work was in use not only among persons belonging to his sect, but also among those who follow the apostolic doctrine, as they did not perceive the mischief of the composition, but used the book in all simplicity on account of its brevity. And I myself found more than two hundred such copies held in respect in the churches in our parts. All these I collected and put away, and I replaced them by the Gospels of the Four Evangelists." [372:1]

It will be observed that Theodoret does not say that the Gospel of Tatian was a Harmony of four Gospels, but merely that it was "called Diatessaron," and it is difficult to suppose that, if it merely omitted "the genealogies and such other passages as show the Lord to have been born of the seed of David after the flesh," a bishop, even in the fifth century, could confiscate two hundred copies of a book when books were so scarce and precious. What could be expected from a Harmony of Gospels but omission of some matter contained in them? One is tempted to think that when Theodoret speaks of "the mischief of the composition," he had in his mind more than these omissions, though he does not enter into full detail. In any case, the omissions specified are all that is added to our knowledge of the Diatessaron by the statement of Theodoret.

It may be well to refer here to an apocryphal Syriac work, called the Doctrine of Addai, giving a copy of correspondence alleged to have taken place between "the Lord Jesus Christ and Abgar, King of Edessa." A very early date is assigned to it by many, but Dr. Lightfoot "cannot place it much earlier than the middle of the third century," [373:1] and it might safely be set much later. In this little work an account is given of the Church at Edessa, and it is said that the people assembled for prayer and to hear read, along with the Old Testament, the "New of the Diatessaron."  [373:2] This might well be explained as a mere reading of four Gospels, but there are certain reasons for believing that it really means a Harmony. Zahn has quoted the following rule from the Canons of Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa (AD 412-435): "Let the presbyters and deacons have a care that in all the churches there be provided and read a copy of the distinct Gospel." This "distinct" Gospel is understood to be opposed to the Harmony of four Gospels, and light is thrown upon the point by the fact that, in the Syriac Gospels of Cureton, the first Gospel is described as the "Distinct Gospel of Matthew," meaning, probably, the Gospel in a separate form. Taking this with the statement of Theodoret, it is probable that the Diatessaron referred to was that which he confiscated in his diocese. Be this as it may, however, it is clear that, beyond the fact that the Diatessaron was read, we have no further information from the Doctrine of Addai as to the contents of the Diatessaron, the particular Gospels from which it was compiled, their reputed authors, or even the name of the person who prepared the Harmony.

The next reference to the Diatessaron which has to be considered comes from Victor of Capua, about the middle of the sixth century. Victor met with a harmony entitled Diatessaron, which, as we have already shown to be naturally the case with all such compilations, was anonymous, and he consequently endeavoured to discover a probable author for it. He went to Eusebius for information, and in his Ecclesiastical History, he found the mention of a Diatessaron attributed to Tatian, which has been quoted above; and in his Epistle to Carpianus, prefixed to the Canons, he met with the account of another ascribed to Ammonius. The description of the Diatessaron of Ammonius of Alexandria given by Eusebius may now be quoted: "He placed by the side of the Gospel according to Matthew the corresponding passages of the other Evangelists, so that, as a necessary result, the sequence in the three was destroyed so far as regards the order of reading." [373:3] Victor, however, read the passage of Eusebius with a singular variation from that which we have, and cites him as saying that the Gospel which Tatian composed out of four was entitled Diapente, or "by five." [374:1] Whether the copy of Eusebius before him had this reading, or whether he corrected Eusebius from the contents or from the title of his Harmony, cannot now be definitely settled; but there is the distinct statement, and it is all the more curious since he has just said "unum ex quatuor," and it is, therefore, difficult to explain the immediate statement of Diapente as the title, which contradicts the description, except as a copy of something before him which he records. Dr. Lightfoot argues that Victor, who knew Greek, can hardly have written Diapente himself, and attributes the curious reading to the blundering or officiousness of some later scribe. [374:2] But to write Diapente for Diatessaron is scarcely like a slip of the pen, and the discrepancy between the Harmony and the name must have been very striking to render probable the theory of officiousness. I will let Dr. Lightfoot's own words state the result of Victor's investigation: "Assuming that the work which he had discovered must be one or other, he decides in favour of the latter (Tatian), because it does not give St. Matthew continuously and append the passages of the other Evangelists, as Eusebius states Ammonius to have done."  [374:3] A little later, Dr. Lightfoot adds: "Thus, Victor gets his information directly from Eusebius, whom he repeats. He knows nothing about Tatian's Diatessaron except what Eusebius tells him." We have seen that this was little enough. Dr. Lightfoot expresses a very decided opinion (which he afterwards modifies) that Victor was mistaken in ascribing the authorship to Tatian, but the discussion of this point must be reserved for a more appropriate place further on.

In seeking for mention of the Diatessaron of Tatian in extant literature, we have already had to make wide strides through time, but these must now be increased. In a Glossary of Bar-ali, written about the end of the ninth century, we have the next reference to the work: "Diastarsun (otherwise Diakutrum); the Gospel which is the Diatessaron, made by Tatian, the compiled Gospel. A gospel made sense for sense on the sense of the combined four apostolic Gospels. It contains neither the natural nor the traditional genealogy of our Lord Christ; and he who made it -- namely, Tatian -- has on this account been anathematised." [374:4] There can be little doubt that Bar-ali derives his information from Theodoret, and does not know the work himself.

We have to pass over a long period before we again hear anything of the Diatessaron. We receive some important information regarding it from Dionysius Bar-Salibi, who died AD 1207. He wrote a Commentary on the Gospels, in which there is the following statement:

"Tatian, the disciple of Justin, the philosopher and martyr, selected and patched together from the four Gospels and constructed a Gospel, which he called Diatessaron -- that is, Miscellanies. On this work Mar Ephrem wrote an exposition; and its commencement was: 'In the beginning was the Word.' Elias of Salamia, who is also called Aphthonius, constructed a Gospel after the likeness of the Diatessaron of Ammonius, mentioned by Eusebius in his prologue to the Canons which he made for the Gospel. Elias sought for that Diatessaron, and could not find it, and, in consequence, constructed this after its likeness. And the said Elias finds fault with several things in the Canons of Eusebius, and points out errors in them, and rightly. But this copy [work] which Elias composed is not often met with." [375:1]

Mar Ephrem of Edessa, who is here referred to, is said to have died about AD 373, and it is a very curious fact that we hear of such a commentary, upon which the whole argument regarding the Diatessaron of Tatian has recently turned, a thousand years after the composition of the Harmony, and some eight centuries from the date of the alleged commentary. About eighty years later than Bar-Salibi, another Syrian father, Gregory Bar-Hebraeus, tells us: "Eusebius of Caesarea, seeing the corruptions which Ammonius of Alexandria introduced into the Gospel of the Diatessaron, that is Miscellanies, which commenced, 'In the beginning was the Word,' and which Mar Ephrem expounded, kept the four Gospels in their integrity, but pointed out the agreement of the words by Canons written in red." [375:2]

Mr. J. Rendel Harris has recently pointed out that this apparent contradiction, which arises from a use of the fragment given by Assemani, does not really exist, and that the MSS. of Bar-Hebraeus, which are accessible to us in England, continue the foregoing passage as follows: "And he (i.e., Eusebius) confessed as a lover of truth that he took his cue from the labours of that man (i.e., Ammonius). For Tatian, also the disciple of Justin, the Philosopher and Martyr, patched and composed the Gospel of the Combined, and because the sequence of Mark, Luke, and John was lost, he defined the ten Canons only," etc. [375:3]

The important question may still be put: was the Diatessaron upon which Mar Ephrem commented really that of Tatian? The mere statement that it began with the sentence, "In the beginning was the Word," does not afford much help for identifying the special Diatessaron because many other Harmonies may have adopted the same obviously appropriate opening; and we must all the more regret that the Diatessaron which, according to the Doctrine of Addai, was publicly read at Edessa, is not more clearly identified, for it might naturally be the work upon which a Churchman of Edessa may have written a commentary.

So little is really known of the Diatessaron of Tatian that there is no certainty even as to the language in which it was composed. Zahn and the majority of modern critics are of opinion that the original was written in Syriac, but Harnack states strong reasons for maintaining a Greek original.

We now come to comparatively recent times. The Armenian monks of St. Lazaro published, in 1834, four volumes of translations into Armenian of works of Ephrem Syrus, which contained a Harmony of the Gospels apparently beginning with the passage John 1:1. Aucher, the editor of Ephrem, made a Latin translation of the Commentary in 1841, which, being amended by Professor Mösinger, was published in 1876. [376:1] This is said to be the commentary which Ephrem is reported to have written upon Tatian's Diatessaron. The editors state their opinion that the Armenian version was written about the fifth century, and that it is a translation from the Syriac. Zahn long ago pointed out that the Commentary is evidently based upon exegetical lectures, probably delivered to theological classes, perhaps the subsequent record of a student. [376:2] Ephrem, moreover, or the writer of the "Commentary," whoever he may be, never himself calls the work upon which he is commenting the Diatessaron, nor mentions Tatian, but sometimes and occasionally Evangelium. There is, in fact, nothing whatever apart from the tradition preserved by Bar-Salibi and the note of the translator, written long after the time of Ephrem, to indicate that this is a commentary upon the Diatessaron of Tatian. The order is not always the same in the passages selected for comment as that of the Harmony of Victor, or of the Arabic Diatessaron, of which we shall presently speak, and the texts of all have been so manipulated that no literal importance can be attached to them.

We may now conveniently return to the Latin Harmony of Victor of Capua. It will be remembered that he was completely in doubt as to the authorship of the compilation which had come in his way, and as to whether he should ascribe it to Ammonius or to Tatian. Finally, upon mere conjecture, he decided in favour of Tatian. Regarding this Dr. Hemphill writes:

"Victor of Capua himself is an important witness; for he was skilled in both Greek and Latin, and was a man of considerable eminence as a scholar and controversialist. And his solitary reason for attributing his discovery to Tatian is that he found one passage in Eusebius which spoke of Tatian having compiled a patchwork Gospel, which he judged to be the same, substantially, as that which accidentally came into his hands. Not one other allusion to Tatian's work does Victor mention; and the conclusion is that, but for the statement of Eusebius, he would have remained perfectly ignorant that such a work had ever existed The Latin Harmony, as it now exists in the Codex Fuldensis, represents not the harmony as it was found by Victor, but the Harmony as it was modified and edited under his direction. The index, which somehow escaped revision, does not in all cases agree with the body of the Codex, from which we gather that the latter may have been to some extent changed in order, and interpolated as in the case of the genealogies; while the text which Victor found has been changed piece by piece into the Vulgate of St. Jerome." [377:1]

Victor, making perfectly free use of the Latin Harmony which he had found, and altering it to suit his orthodox views, had it transcribed, and his fine manuscript has come down to us in the Codex Fuldensis, which is admitted to be almost the best authority for the text of the Vulgate version of the Gospels. It is no evidence, however, for the text of Tatian's Diatessaron, with which, in the first place, it cannot be identified, and to which, if it could, it no longer bears any likeness.

It must be apparent that the theory that the original of this Harmony, which was done into Latin, was that of Tatian, and not the Diatessaron of Ammonius or someone else who may have compiled a Diatessaron in the course of the four centuries between Tatian and Victor, rests upon a most unsubstantial basis. The most striking characteristic of Tatian's work, as we have seen, was the omission of the genealogies, an omission which led to its being anathematised by the Church. In the index which is cited to prove that the original Latin Harmony began with John 1:1 we also find the genealogy, V. de generatione vel nativitate Christi. It is not possible, upon any real grounds of evidence, to identify this Harmony with the Diatessaron of Tatian.

We now come to the last and most important document connected with this discussion. It had long been known that an Arabic manuscript existed in the Vatican Library purporting to be the Diatessaron of Tatian. This work, which had been brought to the library by Joseph Assemani, is described by him as Tatiani Diatessaron seu quatuor Evangelia in unum redacta[377:2] It did not attract any attention till some years ago, when Agostino Ciasca, in 1883, published a pamphlet describing it, promising at some future time, if possible, to publish the manuscript. He did not find an opportunity of doing so, nor did Lagarde, who also thought of attempting it, till 1888, when Ciasca was able to produce an edition of the Diatessaron based upon this manuscript (XIV), and a still more perfect one, which was presented to the Borgian Library in 1886 by Catholic Copts in Egypt, with a Latin translation by himself. [378:1] The latter manuscript, generally called the Borgian Codex, contains notes at the beginning and end, stating that this is a translation of Tatian's Diatessaron from a Syriac manuscript written by Isa ibn Ali el Mutatabbib, a disciple of Honain ibn Ishaq, by Abu-l-Faraj Abdullah Ibn-at-Tayyib. Honain is believed to have died AD 873, and the death of Abdullah Ibn-at-Tayyib is set down by Bar-Hebraeus as having taken place AD 1043. The existing manuscript is assigned to the fourteenth century. The Syriac manuscript was, therefore, written seven centuries after Tatian's time, and the Arabic translation made some nine centuries after it. Beyond the notes of the scribe, we have no external evidence that the original Diatessaron was the work ascribed to Tatian and, as has already been fully stated, nothing could be more difficult than the identification of an anonymous compilation of this kind.

So little does the Arabic Harmony agree with what we are actually told of the Diatessaron of Tatian that elaborate explanation and conjecture are necessary to support the statement of the Arab translator or scribe that we have here that mysterious work. The Diatessaron of Tatian was said to have commenced with the passage: "In the beginning was the Word." Now, in the Vatican MS. XIV. the Diatessaron does not begin with these words, but with the opening words of the second Synoptic, "The Gospel of Jesus, the Son of the living God." This formerly convinced scholars that the Arabic Harmony was not that of Tatian, but Ciasca suggested that the words from Mark were added by another hand to supply the lack of a title. When the Borgian manuscript arrived, it was found that the introductory words from the second Synoptic are separated by a space from the text which follows. Which of these was the original form of the work from which the Arabic version was made cannot now be determined, or whether the separation in the Borgian manuscript was the result of a preconceived theory that the Harmony, being understood to be Tatian's, ought to open with the words of the fourth Gospel. Then the fact which we learn from Theodoret, that the genealogies and the passages showing Jesus to have been born of the seed of David, after the flesh, were omitted from the Diatessaron, in consequence of which he resorted to the strong measure of "putting away" a couple of hundred copies of the work, is a still stronger obstacle to the identification of the Arabic Harmony with it, for these passages (Matt. 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38) are contained in MS. XIV. In the Borgian manuscript, however, these genealogies are removed from the text and put as an appendix, under the title, "The Book of the Generation of Jesus." It is argued from this that we have here the passages in the first stage of insertion -- they have got into the appendix on their way into the text. But may it not with greater probability be argued that they are in the first stage of omission -- excluded from an inconvenient position in the text, where they clashed with the theory of the Harmony being by Tatian, and relegated to the appendix by the translators, who did not like to go so far as to exclude such scriptural matter altogether? One fact which seems to support the latter view is that in the index to the Latin Harmony of Victor -- which Zahn regards as representative of the original Latin version of a Syriac Diatessaron which became transformed into the Codex Fuldensis -- the fifth chapter is given as "de generatione vel nativitate Christi." In connection with these difficulties it must never be forgotten that, to identify the Arabic Harmony with the work of Tatian, we have really nothing but the note of almost unknown Arab scholars, writing nearly a thousand years after the time of Tatian, of a work which had no specific mark of authorship.

Another indication may be given, valuable in the almost complete absence of information regarding Tatian's Diatessaron, which likewise opposes the identification of the Arabic Harmony with that work. Dean Burgon [379:1] quotes an ancient Scholion which he met with while examining the Harleian manuscript 5,647 (of Evan. 72, published by Wetstein), which states that, in Tatian's Diatessaron, the verse of the fourth Gospel, "And another took a spear and pierced his side, and there came out water and blood," was inserted in Matt. 27:48, and the writer adds that it is also introduced into the Evangelical History of Diodorus and divers other Holy Fathers, and "this also Chrysostom says." The only one of these assertions which can be tested now is that regarding Chrysostom, and it is found to be correct, for in Homily 88 the text occurs against a clear summary of 5:48. Now, this is not found either in the Codex Fuldensis or in the Arabic Diatessaron.

The doubts which exist as to the identification of these MSS. with the Diatessaron of Tatian are intensified when we consider the text of these works. If the identification were complete and decisive upon other grounds of evidence, it might be unnecessary to enter upon this part of the subject, but the changes which have taken place in the centuries which have passed since the compilation of the Diatessaron are so indicative of the tendency to adjust facts to agreement with prevalent opinion that it is instructive to consider also this side of the case. In his work on the Diatessaron, Mr. Rendel Harris frankly says: "From what has been said, it will be seen that, in describing the manuscripts from which Ciasca's text is made, we have been careful to avoid the assumption that the text of the Arabic Harmony is necessarily and at all points identical with that of the Diatessaron of Tatian. For, even if we accept the Harmony as Tatian's on the ground of its general agreements with the traditional Tatian, we are obliged to note in the manuscripts themselves a tendency to change in the most striking Tatian characteristics; and further, since the Harmony is substantially a New Testament manuscript, it is impossible that it could have remained in circulation without being affected by the same causes which were in operation to change the form of every successive recension of the New Testament into agreement with the latest recension of all." [380:1] Harnack considers that the Syriac manuscript from which the Arabic translation was made contained an already manipulated Catholic Diatessaron [380:2] and elsewhere he says: "In all cases where I have referred to the Arabic Harmony -- that is to say, at the passages characteristic of the real Tatian -- the characteristic had been removed and the commonplace substituted." Resch, speaking of all these supposed representations of the Diatessaron after pointing out the effect of the establishment of the canonical text, as the only authority, in producing a process of fundamental extirpation (gründlicher Ausrottungs process) of pre-canonical Gospel texts, says: "In consequence of this, the Diatessaron belongs to the number of wholly lost writings. Neither Greek nor Syriac copies of this oldest Gospel Harmony have been preserved," and he only regards Ephrem, Aphraates, the Codex Fuldensis, and the Arabic Harmony as sources for a partial reconstruction. [380:3] Zahn's opinion of the text is not a whit more favourable. It will be remembered that he said of the Latin Tatian that "the translation, if we can so call it, has been made in such a way that the fragments from which the Syriac book was compiled were sought for in the Latin Bible in the version of Jerome, and transcribed from it. It is equally clear," he continues, "that either on the occasion of the translation from Syriac into Latin, or even previously in the Syriac text itself which the Latinist had before him, the literary composition of the Diatessaron had undergone a profound transformation. All this and much more," he adds, "may also have occurred when the Diatessaron was translated into Arabic." [381:1]

When we consider the slightness of the evidence upon which any identification of these works with the Diatessaron of Tatian rests, this final judgment on the transformation of the text itself forms a suitable illustration of the whole position of the question. If many are content to consider the identity of the works settled, at least it is pretty certain that, if Tatian himself were today to see his Diatessaron as it stands in Ciasca's MS., he could not recognise his own work.

We have thought it desirable to state the case for Tatian's Diatessaron with sufficient fulness, as interesting in itself and important for a just appreciation of the difficulties which surround it; but so far as our special investigation is concerned a final judgment is simple and conclusive. Even if it be accepted that, towards the last quarter of the second century, Tatian possessed and made use of our Gospels, the fact can only prove the existence of those writings, but adds nothing to our knowledge of their authors, and certainly does not in the least justify us in accepting them as adequate witnesses for miracles and the reality of Divine Revelation.
 


Dionysius of Corinth need not detain us long. Eusebius informs us that he was the author of seven Epistles addressed to various Christian communities, and also of a letter to Chrysophora, "a most faithful sister." Eusebius speaks of these writings as Catholic Epistles, and briefly characterises each; but, with the exception of a few short fragments preserved by him, none of these fruits of the "inspired industry" (entheou philoponias) of Dionysius are now extant. [381:2] These fragments are all from an Epistle said to have been addressed to Soter, Bishop of Rome, and give us a clue to the time at which they were written. The Bishopric of Soter is generally dated between AD 168-176, [381:3] during which years the Epistle must have been composed. It could not have been written, however, before Dionysius became Bishop of Corinth in AD 170, [381:4] and it was probably written some years after. [381:5]

No quotation from, or allusion to, any writing of the New Testament occurs in any of the fragments of the Epistles now extant; nor does Eusebius make mention of any such reference in the Epistles which have perished. As testimony for our Gospels, therefore, Dionysius is an absolute blank. Some expressions and statements, however, are put forward by apologists which we must examine. In the few lines which Tischendorf accords to Dionysius he refers to two of these. The first is an expression used, not by Dionysius himself, but by Eusebius, in speaking of the Epistles to the Churches at Amastris and at Pontus. Eusebius says that Dionysius adds some "expositions of Divine Scriptures" (graphôn theiôn exêgêseis). [382:1] There can be no doubt, we think, that this refers to the Old Testament only, and Tischendorf himself does not deny it. [382:2]

The second passage which Tischendorf [382:3] points out, and which he claims with some other apologists as evidence of the actual existence of a New Testament Canon when Dionysius wrote, occurs in a fragment from the Epistle to Soter and the Romans which is preserved by Eusebius. It is as follows: "For the brethren having requested me to write Epistles, I wrote them. And the Apostles of the devil have filled these with tares, both taking away parts and adding others; for whom the woe is destined. It is not surprising, then, if some have recklessly ventured to adulterate the Scriptures of the Lord (tôn kuriakôn graphôn) when they have formed designs against these which are not of such importance." [382:4] Regarding this passage, Dr. Westcott, with his usual boldness, says: "It is evident that the 'Scriptures of the Lord' -- the writings of the New Testament -- were at this time collected, that they were distinguished from other books, that they were jealously guarded, that they had been corrupted for heretical purposes." [382:5] We have seen, however, that there has not been a trace of any New Testament Canon in the writings of the Fathers before and during this age, and it is not permissible to put such an interpretation upon the remark of Dionysius. Dr. Donaldson, with greater critical justice and reserve, remarks regarding the expression, "Scriptures of the Lord": "It is not easy to settle what this term means," although he adds his own personal opinion, "but most probably it refers to the Gospels as containing the sayings and doings of the Lord. It is not likely, as Lardner supposes, that such a term would be applied to the whole of the New Testament." [383:1] The idea of our collected New Testament being referred to is of course quite untenable, and although it is open to argument that Dionysius may have referred to evangelical works, it is obvious that there are no means of proving the fact, and much less that he referred specially to our Gospels. In fact, the fragments of Dionysius present no evidence whatever of the existence of our Synoptics.

In order further to illustrate the inconclusiveness of the arguments based upon so vague an expression, we may add that it does not of necessity apply to any Gospels or works of Christian history at all, and may with perfect propriety have indicated the Scriptures of the Old Testament. We find Justin Martyr complaining in the same spirit as Dionysius, through several chapters, that the Old Testament Scriptures, and more especially those relating to the Lord, had been adulterated, that parts had been taken away, and others added, with the intention of destroying or weakening their application to Christ. [383:2] Justin's argument throughout is, that the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures refer to Christ; and Tryphon, his antagonist, the representative of Jewish opinion, is made to avow that the Jews not only wait for Christ, but, he adds, "We admit that all the Scriptures which you have cited refer to him." [383:3] Not only, therefore, were the Scriptures of the Old Testament closely connected with their Lord by the Fathers and, at the date of which we are treating, were the only "Holy Scriptures" recognised, but they made the same complaints which we meet with in Dionysius, that these Scriptures were adulterated by omissions and interpolations. [383:4] The expression of Eusebius regarding "expositions of Divine Scriptures" (graphôn theiôn exêgêseis) added by Dionysius, which applied to the Old Testament, tends to connect the Old Testament also with this term, "Scriptures of the Lord."

If the term, "Scriptures of the Lord," however, be referred to Gospels, the difficulty of using it as evidence continues undiminished. We have no indication of the particular evangelical works which were in the Bishop's mind. We have seen that other Gospels were used by the Fathers, and in exclusive circulation amongst various communities; and even until much later times many works were regarded by them as divinely inspired which have no place in our Canon. The Gospel according to the Hebrews, for instance, was probably used by some at least of the Apostolic Fathers, by pseudo-Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, Hegesippus, Justin Martyr, and at least employed along with our Gospels by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Jerome. [384:1] The fact that Serapion, in the third century, allowed the Gospel of Peter to be used in the church of Rhossus [384:2] shows at the same time the consideration in which it was held, and the incompleteness of the canonical position of the New Testament writings. So does the circumstance that in the fifth century Theodoret found the Gospel according to the Hebrews, or Tatian's Gospel, widely circulated and held in honour amongst orthodox churches in his diocese. [384:3] The Shepherd of Hermas, which was read in the churches and nearly secured a permanent place in the Canon, was quoted as inspired by Irenaeus. [384:4] The Epistle of Barnabas was held in similar honour, and quoted as inspired by Clement of Alexandria [384:5] and by Origen, [384:6] as was likewise the Epistle of the Roman Clement. The Apocalypse of Peter was included by Clement of Alexandria in his account of the canonical Scriptures and those which are disputed, such as the Epistle of Jude and the other Catholic Epistles, [384:7] and it stands side by side with the Apocalypse of John in the Canon of Muratori, being long after publicly read in the churches of Palestine. [384:8] Tischendorf, indeed, conjectures that a blank in the Codex Sinaiticus, after the New Testament, was formerly filled by it. Justin, Clement of Alexandria, and Lactantius quote the Sibylline books as the Word of God, and pay similar honour to the Book of Hystaspes. [384:9] So great indeed was the consideration and use of the Sibylline Books in the Church of the second and third centuries that Christians from that fact were nicknamed Sibyllists. [384:10] It is unnecessary to multiply, as might so easily be done, these illustrations; it is sufficiently well known that a number of Gospels and similar works, which have been excluded from the Canon, were held in deepest veneration by the Church in the second century, to which the words of Dionysius may apply. So vague and indefinite an expression, at any rate, is useless as evidence for the existence of our canonical Gospels.

Dr. Westcott's deduction from the words of Dionysius, that not only were the writings of the New Testament already collected, but that they were "jealously guarded," is imaginative indeed. It is much and devoutly to be wished that they had been as carefully guarded as he supposes; but it is well known that this was not the case, and that numerous interpolations have been introduced into the text. The whole history of the Canon and of Christian literature in the second and third centuries displays the most deplorable carelessness and want of critical judgment on the part of the Fathers. Whatever was considered as conducive to Christian edification was blindly adopted by them, and a number of works were launched into circulation and falsely ascribed to Apostles and others likely to secure for them greater consideration. Such pious fraud was rarely suspected, still more rarely detected in the early ages of Christianity, and several of such pseudographs have secured a place in our New Testament. The words of Dionysius need not receive any wider signification than a reference to well-known Epistles. It is clear from the words attributed to the Apostle Paul, in 2 Thess. 2:2, 3:17, that his Epistles were falsified and, setting aside some of those which bear his name in our Canon, spurious Epistles were long ascribed to him, such as the Epistle to the Laodiceans and a third Epistle to the Corinthians. We need not do more than allude to the second Epistle falsely bearing the name of Clement of Rome, as well as the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, the Apostolical Constitutions, and the spurious letters of Ignatius, the letters and legend of Abgarus quoted by Eusebius, and the Epistles of Paul and Seneca, in addition to others already pointed out, as instances of the wholesale falsification of that period, many of which gross forgeries were at once accepted as genuine by the Fathers, so slight was their critical faculty and so ready their credulity. [385:1] In one case the Church punished the author who, from mistaken zeal for the honour of the Apostle Paul, fabricated the Acta Pauli et Theclae in his name, [385:2] but the forged production was not the less made use of in the Church. There was, therefore, no lack of falsification and adulteration of works of Apostles and others of greater note than himself to warrant the remark of Dionysius, without any forced application of it to our Gospels or to a New Testament Canon, the existence of which there is nothing to substantiate, but, on the contrary, every reason to discredit.

Before leaving this passage we may add that, although even Tischendorf does not, Dr. Westcott does find in it references to our first Synoptic and to the Apocalypse. "The short fragment just quoted," he says, "contains two obvious allusions, one to the Gospel of St. Matthew and one to the Apocalypse." [386:1] The words, "the Apostles of the devil have filled these with tares," are, he supposes, an allusion to Matt. 13:24 ff. But even if the expression were an echo of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, it is not permissible to refer it in this arbitrary way to our first Gospel, to the exclusion of the numerous other works which existed, many of which doubtless contained it. Obviously the words have no evidential value.

Continuing his previous assertions, however, Dr. Westcott affirms with equal boldness: "The allusion in the last clause" -- to the "Scriptures of the Lord" -- "will be clear when it is remembered that Dionysius 'warred against the heresy of Marcion and defended the rule of truth'" (paristasthai kanoni al.). [386:2] Tischendorf, who is ready enough to strain every expression into evidence, recognises too well that this is not capable of such an interpretation. Dr. Westcott omits to mention that the words, moreover, are not used by Dionysius at all, but simply proceed from Eusebius. [386:3] Dr. Donaldson distinctly states the fact that "there is no reference to the Bible in the words of Eusebius: he defends the rule of the truth" [386:4] (tô tês alêtheias paristatai kanoni).

There is only one other point to mention. Dr. Westcott refers to the passage in the Epistle of Dionysius, which has already been quoted in this work, regarding the reading of Christian writings in churches. "Today," he writes to Soter, "we have kept the Lord's holy day, in which we have read your Epistle, from the reading of which we shall ever derive admonition, as we do from the former one written to us by Clement." [386:5] It is evident that there was no idea, in selecting the works to be read at the weekly assembly of Christians, of any Canon of a New Testament. We here learn that the Epistles of Clement and of Soter were habitually read; and, while we hear of this and of the similar reading of Justin's Memoirs of the Apostles[386:6] of the Shepherd of Hermas, [386:7] of the Apocalypse of Peter, [386:8] and other apocryphal works, we do not at the same time hear of the public reading of our Gospels.
 


< Previous section      Contents      Home      Top of Page      Next section >
HTML © 2002 -