Reviews of

Prokop von Gaza: Der Genesiskommentar

In De Gruyter, Karin Metzler, Late Antiquity, Manuscripts, Patristics, Prokop von Gaza, Samuel Pomeroy on April 13, 2018 at 12:18 pm


2018.04.05 | Karin Metzler (ed). Prokop von Gaza. Eclogarum in libros historicos veteris testamenti epitome. Teil 1: Der Genesiskommentar. GCSnF, 22. Berlin–München–Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2015. Pp. clxiv + 490. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Samuel Pomeroy, KU Leuven.

Choricius of Gaza praised his predecessor Procopius (c. 470–530) as a pagan sophist. Procopius’s literary output confirms no less a picture. With the publication of the text under review, Karin Metzler has advanced the serious study of Procopius from another angle, that of the biblical exegete—or what the manuscript tradition calls ‘Procopius the Christian sophist’ (xxxi).

His scope is formidable. To give an impression, his commentaries on the Octateuch (minus Ruth), the historical books, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Song of Solomon cover some 2.500 pages in Migne’s Patrologia graeca (vols. 87/1-2). Since Konrad Klauser’s Latin translation in 1555 of the ninth-century Codex Monacensis Gr. 358 (= A), numerous efforts have contributed to making Procopius’s work on the Octateuch reliably available.

Metzler’s edition here reviewed and concomitant translation and index published as GCSnF 23 (2016) cover his commentary on Genesis (here = CG), the first section of his Octateuch commentary. The reader is strongly recommended to consult the second volume for the Autorenregister, the utility of which shall be made clear in the course of this review.

Metzler establishes the text based on two broad traditions. From the earliest complete manuscript (A) descend numerous Renaissance copies. This tradition diverges from and is supplemented by K (11th/12th century) and its descendants. Common errors between the two traditions indicate the existence of a lost archetype, but not that of the whole tradition (lxvi–lxviii). We cannot reconstruct the autograph. Where K and A disagree, we cannot know for certain which is correct.

Procopius’s Octateuch commentary is an historically innovative genre. Widely mistaken as a catena, this text handles exegetical sources in order to bring his own voice to the fore. While the catenist presents sources for the reader to judge for himself, Procopius does not name his sources. Further, he liberally adapts them. What we have here is a true patchwork: the fragments are extracted from various contexts. Our exegete curtails, supplements (especially with biblical quotations), and combines them to form something wholly new (xiii; xix–xxi). While not without important historical analogues, as such it is unprecedented in the patristic exegetical tradition.

Procopius tells us that CG belongs to the tradition of commentary on the Octateuch (p. 1, l.3: Oktateuchon exegeseis). But the manuscript tradition contradicts this statement. Some contain the full Octateuch commentary supplemented by Procopius’s notes on the historical books. Others contain only the commentaries on Genesis and Exodus. Various titles were added in Renaissance copies and repairs. Metzler derives the title of the whole work, Eclogarum…epitome, from the manuscripts that offer a title for CG. The decision is justified also by the content of the commentary (cf. ix, xxx–v).

This crucial editorial decision taken by Metzler brings us to consider more closely the question of genre. While considered by many readers as a catena, this is a work of exegesis. The confusion is illustrated by Migne’s text, found in PG 87/1, 21–496. He rightly used the edition of Angelo Mai. But this only covered until Gn 18,3. After this point, Migne drew from the ‘Procopius’ fragments denoted in the Catena Lipsiensis. Nicephorus made this catena based on Type III and manuscript A of Procopius’s complete Eclogarum. But for his catena, Nicephorus denoted Procopius fragments based on a problematic methodology. Where his base Catena Type III fragments offered no attribution, but paralleled a text in Procopius, he called these *Procopius; where he could supplement his base Catena Type III with fragments found only in Procopius, he used **. The resulting text is often a mixed reading, and in extreme cases, fragments denoting *Procopius are exclusively that of the Catena Type III. Migne printed these readings without differentiation (xxxv–i).

The publication of Petit’s edition of the Catena in Geneism (TEG 1–4, Peeters, 1991–6) has already resolved such confusion by clarifying unattributed fragments. Metzler’s new edition thereby enables us to determine the relationship between Procopius and the Catena tradition. The most tantalizing clue comes from the proomium of the CG, where he tells us that he put together an assembly of texts (p. 1, l.3-4, sunelexamethaeranisamenoi) from previous exegetical works on the Oktateuch. Is this a catena, an early branch of the received tradition edited by Petit? We can now definitively say ‘no’; to Devreesse, Dorival, and Nautin, it was not so clear. Metzler advances one of Petit’s most important findings. After determining that the catena fragments of Severus of Antioch (d. 538) were added at a later point in the tradition, it became clear that Procopius and the Catena branches independently used the same source. They share the same set of authors, terminating at Cyril of Alexandria. Metzler calls this source the Urkatene. The determination of its precise content is now impossible. To conclude that Procopius himself compiled the Urkatene (sunelexametha) would be to press this information perhaps too far; Metzler more modestly suggests that he may have contributed to its assembly (xxiii). The Autorenregister of the second volume (GCSnF 23) enables the systematic comparison of how Procopius and the catenist used this Urkatene. Procopius did not use the Urkatene exclusively. At numerous points, Metzler emphasizes that the length of Procopius’s fragments substantially exceeds those of the catena. Procopius must have had access to the original sources, and for the sake of his CG, consulted them for further context based on reference points given in the Urkatene. Metzler calls this process Nachlese (e. g. xxiv), and it is integral to understanding Procopius’s activity.

What did Procopius’s method look like in practice? The CG may be located in the tradition of quaestiones et responsiones, already present in Origen, Eusebius of Emesa, and Theodoret (xv–xvii). Using Eusebius of Emesa’s Commentary on Genesis, Procopius references readings of ‘the Syrian’ and that of ‘the Hebrew’ (cvi–cvii). Previously unconsidered by Field and Wevers (cxxv), Procopius is also a precious source for Hexaplaric readings. One may also find a refreshing combination of seemingly opposed sources. John Chrysostom is placed next to Philo and Didymus (e.g. ad Gn 16,5, p. 260); Eusebius of Emesa is placed next to Cyril (e. g. ad Gn 21,9, p. 290). While the greatest amount of Nachlesen concern Alexandrian sources, Antiochene authors are integral to his procedure. He is often content with the statement of historical information or etymology. But other instances are set against this: concerning the coats of skin, he expresses full knowledge of the implications of the debate, and does not in the end distance himself from the allegorical interpretations of Origen and Cyril (ad Gn 3,21, p. 151–2).

The historical purpose for the production of the CG is still an open debate (xxviii–xxix). Metzler does not appear to have consulted Michael Champion on the wider context of Procopius’s school and social context (Explaining the Cosmos, Oxford, 2014). Another angle that may be considered is that of Jewish and Christian interaction. Procopius’s wide learning offers a unique perspective on Christian understandings of the theological significance of the Holy Land at the time. The possibilities for future study are brimming. For enabling these, we have the work of Metzler to thank.

Samuel Pomeroy
KU Leuven


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