Reviews of

Parabiblica Latina

In Apocrypha, Apostolic Fathers, Benjamin GLEEDE, Brill, Jonathon Lookadoo, Latin Christianity, Patristics, Translation on June 27, 2018 at 10:30 am


2018.06.09 | Benjamin Gleede. Parabiblica Latina: Studien zu den griechisch-lateinischen Übersetzungen parabiblischer Literatur unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der apostolischen Väter. VCSup 137. Leiden: Brill, 2016. pp. viii + 392. ISBN: 9789004315945.

Review by Jonathon Lookadoo, Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary, Seoul, Republic of Korea.

As textual explorations and scholarly discussions of canonicity continue to develop in historical studies of the New Testament and early Christianity, Benjamin Gleede offers a thorough study of the Latin textual tradition of parabiblical texts. These are texts that are rarely included in canons of scripture but which seem to have held an authoritative place in at least some early Christian circles. The book is a published version of Gleede’s Habilitationsschrift, and the research was undertaken at the University of Zürich as part of the research project, Studien zur Übersetzungstechnik Rufins mit ausführlichem Glossar.

Gleede’s introduction contains two primary observations. First, Latin Christian literature was part of a larger Latin literary world. This was also true of Christian translations into Latin. Latin translation of Greek texts already took place during the Roman Republic. The earliest translators whose names we know are Appius Claudius Caecus and Livius Andronicus. Christian Latin translations must thus be studied as part of a larger phenomenon in the Roman world. The second observation stems from a letter written by Jerome to Pammachius at the end of the fourth century. Jerome argues that the best way to translate the biblical text is to maintain a word-for-word order. The reason for this is that there is a mystery in the very order of the words (uerborum ordo mysterium est; Ep. 57.5). Jerome maintains that other texts are best translated sense for sense rather than word for word. After noting points of contact with more recent translation theories from Friederich Schleiermacher and Eugene Nida, Gleede notes that all implicitly utilize a polarity between verbatim and free translations.

Gleede next offers a sketch of how Christian translations originated. The earliest translations that can be found are the Vetus Latina, which date to the end of the second century. A second place to begin one’s study of Latin translations is with the translations of Antimarcionite Prologues into Latin.

Having placed both the book and early Christian translations in context, the heart of the book is contained in chapters two through four. These chapters explore translations of Old Testament parabiblical literature, New Testament parabiblical literature, and the Apostolic Fathers. In the chapter on Old Testament parabiblical literature, Gleede explores 4–6 Ezra, 1 Enoch, the Ascension of Isaiah, Jubilees, the Life of Adam, LAB, Jannes and Jambres, the Lives of the Prophets, literature on Elijah along with Pseudo-Titus, and the Martyrdom of the Maccabees. In several cases, the text is preserved in only a fragmentary state. Each section contains a concise discussion of the earliest witnesses to the texts, especially in the Latin world. The Lives of the Prophets is a text that has been better preserved, however, and there are also extant Greek witnesses with which to compare the translation. The translator appears to have been linguistically competent and knowledgeable of the prophetic texts in the Septuagint from which the Lives of the Prophets draws some of its language. Yet the translator also maintains a freedom to make the style of the text more palatable for a Latin-speaking audience.

The chapter on New Testament parabiblical literature takes up the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Pilate (Gospel of Nicodemus), the Gospel of Bartholomew, the Acts of Peter, Paul, Andrew, John, and Thomas, as well as the Apocalypse of Paul. Given the textual complexity of the manuscript tradition in the Acts of Peter and Paul, it is no surprise that they receive the most attention in this chapter. Although the narratives of these extracanonical acts are independent of each other, they are treated together because they are closely connected in some of the manuscripts. Of particular note is Gleede’s careful analysis of the translation of 3 Corinthians. While the initial translation likely dates from the first half of the fourth century, Gleede observes the differences between the Latin manuscripts and proposes that the majority of the manuscripts give evidence of a revised Latin translation that was composed later.

The most substantial chapter contains the study of the Latin translations of the Apostolic Fathers. The study of the Latin translation of the Didache rightly reach forward to study the Doctrina apostolorum, because no witnesses to the Latin translation of the Didache remain extant. The translation of 1 Clement appears to be relatively free, while the Epistle of Barnabas resists the easy dualism suggested by Jerome’s letter to Pammachius. The translator of Polycarp’s letter to Philippi is dated to the fourth or fifth century, while Gleede finds that there are two translations of the Martyrdom of Polycarp—one is more literary, while the other more often translates word-for-word. The basis for this distinction is found in a manuscript of the Martyrdom that Gleede publishes for the first time in this book (pp. 359–363). The complicated Latin textual tradition for the Shepherd of Hermas is taken up next. He argues that neither the Vulgate nor the Palatine translation were made at once. Rather, both translations offer evidence of multiple translators. The chapter closes with considerations of the Antiochene Martyrdom of Ignatius and the long recension of his letters, texts that are closely connected by the inclusion of a version of Ignatius’s Romans in the Antiochene Martyrdom.

The detailed study in these chapters allows Gleede to conclude that Jerome’s binary between scriptural and non-scriptural translation methods requires further nuance. In addition to the new Latin witness to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, another appendix offers a detailed textual engagement with the Latin manuscripts of Polycarp’s Philippians. A substantial bibliography and brief indexes bring the book to a close.

For those interested in the textual history and translation practices of early Christianity, this book takes up an oft-overlooked set of texts. By bringing these texts together in one study, readers are allowed to have a broad overview of how several early Christian texts were translated and preserved. While the scope of the book is wide, Gleede’s study is extensively researched and offers detailed insights into several parabiblical Latin translations. For example, when considering the Acts of Peter, Gleede observes a tendency in the Actus Vercellenses and pseudo-Marcellus to simplify and abbreviate the narrative, at least when compared to Greek critical editions. Conversely, pseudo-Linus expands the text. Thus, speaking about “the Latin translation” of the Acts of Peter proves to be a complicated proposition. When discussing the long recension of Ignatius’s letters, Gleede rightly challenges J. B. Lightfoot’s characterization of the translator as inept. Rather than finding a bungled translation of pseudo-Ignatius, Gleede argues that the translator’s peculiarities derive from an attempt to present Ignatius’s letters to a late-antique Latin-speaking public. It is not often that one is able to score a point on Lightfoot’s thorough textual studies of the Apostolic Fathers, but Gleede seems to have done precisely this, at least with respect to the Latin long recension of Ignatius’s letters.

For those looking to think further along the lines that Gleede sets out, two avenues of possible research may be suggested. First, Gleede considers the translations of the Apostolic Fathers individually. This is helpful, but one could think further about connections between the Apostolic Fathers in the transmission of these texts. Perhaps the clearest example of this is found in Greek manuscripts of Polycarp’s Philippians and the Epistle of Barnabas, in which the majority of Greek witnesses for both texts ends at Pol. Phil. 9.2 and immediately recommences with Barn. 5.7. However, connections between the Latin Apostolic Fathers may also be pursued by devoting attention to particular manuscripts, such as 150 and 486, both of which contain Ignatius’s letters, Polycarp’s Philippians, and the Palatine translation of the Shepherd of Hermas. In addition to revealing particular links in the transmission of the Latin Apostolic Fathers, such a line of research may also clarify the translation and copying methods used by specific scribes. This leads to a second avenue of study that could follow from looking at specific manuscripts. By engaging particular manuscripts, one may better assess their value for textual criticism alongside Gleede’s helpful study of early translation techniques.

Parabiblica Latina offers a wealth of knowledge and insights into Latin translations of Greek texts. This book will be of interest to textual researchers of early Christianity as well as scholars of the texts that Gleede discusses and the libraries that serve both groups.

Jonathon Lookadoo
Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary


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