Sunday, June 28, 2015


Karin Metzler (ed.), Prokop von Gaza. Eclogarum in libros historicos Veteris Testamenti epitome, Teil 1: Der Genesiskommentar. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, NF, Bd. 22. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015. Pp. clxv, 490. ISBN 9783110408720. €129,95.

Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht (

Version at BMCR home site

When one looks at present-day Gaza, it is hard to imagine that in the early Byzantine period (esp. in the fifth and sixth century) Gaza was a flourishing center of Christian culture.1 There were not only monasteries but also schools of rhetoric and other educational institutions in which a synthesis of the pagan past and the Christian presence was created. Among the best known figures are Procopius, Choricius, Barsanuphius and John of Gaza. Procopius – not to be confused with Procopius the historian at the court of Justinian – lived from ca. 465/470 – 525/530 and is traditionally designated as a 'Christian sophist.' He was the foremost figure of the so-called School of Gaza, a prolific author who wrote, inter alia, speeches or declamations (among them the Panegyricus in Anastasium imperatorem), letters, descriptions of works of art, and commentaries on several biblical books. Of the latter, probably the most important one is his commentary on Genesis, here edited for the first time in its complete form by Karin Metzler. Earlier editions (e.g., in Migne's Patrologia Graeca) did not present the full text and were, moreover, based upon inferior manuscripts or on only part of the textual evidence. On these counts this new edition is vastly superior to the previous ones.

The book has a very long introduction (some 165 pages). In it Metzler discusses first of all the genre of the work: Is it a catena or is it a commentary? A catena is a format dating from the fifth century onwards in which the successive verses of a biblical book were elucidated by 'chains' of passages derived from previous commentators. Usually these commentators are mentioned by name. Not so in Procopius, although his commentary, too, lists the exegetical opinions of many predecessors, but anonymously. Occasionally he adds his own opinion on exegetical problems, but does that make it a commentary? Not really, because Procopius deals only with a selection of verses from Genesis, not the whole book. His work is a curious hybrid, mostly deriving material from a now lost 'Urkatene'; partly it is also his own work. Anyway, this work is a veritable Fundgrube of patristic exegesis of the book of Genesis from the third to fifth century. One of the great merits of Metzler's work is that she has been able to identify most of the authors quoted (or paraphrased) by Procopius, and they are duly listed in the apparatus fontium at the bottom of the pages of the edition of the Greek text (the unidentified pieces of exegesis either derive from sources now lost or are Procopius' own contributions). Further, she deals with the purpose of the work, the history of research on its text, and its title (perhaps not the exact original one): Eclogarum in libros historicos Veteris Testamenti epitome, which one could render as 'Excerpt of the (exegetical) catenae on the historical books of the Old Testament.' In a very long chapter (some 50 pages) all extant manuscripts are described in detail and their relations to each other are discussed, all of this leading up to a stemma codicum; this chapter is a fine demonstration of scholarly akribeia. Then follow chapters on Procopius' use of his sources (with an extensive list of all the many works of church fathers excerpted by him); a chapter on his 'biblische Lesarten' with special attention being paid to the important fact that Procopius also quotes many hexaplaric readings (esp. from the post-Septuagint Jewish Bible translators Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion), some of which are not found in Field's classical edition of Origen's Hexapla; a chapter on the principles upon which the critical edition is based ('Grundsätze der Textgestaltung'); a long list of abbreviations and sigla; and finally an exhaustive bibliography of the primary sources (editions of the authors excerpted by Procopius) and the secondary literature. Even though the present reviewer sometimes had the impression that things could have been formulated in a more concise way, this Introduction is an exemplary work of scholarship.

The same applies to the pièce de résistance, the edition of Procopius' text (460 pages). As far as I could judge on the basis of the critical apparatus, Metzler's textual decisions testify to sound judgment and keen insight into problems of textual transmission. The text is clearly laid out, with the names of the excerpted church fathers on the inner margin and the detailed references to the excerpted works in the apparatus fontium. The apparatus criticus is not exhaustive but offers all that is needed to see what the important variants are (in the Introduction the reader is told in detail what kind of information is included and what is omitted in this apparatus). An 'Anhang' offers a list of biblical passages dealt with or referred to, including the hexaplaric readings, and a list of biblical names and their etymological explanations (including the sources where these explanations are drawn from). The editor promises that her German translation of Procopius' commentary will be published soon; that would be a great boon. The present work is a monument of meticulous scholarship.


1.   See, e.g., B. Bitton-Ashkeloni and A. Kofsky (eds.), Christian Gaza in Late Antiquity (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

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