Wednesday, April 6, 2016


David L. Eastman, The Ancient Martyrdom Accounts of Peter and Paul. Writings from the Greco-Roman World 39. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015. Pp. xxv, 469. ISBN 9781628370904. $59.95.

Reviewed by Adam Carter McCollum, Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik, Universität Wien (

Version at BMCR home site


This volume collects several more or less related texts on the post-biblical tales about Peter and Paul. Like other volumes in the series, the texts appear in both the original or an early translation, and in English translation. Short introductions and a modicum of notes accompany the texts. The goal is, it seems, to shed more light on texts beyond the commonly studied Acts of Peter and Acts of Paul (both of which are also included in this volume) and to bring those texts into the discussion of the martyrdom traditions of these two major Christian figures (see especially p. xxii). That goal the author has achieved. These texts include some Greek and Latin texts, but Eastman especially singles out Syriac texts as having been unduly ignored. Consequently, Syriac has a relatively large place in the book. This inclusion is another sign of the happy trend to make the border between the Greco-Latin textual sphere and that of other languages (Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, etc.) less impassable and the territory on both sides better known. Eastman goes so far as to speak of earlier considerations of these (and presumably other similar) texts as having "been hampered by a kind of myopia", considerations that consider "voices that are not in Latin or Greek" as "variant voices" (p. xxiv). He is not wrong, and even if his textual catalog and presentation might have been even more comprehensive, the fact that he puts Syriac texts as equals beside Greek and Latin texts marks a welcome corrective.

Peter and Paul stand in Christian tradition as pillars, and in some way or other the varieties of Christianity all look back to them. The pair was revered and never too far away in mind, so much so that when Christian philosophers needed examples of particular human beings, as when discussing logical definitions, Peter and Paul replace Plato and Socrates, who serve the role for earlier and less overtly Christian writers. It is, then, no surprise that hagiographers and other church writers penned stories to continue their narratives after the point where the Bible leaves off, and these stories survive in a number of languages. In addition to the Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts published here we can point to the reference catalog of eastern hagiographical texts, where, even a century ago, numerous items beyond Greek and Latin were known: Bibliotheca hagiographica orientalis [BHO] (Brussels, 1910), nos. 882-904 (Paul), 933-954 (Peter), 959-972 (Peter & Paul together); these are texts in Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Gǝʿǝz, and Syriac, some of the last of which are in Eastman's volume. Further, for Georgian we have accessible texts of relevance (with French translation) in § 7-9 of N. Marr, Le synaxaire géorgien: Rédaction ancienne de l'union arméno-géorgienne, Patrologia Orientalis 19.5 (Paris, 1926). Not all of these texts, of course, are focused on the martyrdoms, but there is more martyrdom material here than we might surmise on the basis of Eastman's texts.

Those texts are four specifically on Peter, five on Paul, and five more on the two apostles together. In terms of genre, the texts are almost all hagiographic, being martyrdom accounts or passions. The exceptions are the pseudepigraphic Epistle to Timothy on the Death of the Apostles Peter and Paul, attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite (cf. Acts 17:34) — which survives in different forms in several languages, here given in Latin — and excerpts from two Syriac texts: The Teaching of Simon Peter in Rome and a work called The Teaching of the Apostles (malpanutā da- šliḥē, not to be confused with the Didache or the Didascalia apostolorum).

The author gives the texts in full in some cases, in excerpts in others. Common references such as CANT (Clavis apocryphorum novi testamenti [spelled wrongly on p. xiv]), BHG (Bibliotheca hagiographica graeca), BHL (Bibliotheca hagiographica latina), and BHO accompany the texts where applicable. Eastman's introductory remarks for each, under the headings "Content", "Literary Background", "Text", and "Select Bibliography", mention manuscripts and versions, summarize the text, highlight its significance, and discuss differences in details of the Peter and/or Paul traditions.

The last section of the book comprises a collection of "Early Christian and Patristic References to the Deaths of Peter and Paul." It is said to give "a broad selection of the most significant examples" (p. 389). The texts, ranging from 1 Clement to John Malalas (c. 491-578) and Gregory of Tours (538-594), are all in Greek or Latin, except № 12, which is in Coptic. Nothing from the other languages is given. Parts of the poems of the prolific Syriac author Jacob of Serug (c. 451-521) on Paul (BHO 903-904) might have been excerpted. (A similar work of Jacob on Peter remains unpublished.) His slightly earlier contemporary, Narsai (c. 399-c. 502) has under his name a commemorative poem on Peter and Paul together (Syriac text in A. Mingana, Narsai doctoris Syri homiliae et carmina, vol. 1 [Mosul, 1905], 68-89). In later hagiography in other languages, too, the memory of Peter and Paul, may appear inspirational, as in the case of the Georgian saint Hilarion (cf. P. Peeters, "S. Hilarion d'Ibérie," Analecta Bollandiana 32 (1913): 236-269; more recent critical edition of the Georgian text in I. Abulaże et al., ძველი ქართული აგიოგრაფიული ლიტერატურის ძეგლები, vol. 2, XI-XV სს; Памятники древнегрузинской агиографической литературы, vol. 2, XI-XV вв., [Tbilisi, 1967].). In line with Eastman's aim to look beyond Greek and Latin, excerpts from texts in these other traditions might have been included.

Before I offer a few remarks (suggestions, corrections, explanations) on some specific parts of the work, here are some general comments. The size of the Syriac is too small to read comfortably, and needlessly so, since each page has much unused white space. Also, the alignment between text and translation on facing pages sometimes shows a discrepancy: the English translation on p. 213 has more than three lines that do not match the facing Syriac on p. 212. The spelling Shimeon (used throughout and discussed on p. 104) is a bastardized amalgamation of Aramaic (Sh-) and Greek (-imeon), not a real form of the name. Simon, Simeon, or Šemʿon, would be fine, but Shimeon has a spurious air to it. The point of indicating the Greek origin of very common and well-known Syriac words such as ṭeksā, nomos, episqopā, hēgmonā, and ellā is not altogether clear.

pp. 6-7: For προσεῖναι as an old euphemism for having sex in μέχρι γὰρ καὶ τῶν ἰδίων νεανίσκων πρόσεισι, which Eastman renders "for she makes use even of her own servants", cf. J. Henderson, The Maculate Muse (Oxford, 1991), 161.

p. 13 (§ 5) "having sex" is clearer than "intercourse" (Eastman uses the former elsewhere, as on p. 35).

p. 18, line 16: νεκρὰν > νεκράν

p. 104; cf. p. 190: The notice that "The text closes with an appeal for prayer on behalf of the scribe" refers to a phenomenon so common that it probably merits no mention as something special.

p. 105: "East Syrian" better "East Syriac".

pp. 105, 191 Khayyät > Khayyāṭ; Diyarbekh > Diyarbekr/Diyarbakır.

The fact that "the style is consistent" (p. 105) is, without more details, not enough to say that this Peter text and the Paul text given as ch. 8 in the book are from the same author. The style can be said to be very similar across many hagiographic texts.

The reference on pp. 106 and 190 to Paul Bedjan's Acta martyrum et sanctorum (Leipzig, 1890) is missing the volume number (in this case, vol. 1). Similarly, the reference to Rahmani's Studia syriaca (1904) should also be marked as vol. 1.

pp. 110-113: In §§ 31, 33, 34 the English has "cross" for qaysā, ṣlibā, and zqipā, respectively. These words may indeed all mean "cross" (the first literally "wood"), but a note indicating that they are different terms would not be out of place.

p. 113, n. 13: marí would better be mar(y); the final y is not pronounced, and an accented í gives quite the opposite impression. The word, here referring to Simon Peter, is translated as "my lord", which in this case might better be given in English as "saint" or "holy", for which Syriac indeed has another word (qaddišā), but mar(y) very often stands as a kind of title for saints, as the footnote itself says. (Similarly elsewhere, as in the title to text no.8, and p. 195, n. 1).

p. 114, line 1: kdʾkwth should be kd ʾkwth.

p. 114, line 2: mzdqpʾnʾ should be mzdqp ʾnʾ .

p. 114, n. 8: The statement that "Guidi incorrectly produces" a certain form should probably more accurately say, "Guidi's typesetter…".

p. 117: "episcopacy" would probably better be rendered "leadership" (rēšānutā).

p. 127, n. 1: ἀπο > ἀπὸ.

p. 134-135 κἀκεῖνοι ὑμῖν δώσουσιν τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ σφραγῖδα "They will give you the seal in Christ" (cf. § 7 on pp. 136- 137). This is presumably a reference to baptism (see Lampe, Patristic Greek Lexicon, p. 1356-1357, s.v. σφραγίς C).

p. 135, n. 28: Of σπεκουλάτωρ (< speculator) Eastman says, "The presence of a loanword from Latin is a likely indication that these manuscripts represent later textual traditions," but this is not necessarily so. This word in particular was already used in Mark 6:27 and thus would have been known, it seems, to any Greek-writing hagiographer.

p. 136-137: In Τίτος δὲ καὶ Λουκᾶς ἄνθρωποι ὄντες καὶ φοβηθέντες "Titus and Luke, being men and fearful", the word "men" would better be "humans".

p. 173: The reference to the text from Malan's Conflicts of the Apostles (1871) should mention that it is translated from Gǝʿǝz; Eastman himself gives the Latin text.

pp. 194-195: The reference in § 9 to "crowning" (kullālēh) means his martyrdom. This noun and the related verb etkallal commonly refer to (being crowned with martyrdom). See also § 11 on pp. 196-197.

pp. 194-195: The verb in § 10 šabqu(h)y (h)waw w-šanni(w) probably means just "had left and deserted him", not "had left him and changed their way of living".

p. 205: The remark that "Syriac manuscripts typically begin their dating from the Seleucid period…" (cf. p. 217, n. 25) is something of a generalization. While very many Syriac manuscripts do indeed use Anno graecorum, there is no lack of examples using Anno domini and, less commonly, even Anno hegirae. In the note on p. 217, Eastman does, at least, cite Ludger Bernhard's Die Chronologie der syrischen Handschriften (1971).

pp. 208-209: ʿeqbay zqipā d-rabbēh is not "the feet of his crucified master", but perhaps "the lower part(s) of his master's cross".

p. 210, line 3: the word ydyʿʾhy should be ydyʿʾ hy.

p. 213, n. 12: "Appeals for divine assistance in copying" are hardly confined to "the Pauline epistles". This is a regular feature of Christian (not just Syriac) scribal culture.

p. 216, n. 6: the footnote anchor is sized too large.

Finally, to be added to the bibliography is Otto Zwierlein, Petrus und Paulus in Jerusalem und Rom: Vom Neuen Testament zu den apokryphen Apostelakten, Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte 109 (Berlin, 2012).

The author penned an earlier book on Paul (Paul the Martyr: The Cult of the Apostle in the Latin West [Atlanta, 2011]) and plans a subsequent volume to contain "a detailed analysis of these texts" (p. xxv). This volume of texts, then, will be an anchor for the others, and it will be of interest to all who are concerned with hagiography, post-biblical traditions of the apostles, early Christian literature generally, and of course those who are eager for further Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts to study. Hagiography is a genre especially suitable for studying texts in several languages side-by-side, and we can hope that other volumes like this one, and even more textually comprehensive, will continue to fuel the study of similar texts.

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