Markus Vinzent's Blog

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans 7 - when did David and Abraham enter this letter?

Prof. Markus Vinzent,


My name is ... and I’m a professor of historical theology at ,,.  I am reaching out to you regarding your work on Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Romans.  Aware that there are at least four Greek manuscripts for this letter as well as various translations, due to limited resources I am unable to track down which manuscript(s) support the reading of Romans 7:3 “I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life” as found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1867 reprinted 1973), 77.  Of particular interest is the wording “and [of] Abraham.”  This wording is not supported in J.B. Lightfoot’s 1889 Greek text and English translation The Apostolic Fathers, eds. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint 1984), 122 & 152, nor in SC 10:116/17.  Arguably, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson must have had some basis for translating as “the seed of David and Abraham.”  I am presuming it is that of Symeon Metaphrastes as found in PG 114:1281B.  I am hoping you can enlighten me as to which other manuscript(s) support(s) this reading as well as the date of the witness.  According to William R. Schoedel, Cod. Parisiensis-Colbertinus 1451, Cod. Hierosolymitanus S. Sabae 18, and Cod. Sinaiticus 519 date to the tenth century [William R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 4].  I confess my ignorance, Is the 10th century text found in PG 114 based on one of the three manuscripts above, or is this yet another text?  Of course, all of them being recensions.


From your blogpost 13 October 2017 “The many recensions of the letters of Ignatius of Antioch” I know that you have been studying the recensions and thus must have access to several, if not all.  I would be most grateful if you would enlighten me regarding the wording καὶ Άβραὰμ.  Is it found in any Syriac manuscript, etc ?


Knowing the busy life of a professor, I realize you may not have time to even reply, let alone research this (though I am hoping I have piqued your interest). 

Dear colleague,

thanks for your kind email and for reaching out to me. As you may have seen from my recent CUP book on 'Writing the History of Early Christianity', we are lacking an editio maior critica of the Ignatian letters, this is why questions like yours are utterly important and can not be answered by the editions and translations that we have. Although many people write about Ignatius, our studies lack the basis for interpretation.

When we compare the texts with regards to your question, Ignatius to the Romans is the most complex and at the same the most important one. As it is first not transmitted together with the six other letters in the collection that is being called the middle recension, but separately together with one of Ignatius' martyrdoms (see my mentioned book), this letter proves that we are not talking about three different recensions, but rather about at least five or six or rather many more. Now, as one of the most important witnesses for Ignatius' martyrdom and therefore for his letter to the Romans is Metaphrastus - but Metaphrastus has not been critically edited and Obeid (Obeid, Joseph. 1996. ‘Ignace d’Antioche, lettre aux romains’, Parole de l’Orient, 21: 65–109, 66) noted that the transcriptions of the Syriac and Arabic manuscripts of different scholars differ widely and we have no reliable edition of these either (Metaphrastus has far over 100 manuscripts extant), your question can not be fully answered at this time.

Let me, nevertheless, attempt to shed some light on the question.
Perhaps the oldest version of the text is preserved in the Syriac three letters collection which may reflect for this instance a text from shortly after the mid second century. Here we simply read: 'I seek the bread of God, which is the flesh of  Christ.'

In the Greek Codex Colbertinus (10/11th c.) as Metaphrastus in PG (but see my note above!), the Latin and Armenian of the 7-letters collection and the Armenian and Syrian translations of the Martyrdom, then read 'Jesus Christ'. The Colbertinus with Metaphrastus and the Greek mss. of the 13 letters collection (this need to be checked again for all manuscripts) also adds τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, though this reading is missing in the Latin and Armenian translations of the 7-letters collection and in the Armenian and Syrian translations of the martyrdom.
The Colbertinus with Metaphrastus, the Armenian and Syrian translations of the martyrdom then also add τοῦ ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυείδ. The crucial text καὶ ἀβραάμ is only present in the Colbertinus with Metaphrastus, but omitted in the Latin, Armenian translations of the 7-letters collection and in the Armenian and Syrian translations of the martyrdom.
When we add the Arabic translations, though, as noted above, we do not have a reliable transcription to date, it seems that Sinai Arab. 443 reads 'and of Abraham', while we have other Arabic manuscripts which have not even been transcribed.

It seems to me that the simple formula of the three letters collection was broadened with 'Jesus' and, therefore, to enhance his human side, by reference to Rom. 1:3 with the mention of David and, as the further note on Abraham is missing in the important Latin translation of the 13-letters collection, it seems that this addition was even later.

Sorry that all these caveats show the mess that we are in with regards the Ignatian letters at present. Before any further interpretation of these letters can be undertaken, we need to get a proper critical edition done by having reliable transcriptions of all extant manuscripts in all available ancient translations.

Nevertheless, I hope this helps. If you do not mind, I will post the question and answer on my blog to help others and underline the importance of a critical edition

yours Markus

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