Judean wisdom: Tatian the Assyrian on the priority of Moses’ “barbarian wisdom” (second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judean wisdom: Tatian the Assyrian on the priority of Moses’ “barbarian wisdom” (second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified October 22, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=17949.

Ancient author: Tatian the Assyrian (second century CE), Oration, or Address to the Greeks, entire work (link; link to Greek text).

Comments: We have very little reliable biographical information about Tatian beyond what he reveals about himself in this Address to the Greeks. Tatian does clarify that he was an Assyrian (section 42). He claims he travelled to many lands, with some time spent in Rome (35) alongside Justin “Martyr” (18-19), who was likely his teacher (18-19; cf. Irenaeus, in Eusebios, Church History 4.29.1; Justin, Second Apology 2.3). This would suggest he was active in the period from the 150s-170s CE. Tatian says that he was trained in Greek rhetoric and philosophy but turned on this training when he encountered “barbarian writings” of Moses (29). He therefore adopted a “barbarian philosophy” (35; 42) in the form of Moses’ teaching, which is in fact the focus of the entire work (a focus he shares with Justin – link [coming soon]).

The thread that binds Tatian’s entire address is precisely the notion of barbarian wisdom. Tatian is not an organized thinker or writer, to say the least. Nonetheless, the first part, although wandering, is focussed primarily on refuting the Greek philosophical sects and Greek claims to civilizational priority. Here Tatian attributes many false practices (e.g. astrology) and ideas (e.g. Greek myths) to the deceptions of lower spirits (or demons), who originated with the rebellion of angels against God (e.g. 1 Enoch 1-36). While focussed on Greeks, sometimes Tatian is concerned to establish the superiority of Judean, “barbarian” wisdom in relation to other forms of barbarian wisdom, including that of Babylonians (Berossos / Bel-re’ushu pops up) and Scythians, for instance. Furthermore, his attention to contesting the idea of Fate and astrology (as created by the lower spirits) suggests some tension with Persian forms of knowledge as well, and Ostanes the Magian is mentioned as the instructor of the Greek philosopher Demokritos (17; on which go to this link). In other words, while adopting one barbarian wisdom, he indirectly attempts to refute others including Chaldeans and Magians. Greeks are not the sole target, and Tatian is very much aware of widespread Greek notions about other wise barbarians like the ones you can read about in category two to your right.

The second part of the address attempts to establish the antiquity and superiority of the writings of Moses as the ideal and, most importantly, oldest form of barbarian wisdom.  Particularly important to notice here is that Tatian never, I mean never, directly refers to the figure or teachings of Jesus. There are the references to the Logos (5, 7, 13), Word or Organizing Principle (as it might be put in the context of Stoic thinking), however. This concept of the Logos was sometimes (as in Justin, Tatian’s teacher) linked to Jesus, and in this case Tatian seems to know about the Gospel of John’s prologue which identifies the utterance of God with Jesus. But the overall force of the argument remains on Judean wisdom as the ultimate wisdom.

Source of translation: B.P. Pratten, “Tatian,” in Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, volume 2, eds. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, eds. (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 1867), 1-48, adapted by Harland.


[Greeks claim inventions that other peoples have made]

(1) Do not be so extremely hostile towards the barbarians, men of Greece, nor have negative feelings about their opinions. For which of your customs has not been derived from the barbarians? The most eminent of the Telmessians invented the skill of divining by dreams; the Carians invented predictions by the stars; the Phrygians and the most ancient Isaurians invented divinatory readings by the flight of birds; and, the Cyprians invented the skill of inspecting victims. To the Babylonians you owe astronomy; to the Persians, Magian skill; to the Egyptians, land-measurement; and, to the Phoenicians, education in use of alphabetic writing. Stop wrongly calling your imitations “inventions.” Furthermore, Orpheus [pictured as Thracian] taught you poetry and song. You also learned the mysteries from him. The Etruscans taught you sculpture. From the records of the Egyptians you learned to write history. You acquired the skill of playing the flute from Marsyas and Olympos. These latter two rural Phrygians constructed the harmony of the shepherd’s pipe. The Tyrrhenians invented the trumpet. The Cyclopes invented the smith’s skill. As Hellanikos [fifth century BCE] informs us, a woman who was formerly a queen of the Persians invented writing letters. Her name was Atossa. So set aside this sense of self-importance and do not always brag about your elegance in speech because, while you applaud yourselves, your own people will of course side with you. But it takes a man with sense to wait for the testimony of others.

[Greeks disagree about their own language]

It is appropriate for people to agree about the pronunciation of their language, but now it is only you who do not speak in the same way even in daily interactions. The Dorians’ speech is not the same as inhabitants from Attica, nor do the Aiolians speak like the Ionians. Since such a discrepancy exists where it should not, I am at a loss as to whom I should call a Greek. The strangest thing of all is that you hold expressions in honour that are not of native origin and, by mixing in barbarian words, have made your language a medley.

[Greeks falsely claim special status in wisdom, rhetoric, and poetry]

This is why we have renounced your wisdom, even though I was once a very proficient in it. As the comic poet says, “These are gleaners’ grapes and small talk, / twittering places of swallows, corrupters of skill.” Yet those who enthusiastically pursue this wisdom caw and croak like so many ravens. You have also contrived the skill of rhetoric to serve injustice and slander, selling the free power of your speech for hire, and often representing the same thing at one time as right, at another time as not good. The poetic skill, again, you employ to describe battles, and the love affairs of the gods, and the corruption of the soul.

[Deficiencies of Greek pursuers of wisdom from all sects]

(2) What noble thing have you produced by your pursuit of wisdom? Who of your most eminent men has been free from vain boasting? Diogenes [founder of the Cynic sect], who made such a parade of his independence with his tub, was seized with a bowel problem through eating a raw octopus, and so lost his life by gluttony. Aristippos [found of the Cyrenaic sect], walking about in a purple robe, led a luxurious life in accordance with his professed opinions. Plato [founder of the Academy], a philosopher, was sold by Dionysios for propensity to over-eating.

And Aristotle [founder of the Peripatetic sect], who absurdly placed a limit to Providence and made happiness consist in the things which give pleasure, quite contrary to his duty as a teacher flattered Alexander, forgetting that he was only a youth. Showing how well Alexander had learned the lessons of his master, Alexander caged his friend and carried him around like a bear or a leopard because his friend would not worship him. Actually Alexander obeyed strictly the precepts of his teacher in displaying manliness and courage by feasting and by transfixing with his spear his intimate and most beloved friend and then, pretending to grieve, he wept and starved himself so that he might not incur the hatred of his friends. I could also laugh at those who in the present day adhere to his principles. These are eople who say that things beneath the moon are not under the care of Providence and so, being nearer the earth than the moon and below its orbit, they themselves look after what is thus left uncared for. As for those who have neither beauty, nor wealth, nor bodily strength, nor high birth, they have no happiness, according to Aristotle. Let such people show their love of wisdom!

[Deficiences of earlier, pre-Socratic pursuers of wisdom]

(3) I cannot approve of Herakleitos [of Ephesos], who, being self-taught and arrogant, said, “I have explored myself” [fragment 101]. Nor can I praise him for hiding his poem in the temple of Artemis, in order that it might be published afterwards as a mystery. Those who take an interest in such things say that Euripides the tragic poet came there and read it and, gradually learning it by heart, carefully handed down to posterity this darkness of Herakleitos. Death, however, demonstrated the stupidity of this man. Being attacked by dropsy, as he had studied the skill of medicine as well as philosophy, he plastered himself with cow-dung which, as it hardened, contracted the flesh of his whole body. The result was that he was pulled into pieces, and so died.

Then, one cannot listen to Zeno [of Elea], who declares that at the conflagration the same man will rise again to perform the same actions as before. For instance, Anytos and Miletos would rise to accuse, Bousiris would rise to murder his guests, and Herakles would rise to repeat his labours. In this teaching of the conflagration, Zeno introduces more wicked than just persons: one Socrates and a Herakles, and a few more of the same class, but not many, because the bad people will be found far more numerous than the good. Also, according to him, the deity will manifestly be the author of evil, dwelling in sewers and worms, and in the perpetrators of impiety.

The eruptions of fire in Sicily, moreover, confute the empty boasting of Empedokles [of Akragas], in that, though he was no god, he falsely almost made himself out to be one. I laugh, too, at the old wife’s talk of Pherekydes, and the teaching inherited from him by Pythagoras, and that of Plato, an imitation of his, though some think otherwise. And who would give his approval to Krates’ [student of the Cynic Diogenes] “dog-marriage,” and not rather, repudiating the wild and crazy talk of those who resemble him, turn to the investigation of what truly deserves attention?

So do not be led away by the solemn assemblies of pursuers of wisdom (philosophoi) who are no pursuers of wisdom, who dogmatize one against the other, though each one spouts merely the crude trends of the moment. They have, moreover, many collisions among themselves. Each one hates the other. They indulge in conflicting opinions, and their arrogance makes them eager for the highest places. It would be more appropriate for them not to pay court to kings without being called, nor to flatter leading men, but to wait till the great ones come to them.

[Greek community’s collision with followers of Moses’ barbarian wisdom]

(4) Why, you Greeks, do you wish to bring the community (politeia) into collision with us with a punch? And, if I am not disposed to comply with the activities of some of them, why am I to be hated as though I am an extremely polluted person? If the emperor orders the payment of tribute, I am ready to pay it. If my master commands me to be a slave, I do the service. A human being is to be honoured as a human being. God alone is to be feared, he who is not visible to human eyes, nor comprehensible.

[Principal obedience to God]

Only when I am commanded to deny God, will I not obey. I would rather die than show myself to be false and ungrateful. Our God did not begin to be in time. God alone is without beginning, and he himself is the beginning of all things. God is a Spirit, not pervading matter, but the creator of material spirits and of the forms that are in matter. He is invisible, impalpable, being himself the father of both sensible and invisible things. We know him from his creation, and apprehend his invisible power by his works. I refuse to worship his work of creation. The sun and moon were made for us: how, then, can I adore my own servants? How can I speak of sticks and stones as gods? For the spirit that pervades matter is inferior to the more divine spirit. Even when the divine spirit assimilated to the soul, it is not to be honoured equally with the perfect God. The ineffable God should not even be presented with gifts, because the one who needs nothing should not be misrepresented by us as though he needing something. But I will present our views more distinctly.

[Teaching on creation, resurrection]

(5) God was “in the beginning.” But the beginning, we have been taught, is the power of the Word (logos). For the Lord of the universe, who is himself the necessary ground of all being was alone, since no creature was yet in existence. Since he was all power, himself the necessary ground of visible and invisible things, with him were all things. With him, by the Word-power, the Word himself, who was in him, also subsists. And by his simple will the Word springs forth; and the Word, not coming forth in vain, becomes the first-begotten work of the Father. We know that the Word was the beginning of the world. But the Word came into being by participation, not by being cut away, because what is cut off is separated from the original substance, but that which comes by participation, making its choice of function, does not render him deficient from whom it is taken. For just as from one torch many fires are lighted, but the light of the first torch is not lessened by the kindling of many torches, so the Word, coming forth from the power of the Word of the Father, has not divested of the Word-power him who begat him. I myself, for instance, talk, and you hear; yet, certainly, I as the one conversing do not come to lack speech (logos) by the transmission of speech. Rather, by the utterance of my voice I try to reduce to order the unarranged matter in your minds. And as the Word begotten in the beginning also begat our world in turn, having first created for himself the necessary matter, so also I, in imitation of the Word, being begotten again, and having become possessed of the truth, am trying to reduce to order the confused matter which is related to me. For matter is not, like God, without beginning, nor, as having no beginning, is of equal power with God. It is begotten and not produced by any other being, but only brought into existence by the framer of everything.

(6) For this reason, we believe that there will be a resurrection of bodies after the consummation of all things. Not, as the Stoics affirm, according to the return of certain cycles, the same things being produced and destroyed for no useful purpose. Rather, we believe in a resurrection once for all, when our periods of existence are completed, and in consequence solely of the constitution of things under which men alone live, for the purpose of passing judgment upon them. Nor do mythical Minos or Rhadamanthys [legendary Cretan kings thought to also judge in the underworld] pass sentence upon us, before whose death not a single soul was judged. Rather, the Creator, God himself, becomes the arbiter.

Although you regard us as mere triflers and babblers, it does not trouble us because we trust in this teaching. For just as, not existing before I was born, I knew not who I was, and only potentially existed of physical matter, but being born, after a former state of nothingness, I have obtained through my birth a certainty of my existence; in the same way, having been born, and through death existing no longer, and seen no longer, I will exist again, just as before I was not, but was afterwards born. Even when fire destroys all traces of my flesh, the world receives the vaporized matter. Though dispersed through rivers and seas, or torn in pieces by wild beasts, I am laid up in the storehouses of a wealthy lord. Even though the poor and the godless do not know what is stored up, yet God the king, when he pleases, will restore the substance – that is visible to him alone – to its pristine condition.

[Human freedom and failure]

(7) For the heavenly Word (logos), a spirit emanating from the Father and a Word from the Word-power, in imitation of the Father who begat him, made man an image of immortality, so that, as incorruption is with God, in like manner, man, sharing in a part of God, might have the immortal principle also. The Word, too, before the creation of men, was the framer of angels. And each of these two orders of creatures was made free to act as it pleased, not having the nature of good, which again is with God alone, but is brought to perfection in men through their freedom of choice. This is done order that the bad man may be justly punished, having become depraved through his own fault, but the just man be deservedly praised for his virtuous actions, since in the exercise of his free choice he refrained from transgressing the will of God. Such is the constitution of things in reference to angels and men. And the power of the Word – having in itself an ability to foresee future events, not as fated, but as taking place by the choice of free agents – foretold from time to time the issues of things to come. The Word also became one who forbids wickedness by means of prohibitions and became the one who praises those who remained good.

[Fallen angels with the focus of their revolt on human beings]

When men attached themselves to one who was more clever than the rest [of the angels], having regard to his being the first-born, and declared him to be God, though he was resisting the law of God, then the power of the Word excluded the leader of the rebellion and his adherents from all fellowship with himself [i.e. the fallen angels expanded from Genesis 6]. And so he who was made in the likeness of God, since the more powerful spirit is separated from him, becomes mortal. But that first-begotten one through his transgression and ignorance becomes a lower spirit (daimōn; or: demon). The ones [other angels] who imitated him [leader of the rebel-angels] – that is his illusions – have become an apparition of lower spirits (or: demons), and through their freedom of choice have been given up to their own infatuation.

[Lower spirits introduce Fate and astrology to humanity]

(8) But human beings became the focus of their revolt. For, having shown them a plan of the position of the stars, like dice-players, they introduced Fate (heimarmenē), a flagrant injustice. For the judge and the judged are made so by Fate. The murderers and the murdered, the wealthy and the needy, are the offspring of the same Fate. Every birth-date is regarded as a theatrical entertainment by those beings of whom Homer says, “Among the gods / rose laughter irrepressible.” Is it not the case that those who are spectators of single combats and are partisans on one side or the other, and the one who marries and is a child-seducer and an adulterer, who laughs and is angry, who flees and is wounded, be regarded as mortals? For, by whatever actions they manifest to men their characters, by these they prompt their hearers to copy their example.

[Lower spirits are Greeks’ gods or composers of their myths]

And are not the lower spirits (or: demons) themselves, with Zeus at their head, subjected to Fate, being overpowered by the same passions as men? And, besides, how are those beings to be worshipped among whom there exists such a great conflict of opinions? For Rhea, whom the inhabitants of the Phrygian mountains call Cybele, enacted emasculation on account of Attis, of whom she was enamoured. But Aphrodite is delighted with conjugal embraces. Artemis is a Magian (magos); Apollo heals diseases. And after the decapitation of the Gorgon – the beloved of Poseidon from whom sprang the horse Pegasos and Chrysaor – Athena and Asklepios divided between them the drops of blood. While he saved men’s lives by means of them, she as war-maker killed men by the same blood. From regard to her reputation, as it appears to me, the Athenians attributed to the earth the son born of her connection with Hephaistos, that Athena might not be thought to be deprived of her power by Hephaistos, as Atalanta was deprived by Meleager. This limping manufacturer of buckles and earrings, as is likely, deceived the motherless child and orphan with these girlish ornaments. Poseidon frequents the seas; Ares delights in wars; Apollo plays the cithara; Dionysos is absolute ruler of the Thebans; Kronos is a tyrannicide; and, Zeus has intercourse with his own daughter, who becomes pregant by him. I may also provide the instance of Eleusis, the mystic Dragon, and Orpheus, who says, “Close the gates against the profane!” Aidoneus carries away Kore, and his actions have been made into mysteries. Demeter mourns her daughter, and some persons are deceived by the Athenians. In the precincts of the temple of the son of Leto is a spot called Omphalos (belly-button); but Omphalos is the burial-place of Dionysos. I commend you now, oh Daphne! By conquering the incontinence of Apollo, you disproved his power of prediction, because, not foreseeing what would occur to you, he gained no advantage from his skill. Let the far-shooting god tell me how Zephyros killed Hyacinthos. Zephyros conquered him. In keeping with the saying of the tragic poet, “On the breeze is the most honourable chariot of the gods” – conquered by a slight breeze, Apollo lost his beloved.

[Lower spirits give rise to superstitions, especially astrology and the notion of Fate]

(9) Such are the lower spirits; they are the ones who established the teaching of Fate. Their fundamental principle was the placing of animals in the heavens. For the creeping things on the earth, and those that swim in the waters, and the four-footed animals on the mountains, with which they lived when expelled from heaven. The lower spirits dignified these with celestial honour, in order that they might themselves be thought to remain in heaven and, by placing the constellations there, might make the course of life on earth seem rational even though it was irrational. As a result, the person who is high-spirited and the one who is crushed with toil, the self-controlled person and those who lack self-control, the poor and the wealthy are what they are simply from the controllers of their birth-date. This is because the delineation of the zodiacal circle is the work of gods [in this system]. And, when the light of one of them predominates, as they express it, it deprives all the rest of their honour. The one who is now conquered gains predominance at another time. And the seven planets are well pleased with them, as if they were amusing themselves with dice.

But we are superior to Fate, and instead of wandering lower spirits, we have learned to know one Lord who does not wander. Since we do not follow the guidance of Fate, we reject its lawgivers. I urge you to tell me: did Triptolemos sow wheat and prove a benefactor to the Athenians after their sorrow? And why was not Demeter, before she lost her daughter, a benefactor to humanity? The Dog of Erigone is shown in the heavens, and the Scorpion the helper of Artemis, and Chiron the Centaur, and the divided Argo, and the Bear of Kallisto. Yet how, before these performed the previously mentioned actions, were the heavens unadorned? And to whom will it not appear ridiculous that the Triangular (Delta-shaped) should be placed among the stars, according to some, on account of Sicily, or, as others say, on account of the first letter in the name of Zeus (Dios)? For why are Sardinia and Cyprus not honoured in heaven? And why have not the letters of the names of the brothers of Zeus, who shared the kingdom with him, been fixed there too? And how is it that Kronos, who was put in chains and ejected from his kingdom, is constituted a manager of Fate? Also how can one give kingdoms when he no longer reigns himself? Reject, then, these absurdities, and do not become transgressors by hating us [followers of Moses’ barbarian wisdom] unjustly.

(10) There are legends about the transformation (metamorphosis) of humans: with you the gods are also transformed. Rhea becomes a tree; Zeus a dragon, on account of Persephone; the sisters of Phaethon are changed into poplars, and Leto into a bird of little value, for which reason Delos was called Ortygia. Indeed, a god becomes a swan or takes the form of an eagle and, making Ganymede his cupbearer, glories in a vile affection. How can I reverence gods who are eager for presents, and angry if they do not receive them? Let them have their Fate! I am not willing to adore wandering stars. What is that hair of Berenike [wife of king Ptolemy III]? Where were her stars before her death? And how was the dead Antinous [favourite of emperor Hadrian] fixed as a beautiful youth in the moon? Who carried him there: unless perhaps, like men perjuring themselves for hire, are credited when they say in ridicule about the gods that kings have ascended into heaven, so some one, in like manner, has put this man also among the gods, and been recompensed with honour and reward?

Why have you robbed God? Why do you dishonour his workmanship? You sacrifice a sheep, and you adore the same animal. The Bull [constellation] is in the heavens, and you slaughter its image. The Kneeler [constellation; i.e. Herakles] crushes a terrible monster [Drako]; and the eagle that devours Prometheus, the creator of humankind, is honoured. The swan is noble, indeed, because it was an adulterer; and the Dioskouroi, living on alternate days, the ravishers of the daughters of Leukippos, are also noble! Better still is Helen, who abandoned the flaxen-haired Menelaos, and followed the turbaned and gold-adorned Paris. A just man also is Sophron, who transported this adulteress to the Elysian fields! But even the daughter of Tyndaros is not gifted with immortality, and Euripides has wisely represented this woman as put to death by Orestes.

(11) How, then, will I admit this birth-date (nativity) according to Fate, when I see such managers of Fate? I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command; I detest sexual perversion; I am not impelled by an insatiable love of gain to go to sea; I do not contend for athletic garlands; I am free from a mad thirst for fame; I despise death; I am superior to every kind of disease; and, grief does not consume my soul. If I am a slave, I endure slavery. If I am free, I do not boast about my good birth. I see that the same sun is for everyone, and one death for everyone, whether they live in pleasure or destitution. The rich man sows and the poor man partakes of the same sowing. The wealthiest die and beggars have the same limits to their life. The rich lack many things, and are glorious only through the estimation they are held in. Yet the poor man and the one who has very moderate desires, seeking as he does only the things suited to his lot, more easily obtains his purpose. How is it that you are fated to be sleepless through extreme greed? Why are you fated to grasp at things often, and often to die? Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it. Live to God, and by apprehending him lay aside your old nature. We were not created to die, but we die by our own fault. Our free-will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God. We ourselves have manifested wickedness, but we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.

[Constitution of the universe: Two types of spirits]

(12) We recognise two varieties of spirit, one we call “soul” (psychē), but the other is greater than the soul, an image and likeness of God: both existed in the first men, that in one sense they might be material, and in another superior to matter. The case stands as follows: we can see that the whole structure of the world, and the whole creation, has been produced from matter, and that matter itself was brought into existence by God. So, on the one hand, it may be regarded as rude and unformed before it was separated into parts, and on the other as arranged in beauty and order after the separation was made. Therefore in that separation the heavens were made of matter, and the stars that are in them. The earth and all that is upon it has a similar constitution, so that there is a common origin of all things. But, while such is the case, there yet are certain differences in the things made of matter, so that one is more beautiful, and another is beautiful but surpassed by something better. For as the constitution of the body is under one management, and is engaged in doing that which is the cause of its having been made, yet though this is the case, there are certain differences of dignity in it. The eye is one thing, and another the ear, and another the arrangement of the hair and the distribution of the intestines, and the compacting together of the marrow and the bones and the tendons. Even though one part differs from another, there is still all the harmony of a concert of music in their arrangement. In a similar way, the world, according to the power of its maker containing some things of superior splendour, but some unlike these, received by the will of the creator a material spirit. And these things are perceivable for the person who does not conceitedly reject those most divine explanations which in the course of time have been consigned to writing, writings make those who study them great lovers of God.

[More about the lower spirits]

Therefore the “lower spirits” (daimones), as you call them, having received their structure from matter and obtained the spirit which inheres in it, became indulgent and greedy. A few, indeed, turning to what was purer, but others choosing what was inferior in matter, and conforming their manner of life to it. These beings, produced from matter, but very remote from right conduct, you Greeks worship. For, being turned by their own folly to conceit, and shaking off the reins of authority, they have been forward to become bandits (lēstai) of deity. The Lord of all has allowed them to amuse themselves until the world, coming to an end, is dissolved, the judge appears, and all those men who, while assailed by the lower spirits, strive after the knowledge of the perfect God obtain as the result of their conflicts a more perfect testimony in the day of judgment.

[Appeal to barbarian wisdom and comparison with Scythians and Babylonian wisdom]

There is, then, a spirit (pneuma) in the stars, a spirit in angels, a spirit in plants and the waters, a spirit in men, a spirit in animals. However, even though it is one and the same, it has differences within itself. And while we say these things not from mere hearsay, nor from probable conjectures and sophistical reasoning, but using words of a certain divine speech, do you who are willing eagerly learn. And you who do not reject with contempt the Scythian Anacharsis, do not disdain to be taught by those who follow a barbarian code of laws. Give at least as favourable a reception to our principles as you would to the predictions of the Babylonians. Listen to us when we speak, if only as you would to an oracular oak. And yet the things just referred to are the trickeries of frenzied lower spirits, while the teachings we inculcate are far beyond the apprehension of the world.

[Nature of the soul]

(13) The soul is not in itself immortal, you Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die. Actually, if the soul does not know the truth, it dies, and is dissolved with the body, but rises again at last at the end of the world with the body, receiving death by punishment in immortality. But, again, if it acquires the knowledge of God, it does not die, even though it is dissolved for a time. In itself it is darkness, and there is nothing luminous in it. And this is the meaning of the saying, “The darkness does not comprehend the light.” For the soul does not preserve the spirit, but is preserved by it, and the light comprehends the darkness. The Word, in truth, is the light of God, but the ignorant soul is darkness. On this account, if the soul continues alone, it tends downward towards matter, and dies with the flesh. However, if the soul enters into union with the divine spirit, it is no longer helpless. Rather, the soul (psychē) ascends to the regions where the spirit (pneuma) guides it, because the dwelling-place of the spirit is above, but the origin of the soul is from beneath. Now, in the beginning the spirit was a constant companion of the soul, but the spirit abandoned it because it was not willing to follow. Yet, retaining as it were a spark of its power, though unable by reason of the separation to discern the perfect, while seeking for God it created for itself in its wandering many gods, following the sophistries of the lower spirits (or: demons).

But the spirit (pneuma) of God is not with everyone. Rather, dwelling with those who live justly, and intimately combining with the soul, by prophecies it announced hidden things to other souls. And the souls that are obedient to wisdom have attracted to themselves the cognate spirit; but the disobedient, rejecting the minister of the suffering God, have shown themselves to be fighters against God, rather than his worshippers.

[Punishment of the bandit lower spirits]

(14) And that [fighters against God] is exactly what you are, Greeks. You are full of words, but your minds are strangely warped. You acknowledge the dominion of many rather than the rule of one, accustoming yourselves to follow lower spirits (daimones; or: demons) as if they were powerful. For, just as a man engaged in banditry is used to overpowering those like himself by daring, so also the lower spirits, going to great lengths in wickedness, have utterly deceived the souls among you which are left to themselves by ignorance and false appearances. Actually , these beings do not die easily because they do not consist in flesh; but while living they practise the ways of death, and die themselves as often as they teach their followers to sin. Therefore, what is now their chief distinction, that they do not die like men, they will retain when about to suffer punishment. They will not partake of everlasting life, so as to receive this instead of death in a blessed immortality. And as we, to whom it now easily happens to die, afterwards receive the immortal with enjoyment, or the painful with immortality, so the lower spirits, who abuse the present life to purposes of wrong-doing, dying continually even while they live, will have the same immortality afterwards, like that which they had during the time they lived. However, in its nature like that of men, who voluntarily performed what the lower spirits prescribed to them during their lifetime. And do not fewer kinds of failure (or: sin) break out among men owing to the brevity of their lives, while on the part of these lower spirits transgression is more abundant owing to their boundless existence?

[Union with the holy spirit]

(15) Furthermore, we should now seek for what we once had, but have lost, to unite the soul with the Holy Spirit, and to strive after union with God. The human soul consists of many parts, and is not simple. It is composite, so as to manifest itself through the body, because it could neither appear by itself without the body, nor does the flesh rise again without the soul. Man is not, as the croaking pursuers of wisdom (philosophoi) say, merely a rational animal, capable of understanding and knowledge. For, according to them, even irrational creatures appear possessed of understanding and knowledge. But man alone is the image and likeness of God; and I mean by man, not one who performs actions similar to those of animals, but one who has advanced far beyond mere humanity – advanced to God himself.

This question we have discussed more minutely in the treatise concerning animals. But the principal point to say now is what is intended by the image and likeness of God. That which cannot be compared is nothing other than abstract being; but that which is compared is no other than that which is similar. The perfect God is without flesh, but man is flesh. The bond of the flesh is the soul; that which encloses the soul is the flesh. Such is the nature of man’s constitution, and if it is like a temple, God is pleased to dwell in it by the spirit, his representative. However, if it is not such a habitation, man excels the wild beasts in articulate language only. In other respects man’s manner of life is like theirs, as one who is not a likeness of God. But none of the lower spirits possess flesh; their structure is spiritual, like that of fire or air. And only by those whom the Spirit of God dwells in and fortifies are the bodies of the lower spirits easily seen, not at all by others. By this I mean those who possess only soul, because the inferior does not have the ability to apprehend the superior. On this account the nature of the lower spirits has no place for repentance because they are the reflection of matter and of wickedness. But matter desired to exercise lordship over the soul. According to their free-will these gave laws of death to men. However, after the loss of immortality, men have conquered death by submitting to death in trust. Through repentance, a call has been given to them, according to the word which says, “since they were made a little lower than the angels” [Hebrews 2:7]. And, for every one who has been conquered, it is possible again to conquer, if he rejects the condition which brings death. And what that is, may be easily seen by men who long for immortality.

[Lower spirits are behind sorcery and use of medicine – i.e. demonizing Persian Magian skills and other forms of healing, for instance]

(16) But the lower spirits who rule over men are not souls of men. Because, if this was the case, how would they be capable of action after death unless man, who was void of understanding and power while living, would be believed to be endowed with more of active power when dead. But neither could this be the case, as we have shown elsewhere. It is difficult to conceive that the immortal soul, which is impeded by the members of the body, would become more intelligent when it has migrated from the body. The lower spirits, inspired with frenzy against men by reason of their own wickedness, pervert men’s minds, which already incline downwards, by various deceptive scenic representations. They do this so that men may be disabled from rising to the path that leads to heaven. But things in the world are not hidden from us, and the divine is easily apprehended by us if the power that makes souls immortal visits us. Ensouled men (psychic) also perceive the lower spirits when, at times, lower spirits display themselves to men. The lower spirits do this either to be considered something important, or to behave like bad friends who do harm to friends as if they are enemies, or to encourage others to honour to those who resemble them. For, if it were possible, they would without doubt pull down heaven itself with the rest of creation. But now this they can by no means effectively do because the do not have the power. Nonetheless, they make war by means of the lower matter against the matter that is like themselves. If anyone wants to conquer them, let that person repudiate matter. Being armed with the breastplate of the celestial spirit, such a person will be able to preserve all that is encompassed by it. There are, in fact, diseases and disturbances of the matter that is in us. Yet when such things happen the lower spirits ascribe the causes of them to themselves, and approach a man whenever disease lays hold of him. Sometimes they themselves disturb the habit of the body by a tempest of folly; but, being smitten by the word of God, they depart in terror, and the sick man is healed.

[Insults for Demokritos (or: Democritus) based on his origins in Abdera and on his supposed education by the Magian Ostanes]

(17) Concerning the Sympathies and Antipathies of Demokritos, what can we say but this: according to the common saying, the man from among the Abderans [in Thrace] is someone with the “logic of an Abderite” (Abdērologos) [i.e. an ethnic insult implying Abderans are stupid]? Now the person who named that city – a friend of Herakles, it is said – was devoured by the horses of Diomedes [cf. Apollodoros, Library of Greek Mythology 2.97]. So the person who boasted about the Magian Ostanes will be delivered up in the day of consummation as fuel for the eternal fire [on Demokritos and Ostanes, go to this link]. And you, if you do not stop laughing, will gain the same punishment as the howlers of enchantments (goētes) [i.e. Persian Magians like Ostanes].

So, you Greeks, listen to me, addressing you as from a speaker’s platform. Also, do not in mockery transfer your own lack of reason to the person announcing the truth. A disease is not destroyed by an antipathy (or: counter-reaction), nor is a maniac cured by hanging little amulets of leather on him. There are visitations of lower spirits, and the one who is sick, the one who says he is in love, the one who hates, and the one who wishes to be revenged accept these lower spirits as helpers. And this is the method of their operation: just as the forms of alphabetic letters and the lines composed of them cannot by themselves indicate what is meant, but men have invented for themselves signs for their thoughts, knowing by their peculiar combination what the order of the letters was intended to express; so, in a similar way, the various kinds of roots and the mutual relation of the sinews and bones can effect nothing by themselves, but are the elemental matter with which the depravity of the lower spirits works. The lower spirits have determined for what purpose each of them is available.

And, when lower spirits see that men consent to be served by means of such things, they take them and make them their slaves. But how can it be honourable to promote adulteries? How can it be noble to stimulate men in hating one another? Or how is it appropriate to ascribe to matter the relief of the insane, and not to God? For by their skill the lower spirits turn men aside from the pious acknowledgment of God, leading them to place confidence in herbs and roots. But if God had prepared these things to effect just what men wanted, God would be a producer of evil things. Yet God himself produced everything which has good qualities, but the depravity of the lower spirits has made use of the productions of nature for evil purposes, and the appearance of evil which these wear is from them, and not from the perfect God. For how does it happen that when alive I was in no way evil, but that now I am dead and can do nothing, my remains, which are incapable of motion or even sense, should effect something cognizable by the senses? And how will the one who has died by the most miserable death be able to assist in avenging anyone? If this were possible, he would more likely defend himself from his own enemy. Being able to assist others, much more likely he will make himself his own avenger.

(18) But drugs (pharmakeia) and everything included with that is an invention of the same kind. If any one is healed by matter, through trusting it, much more will he be healed by having recourse to the power of God. As poisonous preparations are material compounds, so are curative materials made of the same nature. If, however, we reject the baser matter, some persons often endeavour to heal by a union of one of these bad things with some other, and will make use of the bad to attain the good. But, just as he who dines with a bandit, even if he is not a bandit himself, partakes of the punishment on account of his intimacy with him, so the person who is not bad but associates with bad people, having dealings with them for some supposed good, will be punished by God the judge for partnership in the same object. Why is he who trusts in the system of matter not willing to trust in God? For what reason do you not approach the more powerful Lord, but rather seek to cure yourself, like the dog with grass, or the stag with a viper, or the hog with river-crabs, or the lion with apes? Why do you deify the objects of nature? And why, when you cure your neighbour, are you called a benefactor? Yield to the power of the Word!

The lower spirits do not cure, but by their skill make men their captives. And the most admirable Justin [First Apology link (coming soon] has rightly denounced them as bandits. For, since it is the practice of some to capture persons and then to restore them to their friends for a ransom, so those who are considered gods, invading the bodies of certain persons, and producing a sense of their presence by dreams, command them to come out in public, and in the sight of all, when they have taken their fill of the things of this world, fly away from the sick. Destroying the disease which they had produced, they restore men to their former state.

[Philosophers who are off track]

(19) But you who do not perceive these things should be instructed by us who know them. Even though you profess to despise death, and to be sufficient of yourselves for everything. But this is a discipline in which your philosophers are so greatly deficient. For example, some of them receive from the Roman emperor six hundred gold coins (aurei) yearly even though they perform no useful service. They may not even wear a long beard without being paid for it!

Crescens, who made his nest in the great city, surpassed all men in his love of boys, and was strongly addicted to the love of money [cf. Justin, Second Apology 2.3]. Yet this man, who professed to despise death, was so afraid of death that he tried to inflict on Justin and indeed on me the punishment of death, as if it was an evil, because by proclaiming the truth he convicted the philosophers of being gluttons and cheats. But whom of the philosophers, save you only, was he accustomed to inveigh against? If you say, in agreement with our principles, that death is not to be dreaded, do not court death from an insane love of fame among men, like Anaxagoras, but become despisers of death by reason of the knowledge of God. The construction of the world is excellent, but the life men live in it is bad; and we may see those greeted with applause as in a solemn assembly who know not God.

[Critique of divination]

For what is divination and why are you deceived by it? It is a minister to you of worldly lusts. You want to make war, and you take Apollo as a counsellor of slaughter. You want to carry off a young woman by force, and you select a divinity to be your accomplice. You are ill by your own fault. As Agamemnon wished for ten councillors, so you wish to have gods with you. Some woman by drinking water gets into a frenzy, and loses her senses by the fumes of frankincense, and you say that she has the gift of prophecy. Apollo was a predictor and a teacher of diviners: in the matter of Daphne he deceived himself. An oak, indeed, is oracular, and birds utter presages! And so you are inferior to animals and plants! It would surely be a fine thing for you to become a divining rod, or to assume the wings of a bird! The one who makes you fond of money also foretells your getting rich; the one who excites to sedition and war also predicts victory in war. If you are superior to the passions, you will despise all worldly things. Do not hate us who have made this attainment. Instead, after repudiating the lower spirits, follow the one God. “All things were made by him, and without him not one thing was made.” If there is poison in natural productions, this has supervened through our sinfulness. I am able to show the perfect truth of these things. Only listen, and the person who believes will understand.

(20) Even if you are healed by drugs (I will grant you that point as a courtesy), you must give testimony of the cure to God. For the world still draws us down, and through weakness I incline towards matter. For the wings of the soul were the perfect spirit. However, having cast this off through sin, it flutters like a nestling and falls to the ground. Having left the heavenly companionship, it hankers after communion with inferior things.

The lower spirits were driven out to another place. The first created human beings were expelled from their place: actually the former were cast down from heaven; but the latter were driven from earth, yet not out of this earth, but from a more excellent order of things than exists here now. And now you must yearn after that pristine state, putting aside everything that proves a hindrance. The heavens are not infinite, man, but finite and bounded. Beyond the heavens are the superior worlds where there are no changing seasons, as a result of which various diseases are produced. Rather, sharing in every pleasant temperature, they have perpetual day and light unapproachable by men below. Those who have composed elaborate descriptions of the earth have given an account of its various regions so far as this was possible to man. However, being unable to speak of that which is beyond, because of the impossibility of personal observation, they have attributed to the tides that one sea is filled with weeds and another with mud, and that some localities are burned up with heat and others cold and frozen. We, however, have learned things which were unknown to us, through the teaching of the prophets, who, being fully persuaded that the heavenly spirit along with the soul will acquire a clothing of mortality, foretold things which other minds were unacquainted with. But it is possible for every one who is naked to obtain this apparel, and to return to ancient kindred.

[Critique of Greek myths and customs]

(21) We do not act as fools, you Greeks, nor utter pointless tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a human being. I call on you who reproach us to compare your mythical accounts with our narrations. Athena, as they say, took the form of Deiphobos for the sake of Hektor, and the unshorn Phoebos for the sake of Admetos fed the trailing-footed oxen, and the spouse us came as an old woman to Semele. But, while you treat such things seriously, how can you deride us? Your Asklepios died, and he who ravished fifty virgins in one night at Thespiae lost his life by delivering himself to the devouring flame. Prometheus, fastened to the Caucasus mountains, suffered punishment for his good actions towards humanity. According to you, Zeus is envious, and hides the dream from people, wishing their destruction. So look at your own records and approve of us at least as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only pointless tales.

If you speak about the origin of the gods, you also declare them to be mortal. For what reason is Hera now never pregnant? Has she grown old? Or is there no one to give you information? Believe me now, you Greeks, and do not allegorize your myths and gods. If you attempt to do this, the divine nature as held by you is overthrown by your own selves; for, if the lower spirits with you are such as they are said to be, they are worthless as to character; or, if regarded as symbols of the powers of nature, they are not what they are called. But I cannot be persuaded to revere the natural elements [earth, water, air, fire], nor can I try to persuade my neighbour to do so.

Metrodoros of Lampsakos, in his treatise concerning Homer, has argued very foolishly, turning everything into allegory. For he says that neither Hera, nor Athena, nor Zeus are what those persons suppose who consecrate to them sacred enclosures and groves, but parts of nature and certain arrangements of the elements. Hektor also, and Achilles, and Agamemnon, and all the Greeks and the barbarians with Helen and Paris, being of the same nature, you will of course say are introduced merely for the sake of the machinery of the poem, not one of these personages having really existed. But we have presented these things only for argument’s sake, for it is not allowable even to compare our notion of God with those who are wallowing in matter and mud.

(22) And of what sort are your teachings? Who must not treat with contempt your solemn festivals, which, being held in honour of wicked lower spirits, cover men with shame? I have often seen a man (and have been amazed to see, and the amazement has ended in contempt, to think how he is one thing internally, but outwardly counterfeits what he is not) giving himself delicate appearances and indulging in all sorts of effeminacy. Sometimes he darts his eyes around, sometimes he throws his hands here and there, and he raves with his face smeared with mud. Sometimes he personates Aphrodite, sometimes Apollo. This is a solitary accuser of all the gods, an epitome of the fear of the lower spirits (deisidaimonia), a vituperator of heroic actions, an actor of murders, a chronicler of adultery, a storehouse of madness, a teacher of effeminate homosexuals, an instigator of capital sentences. Yet such a man is praised by everyone! But I have rejected all his falsehoods, his impiety, his practices, in short I have completely rejected the man himself.

Yet you are led captive by such men, while you revile those who do not take a part in your activities. I have no mind to stand amazed at a number of singers, nor do I desire to be affected in sympathy with a man when he is winking and gesticulating in an unnatural manner. What wonderful or extraordinary thing is performed among you? They blow through their noses and go through indecent movements; your daughters and your sons view them giving lessons in adultery on the stage. Admirable places, indeed, are your lecture-rooms, where every base action perpetrated by night is proclaimed out loud, and the hearers are regaled with the utterance of infamous discourses! Admirable, too, are your lying poets, who by their fictions delude their hearers!

[Critique of the violence of gladiatorial shows]

(23) I have seen men weighed down by bodily exercise, and carrying around the burden of their flesh, before whom rewards and garlands are set, while the adjudicators cheer them on, not to actions of virtue, but to rivalry in violence and discord. The person who excels in giving blows is crowned. These are the lesser evils. Regarding the greater evils, who would not shrink from telling them? Some, giving themselves up to laziness and sell themselves to be killed. The poor barters himself away, while the rich man buys others to kill him. And for these the witnesses take their seats and the boxers meet in single combat for no reason whatsoever. Nor does any one come down into the arena to help. Do such exhibitions as these redound to your credit? He who is chief among you collects a legion of blood-stained murderers, engaging to maintain them. These ruffians are sent out by him, and you assemble at the spectacle to be judges, partly of the wickedness of the adjudicator, and partly of that of the men who engage in the combat. And he who misses the murderous exhibition is grieved, because he was not doomed to be a spectator of wicked, impious and horrendous actions. You slaughter animals for the purpose of eating their flesh, and you purchase men to supply a man-eating banquet for the soul, nourishing it by the most impious bloodshedding. The bandit commits murder for the sake of plunder, but the rich man purchases gladiators for the sake of their being killed.

(24) What advantage should I gain from him who is brought on the stage by Euripides raving mad, and acting the mother-killer of Alkmaion, who does not even retain his natural behaviour, but with his mouth wide open goes around with sword in hand and, screaming out, is burned to death, habited in a robe unfit for man? Away, too, with the mythical tales of Akusilaos and Menander, a versifier of the same class! And why should I admire the mythic piper? Why should I pay attention to the Theban Antigenides, like Aristoxenos? We leave you to these worthless things. Do you either believe our teachings, or, like us, give up yours.

[Critique of Greeks claims to wisdom]

(25) What great and wonderful things have your philosophers achieved? They leave uncovered one of their shoulders, they let their hair grow long, they cultivate their beards. Their nails are like the claws of wild animals. Though they say that they want nothing, nontheless, like Proteus, they need a leather-worker for their wallet; a weaver for their mantle; and a wood-cutter for their staff; and rich men and a cook for their gluttony, too. You man behaving like a dog, you know not God, and so have turned to the imitation of an irrational animal [i.e. members of the Cynic sect]. You cry out in public with an assumption of authority, and take upon you to avenge your own self. If you receive nothing, you indulge in abuse, and philosophy is with you the skill of getting money. You follow the teachings of Plato, and a disciple of Epicurus lifts up his voice to oppose you. Again, you wish to be a disciple of Aristotle, and a follower of Demokritos rails at you. Pythagoras says that he was Euphorbos, and he is the heir of the teaching of Pherekydes. Yet Aristotle impugns the immortality of the soul.

[Retorsion regarding charge of eating human flesh]

You who receive from your predecessors teachings which clash with one another, you the inharmonious, are fighting against the harmonious. One of you asserts that God is body, but I assert that he is without body; that the world is indestructible, but I say that it is to be destroyed; that a conflagration will take place at various times [i.e. Stoic sect], but I say that it will come to pass once for all; that Minos and Rhadamanthys are judges, but I say that God himself is judge; and, that the soul alone is endowed with immortality, but I say that the flesh also is endowed with it. What injury do we inflict upon you, you Greeks? Why do you hate those who follow the word of God, as if they were the worst of humankind? It is not we who eat human flesh. Those among you who assert such a thing have been brought as false witnesses. It is among you that Pelops is made a supper for the gods, although beloved by Poseidon, Kronos devours his children, and Zeus swallows Metis.

(26) Stop parading foreign sayings and decking yourselves out like a crow in borrowed feathers. If each city-state were to take away its contribution to your speech, your fallacies would lose their power. While inquiring what God is, you are ignorant of what is in yourselves. While gazing at the sky with your mouth hanging open, you stumble into pitfalls. The reading of your books is like walking through a labyrinth, and their readers resemble the cask of the Danaids. Why do you divide time, saying that one part is past, and another present, and another future? For how can the future be passing when the present exists? Those who are sailing imagine in their ignorance, as the ship is borne along, that the hills are in motion. Similarly you do not know that it is you who are passing along, but that the age remains present as long as the creator wills it to exist.

Why am I called to account for uttering my opinions, and why are you in such a hurry to put them all down? Were not you born in the same manner as ourselves, and placed under the same government of the world? Why say that wisdom is with you alone, who have not another sun, nor other risings of the stars, nor a more distinguished origin, nor a death preferable to that of other men? The grammarians have been the beginning of this pointless talk. You who parcel out wisdom are cut off from the wisdom that is according to truth, and you assign the names of the several parts to particular men. You do not know God, but in your fierce contentions destroy one another. And on this account you are all worth nothing. While you claim the sole right to words, you discourse like a blind man with a deaf man.

Why do you handle the builder’s tools without knowing how to build? Why do you busy yourselves with words, while you keep away from actions, puffed up with praise but cast down by misfortunes? Your modes of acting are contrary to reason, for you make a pompous appearance in public, but hide your teaching in corners. Since I find you to be men like these, we have abandoned you and no longer concern ourselves with your principles. But we follow the word of God. Why, man, do you set the letters of the alphabet at war with one another? Why do you, as in a boxing match, make their sounds clash together with your mincing Attic way of speaking, whereas you should speak more according to nature? For if you adopt the Attic dialect though not an Athenian, I ask why do you not speak like the Dorians? How is it that one appears to you more rugged, the other more pleasant for conversation?

[Followers of Moses’ barbarian wisdom are wrongly hated and mistreated, with comparison to other supposedly more problematic foreigners]

(27) And if you adhere to their [Greek] teaching, why do you fight against me for choosing such views of teaching as I approve? Is it not unreasonable that, while the bandit is not to be punished for the name he bears, but only when the truth about him has been clearly ascertained, yet we are assailed with abuse on a judgment formed without examination? Diagoras was an Athenian, but you punished him for divulging the Athenian mysteries. Yet you who read his Phrygian discourses hate us. You possess the commentaries of Leo, and are displeased with our refutations of them. Having in your hands the opinions of Apion concerning the Egyptian gods, you denounce us as most impious. The tomb of Olympian Zeus is shown among you, though some one says that the Cretans are liars.

Your assembly of many gods is nothing. Though their despiser Epicurus acts as a torch-bearer, I do not conceal from the rulers that view of God which I hold in relation to his government of the universe. Why do you advise me to be false to my principles? Why do you who say that you despise death exhort us to use skill in order to escape it? I have not the heart of a deer; but your zeal for dialectics resembles the loquacity of Thersites. How can I believe one who tells me that the sun is a red-hot mass and the moon an earth? Such assertions are mere wars of words, and not a sober exposition of truth. How can it be otherwise than foolish to credit the books of Herodotos relating to the history of Herakles, which tell of an upper earth from which the lion came down that was killed by Herakles? And what avails the Attic style, the logical fallacy of sorites among philosophers, the plausibilities of syllogisms, the measurements of the earth, the positions of the stars, and the course of the sun? To be occupied in such inquiries is the work of one who imposes opinions on himself as if they were laws.

[Further critique of Greek and Roman sexual customs, with reference to Persian Magians]

(28) On this account I reject your legislation also, because there should be one communal organization (politeia) for everyone. However, now there are as many different codes as there are city-states, so that things held disgraceful in some are honourable in others. The Greeks consider sexual intercourse with a mother as unlawful, but this practice is considered appropriate by the Persian Magians. Sex with boys is condemned by the barbarians, but by the Romans, who endeavour to collect herds of boys like grazing horses, it is honoured with certain privileges.

[Tatian’s own journey to truth as found in the more ancient barbarian teachings]

(29) After I had seen these things (and moreover also been admitted to the mysteries); examined the worship performed by the effeminate homosexuals everywhere; found the Romans’ Jupiter Latiaris delighting in human gore and the blood of slaughtered men; found Artemis not far from the great city sanctioning acts of the same kind; and found one lower spirit (or: demon) here and another there instigating to the perpetration of evil, when I was by myself I began to seek how I might be able to discover the truth. And, while I was giving my most earnest attention to the matter, I happened to encounter certain barbarian writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of the Greeks and too divine to be compared with their errors. I was also led to put trust in these by the unpretentious language, the artless character of the speakers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of a single ruler of the universe. As my soul was being taught by God, I discerned that the former class of writings led to condemnation, but that these writings put an end to the slavery that is in the world. These writings rescue us from a multitude of rulers and ten thousand tyrants. At the same time, these writings give us, not in fact what we had not before received, but what we had received but were prevented by error from retaining.

(30) Therefore, being initiated and instructed in these things, I wish to put away my former errors as the follies of childhood. For we know that the nature of wickedness is like that of the smallest seeds. Since it has grown strong from a small beginning, but will again be destroyed if we obey the words of God and do not scatter ourselves like seeds. For he has become master of all we have by means of a certain “hidden treasure.” While we are digging for that treasure we are in fact covered with dust, but we secure it as our fixed possession. The person who receives this entire treasure has obtained control of the most precious wealth. Let these things, then, be said to our friends. But to you Greeks what can I say, except to request you not to rail against those who are better than you. Nor, if they are called “barbarians” to make that a reason for mockery. For, if you are willing, you will be able to find out why men do not understand one another’s language; for to those who wish to examine our principles I will give a simple and extensive account of these principles.

[Explication of this superior philosophy and teaching]

(31) But now it seems proper for me to demonstrate that our philosophy is older than the systems of the Greeks. Moses and Homer will be our limits, each of them being of great antiquity; the one being the oldest of poets and historians, and the other the founder of all barbarian wisdom. Let us, then, institute a comparison between them, and we will find that our teachings are older, not only than those of the Greeks, but than the invention of letters. And I will not bring forward witnesses from among ourselves. Rather, I will have recourse to Greeks themselves. To do the former would be foolish, because it would not be allowed by you; but the other will surprise you, when, by contending against you with your own weapons, I adduce arguments aboutwhich you had no suspicion.

Now the poetry of Homer, his parentage, and the time in which he flourished have been investigated by the most ancient writers. This poetry has been investigated by Theagenes of Rhegeion (who lived in the time of Cambyses), Stesimbrotos of Thasos, Antimachos of Colophon, Herodotos of Halikarnassos, and Dionysios the Olynthian; after them, by Ephoros of Kyme, Philochoros the Athenian, Megaklides and Chamaileon the Peripatetics; afterwards by the grammarians, Zenodotos, Aristophanes, Kallimachos, Krates, Eratosthenes, Aristarchos, and Apollodoros. Of these, Krates says that Homer flourished before the return of the Heraclidians, and within eighty years after the Trojan war. Eratosthenes says that it was after the one hundredth year from the taking of Ilion. Aristarchos, that it was about the time of the Ionian migration, which was one hundred and forty years after that event. However, according to Philochorus, it happened after the Ionian migration in the archonship of Archippos at Athens, one hundred and eighty years after the Trojan war. Apollodoros says it was one hundred years after the Ionian migration, which would be two hundred and forty years after the Trojan war. Some say that he lived ninety years before the Olympiads, which would be three hundred and seventeen years after the taking of Troy. Others carry it down to a later date, and say that Homer was a contemporary of Archilochos. But Archilochos flourished around the twenty-third Olympiad, in the time of Gyges the Lydian, five hundred years after Troy. So with regard to the age of the poet mentioned above, I mean Homer, and the discrepancies of those who have spoken of him, we have said enough in a summary manner for those who are able to investigate with accuracy. For it is possible to show that the opinions held about the facts themselves also are false. For, where the assigned dates do not agree together, it is impossible that the history should be true. For what is the cause of error in writing, but the narrating of things that are not true?

(32) But with us there is no desire of false glory, nor do we engage in a variety of opinions. For having renounced the popular and earthly, and obeying the commands of God, and following the law of the father of immortality, we reject everything which rests upon human opinion. Not only do the rich among us pursue our philosophy, but the poor enjoy instruction for free. For the things which come from God surpass the value of worldly gifts. So we admit everyone who desires to hear, even old women and youngsters. To put it briefly, people of every age are treated by us with respect, but every kind of licentiousness is kept at a distance. And in speaking we do not utter falsehood. It would be an excellent thing if checked your continued unbelief. Nonethlesss, let our cause remain confirmed by the judgment pronounced by God. Laugh, if you please, but you will have to cry afterwards.

[Example of Amazons and Assyrian Semiramis]

Is it not absurd that Nestor, who was slow at cutting his horses’ reins owing to his weak and sluggish old age, is, according to you, to be admired for attempting to rival the young men in fighting, while you deride those among us who struggle against old age and occupy themselves with the things pertaining to God? Who would not laugh when you tell us that the Amazons, Semiramis, and certain other war-like women existed, while you cast reproaches on our young women? Achilles was a youth, yet is believed to have been very magnanimous; Neoptolemos was younger, but strong; and, Philoktetes was weak, but the divinity had need of him against Troy.

What sort of man was Thersites? Yet he held a command in the army, and, if he had not through stupidity had such an unrestrained tongue, he would not have been reproached for having a bald, pointed head. As for those who wish to learn our philosophy, we do not test them by their looks, nor do we judge those who come to us by their outward appearance. For we argue that there may be strength of mind in everyone, though they may be weak in body. But your proceedings are full of envy and abundant stupidity.

[Countering negativity about women’s involvement in Tatian’s groups by pointing to Greek depictions of immorality in statues]

(33) Therefore, I have been attempting to prove from the things which are considered honourable among you [Greeks], that our customs are sensible, but that yours are in close affinity with madness. You who say that we talk nonsense among women and boys, among young and old women, and scoff at us for not being with you, hear what stupidity prevails among the Greeks. For their works of skill are devoted to worthless objects, while they are held in higher estimation by you than even your gods; and you behave yourselves inappropriately when it comes to woman. For Lysippos cast a statue of Praxilla, whose poems contain nothing useful, and Menestratos one of Learchis, and Selanion one of Sappho the prostitute, and Naukydes one of Erinna the Lesbian, and Boiscos one of Myrtis, and Kephisodotos one of Myro of Byzantium, and Gomphos one of Praxigoris, and Amphistratos one of Klito. And what will I say about Anyta, Telesilla, and Mystis? Of the first Euthykrates and Kephisodotos made a statue, and of the second Nikeratos, and of the third Aristodotos; Euthykrates made one of Mnesiarchis the Ephesian, Selanion one of Korinna, and Euthykrates one of Thalarchis the Argive.

My object in referring to these women is, that you may not regard as something strange what you find among us, and that, comparing the statues which are before your eyes, you may not treat the women with scorn who among us pursue philosophy. This Sappho is a lewd, love-sick female, and sings her own sexual excess. However, all our women are chaste, and the young women at their spindles sing of divine things more nobly than that young woman of yours. So be ashamed, you who are professed disciples of women yet scoff at those women who hold our teaching, as well as at the solemn assemblies they frequent. What a noble infant did Glaukippe present to you, who brought forth a prodigy, as is shown by her statue cast by Nikeratos, the son of Euktemon the Athenian! But, if Glaukippe brought forth an elephant, was that a reason why she should enjoy public honours? Praxiteles and Herodotos made for you Phryne the prostitute, and Euthykrates cast a bronze statue of Panteuchis, who was pregnant by a person who frequented prostitutes; and Dinomenes, because Besantis queen of the Paionians gave birth to a black infant, took pains to preserve her memory by his skill. I condemn Pythagoras too, who made a figure of Europa on the bull; and you also, who honour the accuser of Zeus on account of his artistic skill. And I ridicule the skill of Myron, who made a heifer and upon it a Victory because by carrying off the daughter of Agenor it had borne away the prize for adultery and lewdness. The Olynthian Herodotos made statues of Glykera the prostitute and Argeia the harper. Bryaxis made a statue of Pasiphau; and, by having a memorial of her excessive sexuality, seems to have been almost your desire that the women of the present time should be like her. A certain Melanippe was a wise woman, and for that reason Lysistratos made her statue. But, indeed, you will not believe that among us there are wise women!

(34) Another honourable figure was the tyrant Phalaris, who devoured babies and accordingly is exhibited by the workmanship of Polystratos the Ambrakiot, even to this day, as a very wonderful man! The people of Akragas dreaded to look on that countenance of his, because of his eating of human flesh. Nonetheless, people of culture now make it their boast that they behold him in his statue! Is it not shameful that the killing of brothers is honoured by you who look on the statues of Polynikes and Eteokles, and that you have not rather buried them with their maker Pythagoras? Destroy these memorials of evil actions! Why should I contemplate with admiration the figure of the woman who had thirty children merely for the sake of the artist Periklymenos? One should turn away with disgust from one with no self-control whom the Romans compared to a female pig, which also on a similar account, they say, was considered worthy of a worship with mysteries. Ares committed adultery with Aphrodite, and Andron made an image of their offspring Harmonia. Sophron, who committed to writing insignificant things and absurdities, was more celebrated for his skill in casting metals, of which specimens exist even now. And not only have his tales kept the tale-teller Aesop in everlasting remembrance, but also the sculpting skill of Aristodemos has increased his celebrity.

How is it then that you, who have so many female poets whose productions are mere trash and countless prostitutes and worthless men are not ashamed to slander the reputation of our women? Why do I care to know that Euanthe gave birth to an infant in the Peripatos. Why would I gape with wonder at the skill of Kallistratios or to focus my gaze on the Neaera of Kalliades? For she was a prostitute. Lais was a prostitute, and her seducer made her a monument of prostitution. Why are you not ashamed of the sexual perversity of Hephaistion, even though Philo has represented him very artistically? And for what reason do you honour the hermaphrodite Ganymede by Leochares, as if you possessed something admirable? Praxiteles even made a statue of a woman with bracelets. You should reject everything of this kind and seek what is truly worthy of attention, and not turn with disgust from our mode of life while receiving with approval the unspeakable productions of Philaenis and Elephantis.

[Tatian’s knowledge and direct observation as the basis of his adoption of barbarian philosophy]

(35) The things which I have presented to you in this way were not things I have learned at second hand. I have visited many lands. I have followed rhetoric, like yourselves, and encountered many skills and inventions. Finally, when travelling in the city of the Romans, I inspected the numerous statues brought there by you [Greeks]. Unlike many other people, I do not attempt to strengthen my own views by the opinions of others. Rather, I want to give you a distinct account of what I myself have seen and felt. So is that, saying goodbye to the arrogance of Romans and the useless talk of Athenians, and all their poorly-connected opinions, I embraced what you consider “barbarian philosophy.” I began to show how this was more ancient than your customs. However, I left my task unfinished so that I could discuss a matter which demanded more immediate attention.

However, now is the time when I should try to explain its teachings. Do not offended with our teaching, and do not attempt an elaborate reply filled with insignificant and trifling and indecent responses, saying, “Tatian, aspiring to be superior to the Greeks, superior to the infinite number of philosophic inquirers, has set out on a new path and has embraced the teachings of barbarians.” For what sort of objection is it when ignorant men complain about a man just like them? Or how can it be irrational, according to your own sage [Solon], “to grow old always learning something”?

[Antiquity of Moses and Judean, barbarian wisdom]

[Babylonian witnesses]

(36) Let’s not consider Homer later than the Trojan war. It should be granted that he was contemporary with it, or even that he was in the army of Agamemnon, and, if any prefers, that he lived before the invention of letters. The Moses mentioned earlier will be shown to have been many years older than the taking of Troy, and far more ancient than the building of Troy, or than Tros and Dardanos. To demonstrate this I will call in as witnesses the Chaldeans, the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. What else do I need to say? For someone who professes to persuade his hearers should make his narrative of events very concise. . . [missing text].

Berossos [Bel-re’ushu], a Babylonian, a priest of their god Bel who was born in the time of Alexander composed for Antiochos, the third after him, the Chaldean Matters in three books [link]. Narrating the acts of the kings, he mentions one of them, Nebuchadnezzar by name, who made war against the Phoenicians and the Judeans. These are events which we know were announced by our prophets and which happened much later than the age of Moses, seventy years before Persian rule. However, Berossos is a very trustworthy man. Juba is a witness of this. Writing On Assyrians, Juba says that he learned the history from Berossos (there are two books in his On Assyrians).

[Phoenician witnesses]

(37) After the Chaldeans, the testimony of the Phoenicians is as follows: There were among them three men, Theodotos, Hypsikrates, and Mochos, whose books were translated by Laitos. Laitos also composed with precision the lives of the philosophers. Now, in the histories of these writers it is shown that the abduction of Europa happened under one of the kings, and an account is given of the coming of Menelaos into Phoenicia, and of the matters relating to Chiramos, who gave his daughter in marriage to Solomon the king of the Judeans and who supplied wood of all kind of trees for the building of the temple. Menander of Pergamon composed a history concerning the same things. But the age of Chiramos is somewhere around the time of the Trojan war. However, Solomon, the contemporary of Chiramos, lived much later than the age of Moses.

[Egyptian witnesses, and chronological details that establish the priority of Moses]

(38) There are also accurate records concerning the Egyptians. Ptolemy (not the king, but a priest of Mendes) is the interpreter of their affairs. This writer, narrating the acts of the kings, says that the departure of the Judeans from Egypt to the places where they went occurred in the time of king Amosis, under the leadership of Moses. He says the following: “Amosis lived in the time of king Inachos.” After him, Apion the grammarian, a man with a high reputation, in the fourth book of his Egyptian Matters (there are five books of his), besides many other things, says that Amosis destroyed the town of Avaris in the time of the Argive Inachos, as Ptolemy of Mendes wrote in his Chronicles. But the time from Inachos to the taking of Troy spans twenty generations. We can explain this in the following steps:

(39) The kings of the Argives were these: Inachos, Phoroneus, Apis, Kriasis, Triopas, Argeius, Phorbas, Krotopas, Sthenelaos, Danaos, Lynkeus, Proetus, Abas, Acrisius, Perseus, Sthenelaus, Eurystheus, Atreus, Thyestes, and Agamemnon, in the eighteenth year of whose reign Troy was taken. And every intelligent person will most carefully observe that, according to the tradition of the Greeks, they possessed no historical composition. For Kadmos, who taught them letters, came into Boiotia many generations later. But after Inachos, under Phoroneus, a check was with difficulty given to their savage and nomadic life, and they entered upon a new order of things. So, if Moses is shown to be contemporary with Inachos, he is four hundred years older than the Trojan war. But this is demonstrated from the succession of the Attic kings [as well as Macedonian, Ptolemaic, and Antiochian] kings. So, if the most illustrious actions among the Greeks were recorded and made known after Inachos, it is clear that this must have been after Moses. In the time of Phoroneus, who was after Inachos, Ogygos is mentioned among the Athenians, in whose time was the first flood. In the time of Phorbas was Aktaios, from whom Attica was called Aktaia. In the time of Triopas were Prometheus, Epimetheus, Arias, Kekrops of double nature, and Io. In the time of Krotopas was the burning of Phaithon and the flood of Deukalion. In the time of Sthenelos was the reign of Amphiktyon; the coming of Danaos into Peloponnesos; the founding of Dardania by Dardanos, and the return of Europa from Phoenicia to Crete. In the time of Lynkeos was the abduction of Kore; the founding of the temple in Eleusis; the farming of Triptolemos; the coming of Kadmos to Thebes, and the reign of Minos [the Cretan]. In the time of Proitos was the war of Eumolpos against the Athenians. In the time of Akrisios was the coming over of Pelops from Phrygia; the coming of Ion to Athens; the second Kekrops; the actions of Perseus, Dionysos, and Musaios, the disciple of Orpheus. In the reign of Agamemnon, Troy was taken.

[Moses older than the Greeks, who drew some teachings from Moses]

(40) Therefore, from what has been said it is evident that Moses was older than the ancient heroes, wars, and lower spirits. And we should believe him, who stands before them in point of age. He is older than the Greeks, who, without being aware of it, drew his teachings from a fountain. For many of the sages among them, stimulated by curiosity, tried to counterfeit whatever they learned from Moses and from those who philosophized like Moses. They did this, first of all, so that they might be considered as having something of their own and, secondly, so that (by covering up by a certain rhetorical artifice whatever things they did not understand) they might misrepresent the truth as if it were myth.

Now what the learned among the Greeks have said concerning the history of our communal organization (politeia) and our laws, and how many and what kind of men have written of these things, will be shown in our book To Those Expounding Ideas about God.

(41) But the most important thing is to try with all accuracy to make it clear that Moses is not only older than Homer, but than all the writers that were before him. Moses is older than Linos, Philammon, Thamyris, Amphion, Musaios, Orpheus, Demodokos, Phemios, Sibylla, Epimenides of Crete (who came to Sparta), Aristaios of Prokonnesos (who wrote the Arimaspia), Asbolos the Centaur, Isatis, Drymon, Euklos the Cyprian, Horos the Samian, and Pronapis the Athenian. Now, Linos was the teacher of Herakles, but Herakles preceded the Trojan war by one generation. This is clear from his son Tlepolemos, who served in the army against Troy. And Orpheus lived at the same time as Herakles. Moreover, it is said that all the works attributed to Orpheuswere composed by Onomakritos the Athenian, who lived during the reign of the Pisistratids, about the fiftieth Olympiad. Musaios was a disciple of Orpheus.

Amphion, since he preceded the siege of Troy by two generations, forbids our collecting further particulars about him for those who want more information. Demodokos and Phemios lived at the very time of the Trojan war, since the one resided with the suitors and the other with the Phaiakians. Thamyris and Philammon were not much earlier than these. So we have written very extensively and, I think, precisely, regarding their several performances in each kind, their time periods, and the record of them.

[Final word on dates of Greek sages, which post-date Moses]

However, in order to be complete what is still missing, I will give my explanation regarding the men who are considered wise. Minos, who has been thought to excel others in every kind of wisdom, mental acuteness, and legislative capacity, lived in the time of Lynkeus, who reigned after Danaos in the eleventh generation after Inachos. Lykourgos, who was born long after the taking of Troy, gave laws to the Lakedaimonians [Spartans]. Drako is found to have lived about the thirty-ninth Olympiad, Solon lived around the forty-sixth Olympiad, and Pythagoras about the sixty-second. We have shown that the Olympiads commenced four hundred and seven years after the taking of Troy. Now that these facts have been demonstrated, we will briefly comment on the age of the seven wise men. The oldest of these, Thales, lived about the fiftieth Olympiad; and I have already spoken briefly of those who came after him.


(42) You Greeks, I, Tatian, a disciple of the barbarian philosophy, have composed these things for you. I was born in the land of the Assyrians. I was first instructed in your teachings and afterwards in the teachings which I now try to proclaim. From now on, knowing who God is and what he has done, I present myself to you prepared for an examination concerning my teachings. At the same time, I strictly adhere to the lifestyle which is according to God.

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *