The Text Tradition of Hippolytus’

“Commentary on Daniel”

A.D. 170-240


[Editor’s Note: Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel 4:23 is one of the earliest testimonies to the traditional date of Christ’s Dec. 25th, 2 B.C. birth.  Assuming the authenticity of the passage, which the comments below seem to establish, Hippolytus joins the cloud of witnesses whose testimony refutes the notion that it was not until the 4th century that Dec. 25th was associated with the date of Christ’s birth.   On the other hand, the value of Hippolytus’ testimony is diminished slightly by his obvious error regarding the date and time of Christ’s death.  Hippolytus states that Christ died in his thirty-third year, which he equates with the 15th of Tiberius. However, this contradicts his placing Christ’s birth in the 42nd of Augustus (2 B.C.), which would make Jesus 29/30 in the 15th of Tiberius (A.D. 29). This is confirmed by Luke, who said Jesus was not yet 30 years old at his baptism, which he also places in the 15th of Tiberius.  The correct year for the death of Christ was the 19th year of Tiberius, or A.D. 33.]


 The Textual Tradition of Hippolytus

January 12th, 2010 by Roger Pearse

A question has reached me about the Commentary on Daniel of Hippolytus, especially with regard to the passage n 4.23.3:

“For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years.  He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls.” (tr. Tom Schmidt).

The Greek text is as follows:

γρ πρώτη παρουσία το κυρίου μν νσαρκος, ν γεγέννηται ν Βηθλεέμ, γένετο πρ κτ καλανδν ανουαρίων, μέρ τετράδι, βασιλεύοντος Αγούστου τεσσαρακοστν κα δεύτερον τος, π δ δμ πεντακισχιλιοστκα πεντακοσιοστ τει παθεν δ τριακοστ τρίτ τει πρ κτ καλανδν πριλίων, μέρ παρασκευ, κτωκαιδεκάτ τει Τιβερίου Καίσαρος, πατεύοντος  ούφου καὶ Ῥουβελλίωνος.

But what is the textual basis for this?  It doesn’t appear in the Ante-Nicene Fathers version of the text.

A look at the Sources Chretiennes (14; p. 64) edition tells me that the Greek text of the work is entirely recovered from quotations in catenas.  In a catena, each quotation appears underneath the relevant biblical verse, and is labelled with the name of the author from whom it has been taken.  So the sequence is fairly clear, even if all you have is extracts, provided that the original author wrote his commentary in the same sequence as the biblical text.

The process of recovering the commentary began with one of the great 17th century editors, B. Corderius, who printed the first fragment of the text in his Expositio patrum graecorum in psalmos, vol. 3, Anvers, 1646 on p.951.  In 1672 Fr. Combefis, Bibliothecae graecorum patrum auctarium novissimum, vol. 1, p. 50-55 printed two more important fragments, this time commenting on Susanna.  Since then various editors have accrued more and more fragments from the catenas, and are listed in Bonwetsch’s edition of 1897.  A list of mss. and editions appears on p.xxviii of Bonwetsch (p.43 of the Google books PDF).

The remains seem to be divided into four books.  The last addition to the stock was in 1911, when Dioboutonis printed new fragments from a 10th century manuscript from the monastery of Meteores.  The end result is a text which contains few obvious lacunas.  However there must still be material which is lost, especially in book 1.

The text cannot be said to be in good condition.  The manuscripts in which the material is preserved are often in a poor state, or illegible.  The most recent edition, that of Bonwetsch in the Griechische Christlicher Schriftsteller 1 in 1897 (online, thankfully) often indicates words added by conjecture or asterisks where there are gaps impossible to fill.

But one compensation is that an Old Slavonic translation exists of the entire work as it once existed in Greek.  This tells us, of course, that the Greek text must still have existed in the 10th century when these translations were made.  Four manuscripts of this translation exist, none complete, but which fortunately have their omissions in different places.  This means that we can read the whole work pretty much as it came from the hand of the author.  The most ancient manuscript is 12-13th century.  Fortunately Bonwetsch translated the Old Slavonic into German, and the translation was used by the SC editor to help with the Greek.

Our passage is extant in Greek, and appears on pp.306-7 of the SC edition.  But the SC editor queries whether part of the text –”Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus” — was interpolated by a later writer.

The apparatus of Bonwetsch (p.242; p.295 of the PDF) tells us that this passage was quoted by the Syriac writer  George, Bishop of the Arab tribes.  The apparatus also refers to George Syncellus, and Cyril of Scythopolis as using bits of it.  The text is given in mss. ABP and S; A= Athos, Vatopedi 260 / Paris suppl. gr. 682 (10-11th century); B=Chalcis 11 (15-16th c.); P=Paris gr. 159 p.469f.; S=the old Slavonic.

So… the text is reasonably well established, and reasonably reliable.  The Greek for our passage seems sound, with only a couple of bits in brackets.  We have a good early witness for the text, and also a translation in a 7th century Syriac writer and a 10th century translation.



Adoration of the Shepherds


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