Bishop Gregory (hgr) wrote,
Bishop Gregory




Prophecy of Solomon: another case of the "Made in Russia" problem


A long anti-Jewish treatise collecting prophecies ascribed to Solomon and, sometime, other prophets, has been first noticed by students of the Palaea Interpretata (I. N. Zhdanov, 1881). It looks as if Prophecy of Solomon continues a harshly anti-Jewish interpretation of the biblical and parabiblical stuff from the very chronological place where the Palaea Interpretata stops, from Solomon. However, according to the scholarly consensus acquired to the early 20th century and supported by Vodolazkin, it is a different work of different origin. It is noticeable that almost all eminent authorities in the Russian pre-revolutionary scholarship (including V. M. Istrin, the student of 2 Enoch M. I. Sokolov, M. N. Speranskij, A. A. Šaxmatov) have had a hand in the early studies of the treatise. In the editio princeps by I. Ye. Evseev (1907) not all evidences were taken into account, and so, the task of a critical edition was pending.

Yevgenij G. Vodolazkin and Tatiana R. Rudi prepared the first critical edition based on all five manuscripts known up-to-date[1]. Evseev based his edition on the earliest manuscript dated to 1452 (written in Lutsk, Western Russia, modern Ukraine). All other manuscripts are of the 16th century. Four from five manuscripts are Russian, one (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. Slav. 125, 16th cent.) is Serbian. According to Vodolazkin and Rudi, the best manuscript is that of the Russian National Library, St Petersburg, collection of St Cyril of White Lake monastery, Nr 67/1144, and this is the manuscript on which their edition is founded. Here, the treatise has the title Prophecy of Solomon about Christ... The title is somewhat different in other manuscripts. The title of Evseev’s edition that follows another manuscript, Words of Holy Prophets... is more adequate to the real contents of the treatise. Despite this instability of the title, the content of the manuscripts is almost the same aside from final parts, where some manuscripts differ substantially, and so, must contain later additions from different sources (Apocalypse of Ps.-Methodius and others). However, Vodolazkin does not pretend to define the end of the original recension otherwise than conjecturally (p. 309–310).

Vodolazkin offers his own identification of the Sitz im Leben of the treatise (p. 302–311). His main tool is linguistics: “What is the origin of the monument? Without doubts, Russian. First of all, it is confirmed by the data of langage”[2]. His second argument is based on the presence in the Prophecy of the quotations (as he put them) from the Russian chronographs (p. 302). Vodolazkin means the textual intersections between Prophecy of Solomon, on the one hand, and Palaea Chronographica Completa[3], and a chronograph of Troitsky type, on the other, which have been identified by B. M. Kloss (1972) and O. V. Tvorogov (1975), respectively (p. 306–307). Thus, Vodolazkin comes to conclusion that Prophecy of Solomon is a Russian (and, even more specifically, North West Russian, from the Novgorod region) work dated to the 14th or the early 15th century. This part of his study seems to me not exempted from methodological flaws, and here Vodolazkin’s conclusions are not so convincing.


Vodolazkin’s linguistic argumentation


Vodolazkin’s use of the linguistic argumentation is common in the Russian (and even Western, but “Russian-depending”) studies in the Old Russian literature. It goes back to the Russian scholars of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and remains unchallenged, within Russia, even in our time. Vodolazkin, along with his predecessors, points many East Slavic/Russian features (especially lexical) in the four Russian manuscripts assuming, with no discussion at all, that these data are relevant to the definition of the Sitz im Leben. The only South Slavic (Serbian) manuscript, in such perspective, must be considered as depending on the Russian manuscript tradition, while Vodolazkin says nothing about specific cultural circumstances allowing such an unusual trajectory of the text history (normally, it was Rus’ who accumulated the Slavonic texts produced by the South Slavs, and not vice versa).


Vodolazkin’s argumentation based on the intertextual connections


Vodolazkin’s second line of argumentation is based on the intertextual connections of the Prophecy of Solomon. Here, his situation is even more delicate than that of his both predecessors of the 1970s, Kloss and Tvorogov, and that of V. M. Istrin (1907). Istrin was the first who discovered the fact of the textual intersections between Prophecy and the texts of Palaea. However, Istrin dated the latter to the 13th century, and so, he was free to construct the schemes where Prophecy was using Palaea among his sources. Vodolazkin in his ongoing research is redating the relevant Palaea to such a late period that, for him, unlike Istrin, Kloss, and Tvorogov, this possibility is excluded. Therefore he needs to suppose that Prophecy drew from hypothetical sources of the Palaea that have had to be available to the Novgorod scribes in the 14th or the early 15th century.

We are not in position to evaluate Vodolazkin’s argumentation concerning the date of the Palaea Chronographica, especially because it is not yet published in full. However, if he is right, his modification of the Istrin’s view makes the latter even more fragile.

In fact, there are three kinds of explanation for the textual intercessions between different texts: dependence in one direction, dependence in the opposite direction, and dependence from common sources (whose mutual relations could be, too, very complicated). Istrin has opted for the dependence of Prophecy from Palaea when applying the Ockham razor to the data available in his time. Now we have to found our conclusions on a different ground, and here, Vodolazkin’s alleged redating of Palaea Chronographica is certainly not the main acquirement. Before turning to the facts that make Istrin’s approach to the intertextuality of Prophecy rather unhelpful, I would like to point out that Vodolazkin’s assumption of a dependence of our text on his own hypothetical construct is nothing but a further dilution of the initially not very strong idea.


What is the problem “Made in Russia”


Here it would be useful to make a digression for those who, being acquainted with the history of the texts in the medieval Christian Orient and the Second Temple period, are unfamiliar with the methods and standards of scholarship in the Russian school of the philological studies pertaining to Old Rus’. These standards, being very high in such areas as textology and palaeography, are quite peculiar as it concerns the search of the origin of a given work. I will illustrate this by a comparison.

For instance, the so-called Coptic version of Didaché (liturgical part only) is known in the unique manuscript in Fayumic dialect, and the Coptic version of Apocalypse of Peter in the unique manuscript in Akhmimic dialect. It is hardly imaginable that one has a chance to meet, in some study, the claim that this means that the translation from Greek into Coptic has been performed, correspondingly, in Middle Egypt for Didaché liturgy, and in Upper Egypt, for Apocalypse of Peter (while, of course, such possibilities are not to be excluded). Now let us change the problem specification. Let us imagine that instead of the Coptic version we deal with the Slavonic one, and instead of Fayumic dialect of Coptic, we have Novgorod East Slavic izvod (variant) of Church Slavonic, and instead of Akhmimic Coptic, a Western Russian izvod. Thus, in the Russian scholarship, we will presumably meet the claims, if not a common opinion, that Didaché has been translated in Novgorod, while Apocalypse of Peter in Russian West. This opinion would be even more strong if there are not unique, but several Russian manuscripts. In this case, even the existence of a minority of South Slavic manuscripts containing the same work changes nothing: the well known fact that the bulk of the South Slavic manuscripts is simply destroyed, and so, we have to read the most of the works of the South Slavic literatures in the Russian manuscript tradition, is normally not taken into account by the “mainstream” Russian scholars when treating such cases. Finally, let us imagine that we have no Greek texts for Didaché or Apocalypse of Peter (in both cases, the Greek texts survive only by chance because the Greek manuscript tradition was ceased: the unique manuscript of Didaché dated to 1056 has been written for a collector of rare works; the Greek of Apocalypse of Peter is preserved in two short papyrus fragments). In this case, the predictable consensus of Russian scholars would be to declare both to be original Russian works, while, of course, containing borrowings from some unknown Greek sources.

This was the case of Prophecy of Solomon in Istrin’s time. Istrin was one of the main founders of the philological school that I describe above. I limited myself to a harmless caricature because a detailed analysis of the methods and achievements of this school from the viewpoint of the modern scholarship is already done by Francis Thomson, who has written at length how the manuscripts could differ in their dialectal features and how erroneous the localisations made on this “linguistic basis” could be. “A mere glance at the textual apparatus of any critical edition of an early Slavonic translation will reveal that scribes did not hesitate to alter the lexical material of their exemplars, either because a word was less well known, or because the text was adapted to specifically East Slav circumstances”.[4] In his seminal 1993 paper Thomson deals with the translations allegedly “made in Russia”, but concerns tangentially a similar problem with many texts whose Greek original is unknown, as it is in the case of Prophecy of Solomon. In such cases, unbiased pondering of the mere possibility of the existence of the Greek original would imply to run counter the “mainstream” of the “Russian school”.

One should add a couple of words to make the founders of this “Russian school” looking not so illogical. In fact, they were fitting the standards of scholarship of their own time, the turn of the 19th and the 20th century, and their school became really backward only under the leadership of their Soviet heirs who chose to live in a semi-voluntary isolation from the international scholarship of the history of the texts in the mediaeval Christian world. The Russian scholars of Istrin’s generation[5] were accustomed to the Old Russian literature of the 16th and the 17th centuries where available manuscripts are relatively close by their date to the original recensions (sometime even the autographs of the authors are available), but they were not realizing the real depth and the real complexity of the tradition of the old Slavonic texts. Thus, their a priori attitude was to imply that the original recension of each work is, in principle, available, either directly in manuscripts or, at least, as a result of a not especially complicated reconstruction. This is why these scholars were looking so feeble before the texts having a long history before their apparition in the Russian manuscripts.  

To the scholars with the background in studies of the early Byzantine, not to say early Christian or Second Temple Jewish texts, it is not always easy to grasp the internal logic of these Russian pre-revolutionary scholars. We are used to deal with the texts, whose origin is divided by many centuries and, often, by several language and civilization frontiers from the available recensions, and so, we could only seldom suppose to restore “the original recension”. However, the Russian scholars like Istrin were living at dawn of the systematic study of the history of the texts within the mediaeval Christian civilisation, and, despite their false tacit presumptions, they contributed very much to our current understanding of this very history. Moreover, they were working in close contact with the Byzantine scholars, and some of them, like especially Istrin, were also Byzantine scholars themselves. Istrin and his contemporary Russian colleagues could be reproachable with the lack of theoretical intuitions and integral vision of the Christian world like those of the Bollandist Paul Peeters (1870—1950), but they are not culpable in the further theoretical backwardness of their school under the Soviet regime.

[1] Previously published as Е. Г. Водолазкин, Т. Р. Руди, Из истории древнерусской экзегезы (Пророчество Соломона) [Ye. G. Vodolazkin, T. R. Rudi, From the History of the Old Russian Exegsis (Prophecy of Solomon)], ТОДРЛ  54 (2003) 252–303.

[2] «Каково же происхождение этого памятника? Несомненно, русское. В первую очередь это подтверждается данными языка».

[3] Not to confound with Palaea Historica. Palaea Chronographica is a work combining chronographic materials with that of Palaea Interpretata. There is no commonly accepted date of this work. Vodolazkin in his ongoing studies (to appear in ТОДРЛ) is trying to demonstrate that the work is a Russian compilation of the early 15th century.

[4] F. J. Thomson, ‘Made in Russia’. A Survey of the Translations Allegedly Made in Kievan Russia, in: G. Birkfellner, hrsg. Millennium Russiae Christianae. Tausend Jahre Christliches Russland 988—1988. Vorträge des Symposiums anlässlich der Tausendjahrfeier der Christianisierung Russlands (Münster 5.-9. Juni 1988) (Köln, 1993) (Schriften des Kommitees der Bundesrepublik Deutschland zur Förderung der slawischen Studien, 16) 295–354 [reprint in: idem, The Reception of Byzantine Culture in Mediaeval Russia (Ashgate etc., 1999) (Variorum Collected Studies Series CS 590) Ch. V and Addenda, p. 16–48], here 299. In the additions to his paper made for its republication in the Variorum series, Thomson has had opportunity to reply to his Russian critics up to 1999.

[5] Vasilij Mikhajlovich Istrin’s years of life: 1865—1937.

(дальнейшее продолжение в ближ. дни)

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