Finally, we have to look at van Esbroeck’s hagiographical approach.
Honigmann’s thesis that the vision of John the Eunuch could be related to the Dormition is now much more substantiated. This vision, presented by John Rufus as an eschatological revelation on the eve of the catastrophe of the Chalcedon, taken in its genuine historical context of the development of the Dormition cult in Palestine exactly in the 440s, is easily interpretable in connection with the Dormition scene.
Nevertheless, van Esbroeck’s arguments in favour of this thesis sometime are not without problems. I think that the major difficulties are the two: van Esbroeck’s treatment of the feast of August 7 as a date of Dormition and his explanation of the Coptic Dormition feast on January 16.
Dormition on August 7
Peter Iberian starts his liturgical services as a bishop on the day of a great feast that is, according to van Esbroeck, Dormition. However, its date is August 7, and not August 9 that we know as an early date of Dormition. Thus, van Esbroeck (1993: 223–225) goes into long speculations based on a hypothetical use of the calendar of the Book of Jubilees in Jerusalem during the anti-Chalcedonian patriarch Theodosius (451—453). This is, I think, not a good idea per se, because all the known Christian 364-day calendars have different structures than the old calendar of the Jubilees (Lourié 2006a, 2006b, 2010). What is the worst, van Esbroeck arrives, even with these speculations, to reconciliation of the date August 7 with the date August 8, but not 9 (p. 223: “...August 7th in Peter’s Life is really August 8. Since Peter celebrates at sunset on the 8th, he is already celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin on the 9th.” However, beginning of the day at evening and not at morning would contradict to van Esbroeck’s “sacerdotal calendar.”). This reconstruction looks as neither precise nor consistent. Fortunately, it is superfluous.
In the 450s, only the earliest recension of the Transitus story was available (e. g., such as preserved in the Ethiopic Liber Requiei) where the Dormition and Assumption cycle is shaped as a triduum: annunciation from the Angel (first day), gathering of apostles (second day), Dormition, deposition, and Assumption (third day). In the Ethiopian rite, this cycle is still partially preserved, while not reflected in the Ethiopian Synaxarium, already influenced by the later Coptic rite. In the Ethiopian hymnary, Deggwa, before the Assumption feast on August 9, there is, on August 8, a feast of “Gathering” (Gubbace) that means gathering of apostles in Sion before the deathbed of Theotokos. The same feast was also preserved in the medieval recension of the Georgian rite, while with an appropriate shift of dates (August 13, because of the different organisation of the whole cycle). Thus, the earliest Dormition triduum was placed on the days from August 7 to August 9. The date of the “great feast” on August 7 in the Life of Peter Iberian is the first day of Dormition celebrated according to the Transitus tradition as it is in the Liber Requiei.
The appearance of this liturgical cycle can be dated. The 449 Council of Ephesus (subsequently called Latrocinium in Rome) broke the trend (not always strict but quite clear) established by the three previous Ecumenical Councils to match the opening with the Pentecost. Instead, the Council of Ephesus was opened on August 8. The purpose of the council was to defend Theotokos, and so, this date is hardly explicable otherwise than within the triduum from 7 to 9 of August, where August 8 corresponds exactly to the gathering of apostles. This date has had nothing to do with the local tradition of Theotokos cult in Ephesus (where we know the date of Dormition May 23), but the council of Ephesus was gathered not by the local clergy but by the Emperor Theodosius. However, the Emperor together with his sister Pulcheria and his wife Eudocia were preoccupied in establishing another Theotokos cult, located in Palestine and connected to Constantinople and not to Ephesus. This was the time when a new family of Transition accounts emerges, “Bethlehem and Incenses” (s. van Esbroeck 1995; Shoemaker 2002, on Syriac “Dormition in Six Books”). It starts with a preface explaining how the truth about Dormition in Palestine and deposition in Gethsemane was brought from Ephesus, where the Transitus account has been preserved in secret by the heirs of John Theologian. It is clearly an attempt to create an alternative to the local Ephesian tradition that Theotokos died in Ephesus and was buried by John Theologian, according to her will, in an unknown place (with no assumption at all) (van Esbroeck 1994; Lourié 2007).
The establishment of the earliest form of Dormition cycle in Palestine (7 to 9 August) is datable to 440s, after 438 (first solemn visit of Eudocia to Jerusalem) and before 449 (Council of Ephesus). This dating is exactly fitting the date of the vision of John the Eunuch.
Origin of the Coptic Dormition on January 16
Our explanation of the feast of August 7 is in contradiction with van Esbroeck’s explanation of the date of August 9 as appearing already in Jerusalem of Theodosius in connection with another date of the Dormition cycle, January 16. According to the Coptic Dormition cycle attested not later than in the 6th century, Theotokos reposed and was buried on January 16, but the Ascension took place 206 days later, on August 9 (and, thus, January 16 is Dormition, and August 9 is Assumption). The festal date August 9, according to van Esbroeck’s reconstruction, could never exist outside this connection with January 16.
Our reconstruction of a Dormition cycle from August 7 to August 9 contradicts to this thesis. The Western Dormition tradition on January 18, but with no connection to August, could be another argument against the earlier date of the Coptic Dormition cycle.
The most important arguments are, however, historical ones. The Coptic Panegyric of Macarius of Tkow describes the armed attack of Juvenal of Jerusalem on the shrine of Gethsemane on January 16. This was the initial event of the return of Juvenal to Jerusalem and of the fall of Theodosius in 453. This chronology contradicts, however, to the Byzantine historians who say that Juvenal returned in summer (after 20 months of the rule of Theodosius). There is no possibility to accept the exact chronology of the Coptic panegyrist (cf. esp. Honigmann 1950) even if his account is basically realistic (Lourié 2007, pace Shoemaker 2002). Therefore, this Coptic text does not explain the origin of the date January 16, but, on the contrary, tries to inscribe this already existed date into the frame of the Coptic 206-day Dormition cycle.
Fortunately, the history of January 16 as a Dormition date is hardly relevant to the origin of the Corpus Areopagiticum.
What means Timotheos as the addressee of four long treatises?
The name of apostle Timotheos points out Ephesus, and now we are in position to judge why it was so important. If the hagiographical legend in the core of the Corpus Areopagiticum is that of Dormition, then, as it was necessarily in the 5th century, it must to establish some link with Ephesus, that is, with the previously widely known but now replaced cult of Theotokos. Dionysius’ strategy was different from that of the Syriac “Transition in Six Books.” Instead of pretending to discover some hidden information in Ephesus (nevertheless, in Ephesus, not otherwise), Dionysius prefers himself to appear as a teacher to Timotheos, that is, to Ephesus.
Memory dates of Hierotheos and Dionysius
The observation made by van Esbroeck (1993) concerning the Coptic memory of Hierotheos on April 16 (Hator 21) still hold. Indeed, this is the exact middle of the 206-day period of the Dormition cycle. This day of memory is unnoticed in the Chalcedonian milieu, and so, present an alternative to the memory dates in October that used those who accepted (or, maybe, created) the pseudonymised recension of the Corpus.
The interest of the dates October 3 and 4 is not limited to the fact that October 4 is the day of the death of John the Eunuch. October 3 is the fiftieth day after August 15, the day of an earlier (at least, since the first quart of the 5th century) Palestinian feast of Mary that was rethought as the main day of the Dormition cycle in the late 5th century.
Indeed, it is the late 5th century when we see, instead of the early 3-day cycle, a 7-day cycle of Dormition: Dormition and Assumption are now divided by additional three days. This cycle that I call (3+4) is already widespread to about 500 and is presented, among others, in the Historia Euthymiaca (the earliest document quoting our Corpus) (Lourié 2007).
Moreover, we know judging from the formation of the Coptic Dormition cycle, that the triduum from 7 to 9 August is replaced by 9 August alone. Superposing on this 9 August the cycle (3+4) we arrive to August 15 as the final date of the Dormition/Assumption festival.
This festival (while normally on August 9) was sometime called “Pascha” (“patterned after Pascha” it is said in a homily of Benjamin of Alexandria, 7th century, preserved in Ethiopic only, but in an Ethiopic chronicle of the 17th century I found Assumption called merely “Pascha”).
To count 50 days from the feast of Dormition/Assumption to arrive to a kind of Pascha would be quite harmonic to the Zeitgeist. Before 519, the feast of the Apostles (now the feast of Peter and Paul on June 29) was in Byzantium a movable feast celebrated on the fiftieth day after the Pentecost (second Pentecost), in the same way as the late Jewish feast of New Wine (e.g., in the Temple Scroll).
Therefore, I think that the memory dates October 3 and 4 are chosen to show that Dionysius and Hierotheos are the apostles of Theotokos.
My general conclusion is only one: the thesis of Honigmann—van Esbroeck is now the most plausible explanation of the different chains of data, which were never reconciled otherwise.