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Christian Divination in Late Antiquity

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Christian Divination in Late Antiquity

Social Worlds of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages The Late Antiquity experienced profound cultural and social change: the political disintegration of the Roman Empire in the West, contrasted by its continuation and transformation in the East; the arrival of ‘barbarian’ newcomers and the establishment of new polities; a renewed militarization and Christianization of society; as well as crucial changes in Judaism and Christianity, together with the emergence of Islam and the end of classical paganism. This series focuses on the resulting diversity within Late Antique society, emphasizing cultural connections and exchanges; questions of unity and inclusion, alienation and conflict; and the processes of syncretism and change. By drawing upon a number of disciplines and approaches, this series sheds light on the cultural and social history of Late Antiquity and the greater Mediterranean world. Series Editor Carlos Machado, University of St. Andrews Editorial Board Lisa Bailey, University of Auckland Maijastina Kahlos, University of Helsinki Volker Menze, Central European University Ellen Swift, University of Kent Enrico Zanini, University of Siena

Christian Divination in Late Antiquity

Robert Wiśniewski Translated by Damian Jasiński

Amsterdam University Press

The translation of the text for this book was funded by a grant from the National Programme for the Development of the Humanities (Poland) project 21H 18 0098 86.

Cover illustration: Oracular ticket from Antinoë discovered on 21 October 1984 at the East Kom (sector D 2 III) and published by Alain Delattre (2017). When found, the ticket was folded and tied with a string visible on the photo. The texts reads: ‘† God of the saint, if you want me to study medicine, answer me.†’ (© Alain Delattre – Mission archéologique d’Antinooupolis). Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6298 870 5 e-isbn 978 90 4854 101 0 doi 10.5117/9789462988705 nur 684 © R. Wiśniewski / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2020 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations


List of Illustrations




1. Attitudes to Divination


2. Prophets


3. Take and Read


4. Books and Bones


5. Divinatory Lots


6. Interrogating Demoniacs


7. Incubation








Ep. praef. prol. s.a.

List of Abbreviations epistola/ae praefatio prologus sub anno

Bibliothèque Augustinienne (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer) Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1895, 19092, 19573), supplemented by Bibliothecae Hagiographicae Graecae Auctarium, ed. by François Halkin (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1969) BHL Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 19492) supplemented by Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina: Novum Supplementum, ed. by Henricus Fros (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1986) BHO Bibliotheca hagiographica orientalis, ed. Paul Peeters (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1910) CCL Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina (Turnhout: Brepols) CSCO Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium (Leuven: Peeters) CSEL Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (Vienna: F. Tempsky; Berlin: De Gruyter) CSLA Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity database, http://csla. (Oxford) CTh Codex Theodosianus, ed. by Theodor Mommsen (Berlin: Weidmann, 1905); trans. by Clyde Pharr: The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions: A Translation with Commentary, Glossary, and Bibliography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952). GCS Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten [drei] Jahrhunderte (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag) ICUR NS Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae. Nova Series (Rome: Ex Officina Libraria Doct. Befani) ILCV Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres (Berlin: Weidmann) LCL Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) MGH AA Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Auctores Antiquissimi (Berlin: Weidmann) BA BHG


Christian Divination in L ate Antiquit y

MGH SRM Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum (Berlin: Weidmann; Hannover/ Leipzig: Hahn) PG Patrologia Graeca = Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Graeca (Paris: J.-P. Migne) PGM Papyri Graecae Magicae/Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri, ed. by Karl Preisendanz and Albert Henrichs, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1973–4). Patrologia Latina = Patrologiae Cursus Completus: PL Series Latina (Paris : J.-P. Migne) Patrologia Orientalis (Turnhout: Brepols) PO Sources chrétiennes (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf) SC Subsidia Hagiographica (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes) SH Teubner Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana (Leipzig/Stuttgart: B. Teubner; Munich: K.G. Saur; Berlin: De Gruyter)

Table Table 1.

Figures Fig. 1. Fig. 2. Fig. 3. Fig. 4. Fig. 5. Fig. 6. Fig. 7. Fig. 8.

List of Illustrations The numbers of extant scrolls and codices with the texts of the Hebrew Bible, Greek Old and New Testament, and the Homeric poems


Codex of the Gospel of St. John, known as St. Cuthbert’s 100 Gospel of St. John The beginning of the Sortes Sanctorum in the ninth116 century codex of Metz A stele with oracular text found in Kremna (modern 118 Çamlık, formerly Girme) in Pisidia Astragaloi (knucklebones), used, alongside dice, to 119 choose an answer from oracular texts The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, written in Sahidic (sixth century)129 A page from the Codex Bezae with the beginning of the 143 Gospel of St. John Oracular ticket from Antinoë discovered on 21 Octo159 ber 1984 at East Kom Oracular ticket from Antinoë, still folded and tied with 160 a string

Introduction Late antique Christians lived in a world where there was a general conviction that by resorting to special techniques, asking questions in special places or enquiring of special people, it was possible to learn about things that normally lay beyond human cognition. In many cases, this referred to knowing in advance what was going to happen in the future, but also to unravelling the mysteries of the present day and events that already belonged to the past. The methods in question were also believed to produce advice on what one should do or, more generally, help to discover the truth about the unknown. When talking about the wide array of such techniques the Greeks usually used the blanket term of manteia; the equivalent Latin term for this was divinatio. Among inhabitants of the Roman world, there were an enormous variety of methods applied in divination, including consulting oracles located in widely known as well as not-so-famous sanctuaries, questioning ‘divine men’, entranced magi and mediums, seeking prophetic dreams, observing the flight and singing of birds, examining the entrails of sacrificial animals, watching ripples on water, drawing lots, etc. Almost all of these practices involved an even broader repertoire of specific techniques, which at times required a specialist to perform the consultations and explain their results to the inquirer. The traditional view, most extensively presented in Cicero’s De divinatione, distinguished the divinely inspired natural divination from its artificial counterpart, namely the sort of divination that required specialized knowledge about the relevant techniques. However, as we shall see, this learned distinction, which in fact was of little significance even to the traditional Greek and Roman practices, was entirely foreign to Christian divination, even on the theoretical side of things. The main question which this book aims to answer is what did the late antique Christians do when they wanted to gain the kind of hidden knowledge that their non-Christian contemporaries gained using traditional Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic and other divinatory practices? The situation of Christians in this respect was complicated. As we shall see, they usually did not deny that pagan divination happened at least to be effective, but at the same time they knew, or at least should have known, that they were not allowed to use it themselves. In practice, they behaved in diverse ways. Some probably renounced any hope of learning the hidden past, present or future. Those people, however, are barely visible in our sources. This is not to say that they did not exist, but the nature of our evidence makes it difficult to prove that a specific person did not use a divinatory practice (it is, for


Christian Divination in L ate Antiquit y

that matter, equally difficult to prove that they did not pray or steal). As a consequence, we cannot say how numerous such people were; in any case, they are not of primary interest in this book. Other Christians did resort to the old practices. There is good evidence showing this, ranging from sermons and other literary texts to secular laws censuring those who sought the help of ‘pagan’ specialists. Their religion probably did not dramatically change their pattern of behaviour in the sphere we are interested in. Finally, there were also other Christians who tried to construct specifically Christian – or at least Christianized – divinatory methods, either because they found them more effective than those used by their non-Christian neighbours, or because they took the preachers’ reproaches seriously, and felt a need for practices that would be both effective and acceptable in religious terms. It is these particular methods that I shall refer to as ‘Christian divination’. This book aims to answer some fundamental questions concerning this phenomenon. When and how did it emerge? What was the connection between Christian divination practices and the old methods used in the Mediterranean? What did the Christian divination techniques look like? Who used them, and in what circumstances? Who offered expert knowledge to perform such consultations? What were the attitudes of bishops, intellectuals and ordinary people towards divination?

The current state of research Before dealing with these questions, we should examine what has been done so far. In the nineteenth-century heyday of classical studies, divination was a topic that more often filled scholars with loathing than it sparked their interest. Those few who did decide to grapple with this subject felt the need to explain either themselves (for approaching a topic that was widely seen as embarrassing) or the ancients, whose dabbling in such practices gave the lie to the modern concept of classical civilization as radiantly illuminated by the triumph of reason. Consequently, some scholars were keen on rationalizing the role of divination in the ancient world: they argued, for example, that the Delphic oracle was simply a source of information on lands especially suited for colonization. Others relegated these practices to the sphere of folklore, making them appear insignificant when compared with the main intellectual advances of classical antiquity. Others still regarded some forms of divination, especially those attested to in Late Antiquity, as foreign influences that sullied the allegedly impeccable rationality of the Greek and Roman worlds.

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Nevertheless, still in the nineteenth century, ancient divination became the primary topic of the hefty, four-volume monograph, Histoire de la divination dans l’Antiquité, published in Paris (1879–1882) by Auguste BouchéLeclercq. This pioneering work remains irreplaceable to this day, notably for its sweeping breadth and the sheer amount of carefully scrutinized detail. Two book-length studies dealing with Greek divination, one by William Reginald Halliday (Greek Divination: A Study on its Methods and Principles, London 1913) and the other, much more recent, by Sarah Iles Johnston (Ancient Greek Divination, Oxford 2008), are markedly general in character and deal with periods much earlier than Late Antiquity. As for the practice of divination in the Roman world, no systematic attempt has been made to tackle the subject after the publication of the final volume of Bouché-Leclercq’s monograph and this work that was compiled much more than a century ago is still a point of reference for the study of several aspects of ancient divination (at the beginning of this century it was reprinted in an unchanged form). And yet in recent decades great strides have been made in the study of the topic; several previously unknown divinatory texts, and even whole categories of sources, have been discovered. Even more importantly, the attitude of scholars towards divination as a research topic has changed, and that change has brought about a flurry of studies viewing divination as a widespread cultural and social phenomenon, instead of a manifestation of superstitious curiosity or, with reference to research on early Christianity, an instance of ‘pagan survival’.1 This turnaround is owed in part to anthropologists, whose interest in divination dates back to as early as the first half of the twentieth century; their primary focus in this regard has been on the role that the phenomenon played in decision-making, maintaining social cohesion and explaining the world for a fair number of diverse societies, including those of modern Europe and America.2 The interest in divination among historians of Antiquity, which has been steadily growing, especially in recent decades, initially resulted in several collections of conference papers, the most interesting of which include Divination et rationalité (ed. by Jean-Pierre Vernant and others, Paris 1974), Pouvoir, divination, prédestination dans le monde antique (ed. by Élisabeth Smadja and Evelyne Geny, Paris 1999), Magic and Divination in the Ancient World (ed. by Leda Ciraolo and Jonathan Seidel, Leiden 2004), Mantikê: 1 See Frankfurter, 2018, pp. 7–15. 2 For the early anthropological interest see Evans-Pritchard, 1937. A useful summary of contemporary anthropological approaches to divination: Espríto Santo, 2019.


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Studies in Ancient Divination (ed. by Peter T. Struck and Sarah Iles Johnston, Leiden 2005) and most recently My Lots are in Thy Hands: Sortilege and its Practitioners in Late Antiquity (ed. by AnneMarie Luijendijk and William E. Klingshirn, Leiden 2019). For a long time, from among the wider spectrum of divination documented for the imperial period, only prophecy was subject to a distinct and extensive study; but the resulting book, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World, by David Aune (Grand Rapids 1983), does not deal with the late antique evidence. Recent years, however have brought a number of monographs on various methods of divination. In her Paroles d’Apollon: pratiques et traditions oraculaires dans l’Antiquité tardive (IIe–VIe siècles) (Leiden 2005), Aude Busine deals with the functioning of Greek oracles under the Roman Empire. Another monograph, Die Sortes Astrampsychi: Problemlösungsstrategegien durch Orakel im römischen Ägypten, by Franziska Naether (Tübingen 2010), is devoted to one of the most popular texts used in divination in Late Antiquity. William Klingshirn, who authored several articles on late antique sortition-based divination, is working on a monograph tackling this phenomenon. AnneMarie Luijendijk published a thorough study on a recently discovered oracular text known as the Gospel of the Lots of Mary (Forbidden Oracles?) (Tübingen 2014). Dreams and visions, although not necessarily divinatory, have been studied by Martine Dulaey (Le rêve dans la vie et pensée de saint Augustin, Paris 1973), Patricia Cox-Miller (Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination and Culture, Princeton 1988) and Isabelle Moreira (Dreams, Visions and Spiritual Authority in Merovingian Gaul, Ithaca, NY, 2000), and currently Bronwen Neil is preparing a new publication on this topic. Ildikó Csepregi is preparing a book on Byzantine incubation (i.e. the divinatory method that consisted in sleeping in a sanctuary in the hope of receiving a revelatory dream), which is also extensively discussed by Gil Renberg in a substantial chapter of his Where Dreams May Come: Incubation Sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman World (Leiden 2016). The last two decades have also brought about a considerable number of research papers analysing specific divination methods, without which writing the present monograph would have been an impossible task (I will be referring to them in due course).3 As one can see, the topic has been attracting ever more interest from scholars, and the volume of available sources is accruing at an astonishingly brisk pace from new archaeological discoveries and the identification of previously unrecognized texts used in divination. The state of knowledge 3

An excellent up-to-date survey is provided in Luijendijk and Klingshirn, 2019.

Introduc tion


is changing almost incessantly. Thus far, however, no attempt has been made to offer a comprehensive portrayal of late antique divination. In his Prophets and Emperors: Human and Divine Authority from Augustus to Theodosius (Cambridge, MA, 1994), David Potter ventured to take a fairly broad perspective on divination throughout the imperial period, but as he was interested mainly in political divination, a number of methods (e.g. drawing lots, practising incubation, interrogating demoniacs) fell outside of the purview of his study. Also, twenty-five years later, our understanding of several divinatory techniques has evolved substantially, and the widening array of evidence calls for an approach that might tackle the topic in an encompassing manner. This book, focusing as it does on divination in late antique Christian milieus, is a step in this direction.

The evidence and its intricacies When studying late antique Christian divination, we have to address several source-related problems. First, the literary evidence attesting this phenomenon is scant. From the first centuries of the Common Era, there survives not a single text that might be regarded as dealing with Christian divination in a systematic manner, one that would make it even remotely analogous to Cicero’s De divinatione. When reading Eusebius of Caesarea’s Praeparatio evangelica, part of which is reserved for arguing the case against pagan divination, we find that the author is juggling clichéd literary images and almost completely ignoring the contemporary divination practices, Christian or not. The short treatise by Augustine, De divinatione daemonum, although its title is reminiscent of the work of Cicero, only explains why demons predict the future and does not deal with the means available to people for inquiring into hidden matters. Significantly, it does not even mention any specifically Christian methods of divination. In this book I will repeatedly be dealing with whether and how the literary image of divination that we find in these and other authors mirrors the social reality of the time. Here, it might suffice to say that the paucity of evidence is a result of the dominant attitude of Christian writers toward divination; as we will see in the first chapter, no matter what an average Christian may have thought of it, the clerical authors on whose testimony we largely depend for our reconstruction of the customs and practices of their flock were pretty unenthused by the Christian forms of divination and a long way from recommending them. But at the same time, as the following chapters will demonstrate, neither were they so eager to condemn them.


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As a consequence, they usually remained silent and their writings tell us miserably little about Christian divinatory practices, mentioning them almost always merely in passing. Among the literary texts, most information on the subject can be gleaned from historiography, Bible commentaries, various types of hagiography and sermons. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that incidental remarks on the subject feature in almost every genre of Christian literature. A significant number of practices are mentioned in the normative texts that inveigh against the use of various sorts of divination methods. Such mentions are found in imperial legislation, as well as in various church canons, but while the edicts issued by emperors are concerned almost exclusively with the pagan practice (and deal with it rather severely), the regulations issued by church councils refer mostly to practices that are clearly Christian in character or, at least, Christianized. Obviously, and regrettably, it is very rare that they give us any technical details about these methods: the bishops who sat on the councils that passed such laws had every right to assume that anyone who might be interested would know full well what was being prohibited. In addition to the testimonies we might call ‘external’ – that is, descriptions, mentions and laws concerning divination – we also have ‘internal’ sources: specialized divination instruments produced and employed by Christians using such methods. 4 These artefacts can be divided into three groups: lots used in the shrines of Egyptian martyrs (which I will discuss in Chapter 5); sets of responses to divinatory questions (Chapter 4), some of which were appended to or in some other way included in biblical codices; and sanctuaries in which people possibly sought divinatory dreams (Chapter 7). There is a growing supply of this kind of evidence, and the new material may prove to be remarkably useful for the study of this subject. To give but one example, AnneMarie Luijendijk has recently published an edition of the hitherto completely unknown divinatory text and we can expect further publications of this sort.5 Ongoing excavations may yield more such finds, but even if we consider only those discovered thus far, it is worth noting that no more than two dozen oracular lots found in Egypt have been made available to a wider circle of researchers, while many times more still await publication. 4 This distinction is particularly useful with reference to magic and divination; see Bohak, 2008, pp. 70–3. 5 Luijendijk, 2014. See also other identified but still unpublished divinatory books: Kocar, 2019, and R. Stewart, 2019.

Introduc tion


The dispersed character of the evidence of course makes the research on Christian divination an extremely arduous task. The issue of scope, however, is only one of the evidence-related hurdles in the way of those who study this topic. No less important is that the various types of sources offer little else but an unwieldy assortment of vague glimpses, and it is indeed exceedingly difficult to piece them together to develop a broader, cohesive picture of the phenomenon in question. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the specialized terms used by late antique writers are usually non-specific and are hardly ever employed in a consistent manner, which often makes it difficult, or even impossible, to identify the method they are referring to. Secondly, the practices that are attested to by more than one type of evidence are very few. Most divination practices known to us from ‘internal’ testimonies (such as oracular books and tickets) are passed over in silence by the literary sources, and so we know very little of how they were actually used. Similarly, the methods known from literary texts (such as consulting prophets or opening the Bible at random) are not discernible in the archaeological evidence that might have helped to assess their character and geographical scope. Thirdly, the available sources, in addition to being scarce and disparate, come from various, often very distant times and places, which often makes it difficult to determine whether they are referring to one and the same practice when using a given term and, if they do so, whether the practice retained its character across various regions and historical periods. For instance, if we take the divination books whose use was condemned by the church councils held in Gaul, were they of the same kind as the fragmentary texts known from the excavations in Egypt? Similarly, in the case of the lots scribbled on papyrus found in the sanctuaries of the Nile Valley, was this a local practice used only in Egypt or a more widespread custom related to the unique case that we find in Gregory of Tours, namely the drawing of lots on the altar? Did the prophesying engastrimythoi (‘belly-talkers’) share the same characteristics as the arrepticii (the ‘seized’) mentioned in the Latin sources? Are we to believe that incubation, which is fairly well attested in the literary sources, should be regarded as the most common variety of all divination techniques solely on account of the number of literary testimonies? These are only a few of the questions that we are faced with when examining our evidence. Acknowledging all these limitations, I must say that this evidence is truly fascinating nonetheless, and I will endeavour to make the best of it, using standard methods of historical study. In doing so, I will be trying to make the sources speak to each other, often reconstructing practices that are described in full in none of them and discussing the related technical


Christian Divination in L ate Antiquit y

or quasi-technical terms. The contexts in which they appear will also be thoroughly examined with a view to finding out how important they were to the authors and what they knew and thought about their spread. The reticence (or verbosity) of the authors with regard to divination shall also be subject to careful inquiry, as it may prove particularly helpful in establishing whether the silence of the sources is a reflection of the limited popularity of a practice or simply has to do with the limitations of the evidence. Literary references, especially the biblical ones, will be discussed with a view to understanding what the authors preferred not to be explicit about (and for what reasons). I will also be examining lists of divinatory questions and sets of answers and will, by combining the former with the latter, try to determine who sought help from oracles, and when and why. I will scour the evidence to find out the attitudes of those whom our sources did not allow to speak their mind in their own voices; at the very least, I shall inquire into the assumptions that those who wrote about them (or to them) made about their thoughts. Furthermore, I will study the clientele of divination specialists, paying particular attention to their social status and gender, and try to find out what groups are over- or under-represented in the evidence. I leave it to the reader to judge whether this approach has been fruitful.

Objectives and plan of the book My primary intention is to find out what people would do when they craved hidden knowledge. Only the first chapter will be dealing more with theory than practice, and a fairly general theory at that. In it, I shall discuss Christian attitudes towards divination and try to explain the rationale behind them. Opinions expressed on this subject by such authors as Origen, John Chrysostom and Augustine are fairly well known, and in this regard there is going to be little novelty. More interesting are the attitudes of ordinary people, rank-and-file clergymen and monks, who did not necessarily share the opinions of the very select group of clerical or monastic writers. Runof-the-mill individuals, however, usually remain silent in our evidence, and so it is specific actions rather than statements that allow us to inquire into their views: it is to those actions and to the various divination methods that the subsequent chapters of the book will be devoted. There, I shall be dealing successively with consulting holy men, using the Bible and other texts specially designed for use in divination, drawing lots by a variety of sortition-based methods, questioning demoniacs and practising incubation. On various occasions, I will also discuss divination techniques used in ‘pagan’

Introduc tion


milieus (or Jewish, but less frequently), but these will only serve as points of reference that might prove useful for the study of Christian methods. It must be stated at the very beginning that this book is not aimed at presenting the whole spectrum of techniques used by Christians in Late Antiquity, not least because it is beyond doubt that many of them used methods that were traditionally ‘pagan’ or had no evident religious characteristics. The methods I am going to examine were specifically Christian, or at least noticeably Christianized. Therefore, the principal objective of the book is to present the methods of those who – acknowledging that they could not use the long-established methods of divination – wanted to ferret out the truth about the hidden past, present and future, and conceived of their religion as a resource to draw on rather than a hurdle to overcome in trying to do so. In consequence, this book leaves aside two types of late antique divinatory methods that were used by Christians. The first group consists of the long-established methods that were still in use in Late Antiquity but were not Christianized to any significant extent. In the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries Christians did not live in isolation from their ‘pagan’ neighbours, friends and relatives. Most of them were certainly well aware of how their non-Christian contemporaries inquired into hidden matters. Also, and no less importantly, many of them employed those methods in their own inquiries. The second group consists of practices that were also used by Christians but that hardly qualify as religious in nature. These include divination by numbers, which attributed numerical values to words, especially proper names, and then interpreted them according to a complex key, and physiognomy, a divinatory practice consisting in reading the hidden thoughts and predicting the future of individuals on the basis of their physical appearance.6 Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, this category also includes astrology, which in Late Antiquity was indisputably immensely popular among both pagans and Christians, but was considered to fall outside the realm of the religious. Rather, for its practitioners, the relationship between the movements of the stars and planets and the earthly reality was a part of the natural order of the universe, entirely unsusceptible and immune to the work of gods or demons. The arrangements of celestial bodies, if one was capable of interpreting them properly, indicated future events just as automatically and without fail as the appearance of the Pleiades heralded the coming of winter. This dependence was purely physical. As a result, there is just as little reason in saying that there was any specifically 6 Both methods were mercilessly ridiculed by Hippolytus in the early third century; see Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium 4.14–15.


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Christian (or pagan) sort of astrology at the time as there is with regard to physics. Granted, astrology was fiercely condemned by several Christian authors and canonical regulations, regardless of its non-religious character, but the aversion to astrologers and their art did not stem from the belief that practising it involved coming into contact with demons (which, as we shall see, was the fundamental argument against practising other traditional methods of divination), but from the fact that their presupposed fatalistic worldview was utterly incompatible with Christian doctrine.7 One has to admit that later attempts were made to Christianize astrology and demonstrate that not only was it compatible with the teaching of the Church, but also constituted a divine gift that should not be disparaged. Kocku von Stuckrad rightly points out that astrology did not have to be seen as utterly fatalistic. However, learned disputations on this topic began to occur well beyond the time frame adopted in this book.8 All methods mentioned in this paragraph await a separate study. The time frame of this book covers the period between the fourth and sixth centuries. The starting point is the time of immense change in Christian religiosity that occurred during the reign of Constantine the Great and his successors. I must point out, however, that the decision to discuss the issue beginning with this particular period was not based on an a priori assumption. In my research, I did examine earlier sources datable to the second and third centuries, and I will be referring to them in numerous instances. But in this early evidence there is simply no trace of divination practices that might be put on a par with those we see in later centuries. It is not my intention to accept, by default, the obsolete and rightly criticized claim that once the persecutions had ended and the new religion had been adopted by the Roman emperors, Christianity transmogrified into a ‘paganized’ religion of the masses. Nevertheless, Christian attitudes towards revealing hidden matters did change in this period, giving rise to the Christian divinatory practices that developed between the fourth and sixth centuries. The other end of the time frame is not as clear-cut: with a view to focusing primarily on the beginnings of Christian divination, I 7 Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio evangelica 6; Basil of Caesarea, Hexaemeron 6.7; Gregory of Nyssa, Contra fatum. 8 Bruning, 1990. For the beginnings of this phenomenon, see Dagron, 1981. Von Stuckrad, 2000, suggests that there was late antique Christian astrology, but this assumption rests on a very frail basis. The passage from the Historia Augusta (Hadrianus 8.3) that he quotes in support of his claim (the text has it that every Christian presbyter in Egypt was an astrologer) should be treated with caution: the author of that work, scathingly hostile to Christians, did not even try to describe their customs in a reliable way, especially with regard to divination.

Introduc tion


traced its development until that practice came to take a mature, although by no means final, form, which appears to have taken place in the sixth century. Occasionally, I will be referring to later sources but only when they help us better understand the phenomena attested to in earlier testimonies. This volume is a much altered version of my book which was published in Polish in 2013. While working on both the original and updated study, I greatly benefitted from the help of many colleagues who kindly responded to my queries, criticized misguided ideas, suggested changes, pointed out useful parallels, invited me to their seminars, loaned books to me and above all read individual chapters of the book at various stages of their preparation. I would like to thank them all, but my particular thanks go to Aude Busine, Ildikó Csepregi, Alain Delattre, Tomasz Derda, Martine Dulaey, Mark Edwards, William Klingshirn, AnneMarie Luijendijk, Adam Łajtar, Józef Naumowicz, Bronwen Neil, Arietta Papaconstantinou, Gil Renberg, Carine van Rhijn, Filippo Ronconi, the late Marianne Sághy, Krystyna Stebnicka, Marek Węcowski, Adam Ziółkowski and Ewa Wipszycka along with all those who participated in her seminar for their spirited reactions to my talks. I would also like to thank Rafał Kosiński, Ireneusz Milewski and Mariusz Szram, who reviewed the Polish version of my book, and the anonymous reviewers of the English version. Their remarks and suggestions allowed me to avoid errors and make the argument clearer. I am very grateful to Weronika Sygowska-Pietrzyk, my Polish publisher at Sub Lupa, who was infinitely forthcoming and enthusiastic about my editorial plans. It was Erin Dailey of Amsterdam University Press who nudged me into reconsidering and modifying some arguments formulated in the original version and prompted me to consider publishing the result in a language more widely understood than my own; I owe much to his encouragement, not least because of his professional interest in the topics covered by this study. Alain Delattre and Johannes Nollé shared with me photographs of important artefacts and generously allowed me to reproduce them in this book. I received similar permission to reproduce imagery from the Harvard Art Museum and the Cambridge University Library, for which I am deeply grateful. Last, but not least, my thanks go to Damian Jasiński, who translated this book. It was a pleasure to work with him, as always.


Attitudes to Divination

Accordingly, if [demons] pretend to tell the future, pay no heed to them. Often, they tell us days beforehand that brothers are coming, and the brothers do come. It is not from concern for their hearers, however, that the demons do this, but in order to gain credence for themselves, and then, afterwards, when they have them in their power, to destroy them. Consequently, we must not heed them; we should refute them as they speak, because we have no need of them. For, what wonder is it if, when they saw brothers starting on a journey, they outrun them and announce their coming, since their bodies are more subtle than men’s? A man travelling by horse would also bring word beforehand, outstripping those who travel on foot. In this case, then, there is no need to wonder at them; they knew nothing beforehand which has not already taken place; God alone knows all things before they come to pass. ‒ Athanasius, Vita Antonii 31, trans. by Roy Joseph Deferrari

The passage quoted above, although put into the mouth of a holy monk, was written by a bishop, Athanasius of Alexandria. Bishops, priests and other church writers will be quoted throughout this book, but while in the following chapters I will be trying to inquire into the beliefs and practices of the Christian flock, in this chapter I will be dealing particularly with the views of the shepherds. I decided to begin with them not to show what ‘true’ Christianity should have looked like (but did not), but to present the intellectual and religious frameworks within which Christians had to operate when seeking to reveal hidden knowledge. Admittedly, we cannot imagine that all Christians knew the biblical passages quoted below by heart, and even less so should we assume that they read theological treatises condemning divination. But Christian intellectuals and ‘ordinary’ Christians did not live two different worlds. And indeed the former did seek to communicate their views, which they considered normative, to the latter: through informal talks and meetings, sermons and ultimately church canons. Also, as we will see in the following chapters, we should not assume there was a clear-cut dividing line between laypeople and clerics, the former practising divination and the latter having a hostile or at best hesitant attitude towards its Christianized forms: there were clerics who chastised divination, and there were also others, probably fairly numerous, who actively practised it. They were not necessarily intellectuals, but they must have been familiar with the basic teachings


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concerning divination and it is important to understand what these teaching consisted in.

Christian authors on pagan divination The declared attitude of Christians towards pagan divination was usually clear: they believed that in all its forms it was evil and under no circumstances was it permitted to resort to it – or at least so they claimed.1 As early as in the second century, early Christian apologetic writers were so explicit in stating this conviction that it could hardly go unnoticed by pagan authors. For example, Lucian of Samosata wrote that the only two groups who contested the legitimacy of the oracle founded in Pontus by Alexander of Abonouteichos were Christians and Epicureans.2 Regardless of whether this remark is true, it is nevertheless indicative of how Christians were perceived in this period. Christian writers were typically indiscriminate and unequivocal in condemning pagan divination. In several instances, Augustine enumerated various specialists in divination, but his view on their practices was invariable and outright negative: all those people were engaged in prohibited and reprehensible arts, regardless of their origin, character or purported effectiveness. Here is how Augustine characterized a Christian who had congratulated himself on his piety: ‘You do not fornicate and go from Him [God] to idols, astrologers, lot interpreters, haruspices, augurs or magicians, for this would be tantamount to fornicating against the Lord God.’3 A similar list is found in a sermon by John Chrysostom, Augustine’s contemporary, who among other reprehensible pagan customs mentioned observing divinatory signs, studying the flight of birds, looking for omens, differentiating between auspicious and inauspicious days for various activities or looking into the circumstances of a person’s birth. 4 It is difficult to tell 1 See e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 2.1; Tertullian, Apologeticum 22 and 35; Minucius Felix, Octavius 26; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses ad illuminandos 4.37, and Catecheses mystagogicae 1.8; and the statements by John Chrysostom and Augustine indicated below. For a general discussion, see Colling, 2007. 2 Lucian of Samosata, Alexander 25. 3 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 140.18: Non fornicaris ab eo ad idola, ad mathematicos, ad sortilegos, ad aruspices, ad augures, ad maleficos; ista enim fornicatio est a domino dei. Translations from the Greek and Latin sources by Damian Jasiński, unless otherwise indicated. 4 κλῃδονισμοὶ καὶ οἰωνισμοὶ καὶ σύμβολα καὶ ἡμηρῶν παρατηρήσεις καὶ ἡ περὶ τήν γένεσιν σπουδή (John Chrysostom, In epistulam ad Galatas 1.7, PG 61.623); see also John Chrysostom, In I epistulam

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whether, in the above passages, these two authors are referring to divinatory practices that were actually in use during their lifetimes in Antioch and Constantinople or in Hippo and Carthage. Both John Chrysostom and Augustine reel off the names of these divinatory methods in such a way that these lists seem to have been based on what they had read rather than on what they had seen. We should not presume, however, that these brief catalogues had nothing to do with reality. To acknowledge the immediacy of this caveat, it is worth looking at the following passage from a sermon by Caesarius of Arles: ‘Observing divinatory signs, consulting spell chanters, questioning caragii, lot interpreters and diviners: without a doubt, all of this is the devil’s doing, to his conceit does it pertain.’5 At first sight the list seems to have been taken from Latin literature, but one group among all these specialists in divination, the caragii, are only mentioned in Caesarius’s sermons and in two canons adopted at two Gallic church councils convened in the sixth century in Narbonne and Auxerre.6 We may thus be sure that we are dealing here with references to a real and local divinatory custom practised in sixth-century Gaul. Similarly, I suspect that some examples given by Augustine and John Chrysostom may have been based on their real experience, not just on what they had read. The same can be said of other forms of traditional divination outlawed in various normative texts: probably more often than not, the techniques listed in the church canons and imperial constitutions had in fact been in use at the time that these laws were promulgated.7 It is beyond all doubt, however, that Christian writers condemning divination practices were not always concerned with contemporary phenomena. Eusebius of Caesarea in his Praeparatio evangelica, which is incidentally the most comprehensive presentation of the Christian attitude to pagan divination, barely notes any other forms of divination apart from those practised in ad Corinthios homiliae 4.6 (PG 61.38), In epistulam ad Ephesios 6.4 (PG 62.48) and In I epistulam ad Timotheum 3.3 (PG 62.518). 5 Caesarius of Arles, Sermo 12.4: Nam et auguria observare, et praecantatores adhibere, et caragios, sortilegos, divinos inquirere, totum hoc ad pompam vel ad opera diaboli non est dubium pertinere. 6 Caesarius of Arles, Sermones 54.3 and 54.5, 70.1, 229.4; Concilium Narbonense, can. 14; Synodus dioecesana Autissiodorensis, can. 4. 7 See Concilium Laodicenum, can. 36 (astrology, divination); Concilium Ancyranum, can. 24 (observing divinatory signs and practising all other techniques of pagan divination); Concilium Veneticum, can. 16; Concilium Agathense, can. 42; Concilium Aurelianense, can. 30; Canones Athanasii (Arabic version), can. 73; Canones Basilii, can. 72 (in the Third Canonical Letter to Amphilochius of Iconium); Canones Gregorii Nysseni, can. 3 (against diviners). For more on imperial legislation, see Desanti, 1990, pp. 133–201.


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the traditional oracles, such as those in Delphi, Claros and Didyma, that had been famous in the distant past, but were of little significance in his day.8 In part, Christian hostility towards traditional methods of divination simply reiterated the Old Testament rules that strictly and repeatedly prohibited such practices, as we shall see later in this chapter. But above all, Christian authors rejected pagan divination because the techniques used in it were religious in nature and as such insidiously attracted people to the old cults. This concern about the faithful coming into contact with pagan shrines and rituals should not be associated solely with a fear of interreligious competition. Most of all, it followed from the genuine conviction that pagan religions did not consist of calling into the void, but of worshipping evil spirits, and that those who offered a sacrifice or consulted an oracle simply could not escape coming into real contact with demons. To be sure, Christian writers often stated that pagan deities did not exist and that their statues were nothing but lifeless stones; they believed (subscribing to the view of Euhemerus on this matter) that the names of those deities had been borrowed from some long-dead mortals widely acclaimed while alive.9 But at the same time most Christian authors were convinced that those names and statues served as shelters for demons desperate to be worshipped, thirsty for the blood of sacrificial animals and engaged in the attempt to draw people into their clutches by offering them responses to their questions. In consequence, in Christian literature the divinatory powers of pagan shrines are usually attributed to the evil spirits that inhabited them, as can be seen in the following passage from the apologetic dialogue written in the late second century by Minucius Felix: These impure spirits, thus demons, as shown by the Magi, by the philosophers, and by Plato, lurk under consecrated statues and images, and by their afflatus attain the authority as of a present deity; while in the meantime they are breathed into the seers, while they dwell in the shrines, while sometimes they animate the fibres of entrails, control the flights of birds, direct lots, are the cause of oracles involved in many falsehoods.10 8 Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio evangelica 4, passim; see Athanassiadi, 1993, pp. 127–8. 9 For a useful discussion of these views, see Hanson, 1980. For more on the Christian reception of Euhemerus’s thought, see Winiarczyk, 2013, pp. 148–53. 10 Minucius Felix, Octavius 27.1: Isti igitur inpuri spiritus, daemones, ut ostensum magis, a philosophis et a Platone, sub statuis et imaginibus consecratis delitescunt et adflatu suo auctoritatem quasi praesentis numinis consequuntur, dum inspirantur interim vatibus, dum fanis inmorantur, dum nonnumquam extorum fibras animant, avium volatus gubernant, sortes regunt, oracula efficiunt falsis pluribus involuta. Trans. by Robert Ernest Wallis (adapted).

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Minucius Felix is by no means exceptional. Similar perceptions of pagan cults were consistent throughout second-century apologetic literature and did not change in the centuries that followed.11 Pagan divination was thus unequivocally associated with demons, and Christians were continually reminded of this association. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – it was not easy to address this phenomenon from an intellectual standpoint. The main difficulty lay in the fact that it was not only pagans who believed in the efficacy of the old gods’ oracles; Christians generally shared this belief. This is true not only of those Christians who consulted oracles, but also of those who fiercely condemned that practice: they all believed that demons indeed knew the answers to numerous questions with which people were typically preoccupied. The moralizing of preachers trying to suppress the practice of inquiring into hidden matters could not be fully successful, given that both they themselves and their audiences acknowledged that the responses of oracles, even if not always accurate, could be fairly useful. In order to dissuade the faithful from resorting to pagan divination, clerical authors used various arguments. In spite of what has been said above about the incidental accuracy of oracles, emphasis was typically laid on those oracles’ fallibility: that their utterances were often inaccurate, deceptive or intentionally ambiguous. One of the oft-repeated examples employed to support this argument was the well-known story of Croesus, the king of Lydia who consulted the Delphic oracle inquiring whether he should pursue his planned campaign against the Persians. The Pythia famously answered that if he attacked the enemy, ‘he would destroy a great empire’. The king, encouraged by these words, set out to war and did destroy a great empire, which, however, turned out to be his own. This and other similar examples of obscure, inaccurate or misleading oracular statements were borrowed by Christian authors from pagan critics of divination, particularly the Epicureans and the sceptics.12 11 See e.g. Lactantius, Divinae institutiones 2.16, and in particular the treatise De divinatione daemonum by Augustine of Hippo. 12 Herodotus, Historiae 1.53 and 1.91. The story of Croesus is referred to by Cicero as an argument against divination, De divinatione 2.115–16; Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae 23.5.9; Tertullian, Ad nationes 2.17 and Apologeticum 22; Jerome, In Isaiam 12.41.21–4 and Ep. 84.4; Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 3.43.3; Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio evangelica 5.20–1; Miracula Theclae prol. 42–65; see also Orosius, Historia adversus paganos 6.15.13–16. For more on the references to pagan writers (particularly to the Cynics) found in Christian discussions on divination, see Méhat, 1987, pp. 439–40; for their dependence on the Epicurean thought, Jungkuntz, 1962, p. 81.


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Not only did Christian authors eagerly expose specific cases in which oracular utterances proved to have been off the mark, but at times they also reiterated the classic arguments stating that by their very nature the various kinds of divination could not produce accurate results; with regard to auguries, for instance, they insisted that it was impossible to learn anything about hidden matters from the flight of birds, given that, in the hierarchy of creatures, birds held an inferior position, far removed from that of humans. They would also point out that it was futile to believe in horoscopes, given that the lives of people born under the same constellation would often look very different.13 Despite all these reservations, however, ecclesiastical writers felt compelled in their discussion of pagan divination to admit that oracles often revealed the truth.14 One cannot emphasize enough that this conviction – that divination was to at least some extent effective – was indeed very common. Christian writers often endeavoured to explain traditional divination’s veridical features. As demonstrated above, they believed that these were attributable to demons that resided in pagan shrines, inhabited the bodies of the possessed or were invoked by means of magical incantation. This fairly straightforward explanation reflected the typical Christian vision of pagan religion, namely that it was more about invoking evil spirits than about pleading to non-existent gods. In addition, this explanation was consistent with long-established Greek conceptualizations of oracular utterances. Plato attributed divination to the workings of daimones, beings that acted as intermediaries between two worlds, that of the gods and that of men. This concept, which was further developed by Xenocrates, Plutarch and Apuleius,15 became current in the first centuries of the Common Era, even if it failed to completely replace the conviction that oracular sayings came directly from gods themselves.16 Christians commonly identified the Greek daimones with evil spirits that featured in the Gospels, and the Platonic view was therefore very much to their liking. They did not rule out the possibility that God could and did utilize pagan diviners to get his message across to his people, but this reservation applied to only a few ‘historical episodes’ 13 Origen, Contra Celsum 4.88–90; Augustine, Confessiones 4.3. 14 Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio evangelica 4.2–3; Mark the Deacon, Vita Porphyrii 60; Arnobius, Adversus nationes 3.23. 15 Plato, Symposium 202d–203a. On Plutarch, see Soury, 1942, pp. 102–13; on Plutarch and Apuleius, see Moreschini, 1989. Augustine vigorously criticized Platonic conceptions, but there were attempts to align them with Christian doctrine on philosophical grounds; see Bakhouche, 1999, pp. 267–70. 16 This view was held by Iamblichus: De mysteriis 3.7.

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(for want of a better term), including the biblical story of Balaam – who against his wishes foretold the glory of Israel – the Sibylline oracles and a few passages in Virgil and Homer supposedly heralding the birth of Christ.17 Explaining the workings of oracles by referring to demonic activity had a certain drawback: it presented the inescapable difficulty of explaining how the evil spirits could know what was going to happen, which was a troublesome question, given that knowing the future should have been the exclusive prerogative of God. The issue was most famously discussed by Athanasius of Alexandria in his Life of Antony (chs. 31–33), written most probably in the 360s and quoted at the beginning of this chapter. Athanasius put the following explanation into the mouth of his hero: in reality, the demons know nothing about the future, but because their bodies are light and nimble, deftly speeding in the air,18 they are capable of crossing long distances in the blink of an eye and telling people about events taking place far away. They can also use their own reasoning to predict the outcomes of those events. If they see, for instance, that some monks are setting out on a road to a hermit’s cell, they whoosh without delay to apprise said hermit of their coming: ‘You are going to have visitors tomorrow.’ If people could run as fast, it would be equally possible for them to do the same. The same mechanism helped Egyptian oracles ‘predict’ the flooding of the Nile. Having noticed that it was raining in Ethiopia, the demons would fly along the river announcing that the seasonal flood was already on its way. In addition, evil spirits could deduce future events from natural phenomena, but this was small wonder, since humans could also do the same. After all, the same capacity was employed by doctors examining the symptoms of an illness in order to make a prognosis, or by sailors who could predict the coming of a storm by observing the sky. In addition to that natural, or, shall we say, physical explanation of the veracity of pagan oracles, Christian authors pointed out other reasons for their troubling success rate. Some are found in Augustine, particularly in his most detailed discussion of the topic contained in the treatise De divinatione daemonum. Written at some point in the first decade of the fifth century, it responded to the controversy that arose from the pagan 17 On Balaam (Numbers 22–24): Origen, In Numeros homiliae 13–20; see also his Commentarii in evangelium Ioannis 28 and catenae 85 (but for the evidence of the catenae see Heine, 1986, pp. 120–4); Ambrose, Ep. 28.4–7; Jerome, Commentarii in evangelium Matthaei 1.7.22. On the Sybil: Tertullian, Apologeticum 19; Lactantius, Divinae institutiones 4.15.27; Augustine, Epistulae ad Romanos inchoata expositio 3, De civitate Dei 18.23 and Contra Faustum 13.1–2 and 13.17; Quodvultdeus, Sermo 4.16. See also Richardson, 1992; Chuvin, 2009; Benko, 1980; Roessli, 2003. 18 This conviction was shared by ancient Christians and pagans alike; see Daniélou, 1956.


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prophecy of the destruction of the Serapeion of Alexandria, one of the most famous temples in the Roman Empire. It is of little importance whether that prophecy had actually been in circulation before the event; the fact is that people involved in the controversy believed that it had. Ultimately, the Serapeion was demolished, while the news of the prophecy filled Christians with a sense of consternation. Taking this opportunity to expound at some length his views on pagan divination, Augustine proposed three other ways of explaining the phenomenon of demonic foreknowledge beyond those provided by Athanasius. The first took an approach which may well be referred to as psychological: the evil spirits look into people’s faces and predict their future actions. This explanation seems to be in line with ancient physiognomics, a highly reputed branch of knowledge based on the assumption that human faces betray not only their personality traits but also their futures.19 Another source of demonic foreknowledge, Augustine continued, lay in the biblical prophecies, of which the demons were fully aware, and in what they had heard from angels. Finally, the third source lay in themselves, for it may happen that demons make their own plans known: for example, they first ‘predict’ the outbreak of a plague only to provoke the spread of the disease afterwards.20 Needless to say, while presenting these arguments, Augustine found it necessary to add that the demons’ predictions were often inaccurate, and that more often than not they were intended to lead people astray: even if they should happen to tell the truth, they would only do so with a view to duping and ensnaring those who took heed of their prognostications.

Attitudes to non-pagan divination As we have seen, Christian authors frequently condemned various forms of ‘pagan’ prognostication, but they were also wary of the very idea of divination. This markedly cautious attitude often appears to be so inextricably linked with Christianity that it is all too easy to overlook the need to study how it originated or to adopt by default a seemingly obvious explanation. The problem is that there are multiple explanations in scholarship, which 19 For more on ancient physiognomics, see Evans, 1941, 1950 and 1969; see also Barton, 1994. 20 Augustine, De divinatione daemonum 7 (speed and experience; see also Tertullian, Apologeticum 22.8; Consultationes Zacchei et Apolonii 1.27.5), 9 (the outer manifestations betraying human thoughts), 11 (biblical prophecies; see also Tertullian, Apologeticum 22.9), 9 (announcing their own actions; see also Consultationes Zacchei et Apolonii 1.27.5). Augustine discussed the same topic in De consensu evangelistarum 1.19.27–20.28 and in De Genesi ad litteram 12.17–18.

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is in itself slightly disconcerting. To take but one example, Pierre Courcelle identified three underlying causes of that attitude: firstly, the relevant prohibitions found in the Old Testament, secondly, the fact that divination was closely related to pagan cults (which ruled out all possibilities of discussing divination in abstracto), and thirdly, the emergence of Montanism, a strongly charismatic current within the Church that was exceedingly opposed by the mainstream bishops and led to a growing mistrust on the part of church hierarchy towards all forms of prophecy.21 These three explanations for the avowed mistrust of divination are important, but certainly not self-evident, and we will look into the reasons for that in more detail. When addressing the hostile attitude of the early Church towards divination, we tend to focus on the Old Testament prohibitions, which the reader of a modern translation may easily take as forbidding all forms of divination. Let us take a look at a few of them as translated in the English Standard Version: You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes [Leviticus 19:26]. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a necromancer, or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord [Deuteronomy 18:10–12]. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger [2 Kings 21:6].

These are only a few of the many biblical texts that – as it may seem to a modern reader – squarely condemn the use of all sorts of divinatory methods.22 However, as Gideon Bohak notes, the limits on divination imposed by the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible are in fact not as all-inclusive as it might seem from reading modern translations.23 Contemporary languages, including English, are not fully capable of conveying, or have become less sensitive to, the original nuances of the technical terms describing various forms of divination. By contrast, the specific terms used in the Hebrew 21 Courcelle, 1957, col. 1249. 22 Other examples: Leviticus 20:27; Numbers 23:23; 2 Kings 17:17 and 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Sirach 34:5; Isaiah 2:6 and 47:13; Micah 5:11. 23 See esp. Bohak, 2008, p. 18.


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text itself nearly always refer to specific methods of foretelling the future. Moreover, these methods were usually not disapproved of for being intrinsically bad. Instead, the main reason was that they were closely related to foreign cults, or this was at least how they were perceived in the Pentateuch.24 Of course, it is beyond the scope of this book to inquire into how these prohibitions were understood and whether they were observed in ancient Israel. Instead, we have to ask how they were interpreted by late antique Christians who read Jewish scriptures in a Greek or Latin translation, and not in the original Hebrew. The Latin and Greek translators of biblical texts could avail themselves of the rich and precise divination-related vocabularies of their respective languages. As a result, the lists of forbidden practices provided in ancient translations are more exact and detailed. For example, in the passage from Deuteronomy 18:10–12 quoted above, the Septuagint and the Vulgate enumerate the following: inspired prophecy, bird divination, observing omens, casting spells, two different types of consulting the dead and divination in general.25 Some technical terms that appear in these translations (such as engastrimythos, ventriloquus or pytho, all of which literally refer to ‘ventriloquism’) denote fairly narrowly defined practices, even if some of them remain difficult to identify.26 Others, such as oiōnismos/auguratio and klēdonizesthai/observare auguria (which generally refer to inquiring into all signs of divinatory nature and have no firmly established equivalents in English) may imply a broader array of practices. Finally, the terms manteia and divinatio seem to encompass all methods of divination. On the whole, it can be stated with a fair degree of certainty that while the Septuagint and the Vulgate were more precise than translations in modern languages, they condemned divination in a broader sweep when compared with the original Hebrew wording of the relevant biblical passages. On the other hand, we should not overlook the fact that some biblical passages contradict the prohibitions mentioned above. They even recommend using certain methods of divination or at the very least refer to them in a neutral manner, using at times the very same terminology as that employed in the prohibitions. In the Book of Genesis (44:5–15), there is the notable example of Joseph and the chalice he used in a divinatory practice, which 24 Cryer, 1994, esp. pp. 255–62. 25 Deuteronomy 18:10–11. The Septuagint: μαντευόμενος μαντείαν, κληδονιζόμενος καὶ οἰωνιζόμενος, φαρμακὸς ἐπαείδων ἐπαοιδήν, ἐγγαστρίμυθος καὶ τερατοσκόπος, ἐπερωτῶν τοὺς νεκρούς. The Vulgate: qui ariolos sciscitetur et observet somnia atque auguria ne sit maleficus ne incantator ne pythones consulat ne divinos et quaerat a mortuis veritatem. 26 See pp. 182–92.

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in the Septuagint and the Vulgate was called, respectively, oiōnismos and augurandi scientia. As we can see, these are the same terms that Christian writers applied to the condemned practices of pagan divination. But Genesis does not criticize Joseph. In Proverbs (16:10), manteion/divinatio is perceived as if it was an ordinary prerogative of rulers. Even more importantly, we find in the Bible itself mentions of divinatory methods that were considered to be different from those that were condemned (whether they were indeed different is another matter), and seen as completely acceptable or even recommended ways of learning about the future or the will of God. The first of these was the use of urim and thummim, which were worn on the chest by the Jewish high priest as part of his ‘liturgical vestments’.27 These two words appear in many Old Testament passages. In most cases, modern translators of the Bible only transliterate them, leaving a footnote about their possible meaning. The usual explanation is that this term referred to divinatory lots used to discern the will of God. Admittedly, we must be aware that for ancient Christians this explanation was not self-evident. More often than not, urim and thummim are rendered in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate in such ways that it seems impossible to conclude that the relevant biblical text referred specifically to tools used in divination. Nevertheless, there are instances where the high priest is explicitly described as being on the point of performing a divinatory consultation, although the method to be employed in the rite remains unclear. A good example to illustrate this observation is found in Numbers 27:21:28 The Septuagint: And before Eleazar the priest he shall stand, and they shall inquire of him the judgment of the evident things before the Lord. At his mouth they shall go out, and at his mouth they shall come in, he and all the sons of Israel of one accord and all the congregation.29 The Vulgate: But whenever some action is planned, the high priest Eleazar will consult the Lord concerning it; at his word both Josue himself and 27 Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65; Sirach 33:3 and 45:10 (in the Hebrew verse numbering). 28 The translation of ESV, made directly from the Hebrew, is the following: ‘And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.’ 29 καὶ ἔναντι Ἐλεάζαρ τοῦ ἱερέως στήσεται, καὶ ἐπερωτήσουσιν αὐτὸν τὴν κρίσιν τῶν δήλων ἔναντι Κυρίου· ἐπὶ τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ ἐξελεύσονται καὶ ἐπὶ τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ εἰσελεύσονται αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ υἱοὶ Ἰσραὴλ ὁμοθυμαδὸν καὶ πᾶσα ἡ συναγωγή. Trans. by Peter W. Flint (slightly adapted), in New English Translation of the Septuagint, 2007.


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all Israel, and all the company that goes with them, shall move this way and that.30

For a Greek reader it was undoubtedly difficult to work out with any precision the method of divination implied in this passage, while it may have been completely lost on those who read its Latin translation. It is worth noting, however, that one of the few ancient authors commenting on this text, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, was confident that it referred to a way of eliciting God’s answer to a question.31 The second method permitted in the Bible is divinatory dreams. As a rule, they would come unsolicited, but at times they were indeed actively sought. The patriarch Joseph, for instance, is presented in laudatory terms in Genesis as a consummate dream interpreter. Interestingly, he is also a diviner competent in other techniques, particularly in divining from a cup.32 In addition to that, we read the following in the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.’ The passage intimates that communication in dreams will be a universal element of Messianic reality.33 The third divinatory practice presented in the Old Testament in a positive light is seeking advice from prophets. Most of the prophecies found in the Bible take place whenever the prophets – or rather God using them as intermediaries – see fit, and only rarely do we see people actively seeking them out. This is perfectly understandable, seeing that the composition of biblical narrative required that contact between the Israelites and God should be almost invariably initiated by God. Nonetheless, there are episodes in the Old Testament where rulers or ordinary people seek advice from the prophets. First of all, there is the story (1 Samuel 9:3–20) about Saul being sent by Kish, his father, to find his lost she-asses: following his servant’s advice, Saul went to ask a ‘seer’ (the prophet Samuel) about where he would find 30 Pro hoc si quid agendum erit Eleazar sacerdos consulet Dominum ad verbum eius egredietur et ingredietur ipse et omnes filii Israhel cum eo et cetera multitudo. 31 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Quaestiones in Octateuchum: in Exodum 60. For other testimonies see the Biblia Patristica which can be found in electronic form at BiblIndex, CNRS, Paris, www. (accessed on 2 May 2019). 32 For soliciting dreams, see esp. 1 Samuel 28:6, where we read that God did not answer Saul’s inquiries ‘either by dreams, or by urim, or by prophets’, but this was due to the fact that God ‘had turned from him and became [his] enemy’ – not to his use of a wrong method of divination. Joseph as a dream interpreter: Genesis 40–41. Joseph predicts the future by using a cup (presumably by examining the liquid it contained): Genesis 44:5 and 44:15. 33 Joel 3:1–2 (in Hebrew; otherwise 2:28).

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the animals. The same book (28:6) tells us that, during his own reign, Saul asked God to answer his questions by means of dreams or lots, or through prophets. Elsewhere (1 Kings 14:1–18), we see King Jeroboam send his wife to the prophet Ahijah to find out about the future of their ailing son. The same book (22:6–28; see also 2 Chronicles 8:5) presents a consultation with the prophet Micaiah and ‘four hundred prophets’ concerning the outcome of a planned war campaign. The Second Book of Kings (1:1–4) begins with Elijah rebuking King Ahaziah: having suffered an injury, instead of asking a prophet from the Israelites, the king sent his envoys to Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to inquire about his recovery. The same book includes the question asked of Joram, king of Israel, by Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (who is presented in the book in laudatory terms): ‘Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?’ Finally, the ailing ruler of Damascus, Ben-Hadad, sends Hazael, his servant, to ask Elisha whether he will recover from his sickness (2 Kings 8:7–15). In the New Testament we find mentions of angels and prophets who, without being solicited, not only proclaim the will of God but also predict some rather mundane future events. Thus we read about an angel apprising Joseph of the death of Herod (Matthew 2:19–21), telling Cornelius about Peter’s stay in Jaffa (Acts 1:1–6) or warning Paul that he would stand before Caesar (Acts 27:24). The prophet Agabus foretells a great famine during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28). Even more intriguing is the use of a classic method of divination employed on the occasion of co-opting Matthias to take the place left by Judas among the Twelve – the man was selected by casting lots.34 To sum up, one has to note that the Bible, as read in Late Antiquity, did not shut all the doors to divination. The Old Testament strictures concerning divination were not always clear, and anyone studying the history of Israel as recounted in the Scriptures could easily find a number of divinatory methods whose use was not only permitted, but even commended outright. Besides, it has to be emphasized that even if the Old Testament had been unambiguously clear on the matter, Christians readily and radically reinterpreted a vast array of its laws. To say nothing of the Jewish taboos concerning food, one may illustrate this by referring to at least these two examples: some Christian versions of the Decalogue omit the prohibition against making images of God, while the biblical regulations on avoiding ritual pollution contracted by contact with dead bodies did not hinder the development of the cult of relics. 34 Acts 1:26.


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Secondly, while it is beyond all doubt that many divinatory methods were closely associated with pagan cults, and this relationship must have deterred Christians from using them, these associations were not always equally strong. Admittedly, divination practices based on examining the entrails of sacrificial animals inescapably brought pagan rituals to mind, but the link with pagan cults was far less evident in the case of divination by lot or dream interpretation. Furthermore, even if Christians made these associations, they may not have impeded the development of specifically Christian divinatory practices. Thirdly, the Montanist controversy certainly had an impact on various aspects of church life and practice. Not only did the Christian hierarchy grow mistrustful of all sorts of visions; more importantly, Christian prophets had by and large disappeared (or at the very least no longer appear in our sources).35 The coincidence between the end of the prophetic era in mainstream Christianity and the advent of Montanism is clearly visible in the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea. Even though he wrote that the prophetic charisma in the Church would continue until the Second Coming of Christ, the last mentions of the actual individuals endowed with the gift of prophecy are found in that part of his work directly preceding his account of Montanus’s activity.36 There, Eusebius states that in those days the charismatic era was not yet over, clearly suggesting that it ended soon after, and in the wake of that controversy. However, while it is important to take note of reactions to Montanus’s teachings, the impact of the Montanist crisis on Christian attitudes to divination should not be overstated. I shall discuss this issue in greater detail in the following chapter on prophecy. For now, suffice it to say that it is impossible to explain the mistrustful attitudes to other methods of divination (such as, for instance, divination by lot) by reference solely to the Montanist controversy. In addition to the above reasons mentioned by Courcelle concerning the early Christians’ mistrust of divination, we find one other, theological explanation: divination was to be intrinsically unacceptable to Christians because it implied an espousal of fatalism, a fiercely censured bête noire of the early Church.37 To be sure, early Christian authors referred to fatalism in their writings concerning astrology, since they had to challenge 35 See below, pp. 46–50. 36 The last occurrences of non-Montanist prophets in Eusebius’s Historia ecclesiastica: 4.18.8 (the testimony of Justin the Martyr), 5.3.4 (on the charismatic gifts still being present in abundance), 5.7.6 (during Irenaeus’s lifetime the charisma was still present in the Church), 5.17.4 (the prophetic charisma shall persist until the Second Coming of Christ). 37 See e.g. Amand de Mendieta, 1945; Downing, 1992, p. 42.

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the widely accepted conviction that the movements of stars and planets determined the course of future events, a view difficult to accommodate with the Christian idea of free will.38 Challenging though it may have been, the issue was far from insurmountable; the prime argument against the immutability of the celestial order was the Star of Bethlehem, which supposedly illustrated that the order of the universe was not as invariable or predetermined as it may have seemed.39 The issue of fatalism was of even less importance with regard to other divinatory methods. We need to remember that in Greek, Roman and Jewish divination practice such questions as ‘What will happen?’ or ‘Will this happen?’ were in fact posed far less frequently than we may be tempted to believe. People making use of divination would often formulate their questions by referring to the present day or to the past instead of the future. For example, a person robbed of their money did not necessarily have to ask ‘Will I get my money back?’ (i.e. referring to the future). The question could be rephrased and look like this: ‘Where is my money at the moment?’ (to the present) or ‘Who stole my money?’(to the past). More importantly, even questions asked with regard to the future were rarely aimed at foretelling things to come; instead, they would normally have been meant to elicit an indication as to what sort of action one should take. ‘Should I mend my fences with my neighbour?’, ‘Should I embark on this journey?’, ‘Should I get married?’ – these are typical examples of questions asked of oracles. Eliciting a response to such questions did not imply embracing a fatalist vision of the world. Thus, it is only to a very limited extent that the negative attitudes to divination can be explained by hostility towards fatalism. Moreover, the ‘antifatalist’ argument was a two-edged sword, as it could put into question not only the veracity of oracles, but also that of the prophets: 40 after all, aligning the foreknowledge of the prophets with the idea of free will was not so easy either. As a result, Christian authors advanced this argument with considerable caution, reserving its use almost exclusively to debates on astrology. It is not my intention to dismiss the above explanations as completely unsatisfactory, but I believe that we must thoroughly consider what Christian authors themselves wrote about uncovering hidden knowledge of the affairs 38 For a useful survey of the sources (and for more on the question of fatalism), see Hegedus, 2007. 39 See e.g. Origen, namely a passage from his Commentary on Genesis quoted in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Praeparatio evangelica 6.11. As regards the discussions of the Star of Bethlehem, see Denzey, 2003. 40 See Augustine, De civitate Dei 5.9.


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of this world. An interesting reflection is found in Origen and the relevant passage is certainly worth quoting in full: Since we have just mentioned the question of the prophets, what we are about to bring forward will be of value not only to Jews, who believe that the prophets spoke by divine inspiration, but also to those Greeks who have an open mind. We will say to them that it will be admitted that the Jews had to have prophets, if they were to be kept obedient to the legislation which had been given to them, and were to believe in the Creator according to the traditions they had received, and were not to have any opportunities, as far as the law could forbid it, of apostatising to heathen polytheism. We will show that this was necessary in this way. ‘The nations’, as it is written in this very law of the Jews, ‘will listen to omens and divination’ [klēdonōn kai manteiōn akousontai]; but to the Jewish people it is said: ‘But the Lord thy God did not grant this to thee’. After this the scripture continues: ‘A prophet shall the Lord thy God raise up unto thee out of thy brethren’. While, therefore, the heathen were using divination [manteiai], whether by omens [dia klēdonōn] or auguries [di’oiōnōn] or by birds [di’ornithōn] or by ventriloquists [di’engasrtimythōn], or even by those who profess to divine by means of sacrif ices [dia tōn tēn thytikēn epangellomenōn] or Chaldean astrologers [dia Chaldaiōn genethlialogountōn], all of these things were forbidden to the Jews. But if the Jews had had no knowledge of the future to console them, they would have been led by the insatiable desire of man to know the future [peri tēn gnōsin lichneias tōn esomenōn], would have despised their own prophets for having nothing divine about them, and would not have accepted any prophet after Moses nor recorded their words. But of their own accord they would have turned to heathen divination and oracles [manteia kai chrēstēria], or even attempted to establish something of the kind among themselves. Consequently, there is nothing inappropriate about the fact that the prophets among them uttered predictions [proeirēkenai] even about everyday matters for the consolation of those who wanted that kind of thing. Thus Samuel prophesied [prophēteuein] even about lost asses, and so occurred the affair recorded in the third book of the Kingdoms about the king’s sick son. Otherwise, how could those who maintained the commandments of the law of the Jews have rebuked anyone who wanted to obtain an oracle from the idols [apo tōn eidōlōn manteian labein]? Thus Elijah is found rebuking Ahaziah and saying: ‘Is it because

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there is no God in Israel that you go to seek out a fly, the god of Ekron, in the Baal?’41

As we can see, in the same breath Origen pointed to two dangers that the Jews had to face: one was availing themselves of the advice of pagan diviners, while the other consisted in establishing ‘something of the kind among themselves’. This is where we touch upon the issue that would be fundamental for the development of Christian divination. There is no evidence that any attempts to Christianize traditional divinatory methods had been made by the mid-third century when Origen was writing his treatise, and the passage quoted above seems to indicate that this issue was for him purely hypothetical. His point does not concern why the Christians of his time should not try to learn about future events – he only explains why such knowledge was available to the Jews and argues that the only reason for this was to lend credence to the mission of the prophets, which essentially consisted in announcing the will of God. If a prophet had been unable to foretell the future, people would have simply turned their backs on him and, disbelieving his statements, would have gone off to consult pagan oracles and diviners. In addition, Origen believes that in the past God had to speak to people about ordinary and mundane issues, for spiritual matters were beyond their comprehension. But now, with the advent of Christianity, it is only the spiritual that really counts, and Christians simply do not need to worry about secular concerns. Even though this is all reflections of a Christian intellectual, it seems nevertheless interesting to remark that in Origen’s view not only did Christians know quite naturally that they were forbidden to resort to divination, but they also respected this prohibition. John Chrysostom was equally aware of the difference between the Old Testament leniency towards some forms of inquiring into the future and the current ban on all such attempts. Like Origen, he also used the example of the lost she-asses of Kish that Saul found following Samuel’s instruction, but his explanation of why Christians had nowhere to turn to with questions of this sort was slightly different and more extensive. In it, he stated that, for them, inquiring into the future was simply unnecessary. Why would they need to know about what was going to happen to their cattle, after the mysteries of eternal life had been revealed to them?42 The question therefore is not about employing one method of divination or another. To 41 Origen, Contra Celsum 1.36 (trans. by Henry Chadwick). 42 John Chrysostom, In II epistulam ad Timotheum 8.5; Origen, Contra Celsum 1.37; Athanasius, Vita Antonii 33.


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put it succinctly, for Christians the mere fact of inquiring into the future was inappropriate, at least with regard to events to occur in this world. Curiosity is thus clearly perceived as a vice. 43 Origen took the desire to know the future to be a natural human propensity. Considering this, what should we think of John Chrysostom’s remark that such knowledge was unnecessary to Christians? Were Christian authors really convinced that knowledge of hidden mundane matters was completely useless, or were they instead intent on convincing their audiences that this was so, without explicit explaining why divinatory practices were forbidden? Should the latter have been the case, what was the rationale behind that prohibition? Given that there is no evident answer to this last question, I am inclined to think that Origen and John Chrysostom alike were candidly stating their views on the matter. They really held that inquiring about hidden matters in this world was inappropriate for Christians and not so much because of the means used to satisfy the desire for that knowledge as because of the actual aim of the inquiries or, even more so, because of the motives behind them. That is why they not only condemned all sorts of pagan divination, but were also reluctant to condone Christian (or Christianized) divinatory practices, even if they would usually refrain from making unambiguous statements on the matter. The means may have been perfectly acceptable: the aim remained clearly questionable. Such were the general declarations of those whose ambition was to shape the morals of ordinary Christians. In subsequent chapters I will show that in some cases their attitudes were more nuanced, for while they were usually unenthusiastic about revealing the secrets of this world by any methods, they considered some practices to be less repugnant than others. They were a long way from advertising them, but they also only rarely condemned them, thus creating a grey zone of religious practice, only very dimly visible in our evidence. This book will also show whether the lay Christians obeyed the general precepts of the bishops and other ecclesiastical writers. I will discuss a number of divinatory methods and the reactions they provoked: they were accepted, tolerated or criticized. Yet they were all employed in practice by people who not only believed that these methods did not contradict their faith but also thought that it was the power of Christianity that made them effective. 43 See Origen, In Numeros homiliae 13.6; Augustine, Sermo Dolbeau 23.12, and De catechizandis rudibus 27. This motive is clear in the well-known imperial decree against divination: CTh 9.16.4 (357); see pp. 41–2.

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Legal background Before we start discussing individual methods, it is worth paying attention to the legal context in which they developed: in the fourth and f ifth centuries divination-related issues appear very often in imperial legislation. With regard to the earliest regulations in this matter one has to note that Constantine the Great forbade his subjects to consult haruspices in secrecy. Eusebius and Zosimos make him responsible for outlawing all kinds of divination, but considering that the relevant imperial constitution has not been preserved, we should be wary of accepting their claims too readily. The former author, a bishop, may have ascribed this prohibition to that emperor with a view to extolling his Christian virtues, while the latter, a ‘pagan’ hardliner, may have done so to present Constantine in a bad light. It is worth noting nevertheless that both writers correlate this regulation with the banning of blood sacrifice. Neither of these two prohibitions was incorporated into the Theodosian Code, but we know of the latter from an edict of Constantius II that refers to it. 44 It seems therefore that perhaps we may conclude that at least examining the entrails of sacrificial animals was forbidden at that time (which does not mean that it was effectively eliminated). 45 If this was the case, then also the public activities of haruspices condoned by the earlier edict became outlawed, at least in their classic form of reading the entrails of sacrificial animals. 46 The most severe and comprehensive law against divination was issued in 357 by Constantius II, who penalized consulting haruspices, diviners (harioli), augurs, soothsayers, Chaldeans and magi, declaring all forms of divination to be tantamount to sorcery. No person shall consult a haruspex or an astrologer [mathematicus] or a diviner [ariolus]. The wicked doctrines of augurs and seers [vates] shall become silent. The Chaldeans and magi and all the rest whom the common people call sorcerers [malefici – literally ‘evil-doers’], because of the magnitude of their crimes, shall not attempt anything in this direction. The inquisitiveness of all men for divination shall cease forever. 44 Private consultations with haruspices: CTh 16.10.1 (17 December 320/321); Constantius’s ban on sacrifices, with reference to Constantine’s legislation: CTh 16.10.2 (341); Zosimos, Historia nova 2.29.4; Eusebius of Caesarea: Vita Constantini 2.45.1. 45 Barnes, 1984. 46 See Briquel, 1998, pp. 161–4, and Haack, 2003, pp. 186–93.


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For if any person should deny obedience to these orders, he shall suffer capital punishment, felled by the avenging sword. 47

A year later, the catalogue of divination specialists subject to condemnation was expanded to include dream interpreters. 48 Both constitutions seem to affect all forms of divination, but a shadow of doubt remains: the catalogue is not exhaustive; for instance, there is no mention of the various forms of divination by lot. Were they forbidden as well? We cannot say for certain, but the fact remains that the prohibition referred to consulting divination specialists and engaging in practices closely related to pagan cults (except for incubation). Therefore, possibly short of outlawing all sorts of pagan divination, the legislation of Constantius drastically expanded the catalogue of illicit divination practices. After the short reign of Julian, when at least the traditional forms of divination regained their legitimacy, the prohibitions concerning divinatory practices were reinstated, although they were not as stringent as those issued by Constantius. Valentinian, for instance, went so far as to allow haruspices to exercise their traditional profession in public, although we need to remember that the relevant edict was not addressed to a high-ranking official but to the Roman senate, which means that it referred to the specific and on the whole local context of the city of Rome. 49 Later emperors of the West, Honorius and Valentinian III, limited their divination-related legislation to astrology, while the edicts of Theodosius I, who then ruled over the East, outlawed consulting the entrails of sacrificial animals. The above laws came to be incorporated first into the Theodosian Code, and later into Justinian’s Code.50 Christian emperors were not the first to forbid or curtail divination, but their legislation on the matter envisages a hitherto unseen degree of repressive sanctions, which remains intriguing even when set against the general late antique tendency towards stiffening the penal system.51 First of all, contravening this law carries capital punishment: a death sentence 47 CTh 9.16.4 (25 January 357): Nemo haruspicem consulat aut mathematicum, nemo hariolum. Augurum et vatum prava confessio conticescat. Chaldaei ac magi et ceteri, quos maleficos ob facinorum magnitudinem vulgus appellat, nec ad hanc partem aliquid moliantur. Sileat omnibus perpetuo divinandi curiositas. Etenim supplicium capitis feret gladio ultore prostratus, quicumque iussis obsequium denegaverit. Trans. by Clyde Pharr (slightly altered). 48 CTh 9.16.6 (5 November 358). 49 CTh 9.16.9 (29 May 371). 50 See Desanti, 1990, pp. 179–84. 51 Fögen, 1993.

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was to be given not only to divination specialists, but also to their clients. Secondly, all individuals suspected of having committed a crime of that category (the members of the senatorial elite being no exception) were to be subjected to torture, which means that the applicable penal procedure was the same as that adopted in cases of high treason (maiestas). Thirdly, people found culpable of such crimes were not eligible for reprieve.52 It is difficult to determine how effective this legislation was. Narrative sources make it evident that divination professionals – in spite of the penalties they could potentially incur – were generally uninhibited in plying their trade, which may also be observed in the sermons of Christian bishops who condemned the use of such services. On the other hand, it did happen that these laws were enforced in all severity, as can be seen in the ‘witch hunt’ against diviners and sorcerers in the early 370s that was unleashed by Valentinian and even more forcefully by Valens. Having said that, one cannot escape the impression that such drastic repressive measures were taken only sporadically and their impact was limited to the main centres of power.53 We should, however, be mindful that it would be rash to dismiss imperial legislation concerning these matters as nothing more than a manifestation of the emperors’ piety with no real bearing on actual life.54 It is not entirely clear whether the outright condemnation issued by Constantius referred also to the specifically Christian methods of divination to be discussed in this book. None of these is explicitly mentioned in imperial constitutions, but this does not provide us with a definitive answer. On the one hand, imperial legislation was evidently aimed against ‘pagan’ cults, which may invite the conclusion that the methods unrelated to ancient religions were not condemned. It has to be pointed out, however, that Constantius forcefully reprehended the mere ‘curiosity for divination’ (or, as the attached ‘interpretation’ has it, ‘inquisitiveness about future events’) which was regarded as a threat to the security of the state. We do not know of any cases of enforcing these laws against individuals practising Christian divination and may presume at the very least that as long as they did not inquire into the health of the emperor or the name of his successor they were left in peace. In any case, it was not Christians that this legislation was aimed against. 52 Grodzynski, 1974, pp. 272–6. 53 See Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae 28.1 and 29.1–2; Zosimos, Historia nova 4.13–15; Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica 4.19. 54 It has to be acknowledged, however, that the propaganda character of the legislation was important; see Harries, 1999.


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The legal condemnation of pagan divination could thus have influenced the development of its Christian adaptations that the followers of the new religion may have been eager to embrace anyway: for one thing, they must have held these adaptations to be morally acceptable (or at least more so than their pagan models), and secondly, it is probable that they viewed them as more effective. Incidentally, the use of these adaptations did not have to be reserved solely to Christians. Pagans could also avail themselves of Christian techniques, given that they had been debarred from using traditional methods of divination. As we shall see, this possibility was not purely hypothetical.

2. Prophets Another Christ-loving layperson asked the same Old Man: ‘A dog has bitten my slave. Tell me whether my slave will die or not. For some people say that anyone bitten by a dog will die within forty days. Response by John: There is nothing wrong with him. Do not be afraid. Rather, try to think of what is written: ‘Not a sparrow falls into a trap apart from your Father who is in heaven’. ‒ Barsanuphios and John, Letter 770, trans. by John Chryssavgis

It seems that the simplest of all methods used to know the future or to receive guidance on choices to be made was to go and ask a prophet. This practice was particularly well rooted in the Bible, which enhanced its legitimacy in Christian eyes (at least a priori). When using the term ‘prophet’, I refer to individuals who were believed to have God-given knowledge about past, present and future events and could come up with advice on any quandary. I should make it clear at the very outset that it is not my intention to cover all aspects of late antique prophecy in this chapter. From among the four functions of biblical and Christian prophets as defined by Giovanni Filoramo – divinatory, reformatory, political and eschatological – I shall focus almost exclusively on the first.1 Some attention, however, will be paid to the miracle-working activities of prophets, since this particular phenomenon is very closely related to how their contemporaries saw their mission: in certain lives Lives of saints it was their miracles, not their predictions, that served as proof of their prophetic role. One may see it clearly in the story of the monk Theo found in the Historia monachorum: ‘he lived as an anchorite in a small cell and had practised silence for thirty years. He had performed so many miracles that the people of those parts regarded him as a prophet [tam multas virtutes faciebat, ut profeta apud illos haberetur].2 It is entirely clear that it was primarily the belief in Theo’s thaumaturgical powers that 1 Filoramo, 2005, pp. 159–62. 2 Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Greek version) 6.1 (a similar account is given in Rufinus’s Latin version of the Historia monachorum 6.1). The same observation is also made in Jerome’s story of the monk Hesychius, who was looking for his master Hilarion while the latter was in flight from the world: ‘Three years had now passed when at Methone he heard from a certain Jew who sold cheap trinkets to the people that a Christian prophet had appeared in Sicily, performing so many miracles and signs that he was thought to be one of the holy men of old’; Jerome, Vita Hilarionis 27.2 (trans. by Carolinne White). The conviction of Anitra Kolenkow


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made people see in him a prophetic figure led by the same spirit that had guided Elijah and Elisha. When dealing with the prophets, I shall in most cases be referring to people who were believed to have a special bond which tied them to God; it was owing to that bond that they were capable of revealing the future, the present and the past, as well as secrets kept deep in people’s hearts. Admittedly, in the Christian context the use of the word ‘prophet’ in such a narrow sense may seem unsuitable, given that, whatever their real role was, the Bible presents the great prophets as something more than common soothsayers.3 Their main job was to communicate God’s word to the people, not to answer questions asked by people inquiring into hidden matters. But even so, the biblical prophets, too, were asked for consultation, and even more importantly they did not leave such pleas unanswered. As we have seen in the previous chapter, Saul consulted Samuel about the lost she-asses belonging to his father. Ben-Hadad and Josaphat asked questions of Elisha: the one about his own health, the other about the outcome of an imminent battle. Jeroboam inquired about the future of his ailing son by asking the prophet Ahijah. Elijah rebuked Ahaziah for his having consulted Baal-Zebub instead of asking a prophet from among the Israelites. 4 We may conclude therefore that Christians in Antiquity knew about the biblical practice of asking a prophet about the future, although they certainly remembered that Jesus had refused to answer the question of when he would restore the kingdom of Israel.5

The twilight of prophecy in early Christianity The literary evidence of the first and the second century suggests that early Christians regarded prophecy in the sense outlined above as a real and widespread phenomenon. The New Testament presents a fair number of prophetic figures who primarily mediated God’s admonitions, but also, as has already been noted, foretold the future of individuals and communities.6 Their utterances most commonly occurred at God’s command – as opposed (Kolenkow, 1980) that Christian prophets hardly worked miracles is certainly off the mark as regards Late Antiquity. 3 For the social reality behind the biblical presentation of the prophets, see Overholt, 1990. 4 See the biblical references on pp. 34–5. 5 Acts 1:6–8. 6 Apart from Jesus’s prophecies mentioned in the Gospels, see esp. Acts 11:27–30, 13:1–12, 15:32, 19:6, 21:8–12; Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 11–14; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:19–20; 1

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to being replies to questions asked of them – but the Shepherd of Hermas, written in the middle decades of the second century, suggests that Christians also turned to prophets for consultation. He pointed out to me some men sitting on a seat, and one man sitting on a chair. And he says to me, ‘Do you see the persons sitting on the seat?’ ‘I do, sir,’ said I. ‘These,’ says he, ‘are the faithful, and he who sits on the chair is a false prophet, ruining the minds of the servants of God. It is the doubters, not the faithful, that he ruins. These doubters then go to him as to a diviner [hōs epi mantin], and inquire of him [eperōtōsin auton] what will happen to them; and he, the false prophet, not having the power of a divine spirit in him, answers them according to their inquiries, and according to their wicked desires, and fills their souls with expectations, according to their own wishes. For being himself empty, he gives empty answers to empty inquirers; for every answer is made to the emptiness of man. Some true words he does occasionally utter; for the devil fills him with his own spirit, in the hope that he may be able to overcome some of the righteous. As many, then, as are strong in the faith of the Lord, and are clothed with truth, have no connection with such spirits, but keep away from them; but as many as are of doubtful minds and frequently repent, betake themselves to divination [manteuontai], even as the heathen, and bring greater sin upon themselves by their idolatry. For he who inquires of a false prophet in regard to any action is an idolater, and devoid of the truth, and foolish. For no spirit given by God requires to be asked; but such a spirit having the power of Divinity speaks all things of itself, for it proceeds from above from the power of the Divine Spirit. But the spirit which is asked and speaks according to the desires of men is earthly, light, and powerless, and it is altogether silent if it is not questioned.7

The author of this text was clearly convinced that the prophets who behaved like pagan diviners by letting other people ask them questions and then responding by foretelling their future should be roundly rebuked. This reproachful attitude makes it evident that this phenomenon was not mere literary fiction: there were people who posed questions about their future to ‘prophets’. Even though the author regarded their prophecies to be a devil’s Timothy 1:18, 4:14; 1 John 4:1. For more on prophecy in the New Testament and early Church, see Aune, 1983. 7 Hermas, Pastor: Mandata 11.1–6 (trans. by Frederick Crombie).


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doing, those questioners no doubt believed that they were approaching people who had some access to God’s omniscience. Early Christianity witnessed its last surge of prophecy in the form of the Montanist movement. Initially, the Montanists were far from being a discrete sect of charismatics; instead, they formed a powerful movement which sent shock waves across the Great Church as a whole and had an impact on the life of many communities.8 But no later than in the third century, the two currents went their own separate ways and eventually prophetic activity lost its momentum in mainstream Christianity. This decline in the prophetic spirit may be attributed to several causes. In part, we may see it as a backlash against the Montanist crisis: prophetic activity simply became suspicious on account of being evidently associable with the New Prophecy movement and its notorious leading figures (Montanus, Priscilla, Maximilla and the like) who were widely condemned in the Great Church. Even if the prophetic fervour of the Montanists had largely abated with time, they were nevertheless still regarded as a prophetic movement by most of their opponents.9 To some extent it is also possible that prophetism waned in parallel to the growing structuralization of the Church in which bishops and exegetes effectively replaced prophets and other charismatics. Finally, the twilight of prophecy may have occurred as a reaction against pagan divination. The second century saw not only a renaissance of the ages-old oracles of Delphi, Claros and Dodona, but also an increase in the activity of individual pagan prophets, both associated with and independent of pagan temples. It suffices to mention the immensely popular figure of Alexander of Abonouteichos, mercilessly ridiculed by Lucian, the itinerant prophets of Cybele mentioned by Apuleius, and the prophets of Palestine and Phoenicia referred to by Celsus as his contemporaries.10 Had the prophets well and truly disappeared from mainstream Christianity by the end of the second century? Or is it perhaps that our sources are sadly reticent on the subject because their authors regarded prophecy as having been sullied by Montanism? One may rightly ask whether an institution with a social function so important and useful to ordinary people could simply vanish into thin air. With this in mind, we must confront a more general question, which will recur in the subsequent chapters of this 8 On Montanist prophetism, see Trevett, 1996, pp. 86–95. 9 Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 48.2, contended that prophetism had been a conspicuous feature of that movement only during the lives of Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla. See Tabbernee, 2007, pp. 263–306. 10 Lucian of Samosata, Alexander, passim; Apuleius, Metamorphoses 8.28–9; Origen, Contra Celsum 7.3.

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book: could it have been the case that Christians shied away from all sorts of divination techniques, living as they did in a world where divination was commonly practised? I will be dealing with this question at numerous points. Here it can be said that even if prophecy did survive, it certainly became marginalized. For Eusebius of Caesarea, for instance, prophecy was not restricted solely to biblical times: he explicitly mentioned second-century prophets, but firmly acknowledged that by his day the phenomenon had by and large disappeared. In Book 5 of his Church History, Eusebius names several prophets active at the time of Montanus in the following way: It was at that very time, in Phrygia, that Montanus, Alcibiades, Theodotus, and their followers began to acquire a widespread reputation for prophecy; for numerous other manifestations of the miraculous gift of God, still occurring in various churches, led many to believe that these men too were prophets.11

The passage above clearly suggests that even if in mainstream Christianity prophecy became associated with the Montanist movement and had come to an end with its emergence, Eusebius did not regard it as being suspicious in itself. Consequently, we might assume that if there had been people regarded as prophets in his day, he would not have hesitated to write about them in his work. His silence seems to suggest that the phenomenon was largely dead. Indeed, a sense of discontinuity in the prophetic tradition, beginning with the final decades of the second century, clearly prevails in Eusebius’s account. Other late antique authors referred to prophecy within the Church as if to something that had vanished much earlier, some of them believing that it had occurred as early as at the end of the New Testament times – so they argued on the basis of Luke 16:16 (‘the Law and the Prophets were until John’).12 We must nevertheless allow that prophetism may not have altogether disappeared: it may have absconded somewhere beyond the control of the bishops, especially outside mainstream Greek and Latin Christianity. It may have formed part of Syriac tradition, whose history in the third century remains largely unknown due to the scarcity of sources. Prophecy is indeed 11 Historia ecclesiastica 5.3.4 (trans. by G.A. Williamson, rev. by Andrew Louth). See also 5.7.1–2, where the author quotes Irenaeus, who wrote that in his day (c. ad 180) the charisma of prophecy was alive and well (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 2.32.4). 12 See Pseudo-Basil, Enarratio in Isaiam 102, PG 30.284; Philastrius of Brescia, De haeresibus 78. While quoting this passage from the Gospel, Origen noted that prophecy as such had not vanished, but had lost its capacity to foretell the future; see e.g. Explanatio in epistulam ad Romanos 9.3 and Commentarii in Canticum canticorum 3.13.


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well attested in f ifth-century literary texts written in Syriac monastic circles, but it is difficult to determine whether it was a direct continuation of earlier developments.13 While we cannot say whether prophecy vanished altogether from Christianity at an early date or found shelter in its peripheries, there is no doubt that in Late Antiquity it re-emerged with new vigour. This chapter is largely devoted to the question of when the resurgence of prophecy actually took place and how it came to be regarded as acceptable, but will also discuss how widespread it was and how it became important for Christians. Most attention, however, will be paid to the question of whether late antique Christians asked prophets about mundane matters and whether they consulted them while making decisions.

A resurgence of prophecy If we were to limit the scope of our inquiry to literature and literary reality, it would be relatively easy to pinpoint the moment which saw the reappearance of prophets. Their re-emergence occurs as a new type of literature – namely the Lives of saints and other stories about charismatic ascetics – begins to circulate in the Mediterranean. Without exception, all the protagonists of the earliest vitae, dating from the fourth century, predict future events. The Life of Antony – written a dozen years or so after the death of its hero (d. 356), the forerunner of the monastic movement in Egypt – has the saint foretelling the approaching death of an anti-Nicene army officer, warning his followers of their impending persecution at the hands of the Arians, knowing in advance about monks who were coming to visit him and had lost their way, and finally, predicting the day of his own death.14 In the 370s, Jerome penned the Life of Paul, a hermit from the Thebaid; in it, we read that Paul knew that Antony was about to visit him and that Paul also foretold the forthcoming end of his life.15 The same author writes, in the early 390s, about Hilarion, a monk of Gaza, who predicted not only the date of his own death and that of Antony, but also the outbreak of the persecutions unleashed by the Emperor Julian.16 In Gaul, still in the same decade, Sulpicius Severus 13 See also the remarks by Filoramo, 2005, p. 255. 14 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 59 (the monks who lost their way), 82 (the Arian persecution), 86 (the death of Balakios), 89 (the death of Antony). 15 Jerome, Vita Pauli 9.6, 11.3, 12.3. 16 Jerome, Vita Hilarionis 19.6, 20.5–6, 32.2.

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writes about Martin of Tours who revealed the true identity of a supposed martyr venerated not far from his own episcopal see, predicted the fall of the usurper Maximus, knew the outcome of the synod of Nîmes without attending it, warned of the imminent coming of the Antichrist and looked through the secret motives of his adversaries. Gregory of Nyssa claims that his sister Macrina predicted some events (which he leaves unspecified) that took place exactly as they had been foretold.17 Finally, one cannot fail to take note of the many prophecies of Pachomius and his successors concerning the future of the monastic community he had founded and its individual members.18 With regard to the study of late antique divination, the above testimonies are fairly problematic and we must be extremely cautious in dealing with them, for the histoire littéraire of prophetism does not have to fully reflect historical reality. The literary history risks to play down the continuity in this regard: considering the role of charismatic prophets and prophecy in many pre-modern societies, continuity cannot be excluded.19 The sudden re-emergence of prophets might have resulted from or been strengthened by the development of the new literary genre of monastic hagiography, and thus need not have been an entirely new social phenomenon. Caution is especially advisable because nearly all the types of clairvoyance mentioned above soon became topical in the descriptions of the charismatic gifts of holy ascetics. The prophetic utterances of monks constituted an important element in the literary construction of their Lives, which means that we must not take them without a pinch of salt. Certainly, we can hardly talk about hagiographical topoi in the period preceding that in which the conventions of this type of literature became firmly established: the authors mentioned above were only laying the groundwork for this all-new literary genre. However, although hagiographical writing was then still in its infancy, we may presume that to such authors as Athanasius, Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa and Sulpicius Severus prophecy was already a self-evident or even indispensable element of the literary image of their saintly heroes. This is due primarily to the patterns on which even the earliest hagiographers drew while constructing the literary model of a holy ascetic. First of all, Christ was referred to as the key exemplary figure, since aside from his teaching 17 Gregory of Nyssa, Vita Macrinae 39. 18 Vita Pachomii (Bohairic version) 54, 65, 84, 118, 121, 130, 142, 144, 147; Vita Pachomii (the first Greek life known as G 1) 12, 39, 42, 43, 48, 50, 71, 81, 102, 112, 129, 135, 137. 19 For a sociological study of the role of charismatic prophets in tribal societies, see Wilson, 1973.


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he was known for the capacity to chase away demons, cure diseases and, most importantly, foretell the future. All of these three elements are found already in the Life of Antony; with time, they became fixed for good in the hagiographical images of holy monks. Thus, their prophetic utterances, like their miracles, may simply have been modelled on those of Christ and served as a literary means to emphasize that the lives of their heroes had been truly lived in imitation of the Saviour, and that they had become united with God and attained sanctity. Christ was also not the only model for the hagiographical images of holy ascetics. Biblical prophets played a similar role, especially because people who observed late antique ascetics undoubtedly noticed that the prophets and the ascetics shared another important feature: they lived in the desert in partial isolation from society. Of course, we cannot contend that wilderness was the common backdrop for all biblical prophets and their actions, but at least in the lives of these three – Elijah, Elisha and John the Baptist – the stay in the desert was fundamentally important to their prophetic mission. Moreover, the Bible recounts not only their visions and predictions, but also their deeds; in consequence, they may have served as powerful examples illustrating not only what prophets should say, but also how they should live and what they should do.20 Aside from the Old and New Testaments, there was another template (or at least a point of reference) that was probably used already by the first generation of hagiographers, namely the Lives of pagan holy men. We cannot say for certain whether the Life of Antony was consciously modelled on (or in opposition to) the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, or the Lives of Pythagoras or Plotinus for that matter. It is nevertheless beyond all doubt that the general literary image of Neopythagorean or Neoplatonic philosophers was commonly known in the second half of the fourth century, and that clairvoyance was its fundamental element.21 All this shows that the image of monks revealing hidden knowledge may have depended on literary models known to monastic hagiographers and cannot be taken as a mirror simply reflecting a re-emergence of prophecy in the Egyptian desert. Another problem related to the hagiographical image of the monastic prophets is that the predictions described in the Lives of saints had another very important literary function: they indeed fairly often carried significant 20 For instance, see the comparison of Antony to those three prophets in the Vita Pachomii (G 1) 2. On Elijah as a model for creating the literary image of monks, see Poirot, 1995. 21 See Philostratos, Vita Apollonii 5.12, 5.42, 6.11, 6.39, 6.43; Eunapius, Vitae philosophorum 470–2; Porphyry, Vita Pythagorae 25 and 29; Porphyry, Vita Plotini 11; Photius, Bibliotheca 242.12 (Vita Isidori).

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theological statements or important admonitions that the hagiographers put into the mouths of their heroes. As regards the prophecies that were supposed to demonstrate that the protagonists were endowed with divine power, their content was practically immaterial: the only important thing was that the prediction had proven to be accurate. This was not so with the prophecies that were to express the opinions of the hagiographers – in this case the content of the prophecy was absolutely essential. To give but two examples, the prophecies of Antony against the Arians were vital to Athanasius as an argument in propagating his own views and as a weapon to be used against his theological opponents, while the prophecy of Martin predicting the imminent coming of the Antichrist evidently served the millenarianist agenda of Sulpicius Severus.22 For both authors, prophecy was a literary device and so their stories cannot prove the prophetic charisma of Antony or Martin in real life. Finally, we need to acknowledge another obvious caveat that inevitably calls for the utmost caution in interpreting hagiographers’ remarks on prophecies: we must take into account the time span separating the monastic hero from the author of his or her life. Even if we assume that the literary image of monks faithfully represents the hagiographers’ attitudes to their protagonists, it is very difficult to say whether their contemporaries did in fact consider them prophets and asked them for advice. To conclude, it is beyond all doubt that the hagiographers were very quick to ascribe foreknowledge to their heroes. Prophecies played a vital role in shaping their literary image and served as a means to propagate ideas dear to the authors of the Lives of saints. Moreover, this image was particularly susceptible to mythologization. But considering this, does it mean that we must reject hagiographical testimonies about monks who foretold the future and revealed all sorts of hidden matters as being completely implausible? This is certainly not necessary, for we do have other means of verifying the literary image of monk-prophets, although one must admit that they are not applicable in all cases. Some scholars in their research on the actual role of the charismatic monks in Egyptian Christianity proposed to shift attention from the hagiographical literature to the texts authored by the ascetic saints themselves, most notably their letters and sermons.23 It is only in these texts, they believe, that we can see how their authors viewed themselves. Admittedly, staking a claim to one’s own prophetic status did 22 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 82 (on the Arians); Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 2.14.1–4 (on the Antichrist). 23 Rapp, 1999; Behlmer, 1998, pp. 357–9.


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not automatically guarantee being recognized as a prophet, but we may assume that those who did believe that they had a prophetic gift – and had their writings preserved and copied – may well have acquired such fame among the people. This approach was successfully applied by David Brakke in his study on Shenoute of Atripe, a fifth-century monastic leader from the Thebaid who evidently considered himself a prophet.24 Sadly, however, this pattern proves useful only very rarely. There were a number of famous ascetics credited with a gift of prophecy by their hagiographers, but of these only three towering figures of Egyptian monasticism – Antony, Shenoute and (to a very limited extent) Pachomius – have graced posterity with still-extant writings of their own. What is more, these writings do not necessarily touch upon the problem of prophecy and so may be of little help as to whether we should accept or reject the image of a clairvoyant found in the Lives of their authors. For example, we cannot deduce anything about Antony from his letters other than that clairvoyance was probably of little importance to him: he simply does not mention this issue. For yet another opportunity to calibrate the image produced by hagiography, one may turn to historiographical writings. These of course refer primarily to the saints whose hagiographers described them as prophets who foretold the future to those in power and had a considerable influence over their political decisions – as it would have been completely natural for late antique historiographers to devote their attention to such figures. But interestingly, it seems that they evinced little interest in this regard. The only prophet whom the historiographers deemed worthy of mention was John of Lykopolis, an Egyptian monk who was active at the end of the fourth century, and who appeared in fact quite commonly in their accounts (I shall discuss this case below). It is indeed startling that the historiographers devoted no attention to presumably so influential a figure as Daniel the Stylite, who in the opinion of his hagiographer held so much sway over the emperors Leo and Zeno that he seemed to be the most important driving force behind their actions. Leaving this issue aside for the time being, it is worth noting that this reticence on the part of late antique historiographers sounds a note of caution with regard to the credibility of the Lives of saints who were said to give advice to rulers. To put it succinctly, these other sources offer little opportunity to confront the way in which the early vitae portray monk-prophets. Nevertheless, there is another means of determining whether an author’s ascribing to a saint the ability to foretell the future reflected the attitudes of the saint’s 24 Brakke, 2007.

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contemporaries and their expectations with regard to holy men. It seems to me that it is possible to verify such claims by examining the traces of controversies surrounding a saint’s charisma that appear every now and then in hagiographical literature. My reasoning goes along these lines: it was against the interest of any hagiographer to expose negative or ambivalent attitudes towards his hero without any specific reason. We may suspect therefore that if a hagiographer did mention such controversies, the reputation of his saint must have been called into question by his contemporaries. And if such doubts were raised, we have to conclude that the belief in the propehic power of the saint that they tried to undermine must have existed as well. Traces of a controversy regarding the gift of clairvoyance can be found in even the earliest of all hagiographical writings, the Life of Antony, although the discussion there does not deal with the charisma of its hero; it is Antony himself who warns his disciples not to seek this gift. In his long sermon on keeping demons at bay, he offers an explanation of the origin of their foreknowledge and adds the following: But if we admit for a moment that the demons do predict true things, tell me, what advantage is there in knowing what is to come? Surely no one ever wins praise for knowing these things or is punished for not knowing them? The question of whether each individual prepares for himself either torments or glory depends solely on whether he disregards the rules of Scripture or carries them out. None of us chose this way of life so as to have foreknowledge of the future but so that, obeying the Lord’s commands, he might begin to be His friend rather than His servant. We must not worry about knowing what is to come [euchesthai te chrē, ouk ina proginōskōmen] but about carrying out what we have been told to do, nor should we demand this as a reward for the ascetic life, for we ought instead to ask the Lord our helper for victory against the devil. But if it happens that anyone would like to acquire this skill, let him have a pure heart which will enable his soul to become clairvoyant [(…) dioratikē genomenē], for I believe that the soul that serves God, if it continues steadfast in its original purity, can know more than the demons.25

It is impossible to tell whether Antony really gave such instructions to his disciples or whether the passage above was entirely invented by Athanasius. Whichever is true, this part of Antony’s sermon demonstrates that as early 25 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 33.5–34.2 (trans. by Joseph Deferrari).


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as the writing of his Life (i.e. in the 360s or thereabouts26) there were monks who wished to become ‘clairvoyants’ (dioratikoi) and to obtain the gift of prognōsia, that is, of knowing the future.27 Had it been otherwise, the admonition would have been pointless. We may be sure therefore that it was not only Athanasius who was convinced that some monks were endowed with the gift of prophecy – this conviction had clearly gained wider currency and only then became a matter of some concern for the bishop. Let us take another example. Pachomius, another famous monastic leader and a contemporary of Antony is described in all his Lives as a healer, exorcist and clairvoyant, which inevitably leads us to the question of whether this hagiographical portrayal conforms to the image of Pachomius in the eyes of those who knew him personally. I shall leave aside the technicalities concerning the relations between the numerous versions of his life preserved in Greek and Coptic.28 It has to be noted nonetheless that the episode presented below appears in the first Greek Life commonly referred to as G1: neither the Coptic tradition as a whole nor any of the other Greek versions apart from G3 include a similar passage. I see no reason, however, that we should reject this account as spurious. As we are going to see in a moment, no hagiographer would have been inclined to make up a story like this. On the other hand, one can easily imagine that they may have consigned this passage to oblivion. As Pachomius’ fame spread far away and people talked about him, some would say balanced things, others would exaggerate. And once arose a debate about his being clairvoyant [peri tou dioratikon auton legein]. He himself was summoned to answer this in the church of Latopolis in the presence of monks and bishops. He came there with some ancient brothers, and seeing those who were contending against him, he kept silent. When he was asked by bishops Philo and Mouei to answer the charge, he said to them, ‘Were you not once monks with me in the monastery before you became bishops? Do you not know that by the grace of God I, just like you, love him and care for the brothers? When Moses of Magdolon, as he is called, was possessed and being snatched away by the demons into the caverns to be put to death, did you not know how the grace of God through me helped him – to say nothing of the rest?’ They answered him, ‘We know that you are a man of God and we know that you saw 26 See Wipszycka, 2018, pp. 36–8. 27 A similar remark is made in Vita Pachomii (G 1) 93. 28 See Rousseau, 1985, pp. 37–48.

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the demons, making war against them to ward them off souls. But since clairvoyance is a great thing, give some answer again about that [alla peri tou dioratikou apologēsai, epeidē mega esti], and we will persuade the murmurers.’29

The synod of Latopolis described above took place in 345, not very long before Pachomius’s death. The charges – or at least doubts – presented there by some bishops were thus directly related to the question of whether that respected and aged monk was truly a clairvoyant (dioratikos). Given that there were people who argued that it was not the case, there can be no doubt that there must also have been others who believed the contrary. It seems that eventually Pachomius convinced the doubters, not by showing off this particular gift of his, but by referring to his earlier deeds and to the memories of the bishops who had started their career as monks. In terms of its structure, the story is not intended to provide a spectacular proof of the saint’s power. As such, it clearly differs from, for instance, the Life of Shenoute, where we read that a man who doubted Shenoute’s prophetic power was convinced by an apparent display and exclaimed: ‘Now I truly know that in this monastery lives a prophet, as I have seen with my own eyes.’30 The sole purpose of such episodes in hagiographical writings is to expose the saint’s charisma by having his prophetic power proclaimed by former doubters. But in the Life of Pachomius, we are confronted with a different situation. As regards the literary construction, there is no way in which the discussion held at the synod in Latopolis could boost his reputation as a clairvoyant. This suggests that the hagiographer relates a real discussion and genuine doubts, which consequently proves that Pachomius was indeed seen by many as a prophet. The final example takes us to the western part of the empire and the literary dossier of Martin of Tours. Shortly before Martin’s death, in 396, Sulpicius Severus, a Gallic aristocrat and Martin’s follower, wrote the Life of his hero. Soon after that he published three letters devoted to the memory of Martin, which were followed by the publication of the Dialogues (c. 404) dealing again with his life. All these texts present examples of the prophecies and visions of Martin, but they also include snippets of information on the critical attitudes of his contemporaries. The most explicitly stated criticism is found in the Dialogues. There, the hagiographer writes about the numerous opponents of his protagonist and concentrates on Brictio, 29 Vita Pachomii (G 1) 112 (trans. by Armand Veilleux). 30 Vita Sinuthii 33–5 (see also a similar story at 74–5); see Brakke, 2007, p. 50.


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a former disciple of Martin, who later became his successor as the bishop of Tours. While describing the difficult relations between them, Sulpicius makes the following remark on Brictio: With trembling lips, with an uncertain expression on his face made pale by his rage, he was hurling sinful words, asserting that clearly he, who from his earliest years had lived in the monastery among the sacred disciplines of the Church, was holier than Martin, who raised and educated him. Martin, he said, was unable to deny that as a young man he had soiled himself with military service, and now that he had grown old, he was filled with empty superstitions and visions of ghosts amid frankly laughable delusions.31

This passage shows that Martin and his supporters believed that his visions were divinely inspired. Had it been otherwise, the voices of criticism would be difficult to explain. Considering all these three cases, I think that as early as the latter half of the fourth century there must have been ascetics who were believed to have a particular God-given ability to read the secrets of people’s hearts, communicate with God, angels and saints and foretell future events. Certainly, the charisma of these ascetics was not universally acknowledged, but even so we must conclude that monk-prophets were not mere figments of literary imagination, but real figures who did form part of late antique society. This leads us to yet another essential question: could other people avail themselves of the prophetic knowledge attributed to holy monks?

Consultation with prophets In narrative sources we find only a few references to ascetics who revealed hidden matters not only on their own initiative, but also in response to questions asked by other people. It is evident nevertheless that at least some of those testimonies are reliable. Of all the monks who were approached and 31 Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 3.15.4: trementibus labiis incertoque uultu decolor prae furore rotabat uerbi peccati, se asserens sanctiorem, quippe qui a primis annis in monasterio inter sacras ecclesiae disciplinas ipso Martino educante creuisset: Martinum uero et a principio, quod ipse diffiteri non posset, militiae actibus sorduisse, et nunc per inanes superstitiones et fantasmata uisionum ridicula prorsus inter deliramenta senuisse. Trans. by Richard J. Goodrich.

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consulted by their contemporaries, John of Lykopolis was by far the most famous. Our sources tell us that no less a figure than the Emperor Theodosius I would send him letters asking him about the outcome of his military campaigns against the usurpers Maximus and Eugenius. Local commanders of the Roman army sought John’s advice regarding the impending raids of the Blemmyes, and ordinary Egyptians enquired about the flooding of the Nile. Should we take these testimonies about the people who came to John for consultation as trustworthy? Let us begin with the questions asked by the emperor, for which there are numerous testimonies in the literature of the early fifth century: they are mentioned by Palladius, the anonymous author of the Historia monachorum, Rufinus, Sozomen, Theodoret, John Cassian and Augustine.32 One must admit right at the outset that these testimonies, although numerous, are not entirely independent of one another. Augustine and Sozomen knew the Church History by Rufinus, who in turn had known the long description of John’s prophecies contained in the anonymous Historia monachorum that he translated into Latin. Finally, this translation was known to Cassian. However, the account of Palladius’s Historia Lausiaca, the most detailed of all (the only one to mention the names of both usurpers who challenged Theodosius), is independent of the Historia monachorum. It must be emphasized that both Palladius and the author of the Historia monachorum met John personally – they had visited his community in Egypt. It seems therefore that their testimony originated in the circle of that famous ascetic’s followers. This was the beginning of the story that was subsequently related by nearly all other authors. Sozomen, however, who is the only one to give the name of the official leading the second embassy of Theodosius, certainly knew this story from some other source, possibly of Constantinopolitan provenance. It must be concluded that the story is particularly well documented and there are fairly solid grounds to presume that it relates real events. Early fifth-century writers put great emphasis on the religious fervour of Theodosius and the preparations he made before his campaign against Eugenius. Rufinus, for instance, claims that the emperor had visited ‘all places of prayer’ and prayed at the graves of martyrs and Apostles.33 Considering this, we should not regard the act of sending a letter 32 Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 35.2; Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Greek version) 1.1; Rufinus, Historia monachorum (Latin version) 1.1.6; Rufinus, Historia ecclesiastica 9.19 and 9.32; Cassian, Instituta 4.23; Augustine, De civitate Dei 5.26 and De cura pro mortuis 17.21; Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia ecclesiastica 5.24; Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 6.28 and 7.22; for later testimonies, see Chronica Gallica a. CCCCLII 23; Fulgentius of Ruspe, De veritate praedestinationis 2.42. 33 Ruf inus, Historia ecclesiastica 11.33; see also Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 7.24, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia ecclesiastica 5.24.


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to a famous ascetic as something unusual. Admittedly, it is hardly possible to overlook the apparently topical portrayal of John in a manner resembling the Old Testament prophets who knew and apprised kings of the outcome of the battle they were about to fight and the literary precedent concerning the correspondence between a monk and an emperor set as early as the Life of Antony.34 However, none of these observations can make us reject the accounts provided in our sources as implausible. We must remember that in the late fourth century paying a visit to a holy Egyptian monk was almost mandatory for aristocrats on pilgrimage to the Holy Land: suffice it to mention Egeria and such eminent aristocratic figures – and members of the most powerful senatorial families – as Melania the Elder, Paula and Postumianus. Thus, there is nothing strange about the enquiry of Theodosius. This is not so with John’s prediction of Theodosius’s death recorded in the Historia Monachorum, which seems somewhat clumsily tagged on to the prophecy foretelling the victory over the ‘Ethiopians’. This last prophecy by John was given to a military commander preparing a campaign in the region of Syene; the holy ascetic assured him that the campaign would prove successful. In this case it is impossible to determine whether this consultation actually took place, but the text presents its circumstances in a way that makes it probable that these two men actually met in person. The raids by Blemmyes (referred to in the text as ‘Ethiopians’) were a real problem for the region, as can also be seen in other sources. In the Thebaid, small military units were stationed to protect its inhabitants from this threat; in several instances, the author of the Historia monachorum mentions that military officers were among those who visited John.35 It is hardly surprising that a local commander, a pious man, was seeking advice from a holy man living in his neighbourhood. From our point of view, the closing part of the narrative concerning John’s prophecies is of particular interest: These are wonders which he performed before strangers who came to see him. As regards his own fellow-citizens, who frequently came to him for their needs, he foreknew and revealed things hidden in the future; he told each man what he had done in secret; and he predicted the rise 34 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 81; the trustworthiness of this account also remains uncertain. 35 Ruf inus, Historia monachorum (Latin version) 1.1.7–8 (= Historia monachorum in Aegypto [Greek version] 1.4), 1.1.10–17 (= Historia monachorum in Aegypto 1.4–9), 1.1.18–19 (= Historia monachorum in Aegypto 1.10); for the danger of the Blemmyes, see Wipszycka, 2009, pp. 627–39.

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and fall of the Nile and the annual yield of the crops. In the same way he used to foretell when some divine threat was going to come upon them and exposed those who were to blame for it.36

David Frankfurter suggests that the Christian saints foretelling the flooding of the Nile took over the traditional functions of pagan Egyptian oracles. That was doubtless the case, but the question remains of whether this takeover happened in the real world or only in monastic literature.37 Notwithstanding the reservations indicated above, I am inclined to think that John of Lykopolis may have actually embraced that role. My guess is based on two premises. Firstly, John was regarded as an extraordinary figure by all those who mentioned him, standing out against the background of all Egyptian monks; thus, his prophetic charisma can hardly be dismissed as a trivial literary detail, one of those that were commonly used to emphasize a saint’s holiness. Secondly, the passage quoted above convincingly illustrates the process thanks to which John gained a reputation as a prophet. The text suggests that his clairvoyance had three components: aside from predicting future events John was known for his ability to divulge the hidden deeds of the past and for his warnings about impending divine punishment (this had much to do with the second function, since it made the culpable confess their sins). Most probably, John was first credited with knowledge of sins committed in secret and the punishment awaiting the sinners. Only after that did his visitors come to believe that he was also capable of revealing other secrets. For monks, however, the ability to read people’s hearts remained the fundamental prophetic feature, crucial as it was in giving spiritual direction and leading monastic communities. It is this kind of clairvoyance that is particularly discussed and appreciated in late antique literature not only produced by, but also addressed to monks.38 Other types of clairvoyance were deemed to be of lesser importance (or in any case should have been regarded by monks as irrelevant), because they were useless in striving for salvation, as can be seen in the passage from Antony’s sermon quoted above. The above diachronic model of the development of monks’ prophetic charisma is far from being purely theoretical. We know that this was the way in which Shenoute of Atripe, one of the most famous monastic prophets, 36 Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Greek version) 1.11 (trans. by Norman Russell). 37 Frankfurter, 1998, pp. 44–6, and, even more interestingly, 2018, pp. 88–9; see also Vita Sinuthii 102–4 and 122. Frankfurter is well aware of this problem, as can be seen in one of his later texts: Frankfurter, 2003, p. 354. 38 For the importance of this charisma in monastic Egyptian literature since its very beginnings, see Vecoli, 2006, pp. 52–60.


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gained his reputation: it had begun the moment he revealed and condemned a sin committed by a member of the monastic community of the White Monastery.39 Shenoute always believed that his mission consisted above all in revealing things that others wanted to remain unknown, but the reputation as a clairvoyant that he had thus gained encouraged people to seek his help in trying to find out a truth they wanted to know. Shenoute was not excessively happy about it. In one of his sermons, he castigates those who solicited his intervention when trying to find a person who had recently stolen some of their property.40 Shenoute admits that such services are offered by other people (presumably monks) whose charismatic gifts resemble those of the Apostles and prophets. He claims that their revelations are often inaccurate and even if they happen to be true, they are of no help whatsoever in seeking God’s grace and striving for salvation.41 But Shenoute’s ire and scoffing prove convincingly that his contemporaries were looking for such consultations. Even though the prophetic career of Shenoute began with his divulgence of a specific misdemeanour of one of his brethren, we should not assume that revealing the sins of others always consisted in condemning clearly defined and spectacular trespasses. For another illustration of how this sort of clairvoyance functioned in practice, it is worth looking at the Letter of Ammon, written in the late fourth century. Its author, bishop of an Egyptian church, wrote about himself that in his youth he had been a monk in the Pachomian monastery of Pbau at a time when Theodore, Pachomius’s successor, was in charge. He tells us that one day Theodore sat under a palm tree in the middle of the monastery and his monks took turns asking him to reveal their trespasses. And one of the monks arose as if inspired and asked Theodore to address his faults before them all. [Theodore], looking intently at him, answered and said: ‘It is good for a man when he takes up a yoke in his youth. He will sit alone and be silent, because he has taken it upon himself. He will give his jaw to the one that strikes him. He will be filled full of reproaches [Lamentations 3:27–30]. But you, why do you bear the reproaches for

39 Canon 1 XB 83 (unpublished), as related by Emmel, 2004a, p. 160; for more on this canon, see Emmel, 2004b, pp. 558–65. This particular event is not mentioned in the Life of Shenoute, but there too, the first mention of Shenoute’s clairvoyance is that he could see all sorts of sins committed all over the world, as well as the past deeds of all his visitors (Vita Sinuthii 13). 40 Shenoute of Atripe, the sermon, ‘I See Your Eagerness’, pp. 69–72; see Brakke, 2007. 41 See also Athanasius, Vita Antonii 33.5–6.

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Christ so grievously? [Hebrews 11:26]’. And so, after he sat down, another rose and asked for himself. 42

It seems to me that this particular passage (which has a parallel in the Bohairic Life of Pachomius43) demonstrates what this sort of clairvoyance looked like in practice. Reading people’s hearts did not necessarily involve revealing their sins; it may have been limited to providing apposite, but fairly general remarks about a person’s life, imbued with biblical references. Assuming that this was how the clairvoyance of great ascetics had originated, we shall understand immediately how such figures as John of Lykopolis, Pachomius, Theodore or Shenoute gained a reputation that attracted people who started coming to them with questions usually addressed to oracles or resolved with the use of other divinatory techniques.

Questions and questioners Is it possible to draft a catalogue of issues presented to famous monks for consultation? All such attempts make us confront the same question: are we dealing with real events and authentic consultations or with literary images? The most commonly mentioned (dare I say ‘standard’) prophetic utterances in hagiographical literature deal with the approaching death of the prophet himself or other people, particularly monks and emperors. This matter, however, is never submitted for consultation: the prophecy is given unsolicited.44 Other important events in the lives of important people can also be foretold in a similar fashion. This includes predicting the birth of a saint or elevation to the episcopacy.45 All of these, however, are certainly literary fiction. 42 Epistula Ammonis 3 (trans. by James E. Goehring). 43 Vita Pachomii (Bohairic version) 87. 44 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 60 and 89; Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 35.8–9; Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia religiosa 15.4; Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica 7.25 (Attikos); Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 8.15 (Epiphanius) and 8.28 (John Chrysostom); Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 39 (Euthymios) and 41 (Domitian); Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Sabae 44 (Aphrodisios) and 60 (bishop Elijah); Constantius of Lyon, Vita Germani 41; Eugippius, Vita Severini 41 (Severinus); Rufinus, Historia monachorum (Latin version) 7.4.6 (Apollonius foretells the death of a brother) and 16.3.5–6 (= Historia monachorum in Aegypto [Greek version] 14.23–4: Paphnutios). The death of an emperor: Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 4.4 (Julian); Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia religiosa 2.14 (Julian); Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 2 (Valens) and Vita Sabae 60 (Anastasius). See also notes 15–6, p. 50. 45 Vita Theodori Syceotae 3; Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia religiosa 9.4; Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 22; Eugippius, Vita Severini 21; Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 35.10–11; Gregory of Tours, Historiae 2.13, 2.23 and 10.29.


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The same can be said of prophecies that announced the impending onset of natural disasters, or the moment that they were to subside. For example, Simeon the Stylite warned of hunger, plague and the imminent invasions of the Persians and ‘Scythians’. 46 Daniel the Stylite foretold a fire in Constantinople;47 Arsakios, an earthquake in Nicomedia;48 Simeon the Fool, an earthquake and a plague in Emesa. 49 In all these cases holy monks are presented as sharing their God-given foreknowledge unasked, which results from the very nature of those unforeseeable disasters. The fictional character of these prophecies is more than obvious. It is not entirely so with consultations concerning the plans of military campaigns, which in the narrative sources are usually initiated by rulers or commanders. Apart from the aforementioned prophecies of John of Lykopolis for Theodosius I and for an anonymous officer, it is worth noting that Shenoute was consulted in two instances about launching a campaign against the Blemmyes.50 Martin of Tours predicted the initial successes of the usurper Maximus and his ultimate defeat.51 Severinus of Noricum, anticipating the results of numerous clashes with barbarians, proclaimed Odoacer’s rule in Italy and offered advice to the ruler of the Rugii as to how he should deal with the imminent invasion of the Goths.52 Sabas told the Emperor Justinian that he would rule over Africa and Rome as a reward for his devotion to God.53 Daniel the Stylite reassured the Emperor Leo that Alexandria, facing the threat of being sacked by Geiseric, would remain intact and that the emperor’s planned expedition would be successful.54 Germanus of Paris announced to Sigibert that he would be safe if he did not kill his brother.55 The monk Isaakios warned the Arianizing Emperor Valens that he would be defeated by the Goths if he did not give the churches back to the Nicenes.56 Another monk, Maro, warned about the approaching Hunnic 46 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia religiosa 26.19. 47 Vita Danielis 41 and 45. 48 Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 4.16. 49 Leontius of Neapolis, Vita Symeonis, 150–1. See also the rain foretold by Sabas: Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Sabae 66. 50 Vita Sinuthii 106–8 and 135–7. 51 Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 20.8–9. 52 Eugippius, Vita Severini 5 and 7; see also 20 and 27. 53 Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Sabae 72. 54 Vita Danielis 56. 55 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 4.51. 56 Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 6.40. Several monks also announce Julian’s death, although, needless to say, the emperor did not consult them before marching against Persia: John Malalas, Chronographia 13.25; see also note 44, p. 63.

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invasion.57 Apart from the last two cases, the authors present the prophecy as an answer to the question asked by the ruler. It is very difficult to assess the reliability of these testimonies. On the one hand, they are perfectly in line with the literary, especially biblical, models of meetings between a king and a prophet (or a king and a philosopher), while later authors may have used literary patterns established by their predecessors. On the other hand, while recognizing that at least some holy monks were indeed treated as prophets, we have no reason to doubt that at least some emperors tried to take advantage of their knowledge and especially of their authority – it was good to start a campaign under the auspices of a holy man. It is also perfectly understandable that the emperors’ consultations were much more interesting in literary terms than the questions asked by ordinary people. To put it bluntly, they stood a much better chance of being referred to in later literary works, and consequently it comes as no surprise that they are over-represented in our evidence. Certainly, the role of holy prophets offering advice to rulers was always more prominent in hagiography than it was in reality. This may be well illustrated by the example of Daniel the Stylite. He is portrayed in his Life as a clairvoyant and the most important adviser to the emperors Leo and Zeno, but other writers reporting on the events in which that holy monk supposedly played a key role (Evagrius, John Malalas and Victor of Tunnuna) make no mention of Daniel in the respective contexts. The image of Daniel as an ‘imperial prophet’ is probably more than a mere literary creation of his Life, but nonetheless cannot be taken for a faithful representation of reality.58 In hagiographical literature, situations in which ordinary people come to a holy ascetic to benefit from his gift of clairvoyance are rather rare. Theodore, Pachomius’s successor, is asked by his monks whether they will die from the plague.59 Theodoret of Cyrrhus recalls a dignitary who asked the monk Makedonios about the ships he was waiting for.60 The Life of Shenoute maintains that the saint, at the request of a merchant, pointed out the thieves who had robbed his house (incidentally, Shenoute’s conduct in this episode contradicts his own declarations in the sermon cited above).61 In his Spiritual Meadow, John Moschos tells the story of a man who, having found out that plague had broken out in Gaza, where his sons had been 57 John of Ephesus, Vitae sanctorum orientalium 4. 58 For more about these events, see Kosiński, 2016, pp. 129–62, although in my opinion, historical reality and its literary portrayal are not sufficiently distinguished in his discussion. 59 Vita Pachomii (Bohairic version) 180. 60 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia religiosa 13.15. 61 Vita Sinuthii 42–6.


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studying, asked Zacchaeus of Sinai to tell him what was going to happen to them.62 To expand this relatively limited evidence, we may also take into account negative examples, namely, stories of ‘false prophets’ to whom people would come for advice. One of those is worth quoting in extenso. The passage below forms part of the Life of Macarius the Great, which appeared in the original version of Palladius’s Historia Lausiaca. It has been preserved only in Coptic translation, but it is certainly a very early testimony dating back to the end of the fourth century.63 It happened that there was a monk, a man who lived in the deserts of the village of Boushēm [in the Fayum], practising asceticism for many years with great and strenuous practices in the great seclusion of the Great Desert, walking in purity of life, and he did not ever pay a visit to an old man, for he was vain and full of himself. After a while, the passion within him led him astray. A spirit of divination, that is, the demon of falsehood, came to dwell in him so that he would tell people about numerous events that were going to happen to them: he would say ‘they will happen’, and they happened, and he spoke about the waters of the Nile and about many other worldly events that he learned about from the spirits. As a result, he became vain and his understanding of God was very clouded. When the [unclean] spirit knew that this man’s heart was joined to him, he first of all led him away from the orthodox faith and wrapped him in the erroneous doctrine of heresies that are named after Hierakas […] [People] believed him because he said that the Spirit had entrusted them to him, telling people events that had not yet taken place and they would take place. In a word, he controlled them through these predictions. Indeed, if all the people’s possessions were lost, he would say to them, ‘Go to a certain place and you will find them’, and they would go and find them. He would also tell them when war was going to take place and how many people were going to die and it happened just as he had said. Furthermore, he would cast out other demons from people, and fulfilled in himself the words of the Lord in the Gospel: ‘They will produce signs and wonders so they can lead astray even my chosen ones’.64

It should be noted that the cases to which the prophecies given by this anonymous monk were related – the flooding of the Nile, wars, etc. – are 62 John Moschos, Pratum spirituale 131. 63 Wipszycka, 2018, p. 142. 64 Palladiana Coptica: Vita Macarii 6 (trans. by Tim Vivian).

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similar to those predicted by John of Lykopolis, about whom Palladius wrote with the utmost respect. Granted, John of Lykopolis did not point out the thieves; likewise, we have already noted Shenoute’s reluctance to be involved in this kind of prognostication. Yet it seems unlikely that the problem lay in the issue revealed during such consultations. As we have seen, the author of the Life of Shenoute saw nothing inappropriate in portraying his protagonist as someone who was able to expose a thief, which was in fact a most typical question that people sought to have answered by various divinatory methods.65 Thus, issues that formed the matter of prophetic utterances were not even remotely as important as the ultimate source of the prophetic foreknowledge. To substantiate this claim, it is worth noting that the same observation can be made on the basis of the final sentence of the quoted passage, where reference is made to chasing away evil spirits: because the ability to cast out demons was deemed worthy of the highest praise, but only when it was carried out by the proper power. Identifying the source of that power did not depend on the type of miracle performed, but on an assessment of the orthodoxy of the monk: the one presented in the above passage was a supporter of the ‘heretic’ Hierakas, which inevitably led to the conclusion that the spirit that worked in him could not have possibly come from God.66 But this was Palladius’s perspective, not that of people in Fayum. A similar story to illustrate this point can be found in Gregory of Tours. In his Histories, he tells us about a man who by all appearances looked as if he was an ascetic, dressed in animal skins. People thronged around him seeking healing and prophecies: ‘he foretold the future, prophesying that some would fall ill and that others would suffer affliction, while to a few he promised good fortune’.67 It is not entirely clear why Gregory considered that man to be acting at the devil’s behest – his theological views are not mentioned in the text. We can guess that this was due to the prophet’s conflict with the bishop of Anicium, which eventually led to his fall and death. There are too few testimonies concerning monks who were consulted on hidden and worldly matters for us to make categorical statements, but there seem to be two lessons to be learnt from the available evidence. First, none of the types of consultation mentioned above were clearly deemed to be 65 See Kallinikos, Vita Hypatii 43.9–15, where a man is mentioned who had the ability to determine the current location of stolen or lost objects, and Digesta 47.10.13 (Ulpian, Ad edictum 77), where astrologers and other diviners are made liable for misidentifying a thief. 66 See Goehring, 1999, pp. 110–35. 67 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 10.25 (trans. by Lewis Thorpe).


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morally wrong in themselves (although the unmasking of a thief appears to be the most problematic of all cases). But secondly, actively seeking responses of the holy monks about hidden matters was viewed with suspicion. This is evidenced in particular by the ratio of positive to negative examples illustrating this phenomenon: the negative ones, showing false prophets, are relatively numerous – far more numerous than healings and other miracles attributed to the power of demons. It seems therefore that the authors who created a negative image of self-proclaimed saints strongly emphasized their prognostication and the consultations that they offered, which in turn suggests that this element aroused negative associations. Gregory of Tours claims that there were many such false prophets in Gaul.68 Earlier, their doings in Gaul, Spain and the East were mentioned by Sulpicius Severus.69 In the light of what has been said above it is difficult to determine whether the scarcity of references to consultations with holy monks reflects the limited extent of the practice or the concern of some Christians: one may presume that this concern was most notably shared by bishops, who were sensitive about potential threats to their power. Our sources suggest that these two approaches coexisted: first, the belief in the efficacy of consultations with monks and in the pious character of this practice, and secondly, the no less pronounced wariness of this divinatory method. The wary approach can be illustrated by the above-mentioned case of Shenoute, who was asked – much to his displeasure – to indicate the thief by some people whose property had been pilfered. As we shall see in numerous instances in this book, this dichotomy was a characteristic feature of attitudes to most Christian divinatory practices. The fact that consultations with monks may have been more widespread than the narrative sources would have us believe is further demonstrated by the questions asked of Barsanuphios and John, the Old Men from Gaza, acting as spiritual advisers in the vicinity of this city in the sixth century. Their correspondence, at nearly 850 letters, is substantial enough to tell us more about what matters were submitted for consultation to the holy ascetics, and especially about those issues presented to them by laymen. The vast majority of these enquiries cannot be qualif ied as divinatory consultations. They were usually concerned with how a pious person should behave in certain ordinary situations: How should one talk to a woman 68 See also Gregory of Tours, Historiae 9.6, where an emphasis is placed on false miracles, but there is also a remark on the allegedly constant contact of the false prophet with Sts. Peter and Paul – a clear allusion to Sulpicius Severus’s Dialogi (2.13.6). 69 Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 23–4.

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if this is unavoidable (Letter 661)? Is it permitted to accept invitations to participate in religious feasts organized by Jewish or pagan neighbours (Letters 775–6)? Is it a sin to take a bath in the event of illness or some other necessity (Letters 770–1)?70 Is it permitted to chat in a church (Letter 737)? Should one say the trishagion (an acclamation praising God as thrice holy) when going past a church (Letter 712)? Should a monk put things in his cell in order, or should he leave it to God (Letter 729)? Is it permitted to make wine in a press belonging to a Jew (Letter 686)? Is it acceptable to work on Sundays (Letter 751)? Can one use a spell on a sick animal (Letter 753)? Can those suspected of stealing grapes during harvest be searched (Letter 768)? It may be assumed that people asking such questions were not only looking for answers to questions that troubled them. Above all, they sought an authority who would allow them to adhere to the solution given for their problems with confidence. However, in addition to these questions we will also find others, directly related to what was going to happen, especially with regard to health: Am I going to die soon (Letter 637)? Will my situation improve? Is my son going to die (both questions are asked by a philosophy teacher; Letters 664 and 778)? Will my servant, who was bitten by a dog, die (Letter 779)? Is our relative’s illness fatal and should he make a will (Letter 784)? There is no clear boundary between searching for general guidelines on what should be done and the requests to reveal the future, which is due to the fact that many questions – as in other types of divinatory consultations – are concerned neither with general rules of conduct nor with what will happen. Several issues to be resolved have to do with the specific, individual situations in which there is a choice to be made: Should I keep my slave who escaped but has now returned (Letter 653)? Should I take a partner for my business (Letter 743)? Should we look for more powerful patrons in the face of problems with other prominent people (Letter 785)? From among the presented candidates, who is to be entrusted with a clerical office (Letter 805–19)? One of the questions addressed to Epiphanius, a monk from the Thebaid active at the beginning of the seventh century, strikes a similar note. This charismatic ascetic is only known to us from the letters addressed to him found during archaeological excavations in his monastery at the beginning of the twentieth century. The inhabitants of the region would write to Epiphanius seeking help in various matters and, above all, asking him to 70 The same question asked of horoscopes was ironically mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae 28.4.24.


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pray for them. However, an archdeacon by the name of Joseph, who was thinking about renouncing his life in the world, wanted the holy monk to write to him what God would reveal to him in this matter.71 A similar role was played in the following century by another monk from this region, named Frange, whose correspondence was preserved in several hundreds of ostraca (pieces of broken pottery serving as a popular writing material). Several people sought Frange’s advice; one of them was a woman called Tsie, who frequently consulted him on various issues and supported him materially. At some point Tsie was accused of theft in her village and she asked Frange to expose her innocence, beliving that he was the power to ‘clear up this affair’. Tsie trusted in the holy monk’s clairvoyance and supposed that this belief will be shared by the judge.72 We may suspect that there were many other monks who, like Epiphanius or Frange, left no trace in hagiographical literature, but nevertheless were considered holy men by their contemporaries and were approached in similar cases. As we shall see, the questions asked of the holy monks were no different from those that people tried to resolve using other divinatory methods. After all, the ultimate purpose of those methods was often not to gain knowledge about the future, but to determine what actions should be taken with a view to making the wishes of the person seeking consultation materialize. The correspondence of Barsanuphios and John, whose genuine authority was widely recognized (which is also known to us from sources other than their own letters and those of their disciples73), is interesting not only because it shows the nature of the questions asked, but also because it illustrates the attitudes of the monks of Gaza to typical divinatory issues. Barsanuphios and John seem to have been consistently unruffled by people seeking advice on how to proceed with their own affairs. On the contrary, when asked by a pious layman whether he should do what he himself thought was right or instead always turn to the Old Men for advice, John answered authoritatively that the Old Men must be reverentially consulted first (Letter 693). Although questions about the future preserved in the correspondence are few and far between, it seems that Barsanuphios and John did not evade them: generally speaking, they would answer such questions in the same manner as they answered other queries. Also, the late antique editor of the collection seems to have had no doubts as to whether the letters containing 71 Crum and White, 1926, no. 162 ase also no. 20. 72 O. Frange 320. There are also a few other letters of this sort from the Thebaid, see Piwowarczyk, 2019. 73 Barsanuphios is also mentioned in Evagrius, Historia ecclesiastica 4.33.

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such questions should be included. In one of these, quoted at the beginning of this chapter, we find the case of a man who asks whether his servant attacked by a dog will recover. Having received the answer that everything was going to be fine, the man soon wrote to John asking for an explanation, because the servant had died. These letters demonstrate that the original editor had no reservations about mentioning the prophecies given by the monks that simply had not worked (or not in the way they had been expected to: John explains that by saying that the servant would be fine he was referring to his soul, not to the body). It seems plausible therefore that such questions were not indiscriminately expurgated from the collection; more probably they simply did not feature prominently in matters submitted to monks for consultation. The correspondence of Epiphanius and Frange confirms this impression. Who were the people who asked all these questions? As we have seen, John of Lykopolis was supposedly consulted by the emperor, the local elite and local peasants. Among the addressees of Barsanuphios and John we find monks, clerics and laymen.74 The latter were usually relatively wealthy and well educated: even if being literate was not necessary in order to ask a question in writing (one could find someone to write the letter), the matter of the consultations shows that those who sought them owned slaves and fields tilled by hired workers, and were familiar not only with the Scriptures, but also with other Christian writings (but note also the philosophy teacher!). Among the members of the clergy there were also bishops. However, there are no letters from women. In the Historia Monachorum we read that John of Lykopolis, as was recommended for monks, refused to meet women.75 The attitude of Barsanuphios and John was even stricter, as they also excluded the possibility of being reached by way of correspondence. It seems therefore that women were admitted to consultations with monk-prophets more rarely than men, although one has to be wary of generalizations. As is demonstrated in literary sources concerning Egyptian and Syrian monks, pious women wishing to see famous ascetics did manage at times to meet them in person. Granted, John of Lykopolis, wishing to satisfy the expectation of a certain woman without violating his own principles, appeared to her in a dream, but most monks were not so strict on this issue. One may wonder whether the narrative texts that try to present an ideal image of a monk distort 74 For a comprehensive overview of the addressees and the issues consulted with monks, see Hevelone-Harper, 2005, pp. 79–118. 75 Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Greek version) 1.4–8 = Rufinus, Historia monachorum (Latin version) 1.1.10–17.


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reality, but the absence of women in the correspondence of Barsanuphios and John (but not Frange) is a fact – unless we lay the blame for blotting out women’s letters at the door of the original editor of that collection, but we must bear in mind that there is no evidence whatsoever to corroborate this hypothesis. This issue is quite important because, as we shall see, it seems that women benefited only to a small extent from the vast majority of those late antique divinatory methods that allow us to determine the sex of those who submitted their questions for consultation. Of course, this was to some extent due to the fact that women were not directly interested in certain areas of public activity in which they simply could not participate, and were less often involved than men in economic matters, which constituted a common topic of divinatory consultations. However, we need to remember that they were equally affected by family affairs and health issues, and still we find very little evidence of their consultations on these matters. This is an important and intriguing problem that will be addressed further in the following chapters. It is interesting to note that while we find only few women in late antique sources who asked monks for consultation, there are mentions of women graced with the gift of prophecy. As I have already mentioned, Gregory of Nyssa refers to the accurate predictions concerning the future made by his sister Macrina.76 This is not an isolated case. According to Palladius, the future was also known to an Egyptian nun by the name of Piamoun. The historian Socrates mentions the prophetic visions of the empress Helena, while Sozomen tells us about Pulcheria’s God-given knowledge of the future. Finally, Gregory of Tours also refers to visions had by women, but without giving any names.77 There are no examples, however, of other women or men turning to holy nuns or empresses for such consultations. It is difficult to say whether this picture reflects reality or simply results from the cautiousness of hagiographers, who generally tried not to present any public activities of women in a conspicuous manner – their miracles and prophecies were meant to remain discreet. It is also worth considering what sort of people wrote to monks in search of a response. Reading the correspondence from Gaza, one may notice that the inquirers can quite often be classified as persons of ‘overscrupulous’ conscience. A fair number of them pestered monks with questions on a 76 Gregory of Nyssa, Vita Macrinae 39; the author is fairly restrained in portraying them. 77 Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 31.1 (Piamoun); Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica 1.17 (Helena); Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 9.1 (Pulcheria); Gregory of Tours, Historiae 2.13, 8.33 (prophecies of some unnamed women).

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regular basis, consulting them on various issues or discussing the same issue over and over again. Although the impression of the modern reader may be inaccurate, it often seems that their problems may have been seen by others as petty and insignificant. These people did not necessarily look for simple answers, and thus they probably could not be satisfied with those offered by ticket oracles or divinatory books. Whatever the case, certainly the people who asked famous monks for consultation cannot all be classified as morally hypersensitive. It is probable that many people considered this practice to be superior to other methods of divination, and for several reasons. First, it made it possible to ask open questions, such as the one addressed to Shenoute: ‘Who stole my things?’ As we will see, a question such as this could not possibly be answered with the use of divinatory books, since they contained only sets of pre-prepared answers. Here, the questioner could at most ask: ‘Will I recover what I have lost?’ Then, the answer would be ‘yes, soon’ or ‘yes, but not yet’ or ‘no, but you should not worry too much’, but the identity of the thief remained unknown. Nor did lots resolve the issue, as they always answered either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ and could therefore only be used to determine whether the guilt actually lay with one or the other suspect.78 Secondly, consulting things with monks invited interaction: whether by talking face to face or in writing, the people asking could formulate their problems with a greater degree of precision, especially if the initial answer was deemed unsatisfactory. It may be presumed that the questioner could at times have simply discussed the matter with the holy monk. In the correspondence of Barsanuphios and John we often see that the person who has just received the letter with an answer offers thanks for it and immediately thereafter asks about a case very similar to the one described previously, unsure of whether he really should adopt the same approach once again. Thirdly, although questions that could be answered with a simple affirmative or negative could also be resolved by other means, the monks had more to offer. In addition to giving an answer, they offered prayer.79 It is symptomatic that the overwhelming majority of questions about the future asked of Barsanuphios and John related to health; those who asked them obviously wanted to be healed and asked the old men not only to tell them whether they indeed would, but also to implore God on their behalf so that it might happen. Fourthly, what mattered most 78 See P. Oxy. XII 1567 with a commentary: Kramer, 1985. 79 The combination of oracular consultations with prayer can also be seen in other forms of Christian divination (see Luijendijk, 2019, pp. 322–9), but no prayer was considered to be as effective as that of holy monks.


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with such questions as ‘What should I do?’ was not so much the wording of the answer as the authority behind it. Even though there is no way to be absolutely sure about it, one can presume that the authority of holy monks was stronger than that of divinatory books or lots, to say nothing of the demoniacs who gave responses in the sanctuaries of martyrs. A certain monk, hesitant about whether he should continue the life he was living, received the following words of advice from experienced ascetics: ‘Wait for Antony to leave his cave and submit yourself to his judgement. Whatever he tells you, accept his judgment, for it is God who will speak through him to you.’80 In fact, for the questioners who were unable to make a decision, any answer would do – what really mattered was the authority who endorsed that answer. A commonly recognized authority was even more important when people asked holy monks about issues related to social life.81 A case in point was the man who received advice from Barsanuphios concerning the price at which he should sell a plot of land for the construction of a ‘holy place’ (Letter 648): not only did he soothe his own conscience, but also, owing to the authority of the monk, protected his reputation from people who might reproach him with greed or even sacrilege.

Self-perception of the prophets People who sought assistance in decision-making or sought to learn whether their children would recover from an illness came to the saintly monks because they assumed that the holy men simply knew what to do, what had happened and what would happen. But it is interesting to ask how this clairvoyance was conceptualized. This issue is important on two counts: first, because it explains the self-perception of the prophets, and secondly, because it probably had an impact on how and when they were approached by those seeking their advice. Generally speaking, the gift of clairvoyance was considered a result of their special relationship with God, which they achieved by living an ascetic life, combating demons and, above all, withdrawing from the world. One of the charismatic monks in Sulpicius Severus’s Dialogues says: ‘the man who was frequently visited by mortals like himself, could not often be visited by angels’.82 The belief that separation from the world brings one closer to God was perhaps older 80 Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 21.7. 81 Brown, 1971. 82 Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 1.17.5.

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than the monastic movement itself; in any case, it was noticeable even in its infancy. In 330, Athanasius explicitly formulated this belief in one of his festal letters.83 It is nevertheless interesting to consider what that closeness to God and the ability to see things revealed by him actually meant. Two fundamental explanations of this phenomenon are found in as early a text as the Life of Antony. First of all, Antony receives visions in which he sees the soul of another monk ascending to heaven, the imminent persecution by the Arians and the death of an officer.84 Secondly, in the passage already quoted above, Antony encourages monks in the following way: ‘If we care to know the future, even once, let us be pure in mind, for I believe that when a soul is perfectly pure and has preserved in its natural state, it becomes clear sighted and is able to see more and further than the demons – for it has the Lord who reveals things to it. The soul of Elisha was such as this when he saw what was done by Giezi, and saw the armies standing at its side.’85 The final sentence may suggest that we are dealing with a single explanation, and the ability to see ‘more and further’, which was available to purified souls, manifested itself in the visions like that of Elisha. Of course, these words must have gone through the filter of Athanasius’s writing, but we must note that Antony himself was also convinced of the need to purify the soul, an idea he referred to in one of his letters.86 A similar explanation of clairvoyance is found in the Historia monachorum, but only in the Latin version by Rufinus: It is indeed fitting to approach God more closely, with all due reverence and tremor, and to Him direct the gaze of one’s own mind in order to recognize at all times that He is above and beyond all things that the human mind is able to apprehend, whatever their splendour, lustre, glory and majesty may be, which, as we have already said, is only possible to the spotless mind, unadulterated with the filth of perverse wants and desires. Thus, it is especially proper for those who renounce the world and follow God that they exert themselves, since it is written: ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. Therefore, if one has got to know God inasmuch as that is 83 Athanasius, Epistulae festales 24(2).9–12. 84 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 60 (Amun), 82 (the Arian persecution), 86 (Balakios). 85 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 34: Εἰ δὲ ἅπαξ καὶ τοῦ προγινώσκειν ἡμῖν μέλει, καθαρεύωμεν τῇ διανοίᾳ. Ἐγὼ γὰρ πιστεύω, ὅτι καθαρεύσασα ψυχὴ πανταχόθεν καὶ κατὰ φύσιν ἑστῶσα, δύναται, διορατικὴ γενομένη, πλείονα καὶ μακρότερα βλέπειν τῶν δαιμόνων, ἔχουσα τὸν ἀποκαλύπτοντα Κύριον αὐτῇ. Οἵα ἦν ἡ τοῦ Ἐλισσαίου βλέπουσα τὰ τοῦ Γιεζῆ καὶ ὁρῶσα τὰς περὶ αὐτὴν ἑστώσας δυνάμεις. Trans. by Roy J. Deterrari, slightly adapted. 86 Antony, Ep. 1.2. See Origen, De principiis 3.3.


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possible for man to know, only then will he also be granted knowledge of all other things and know the mysteries of God; the purer a man’s mind, the more God will reveal to him and unfold to him his secrets.87

We do not know whether this passage was included in the original version of the text.88 It seems, however, that in Late Antiquity it was commonly believed that the true knowledge of hidden matters could only be attained thanks to a union with God, and that in order to attain this it was necessary to rid the mind of all passions. This belief was not confined to the Christian milieu. Iamblichus, too, wrote in his On the Mysteries of the Egyptians that prophetic utterances were accurate only if the prophet was truly filled with a divine spirit, which could only be achieved by becoming completely independent of passions and all other corporeal obstacles.89 In the Life of Antony, Athanasius mentions another source of supernatural knowledge available to monks: presumably with a view to warning the reader, he tells us about demons who apprise monks of the future, announcing in particular the arrival of guests whom they have seen on their way.90 Those demons were not, of course, treated as a source of knowledge used by monk-prophets with regard to the matters submitted for consultation, except for cases where an answer was expected to come from the mouths of demoniacs while they were being exorcized by a saint.91 It is important to note, however, that monks were seriously concerned that they themselves and other people could be duped as to the real character of the knowledge about hidden matters; instead of being God-given, it might come from demonic inspiration. I shall come back to this issue shortly. 87 Rufinus, Historia monachorum 1.22–4: Et ideo oportet cum omni reverentia et metu accedere ad deum et ita in eum librare mentis intuitum, ut, omne quicquid potest splendoris claritatis fulgoris maiestatis mens humana conspicere, super haec omnia esse eum sentiat semper, et hoc, sicut diximus, si pura mens fuerit nec ullis pravae voluntatis sordibus occupata. Et ideo in hoc maxime oportet operam dare eos, qui renuntiare saeculo et deum sequi videntur, sicut scriptum est: vacate et cognoscite, quoniam ego sum deus. Si ergo cognoverit deum, in quantum homini cognoscere possibile est, tunc demum etiam reliquorum quae sunt scientiam capiet et mysteria dei agnoscet, et quanto purior in eo fuerit mens, tanto plura ei revelat deus et ostendit ei secreta sua. 88 Historia monachorum was written in Greek and translated into Latin very soon thereafter. Both the Greek and the Latin texts have survived, but the former is only a reworked version of the lost original. For the relationship between the extant Greek version, Rufinus’s translation and the original text, see Festugière, 1955, Bammel, 1996, and Cain, 2016, pp. 10–26. 89 Iamblichus, De mysteriis 3.7.115; see Athanassiadi, 1993, pp. 119–20. 90 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 31; see also Apophthegmata: collectio alphabetica (Gerontikon), Antony 12. 91 See pp. 174–9.

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Regardless of the underlying theoretical framework, how did the late antique prophets respond to people who asked them for consultation? At this point, one has to inquire f irst of all whether ecstatic prophecy occurred in monastic milieus. This question seems to be justif ied not so much by analogy with traditional pagan diviners, the Sybil, or the Pythia, as by the fact that at the time when monasticism was emerging the phenomenon of ecstatic prophecy was certainly observable in Neoplatonic circles.92 Among Christians, the very notion of ecstasy usually gave rise to mixed feelings. Late antique writers insisted that biblical prophets did not fall into a trance or serve God as a medium, but uttered prophetic statements without losing consciousness. Christian authors strongly emphasized the difference between the biblical prophets and the prophecies of the Pythia. This issue was discussed as early as the first half of the third century by Origen, and by Eusebius of Caesarea shortly thereafter,93 but from our point of view the testimony of John Chrysostom is far more interesting, since he discussed it at length and did so at a time when monk-prophets were already in place. He emphasized that there was a sharp contrast between the predictions of the biblical prophets and those uttered by entranced pagan diviners, the Pythia in particular, whom he described in a picturesque way as a frenzied woman. Chrysostom contended that for a prophecy to be true it was absolutely necessary that the prophet should pronounce the God-given words with sound consciousness, decide independently if they should be passed on to other people, and be able to remember them.94 Another reason for the reluctant attitude to ecstatic prophecy could be that it was associated with Montanist prophecies, which were perceived from very early on, rightly or wrongly, to be produced in a state of trance, as can be seen in the testimonies of Montanus’s contemporaries recorded by Eusebius of Caesarea and Epiphanius.95 Montanist visions are presented in a similar manner by other late antique authors. Jerome, for instance, writes thus: ‘for certainly, the prophets did not speak in ecstasy as was indeed the case with Montanus, who dreamt with frenzied women; it is impossible that 92 Iamblichus, De mysteriis 3, passim; see also the case of Sosipatra: Eunapius, Vitae philosophorum 467–9; see Athanassiadi, 1993, pp. 120–1, and Shaw, 2003. 93 Origen, Contra Celsum 7.3–4; Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio evangelica 5, prol. 26–7; see Fédou, 1989, pp. 444–6. 94 John Chrysostom, In I epistula ad Corinthios homiliae 29.2, PG 61.242. This difference is markedly emphasized by Brown, 1971, p. 93. 95   Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica 5.17; see Ash, 1976, pp. 237–9, and Nasrallah, 2003, pp. 156–87.


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the prophets did not know what they were saying and that while teaching others they had no idea of what they had said themselves’.96 For all this reluctance to admit the legitimacy of ecstatic prophecy, hagiographic literature and other monastic texts do refer to cases of ecstasy, but in none of these instances is there mention of a loss of consciousness. That sort of ecstasy was therefore considered to be different from trance, as can also be seen in the New Testament, where it is presented in a positive light.97 In was in that state of mind that monks were believed to see God or the visions sent by him.98 However, there is no evidence to suggest that it was a condition which had to be self-induced before giving the answer to a question. In all the above instances of monks being asked for consultation, they responded immediately – all authors, including those who portrayed their heroes elsewhere in a state of ecstasy, present the consultation as a normal conversation. It may be presumed that the answer often followed a prayer, although narrative texts mention it only rarely. But the prayer was important, as we see in an episode from the Life of Shenoute, which deals with a destitute worker who, finding himself unable to provide for his sons, turned to the saint for advice. Shenoute, even though he knew the question in advance, said a prayer before giving the answer and suggested that the poor man should find another job. The traditional attribution of this text to Besa, a disciple of Shenoute and his successor, is most probably inaccurate,99 while the story itself should certainly be considered fiction (especially as the poor man eventually became rich owing to the saint’s advice; he had sown the seeds received from the saint and was graced with an abundance of fruit). However, even if fictional, the story may present an idealized consultation. In reality, things may have looked different, but the questioners must have been prepared to wait for the answer – one might even think that a delay in answering lent an air of solemnity to the consultation. This seems to have been the case with the people mentioned above who turned to Shenoute 96   Jerome, In Isaiam prol. and 1.1.1: Neque uero, ut Montanus cum insanis feminis somniat, prophetae in ecstasi sunt locuti, ut nescirent quid loquerentur et cum alios erudirent, ipsi ignorarent quid dicerent. See also his In epistula ad Ephesios 2.3; Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 48.3. 97   Acts 10:10 and 11:5 (Peter); Acts 22:17 (Paul). See also the descriptions of experiences introduced by the words ‘en pneumati’ in Revelation 1:10, 4:2, 17:3 and 21:10; and, likewise, ‘ektos tou somatos’ in 2 Corinthians 12:2. 98 Vita Pachomii (Bohairic version) 84, 139, 144; Vita Pachomii (G 1) 50; Apophthegmata: collectio alphabetica (Gerontikon), Silvanus 2 (857) and 3 (858); Apophthegmata: collectio systematica 18.1 (65) and 18.8 (329). 99 See Lubomierski, 2007.

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and asked him to indicate the thief: they were told to wait for the answer. Although they never received it, it transpires from his sermon that the monks who ordered the strangers to wait passed on the question to the saint – from their point of view at least, this was the appropriate procedure. It seems that the ways in which charismatic monks answered questions (as well as their preparations for answering them) depended on whether they – and those who turned to them for consultation – perceived the gift of clairvoyance as something temporary or permanent. This particular issue is fairly complicated, but probably depends on the type of answer expected of the saint. Those who wished for a charismatic father to reveal their weaknesses most likely never had to wait at all, as may be illustrated by the scene with Theodore and the monks of Pbau described in the Letter of Ammon cited above. This type of clairvoyance, consisting in looking into the heart of the questioner and based presumably on a monk’s wisdom, spiritual life and personal experience, was probably always available to famous ascetics. However, it is difficult to say whether the narrative texts in which answers to typical divinatory questions are given immediately reflect actual practices and the underlying convictions. If this was the case, it would suggest that monks were expected to know everything in advance. The fact that clairvoyance could be seen both as a permanent gift and as a result of an individual revelation is attested to in the Life of Pachomius, where this particular issue is raised several times. Some of the situations described here seem to suggest that, thanks to a prophetic spirit which dwelt within him, Pachomius constantly saw the inner workings of the hearts of other people and was able to predict what was going to happen to them.100 At the same time, however, Pachomius himself always emphasized that he did not see hidden matters whenever he wished, but only when God revealed them to him, which either occurred in a vision or through an angel: he never asked for such revelations.101 This need to emphasize that he never claimed to have a permanent charisma of clairvoyance may nevertheless suggest that others thought otherwise. The fact that Pachomius voiced his opinion on the matter in the context of the synod of Latopolis suggests that the criticism to which his dioratikon charisma was subjected at the time concerned precisely the supposedly permanent character of 100 Vita Pachomii (Bohairic version) 89, 106–8. 101 See also Vita Pachomii (G1) 48 and 97 and Vita Pachomii (Bohairic version) 72 and 118, where Pachomius explicitly states that he is incapable of foreseeing the future of his community. See Rousseau, 1985, p. 146.


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this charisma.102 We have no reason to doubt that Pachomius himself never thought about his gift in this way, but we may assume with a fair degree of certainty that others did. Perhaps the author of his Life implicitly referred to them when writing in the very first sentence of the passage about the synod of Latopolis that some people, when talking about Pachomius, were prone to exaggeration. The same probably applied to Shenoute: we cannot say with certainty whether the people who wanted him to indicate a thief really believed that he could avail himself of a permanent ability to see hidden matters (a claim that he vigorously rejected), but his hagiographer was fully convinced that the saint always knew everything – that not only did he know the answers to all questions, but that he also knew in advance the matter of the question that was going to be asked of him.103 Aside from the disconcerting associations with Montanism, there were other reasons which made Shenoute and other authors suspicious of prophecy or, more specifically, of the practice of asking monk-prophets about the future. First of all, charismatic prophets could certainly be perceived as a threat to the authority of the bishops: after all, this concern was among those that had led to the condemnation of the Montanist movement (dubbed ‘the New Prophecy’ by its adherents). Of course, we should not attach too much actual importance to this opposition. More often than not, the utterances of holy ascetics may have worked in favour of the causes pursued by the bishops (as can be seen in particular in the Lives of Antony, Daniel the Stylite and the Palestinian monks described by Cyril of Scythopolis).104 But even so, there was ample room for conflicts to occur. Consider, for example, the case of Shenoute, who refused to see a bishop visiting his monastery because, he claimed, he was speaking to Christ at that moment, or that of a wandering prophet mentioned by Gregory of Tours: the man was murdered at the instigation of the bishop of Anicium.105 Secondly, reservations concerning prophecy may have been caused by the resemblance to pagan diviners from whom Christian authors clearly wished to dissociate their prophets.106 Thirdly, we should probably take seriously the grave concern of monastic 102 My interpretation differs from that offered by Brakke, 2006, pp. 81–3, who contends that the principal matter of controversy was Pachomius’s claim that not only was he capable of chasing away demons (something that other monks could also do), but that he could also detect their presence and sense their insidious activities in places where no one else could see them. Incidentally, these explanations are not mutually exclusive. 103 Vita Sinuthii 162. 104 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 89; Vita Danielis 71–84; Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 22. 105 Vita Sinuthii 70–2; Gregory of Tours, Historiae 10.25. 106 See the passage from John Chrysostom quoted above, p. 77.

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writers about the origin of prophetic utterances, which resulted from the warnings against false prophets given in the New Testament and above all from the personal experience of individual ascetics. These suspicious attitudes towards prophecy are commonly found in literary works from all across the monastic world of Late Antiquity.107 Certainly, dismissing a troublesome opponent as a ‘false prophet’ may have served as a convenient argument aimed at discrediting him,108 but this should not override the observation that the wariness of being misled by evil spirits was indeed genuine, especially as this observation can also be made on the basis of monastic writings with no polemical edge whatsoever. We have thus seen a fair number of reservations concerning the visions of ascetics, including the admonishments given by Antony, the charges made against Pachomius at the synod of Latopolis, the mocking remarks of clergymen about Martin’s visions, and the wrath of Shenoute, who hated being treated as a soothsayer for finding stolen things. These reservations, however, were not even remotely tantamount to a wholesale condemnation. It is evident that Antony (or Athanasius) admitted that for a monk, even for a very pious monk, the prospect of being treated as a clairvoyant was all too tempting, and indeed a fair number of ascetics succumbed to this temptation. But the author regarded this as a potentially dangerous frailty rather than something dreadfully sinful. We have seen that, by condemning this practice, Shenoute, too, was attesting to it being evidently widespread.109 There were people who consulted John of Lykopolis about the future, but we do not see anyone condemning them or the monk himself for doing so. Thus, there were a variety of approaches and attitudes to this matter. Was consulting with holy ascetics a standard method of inquiring into hidden matters? While trying to determine how common it was for late antique Christians to turn to holy monks for consultation, we must remember that such monks are not attested to throughout the Mediterranean world as a whole. Certainly, this may be partly due to the scarcity of the evidence. However, in some regions various aspects of Christian life, including monasticism, are so well documented (for example, Latin Africa in the fourth and the fifth century) that we can quite safely assume that the silence of the sources proves that the charismatic monks were simply not there. Furthermore, 107 See Athanasius, Vita Antonii 31; Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 21–4; Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Greek version) 2.9–10 = Rufinus, Historia monachorum (Latin version) 2.12–13; Cassian, Collationes, Book 2 (in its entirety); Apophthegmata: collectio systematica 10.95 (1224), 15.70–1 (1312–13), 21.37 (1486). 108 Such was the case of Anatolius described by Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 23. 109 See above, p. 62.


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even in such regions as Syria and Egypt there is no evidence of a closely knit ‘network’ of monk-prophets that might make it possible for anyone to turn to one of them and ask questions. Thus, such opportunities were certainly not available to all. Moreover, for all the advantages mentioned above, the method had a major flaw. Divinatory books and lots, being inanimate objects, were left at the mercy of whoever wished to use them, while charismatic monks could – and often did – refuse to answer questions. The main reason for this was the above-mentioned misgivings about being overly inquisitive with regard to the future and other hidden matters of a mundane character, as can be seen throughout ancient Christian literature as a whole and in monastic writings in particular. Admittedly, those misgivings about, or even outright hostility toward this sort of divination may have been declared rather than actually felt. But they certainly had an impact on this type of divinatory practice. Also, we may suspect that regardless of the general attitudes towards divination, an experienced monk might not have been particularly willing to unmask a thief or prognosticate about the prospects of recovery from an illness. To give a prediction on either of these issues in fact meant risking one’s authority, while exposing the spiritual shortcomings of the questioner certainly incurred no risk at all. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Shenoute refused to respond to questions of that sort. Some monks, like Barsanuphios and John, did at times venture to do so, but, as we have seen, the latter was once obliged to explain why the servant about whom he had said that everything was going to be fine died soon thereafter (Letters 779–81). We may thus conclude that charismatic ascetics were available only in some parts of the Mediterranean world, and not all of them were willing to answer divinatory questions. Therefore, we are certainly not dealing with a very widespread phenomenon. Finally, it is worth asking whether, in at least some parts of the Mediterranean world, Christian ascetics were seen as an alternative to pagan holy men. Were the latter perceived as a threat or, perhaps, a source of inspiration? These questions are sadly difficult to answer. We owe our knowledge concerning the oracular sayings of the Neopythagorean or Neoplatonic sages almost exclusively to their biographers. We are thus faced with the very same problem that makes it difficult to determine whether the phenomenon of prophecy did exist in early Christian monasticism: are we dealing with a genuine depiction of reality or a mere literary motif? Should we trust Philostratos and Eunapios and their accounts of the lives and prophecies of Apollonius of Tyana and Antoninos respectively? It seems to me that we should: even though the matter of the prophecies is known to us mainly from narrative sources, the fact remains that the question of the origin and

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character of prophecy was vividly discussed among the Neoplatonists. It was one of the essential topics dealt with in two literary works of central importance to this philosophical movement: Porphyry’s Letter to Anebon and the treatise On Mysteries written by Iamblichus in response to that letter. This does not mean, of course, that all those whom Eunapios presented as prophets were indeed considered as such by their contemporaries. There is no doubt, however, that in general we are dealing with a real phenomenon: the Neoplatonists did seek visions in a number of ways, with a view to revealing hidden matters. That being said, it should be noted that the surviving sources offer no evidence to confirm that people actually approached pagan holy men to ask them divinatory questions. Considering the scarcity of the sources (which is remarkably greater compared with the material available for research on monk-prophets), it would be ill-advised to jump to categorical conclusions, but it seems that paying a visit to a pagan holy man was not a viable alternative for people who did not want to or could not use other methods of divination. Finally, regardless of whether the Neopythagorean or Neoplatonic philosophers were indeed consulted on mundanities and did answer questions concerning hidden matters, we must remember that pagan holy men never gained a position comparable to that of charismatic monks. After all, from the very beginning they formed an elitist group of intellectuals who were rapidly becoming ever more marginalized in the course of the fourth and fifth centuries.110 Even their sway over their co-religionists paled into insignificance when compared with the position of holy ascetics among Christians. Taking all this into account, I would think that divinatory consultations with holy monks were in fact hardly, if at all, inspired by the prophecies of late antique pagan philosophers, who were by and large no match for their Christian counterparts. It cannot be excluded that the inspiration for this practice worked in the opposite direction, but it is more likely that, in Late Antiquity, Christian and pagan prophecy developed independently, although these developments had their roots in a shared intellectual environment.111

110 See Fowden, 1982. 111 For more on the difference between pagan holy men and Christian ascetics, see Brown, 1971, p. 92.


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The king [Clovis] himself sent envoys to the blessed church [of St. Martin in Tours] saying: ‘Go, and perhaps you will receive some omen of victory from the holy temple.’ Then giving them gifts to set up in the holy place, he said: ‘If thou, O Lord, art my helper, and hast determined to surrender this unbelieving nation, always striving against thee, into my hands, consent to reveal it propitiously at the entrance to the church of St. Martin, so that I may know that thou wilt deign to be favourable to thy servant.’ Clovis’ servants went on their way according to the king’s command, and drew near to the place, and when they were about to enter the holy church, the first singer, without any pre-arrangement, sang this response: ‘Thou hast girded me, O Lord, with strength unto the battle; thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me, and hast made mine enemies turn their backs unto me, and thou hast utterly destroyed them that hated me’ [Psalm 19:39]. On hearing this singing they thanked the Lord, and paying their vow to the blessed confessor they joyfully made their report to the king. ‒ Gregory of Tours, Historiae 2.37, trans. By Ernest Brehaut

In the previous chapter, I made several references to divination from books or, to be precise, from texts. This particular method developed well among Christians, with a fairly vast array of writings that were used for that purpose. The practice took on multiple forms, ranging from the plain and simple to the arcane and technical. In this chapter, I will be dealing with the divinatory uses of the Bible, the prophetic book that was second to none, whereas the following one will discuss divination based on other texts. First things first: we must begin with the fact that in Late Antiquity there was a long-established consensus regarding the status of the Old and New Testaments: they were both believed to be a collection of divinely inspired writings. The disputes concerning the actual scope of the biblical canon continued into the fourth and fifth centuries, but the view that there was a fundamental difference between the texts included in the canon and all the other more or less edifying and pious writings was taken as a given.1 In research on late antique divination, the belief in the divine character of the Bible is important on two accounts: one is obvious and well known, the other less conspicuous but equally important.


See McDonald, 1995; Metzger, 1997; Gamble, 2002; Kyrtatas, 2010.


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First of all, that belief inevitably led to the conviction that everything written in the Bible, including the passages relating to the future, was true. As the Bible was the word of God, biblical prophecies were seen as entirely trustworthy and dependable. Incidentally, it has to be noted that late antique Christians had a more inclusive notion of prophetic character than we have today with regard to the categorization of biblical writings: for example, David, as the author of the Psalms, was counted among the prophets. Also, the Old Testament as a whole was considered to be a collection of books that heralded the coming of Christ and presaged other God-planned events in the history of the world. The essence of allegorical exegesis, a method of interpretation especially popular in the third and fourth centuries and applied to all sorts of biblical texts, consisted in just that: reading the Old Testament with a view to discovering the future-oriented Christological sense of every biblical paragraph interpreted in this way. Importantly, it was believed that not all announced events had taken place yet; in particular, people were still expecting the Second Coming of Christ, which they knew was to be preceded by persecutions, wars and natural disasters.2 Thus, it was believed that the books of the Bible did include predictions of the future, although referring to the world at large, or possibly to the Roman Empire, perhaps even to one emperor or another, but not really to the future of ordinary individuals. But the divine character of the Bible also made it potentially important for divination in an entirely different way. While the great biblical prophecies were not easily applicable to the lives of ordinary people, the Bible as such was considered to be invested with a power that could be harnessed to solve various problems of individual human beings. Several Old Testament passages were treated as amulets, both within and outside Jewish or Christian circles. We know, for instance, that in Phrygia of the second to sixth century people who were neither Jews nor Christians would use verses from the Bible as spells to protect graves or utter curses ‘like those in Deuteronomy’.3 A late antique veterinary treatise instructs that (depending on the type of ailment) ailing horses should be touched with a scrap of papyrus with a verse of the Iliad or from Psalm 46 written on it. 4 Biblical verses also served as amulets, which is well documented in papyri. 2 See e.g. Origen, Commentaria in evangelium Matthaei 12.3, with comments by Martens, 2012, pp. 65–6. 3 Biblical maledictions were used primarily by the Jews, but we know that pagans used them as well, as can be seen in the case of the sophist Amphikles: Robert, 1978, pp. 245–52; for more on this phenomenon, see Stebnicka, 2015, pp. 197–202. 4 Corpus hippiatricorum Graecorum 10.3 and 10.5, indicated in Van der Horst, 2002, p. 175.

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The most popular was Psalm 90, especially its first verse: ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.’5 The power of the sacred text also pervaded the book in which it was written, that is, the physical object that carried words of God, as may be inferred from Augustine’s approval of the practice of laying a codex of the Gospels (instead of magical knots known as ligaturae) on the head of a person suffering from headaches. When you suffer from a headache, it is indeed praiseworthy that you touch your head with a Gospel [book] instead of rushing to use magical knots. For the moral weakness of men has reached such a degree and so pitiful are those who rush to magical knots that we truly rejoice in seeing a man lying in his bed, tossing and turning in fever and pain, who sees no hope for himself other than to touch his head with a gospel book; we do so, however, not because it was made for this purpose, but because the Gospel is regarded as superior to magical knots.6

The passage demonstrates that biblical codices were evidently treated as awe-inspiring, sacred and powerful objects. Later on, I will argue that it is because of this conviction that oracular consultations performed in their presence were considered trustworthy, even if it was not the biblical text that provided the answer. In Late Antiquity, divination with a holy text was used not only by Christians, but also by Jews and Greeks. There is no room for doubt, of course, that in the Mediterranean world the concept of the holy scripture that the practice in question required in order to emerge was formulated back in the Hellenistic era by Jews. Among Greeks this concept did not develop to 5 Amulets were prepared primarily using Psalm 90:1 (the numbering of the Psalms is given in accordance with the Septuagint and the Vulgate, not the Hebrew original), but other verses from the Psalms and (much less frequently) from the New Testament also served this purpose: Matthew 6:9–13, John 1:1, 2 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Timothy 1:15–16, Hebrews 1:1, 6:2–4 and 6:6–7; Jude 4–5 and 7–8; see Van Haelst, 1976, pp. 85, 93, 94, 105, 122, 132, 152, 183–202, 222, 225, 227, 228, 232, 240, 242, 345, 423, 482, 515, 532, 536, 538, 558. The use of Psalm 90:1 has been studied very extensively; see in particular Kraus, 2005, pp. 39–74 (with a list of twenty-one known papyri with Psalm 90:1 and an extensive bibliography), and 2005/6. 6 Augustine, In Iohannis evangelium tractatus 7.12: Cum caput tibi dolet, laudamus si Evangelium ad caput tibi posueris, et non ad ligaturam cucurreris. Ad hoc enim perducta est infirmitas hominum, et ita plangendi sunt homines qui currunt ad ligaturas, ut gaudeamus quando videmus hominem in lecto suo constitutum, iactari febribus et doloribus, nec alicubi spem posuisse, nisi ut sibi Evangelium ad caput poneret: non quia ad hoc factum est, sed quia praelatum est Evangelium ligaturis.


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a similar degree, but certainly the Homeric epics, at least under the Roman Empire, were considered to have been divinely inspired. The fact that both the Iliad and the Odyssey were considered to carry a more profound message, a meaning reaching beyond the literal understanding, is evidenced by their allegorical exegesis, which was fully developed by Neoplatonists but traced its origins as far back into history as the Archaic period. The main aim of the commentators was to reveal the deep, hidden sense of the epics. It is true that in commenting on Homer they sought above all to explain who the gods (or one God) were, how the world was constructed and what place man took in it, without trying to read from there any collective, let alone individual, futures.7 These explanations, however, were formulated in a similar manner to that applied in interpreting Delphic oracles, which were the divinatory texts par excellence: the people of Late Antiquity were convinced that the true meaning of the oracular sayings and Homeric epics alike was hidden, and that both had sprung from a divine source. It is also worth noting that they shared yet another feature of no less importance: their literary form. The utterances of the Pythia, at least in the archaic and classical period, were given in hexameter.8 It was in the work on the Homeric epics that the methods of allegorical exegesis were developed, which later, as early as in the second century bc, were applied in interpreting the Bible, first by the Greek-speaking Jewish authors of Alexandria, the most prominent of whom was Philo, active in the first century ad, and then by Christian exegetes.9 Moreover, the individual verses of the Homeric epics were considered to have been endowed with some sort of power and used in the same fashion as biblical texts, as we have seen in the aforementioned veterinary treatise recommending the use of a line from the Iliad as a remedy to cure an equine disease. Another testimony to the belief in the power of these texts is their use in magical formulae known from papyri. One of them advertises the power of three Homeric verses that are useful to people in various types of need: fugitives, gladiators, charioteers, those afraid of wild animals, demons or charms, those seeking the love of a woman and those generally striving for happiness and dignities.10 Thus, even though the Homeric epics never attained the status among Greeks that the Bible had for Jews and Christians, 7 See Lamberton, 1986, pp. 1–82, on the early interpretation of both epics. 8 For the analogy between interpreting oracles and allegorical exegesis, see Struck, 2005. 9 For more on the emergence of this method among Jews in Alexandria (and discussions of its uses), see Niehoff, 2011. 10 See PGM 2145–2176, commented on by Karanika, 2011, pp. 260–4; see also on the same papyrus: PGM IV 467–474, 821–824, and 830–834, and PGM XIIa 1–17 (verses of the Iliad were used in all cases).

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they had certainly come to be regarded as something more than mere literary works well before the New Testament texts were written. However, as we will see further on, their use in divination was clearly different from that of the Christian Bible.11

First words heard Bibliomancy, or divination from Scripture, had various forms. The earliest recorded in our sources assumed that the words of the Bible heard by a person as they were read by someone else counted as an oracle. It features in numerous literary narratives and the earliest evidence of this is the Life of Antony. According to its author, Athanasius, Antony decided to take on a life of poverty and isolation after entering a church and hearing a sentence read there aloud that very moment: ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’12 Even if the description sounds suspicious, it cannot be ruled out that this scene depicts a real event. This, however, is not particularly important to us. What is important is that Athanasius himself regarded this as something that could have happened and made it clear that it was indeed proper on the part of Antony to follow the advice he had heard. The extreme popularity of the Life of Antony caused this episode to appear in multiple versions in late antique literature. Sulpicius Severus, for example, tells us that when Martin was elected bishop of Tours, Bishop Defensor, one of his major opponents, was put to shame before the crowd present at the event when a clergyman read out loud the verse of the psalm that he found while opening the psalter at random: ‘out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to destroy the enemy and the defender’(ut destruas inimicum et defensorem).13 According to Gregory of Tours, King Sigibert learned of the birth of his son from messengers at the very moment when the priest read the words of the Gospel: ‘your son was born’.14 As was the case with Antony, it does not matter to us whether any of these episodes really happened. It suffices to know that these authors believed that they could have happened. 11 A brief discussion of divinatory uses of books in pagan, Jewish and Christian circles can be found in Van der Horst, 2002. 12 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 2 (Matthew 19:21) and 3 (Matthew 6:34). 13 Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 9.6 (Psalm 8:3). 14 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 8.4.


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In all the passages mentioned above, however, we are not so much dealing with consultation as with God-sent signs.15 As a result, we would be ill-advised to take them for examples of a divinatory practice. At the very most, they might tell us something about the custom of paying attention to such signs. But it should be noted that Gregory also presents other cases where people actively sought to hear utterances which they expected would have that oracular character. As we have seen, King Clovis, when setting out to war against the Goths sent messengers to the sanctuary of St. Martin in Tours, hoping that they would receive an auspicious sign there regarding his planned military campaign. And receive one they did, for directly upon entering the church they heard the cantor chant the antiphon: ‘for you girded me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me; you destroyed those who hated me.’16 The messengers took these words for a clear sign foretelling that the campaign would end in success. It is worth emphasizing that the words of Scripture that were believed to be a good omen were heard in a church, as was the case with other examples indicated above. Churches were evidently seen as places where one could not only expect to hear such words (more so than anywhere else), but could also be confident that a seemingly fortuitous event could be legitimately treated as a sign from God. This observation is also valid with regard to other divinatory methods. It should be noted, however, that in Gregory’s account Clovis did not send his messengers to the nearest church, but to a very special place – the sanctuary of St. Martin – without knowing what sort of sign they would receive: it did not have to be a passage from the Bible. The place where signs were obtained was thus more important than the method used to elicit them. True or not, this story reflects a way of thinking that was entirely acceptable to Gregory. It has to be emphasized yet again: the episodes mentioned above can hardly attest to a real and systematic divinatory practice. It is quite possible that a person hearing some words of Scripture read out loud in church might indeed consider them to be oracular in nature (especially if the circumstances were unusual); it is not impossible that someone might walk into a church in the hope of hearing words that could be interpreted as such. In principle, however, the cases described above formed part of literary reality and certainly cannot be used as evidence that this practice was applied in 15 In the story of Sigibert, Gregory of Tours uses the term praesagium that denotes a God-sent premonitory sign. 16 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 2.37 (Psalm 17:40–1).

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a systematic way.17 In the real world, it would have been difficult to adopt this method, especially because on entering a sanctuary one could never be sure whether any words would be in the process of being read out loud. To be sure, it was not entirely impossible to construct an oracle working in this way; in fact, we know that Greek oracles of this sort did exist. According to Pausanias, the first words heard were regarded as ominous by people coming to consult Hermes’ oracle in Pharai.18 In Christian churches, however, for this to happen one would need biblical texts to be continually read out loud at least during the time of consultations – no source testifies that any such custom ever existed.

First words read In practice, it was more serviceable – at least for people who could read and had access to books19 – to use a method that has probably never been abandoned among Christians: to treat as an oracle the words of the Bible that f irst came into sight for a person who opened it to a random page with a view to performing a consultation. The best known example of this practice is Augustine’s description of his own ultimate conversion, which took place in a garden in Milan and was triggered by his reading of a passage from the Epistle to the Romans, which he came across by opening it at random. It is worth quoting his description of this event in full: I was carrying on so, crying acrid tears of ‘heart’s contrition,’ when I heard from a nearby house the voice of a boy – or perhaps a girl, I could not tell – chanting in repeated singsong: Take! Read! My features relaxed immediately while I studied as hard as I could whether children use such 17 Other examples from Lives of saints are given by Courcelle, 1953, p. 200, n. 21; see in particular Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 9; Mark the Deacon, Vita Porphyrii 45; Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Cyriaci 3. 18 Pausanias, Graeciae descriptio 7.22.3: ‘Coming at eventide, the inquirer of the god, having burnt incense upon the hearth, filled the lamps with oil and lighted them, puts on the altar on the right of the image a local coin, called a “copper,” and asks in the ear of the god the particular question he wishes to put to him. After that he stops his ears and leaves the marketplace. On coming outside he takes his hands from his ears, and whatever utterance he hears he considers oracular’ (trans. by W.H.S. Jones). 19 See Bagnall, 2009, pp. 21–3 and 51–69, on literacy and the accessibility of books; see also a review article by Wipszycka, 2010. This section of the chapter is partly based on Wiśniewski, 2016.


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a chant in any of their games. But I could not remember ever having heard it. No longer crying, I leaped up, not doubting that it was by divine prompting [divinitus] that I should open the book [ut aperirem codicem] and read what first I hit on. For I had heard how Antony, though he merely chanced to be present when a certain passage of Scripture was read, nonetheless took it to heart as meant specifically for him when he heard: ‘Go, sell all you own, give it to the poor, and you will have heavenly treasure – only come, and follow me.’ At this divine signal [tali oraculo] he turned suddenly to you. I rushed back to where Alypius was sitting, since there I had left the book of the Apostle [codicem apostoli] when I moved away from him. I grabbed, opened, read: ‘Give up indulgence and drunkenness, give up lust and obscenity, give up strife and rivalries, and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ the Lord, leaving no further allowance for fleshly desires.’ The very instant I finished that sentence, light was flooding my heart with assurance, and all my shadowy reluctance evanesced. I closed the book, marking the place with my finger or something, and spoke to Alypius with an altered countenance, after which he told me of what he had been undergoing, without my knowing it. He wanted to see what I had read. I showed him the passage, and he went on to the next words which I had not read. I was unaware of what followed, but it was this: ‘Welcome him whose belief is weak’.20

The description of this scene is highly rhetorical, and we cannot be entirely sure that on that evening Augustine did in fact open the codex of Paul’s letters.21 But if he did, the idea of consulting a biblical text before making a decision did not cross his mind solely because he heard the child’s voice at that very moment or because he had read the Life of Antony (as he had); at that time, such consultations were simply the order of the day. It was only a few years later that Augustine addressed this issue openly in a letter, in which, though he did not approve of this practice, nor did he intend to ban it: But as for those who read their fortunes in the pages of the gospels, though it is preferable that they do this rather than run to consult the demons, I still do not like this custom of wanting to use for worldly 20 Augustine, Confessiones 8.29–30; trans. by Garry Wills (slightly adapted). The biblical passage is from Romans 13:13–14. 21 See Courcelle, 1953, pp. 217–20.

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affairs and for the vanity of this life the words of God that speak of the next life.22

Augustine did not explain or comment on how Christians began to practise this sort of divination. These beginnings, which are still unclear to us, are truly intriguing. What is particularly curious is the issue of whether the custom of reading the first words of a literary text opened at random came into being first among Christians, pagans or Jews. The origins of this practice have been studied especially by Pieter van der Horst, who without offering a definitive statement on whether divination from sacred texts emerged among pagans or Jews, suggested that Christians probably adopted this practice when it was already well-established and being used by the other groups.23 Certainly, Christians were not the only religious group in Late Antiquity to have their own sacred books, but Van der Horst’s claim is not based solely on this general observation. There is evidence that may suggest that many centuries before Augustine, the Greeks used a divinatory method employing the Iliad and the Odyssey (known as sortes Homericae), while the Romans supposedly did the same with the Aeneid (sortes Vergilianae), and the Jews with the Torah (sortes biblicae). The problem remains, however, that on closer inspection the very existence of some of these methods turns out to be dubious, while others differ from the practice in question. Let us examine the Greek practice first. According to the third-century historian Cassius Dio, two third-century emperors, Septimius Severus and Macrinus, received oracles in the form of verses from the Homeric epics in the temple of Zeus Belus in the Syrian city of Apamea. The author only mentions that such consultations took place and does not provide any details about the procedure. The oracle given to Macrinus, which predicted his fall, is presented in the following way: ‘upon his consulting the oracle of Zeus Belus the god had answered him: “Father, surely now the young warriors wear you out, and your strength is broken, and age and its difficulties dog you, your charioteer is shaky and your horses slow.”’24 22 Augustine, Ep. 55.20: Hi uero, qui de paginis euangelicis sortes legunt, etsi optandum est, ut hoc potius faciant, quam ad daemonia consulenda concurrant, tamen etiam ista mihi displicet consuetudo, ad negotia saecularia et ad uitae huius uanitatem propter aliam uitam loquentia oracula diuina uelle conuertere. Trans. by Roland Teske. 23 Van der Horst, 2002, pp. 187–9, and 2019, pp. 169–72, where he shows how difficult it is to determine the origin of the Jewish practice. 24 Cassius Dio, Historia Romana 79.40, quoting Iliad 8.102–3 (the citation from Homer translated by Caroline Alexander).


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Other authors also mention that this method was used in predicting the future, but do not give any details either. We are fortunate, however, to have learned some of the details from a papyrus discovered in Egypt, which contains a collection of 216 divinatory answers. The use of this particular tool consisted in choosing one verse indicated by three throws of a die. The sequence was relevant, which means that, for instance, the result 1–1–2 referred to a different verse than 2–1–1.25 In this system, called the Homeromanteion, answers were given in the form of verses from the Iliad or Odyssey, but it has to be noted that the consultation was not carried out with the use of an entire book of either poem. Instead, the practice involved using a collection of 216 pre-arranged and unrelated verses, numbered from 1–1–1 to 6–6–6. One should also note that it is by no means certain that in the method described by Dio these texts were used for consultation on account of their sacred status which would have endowed them with special power. Interestingly, among the three divinatory responses of the oracle in Apamea mentioned by Dio there was one in the form of a line from a play by Euripides, which beyond all doubt did not enjoy the status of a sacred book.26 We may thus conclude that this consultation, even though it was based on a well-known literary text and employed a randomizing element, involved using a technique that did not resemble the Christian method, and was probably based on a different principle. In this case, the words came simply from a widely read text – Euripides’ Phoenissae was an important school reading.27 The phrase resulting from the consultation was believed to be relevant because the procedure was carried out in a sanctuary of Zeus, and so the casting of the lots was guided by the god’s power. The veracity of the divinatory answers based on the Homeric epics was probably twofold: on the one hand, it was sanctioned by the power of a god and his presence in the shrine; on the other hand, it may have drawn its power from the sacred nature of the text (although not of the book itself). We will see later that some divinatory practices used by Christians also took advantage of various sources of power. As for the Roman practice, the so-called sortes Vergilianae, Yves de Kisch has convincingly demonstrated that they most probably never existed, at least before the dawn of the modern era. 28 The only ancient source 25 PGM VII 1–33. See also the fragments of another oracular papyrus of a similar kind, dating from the second or third century: Vogliano, 1948 and 1952. For an interpretation of this method, see Karanika, 2011. 26 Cassius Dio, Historia Romana 79.8, quoting from Phoenissae, line 20. 27 Scharfenberger, 2015, pp. 293–4. 28 De Kisch, 1970, pp. 321–62.

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mentioning it is a late fourth- or early fifth-century collection of the Lives of emperors known as the Historia Augusta. Its author, notorious for his propensity to make up facts, people, texts and most of all ancient religious customs and rituals,29 was a pagan but was writing at a time when old cults were on the wane, and he knew little about the actual divinatory practices. But since his narrative required that the rise and fall of every emperor should have been preceded by some sort of premonition, he fabricated a number of divinatory signs, omens and oracular consultations. The result is a story replete with oracles, prophecies, druidesses and seers.30 Several second- and third-century emperors – Hadrian, Clodius Albinus, Alexander Severus and Claudius II – are presented in the story as rulers who consulted what the author called sortes Vergilianae. The consultations were always carried out in a famous temple and the answers were usually taken from Book 6 of the Aeneid, which recounted Aeneas’s visit to the underworld where he learned about the future of Rome.31 Even if we were to find several testimonies of an otherwise entirely unattested practice in a source more reliable than the Historia Augusta, such a discovery would be startling nevertheless. In the case of that peculiar text, the repetitive and artificial construction of all the episodes leaves no doubt whatsoever as to their fictitious nature. One might argue that even if the method was not used by second- and third-century rulers, it did at least exist in the final decades of the fourth century when the Historia Augusta was written. But even that is scarcely possible.32 The fact that the author places the consultations in famous ancient temples and has only a vague and incoherent idea of how the divinatory verses from the Aeneid were chosen suggests that the consultations, and even the method itself, were simply made up or borrowed from Cassius Dio, whose work was known to and often used by the author of the Historia Augusta.33 Be that as it may, not even these imaginary sortes Vergilianae consisted in opening a book at random. The author conceived of them either as a method resembling the Homeromanteion, that is, a list of answers to be chosen by throwing a die, or as a collection of pre-prepared divinatory ‘tickets’, or scraps of papyrus with verses of the Aeneid written 29 Birley, 1991. 30 See De Kisch, 1973, pp. 190–207; Mouchová, 1970, pp. 111–49; Wiśniewski, 2009, p. 314. 31 Historia Augusta: Hadrianus 2.8, Clodius Albinus 5.3–4 (the temple of Apollo in Cumae), Alexander Severus 4.6 (Fortuna in Praeneste) and 14.5–6, Claudius 10.1–7 (somewhere in the Apennines, possibly in the temple of Gerion in Patavium). 32 See De Kisch, 1970, and Katz, 1994, pp. 245–58. 33 Kolb, 1995.


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on them. Either way, the divinatory power – as in Dio’s stories – was not inherent in the text, but came from the temples where the drawing of lots took place.34 All in all, the sortes Vergilianae probably never existed, while the sortes Homericae differed considerably from the Christian method of opening a book at random. It seems hardly possible therefore that Christians drew direct inspiration from old Greek or Roman practices. As for the divinatory use of the Bible among the Jews, the parallel is closer, but not self-evident either. It is based on episodes coming from two different periods. The earliest of them are two passages from the books of the Maccabees.35 In the First Book of the Maccabees, written in the late second century bc, we read that the followers of Judas gathered in a place of prayer, fasted and ‘opened the book of the Law to inquire into those matters about which the gentiles consulted the likenesses of their gods’.36 This passage, which does not say what the inquirers found in the book, is difficult to interpret. Van der Horst believes that it refers to opening a scroll of the Torah at random. This interpretation, however, if possible, is problematic. It is not self-evident whether this text refers to a divinatory practice. If so, it strangely omits the crucially important information, because it does not say what sort of answer was found in the book. It is evident that some kind of divine advice was sought, for the Jews consulted the Law as the pagans used to consult their gods.37 But it did not have to be a proper oracular consultation. Actually, only a few verses further (1 Maccabees 3:56) Judas orders those who have just built a house, married or planted a vineyard to return home ‘in keeping with the Law’. This rule comes from chapter 20 of Deuteronomy (20:5–8), which describes the proper conduct of the Israelites at war; this passage could have been consulted deliberately, not by a random choice, before going into battle, all the more so as it also brings the promise of triumph: ‘Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the 34 De Kisch, 1970, pp. 328–9. 35 See Van der Horst, 2002, pp. 162–3. Interestingly, Frederick K. Cryer, in his extensive study Divination in Ancient Israel and its Near Eastern Environment: A Socio-historical Investigation, does not mention book divination. I must admit now that, having read Van der Horst’s response to my objection expressed in Wiśniewski, 2016 (see Van der Horst, 2019), I am less convinced than I was that this passage cannot be telling of a divinatory consultation. 36 1 Maccabees 3:48 (NRSV). 37 This parallel is emphasized by Van der Horst, 2019, p. 162, n. 43, who rightly points out that I failed to grasp its true sense in my previous publication: Wiśniewski, 2016, p. 561.

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one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory’ (20:3–4).38 In another passage (2 Maccabees 8.23; also dating from the late second century bc) Judas takes a look into the Holy Book before battle and gives the battle cry ‘the help of God’ (theou boetheia). Interestingly, these words, clichéd as they might seem, actually cannot be found in the Bible; the closest analogy cited by Van der Horst is ‘God’s salvation’ (tou kyriou he soteria) in Psalm 3:9 (in the Septuagint). What is more important, however, is that this episode does not seem to refer to a divinatory procedure at all. Other Jewish evidence comes from a later period. In the third-century layer of the Talmud we find episodes where a wise man, finding himself unable to resolve a difficult problem, calls a boy and asks him which verse of the Torah he has recently learned.39 The verse, when recited, gives the answer to the question (although the question was not asked aloud). It is difficult to say whether episodes such as this reflect any real practice, but the method they refer to is also different from that employed by Christians. 40 More pertinent to our interest is that one of the passages referring to the practice of asking a schoolboy for a verse from the Torah mentions two additional practices: ‘Rab scrutinized a ferry for an omen. Samuel scrutinized the recitation of a passage from a book for an omen. R. Yohanan scrutinized the saying of a child for an omen.’41 The arrival of a ferryboat, which this phrase refers to, was an omen that Rabbi Rav saw at the beginning of this story; thus the first kind of ‘examining’ consists in reading unsolicited signs. The last type consists in asking a child for a verse. As for the second method, it is indeed tantalizing to assume that the book referred to in this passage was consulted by opening it at random, which incidentally would be the only testimony attesting to the use of this method in the Talmud. But this is not entirely the case, since the quoted passage does not say what the consultation looked like. 42 It may have consisted in looking for a solution to the problem in a more systematic way. 38 Here I tend to disagree with Van der Horst who thinks that this was not a convenient moment to consult the rules of a proper conduct in war (Van der Horst, 2019, p. 162, n. 43). 39 Babylonian Talmud: Baba Batra 12b; Hagiga 15a–b (Rabbi Meir); Hullin 95b (Rabbi Yohanan – divination from the scroll is also named there, but not described); see also Midrash Mishle 6.20 (the last three passages named by Van der Horst, 2002, pp. 160–7). 40 The parallel with Christian and pagan divinatory techniques lies rather in the use of the child than of the book. Children, who were unaware of the intentions of the questioner, were widely regarded as good media; and their words were often considered to be prophetic, which is attested both in narrative texts (see Courcelle, 1953) and in magical spells (Iles Johnston, 2001). 41 b.Hullin 7:2 (trans. by T. Zahavy and J. Neusner). 42 See Bolz, 2012, pp. 96–9.


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To sum up, the idea of book divination was certainly known to Jews, Greeks and Christians alike. They all believed that passages or sentences taken from some texts could give accurate answers to divinatory questions, because they were only seemingly picked at random while in fact the choice was guided by a divine power. But it is not clear that the Greeks actually associated this power with the text of the Homeric poems (let alone Euripides’ plays), and it is almost certain that the techniques used in each religious milieu differed. Jews made children repeat quotes learnt by heart and just possibly consulted scrolls; pagans sought answers in pre-prepared collections; Christians opened sacred books. These differences undermine the hypothesis of direct influence, all the more so because the development of the practice of opening a book at random can be better explained if we assume that it started among Christians, as the following paragraphs will show. It must first be stated that the method known to Augustine most probably emerged among people who used books in the form of a codex. In the conversion scene described in his Confessions, Augustine says that he felt an urge to open a codex (aperiri codicem). The primary reason for this is that it was hardly possible to open a scroll at random.43 And there is no doubt that the Christian Bible was copied from scrolls to codices earlier than the Iliad, the Odyssey or the Torah. Table 1 shows the numbers of extant copies of the Homeric poems, the Christian Old and New Testament, and the Hebrew Bible produced in successive centuries in the three religious groups. There is no doubt that Christians were by far the most prolific in converting their sacred texts from scrolls to codices, i.e. the form which has been regarded as standard ever since. Why it happened is still a matter of controversy. 44 From our perspective, however, the question of the cause is not as important as its result, namely that even if we consider exclusively the issue of scrolls and codices it is hardly possible that this particular method of divination should have originated among pagans. As for the Jews, it is not very likely that they ever used it at all, because with regard to the Torah the scroll never became obsolete. Judas Maccabeus and Rabbi Samuel consulted a scroll, not a codex. It seems worthwhile to ponder the question of when (and by whom) this practice was introduced among Christians. Sadly, the scarcity of evidence 43 Admittedly, our ideas about scrolls are ingrained in the codex culture, and so I sought advice from papyrologists and tried to open a scroll at random myself. It is not impossible, but the randomness is much more limited than in the case of the codex and more importantly the scroll can easily be damaged in this way. 44 See Skeat, 1994, pp. 263–8; Hurtado, 2006, pp. 61–83; Bagnall, 2009, pp. 71–4.


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Table 1. The numbers of extant scrolls and codices with the texts of the Hebrew Bible, Greek Old and New Testament, and the Homeric poems (based on Leuven Database of Ancient Books: Homer

Old Testament (Greek and Latin)

New Testament

Hebrew Bible

Codices Scrolls Codices Scrolls Codices Scrolls Codices Scrolls or their or their or their or their or their or their or their or their fragments fragments fragments fragments fragments fragments fragments fragments 2nd c. 3rd c. 4th c. 5th c. 6th c.

418 265 29 5 1

18 72 74 82 53

3 9 16 10 6

13 60 150 218 298

2 7 1 3 2

10 54 102 252 367

0 3 3 2 2

does not give much room for definite conclusions, but we can say with a fair degree of certainty that the clergy were involved in various divinatory practices using books. This is particularly noticeable in the case of biblical codices with the hermēneiai, or divinatory answers, written between the lines of the biblical text and chosen by throwing a die.45 Clerics, too, used specialized oracle books (both practices will be described in Chapter 4). They could easily access these instruments and, more importantly, could have been regarded as trustworthy specialists in divination because of their privileged access to holy places and objects and ritual expertise. 46 Of course laymen could also open the Bible at random, as was the case with Augustine but, interestingly, in later sources we find that such consultations were performed much more often by clerics. 47 As to dating the beginning of the practice, we can certainly point to the terminus ante quem. The earliest evidence, the passage from Augustine’s Confessions quoted above, comes from the end of the fourth century. Biblical codices started to be produced much earlier, but it is noteworthy that their divinatory use is first attested at the same time that richly decorated codices appeared among Christians. That is perhaps no coincidence.48 We know that such codices were employed when consulting the biblical hermēneiai.49 Rich 45 See Outtier, 1993, pp. 181–4. 46 Oracle-books: see Klingshirn, 2005, pp. 113–14; Frankfurter, 1997, p. 129; Luijendijk, 2014, pp. 67–9. 47 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 4.16. 48 Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini 4.36; Jerome, Ep. 22.32. See Gamble, 1997, p. 237, and Lowden, 2007, esp. p. 32. 49 See pp. 137–44.

0 1 1 0 0


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Fig. 1. Codex of the Gospel of St. John, known as St. Cuthbert’s Gospel of St. John. It was produced in northern England in the 7th century and deposited in St Cuthbert’s coffin when he was buried in 698 in Lindisfarne. The original bookbinding makes it one of the oldest fully preserved biblical codices. The codex is small (14 cm high), easily portable and could be consulted at any time. (© British Library Board, dedicated to the public domain).

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and beautiful codices looked like sacred objects, and this may have been important to the inquirers. Of course, when opening the book at random one did not have to take one of the rare pandect Bibles, which were not necessarily handy enough,50 but an evangeliary or a codex with Pauline letters (like the one used by Augustine) would serve the purpose very well (see Fig. 1). The production of rich codices, however, should not be considered indispensable for the practice in question to emerge. It may have been a parallel phenomenon deriving from the same reasoning – the belief in the sacred character of the biblical codex as a physical object. This belief is hardly attested before the Constantinian era, but by the end of the fourth century it must have been common: as we have seen above, Augustine refers to the practice of laying the codex of the Gospel on the head of an ill person in order to bring relief from a headache.51 In this method, no sacred text was consulted or read – it was the codex itself that was considered a vehicle for a divine power that was able to heal the sick. It is highly probable that it was a firm belief in the power of the codex that gave rise to the divinatory use of the Bible that consisted in opening it at random. As opposed to other methods known from pagan and Christian environments alike, where the choice of the text had to be triggered by an external power (by conducting the procedure in a shrine, writing divinatory answers on a stele in a sacred place or invoking the name of God), in this practice the text that served to give an answer was at the same time the source of power that made the choice trustworthy.52 People who used this method to predict the outcome of a war or just to learn whether they should come to terms with their neighbours knew perfectly well that the words they found in the Gospel had not been written for that specific occasion. But they believed that in this particular moment a divine power present in the book was indicating these words to them in order to solve their problem. Certainly, as in many other divinatory practices, this one could have had multiple forms, and we can see sometimes that additional measures were taken to guarantee that the outcome of the consultation was not accidental. Augustine simply grasped the codex and opened it to a random page, but the procedure could have been more elaborate; indeed, other narrative texts demonstrate that such consultations could have been preceded by a 50 See Parker, 2008, pp. 23–7. 51 Augustine, In Iohannis evangelium tractatus 7.12. See also John of Ephesus, Vitae sanctorum orientalium 18. 52 See e.g. Graf, 2005, esp. pp. 74–5.


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long ritual preparation. Gregory of Tours, for instance, tells how a group of clerics sought to find out about the outcome of a war taking place in Gaul: The priests placed three books on the altar, the Prophets, the Epistles and the Gospels. They prayed to the Lord that in His divine power He would reveal to them what would happen to Chramn, whether he would ever prosper and whether or not he would come to the throne. At the same time they agreed among themselves that each should read at Mass whatever he found when he first opened the book.53

As we can see, the consultation includes additional elements used to make sure it would prove to be accurate: it takes place in a church, on the altar (and so, most probably, close to relics), during Mass, with the use of as many as three books. Similar elements can be found in the description of actions taken by Merovech, son of King Chilperic. For Gregory this was a model pious consultation that was carried out after the words of advice of a witch or ‘prophetess’ (pythonissa) had been rejected – it was clearly performed as a permissible alternative. In this episode, as in the one mentioned above, three books were used: the Psalms, the Book of Kings and the Gospels. The use of the first and the third seems to have been a standard procedure (I shall discuss this in more detail in Chapter 4), while the second book was probably chosen because the question was being asked by a king. All the codices were placed on the grave of St. Martin, and before they were opened to indicate the verses that were to give an answer to Merovech’s inquiry, the king ‘spent three days and nights in fasting, vigil and supplication’.54 In another place, Gregory recalls how he himself, being anxious and sad, sought an answer (or rather consolation) by opening the Book of Psalms at random. This time, however, no preparations preceded the consultation. The scene did take place in a chapel, but it appears from the text that Gregory went there only because that was where the psalter was kept, and nothing indicates that the power of the altar or relics was to be involved.55 It seems that the use of three books (the answers found there are identical) in the first two episodes is merely a literary varnish: a triple consultation with the 53 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 4.16: Positis clerici tribus libris super altarium, id est prophetiae, apostoli atque evangeliorum, oraverunt ad Dominum, ut Chramnum quid evenirit ostenderit, aut, si ei felicitas succiderit aut certe se regnare possit, divina potentia declararet; simulque unam habentes conibentiam, ut unusquisque in libro quod primum aperiebat hoc ad missas et legeret. Trans. by Lewis Thorpe. 54 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 5.14. On the subject of pythonissa, see pp. 180–2. 55 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 5.49.

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same outcome confirmed that the oracle was God-sent, but in reality this method was hardly practicable. The ritual that preceded the consultation, however, may well have taken place. A similar account can be found in Theophanes’ Chronographia, a chronicle written in the early ninth century, but in the respective paragraphs based on sources contemporary to the events that it describes (in this case including the poems of George of Pisidia, writing in the first half of the seventh century, who described the military campaigns of the Emperor Heraclius). According to Theophanes, the emperor, not knowing where to winter with his army, ordered the soldiers to purify themselves for three days, and then opened a gospel book and ‘found a passage that directed him to [Caucasian] Albania’, which proved to be a useful answer.56 Certainly, in the light of what Augustine and Gregory wrote about their own consultations, purification and prayer were not essential or mandatory, but it seems that it was nonetheless desirable that for the outcome to be credible one should precede the consultation with pious, elaborate and solemn rituals. Presumably, the answers thus obtained may have been treated more seriously than those that resulted from opening a sacred book to a random page without any preparation. We shall see later on while discussing other practices that, with regard to divination, complex procedures and solemn ceremonies were often valued more than speed and simplicity. We cannot say how widespread the use of this type of consultation was. It could be used by all those who had access to biblical codices and could read – a large group, but clearly not the majority of the population.57 In addition, it is not easy to determine the kinds of situations where the technique of opening the Bible at random was employed. It seems to me that it was more often used in circumstances close to those described by Augustine and Gregory of Tours, i.e. when what was sought was not so much a binding answer to a specific question, but a piece of general advice or consolation. However, if this was not the case, it was not because late antique Christians commonly agreed with Augustine, who believed that it was unsuitable to use Scripture to inquire about mundane matters of the future. The point is that for those who sought such consultations this practice had an obvious drawback: the answer might have been completely out of tune with the question. Augustine in 386 was probably in such a state of mind that virtually any verse from the Bible may have persuaded him to make the final decision 56 Theophanes, Chronographia 6114 (621/622), on the sources of this part of Theophanes’ work, see Howard-Johnston, 1994. 57 See Bagnall, 2011.


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of breaking with his old habits, but people who wanted to find out whether they could travel safely or should stay at home, and came across a totally unrelated passage (such as, for instance, the description of the High Priest’s vestment) might have had the impression that their problem had not been properly solved. It is probable that it was to overcome this difficulty that a connection was established between bibliomancy and the technique of divination based on a set of hermēneiai, predefined divinatory answers to be chosen at random, which I shall discuss in Chapter 4. Finally, we need to ask about attitudes to the divinatory use of the Bible by opening it to a random page. Until recently, the predominant opinion was that in the late antique Church the views on this practice were ambivalent. The episodes mentioned above in the Life of Antony and Augustine’s Confessions suggest that it was acceptable. But the canons of Gallic church synods against sortes sanctorum, which used to be identified with sortes biblicae, i.e. divination by opening a biblical codex at random, were taken for evidence that the practice was explicitly condemned. However, as we will see in the next chapter, this identification has been found to be erroneous, and thus the fundamental evidence for the supposed hostility towards bibliomancy has become irrelevant. Nevertheless, we should beware of building too much upon the numerous episodes demonstrating that some fortuitously heard or read biblical passages were indeed believed to have had a prophetic meaning.58 First of all, one should remember that in fact the examples of this in hagiographical writings do not tell us anything about any sort of practice, be it systematic or occasional. They only tell us about unsolicited signs sent by God to people who had not been expecting to receive them. Also, accounts of consultations carried out by rulers, just like questions posed by emperors to prophets, form a special category and, even if some of them are true, it is only to a limited extent that they can reflect the attitudes of ordinary people towards these practices. Finally, the consultations carried out by Augustine and Gregory of Tours cannot be really regarded as attempts to acquire knowledge relating to worldly matters. Augustine was looking for spiritual counsel, while Gregory did not formulate any questions at all, expecting only a word of consolation. It seems that the dominant attitude of the bishops towards that practice was a highly reserved concession, similar to that expounded in Letter 55 of Augustine – the use of sacred books to find solutions to worldly problems was indeed ill-advised, but it was certainly a lesser evil to seek answers from a randomly opened biblical codex than from demons. 58 See above, pp. 89–91.

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Examination of biblical prophecies Before we start dealing with specialized divinatory texts, I would like to pause for a moment and reflect on another issue concerning the Bible. It is beyond all doubt that biblical passages heard by chance could be interpreted as carrying a divinatory message. We know for a fact that people would open the Bible at random with the intention of finding an answer. However, there are also testimonies that invite the question of whether the Bible was studied as a prophetic book in a stricter sense: did people try to determine what would happen in the future on the basis of biblical prophecies? It must be pointed out at the very outset that this has only little, if anything, to do with the ordinary practices of divination conceived of as a method to help ordinary individuals solve their health, family or economic issues. It seems worthwhile nevertheless to consider whether people did try to use the Bible with a view to determining the outcomes of wars, the future of the empire or the extent of damage to be inflicted by major natural disasters. The writings of several late antique historiographers provide some useful evidence for these considerations; this is mostly found in the parts of their works that include descriptions of wars and natural disasters. Admittedly, when discussing such events, late antique authors do not start with the Bible, but with an appraisal of current developments: their causes, however, along with the deeper sense and the presumed consequences of those events, were all considered in the light of biblical prophecies. According to Socrates’s Church History, for example, this is what the bishop of Constantinople, Proclus, did during the invasion of the Huns in 434: It is worthwhile to give attention to disasters which befell the barbarians. For their chief, whose name was Rougas, was struck dead with a thunderbolt. Then a plague followed which destroyed most of the men who were under him: and as if this was not sufficient, fire came down from heaven, and consumed many of the survivors. This filled the barbarians with the utmost terror; not so much because they had dared to take up arms against a nation of such valour as the Romans possessed, as that they perceived them to be assisted by a mighty God. On this occasion, Proclus the bishop preached a sermon in the church in which he applied a prophecy out of Ezekiel to the deliverance effected by God in the late emergency, and was in consequence much admired. This is the language of the prophecy: ‘And thou, son of man, prophesy against Gog the prince of Rhos, Mosoch, and Thobel. For I will judge him with death, and with


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blood, and with overflowing rain, and with hail-stones. I will also rain fire and brimstone upon him, and upon all his bands, and upon many nations that are with him. And I will be magnified, and glorified, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations: and they shall know that I am the Lord’.59

The convergence of the prophecy with contemporary events was certainly exaggerated by Proclus, or rather by Socrates, who reported on Proclus’s sermon a few years later. In fact, the Huns, with Attila as their newly proclaimed leader, were far from being overcome with ‘the utmost terror’ at the time. Nevertheless, it is all the more worthwhile to take note of the reason that allowed Proclus to associate the Huns with the biblical people of Gog. First of all, the association was based on a certain parallel in the course of events: both cases concern a devastating invasion of barbarians from the north. Secondly, the names of the invaders’ chiefs were similar: after all, the name Rougas or Rouas (the manuscript tradition is uncertain on this point), when pronounced, was not very different from Rhos (even though it remains uncertain how Socrates or Proclus spelled that name). As we shall see, this ‘phonetic’ way of identifying contemporary characters and peoples with biblical ones was fairly common. Later authors inspired by the prophecy of Ezekiel (used here with reference to the Huns) kept closer to the biblical text and so for them, like for the prophet, the main evil character was Gog. In Proclus’s interpretation, the similarity of the names had brought Rhos to the fore, despite the fact that in the biblical text he is only a marginal figure. Similar interpretations were made not just by preachers reacting to events that were taking place before their eyes. In the Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite we read that in the years 502–3 the inhabitants of the eastern fringes of the empire were inclined to consider the misfortunes that befell them during the war with Persia as the end of the world; eventually, however, they no longer viewed things this way, heedful of Christ’s saying: ‘And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.’60 We are probably dealing here with the opinion of the historian himself, rather than a view commonly held by the ordinary people of that time. The author wrote this passage of his work after the conflict had completely faded away – evidently, the world had not come to an end. Similar examples of interpreting horrifying 59 Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica 7.43 (see also Ezekiel 38:2 and 38:22–3). Trans. by A.C. Zenos. 60 Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, Chronica 49 (502/503); see Matthew 24:6.

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contemporary events in the light of biblical prophecies can be found in several other places in his work.61 We come across similar associations in the eighth-century Syriac author known as Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, who in the third part of his Chronicle (known also as the Chronicle of Zuqnin) relied on the no longer extant second part of the sixth-century Church History by John of Ephesus. Pseudo-Dionysius, drawing on John’s eyewitness account, wrote about the deadly plague ravaging the country during the reign of Justinian and in doing so made reference to the words of Jeremiah and other prophets, and commented on them with the following remark: ‘Perhaps the eye of the prophecy watched these present events and prophesied concerning us, especially since in very deed it has appeared that “My sword will be drawn forth out of its sheath and will destroy both righteous and sinners”.’62 Similarly, the seventh-century History of Armenia attributed to Sebeos includes a long sequence of biblical prophecies (especially from the Book of Daniel) that referred to the Arab conquest taking place at the time the book was being written.63 In the Latin West, a tendency to view current events in the light of biblical prophecies can be seen already in the fourth century. In his anti-Donatist treatise, Optatus of Milevis identified his contemporary Donatist bishop of Carthage with the prince of Tyre from the prophecy of Ezekiel 28.64 This tendency grew even stronger in the period of barbarian invasions of the early fifth century. The anonymous author of the dialogue known as Consultations of Zacchaeus and Apollonius, written probably towards the late 410s (perhaps in Gaul), claims that the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments had already been fulfilled, which heralded the imminent coming of the Antichrist.65 Jerome, at least in his exegetical writings, roundly criticized 61 Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, Chronica 11: the Persian king Peroz prepares his soldiers to take arms once again, on which the author comments, ‘There in fact the prophetic word found a fulfilment’ (with a quote from Psalm 36:35–6). Trans. by Frank R. Trombley and John W. Watt. See also Chronica 38 (on a plague of locusts). 62 Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, Chronica III s.a. 855 (ad 543/544); with reference to Ezekiel 21:3 and, earlier, Jeremiah 9:21. See also other places: Chronica III s.a. 858 (546/547, CSCO 91, p. 103), with reference to Jeremiah 9:1; s.a. 831 (519/520) with reference to Luke 17:1; s.a. 855 (543/544, CSCO 91, pp. 81–7), with references to Isaiah and Jeremiah, in particular Isaiah 24:4, 24:19–20 and 6:13; Jeremiah 50:41. Trans. by W. Witakowski. 63 I have used the English translation by R.W. Thomson. 64 Ezekiel 28:1–19; Optatus, Contra Parmenianum 3.3.10–17; this interpretation was later criticized by Augustine, De unitate ecclesiae (Epistula ad Catholicos de secta Donatistarum) 16.42. 65 Consultationes Zacchei et Apolonii 3.8, especially with reference to the prophecies in Luke 21:25 and Matthew 24:7–8. For the dating and origin of the text, see the introduction to Feiertag’s


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such readings of the biblical text, but he was not utterly free of such tendency either. In his Letter 123, written in 409 in the aftermath of the invasion of Gaul by the Germanic peoples, he referred to some ‘Pannonians’ who had joined the invaders, but in doing so he quoted from Psalm 82: ‘and Assur came with them’.66 Hydatius, who was active in the mid-fifth century in Visigothic Spain, writes that the four calamities that appeared at the beginning of the fifth century – plague, hunger, slaughter and wild animals – were the fulfilment of biblical prophecies.67 Elsewhere in his Chronicle, there is even more to his narrative than comparing the misfortunes of the present time to biblical plagues in a general manner; he also finds predictions in the Bible concerning very specific events. He says, for instance, that when the Visigothic king Athaulf married Galla Placidia, daughter of the Emperor Theodosius I, it was generally believed that Daniel’s prophecy had been fulfilled: ‘The daughter of the king of the south will merge with the king of the north, but their offspring will not stand still.’68 Later he also mentioned that other words of the same prophet were fulfilled when Geiseric sent the bishop of Carthage and his clergy into exile (year 439). Gregory of Tours also evinced a tendency to view wars and battles as fulfilments of biblical prophecies, as can be seen in his description of the rapacious nuptial retinue of Riguntha, daughter of King Chilperic, where he quotes from the prophecy of Joel: ‘What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.’69 Do the examples above attest to the practice of studying the Bible in order to predict the future? Extreme caution is advisable in interpreting this evidence. Firstly, it is not very likely that those biblical references were formulated by ordinary people and not only by those well-educated authors whose surviving writings tell us about it. Secondly – and this is a vitally important reservation – it should be emphasized that all these authors were writing about events that were recent, but nonetheless past: they could all avail themselves of the benefit of hindsight, knowing as they did the subsequent developments of the events in question. Even if we believe that Socrates gives a faithful account of Proclus’s sermon, we are still left edition, pp. 16–31. 66 Jerome, Ep. 123.15; cf. Psalm 82:9. 67 Hydatius, Chronica, s.a. 410. 68 Hydatius, Chronica, s.a. 414; cf. Daniel 11:6. 69 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 6.45, cf. Joel 1:4; see also Historiae 5, prol., where civil wars within the Frankish state are portrayed as a fulfilment of Jesus’s saying in Luke 12:53. Trans. by Lewis Thorpe.

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with a prophecy that came to be related to current events only after Rougas had died. For obvious reasons, historiographical literature cannot make us certain that people affected by wars, plagues and other disasters that befell the state took up the Bible with a view to determining what would happen next. In the examples mentioned above, the starting point for reasoning was always a contemporary event, to which a biblical text was only referred afterwards. This way of using scriptural prophecies is natural for historiographical writings, which by their very nature were focused on describing the past, and not on predicting what would happen. A different approach was sometimes adopted by authors of exegetical treatises. They too, especially when commenting on the Old Testament, drew parallels between biblical prophecies and specific historical events. But their starting point was not in the well-known events, but in the biblical text. The question remains, however, whether they were indeed trying to find out about the future on the basis of the Bible. As we shall see, some of them did, but this occurred rather rarely, as the exegetes on the whole refrained from predicting the near future, focusing primarily on two types of things to come. First of all, they contemplated the foretold consequences of historical developments described in the Bible as future events, but which from their perspective belonged to the more or less remote past (e.g. the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the death and resurrection of Christ, the rise of the Church, the failure of the Jewish uprisings). The other category of the predictions that they discussed referred to eschatological events, which were regarded by most fourth-century exegetes as a future that was, so to speak, dim and distant. The latter category deserves a few words of comment. Among various strands of Christianity, millenarianism was by far the most interested in the future developments of history; its adherents believed that the end of the world would be preceded by a thousand-year Kingdom of God established on earth, the coming of which was to be heralded by cruel persecutions. In the fifth and sixth centuries, however, when the wars, invasions and natural disasters that befell the empire fuelled speculations about profound changes to occur in the world, millenarianism was already at a remarkably low ebb.70 In the East, it had practically disappeared altogether as early as the third century; in the West it persisted for longer. It manifested itself 70 See Simonetti, 1998. Millenarianist prophecies might have been particularly commonplace during the wars and persecutions that began in the mid-third century. It was then perhaps that the poet Commodian interpreted the Gothic invasion from a millenarianist perspective (Commondian, Carmen apologeticum 808–1060).


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still very clearly in the writings of Sulpicius Severus at the turn of the fifth century, while only a few years later, after the sack of Rome in 410, Augustine of Hippo had to polemicize with the millenarianist interpretations of that disastrous event.71 At that time, however, this intellectual trend had largely withered away, and was in consequence poorly represented in exegetical works. To mention only the two most prolific Latin exegetes of this period, Augustine had already abandoned his millenarianist thinking by the time of great invasions, and Jerome, at least in his biblical commentaries, had firmly condemned it.72 Most other commentators followed their example. As a result, in the biblical commentaries written in the era of the Barbarian invasions there are only a few attempts to predict future events on the basis of biblical prophecies. The crossing of the Rhine at the end of 406 or the sack of Rome by the Goths in 410 did not change much in this respect. It is worthwhile taking a closer look at two biblical commentaries by Jerome, on Isaiah and Ezekiel, which serve as good examples of moderation in predicting future events by interpreting the Bible. These two treatises are particularly interesting for the circumstances in which they were written: both date back to a time fraught with major calamities that were causing great uncertainty as to the future. The Commentary on Isaiah was the earlier of the two to be written: between 408 and 410, still before the sack of Rome by Alaric (but soon after the invasion of Gaul). The work on the Commentary on Ezekiel started shortly after that disastrous event.73 Jerome was writing in Bethlehem, which was only indirectly affected by these developments, but did come under threat of a raid by the Huns in 395. More importantly, Jerome was well aware of the situation in the West, as numerous witnesses of the disaster sent him letters or visited him in person. Two of his closest friends died in the aftermath of the sack of Rome, unable to recover from the horrifying sight of the barbarians invading the eternal city.74 One might expect that all those events should have had an impact on Jerome’s interpretation of the biblical text. But it was not so. In the Commentary on Isaiah one would look in vain for any references to affairs of that time. As for the Commentary on Ezekiel, Jerome did allude to the circumstances at the time of writing, but only in the prologue, where he compassionately referred to the tragic news from Rome. While commenting on these two 71 Sulpicius Severus: Vaesen, 1988; Augustine: Chadwick, 1984. 72 Augustine: Dulaey, 2000; Jerome: Curti, 1998. 73 See Kelly, 1975, p. 299 (Isaiah) and pp. 305–8. In the prologue to the Commentary to Ezekiel, Jerome included an extensive record of the sack, the death of his friends and the overall gloom that descended on him in the aftermath. 74 See Kelly, 1975, p. 348.

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prophets, Jerome concentrates on the prophecies predicting Babylonian captivity, the persecutions unleashed by Antioch IV, the conquest of Judea and Egypt by the Romans, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Hadrian’s repressions in the wake of the Bar Kokhba revolt, and the establishment of the Pax Romana, that is, events that were already in the past as he was writing.75 But as regards the future, or even the events of his day, Jerome makes almost no reference. One should not presume, however, that no attempts at all were made to read the near future from the Bible. Such passages as Daniel’s vision of the colossus standing on legs of clay or the warnings of terrible wars mentioned in the Gospels quite naturally invited Christian writers to relate them to the present day. Among these, the prophecies about Gog and Magog (or the land of Magog)76 are worth considering in more detail, given that a number of authors clearly felt compelled to link them with people who wrought havoc across the Roman world. These sinister and powerful enemies, who were first to be set by God himself against Israel and ultimately vanquished thereafter, were not clearly identified in the Bible. The only concrete piece of information about them was that they inhabited the north (Ezekiel 38:15). The late first-century Jewish writer Flavius Josephus identified the ‘Magogites’ with the Scythians, but did not refer that biblical prophecy directly to his day. Interestingly, when writing about the contemporary invasion of the Alans, who ravaged the lands north of Caucasus during the reign of Vespasian and, Flavius believed, were a Scythian tribe, he made no reference to Ezekiel, nor did he there use the biblical name of Magog.77 The identification of these rulers and peoples was also an intriguing issue for Christian authors, some of whom had a tendency to see close parallels between Ezekiel’s prophecy and their present day. Eusebius of Caesarea, who was familiar with the text of Flavius, stated that the name of Gog should be applied to the Roman Empire, which held sway over the whole world at the time of Christ. This identification was supported by the fact that in Ezekiel (but only in the Greek version of Septuagint) Gog was the ruler of Ros, Mosoch and Thobel: the first name was reminiscent of Rome (while Mosoch made Eusebius think of Mysia).78 As we have seen, a similar ‘phonetic’ method of identifying the biblical peoples mentioned by the prophet was later used by Proclus and, as we are about to see, also by other authors. 75 Jerome, In Ezechielem 1.4–6, 2.5, 2.7–8, 7.24, 9.29, 11.36.1–15, and In Isaiam 1.1.7, 1.1.20–1 (with references to his present day), 1.2.4, 1.2.15 and 4.11.15. 76 Ezekiel 38:1–39:20; Revelation 20:8; see also 1 Chronicles 1:4. 77 On ‘Magogites’ as a name for the Scythians: Josephus, Antiquitates 1.123; on the invasion: Josephus, Bellum Iudaicum 7.244–51. 78 Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio evangelica 9.3.


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Eusebius refrained from making predictions about the future on the basis of that prophecy. Later writers, however, were less restrained in this regard. Some of them did make such attempts. Jerome commented upon them as follows: With regard to this very difficult prophecy, I shall briefly point out what a contemporary and well-known author tells us about this nation while addressing the emperor in writing: ‘This Gog means Goths’. As to how this can be aligned with all that is written in that prophecy, it is not a task of mine to explain this, but of those who believe that this is the case.79

Jerome, who was also aware of the identification with the Scythians proposed by Flavius, made it clear several times that he strongly opposed the belief that Gog and Magog should be identified with any particular people.80 The ‘well-known’ writer whom Jerome lambasted in the quoted passage is no less a figure than Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who in his treatise On Faith addressed to Emperor Gratian wrote: For Ezekiel, in those far-off days, already prophesied the diminishing of our people, and the Gothic wars, saying: ‘Prophesy, therefore, Son of Man, and say: O Gog, thus saith the Lord – Shalt thou not, in that day when My people Israel shall be established to dwell in peace, rise up and come forth from thy place, from the far north, and many nations with thee, all riders upon horses, a great and mighty gathering, and the valour of many hosts? Yea, go up against my people Israel, as clouds to cover the land, in the last days.’ That Gog is the Goth, whose coming forth we have already seen, and over whom victory in days to come is promised [Gog iste Gothus est, quem iam uidemus exisse, de quo promittitur nobis futura uictoria dicente domino], according to the word of the Lord: ‘And they shall spoil them, who had been their despoilers, and plunder them, who had carried off their goods for a prey, saith the Lord. And it shall be in that day, that I will give to Gog’ – that is, to the Goths – ‘a place that is famous, for Israel an high-heaped tomb of many men, of men who have made their way to the sea, and it shall reach round about, and close the mouth of the valley, and there [the house of Israel shall] overthrow Gog 79 Jerome, In Ezechielem 11, praef.: In prophetia difficillima illud breuiter admonebo, quod uir nostrae aetatis haud ignobilis, ad imperatorem scribens, super hac natione dixerit: gog iste gothus est, cui qua ratione possint omnia quae in ea scripta sunt coaptari, non est meum sed eorum qui hoc putant disserere. 80 Jerome, Hebraicae quaestiones 14, In Isaiam 10.30.27 and In Ezechielem 11.38.

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and all his multitude, and it shall be called the valley of the multitude of Gog: and the house of Israel shall overwhelm them, that the land may be cleansed.’ Nor, furthermore, may we doubt, your sacred Majesty, that we, who have undertaken the contest with alien unbelief, shall enjoy the aid of the Catholic Faith that is strong in you. Plainly indeed the reason of God’s wrath has been already made manifest, so that belief in the Roman Empire was first overthrown, where faith in God gave way.81

It is important to remember that these words were addressed to the emperor Gratian and that they were written in 378, after the war with the Goths had started, but still before the Roman defeat at Adrianople.82 Thus, unlike in the above-mentioned historiographical writings, the moment of interpretation almost certainly preceded the war – almost, because it must be noted that although the second book of On Faith was written in 378, it was published at a later date by Ambrose himself, who might have wished to attain with it the status of an effective interpreter of prophecies, or indeed to become a prophet-like figure. After all, the prophecy (regardless of when it was delivered) did not have to be regarded as inaccurate – ultimately, even after the battle of Adrianople which brought death to the emperor Valens, Gratian could claim that he defeated the Goths. It is difficult to determine how Ambrose himself viewed this reading of the biblical text: did he really think that Ezekiel’s prophecy could refer to the war with the Goths? If so, it seems that he also followed the ‘phonetic’ association, perhaps strengthened by Josephus’s identification of Gog with the ‘Scythians’, the name that in the fourth century became a byword for the Goths. However, it is equally possible that this passage of the treatise was intended to offer the emperor no more than a word of encouragement on the point of setting out for that war against his fearsome enemies. The fifth-century authors referred to the prophecy of Gog and Magog in a number of ways. Augustine, writing about the invasion of those frightening tribes at the end of time, agreed with Jerome and identified them with no particular people.83 Not so some later authors, who, even if they did not succumb to millenarianist interpretations, were inclined to follow the example of Ambrose. To begin with Roman Africa, Christian writers were 81 Ambrose, De fide 2.16.137–9 (trans. by H. De Romestin). 82 Evidence for this is found in another work by Jerome, where he ironically commented on the prophecy, labelling it as inaccurate: Jerome, Hebraicae quaestiones 14; see Savon, 1997, p. 90. 83 Augustine, De civitate Dei 20.11.


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receptive to this interpretation not only on account of the barbarian raids that affected the region, but also because of the persecution of the Nicenes at the hands of the Homoian Vandals. Quodvultdeus, for instance, the bishop of Carthage expelled by them from his see, believed that Ezekiel’s prophecy could refer to the Arians and the peoples invading the empire (not only the Goths, but also the Mauri, Getae and Massagetae).84 The same identification appears in a work by the sixth-century exegete Primasius of Hadrumetum.85 In fifth-century Gaul partly overtaken by the Goths, Gog is identified with these invaders by Eucherius of Lyon. In early seventh-century Spain, then in the hands of the Visigoths, Isidore of Seville repeats this interpretation.86 In the East, the identification with the ‘Scythians’ (referring, once again, to the Goths) is upheld by Theodoret of Cyrrhus.87 Most of these authors were wary of reading too much into the Bible when trying to predict the outcome of future or ongoing wars, but they related Ezekiel’s prophecy to contemporary events as a matter of fact. Was the phenomenon of perceiving contemporary events as the fulfilment of biblical prophecies limited only to the circles of literati? Did ordinary people also try to predict what would happen by reading such prophets as Ezekiel? No traces of this can be found in the sources. Whatever the actual case, it should be repeated that in late antique literature, predicting the future on the basis of biblical prophecies had always to do with the world, the state or the emperor – nowhere do we find evidence that attempts were made to predict the futures of individuals in this way. It is indeed very unlikely that the reality was any different.

84 Quodvultdeus, Liber promissionum: Dimidium temporis 13. 85 Primasius of Hadrumetum, Commentarius in Apocalypsin 5.20. 86 Eucherius of Lyon, Instructiones ad Salonium 2.4; Isidore of Seville, Historia Gothorum 1. 87 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, In Ezechielem 38. Bøe, 2001, pp. 210–18, gives a brief overview of the interpretations of Gog formulated by late antique Christian authors.

4. Books and Bones The Lord God has heard your request and he will send his angel and he will walk before you. And you will see the confidence in God that will reach you. Only do not become careless, [saying] ‘this matter will not happen’. Yes, it will happen. ‒ Gospel of the Lots of Mary, oracle 6, trans. By AnneMarie Luijendijk

As we have seen in the previous chapter, late antique Christians used the Bible for divination by studying it as a book of prophecies and above all by opening a biblical codex to a random page. But there were also other books that were not merely occasionally employed as divinatory tools, but were intentionally written or conceived as such. This chapter will be dealing with the books of this kind. Not a single literary text has survived with a description of how, when and by whom such consultations were performed. They are, however, mentioned in normative sources and, even more importantly, several late antique and early medieval oracular books have survived to our time, which makes it possible to understand how Christians deployed those tools in divination. These books shared one essential feature: all of them consisted of lists of questions to be selected by means of a randomizing procedure. But they differed as to the length of the lists, the detail of answers and the requisite extent of training needed to perform a consultation. All of this had an impact on who used these instruments and when, and it is indeed worth taking a look at specific types of divinatory books.

Sortes Sanctorum The use of specialized divination books by Christians is first attested to in the acts of the synod that took place in Vannes, in Gaul, at some point between 461 and 491. Let us quote the canon which deals with them in full: In order to avoid the impression that we have omitted [a practice] that so greatly tarnishes the reputation of the Catholic faith, namely that some clergymen apply themselves to divination which, under the name of feigned devotion, they call ‘the lots of saints’ [sortes sanctorum] and claim to have knowledge of divination and [an ability to] predict the future by

Fig. 2. The beginning of the Sortes Sanctorum in the ninth-century codex of Metz, now in the National Library of Spain in Madrid, MS 3307, fol. 34v–35r. The text starts with the words Post solem surgunt stellae at the bottom of the left page. Each answer is preceded by three figures in the left margin, the first is ‘CCC’ which actually stands for 6-6-6. There follow 6-6-5, 6-6-4, etc., each sequence corresponding to values obtained by a throw of three dice. (© Biblioteca Nacional de España).

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examining some scriptures, [we hereby declare that] if a clergyman is found practising or teaching it, let him be excluded from the Church.1

Until recently, the meaning of this regulation was fairly commonly misinterpreted. The term sortes sanctorum was considered incomplete, with the presumption that the word librorum must have followed, which would then mean that the canon referred to divination from ‘holy books’ (i.e. from the Bible). However, William Klingshirn has convincingly demonstrated that Sortes Sanctorum is the title of a specific divinatory text that started with the phrase Post solem surgunt stellae (‘After the sun, the stars rise’) and was used in the West for about a thousand years after the synod of Vannes was held (it was also known as the Sortes Apostolorum).2 The oldest surviving codex that contains that text dates back to the ninth century (Fig. 2). The Sortes Sanctorum, the first critical edition of which was published fairly recently,3 consists of answers selected by throwing three six-sided dice. In this way, fifty-six different results could be produced, ranging from 1–1–1 to 6–6–6. To each of these combinations, marked in the text with Roman numerals, a single answer was assigned. The order in which the individual throws were obtained did not matter, 2–3–4 referred to the same answer as 4–3–2. The system was undoubtedly built on the basis of sortition-based, non-Christian methods. Examples of these have been found in Phrygia, Pamphylia and Pisidia in the form of stone steles or slabs with lists of similar answers (Fig. 3). All of them date back to the second century ad. There is an affinity between the Sortes Sanctorum and these particular oracles that can be seen in the same number of answers4 and the method used to select them.5 1 Concilium Veneticum, can. 16: Ac ne id fortasse uideatur omissum, quod maxime fidem catholicae religionis infestat, quod aliquanti clerici student auguriis et sub nomine confictae religionis, quas sanctorum sortes uocant, diuinationis scientiam profitentur, aut quarumcumque scripturarum inspectione futura promittunt, hoc quicumque clericus detectus fuerit uel consulere uel docere, ab ecclesia habeatur extraneus. 2 Klingshirn, 2002. In this chapter I shall often refer to his discussion of the subject. Papyrologists continue to use the term sortes sanctorum to denote various types of texts containing lists of divinatory answers. 3 Montero Cartelle and Alonso Guardo, 2004. 4 This number of answers was provided by eighteen oracles from Asia Minor (Laodikeia ad Lycum, Anaboura, Ormeleis, near Balboura, Takina, Prostanna, Sagalassos (one in the city itself, two in its vicinity), Adada, Kremna, Termessos (one in the city, the other in the area), Attaleia, Perge (one in the city, the other in the area), Korakesion area, Antiochia ad Cragum (oracle constructed in accordance with the same principle as the previous ones, but with a different set of answers). Three others from the same region were consulted by a throw of seven dice and probably originally had a longer list of answers. For a detailed study with the text of all these oracles, see Nollé, 2007. 5 Rendel Harris, 1901, pp. 46–7 and 116; see also Graf, 2005.

Fig. 3. A stele with oracular text found in Kremna (modern Çamlık, formerly Girme) in Pisidia. The text consists of fifty-six oracular answers. The answer was chosen by a throw of five astragaloi, that is, four-sided knucklebones. (Photo: courtesy Johannes Nollé).

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Fig. 4. Astragaloi (knucklebones), used, alongside dice, to choose an answer from oracular texts. Originally produced from sheep-bones, these astragaloi (3rd–2nd century BC) are made of coloured glass. (© Metropolitan Museum, New York, Gift of Mr and Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen, 1992, dedicated to the public domain).


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In the East, instead of cubic dice, people would commonly use astragaloi (i.e. animal knucklebones that on account of their shape could produce four scores only, numbered 1, 3, 4 and 6; see Fig. 4), but, as we are going to see in what follows, the functioning of these two systems was identical, because using f ive knucklebones allowed the same number of combinations as did throwing three regular six-sided dice. As for the answers contained in the Sortes Sanctorum, they are fairly similar to those on the stone slabs of Asia Minor. This is hardly surprising, since all responses on all lists inevitably had to fall into one of the three categories – positive, negative or advising patience – as can be fairly clearly illustrated by the following examples (in each of the two pairs the f irst text comes from an oracle found in Asia Minor, while the second is from the Sortes Sanctorum): 64411 16 Ares6 One six, two fours, and a two Chians: Why do you hurry? Wait calmly, the moment has not yet come; if you hurry without sense and in vain, you pursue something that is not yet ready. I do not yet see the right moment, but you will have success when you wait a little while. II.I.I. You are looking for something that is not in your power. But do wait a little, and you will see that your situation has improved.7 33333 15 Tyche the Savior If all the threes are cast together: The woman who has given birth to a child, had both breasts dry, but she again flourished and has milk in abundance. Then you too will reap the fruits about which you ask me. V.V.I. Like a sower who throws seeds into good soil receives fruit in its time, so you will happily achieve what you are looking for, and you will easily find what you want.8

The answers are clearly similar in character, but verbal parallels between the two collections are exceedingly rare: it is only with regard to a few questions 6 The first five digits are the scores resulting from five throws, followed by their sum total (which did not matter for the choice of the answer) and the name of the god associated with the result obtained. I am quoting the translation of Fritz Graf, based essentially on the oracle from Kremna and Perge, but trying to reconstruct the original text: Graf, 2005, 87–8. 7 II.I.I. Quod in potestate tua non est datum queris, sed breve tempus sustine ut meliorem invenies conditionem tuam. 8 V.V.I. Sicut seminator semen in terram bonam mittens, fructum in tempore suo recipit, ita et tu ad quod desideras laetus pervenies et tuam voluntatem facile invenies.

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that this similarity is obvious and certain.9 This observation suggests that the systems did not emerge independently, but the relationship between them was indirect. Recently, a closer relative of the Sortes Sanctorum has been identified by Kevin Wilkinson, who convincingly argues that Greek papyrus P. CtYBR inv. 4640, hitherto tentatively classified as a Christian ‘amulet with prayer’ is in fact a fragment of a book used in divination. It contains two oracular answers, one of which survives in full, while the other is preserved only fragmentarily. The former reads thus: [—] lest you go astray and suffer injury; for when you are not watchful, you create struggles and much unpleasantness. 1–2–[?]. There are three fates for each human in life, and also three ruling powers of humans, but three angels of God attend to them in their activities on your behalf. You will discover joy and gain, and (second) profit from material goods, and third you will discover joy [?] and a great journey. Therefore, do not be afraid. Take enjoyment at once in order that you might be filled with great joy.10

Beginning with the second sentence, the text closely resembles response IIII.IIII.IIII of the Latin Sortes Sanctorum. The papyrus can only be dated by considering its palaeographical features, which vaguely indicate that the text was written between the fourth and the sixth century. As a result, we cannot prove that it is an ancestor of the Latin divinatory instrument, but this is at least highly probable. In any case, Wilkinson’s finding demonstrates that the Sortes Sanctorum were known – and used in the form of a book – both in the East and in the West. We are not sure whether the texts of the epigraphic oracles known from large slabs of stone displayed in public places were also passed on in the form of books or, if that was indeed the case, which of these forms appeared earlier. According to Fritz Graf, the fact that the vast majority of the oracles from Asia Minor are almost identical suggests that they were originally made in the portable form of a scroll or codex and only subsequently copied onto stone. This is a strong argument, although it cannot be decisive.11 The only literary evidence of this method being used comes from the second century and tells us about consultations at Boura in Arcadia: they were based on sortition carried out next to a statue of Heracles and explained 9 See Björck, 1939. 10 Wilkinson, 2015, p. 98. 11 Graf, 2005, pp. 81–2. Nollé, 2007, p. 25, maintains that the original may have been written on wooden tablets.


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by reference to an inscription on a tablet. Thus, we are dealing here with an epigraphic oracle, as in Asia Minor.12 As regards Christian practice, the opposite is the case: manuscripts have survived, but there are no traces or mentions of such inscriptions. It seems to me that the difference regarding the material on which these texts were written is not purely technical, but related to the function of these texts in the local community. I will come back to this issue a little bit further. How was this method of divination used, and who used it? The method itself was fairly plain and simple. As has been mentioned above, the Sortes Sanctorum consisted of fifty-six answers that were not equally probable to obtain. For example, it was three times less likely to get three ones in a row than a 1–1–2 combination, which could be produced in three different sequences: 1–1–2, 1–2–1 and 2–1–1. At each and every consultation, regardless of the matter for which the oracle’s advice was sought, the whole pool of answers was available. This means that if they were to be somehow relevant to the questions, the answers had to be very general. To illustrate this, let us consider a few examples, all of them very auspicious, although not equally likely to obtain: C.C.C.13 After the sun, the stars rise, but after that the sun shines again. And so will your soul soon become clear as to where it seems to have doubts, and with God’s help it shall come to you and you shall receive what you want. Give thanks to Him.14 C.C.V. May your soul be sure of what you are asking, so that you, as you hope, can achieve what you want.15 C.C.IIII. God will help you in what you desire. Ask God, and you will quickly achieve what you want.16 C.V.II. You want to clutch the horns of a running deer with your hands. This is difficult at the moment, as he is now in the woods; however, he shall return to his lair where you can catch him. And so the thing you are anxious about will fall into your hands.17 12 Pausanias, Graeciae descriptio 7.25.10. 13 The numerals at the beginning of the response indicate the score of the throws. ‘C’ is probably the distorted number ‘VI’ and not a sigma, as once thought; see Montero Cartelle, 1998, p. 119, n. 36. 14 C.C.C. Post solem surgunt stellae, sed iterum sol ad lucem revertitur, sic et tuus animus, unde dubius esse videtur, in brevi tempore ad claritatem pervenerit, et veniet tibi, Deo adiuvante, et obtinebis quae cupis. Age ei gratias. 15 C.C.V. De quo consulis animus tuus firmus sit, ut, sicut speras, possis pervenire ad quod desideras. 16 C.C.IIII. Deus te adiuvabit de quo cupis. Deum roga, cito pervenies ad quod desideras. 17 C.V.II. Cervo currente cornua tenere cupis in manibus; iam difficile est quia in silvis moratur, sed revertitur in cubili suo ut tibi capi possit, sic veniet in manibus tuis in quo dubius es.

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Most answers promise that the inquirer’s desire will be fulfilled, although there are others that predict that the opposite is going to happen or that remain ambiguous on the matter: V.IV.II. The thing that gives rise to jealousy is like a lump of lead mixed with gold. Thus, your soul, too, nurtures jealousy. But think about something else. What you are asking for will be beyond your power. IIII.IIII.III. Go away from us now, because my lots will give you no answer. Come another day and look after yourself.18

Although literary sources do not describe how those consultations were carried out, we may capture them somehow on the basis of Pausanias’s description of the oracle at Boura that was mentioned above, which certainly worked in a similar way: On descending from Boura towards the sea you come to a river called Bouraikos, and to a small Heracles in a cave. He too is surnamed Bouraikos, and here one can divine by means of a tablet and knucklebones. He who inquires of the god offers up a prayer in front of the image, and after the prayer he takes four knucklebones, a plentiful supply of which are placed by Heracles, and throws them upon the table. For every figure made by the dice there is an explanation expressly written on the tablet.19

As it has been said above, in the oracle described by Pausanias and in those known to us from Asia Minor, bones of a different kind were used than during the consultation of the Sortes Sanctorum. For the latter, one cast six-sided kyboi (i.e. dice similar in form to those which we know today from various games). In epigraphic oracles, by contrast, one used astragaloi (i.e. animal knucklebones) with four uneven sides representing the values 6, 4, 3 and 1. However, since in Asia Minor five astragaloi were thrown each time, the number of possible answers was the same as in the Sortes Sanctorum: 18 V.IIII.II. Massa plumbea auro mixta, res invidiosa, sic et tuus animus invidiam machinat; aliud namque cogita. Hoc quod petis in potestate tua non erit. […] IIII.IIII.III. Tu hac hora recede a nobis, quia sortes meae non dant responsum. Alia dies venis et observa conditionem tuam. 19 Pausanias, Graeciae descriptio 7.25.10: καταβάντων δὲ ἐκ Βούρας ὡς ἐπὶ θάλασσαν ποταμός τε Βουραϊκὸς ὀνομαζόμενος καὶ Ἡρακλῆς οὐ μέγας ἐστὶν ἐν σπηλαίῳ ἐπίκλησις μὲν καὶ τούτου Βουραϊκός, μαντείας δὲ ἐπὶ πίνακί τε καὶ ἀστραγάλοις ἔστι . εὔχεται μὲν γὰρ πρὸ τοῦ ἀγάλματος ὁ τῷ θεῷ χρώμενος, ἐπὶ δὲ τῇ εὐχῇ λαβὼν ἀστραγάλους – οἱ δὲ ἄφθονοι παρὰ τῷ Ἡρακλεῖ κεῖνται – τέσσαρας ἀφίησιν ἐπὶ τῆς τραπέζης ἐπὶ δὲ παντὶ ἀστραγάλου σχήματι γεγραμμένα ἐν πίνακι ἐπίτηδες ἐξήγησιν ἔχει τοῦ σχήματος. Trans. by W.H.S. Jones (slightly adapted).


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fifty-six. It has to be said, though, that the different shape of the sides of an astragalos resulted in different probabilities of obtaining individual scores, whereas in the case of kyboi they were identical. People consulting the Sortes Sanctorum did not have to formulate their questions with great precision; in fact, they did not have to ask them at all, because the answer fit any question concerning one’s designs: ‘you will succeed in your plans’ (the most common answer), ‘you will fail’, or ‘there is no telling as yet what is going to happen’ (the least common). If we take the frequency with which the synods condemned such practices as a measure of their popularity, the Sortes Sanctorum would appear to have been the most widely used divinatory book in late antique Gaul.20 This may have been due to the fact that this particular system of divination was fairly simple to use, while the answers were not only general in character, but also, more often than not, optimistic.21 In consequence, it was still used several centuries after the more elaborate method of book divination that will be presented below had been abandoned (suffice it to take note of the thirteenth-century manuscript with a translation of the answers into the Provençal language).22 To what extent did the divination instrument that we have seen in secondcentury Asia Minor change in later centuries? How was it modified or, to be precise, Christianized? There are several layers to consider with regard to this. First of all, the introduction to the Christian version requires that the consultation should be preceded by prayer, ‘Whenever you wish to carry out a consultation, say the Lord’s Prayer and “I placed my hope in you, O Lord. I said, ‘You are my God’. My fate is in your hand.”’23 Needless to say, the Christian character of this preparation did not lie in the very fact of praying but in the identity of the deity to whom the prayer was addressed – in Boura the questioner also first prayed to Heracles, and only then threw the astragaloi. This pious preparation was developed further in later versions of the Sortes Sanctorum. A twelfth-century manuscript from England describes the procedure that had to precede the consultation itself in greater detail: one had to start with fasting and prayer, then go to a church, participate 20 See Concilium Agathense, can. 41; Concilium Aurelianense, can. 30. 21 Interestingly, in most oracular books optimistic answers occur more frequently than pessimistic ones. For the social and economic implications of this imbalance (and possibly also its causes), see Ratzan, 2019, pp. 273–89. 22 On the disappearance of this method, see Klingshirn, 2005, p. 116; the provençal manuscript was published by Rocquain, 1880, reprinted in Rendel Harris, 1901, pp. 117–26. 23 Quando sortire uis, dic: Pater noster, ‘ego autem in te speraui, domine. Dixi “Deus meus est tu”, in manibus tuis sortes meae’; Montero Cartelle and Alonso Guardo, 2004, p. 70.

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in a Mass, and say a litany to the saints, along with specially designated psalms and other prayers, and so on. Finally, the very act of sortition had to be carried out with humility and tears.24 Traces of Christianization can also be detected in the answers themselves. The epigraphic oracles called each of the fifty-six possible combinations by the name of a god; in the Sortes Sanctorum, the names of pagan deities which had accompanied the number of each question were dispensed with, as they obviously had bad connotations and were unnecessary for the system to function. But no particularly Christian elements appeared in their stead (neither in the headings nor in the answers) with the single exception of non-specified angels that are mentioned in response IV.IV.IV. Interestingly, one answer does sound as if it contained a citation from the New Testament: ‘Why do you kick against the goads? Do not boast, you are inquiring into an evil thing. Do not act against fate [or “against lots”: contra sortes]. I admonish you: do not oppose God.’25 Although the first sentence looks as if it was quoted from Acts 26:14, it is in fact a proverb that we also find in Euripides and more importantly in the original oracles of Asia Minor, where it is used in the same sense as in the Sortes Sanctorum.26 Therefore, we are not dealing here with Christianization: what one can say at best is that the original answer was consciously kept in the collection because of its association with the Bible. However, the compiler of the Christianized collection did intend to foster piety and a religious attitude, a motive that was alien to the oracles of Asia Minor: in the Sortes Sanctorum, about a quarter of the answers are accompanied with a call to prayer, in general only tangentially associated with its content: ‘A great joy will come upon you. Have no doubts as to what you are asking for. Be calm. Ask God and you will find grace.’27 Another change, the consequences of which are difficult to assess, is that the Christian version contains more optimistic answers (40 out of 56) than the pagan version (30 out of 56). All in all, the collection is not Christianized to a great extent, and the procedures to be carried out within the consultation do not make it clear what sort of power occasioned the choice of an answer. ‘These are the lots of saints: they never deceive anyone or mislead the perplexed; but like 24 Montero Cartelle and Alonso Guardo, 2004, p. 44. 25 IIII.III.II. Quid calcas contra stimulum? Noli iactare temetipsum, quia malum est de quo consulis. Contra sortes noli ire. Moneo te ne velis esse contrarius deo. 26 Euripides, Bacchae 795; the oracles of Asia Minor: 13334 14 Poseidon. See Graf, 2005, p. 80. 27 III.I.I. Gaudium magnum veniet tibi. De quo petis, noli cogitare. Securus esto. Roga deum et invenies gratiam.


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blacksmiths strike iron on either side, so do the lots [strike] both the righteous and those not as perfect’ – so has it the first sentence of the collection, which is followed by the call to prayer mentioned above.28 But further into the text, God does not act as the driving force behind the answers. The oracle, speaking in the first person, always speaks of God in the third person, as can be seen in the following answer: V.IIII.I. You say that you have an enemy. Direct your hopes to God, so that he helps you. Do not be godless, I warn you.29

As the text itself does not indicate the power that guides the sortition, the use of the Sortes Sanctorum may have required some other, external justification that would impart the answers with greater authority. I shall come back to this issue a little bit further. It is interesting to ask why the Christian version of those fifty-six responses was written in codices rather than in the form of inscriptions. It may be that the change of medium resulted from the privatization of this technique, which was tolerated up to a point but certainly not advertised in the Christian milieu. This is not to say, however, that this privatization necessarily led to such consultations being performed entirely on one’s own: even if the practice was no longer public in character, it probably still required that a professional be present to make sure that the divinatory procedure was carried out in an appropriate manner. This was particularly the case with the more complex techniques of book divination I am going to discuss below, where the presence of a specialist was indispensable, but even with the simpler methods it may have been regarded as advisable. In theory, the Sortes Sanctorum could have been easily used by inquirers on their own, but synodal canons indicate that these tools, at least in the era of the Council of Vannes, were deployed by members of the clergy whose expertise and authority may have made the practice look more trustworthy. Church councils did condemn clergymen who were involved in this type of divination, but this condemnation alone cannot possibly reflect the attitudes of society at large to that issue in a straightforward way. The practice must have been approved of to a sufficient degree for it to become a conspicuous 28 Prol. Haec sunt sortes sanctorum que numquam conturbant, neque trepidos in errorem convertunt sed sicut fabri solent ex utraque parte acuere ferrum, sic sortes, iustos et minus perfectos undique. 29 V.IIII.I. Adversarium te dicis habere. Spem tuam dirige ut tibi deus in adiutorium sit. Moneo ne velis inreligiosus esse.

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problem. Admittedly, that approval was limited: in late antique churches we do not find any permanent divinatory fixtures that would be similar to those that were carved in stone and functioned in the public space of Greek cities: in theatres, near temples and above all in the agora.30 But certainly, it would be rash to draw excessively far-reaching conclusions from this difference, since one must take into account the generally waning epigraphic habit in the later Roman Empire. The number of inscriptions from second-century Asia Minor is much higher than that from fifth-century Gaul; moreover, the monumental oracles had disappeared even from the former region by the end of the second century. Nonetheless, one thing can be said for certain: regardless of the degree to which Christian divination was tolerated as long as it was confined to private use (including divinatory practices performed by clergymen), there is no evidence that any attempts were made to introduce divination into the official functioning of churches.

Sortes Monacenses The Sortes Sanctorum must have been well enough known at the time of the Council of Vannes, given that its participants did not feel any need to explain in more detail what exactly that text was. We need to note, however, that the Sortes Sanctorum were only one among the divinatory books the Council of Vannes referred to as ‘all other writings’. I find it hard to believe, contrary to the suggestion of William Klingshirn, that in such an offhand manner one could allude to Scripture, and thus to the practice of bibliomancy, that is, opening a codex of the Bible to a random page.31 It is very probable that those ‘other writings’ were also specific divinatory texts that were used with a similar or slightly different method as that applied to Sortes Sanctorum. Another divinatory kit of this kind, entitled Sortilegia per litteras et sacros libros (divination by lettrs and holy books), is more widely known as the Sortes Monacenses. The earliest manuscript containing it dates back to as late as the tenth century.32 Although it is not attested to in any earlier sources, the Munich manuscript is most probably a copy of a much earlier instrument, whose origin and transmission are difficult to reconstruct. The selection of answers seems to have been based on a similar principle as that of the Sortes Sanctorum. There are fifty-one answers in the preserved manuscript, 30 Graf, 2005, pp. 73–8. 31 Klingshirn, 2005, p. 100. 32 Edition: Winnefeld, 1887, pp. 53–60, reprinted in Rendel Harris, 1901, pp. 180–90.


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but because before each of these we find a triple configuration of numbers from 1 to 6 (which apparently corresponds to three throws of a die), we can expect that there were originally fifty-six. Other numerous mistakes in the preserved manuscript prove that the scribe was noticeably absent-minded and so may have omitted five answers. All answers are very general, most announcing a joyful event and more or less imminent fulfilment of the desires of the inquirer (answers announcing unlucky events are rare). In terms of the nature and language of the responses the set of Munich also resembles Sortes Sanctorum, which only adds to the suspicion that we are dealing here with a late antique divinatory instrument. The only difference between the two is that the Munich manuscript has every sequence of throws preceded with a letter. The function of those letters is unclear. When throwing a die, the value of each of the three throws unambiguously indicated the answer, and so letters were not necessary. One might think that in order to obtain a result one could choose either to roll the dice and get a combination of three numbers, as in Sortes Sanctorum, or indicate a letter, as in the so-called ‘alphabetic’ oracles of Asia Minor known from inscriptions, by rolling a die in which each side corresponded to a letter.33 The problem is, first of all, that there were simply not enough letters for the system to work without producing ambiguous results: twenty letters are used in the headings of the answers, while the system would require at least fifty-one (in the preserved version) or rather fifty-six different signs in order to work properly. Secondly, a die with fifty-six sides would have been completely illegible. It is most likely, therefore, that the letters and numbers were used not alternately, but concurrently. Jacqueline Champeaux suggested that the procedure might have looked like this: three dice were thrown at the same time and, in addition, one letter was chosen in some way (Champeaux’s guess is that it was drawn from a biblical codex opened to a random page).34 Then, the combination of numbers obtained in this way was found in the list of responses. If it was accompanied by the letter indicated, that answer was the result of the consultation, if not – which was much more likely – the nearest response containing that letter was selected. This is likely to have been the case, although other options are also conceivable. In any case, there is no doubt that the purpose of introducing letters to the system (which could do without them perfectly well to provide unambiguous answers) was to make it more complex, probably with the intention of making it difficult to use by non-professionals. 33 See Grenier, 1997. 34 Champeaux, 1992, pp. 70–4.

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Fig. 5. The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, written in Sahidic (6th century). The response starts on the left page and end ends on the right page. The text reads: ‘You know, O human, that you did your utmost again. You did not gain anything but loss, dispute, and war. But if you are patient a little, the matter will prosper through the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ (Oracle 7, trans. AnneMarie Luijendijk, Harvard Art Museum / Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mrs Beatrice Kelekian in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian, 1984.669; photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College).

The author of the Sortes Monacenses tried to impart a religious character to some answers. He did this rarely, but in a slightly more thoughtful way than the compiler of the Sortes Sanctorum, who, as we have seen, provided nothing more in this respect than occasional calls to prayer. [13] f. Faith is your armour, you will not be disappointed; an hour will come, which will bring you great joy, and what you want will come to you. Be calm and let your spirit be strong. [44] r. IIII.I.I. Do not accept useless words from his mouth, because he is flattering you. Listen to the prophet saying: the viper’s venom is beneath the lips of those whose mouth is cursed […] You want to lead [—] life; in this way, the time [—]. [45] g. III.III.III. Do not delay, but rather ask for glory from the Lord, so that you may find what your soul is asking for. Christ was crucified so that those who do God’s work would not be spoken of with disrespect.35 35 [13] f. VI.IIII.I. Fides tua lurica est tibi; ne decipiaris; ueniet tibi hora, quae magnam letitiam adfert tibi, et ueniet tibi desiderium tuum bonum; securus esto et animus tuus firmus sit./ [44] r. IIII.I.I. Non consenti uerbis oris inutilibus eius, quia blande loquitur tibi; audi prophetam dicentem: uenenum aspidum sub labiis eorum, quorum os maledictione. Uitam currere [—] cupis; ideo


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The Gospel of the Lots of Mary An interesting divinatory text found in a codex dating back to the fifth or sixth century was recently published by AnneMarie Luijendijk. The miniature manuscript (75 × 67 millimetres) of uncertain provenance contains the Coptic text entitled The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, which consists of thirty-seven numbered divinatory answers (Fig. 5). Each answer occupies two adjacent pages: when opening the booklet, we can see only one answer on two facing pages. The manuscript is complete and was made by a skilled, professional scribe on high-quality parchment.36 It does not contain instructions for use. Luijendijk, while reviewing the methods employed in other similar tools, concludes that while it is impossible to determine which randomizing element (e.g. a throw of the dice, saying a random number or opening to a random page) was used when consulting the codex,37 the most probable procedure was to open the book at random. Indeed, we should note that the person who designed this tool made sure that the user, having opened it, could see only one answer. That was probably why the booklet was so small: if the pages had been larger, there would have been more space to fill and they would have contained more answers. With more than one answer on a page one would have needed some method to determine which should be taken as the result of the consultation: opening such a booklet at random, one could be at a loss to know which of the several answers was to be read. Of course, one could indicate the answer by closing one’s eyes and placing a finger somewhere on one of the facing pages (presumably this was how one would consult a biblical codex). But the author of the Gospel of the Lots of Mary clearly tried to avoid such a situation: it was for this reason that the writing began on the left-hand side, which was, as Luijendijk observes, unusual at the time when the codex was produced.38 In fact, if the writing had begun on the right-hand page, the person opening the book would have seen parts of two successive answers and would have found it difficult to determine which was the answer to the question asked. To be sure, the answers are numbered, so in principle it was possible to use some other method. But the numbering is inconsistent; moreover, it is difficult to imagine a straightforward system that would allow the inquirer modo tempus./ [45] g. III.III.III. Ne tu moram facere uelis, sed magis pete tibi gloriam a domino, ut petitiones animi tui inuenies. Christus crucifixus est ne his qui faciunt opera dei, neglegenter perhibunt. The first answer quotes 1 Thessalonians 5:8; the second, Psalm 13:3. 36 The text is kept at Harvard University (inv. 1984.669). 37 Luijendijk, 2014, pp. 62–4. 38 Luijendijk, 2014, p. 43.

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to indicate the response from among thirty-seven answers (unlike one of fifty-six, as we have seen in the case of the Sortes Sanctorum).39 The origin of the codex containing the Gospel of the Lots of Mary is unknown; nor do we know where it was found. Luijendijk argues that it may have been produced in Antinoë in Upper Egypt, a city known for the cult of St. Kollouthos. 40 This connection is indeed tantalizing, especially as this sanctuary was a place where the use of other oracular books and other divinatory methods is also attested. Whether the connection exists, however, remains hypothetical and cannot be taken for granted. The same is true of other similar instruments of unknown provenance. Our evidence does confirm that divination was practised in major sanctuaries of popular saints, but if we insist on attributing, even tentatively, every oracular tool of uncertain origin to one sanctuary or another, we risk overestimating their role as divination centres. 41 Nor is it possible to determine with certainty whether the guarantee of divine guidance in determining the answer was the sacred place or the figure of Mary, whose name is mentioned in the title of the codex but is absent from the answers. David Frankfurter suggests that the miniature dimensions of the codex shifted authority from the book itself to the ritual expert linked with a local shrine. This is perfectly possible, but cannot be proven. 42 The answers from the Gospel of the Lots of Mary are general in character. Some of them mention unspecified plans, intentions or concerns of the inquirers: Oracle 4 It is you alone who brings upon you a great, difficult burden. This matter you want to do, its time has not yet come. Endure a little longer and you will see the confidence in God that will reach you.

Other questions may give the impression that we are not dealing with a divinatory text but simply with some general recommendations for a pious person: 39 The same method was probably used with the miniature codices found in Oxyrhynchus; see Kocar 2019, pp. 203–5. 40 Luijendijk, 2014, p. 47. 41 See Kocar, 2019, who hypothetically attributes two fragments of miniature divinatory codices from Oxyrhynchus to the local shrine of St. Philoxenos. The connection between the oracle books and the shrines, together with their staff and rituals, was frequently emphasized by David Frankfurter, recently in Frankfurter, 2019, pp. 217–19. 42 Frankfurter, 2019, p. 222.


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Oracle 3 Behold, you have been saved, to not (re)turn to commit sin, so that even worse matters do not happen to you. Do you not remember what has happened to you before today? And God saved you from everything. Do not (re)turn to this matter. 43

Of course, this level of generality is nothing strange, as we have already seen in the case of the Sortes Sanctorum: no divination system in which the response was selected from the full pool of answers could give more detailed responses. The Gospel of the Lots of Mary had its characteristic feature, however: its language is decidedly religious in nature. Indisputably, we are dealing here with a text that emerged from a Christian milieu. This is clearly visible throughout the codex, as almost all answers refer to God’s judgement, mention his mercy and care, command one to put one’s trust in him, and praise his name. There are occasional mentions of angels, patriarchs and Jesus.44 The allusions to the Old and New Testaments are conspicuously numerous and the language is heavily imbued with biblical phraseology. It is very difficult to confirm or reject Luijendijk’s claim that the booklet originated in a monastic scriptorium. There is no doubt, however, that it was produced by a person well versed in the Bible, pious, and convinced that proper preparation for what was to come consisted first and foremost in placing one’s trust in God.

Sortes Sangallenses and Sortes Astrampsychi The divinatory text known as the Sortes Sangallenses was more complicated in use than the instruments presented above. It owes its name to the monastery of Sankt Gallen (Switzerland), where the only extant copy has been preserved. These Sortes, written in the sixth century, have been discovered in the undertext of a palimpsest, a parchment codex reused in the ninth century. The Sortes Sangallenses represent a Christian adaptation of the pagan divinatory instrument known as the Sortes Astrampsychi. That earlier text, which is attested to in papyri, the oldest of which date back to the third century, was probably compiled at an even earlier date (it may have originated in Egypt but was popular in other places, too).45 Sortes Sangallenses are the only known example of a Latin 43 I am quoting Luijendijk’s translation, here and in the preceding paragraph. 44 Oracles 6, 21, 28 (angels), 7 (patriarchs), 30, 37 (Jesus). 45 Browne, 1976, argued for the Egyptian origin of the collection and the third-century dating. See, however, the criticism of this claim in R. Stewart, 1995.

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adaptation of this instrument, but a similar process also took place in the East: fragments of a Christianized Greek version have been preserved in medieval manuscripts, the oldest of which dates back to the thirteenth century.46 The extant version of the Sortes Sangallenses is incomplete. As much as we can tell from the arrangement of the responses in the palimpsest, only about a third of the original text has been preserved. The folios that may have contained instructions for use are also missing. Nonetheless, the procedure used to elicit a response can be reconstructed with a fair degree of certainty, partly thanks to the better-preserved Sortes Astrampsychi. The latter instrument contained a list of more than a hundred detailed questions: ‘Should I make a will?’ (10); ‘Will my enemy die?’ (27); ‘Will I become a member of the city council [curialis]?’ (71); ‘Will I find what I have lost?’ (85); ‘Should my son learn a craft?’ (106); ‘Is the house I am thinking about mortgaged?’ (111).47 In the case of the Sortes Sangallenses, the list of questions has not been preserved: the opening folios are missing. The extant part of the collection contains 525 responses. Since there were originally more than three times as many, the collection was much longer than the versions of Sortes Astrampsychi that we know, which, depending on the variant, contain either 1,000 answers to 91 questions or 1,030 answers to 92 questions (for technical reasons, some of the answers could never be indicated in the procedure). In the Sortes Sangallenses, twelve answers were assigned to each question (these groups are called ‘dodecades’, whereas the Sortes Astrampsychi had ‘decades’), some of which expressed the same or a similar thought in a different manner. For instance, the answers to a question about the outcome of the inquirer’s trial (55) are as follows: 4. You cannot win in any way. 5. You will win and you will be fully satisfied. 6. You will win, but with great difficulty. 7. You will win with whom you want to [win], but it will take time. 8. You will come to an agreement, because you will not win. [responses 9–11 have been lost] 12. You labour [in vain], because you will not win. 48 46 The oldest manuscript is Ambrosianus A 45 sup. The most recently published list of the known copies of Sortes Astrampsychi is given by Naether, 2010, pp. 77–80; see also R. Stewart’s introduction to Sortes Astrampsychii: Ecdosis altera, pp. viii–xii. 47 The numbering of questions according to R. Stewart’s edition of Sortes Astrampsychii: Ecdosis altera. 48 R. 4: Non poteris modo uincere./ R. 5: Uinces et in plenius gaudeuis./ R. 6: Uinces, sed cum magno labore./ R. 7: Uinces quidem illum, quem uis, sed tarde/ R. 8: ad pactum uenies, nam non uinces./ […]/ R. 12: Fatigaris, non nam uinces.


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It is hard to imagine that the six missing answers could differ significantly from those I quoted and suggest any other solutions. These answers were scattered throughout the text, and it took several stages to determine the ultimate response to the question asked. The first step was to choose the question (from the list provided) best suited to the case the inquirer wished to seek advice on. Proper identification of the problem for consultation was important because the answers to questions about ‘an adversary in court’, for instance, were markedly different from those concerning ‘an enemy’. The responses to all questions are grouped into sets of twelve, but each of them contains answers to different questions, and so the answers to the given question were to be found in twelve different dodecades. The second step the inquirer had to take was to draw (or perhaps just pick) a number from 1 to 12, which was then added to the number of the question. The sum obtained in this way referred to the concordance table which indicated the number of the dodecade containing the response. In the Sortes Sangallenses this table was not preserved either: its general construction is known from the Sortes Astrampsychi. In the dodecade indicated by the concordance, the answer had to be found under the number given by the inquirer at the outset. In practice, the system worked as follows: whoever wanted to know if he or she should make a will needed to find the relevant question in the list (in this case it was number 10) and select or draw a number from 1 to 12. Let us say the number was 5. The sum of these two numbers (10 + 5 = 15) had to be checked in the concordance table in order to identify the dodecade with the response; in this case, the concordance table indicated dodecade III, which corresponded to 15. There, at number 5 (i.e. exactly the one that was selected at the beginning), the inquirer would read: ‘Your time is nigh. Make a will to free your slaves.’49 It is easy to notice that this consultation process was considerably more complicated than in the case of the Sortes Sanctorum. Regarding ease of use, the complication of this system is entirely superfluous. One can imagine a divinatory instrument where each question would be assigned to the decade (or dodecade) bearing the same number and containing only answers relating to the matter of the question asked. The inquirer would choose a question from the list (e.g. ‘Will I recover from my illness?’ – number 42 in the Sortes Astrampsychi) – and then a random number (let us say that it was 4) and look for the response in decade 42 at number 4: ‘You will survive the disease if you are careful.’ By contrast, the designer of the system not only 49 Tempus tibi proximum est; fac testamentum ita, ut seruos tuos liberos dimittas (III 5).

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distributed the answers to the same question between different decades, but also changed the numbering of the decades in relation to the questions, thus introducing the necessity of making tedious calculations and using a concordance table. As we have already seen, the author of the Sortes Monacenses did something similar and added letters to the otherwise simple system where the answer was indicated by throwing dice, presumably with a view to making it look arcane and sophisticated. The difficulty in using the Sortes Sangallenses lay not only in the fact that the system seemed to require a complex procedure, but also in the fact that the matter for consultation had to be properly defined and assigned to the right question. Furthermore, the response was not always easy to interpret. Considering these difficulties, William Klingshirn argues that the Sortes Sangallenses were not a divinatory instrument to be used by unskilled inquirers but a device that required a specialist to whom people would turn with their problems to carry out the consultation on their behalf. The canons condemning the use of divinatory books by clergymen suggest that the latter were quite often regarded as such specialists. Undoubtedly, we have to agree that it was an instrument that required good preparation. Mere intuition was not enough, and following the instructions also required some effort and skill. Even if this does not preclude the possibility that the system was used by appropriately trained amateurs (we know for sure that those amateurs did use astrological instruments which may have been even more complex), the professionalization of the method seems to be a fact. I shall return to this issue further below. Those who adapted the Sortes Astrampsychi for Christian use made some effort to make this instrument appear morally proper and fitting to their religion. Firstly, the concordance table was changed. In the original version, the sums of the number indicated by the inquirer and the number of the question were assigned to the names of gods and heroes, who also appeared in the headers of the decade to which they referred. In the Sortes Sangallenses the names of gods were replaced with numbers. The concordance to the Christian version of the Sortes Astrampsychi includes the names of biblical figures;50 the same applies to another medieval divinatory kit, known as the Sortes XII Patriarcharum, a simplified version of the Sortes 50 For a list of gods, see P. Lugd. Bat. XXV 8 (third century): Clarysse and Hoogendijk, 1991, p. 82; see also P. Berol. 21341 and 21358 (third century). There is no list in, for instance, P. Oxy. LXVII 4581 (fifth–sixth century). The names come solely from the Old Testament in the ‘second edition’ published by R. Stewart and from both Testaments in the ‘first edition’ published by Browne.


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Sangallenses (the earliest manuscript containing that collection dates back to the twelfth century).51 Secondly, some Christianized versions of the Sortes Astrampsychi are preceded by calls to prayer, a feature for which we would look in vain in their pagan models. Thirdly, the list of the questions changed. The Christian Sortes Astrampsychi were purged of more daring ones dealing with love affairs or sex. For example, the question ‘Will I get a woman I desire?’ was replaced with the more fitting ‘Will I become a monk?’ and the ‘Will I be reconciled with my girlfriend?’ changed into ‘Will I become a bishop?’52 Finally, although this applies only to the Sortes Sangallenses, the number of answers was different: the Sortes Astrampsychi, pagan and Christian alike, had ten answers assigned to every question. Considering the content and technical requirements, it was a sufficient number; in fact, with as many as ten possible answers it was difficult to avoid repeating the same but differently worded responses. One possible explanation for the greater number of answers in the Sortes Sangallenses is that from the Christian point of view twelve carried a more symbolic value than ten. All these adaptations were fairly easy to make and, as was the case with the Sortes Sanctorum, the Christianization of the Sortes Astrampsychi and its derivatives looks superficial. Even though we find there calls to prayer to be said before consultation and some mentions of biblical figures, the Christianized Sortes Astrampsychi do not provide a different answer to the fundamental question: how can this work in the first place? We find there only the usual reference to Pythagoras, who was believed to have devised this instrument, and to Alexander the Great, who supposedly owed his victories to using this method of divination. The introduction to the Sortes Sangallenses is not extant, and so we do not know whether their author tried to provide a different explanation. When did Christians begin to use the Sortes Astrampsychi? The palimpsest of Sankt Gallen, which is the oldest copy of its Latin version, dates from the sixth century, but the process must have started earlier. As there is no trace of any Latin non-Christian equivalents of this text, we may suppose that the divinatory books of this type made their appearance in the West in an already Christianized form that had been brought from the East. There, the Sortes Astrampsychi may have been adapted at a fairly early date; one argument in favour of this claim is the fact that pagan deities were 51 See Skeat, 1954, pp. 48–50. 52 See Clarysse and Hoogendijk, 1981, pp. 68–75; Naether, 2010, pp. 115–20; and R. Stewart, in his edition, pp. xiv–xv.

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replaced there with biblical figures rather than with Christian martyrs, whose authority, as we shall see in the following chapters, was used to make other forms of divination trustworthy. This would suggest that Christians started to use this particular divinatory instrument before the cult of saints became firmly established, and so I am inclined to think that this may have happened by the late fourth century.

Codices with hermēneiai Among the divinatory instruments used by late antique Christians a special place belongs to collections of divinatory answers found on the margins of biblical manuscripts or placed between the lines of biblical texts. They contain from several dozen to more than 300 relatively generic answers to divinatory questions (which, however, are not provided) such as ‘Your plans will be fulfilled’, ‘What was unknown will be revealed’, ‘Give up and do not labour in vain’. This exclusively Christian instrument, and particularly its origins, is enticingly interesting. As I wrote at the beginning of the previous chapter, late antique Christians treated the Bible as the quintessential prophetic book. It would seem, therefore, that it was entirely logical to use it as a means to predict the future or at the least to recognize God’s plans. The only problem that had to be dealt with was to interpret and explain the sense of biblical passages, as could be seen in the case of eschatological visions of Ezekiel or in Revelation, whose relationship to current (and future) events was discussed in the previous chapter. Thus, it comes as no surprise that those divinatory answers which we find inscribed in some of the Greek manuscripts of the Gospels are referred to as hermēneiai, which literally means ‘explanations’. How closely were these short phrases connected to the text of the Gospel they accompanied? At first sight, they appear to have been completely unrelated. Recently, however, Kevin Wilkinson has argued that while the connection may have been lost or is hard to detect in several existing codices with hermēneiai, it must have been close in the original version of the instrument and is still possible to notice in some manuscripts. Some of the examples of this link that Wilkinson quotes are, as he himself recognizes, quite uncertain. For instance, the hermēneia in the Greek–Coptic P. Berol. 11914, which reads (in both languages) ‘There will be great glory’, accompanies John 3:14–15: ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’ There might be a connection between these, but it can hardly be taken


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as certain.53 Admittedly, there are some that seem to testify to something more than accidental similarities: for instance, in P. Ness. 2.3, the passage from John 11:47–48, in which the high priests fear that the faith in Jesus will grow among the people, is accompanied by the oracle that says: ‘there is faithlessness and connivance in the matter’.54 This parallel is indeed tantalizing. But in all, even if it is possible that in the original instrument the hermēneiai were what their name suggested, the similarities are not close and numerous enough to prove that beyond any doubt. More importantly, even if the link between the oracular responses and the biblical text had existed in the original version of the instrument, in all the copies that we have it has been at least weakened by the displacement of relevant hermēneiai, or lost entirely. The Latin versions do not even introduce the answer by any equivalent of the word ‘explanation’ and nothing suggests that they were considered as such. Inevitably, when reading these manuscripts, we have to ask the same question which prompted Wilkinson’s research: why were these responses inscribed in biblical codices next to or between the lines of the sacred text? It seems to me that this question can be answered in a different or perhaps complementary way to that proposed by Wilkinson. I think that in this case the Bible was not treated as a sacred text but rather as a sacred object (although its sacred character obviously resulted from the sacredness of the text that the codex contained). As we have seen, the common problem with sortition-based methods of divination was that one had to make sure that the result of the consultation was not purely accidental. Presumably, it was for this reason that divinatory procedures were carried out in sacred places (such as shrines) or in close proximity to sacred objects (such as relics). This was done to ensure that the seemingly random choice was made with the assistance of the divine. The same applies to hermēneiai: if the inquirer had randomly chosen one of more than 300 responses, what would actually make him believe that it was in any way meaningful? But when written on the pages of the Bible, these responses may have carried enough weight to make one believe that the choice of answer was guided by God’s will. Technical and psychological reasons may also have played a role in the development of this divinatory practice. As noted above, the number of responses included in hermēneiai ranged from several dozen to more than 300. Texts of such length may have looked impressive when carved into stone slabs (like those of the oracles of second-century Asia 53 Wilkinson, 2019, p. 109. 54 Wilkinson, 2019, p. 107.

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Minor), but when written on papyrus they formed only a humble booklet (we must remember that in Late Antiquity scrolls were largely replaced by codices). Writing the answers in a codex containing other texts made them look more impressive, and the Bible fit the purpose perfectly: no other book could match its status and popularity, to say nothing of the belief mentioned above in its miraculous power. Hermēneiai could accompany a biblical codex in a variety of forms. Firstly, they could be added to the pages of an existing codex: this is the case with the oldest known biblical manuscript with hermēneiai, the fifth-century Codex Bezae containing the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles in Greek and Latin. This was certainly the easiest and the least costly method. Secondly, there were hermēneiai written on separate sheets which were later inserted between folios containing biblical texts (examples of this method were found in Egypt).55 Finally, they could be inscribed between the lines of the biblical text when it was being copied, as we can see in several Armenian manuscripts of the Gospels.56 Is it possible that in this way the actual character of such responses was to be concealed in order to make an impression that all those insertions were mere innocuous explanations of the biblical text they accompanied? I find it difficult to believe that this was the case, given that ordinary glosses explaining the biblical text were mostly placed in the margins. Instead, it seems to me that the idea was to make the oracles closely entwined with the sacred text in order to reinforce the belief in the effectiveness of this divinatory procedure. Currently, we know of twenty codices with hermēneiai – Greek, Latin, Coptic, Syriac and Armenian – most of them preserved only fragmentarily.57 The most famous of all is Codex Bezae, with seventy-three oracular responses, all written in Greek, accompanying the Gospel of Mark. They were inscribed in the codex after the text had been copied, possibly in the sixth century or still in the fifth. We cannot say where it happened: there is ongoing discussion of the origin and early history of Codex Bezae. Researchers have suggested a number of locations where it may have been produced, ranging from Egypt and Syria to Italy, Gaul or North Africa.58 It is equally difficult

55 See these two very fragmentarily preserved Coptic texts: P. Vat. Copt. 1, see Van Lantschoot, 1956, and two damaged sheets from the parchment codex of Antinoupolis published by Papini, 1998. 56 See Outtier, 1993. 57 See Quecke, 1974 and 1977; Metzger, 1988; Outtier, 1993; Parker, 2006; and the updated list provided recently in Wilkinson, 2019, pp. 122–3. 58 See Birdsall, 1986; Parker, 1992.


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to determine with a reasonable degree of certainty where these divinatory additions were made. Codex Bezae does not include any indications as to how the answer was selected, but we may find some clues in other biblical manuscripts with similar additions. The collection known as the Sortes Sangermanenses contained in a tenth-century codex (referred to as g 1) found in the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Près in Paris betrays striking similarities to that found in Codex Bezae, as can be seen in both the contents and the sequence of answers.59 But there are differences, too: first of all, g 1 is written in Latin and accompanies the Gospel of John, not the Gospel of Mark. Another notable difference is that the list of responses is much longer: it includes 216 hermēneiai, while the text of the Gospel which they accompany is divided into 316 sections. It is worth noting that 216 is the total number of outcomes of throwing three six-sided dice one by one (i.e. the sequence matters, meaning that the result 6–6–1 is not the same as 1–6–6). This observation, however, does not help us to determine the method of selecting the answer in a direct way, for strangely enough in the manuscript of Saint-Germain it is not the sequence of throws that is associated with every single answer; instead, they are all marked with a number from 1 to 216. Thus, if indeed three six-sided dice were rolled to perform the consultation, a concordance table was necessary to determine the number assigned to every possible sequence and ultimately select the answer. Neither the Saint-Germain manuscript nor Codex Bezae (nor any other codex with hermēneiai for that matter) contains such a table. Moreover, the number of hermēneiai in specific codices varies, so most probably there was no universal method of selecting the answer while using divinatory tools of this kind: the point in common was not the actual procedure of performing the consultation but the belief that the biblical codex in which the hermēneiai were inscribed guaranteed that the result would be accurate and trustworthy. Given the generic character of the answers and the fact that they were unrelated to specif ic questions (as was also the case with the Sortes Sanctorum), the simplest way of finding the answer was to pick a random number not greater than the total number of hermēneiai included in the codex and read the corresponding answer. However, the system may well have been more sophisticated: while analysing the Sortes Sangallenses, we have seen that divinatory books were not necessarily expected to be easy to use. One intriguing example is the undertext (beneath a tenth-century Georgian psalter) of the so-called palimpsest of Graz, which contains the Gospel of 59 Sortes Sangermanenses, edited by Rendel Harris, 1901, pp. 59–69.

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John in Armenian, dated to the eighth century, with 316 hermēneiai.60 The codex includes a folio featuring a circle divided radially into eight segments filled with numbers that are placed there without a noticeable sequential order, but none of them is greater than 316. Interestingly, 316 is also the number of individual sections into which the Gospel of John is divided in the Saint-Germain manuscript (g 1). This number, then, is probably not accidental. But how was this instrument put into use? Is it a coincidence that the greatest number inscribed in the circle exceeds the total number of possible results obtained in the system of rolling three dice by exactly a hundred? There is no way to answer these questions. By contrast, it is with a fair degree of certainty that we can explain why one Gospel was selected to be supplemented with hermēneiai in preference to others. As I have already mentioned, Codex Bezae has its hermēneiai inscribed in the Gospel of Mark, while in all other cases the divinatory insertions accompanied the Gospel of John. It is beyond doubt that the latter was the original location, as Rendel Harris proved in the early twentieth century.61 He noticed that Codex Bezae and the Sortes Sangallenses had one particular answer in common (respectively marked as 65 and LXII in his edition) drawn from the Gospel of John (5:14): ‘See, you are well! Sin no more.’ Admittedly, it does not differ that much from other answers, but the point is that no other hermēneia includes a citation from the Bible. This led Harris to think that this particular sentence was initially part of the Gospel passage which the scribe mistook for a divinatory answer (it must have been written at the bottom of the page). And indeed, in g 1, the codex of Saint-Germain, answer LXII is placed beneath the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. One might suspect (contrary to Rendel Harris’s proposition) that the scribe (or even the originator of the system) consciously introduced that biblical quotation to the collection of hermēneiai with a view to tightening the relationship between the divinatory text and the Gospel, in conformity with Wilkinson’s scheme. But regardless of whether this was done on purpose or by mistake, the fact remains that it must have been done on a page of the Gospel of John. It was thus from a codex containing that Gospel that the list of questions was taken by the scribe who interspersed the divinatory insertions into the Gospel of Mark in Codex Bezae. The fact that they were placed in different texts is due to the traditional sequence of the Gospels: in the East, the evangeliaries usually put the Gospel of John at the end, while in the West that place was given to Mark, as is the case with Codex 60 See Outtier, 1993, p. 182. 61 Rendel Harris, 1901, p. 64.


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Bezae. One may assume that hermēneiai were inserted into the Gospel that was placed at the end of the codex for practical reasons: it was quick and easy to find them. In this respect, the practice of late antique copyists was no different from that of placing various appendices towards the end of a modern book. To be sure, in Codex Bezae other books of the New Testament followed after the Gospel of Mark, but we may safely assume that inserting hermēneiai in the Gospel that came as the last in a biblical codex was by then a well-established practice. I suspect that hermēneiai were initially placed in Gospel books (which is also the case with the Armenian codices mentioned above and codex g 1) rather than in codices containing the whole of the New Testament. There is nothing we can learn about the codices with hermēneiai from literary or normative sources: these give no indication as to how this form of divination was used in practice or whether it was approved of or condemned. We may, however, hypothesize about the degree to which this practice was seen as tolerable on the basis of how and where the divinatory insertions were placed. The hermēneiai in Codex Bezae are found in the bottom margin (Fig. 6), written in a different, later hand than the text of the Gospel. But some other manuscripts, particularly those from the region of Caucasus, have their hermēneiai interlaced within the biblical text, which proves that such codices were devised and produced with a view to using them in divination. However, it is beyond all doubt that it was not the sole purpose of having them written. Divinatory answers accompany only a small portion of the codex as a whole and never extend beyond one Gospel. If the codex was to serve only in oracular procedures, why would scribes bother to copy Mark, Luke and Matthew in addition to the Gospel of John that was the only one of all supplemented with hermēneiai? Apparently, the divinatory function of such evangeliaries was only secondary to its primary function of mediating God’s word. It means that people who ordered such copies to be made did not necessarily specialize in divination or magic: these were simply pious people, probably clergymen or monks, whose fundamental intention was to have their own copy of the Bible to read. The possibility of performing a divinatory consultation by using such a codex was for them of secondary importance. It is highly probable that scribes who added hermēneiai to the margins of existing codices (which were held in monastic libraries) had a similar intention. Where and when were the first codices with hermēneiai produced? The terminus ante quem is the moment when Codex Bezae was supplemented with divinatory answers, which happened in the fifth or sixth century. The Coptic papyrus codices of this type that have survived in fragments date

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Fig. 6. A page from the Codex Bezae with the beginning of the Gospel of St. John. The first of the series of hermēneiai is written in black ink in the bottom margin. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library, MS-NN-00002-00041-002.jpg: MS Nn.2.41, f. 285v).

back to a slightly later period.62 As we have seen, however, the hermēneiai of Codex Bezae, which accompany the Gospel of Mark, must have developed on the basis of an earlier collection that accompanied the Gospel of John. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine when the latter was produced; the only thing that can be said about it with some certainty is that in order for this method to emerge one had to assume that the Bible as a physical object was endowed with a special power, which probably did not happen 62 See Porter, 2007.


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before the mid-fourth century. But by the turn of the fifth century biblical codices had certainly come to be viewed as sacred and powerful objects: as I have noted above, Augustine mentioned the custom of easing headaches by touching one’s head with a Gospel book.63 Also, the fourth century saw the first examples of lavishly decorated biblical codices, which attest to a new attitude to the materiality of the Bible.64 This phenomenon can be observed both in the East and the West, but it is fairly evident that the earliest hermēneiai were written in Greek: it may be inferred not only from the language of the responses inscribed in the bilingual Codex Bezae but also from translations into Coptic, Armenian and Syriac, which were certainly made from the Greek. We cannot be sure where the original Greek text was written. It is interesting to notice that the responses given by the hermēneiai are fairly generic; a certain portion clearly resembles those from the epigraphic oracles of Asia Minor and the Sortes Sanctorum. As we have seen, the similarity is observable also in the method used to elicit the answer. All this suggests that there was a genetic, if indirect, relationship between those systems. This does not allow us to identify a specific region in which the first codices with hermēneiai were produced, but once again points to the East.

Other divinatory books It is more than likely that there were also other books used as sortitionbased divinatory tools that are no longer extant or still await discovery or publication; after all, it was only recently that the Gospel of the Lots of Mary, a text that was previously completely unknown, was found and published.65 It is also possible that the mention of ‘other books’ in the synodal canons referred to simple astrological instruments, such as lunaria, based on observing moon phases and the related divinatory instruments known as zodiologia.66 Given that these books had no specifically Christian features (which is also true of all other astrological literature of Late Antiquity), I 63 Augustine, In Iohannis Evangelium tractatus 7.12. 64 Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini 4.36; Jerome, Ep. 22.32; see Gamble, 1997, p. 237, and Lowden, 2007, p. 32. 65 A good example are the two fragments of oracular codices that Alexander Kocar is preparing for publication – their translation is already accessible in Kocar, 2019; for the Sortes Barbarinianae, a simplified version of the Sortes Astrampsychi known from a single sixteenth-century manuscript but still unpublished, see R. Stewart, 2019. 66 This claim has been proposed by Klingshirn, 2005, p. 100. For more on this type of book, see Svenberg, 1963, pp. 1–21.

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will not discuss them in detail. However, they deserve some attention, as they help us see the broader picture of divinatory methods that may have been available for use in that period. Lunaria are short snippets of advice on what actions are recommended or discouraged on certain days of a month and remarks on the future of people who were born, fled or fell ill on those days. To use but one example: Moon VII. Good in everything: [one can] give and receive. And whoever flees on that [day] will be caught. And whoever falls [ill], shall live. And whoever is born, will be lively, gifted and amiable.67

Zodiology in its turn was based on simple horoscopes, very succinctly describing the future of people born in the given sign of the zodiac or in one of mansiones lunae (the twenty-eight signs of the lunar zodiac). Zodiological texts are slightly more elaborate, but their construction is similar to that of lunaria (one is at pains to render the original unpolished style in translation): Altarfa, that is the underbelly of Cancer; there are two stars. So does it look [—] Whoever is born in Altarfa, his body is fair, his cheeks rosy, his hair red. His body is spindly. He shall be an adulterer. He will be quick-tempered, but will forgive easily. And he will be fast-moving. His brothers will not live long. When overcome with anger, only God can contain his fury. His head is aching. Being a perjurer, all his doings are evil. Whoever knows him, [let him be sure] that he is good-willed. He has a scar on his upper lip or some other spots, likewise on his forehead, right hand, chest and abdomen, and elsewhere. And still others on his head. He shall die in a foreign land in his eightieth year.68

Sadly, we are in the dark as to when instruments of this type came to be used in the West. The oldest manuscripts with such texts date back to the 67 Luna VII. Bona in omnia: dare et accipere. Et qui fugerit in ipsa, prenditur. Et qui incadit in ipsa, uiuet. Et qui natus fuerit, uitalis et utilis et amabilis est (Cod. Parisinus Nouv. Acq. Lat. 1616, in Svenberg, 1963, p. 25). 68 Altarfa, hoc est uenter Cancri. Et sunt stelle II, hic aparet: —. Qui fuerit natus in Altafra, abet corpus candidum et facie rubra et capillos rubros. Abet corpus tenuem. Erit adulterator. Abebit fortem iram, sed leue indulget. Et erit uelocissimus. Non uiuunt fratres sui. Quando irascit, non potest eum auertere nisi Deus. Abet dolorem in caput suum. Et est periurator et facit omnia mala. Qui eum cognoscit: bonas uoluntates abet. In labia superiore abet plaga aut signa, et in fronte signa et in manu dextra signa et in pectus et in uentre et in alio loco, et in capud alia. Et moriet in terra aliena de LXXX annis (Cod. Vat. Pal. Lat. 834, in Svenberg, 1963, p. 50).


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eleventh century. The Latin lunaria are constructed in a similar manner to their Greek counterparts, and their style and vocabulary suggest that they may have been written in Late Antiquity, but the time when they were translated can be indicated only very vaguely (possibly between the fourth and the eighth centuries). These tools were neither Christianized nor even adapted for use by Christians. The lunaria and zodiologia alike were in fact never associated with any religion. Granted, there are mentions of the Divine, but neither God nor his servants are believed to be involved in the process of divination; the foreknowledge was based on the observation of connections which existed in nature.

Experts and clients Book divination was explicitly condemned only by Gallic synods, but this should not lead us to the conclusion that this practice was particularly widespread in Gaul or that it was the only region in which it caused bishops’ anxiety. In Africa, Augustine knew about this method. He wrote disparagingly of it, although only in passing, when commenting on the seemingly accurate predictions of astrologers: Should they like to attribute that accuracy to their skill, let them also acknowledge the craft of divining from some dead parchment, whence one can often get whichever lot one wishes to obtain. Now, given that it is not attributable to any art that a verse predicting the future often comes from [examining] codices, why should one wonder that a certain prediction of the future may also come by way of coincidence rather than art from a person speaking?69

If not inconceivable, it is at least hardly probable that in this passage Augustine should have referred to biblical codices as ‘dead parchment’. He must have had some other divinatory tools in mind. Interestingly, Augustine evidently assumed that his readers, undecided as they were with regard to the usefulness of astrology, entirely rejected book divination as something that did not deserve the slightest attention. Otherwise, his argument would 69 Augustine, De diversis quaestionibus LXXXIII 45.2: Quod si peritiae illorum uolunt tribuere, dicant artificiose diuinare etiam mortuas membranas scriptas quaslibet, de quibus plerumque pro uoluntate sors exit. Quod si non arte de codicibus exit saepe uersus futura praenuntians, quid mirum si etiam ex animo loquentis non arte sed sorte exit aliqua praedictio futurorum?

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be nonsensical. Their attitude was not necessarily related to morals and religion. This kind of divination was treated with disdain not so much by the most devout people as by those who sought a ‘scientific’ system of prognostication: for them, drawing lots was the epitome of fortuitousness, so they preferred to look for true knowledge in the sky. Book divination is not censured in the extant Greek canons of church councils. The only normative sources from the East that may attest to this practice are two Syriac collections of monastic canons. The first of these, the early fifth-century Canons of Rabbula stated that ‘no monk should ever give answer to anyone from [any] book’. Admittedly, this canon might have been referring to ‘the’ Book (i.e. the Bible).70 No such doubts, however, can be sustained with regard to the Canons of Jacob of Edessa, where we read that ‘a monk must not take answers from the Gospels, from David, or from the so-called Lots of the Apostles’.71 That last book evidently was a specialized text used for divination, also known from the West. The surviving artefacts confirm that book divination was in use in the East, and it is interesting to ask why the canons of Greek synods tell us nothing about it. Does this mean that attitudes to that practice were different in the East (except for Syria)? Not necessarily: the synodal canons should not be regarded as forming part of a full-fledged system of canon law that systematically catalogued all reprehensible activities.72 But still, the silence of the Greek conciliar acts suggests that criticism, if it existed, was subdued at best. The popularity of individual collections of divinatory answers is difficult to gauge with precision, but a certain tendency is nonetheless discernible. Firstly, of all divinatory books, only the Sortes Sanctorum are explicitly mentioned in synodal canons and slightly later Gallic penitentials.73 This text also boasts a fairly rich manuscript tradition continuing until the late Middle Ages. This is in stark contrast to the Sortes Sangallenses that survive in a single copy and, worse still, form the undertext of a ninth-century palimpsest, which means that this particular instrument had gone out of use by that time. There are two possible explanations for their moderate popularity and relatively early obsolescence. First of all, as Klingshirn rightly points out,74 the Sortes Sangallenses had a feature that both made 70 Canones Rabbulae, can. 18 Nau, 1906 = can. 19 Vööbus, 1960. For a discussion of the meaning of that word, see Klingshirn, 2002, pp. 126–7. 71 Canones Rabbulae, can. 1, Vööbus, 1960. 72 See p. 198. 73 See Meens, 2004, pp. 157–8. 74 Klingshirn, 2005, pp. 116–17.


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them attractive and made them age quickly: their divinatory answers were clear-cut, precise and to the point, but reflected the specific context of their origin, namely the legal and political reality of the later Roman Empire. This can be seen, for example, in such questions as those about freeing a slave (manumissio); vying for the office of an aedile, praetor, curialis or decemprimus; or inquiring into whether a property was mortgaged. Social conventions, procedures and offices that had been the subject matter of divinatory questions in the fifth century were all long gone in the seventh. Officialdom and urban elites, probably the most important inquirers at such oracles, had by and large disappeared. As a result, lingering as it did in a virtually unmodified form, the collection was no longer serviceable, as opposed to shorter lists of more general oracular answers that were easy to adapt to different social, economic and religious circumstances. Another problem that possibly allowed the Sortes Sangallenses to slide into obsolescence was their technical sophistication, which almost certainly required a specialist to properly carry out the procedure. As I have pointed out above, inquirers were not necessarily discouraged by that, but if the codex lacked instructions for use and the practical expertise needed to deploy this tool sank into oblivion, the method would no doubt have proved difficult to reinvent. The Council of Vannes refers to people specializing in book divination as those who give predictions about the future ( futura promittunt), clearly indicating that there were specialists who offered such prognostications and clients who received them. Indeed, unlike publicly located epigraphic oracles that were readily accessible to those who wished to perform individual consultations on their own, book oracles often required a specialist to assist in the consultation.75 We have already seen that our evidence allows us to identify some of those specialists. The Council of Vannes reproached clergymen who were involved in practising book divination; the Syriac canons censured monks, while the later Gallic synods named both groups.76 Rob Meens, who analyses the probably early seventh-century Penitential of Bobbio thinks that the context in which the practitioners of the Sortes Sanctorum appear in this text also seems to point to clerics.77 As I have 75 Graf, 2005, p. 73 (from among the slabs whose original location is known to us only one or two come from sanctuaries, while five or six were initially placed in the agora or formed part of a city gate). For a detailed description, see Nollé, 2007. 76 Monks may have been users of a fragmentary preserved text from Egypt recently studied and published by Torallas Tovar, 2015. Its divinatory function is not entirely clear, but very probable. 77 Meens, 2004, pp. 157–9.

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already said, codices with hermēneiai were most probably produced and kept in church or monastic libraries, which again points to monks or clerics. Are we then to suppose that laymen did not use divinatory books as experts? This would probably be a far-fetched conclusion. The Canons of Rabbula were written specifically to discuss various aspects of monastic life, so there is nothing strange about the fact that they do not mention any practices of the laity. We should not draw overly general conclusions from other normative sources which do not refer to that issue either: the bishops who attended synods in the West were intent on banishing illicit practices particularly from among the ranks of the clergy, and definitely cared less about the customs of laypeople. In reality, divinatory books may have been widespread among ordinary Christians as well, but for the bishops this was simply a problem of lesser importance. Likewise, the fact that synodal canons chastise particularly adulterous clergymen does not mean that adultery was committed exclusively by members of that group.78 Moreover, canons often ban practices that were not reproachable outright, but merely embroiled the clergy in mundane matters.79 Offering consultations based on divinatory books could certainly be regarded as such, which is evident from both the divinatory questions and the marketable character of the service that was presumably paid for. Thus, there is no reason to suppose that laypeople were uninterested in using this method. There are, however, some factors that may have made the expertise of clerics in this field particularly appreciated. To begin with an issue related to the technical requirements of book divination, the overall level of literacy rapidly decreased from the fifth century, which, in the West shrank the number of those who were able to use divinatory books (and all books for that matter). Clergymen were more likely to remain literate than laypeople. Also, they had other advantages which made them appear to be potentially dependable specialists in divination, as William Klingshirn observes: they were familiar with problems in the locality, were reputed to have an authority on questions of ethics and had access to the recognized sources of divine power (relics, biblical codices, the Eucharist), which enabled them not only to define but also remedy the problem submitted by the inquirer for consultation. In all, when compared with ordinary people, they could endow the divinatory answer with a far greater degree of credibility. An essential problem with book divination, as well as with other methods of sortilege, was to make sure that the divinatory answer 78 Concilium Eliberritanum, can. 18. 79 Klingshirn, 2005, pp. 114–15.


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would not be fortuitous. As regards the Sortes Sangallenses, there is no extant introduction to that text that might help determine the authority on which the trustworthiness of an answer hinged. If the efficacy of the method depended on the stature of its presumed originator (such as Pythagoras in the case of the Sortes Astrampsychi) or the splendid fortunes of their users (like those of Alexander the Great), then in the eyes of at least some Christian inquirers of fifth- and sixth-century Gaul such guarantees may have appeared insufficient. The text itself does not seem to have been considered a vector of divinatory power, unlike spells or the Bible. We may suppose so, considering the fact that the sets of answers changed with a fair dose of liberty: dated or awkward answers were readily replaced with others and nothing indicates that such changes were seen as jeopardizing the veracity of those divinatory tools. Thus, the guarantee of their trustworthiness lay elsewhere. It may have lain in performing the consultation in a sacred place, one that was seen as unquestionably pervaded with divine presence. One argument in favour of this supposition is the discovery of fragments of divinatory books in the sanctuary of St. Kollouthos in the Egyptian city of Antinoë.80 The fact that such books, even though they could in principle have been used anywhere, were consulted in the sanctuary of a martyr suggests that people felt the need for the saint’s assistance at the sortition. A certain analogy can be drawn between this phenomenon and that of having sets of divinatory answers inscribed in Gospel books. These practices evidently had one goal in common: it was necessary to guarantee that the sortition was carried out in the presence of a divine power. That guarantee was obtained through physical contact with either a sacred place (such as the sanctuary of a martyr) or a sacred object (such as a biblical codex). The clergymen had privileged access to both.81 As I have noted above, most oracle books were Christianized only superficially as regards their content; this is granted, but the actual Christianization of these consultations may have consisted not so much in their new textual layer as in the new ritual context for their performance. Finally, the question of the clients and their problems needs careful consideration. Which aspects of life were the subject of people’s consultations? Here, luckily, we can avail ourselves of knowledge of the complete set of answers that an inquirer could obtain. From this point of view, the Sortes 80 Papini, 1998. For more on the various divinatory methods used in late antique Egyptian sanctuaries, see Frankfurter, 2005. 81 The involvement of clerics in oracular consultations is even better attested in the priestly books from the Carolingian period, currently studied by Carine van Rhijn, see van Rhijn, 2017.

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Astrampsychi and the Sortes Sangallenses look particularly interesting, because the former have retained the complete set of questions that could be asked, while reconstructing the complete set of questions for the latter does not present much difficulty. This is markedly exceptional: working out such a catalogue of human ills that called for consultation is impossible for any other divinatory method used in Late Antiquity. Inquiries submitted for consultation with divinatory books concerned nearly all spheres of life. The questions included in the Sortes Sangallenses address issues of private, economic and political life, although not all these spheres are given equal importance. In the preserved part, there were questions about crops (1 question), loans (1), partnerships (2), travelling (at least 4), hopes of holding an office (6), fiscal problems (2), wills (8), trials (30 – sic!), being admitted for hearing before the emperor (1), health (5), dealing with a friend (3), dealing with an adversary (4), taking flight (7; of these, 3 are about planning to flee, so presumably asked by a slave, and 4 by a slave owner wishing to know whether he will find the fugitives), or about things stolen or lost (5). Generally speaking, although these issues could have been of interest to people from various social groups, one cannot escape the impression that most inquirers, as was the case with the original Sortes Astrampsychi, belonged to the urban elite, some of them holding offices in state administration: these were active and industrious individuals, protective of their property, seeking prestige and advancement in their uncertain and highly competitive careers. It is worth noting that there is not a single question that might be indisputably considered one that only a woman might have asked (in this respect, the Sortes Sangallenses are no different from their prototype).82 Of course, neither Latin nor Greek verbs, except for the passive voice, have distinct forms for different genders, and so in many cases it is impossible to determine whether individual answers were addressed to men or women. Thus, the possibility that there were women among the inquirers, despite the predominance of topics stereotypically associated with men, cannot be ruled out. An answer that might suggest this is 6.10 of the Sortes Sangallenses, concerning fortune in love: ‘The one [quem: masculine] you yearn for will lead you astray, since [he] has proposed to many. So hold back, you fool!’ The preceding answer on the list says: ‘The one [quam: feminine] you yearn for will succumb to you with all [her] soul.’ 83 It 82 See Naether, 2010, pp. 94–6. 83 6.10: Quem uis, finget tibi; nam multis se promittit; recede inde, morio. 3.9: Quam uis, consentit tibi, toto animo. See Brodersen, 2004, p. 136.


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would seem, therefore, that the set included two responses differentiating between the sexes. Still, the masculine gender of the noun in the former answer (morio – ‘you fool!’) makes this claim debatable. Moreover, the choice of the response was determined only by a throw of the dice, so one could receive either of those quoted above, regardless of one’s sex. It seems then that we are dealing here simply with a scribal error. As to the Gospel of the Lots of Mary, Luijendijk hypothesized that it may have been particularly popular among women on account of its title. That may be true, but it is impossible to prove or reject this hypothesis on the basis of the responses. As we have seen, a great many issues submitted for consultation with the use of the Sortes Sangallenses (concerning stolen things, health problems or crops) were among the matters that people asked of prophets. As we shall see in the chapters to follow, answers to similar questions were also sought by using other types of Christian oracles. Divinatory books, however, had certain idiosyncrasies which in particular cases may have attracted or repelled potential inquirers. First of all, as is true of all kinds of sortition-based divination, books offered no possibility of interaction, which means that the answer was not formulated during the consultation but had to be selected from among a pre-defined set that was composed of several dozen or more than a thousand answers, ranging from very generic to very specific. Consequently, it could be used only by asking a yes-or-no question, which is to say that one could ask ‘Will I marry my beloved?’ (Question 70 in Sortes Astrampsychi), but there was no way of asking ‘When will that happen?’, ‘What should I do to make it happen?’, or ‘Whom will she choose?’ This does not mean, however, that the system was based on an either/or principle, given that all types of sortes discussed above made it possible to obtain one of several responses to one and the same question (Sortes Astrampsychi, 10; Sortes Sangallenses, 12; Sortes Sanctorum, 56; Gospel of the Lots of Mary, 37 – the codices with hermēneiai varied greatly in this respect). Thus, aside from a yes or a no, one could obtain some additional, more nuanced information, such as, for instance, ‘you will marry your beloved, but not at this point’. The Sortes Sanctorum offered an even wider set of possible, if vague, answers to the same question, such as: C.C.II. Reach out your hand to the poor man. Beseech God, and you will achieve a consensus and a good hope. C.C.I. What you ask about now will come soon to you to your great joy. Be calm. Beseech God and do not be afraid.

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C.V.V. You have taken the right way. Do not be afraid. God will help you and you will get what you want. [and 53 others].84

Secondly, those who consulted divinatory books were not simply soliciting advice: rather, they were trying to predict the future. It markedly sets these consultations apart from another category of sortition-based consultations, i.e. the oracular tickets found in Egyptian sanctuaries that will be discussed in the following chapter. For instance, a person drawing the tickets asked St. Kollouthos of Antinoë: ‘Should I embark on this journey?’ Those who consulted Sortes Astrampsychi would ask instead: ‘Will my journey be safe?’ (Question 12). This difference is vitally important. It consists of the fact that in the case of oracular tickets the inquirers would ask only about situations where they could make a choice: Should I get married or not? Should I mend fences with my neighbour or keep quarrelling? Should I wash my sore leg or avoid touching it? There was no point in asking such questions with regard to situations where there was no room for choice (i.e. in typical inquiries concerning the future). By contrast, such questions could be answered very well by divinatory books: Will I be designated to inherit a property (Sortes Astrampsychi 33, 34, 48)? Will I succeed in obtaining a loan (25)? Will I marry the woman I crave (55)? Will I defeat my adversary in court (65)? Thus, divinatory books served to predict the future, whereas oracular tickets were used to examine the prospects for the course of action the inquirer aimed to take. This difference in purpose may explain why both methods were used in parallel in the sanctuary of St. Kollouthos in Antinoë.85 But it may also lead us to yet another important observation: a person using oracular tickets, as we have seen, sought advice, while those who resorted to books wished to predict the future, pure and simple. It is important to note that the former could not have been held guilty of succumbing to fatalism. The tickets do not try to predict what will happen, which is something that man cannot know and should not inquire into, nor do they suggest a strong sense of curiositas that was frowned upon by Christian writers. We may suspect, therefore, that using oracular tickets might have been regarded as being less reprehensible than book divination. Was this really the case? Perhaps. 84 C.C.II. Dexteram tuam porrige pauperi. Deum roga et habebis concordiam et spem bonam./ C.C.I. Quod postulas nunc cito perveniet tibi cum gaudio magno. Securus esto. Roga Deum et noli timere./ C.V.V. Est via certa quam tu petis. Noli timere. Deus tibi in adiutorio erit et pervenies ad quod desideras. 85 Frankfurter, 2005, 245–50.


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As we have seen, there is no trace in the church canons suggesting that resorting to ticket oracles was forbidden; not so book divination, which was prohibited outright. This is not an argument that could settle the issue for good (an average Christian need not have been aware of the ‘fatalist’ implications of consulting divinatory books), but I am inclined to think that oracular tickets may have caused less vexation to the consciences of at least some people than book divination.

5. Divinatory Lots +God of Saint Kolthe, if you order me to eat eggs, let this ticket be drawn. ‒ A divinatory lot from Antinoë, discovered in 2007 and published by Alain Delattre (Delattre, 2017, p. 652).

In the previous chapter I said several times that inquirers considered it important to seek a material guarantee that the result of their sortition-based consultation was actually guided by divine power rather than produced by pure chance. As we have seen, biblical codices were indeed regarded as offering such assurances, but in Late Antiquity they were certainly not believed to have been the most important source of divinatory power. In this respect, pride of place was given to saints’ bodies. In his vitriolic oration of ad 364, Gregory of Nazianzus inveighed against the recently deceased Emperor Julian: Did you have no respect for the victims slain for Christ’s sake? Did you not fear those mighty champions, that John, Peter, Paul, James, Stephen, Luke, Andrew, and Thekla? And those who after them and before them faced danger in the cause of Truth, and who joyfully faced fire, sword, wild beasts, tyrants, and evils both real and threatening to come, as though they were in the bodies of others, or rather bodiless! And what for? In order that they might not betray the true faith, even by word. Theirs are the great honours and festivals. By them demons are cast out and diseases healed. Theirs are manifestations [epiphaneiai], and theirs are prophecies [prorēseis]. Their mere bodies can do the same things as their holy souls, when touched or venerated. Even drops of their blood and little signs of their passion, produce equal effect with their bodies!1 1 Gregory of Nazianzus, Contra Iulianum 1.69: Οὐκ ᾐδέσθης τὰ ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ σφάγια; οὐδὲ ἐφοβήθης τοὺς μεγάλους ἀγωνιστὰς, τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐκεῖνον, τὸν Πέτρον, τὸν Παῦλον, τὸν Ἰάκωβον, τὸν Στέφανον, τὸν Λουκᾶν, τὸν Ἀνδρέαν, τὴν Θέκλαν, τοὺς ἐπ’ ἐκείνοις τε καὶ πρὸ ἐκείνων τῆς ἀληθείας προκινδυνεύσαντας; οἳ πυρὶ, καὶ σιδήρῳ, καὶ θηρσὶ, καὶ τυράννοις προθύμως ἀντηγωνίσαντο, καὶ παροῦσι κακοῖς καὶ ἀπειλουμένοις, ὥσπερ ἐν ἀλλοτρίοις σώμασιν ἢ ἀσώματοι; τίνος ἕνεκεν; ἵνα μὴ προδῶσι μηδὲ μέχρι ῥήματος τὴν εὐσέβειαν. Ὧν αἱ μεγάλαι τιμαὶ καὶ πανηγύρεις· παρ’ ὧν δαίμονες ἑλαύνονται, καὶ νόσοι θεραπεύονται· ὧν αἱ ἐπιφάνειαι, καὶ ὧν αἱ προῤῥήσεις· ὧν καὶ τὰ σώματα μόνον ἴσα δύνανται ταῖς ἁγίαις ψυχαῖς, ἢ ἐπαφώμενα, ἢ τιμώμενα· ὧν καὶ ῥανίδες αἵματος μόνον, καὶ μικρὰ σύμβολα πάθους ἴσα δρῶσι τοῖς σώμασι. Trans. by E. Rizos, CSLA E01904 (last accessed on 14 April 2020).


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This is the earliest testimony to the belief that relics were endowed with the power of revealing hidden matters. Quite naturally, one cannot resist wondering whether Gregory was referring here to a purely theoretical possibility, or to a real and established practice of performing divination in specific sanctuaries. At first glance, the list of the saints given in this passage may suggest that he was speaking about something that he believed was actually taking place. By 364, the locations where the bodies of Sts. John (both the Baptist and the Evangelist), Peter, Paul, James, Luke, Andrew and Thekla had been buried were known, and some of these were already recognized as miracle-working places.2 It would be thus very tempting to suppose that these were also centres of Christian divination. On closer inspection, however, the need for caution becomes evident: the name which startlingly stands out is that of St. Stephen, whose grave was not known until 415, half a century after Gregory wrote the invective.3 Thus, in his oration Gregory listed not only the saints who would perform miracles in their late antique sanctuaries, but also those who displayed their power when they were still among the living. This observation prompts us to ponder whether he may have done the same thing while referring to the power of relics: did his intention consist solely of describing the actual state of affairs in his day? Or is it perhaps that he associated the divinatory power of predicting the future with relics only because it fit nicely with the New Testament model of the miracle-worker who chases away demons, heals diseases and reveals hidden matters? It is difficult to give a decisive answer to these questions, and so I would be wary of taking Gregory’s remarks as proof of divination taking place close to relics. We may, however, see it as evidence that there was intellectual preparedness for such a practice to become acceptable. When did this practice emerge in actual fact? What forms did it take, and what were the origins of those forms? Can we convincingly claim (on the basis of Gregory’s remarks) that there was a genetic link between the simultaneous development of the cult of relics and of Christian divination? These questions will recur in this and the next two chapters, 4 all of which will deal with the divinatory practices that assigned an important role to relics.

2 See Mango, 1990, pp. 52–4. 3 For more about the circumstances and ‘literary history’ of that discovery, see Bovon, 2003. 4 These chapters develop arguments presented in Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 70–82.

Divinatory Lots


Oracular tickets Bearing in mind the methods of book divination discussed in the previous chapter, let us begin with cleromancy, or the practice of drawing lots. Egyptian papyri have yielded evidence of the divinatory practice known as ticket oracles (also referred to as sorts couplés, or twin tickets). A way to proceed with these was to write two versions of the same question on two separate scraps of papyrus; the question was directed to God with a view to obtaining advice as to what one should or should not do. One scrap asked the question in a positive way or contained an affirmative answer and, if drawn out, meant that the answer was ‘yes’. The other ticket asked the same question negatively or the scrap with it responded ‘no’. To illustrate this method, let us consider these two tickets from Oxyrhynchus, written in the same hand on two scraps of one and the same sheet of papyrus, which means that they must have been used in one consultation: O my Lord God Almighty and St. Philoxenos my patron, I beseech you by the great name of the Lord God, if it is your will and you are helping me to take up the banking-business, I beseech you to bid me learn this, and speak.5 O my Lord God Almighty and St. Philoxenos my patron, I beseech you by the great name of the Lord God, if it is not your will that I speak either about the bank or about the weighing-office, to bid me learn this, in order that I may not speak.6

These two papyri, although today held in different collections, make in fact a pair of tickets that were used together in the same consultation. It is the only such pair identified thus far, in other cases only one of the two is preserved. Interestingly, those with a ‘yes’ greatly outnumber their negative, no longer extant counterparts. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but as Alain Delattre suggests, two factors may have played a role. Either in some cases the questioner asked for one of two (or more) positive answers (e.g. ‘if I should wash my leg bring me this’ and ‘if I should apply oil to my leg bring me this’) or only a positive ticket was written, and a blank ticket was added as a negative answer. (Several blank tickets have been found in Antinoë.)7 5 P. Harr. 1.54, trans. by Herbert Youtie. 6 P. Oxy. IX 1926, trans. by B.P. Grenfell, A.S. Hunt and H.I. Bell. The use of these two tickets in one and the same consultation was proven by Youtie, 1975, pp. 253–7. 7 Delattre, 2013, pp. 129–30.


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Sometimes only one ticket was used: another way of consultation was to write the question once and use two standard lots, one with a positive and the other with a negative answer.8 Matters submitted for consultation deal with various spheres of life: travel, marriage, business, relations with officialdom, and – most prominently – health issues. However, we also know of consultations concerning religious matters: a man asks the Virgin Mary whether he should be baptized, while another man inquires directly with God about the burial of two martyrs (their names are left unspecified), unsure of whether they should be deposited in the same grave.9 There is also one case of a monk who performs a consultation, as he wishes to know whether he should move to Antinoë or stay where he is (i.e. in the monastery of St. Thomas).10 In every consultation, inquirers would ask whether God (or a saint) recommended taking a certain course of action. Some of these questions concerned key life-changing decisions, such as the choice of profession. Earlier we encountered a man interested in setting up a banking business and another inquirer who wanted to know whether he should study medicine (Fig. 7). At times, however, people would practise this sort of divination to decide on mundane matters: God of my lord Kollouthos, a true healer, if you do order that your servant Rouphinos should take a bath today, return this ticket to me.11

At the beginning of this chapter we saw a man who wondered whether God ordered him to eat eggs. One other inquirer wished to know whether he should drink water, and still another wondered if he should rinse his leg.12 Certainly, none of these questions were as trite as they looked. These tickets, found in the sanctuary of St. Kollouthos in Antinoë, which was widely known for its miraculous cures, seem to refer to the measures one should have taken to return to health. The water mentioned in these tickets may have been available in the sanctuary, which probably included baths on its premises.13 Tickets carrying the answers were folded several times (with the text on the inside) and tied with a cord so that nobody could read them (see Fig. 8). 8 See Papini, 1990, and Papaconstantinou, 1994. 9 PSI, XVII Congr. 21 (baptism) and Donadoni, 1954. 10 P. De Nie 142 and 243. The papyrus dates from the seventh or eighth century, probably from Lykopolis. See De Nie, 1942. 11 Edition: Delattre, 2008, pp. 152–3.  12 Eggs: Delattre, 2017, p. 652; water: Delattre, 2008, p. 153; rinsing one’s leg: Donadoni, 1964, pp. 286–7. 13 Grossmann, 2008, p. 52.

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Fig. 7. Oracular ticket from Antinoë discovered on 21 October 1984 at East Kom (sector D 2 III) and published by Alain Delattre (2017). When found, the ticket was folded and tied with a string visible on the photo. The texts reads: ‘† God of the saint, if you want me to study medicine, answer me.†’ (© Alain Delattre – Mission archéologique d’Antinooupolis).

We are in the dark as to what exactly happened next. No literary descriptions of this practice have survived, at least not from late antique Egypt. This silence may reflect the attitude of church authorities: it seems certain that they tolerated the practice (and as a result we do not find any evidence suggesting that it was outright condemned), but they nonetheless did not endorse it. It is also possible, however, that Christian authors simply had no occasion to mention that cleromancy was practised in sanctuaries; they may simply have believed that it was not particularly important. Likewise, if we relied solely on literary evidence, we would not learn about the fact that drawing lots was an important divinatory technique practised in the sanctuary of Zeus in Dodona, and yet nearly 1,500 divinatory lots were found there dating from the sixth to the third centuries bc.14 14 See Parke, 1967, pp. 100–25; Iles Johnston, 2008, pp. 68–71. The lots from Dodona have been published by Lhôte, 2006.


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Fig. 8. Oracular ticket from Antinoë, still folded and tied with a string. The tickets found in this form were those which were not chosen during the sortition. Apparently, they were left in the sanctuary and must have been thrown on a rubbish heap during the cleaning of the church. (© Alain Delattre – Mission archéologique d’Antinooupolis).

Whatever the reasons for this silence, we may reconstruct that practice only by analysing the lots themselves. Thus far, more than 200 tickets have been found in Egypt that can be safely regarded as being of Christian origin.15 Of these, only about 30 have been published, particularly from the sanctuaries of St. Kollouthos in Antinoë, of St. Philoxenos in Oxyrhynchus, and a couple from Lykopolis and Krokodilopolis. All lots from Oxyrhynchus are written in Greek. Most of those from Antinoë are in Coptic, but some Greek-language tickets have also been found there that date to the same period. The only known lot from Krokodilopolis is also Greek, while the two from Lykopolis are Coptic. There are also tickets attesting to consultations with St. Leontius, Sts. Cosmas and Damian, and St. Severus, whose place of origin remains uncertain. The earliest of these are dated to the sixth century.16 15 The vast majority (nearly 200) are from Antinoë, but only a few of these have been published, mostly in Delattre, 2008 and 2017. Alain Delattre is preparing an edition and major study of this evidence. 16 Leontius: P. Ryl. Copt. 100; Cosmas and Damian: P. Amst. I 22; Severus: Schenke, 2011; see Papini, 1992, and a more up-to-date list in Delattre, 2013, p. 124.

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Having no literary evidence on the subject, we do not know anything about where or how such consultations were carried out. For example, were they performed at the altar, next to the tomb of the saint or elsewhere in the church? We cannot say how and by whom the tickets were drawn. Nor do we know whether the sanctuary’s personnel were involved in the procedure. The context of these archaeological finds is not particularly helpful: the tickets found in Oxyrhynchus and Antinoë were alike discovered on sanctuary premises in the refuse heaps adjacent to the church. It seems, therefore, that they were thrown away when the church was being cleaned.17 As was the case with other sortition-based divinatory practices, the point was to make sure that the answer did not come by coincidence but was revealed by God’s will. To this end, two measures were applied, the first of which was to invoke divine power before posing the question. A few of the published tickets include invocations made directly to God, but the vast majority refer to God in a different manner and ask ‘the God of St. Kollouthos’ or ‘the God of St. Philoxenos’ to indicate an answer to the question inscribed. There are two cases where only saints are invoked: in one it is St. Kollouthos, while in the other, Sts. Cosmas and Damian.18 It seems, therefore, that the intercession of a saint was considered not absolutely necessary but undoubtedly highly advisable. The fact that these lots have been found in martyrs’ sanctuaries makes it evident that invocation on its own was not enough and that another measure was necessary: the consultation had to be carried out in a sacred and powerful place. The churches of St. Kollouthos in Antinoë and of St. Philoxenos in Oxyrhynchus, where most of the preserved tickets have been found, certainly belonged to that category. The former was surrounded by a cemetery, which suggests that it was built over the burial place of the martyr. This, admittedly, has not been definitely confirmed by the archaeologists studying the site,19 nor can we be sure whether the tomb of the other saint, St. Philoxenos, was really located in Oxyrhynchus. However, in both cases we are dealing with a martyrial shrine (i.e. a place specifically marked with the presence of a saint and as such evidently different from ordinary urban or village churches). As we will see, the safeguarding of martyrs’ bodies was 17 I owe this piece of information to Alain Delattre, who shared with me his expertise and knowledge on several occasions, particularly with regard to the evidence found in Antinoë. See also Delattre, 2008, p. 152. 18 See Papini, 1992, pp. 25–7. 19 See Grossmann, 2008, pp. 50 and 55.


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not the only way to secure their presence in sanctuaries dedicated to their memory: saints were believed to be present at their shrines even if those shrines did not contain their relics. But the body remained the strongest guarantor of the saint’s presence.20 A few pieces of evidence from outside Egypt also attest to lots being generally drawn close to relics. Above all, this can be seen in the passage from Gregory of Tours’s Lives of the Fathers that is the only literary testimony of the use of ticket oracles. It tells us about the monk Patroclus, who, hesitating to choose between solitary and communal life, placed two tickets with corresponding answers on an altar (which in the sixth century most probably contained relics21) and, having prayed for three days, picked one at random.22 In another passage – one quoted in the previous chapter – Gregory depicts a scene where a group of clergymen place three codices on an altar and select one of those in order to predict the outcome of a military campaign led by the Merovingian ruler Chramn.23 This, obviously, was a different type of sortition, but the results of both methods were guaranteed by the holy power inherently present in the altar. The Law Code of the Frisians stipulated that lots were to be drawn in order to determine whether a person charged with murder was guilty or not, and that the procedure was to be carried out on an altar or by relics (it is probable that standard lots, not written tickets, were employed for this purpose).24 Finally, to quote one testimony from the East, it is worth referring to a peculiar consultation that was supposed to conf irm the Dyophysite creed established by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The text of this creed, together with that of the opposing ‘Miaphysite’ creed, was placed in the sarcophagus of St. Euphemia. When the sarcophagus was opened, Euphemia was found holding the selected text in her hand. The story was written at a much later date (its first testimony being the work of Constantine of Tios, who was active at the turn of the ninth century25) 20 See pp. 235–6. 21 See Herrmann-Mascard, 1975, pp. 165–7, and Crook, 2000, pp. 65–76. It appears from Gregory’s writings, too, that altars had to contain relics; see Gregory of Tours, Liber vitae patrum 8.11. 22 Gregory of Tours, Liber vitae patrum 9.2. 23 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 4.16. 24 Lex Frisionum 14.1. This analogy was proposed by Papaconstantinou, 1994. 25 Constantine of Tios, Translatio Euphemiae 9. The story plainly illustrates that relics were necessary to confirm the orthodoxy of the text in question. The method applied for consultation seems to have been of secondary importance. John Moschos (Pratum spirituale 147) tells us about Pope Leo, who, having written the Tomus ad Flavianum, placed the text on the tomb of St. Peter and prayed and fasted for forty days until the Apostle appeared to him and said: ‘I have read and made my corrections’. The letter was purportedly corrected by St. Peter’s hand.

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and certainly does not attest to a real practice; but like the passages from Gregory mentioned above, it does let us see what people thought about the requirements that should have been met to make sortition-based divinatory methods appear trustworthy. Of course, all the cases presented above differ. While the consultation performed by Patroclus is indeed very close to those that we see in ticket oracles, I do not suspect that there exists a genetic link between the other examples described above and the method used in Egypt. The customs of the Frisians may well have been a Christianized version of old Germanic lore: a similar practice was described much earlier by Tacitus, and we know that a form of sortition was used to determine whether a person accused of theft or another crime was guilty or not in the Salic Law also.26 The sortition technique employed by the clergymen mentioned by Gregory of Tours is clearly different from all other cases in that it involved using books, not tickets. The story related by Constantine of Tios, in its turn, cannot be taken as an account attesting to any actual practice. However, all these sources, with the exception of the Salic Law (which, very unhelpfully, does not say what exactly the sortition looked like), share one feature: they show that lots can only be trusted when guided by a major, divine power. To make sure that such power was at work during the consultation, one had to carry out the divinatory procedure in a sacred place or, more specifically, close to a sacred object.

Origins When and how did Christians begin using oracular tickets in their sanctuaries? Before answering this question, it has to be said that this method had evident non-Christian parallels. Lots were used in divinatory sanctuaries in various regions of the Mediterranean, but the closest analogy certainly comes from Egypt, where sortilege was practised continually from the Pharaonic times to the Roman period.27 The questions appearing on Christian lots (both with regard to their form and content) do not differ much from those found in temples of Roman Egypt, especially in Soknopaiou Nesos and Tebtunis, but also in Oxyrhynchus, where Christian lots have also been discovered. 26 Lex Frisionum 14.1–2; Tacitus, Germania 10; Pactus legis Salicae 2.82.2, 2.83.2, 2.86, 4.113. For the original Germanic character of the practice known from the Frisian laws, see Modzelewski, 2015, pp. 325. 27 Valbelle and Husson, 1998; Iles Johnston, 2008, pp. 53–5, 68–71; Champeaux, 1990.


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To quote but one example, I present below one question addressed to ZeusHelios-Serapis in the second century: To Zeus-Helios, great Serapis, and other gods related [to them]. Menandros asks whether he should get married. Give me that [in reply].28

David Frankfurter argues that these close similarities point to a genetic link between the practice in Christian and pagan sanctuaries: living in a society that had been using ticket oracles for ages, Christians would have easily taken over this method, which they considered to have been local rather than ‘pagan’. The ritual know-how, Frankfurter contends, was passed on through scribes who offered their services at the shrines of the saints.29 The local cultural background was undoubtedly an important factor in the development of this Christian practice (and many others), but I am not sure whether we can state with certainty that in this case Christians developed their divinatory method through direct borrowing from old Egyptian temples. First of all, we have seen that divinatory lots were used in sanctuaries in various distant places and periods, which indicates that the very idea of sortilege may have appeared independently and that there was nothing specifically ‘Egyptian’ about it. Granted, the questions in Christian and ‘pagan’ shrines in Egypt were similar, but this can hardly be used as an argument in favour of direct borrowing, since questions on marriage, health and lost property were among the most common inquiries submitted to all sorts of oracles, as can be seen, for instance, in the tablets found in Dodona and in the Salic Law.30 Secondly, the gap between the latest lots found in pagan temples (dated to the third century ad) and the oldest Christian lots (dated to the sixth century) is slightly disconcerting.31 Certainly, this gap does not have to indicate that ticket divination was not practised at all for three centuries; it may simply result from the fragmentary character of preserved (and published) evidence, Christian and non-Christian alike. This observation, however, does not make that gap any less arresting. The parallel posited between the ‘pagan’ and Christian ticket oracles makes it necessary to consider yet another method of determining the result 28 P. Oxy. IX 1213. 29 Frankfurter, 2018, pp. 186–9, and 2019. 30 Dodona: Parke, 1967, p. 114; Pactus legis Salicae 2.82.2, 2.86, 4.113. 31 For a list of these, see Papini, 1992. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae 19.12.3–4, some written questions were submitted to the oracle of Bes in the Thebaid, which was still active in the mid-fourth century, but we cannot say whether the consultations carried out there were based on the same principle as in the case of the ticket oracles.

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of a consultation. We know that in Pharaonic times oracular tickets were sometimes laid in front of the statue of a deity carried in a procession. At some point the movements of the statue indicated the ticket that presumably contained the response. Some scholars share the conviction that this method, already in the Hellenistic era, gave way to determining the answer by throwing or drawing lots.32 It is possible, however, that the old technique did not completely disappear, which may be inferred from an edict of the prefect of Egypt of ad 198/199 preserved on papyrus. It prohibits the use of all divination methods, including the komasia. The editor of the papyrus, George M. Parássoglou, translates this word as ‘magic’, but he rightly points out that in Egypt the term ‘invariably meant “procession of the images of the gods”’.33 If we adopt this more obvious translation, it would mean that at the end of the second century the traditional way of determining the divinatory answer (i.e. through the movements of a statue carried in a procession) was still used. Could this method have been taken over and adapted by Christians? This is hardly probable: processions with relics are known only from later centuries, and the shape of the tickets found in Christian shrines – rolled, folded and tied up with string – suggests that they were drawn or thrown like lots. The origin of Christian sortilege is, therefore, difficult to pinpoint, but the question of dating is to a certain extent independent of whether we are dealing with the borrowing of an old practice or, at least in part, a parallel development. As I have already mentioned, none of the divinatory tickets found in sanctuaries dedicated to the cult of a saint have been dated to an earlier period than the sixth century, but this does not necessarily mean that Christians did not use this method of divination earlier. Nor does the lack of earlier literary testimony prove anything in this regard. After all, we have no such evidence even from later periods, when the practice was clearly established, so it would be even more risky than usual to draw any conclusions ex silentio. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that ticket oracles were used before the fourth century. The crucially important fact is that the finds from Egypt and literary testimonies from other parts of the Christian world suggest that this type of divinatory consultation had to be carried out in holy places that would ensure that the answer obtained in the procedure was not a matter 32 Valbelle and Husson, 1998, pp. 1061–8. 33 P. Yale 299, 12–15; see Parássoglou, 1976, p. 269. For iconographic evidence, see Frankfurter, 2010a, pp. 537–8, who subscribes to the view that the text implies that a procession did take place.


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of chance. Meanwhile, before the fourth century Christians simply did not have such places. Third-century churches or altars (of which we know so little) did not create a sacred space. That new quality appears only with the construction of sanctuaries in the Holy Land and the monumental martyrial shrines built over the graves of famous martyrs. Both begin to emerge only in the second quarter of the fourth century, under the rule of Constantine and his successors.34 In the second half of the same century these buildings would attract numerous pilgrims and people who simply wanted to see them. Even if it is difficult to draw the line between respect for the grave of a martyr and the religious awe experienced in a holy place, it is enough for our purposes to indicate the historic moment when the belief in the power of the saints buried in martyria is first recorded in our evidence. The earliest testimonies of this belief can be found in two treatises by Hilary of Poitiers written in the early 360s: De Trinitate and in particular Contra Constantium: The blood of the holy martyrs was shed everywhere, and every day their reverend bones bear testimony, for in their presence the demons groan, the diseases are chased away and marvellous things are admired: bodies are hauled up without ropes, women are suspended by their feet, but their clothes do not fall over their faces, spirits burn without flames, the tormented confess their crimes without interrogation, and all of this provides no less benefit to the investigator than to the increase of the faith.35

Martyrial shrines, which Hilary and many other authors write about, are therefore treated as places where the power of God and his servants is present in an obvious way. The appearance of such places may have changed the attitude towards sortition-based divination, for there the drawing of lots did not provoke anxiety among inquirers with regard to the randomness of the procedure. Thus, martyria did not attract the already existing method that had been practised, dare I say, in the privacy of Christian homes, but rather created that method, or at the very least made it possible for it to be taken over from ‘pagan’ temples and adapted to Christian needs. 34 Markus, 1994. 35 Hilary of Poitiers, Contra Constantium 8: Sanctus ubique beatorum martyrum sanguis exceptus est et ueneranda ossa cottidie testimonio sunt, dum in his daemones mugiunt, dum aegritudines depelluntur, dum admirationem opera cernuntur: eleuari sine laqueis corpora et suspensis pede feminis uestes non defluere in faciem, uri sine ignibus spiritus, confiteri sine interrogatione uexatos, agere omnia non minus cum profectu examinantis quam incremento fidei. See also his De Trinitate 11.3. For more on the beginnings of this belief, see Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 27–47.

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Inquirers, attitudes and popularity It is tempting to try to find out more about the inquirers who used ticket oracles: who were they, and what social groups did they belong to? From the historian’s point of view, this method is particularly interesting, because although the preserved tickets probably do not reflect the whole spectrum of matters that could have been submitted for consultation, they do nevertheless show questions that were really asked. In the Sortes Sangallenses and Sortes Astrampsychi we saw that the originator of the system assumed that it would be used by people wishing to be admitted to an audience with the emperor and seeking to take up administrative posts. With regard to that divinatory tool, however, we are not in a position to say how many people actually used it in order to work out a solution to such issues. As for the ticket oracles, the situation is different: we see only questions that were truly asked and people who actually asked them. At present, the available evidence is too modest to allow us to draw far-reaching conclusions as to the type of matters put forward for consultation or the social status of people who came to submit their questions, but we can make some observations on these issues. The vast majority of oracular tickets deal with problems easily attributable to any person. Tickets from Antinoë contain mostly health-related questions. People who asked them could have belonged to any social group. The same can be said of those who asked for advice regarding marriage. However, the social status of two individuals can be defined in more detail. One of them is a monk who, just as Patroclus mentioned by Gregory of Tours, is asking where he should live. The other is a man who wants to know if he should set himself up as a banker, which implies that he was a representative of the local elite.36 Perhaps the publication of new tickets will broaden our knowledge of the social affiliation of the inquirers, but it is unlikely that we will find among them people belonging to the lower social strata, not because they did not ask questions, but because their questions, unlike those of the elites, were simply indistinguishable. In the Sortes Sangallenses, too, there are very few questions that could have been asked only by the poor, with the exception of those of slaves who wanted to know if they would manage to make their escape. However, given that slaves in Egypt were a rarity at the time, the chances of discovering papyri with their questions are very small. Meanwhile, it is worth noting another interesting thing: women once again are much less represented than men among the inquirers who made use of oracular tickets. As Alain Delattre 36 See above, p. 157.


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notes, ten tickets from Antinoë were written by women, while forty-eight can be attributed to men.37 It is understandable that women were frequently not allowed into monks’ cells and so could not easily consult those who were considered prophets, but they were certainly not prohibited from visiting sanctuaries. Still, apparently they visited them – or at least asked questions – much less frequently than men. The issue is intriguing, though not really surprising. Of the 1,500 tickets found at the oracle of Zeus in Dodona, only 7 can be plausibly identified as submitted by women; these include invalids concerned about the prognosis of their condition and slaves inquiring about their chances of escape.38 Even admitting that in several cases it is impossible to determine the gender of the inquirers due to grammatical ambiguity, the disproportion is still enormous. Most questions to ticket oracles were probably asked by people living in the immediate vicinity of the sanctuary, but it seems that pilgrims also used this divinatory method. Among these was the above-mentioned monk who asked whether he should move to some other monastic community or stay where he had lived thus far, in Antinoë, which is about 100 kilometres north of Lykopolis, where this consultation took place. As a rule, Christian divinatory tickets, like their older counterparts, contained questions about the affairs of individual people, possibly their families. It is possible, however, that consultations were sometimes performed on behalf of the community. This is evidenced by the already mentioned ticket from Antinoë with the following content: God of all saints, if you recommend burying two martyrs next to each other, give this [as an answer].39

As we can see, the content itself does not determine the person or group on behalf of whom the question was asked. We cannot rule out the possibility that this was the initiative of an individual who, having discovered the grave of a martyr, wanted to place his or her remains in a private martyrium, where another saint was already buried. Such situations were not uncommon in the early period of development of the cult of relics. 40 However, since the ticket dates back to the sixth or seventh century, when the control of 37 Personal communication of 24 September 2019. 38 Eidinow, 2009, pp. 130–1. 39 Donadoni, 1954. 40 See Brown, 1981, pp. 31–5. To use but one example, a certain Pompeiana of Carthage was believed to have arranged for the burial of the martyr Maximilian in the shrine beside the tomb of Cyprian, which is where her body was to be buried as well; Acta Maximiliani 3. Even if we are

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church authorities over the burials of the saints was stricter, it seems that this is rather a consultation on behalf of a group who wondered whether the remains of the newly found or transferred martyr could be deposited in an existing martyrial shrine. If this was the case, the question was probably asked by a local priest, or at least with his approval, which would suggest that at this time the use of oracular tickets did not raise strong objections among the clergy. It is difficult to say how widespread this attitude was. On the one hand, as a rule Christians were wary of all forms of drawing lots and resorted to sortition-based methods only reluctantly. This is all the more remarkable given that these methods could have been easily justified on biblical grounds (note especially the consultations performed by Jewish archpriests attested to in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament example of Matthias, who was co-opted to fill the vacant place of Judas among the Twelve by a sortition-based procedure). 41 Nevertheless, there is very little evidence of Christians using this method to inquire into the intentions of God, settle disputes or elect bishops, and the drawing of lots may have aroused some distrust on account of being reminiscent not only of gambling, but also, if not especially, of ‘pagan’ cleromancy. On the other hand, the impact of these negative associations should not be overestimated. Sortition was only a technique, and even if used for purposes worthy of condemnation, it was easy to detach it from questionable connotations. Rolling dice, after all, was not a religious act in itself. Even if, as a rule, bishops were not elected by casting lots, at least one normative text allows the use of sortilege if regular methods failed. According to the sixth-century Dialogue of Patriarch Cyril with Anthimos and Stephen, the patriarch of Alexandria can resort to sortition in order to appoint the bishop for a community whose members have not worked out a consensus to present him with one candidate for ordination.42 It is impossible to say whether this solution was ever implemented, but this particular text, written as it was in a clerical milieu, shows that sortition was certainly not seen as something outrageous; rather, it was the context and content of the consultation that may have been problematic. The same conclusion can be drawn from hagiographical stories in which the orthodox or heretical character of a theological claim is decided by a sort of pious sortilege.43 not dealing here with a real event, this example demonstrates that this was entirely acceptable to the compiler of the acts of Maximilian’s martyrdom. See Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 85–6. 41 For urim and thummim, see pp. 33–4. On Matthias: Acts 1:15–26. 42 See Crum, 1915, pp. 27–8. 43 Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 45; Constantine of Tios, Translatio Euphemiae 9.


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Considering this, it is worth paying attention to the ‘theological correctness’ of this divinatory method that may have facilitated its acceptance. Two features of ticket oracles are especially important in this respect. Firstly, as we have seen, most tickets mentioned the name of the saint and the procedure was carried out in the saint’s shrine, but the questions were addressed to God, not to the martyr. This was a doctrinally impeccable, but not a self-evident, vision of the role played by the saints.44 It fully agrees with the views expounded in theological writings, but differs significantly from the picture painted by several hagiographers in whose writings the saints often act of their own accord and are invested with an autonomous power. Secondly, the method itself made it possible to ask all sorts of questions that could be answered in either the affirmative or negative. However, we have seen that Christians coming to sanctuaries used this technique to a narrower extent, limiting themselves to questions about what they should do. Among the published tickets, there is not a single one in which the inquirer would like to know about the future by asking directly if this or that will be the case. This clearly distinguishes the tickets from divination books, which were used primarily with a view to finding out what would happen. Of course, this narrowing of the scope of consultations does not result from the desire to adapt to the admonitions of Christian authors – tickets were used in pagan shrines in exactly the same way. However, this approach may have made the practice less controversial and more acceptable in the eyes of the clergy, who did not necessarily have to participate in it themselves, but also did not feel obliged to condemn it. The advantage of oracular tickets, one that must certainly have led to that practice becoming widely available, was its ease of use. All that was necessary to perform the consultation was a piece of papyrus and access to a sanctuary (which, of course, suggests that the local clergy were at least tolerant of this, if not approving). Those who could not write themselves could probably easily benefit from the help of a literate person. It seems that at least in Antinoë the services of professional scribes were used, 45 although the published material does not make it possible to determine whether this was always the case. Performing the consultation required only a little while and could presumably be carried out at any time. It is also possible that there was no need to queue up, because even if many people could not use the oracle simultaneously, the procedure itself was very short. 44 Frankfurter, 2018, pp. 186–7. 45 The tickets found in Antinoë are written by various hands, but some of them look as if they came from the hand of a professional scribe; see Papini, 1985, p. 245.

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Oracular tickets could be employed for all sorts of questions that could be answered by either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This, of course, narrowed down the range of possible consultations, but also had a certain advantage: the answer was always clear and did not require further interpretation. It therefore seems unnecessary to say that any professionals other than scribes (if needed) should have been directly involved. However, it is best to avoid sweeping statements regarding this issue. We have to remember that divinatory procedures were not necessarily designed with the aim of achieving the greatest possible degree of convenience and ease of use. It is possible that those who came to find answers to their questions might have nurtured the expectation that these would be carried out with some ceremony performed by a priest. Unfortunately, the surviving tickets do not make it possible to determine that this was the case.

6. Interrogating Demoniacs There was a certain man who from a tender age used to attend all-night vigil of the Forerunner and who sang the hymns of humble Romanos among the saints right up to the present day. In the time of the reign of the Emperor Herakleios, this man was burglarized as the birthday of the holy Forerunner was dawning. For knowing that he lived alone (for up to the present time indeed he has lived alone for 52 years) and watching a time when he was singing, the burglar found an opportunity and broke in. After completing the all-night vigil, the other went home and found a lock secure, as if it had in no way been tampered with. Then suspecting nothing unusual, especially as he had just come from the vigil, he went to sleep without any concern. When day came and he sought to change clothes and to dress more resplendently in honour of the feast, he did not find a single one of his garments, not even his belt, except for what he was wearing when he returned from all-night vigil. Mounting an investigation, he asked his neighbours to tell him if they knew how the burglary had occurred. They said they did not know. But when they saw him lamenting over the burglary, they suggested to him that he go to [the church of] Saint Panteleemon, in the Rouphinos quarter, saying that someone was there dispensing information who would tell him the burglar. For it happened at that time that there were a very large number of possessed in many churches. Relieved for the moment by these words, the man went off to Saint Panteleemon’s, but upon hearing the cry of the possessed one said to himself: ‘Now I am forsaking God and approaching demons; now I have been robbed of and I lost my soul’. Saying this, he returned home and in a state of dejection threw himself on his bed and bewailing his fate he fell asleep. ‒ Miracula Artemii 18, trans. By Virgil S. Crisafulli

In Late Antiquity most people believed that, aside from themselves, the world was also inhabited by other intelligent beings which the Greeks usually called daimones.1 Christians shared this conviction, but distinguished between two categories of these beings: some of them, the angels, were friendly towards humankind, while others, the daimones or unclean spirits, were f iendishly hostile. It was also commonly believed that angels’ and demons’ knowledge of what had happened, was happening 1 This chapter is based on my article previously published in French as Wiśniewski (2005), but the reader may also want to consult a more recent one by David Frankfurter (Frankfurter, 2010b), whose interpretation of this phenomenon is very close to mine.


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at the time and would happen in the future went far beyond what was available to humans. It seems that in Antiquity Christians did not create a practice of inquiring into angels’ knowledge, but they certainly tried to take advantage of information relayed by demons. The topic of this chapter will be the practice of interrogating those who were considered possessed by unclean spirits and often referred to as energumens. 2 My interest here does not lie so much in the statements of theirs that were treated as prophecies as in the consultations themselves: their justif ication, circumstances, popularity and the degree of acceptance. However, before we go into the analysis of episodes depicting this spectacular practice, let us remind ourselves of the views of Christians regarding the knowledge of pagan oracles about the past, present and future. As I have already mentioned, on the one hand, Christian authors enthusiastically pointed out examples of erroneous prophecies of old deities,3 but on the other, they often felt compelled to admit that they were indeed sometimes accurate. This troublesome veracity was explained by claiming that answers provided in pagan oracles were in fact given by the demons who resided there, hiding behind the statues of gods and inhaling the smoke of sacrifices. Christians believed that demons’ knowledge of what was going to happen, however imperfect, was nevertheless real, resulting from their swiftness, experience, observation of nature, interpretation of Scripture and not least from the fact that they often foretold what they intended to do themselves. 4

Saints and energumens If Christian authors considered pagan oracles to be demons’ doings, then pagan seers known from history, and female seers in particular, were in their view none other than people possessed by evil spirits. Such an opinion was presented especially by Origen, who on one occasion vividly described a

2 I will be using the term energumen to describe people whose state was permanent: see Rousselle, 1990, pp. 137–9, although I am not convinced that it had such a strict technical meaning as Rouselle claims. 3 On top of the places indicated in the introduction, see Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio evangelica 4.2–3; Mark the Deacon, Vita Porphyrii 60; Arnobius, Adversus nationes 3.23; Orosius, Historia adversus paganos 6.15.13–16. 4 See pp. 29–30.

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demon entering the Pythia’s body.5 This leads us to the question of whether the opposite was true: whether people of Late Antiquity believed that the possessed of their time could play the role of oracles or sources of knowledge about hidden matters. I believe that this was indeed the case, not because it seems to be a logical consequence from the observations made by Origen and other authors, but because the practice of consulting the possessed is attested in our evidence. We must start with the observation that in the Lives of saints, as well as in some other narrative texts, we often come across episodes where demons are compelled to make a confession. These confessions are forced by a saint and uttered through the mouth of a possessed person, and they usually consist of unclean spirits revealing their identity and the crimes they have committed.6 Sometimes, however, they also divulge hidden matters unrelated to their own activity and, albeit more rarely, are credited with predicting the future. In the Life of Hilarion, for instance, written by Jerome in the 390s, we read about a possessed man who betrayed the presence of Hilarion in Sicily, where the saint had tried to escape popularity.7 Almost a century later, in the Life of Germanus of Auxerre, we find a demoniac announcing to a group of monks that the holy bishop is approaching their monastery; elsewhere in the same Life, Germanus’s arrival in Britain is heralded by a multitude of demoniacs who knew of his coming in advance.8 In all these examples, evil spirits inhabiting human bodies make their revelations fearing the presence and power of the saint, and they do so without being solicited. In some stories, however, a different situation occurs: the saints order the possessed to be 5 Origen, Contra Celsum 7.4; but also John Chrysostom, In I epistula ad Corinthios homiliae 29.1 (PG 61.242); Lactantius, Divinae institutiones 4.27.14; Prudentius, Peristephanon 1.97–102; Orosius, Historia adversus paganos 6.15.15. Fontaine, 1964, pp. 203–6, showed that Prudentius described the possessed by the same terms as usually used when talking about the Pythia. 6 Hilary of Poitiers, Contra Constantium 8; Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 3.6.4; Jerome, Vita Hilarionis 13.7; Victricius of Rouen, De laude sanctorum 11; Constantius of Lyon, Vita Germani 7 and 13; Vita patrum Jurensium 42; Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Historia religiosa 9.9–10, 13.10–12; Vita Danielis 59; Vita Theodori Syceotae 43.40–7; Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 24 and 56; Gregory of Tours, Liber de virtutibus s. Martini 2.20, 2.34, 2.37, 3.39, Liber vitae patrum 7.2, 8.4, 9.2 and Liber in gloria confessorum 3; Venantius Fortunatus, Vita Germani Parisiensis 71 (189); Vita Genovefae 45. 7 Jerome, Vita Hilarionis 26. 8 Constantius of Lyon, Vita Germani 9 (arrival of the saint in the monastery; see also Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 3.6.2–5) and 26 (Britain). Similar prophecies of demons can also be found in Gregory of Tours, Liber in gloria martyrum 77 and 89. Sometimes demons reveal crimes committed by other people: Gregory of Tours, Liber vitae patrum 17.2; Vita patrum Jurensium 141. Agathias, Historiae 5.5.2, writes that during Justinian’s reign there were people who, pretending to be possessed, announced some impending misfortunes.


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brought to them, and then interrogate them to find out about things that only unclean spirits may know of. A good example of this is the following episode from the Life of St. Martin by Sulpicius Severus: Meanwhile the city [Trier] had been alarmed by a sudden rumour of a movement and inroad of the barbarians, so Martin ordered one of the demoniacs to be brought to him and told him to say whether the report was true. He admitted that there had been ten demons besides himself who had spread this rumour through the population, in the hope that by the ensuing panic, if by nothing else, Martin might be driven from the town; there was nothing further from the minds of the barbarians than an invasion.9

Sulpicius Severus seems to be convinced that it was the energumens (a technical term often used in reference to demoniacs) who announced that the Germanic hordes were about to raid Trier and that the inhabitants believed this prediction. Moreover, he is also convinced that unclean spirits knew the true intentions of the barbarians. What they were advertising in the city was not a mistake, but a sham, something clearly intended to dupe the townsfolk: the demons were not mistaken; they were liars. Another case of interrogation of a possessed person can be found, once again, in the Life of Germanus of Auxerre, where the holy bishop orders an energumen to point out the thief who stole the money collected for taxes.10 Hagiographers and their readers, too, must have taken it for a fact that demons had access to information that was withheld from people, otherwise stories such as those indicated above would have been completely unconvincing.11 However, Christian hagiographers, for all their eagerness in describing such interrogations, avoided touting the possessed as people who might be safely approached for consultation. Thus, f irst of all, we see that all prophecies given by demoniacs are ‘theologically correct’ in accordance with the model laid out in the Life of Antony. In principle, demons never predict 9 Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 18.1–2: Interea cum de motu atque impetu barbarorum subita civitatem fama turbasset, daemoniacum ad se exhiberi iubet; imperat ut an verus esset hic nuntius fateretur. Tum confessus est decem daemonas secum fuisse, qui rumorem hunc per populum dispersissent, ut hoc saltim metu ex illo Martinus oppido fugaretur; barbaros nihil minus quam de irruptione cogitare. Trans. by Frederick Russell Hoare. 10 Constantius of Lyon, Vita Germani 7. 11 Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram 12.13.28: Non sane mirum est, si et daemonium habentes aliquando vera dicunt, quae absunt a praesentium sensibus: quod certe nescio qua occulta mistura eiusdem spiritus fit, ut tamquam unus sit patientis atque vexantis.

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the future, because they can only declare what they have already seen. When trying to guess what is about to happen, they often fail.12 Secondly, hagiographers emphasize that nobody but a saint is capable of assessing whether the information obtained from an energumen is to be trusted. They clearly try to convince readers that the confessions of demons, who are intrinsically deceitful, deserve to be believed only on condition that these have been extracted from them under compulsion, that is, through the agency of God’s power.13 Even if such warnings were especially provided to highlight the special charisma of the Life’s protagonist, they may well have served another purpose: were they perhaps also intended to dissuade people from seeking advice from the possessed directly and from effectively obviating the saint? Indeed, belief in the predictions of demoniacs was not invented by hagiographers. Such predictions also appear in other narrative sources. In his Church History, Sozomen tells the story of a demoniac residing in the church of St. John the Baptist in Hebdomon (a suburban district of Constantinople), who announced that the army of the usurper Eugenius was going to be defeated in the battle of the river Frigidus (ad 394).14 An even more interesting testimony comes from the correspondence of Barsanuphios and John, which attests to the actual problems for which people sought advice from the Old Men of Gaza. This is how the late antique editor of the collection, prefacing a letter by Barsanuphios, summarizes the issue presented to the monk: When God’s wrath came upon mortals, many people [were possessed] by impure spirits [hypo pneumatōn akathartōn] and began to sound like dogs; others would utter prophecies [hōs propheteuontes] that deceived those who believed that they were actually speaking the truth. Then 12 See, for instance, the episode of a girl being exorcized by Theodore of Sykeon (Vita Theodori Syceotae 84): there, the demon’s prediction of the supposedly imminent death of the girl turns out to be false. 13 Paulinus of Milan, who describes numerous confessions of demons in the Vita Ambrosii, emphasizes each time that they were obtained under torture; see Wiśniewski, 2020, pp. 102–4. Constantius of Lyon, Vita Germani 9, shows the caution that the abbot of a monastery near Auxerre exercised for a long time with regard to the words spoken by an energumen. Eustathius of Antioch, De engastrimytho 4.4, claims that, according to the words of Jesus, demons speak the truth only when they are forced to do so by torture. 14 Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 7.24. It seems that this case can be counted among the forced confessions of demons, even if there is no intervention by a saint; see Wiśniewski, 2002. For a later period, see e.g. Narratio de imagine Edessena 51–5, where a demoniac predicts that Constantine Porphyrogennetos is about to ascend to the throne.


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some Christ-loving laypersons sent a question to the same Great Old Man, asking about this.15

Barsanuphios answered this question very briefly by pointing out that the Bible had foretold that false prophets would proliferate. Nevertheless, the letter leaves no doubt that he and the correspondents believed that demons were indeed capable of revealing hidden matters to people who asked their questions of demoniacs. It also makes it clear that this belief was shared even by those who were deeply concerned about that practice.

A Gallic female seer and spiritus pythonis In the Life of Hilary of Arles, written by his disciple, Honoratus of Marseille, in the 470s, we find an episode which suggests that in late antique Gaul there were people who tried to make use of knowledge attributed to demons. Among the accomplishments of the saint, the hagiographer mentions the following event: I certainly cannot pass over in silence the sacrilege when the spirit of Python flowed into the city by a possessed woman [spiritus Pythonis muliere obtenta influxerat civitati], and he [Hilary] defeated it through the skilful art of spiritual counsel. After the readings from the Old Testament, he took hold of the woman and commanded her to stand at the chancel of the church in public view. According to the law, he revealed with an ample sermon just how much evil the cunning of diabolical perversity presented to Christian minds, and he taught with necessary instruction that anyone who committed such a sacrilege as to seek answers from demons inevitably debased himself. Then, leaving no excuse even for the negligent, in order to show that he could not be ignored later, he commanded the woman he had made stand in front of everyone to leave. Then the malignant spirit, seeing that it had been openly revealed and would no longer have the power to seize souls through hidden deceit, said, ‘Where am I to go?’ And turning, rejoicing at how the grace of God had worked through his ministry, Hilary exclaimed, ‘The worst punishment is that you do not know where you will go.’16 15 Barsanuphios and John, Ep. 843 (trans. by J. Chryssavgis). 16 Honoratus of Marseille, Vita Hilarii 17.1–17 (trans. by John-Henry Clay).

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Can this story be regarded as testimony to the practice of interrogating energumens, or, to be more precise, can it be regarded as testimony to any real practice of late antique Christians? The episode is evidently modelled on the Bible, as can be seen in the description of an event in Philippi found in the Acts of the Apostles: As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination [spiritus pythonis in both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate] and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.17

It was in this passage that Honoratus found the expression spiritus pythonis. The fact that the episode is rooted in the Bible does not mean, however, that we are dealing with a trivial literary motif. That passage from the Acts of the Apostles is used in late antique narrative texts only very rarely, so it can hardly be qualified as a topos.18 Moreover, Honoratus of Marseille clearly refers to it, but does not slavishly copy the biblical model. Finally, even if the mention in the Life of Hilary was nothing more than a literary topos, it would still be risky to assume that the practice it condemns did not exist at all. Most of the episode under discussion summarizes a sermon by Hilary devoted to seeking advice from demons. This is a significant observation. In hagiographical writings, the homilies of the saints are used to convey a message that is vitally important from the writer’s point of view. Given that Honoratus had his protagonist condemn the practice of consulting seers, we can be sure that he did so because he wanted to admonish the reader. That practice, which the author refers to as ‘seeking answers from demons’, must have been something that the inhabitants of southern Gaul knew well. But what exactly did that practice consist in? Honoratus clearly presents the woman brought to Hilary as a demoniac. Let us note that the bishop orders her to be removed from the church immediately after the homily (i.e. at the exact moment when the catechumens 17 Acts 16:16–18. 18 I have only one example: the story told by Gregory of Tours (Historiae 7.44), which will be discussed below.


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and energumens are requested to leave).19 To be sure, one could suppose that the labelling of that woman as possessed may have served to cast a slur on a person who, through the gift of prophecy, could be seen as the bishop’s rival and in fact was not considered to be demoniac by those who sought her advice. Anitra Kolenkow notes that exorcism was weaponized and used against charismatics, who were perceived by the church hierarchy as a threat to their authority.20 Could it also have been the case of the woman in Arles? Kolenkow’s statement certainly rings true when we consider the attitude of bishops to those charismatics who gathered a substantial number of followers and were seen as originators of powerful religious movements. The testimony of Eusebius of Caesarea concerning the prophets and prophetesses of the Montanists and Marcionites clearly illustrates that attitude. Here is a description of Montanus in Eusebius’s Church History: Montanus […] was f illed with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a kind of trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved, and began to chatter and talk nonsense, prophesying in a way that conflicted with the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation from the beginning. Of those who listened at that time to his sham utterances some were annoyed, regarding him as possessed, a demoniac in the grip of a spirit of error, a disturber of the masses. They rebuked him and tried to stop his chatter, remembering the distinction drawn by the Lord, and His warning to guard vigilantly against the coming of false prophets.21

Montanus and his prophetesses were thus presented as possessed by unclean spirits.22 Not so the ‘ordinary’ charismatics who did not form a separate religious grouping: indeed, some of those people were seen as deceived by the devil23 but were nonetheless not qualified as energumens requiring exorcism. The woman from the Life of Hilary certainly was not a religious leader, and so her case is different from that of Montanus. Eusebius focused first on presenting the alleged prophets as heretics and only afterwards tried to persuade the reader to believe that they were indeed instruments at the full 19 Constitutiones apostolicae 8.7. 20 Kolenkow, 1980, pp. 1498–9. 21 Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica 5.16.7–8 (trans. by G.A. Williamson). 22 See also Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica 5.16.16–17 (the Montanist prophetess Maximilla), 5.19.3 (the Montanist Priscilla) and 5.13.2 (the Marcionite Philoumene). 23 Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 23; Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 25.

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disposal of demons.24 Honoratus of Marseille, by contrast, gives no suggestion that the woman in question should be identified as a supporter of one or another heresy. Therefore, he certainly does not attempt to slander people who adhered to a condemned doctrine; in his view, ‘seeking answers from demons’ is by no means tantamount to ‘consulting heretical charismatics’. Nor does anything suggest that the woman seized on Hilary’s order practised divination using any method which I have written about thus far. Had Honoratus wanted to target Hilary’s attack against some specific form of divination, he would have defined it in such a way as to avoid ambiguity and to make the point clearly understandable. Incidentally, it is worth noting that augurs, haruspices, magi, seers and other diviners specializing in foretelling the future with the use of sortilege, divinatory books and other instruments (likewise their clients, for that matter) were not described in Christian writings as possessed and consequently in need of being subjected to exorcism. This observation holds true despite the fact that Christian authors regarded all methods of divination known to ‘pagans’ as inspired by demons. It seems, therefore, that the gist of that particular passage of the Life of Hilary is to dissuade readers from seeking advice from individuals who were truly seen as possessed by demons, who knew things hidden from other people. Admittedly, the category of the ‘possessed’ is not easy to define. In Late Antiquity, the terminology employed to describe submission to demons is far from precise: any term that may at first sight seem narrow and technical may have been used to denote quite different states and behaviours.25 In Origen’s view, the Pythia, who delivered prophecies in a state of trance, was possessed by a demon of the same kind as those that Christians drove out of energumens.26 Even if the point of that particular passage was to discredit that respected institution of Greek religion, it seems that for Christian writers the difference between a permanent mental disorder and a mediumistic trance was of little significance. In one of his Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew, John Chrysostom explicitly referred to human mediums that sorcerers used to communicate with evil spirits as people possessed by demons (daimonōntes).27 Wherever our sources make it possible 24 The same method of defamation of the opponent can be found in Mark the Deacon, Vita Porphyrii 85–90, the author of which claims that a certain Julia, a Manichee, was possessed. The scene of the dispute between her and Porphyry resembles the interrogation of demoniacs; see Scopello, 1997, pp. 203–8. 25 See Wiśniewski 2020, pp. 107–11. 26 See p. pp. 174–5. 27 John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum 28.3.


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to distinguish between what we would now call mental illness and trance, it is the context that provides the decisive information, rather than the terms used to describe these phenomena. The problem is that in the account provided by Honoratus of Marseille the context alone does not allow for an unambiguous definition of the group to which the woman from Arles belonged, and so neither of the two possibilities mentioned above can be excluded a priori. However, a parallel found in Gregory of Tours, who wrote around a century later, may be of some help. In his Histories, he mentions a similar event.28 Here, too, we see a woman ‘having a spirit of divination’ (spiritus pythonis); she is also detained by order of the bishop and subjected to exorcism, which, however, proves to be only partially effective, as the demon reveals his identity but does not leave the woman’s body. There is no doubt that Gregory considered that woman to be possessed by a demon, even though she did not seem to behave in a way that would indicate a mental disorder: she collects gold that she receives from inquirers, decorates herself with jewels, and after being sent away from the bishop, she concludes that she can no longer live in the area and goes to Queen Fredegund. One gets the impression that she was generally aware of what she was doing, probably except for the moments of trance. Should we therefore interpret the episode contained in the Life of Hilary in a similar way? Should we consider all those who are described as demoniacs delivering oracles to have been trance mediums? In some cases this may have been true. However, on the following pages we will be looking at the evidence which shows that among those to whom late antique Christians turned for consultation when trying to find out about hidden matters, there were people whose ‘possession’ was not temporary but permanent.

Pythones, engastrimythoi, ventriloqui, arrepticii Late antique authors referred to demoniacs uttering oracles, using a few terms borrowed from the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament: pythones, engastrimythoi, ventriloqui and arrepticii. The problem is that the precise meaning of any of these terms is difficult to determine. In this subchapter I invite the reader to closely examine the contexts in which these words appear. The matter is complicated, but examining the sense of these terms in detail is the only way to see how close we can get to the reality behind them. 28 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 7.44.

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Let us start with a passage from Origen’s treatise on First Principles, whose Greek original is now lost, but which Jerome quotes in Latin in the following way: on the other hand infants that are hardly weaned are f illed by an evil spirits and become diviners and soothsayers; indeed, some are possessed from their earliest years with the demon python [daemon pythonicus].29

In this passage ‘python’ (or daemon pythonicus) is obviously understood as an evil spirit that makes those possessed by it utter oracles. But this was not the only term used to refer to it. We know this because the passage quoted above is preserved in the less literal translation of Origen’s treatise by Rufinus of Aquileia who says that some demoniacs are ‘subject to the demon they call python, that is the ventriloquist [quem pythonem nominant, id est ventriloquum]’. The last words which identify the pytho with ventriloquus are Rufinus’s explanatory note.30 Both words appear in the Latin version of the Bible: ventriloquus, unattested in classical authors, was used several times to literally translate the Greek engastrimythos (‘belly-talker’) in the Old Latin translation (Vetus Latina). In Jerome’s Vulgate, on the other hand, the Hebrew noun ‘ob, which in the Septuagint is rendered as engastrimythos, is consistently translated as pytho.31 Rufinus was not the first to consider pytho as an equivalent of ‘ventriloquist’. Plutarch, for example, wrote the following: After all, it is silly and childish to imagine that god [Apollo] himself, acting like the ‘ventriloquists’ [engastrimythoi] formerly known as ‘Euricleses’ and today as pythones, should enter the bodies of prophets and speak with their mouths and use their voices as his instrument.32 29 Jerome, Ep. 124.8: et e contrario paruuli, licet paene lactantes, malis replentur spiritibus et in diuinos atque ariolos inspirantur in tantum, ut etiam daemon pythonicus quosdam a tenera aetate possideati. 30 Origen, De principiis 3.3.5. 31 Engastrimythos in the Septuagint: Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:11, 1 Samuel 28:3–9 (five times), 1 Chronicles 10:13, 2 Chronicles 33:6, 35:19a, Isaiah 8:19, 19:3, 44:25. In all of the relevant paragraphs of the Vetus Latina the term engastrimythos is translated as ventriloquus; see the Vetus Latina database of Brepols (online). 32 Plutarch, De defectu oraculorum 9 (414e): εὔηθες γάρ ἐστι καὶ παιδικὸν κομιδῇ τὸ οἴεσθαι τὸν θεὸν αὐτὸν ὥσπερ τοὺς ἐγγαστριμύθους Εὐρυκλέας πάλαι νυνὶ δὲ Πύθωνας προσαγορευομένους ἐνδυόμενον εἰς τὰ σώματα τῶν προφητῶν ὑποφθέγγεσθαι τοῖς ἐκείνων στόμασι καὶ φωναῖς χρώμενον ὀργάνοις. Trans. by Frank C. Babbitt.


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It is diff icult to clearly determine what meaning the terms pytho and engastrimythos had in classical literature. Aristophanes and Plato write that Euricles, mentioned in the above passage by Plutarch, was a man who uttered his prophecies in a strange voice, and Hippocrates in turn says that people called engastrimythoi were noticeable for their heavy breathing, but this is all we know about their way of prophesying.33 Until the midtwentieth century, engastrimythoi were considered to have been a variety of necromancers.34 This conviction was based primarily on a paragraph of the Byzantine Souda lexicon: there, the entry on the engastrimythoi tells us about women who ‘summoned the spirits of the dead’. This view was questioned by Eric Dodds,35 who noted that no text from Classical Antiquity suggested any connection between the engastrimythoi and the practice of invoking the dead; he added that the definition found in Souda was simply a result of reading the passage in the Book of Samuel (28:3–9), where the Septuagint used that word in reference to the witch of Endor, who was indeed a necromancer (acting on King Saul’s request, summoned the spirit of Samuel). Today, Dodds’s opinion is widely accepted, namely that the engastrimythoi were a kind of private seers giving responses in a mediumistic trance, which the heavy breathing mentioned by Hippocrates may be a symptom of.36 The testimony of Plutarch, quoted above, suggests that this state was attributed to the possession of the engastrimythoi by a god who spoke through their mouths. When writing about the engastrimythoi/pythones, are Origen and Rufinus on the one hand and Plutarch on the other talking about one and the same phenomenon? Is it about people who prophesied in the same way and in the same state of mind? The fact that, according to Plutarch, they are considered to be possessed by a god, and according to Origen by a demon, is only a minor difference, because Christians should have thought that ‘all the gods of the gentiles are demons’ (Psalm 95:5), as we read in the Septuagint. Another difference is far more important: it may be inferred from these texts that Plutarch, like earlier non-Christian authors, regarded the engastrimythoi as 33 Aristophanes, Vespae 1017–20; Plato, Sophistes 252c; Hippocrates, Epidemiae 5.63 (= 7.28). 34 Bouché-Leclercq, 1879–82, vol. 1, p. 338; Halliday, 1913, pp. 244–5. 35 Dodds, 1951, pp. 71–2, followed by Amandry, 1966, p. 175, and Aune, 1983, pp. 40–1. 36 This concept seems convincing, but I think that Dodds too hastily rejects the idea that there might have been a link between the engastrimythoi and necromancy. The version of the Septuagint should not be disregarded. Given that its creators consistently (as we will see later) chose the word engastrimythos to convey the Hebrew term ‘ob, meaning ‘one who recalls the souls of the dead’, one should think that at least in the Hellenistic era it was associated with necromancy; see Ogden, 2001, p. 113.

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being possessed only temporarily, while Origen evidently claimed that they were permanently affected, which is in line with the episode of the Acts of the Apostles, where we read that a girl endowed with a ‘spirit of python’ followed Paul and his companions ‘for many days’, which, I think, means that her condition could not have been only momentary.37 It would be too rash to conclude that, unlike classical writers, Christians always used the terms to denote prophesying energumens. As I have already mentioned, the term engastrimythos was used many times in the Septuagint to render in Greek the Hebrew word ‘ob, which denoted a prophet who was capable of making contact with the souls of the dead.38 The most famous example of an engastrimythos from the Old Testament is, of course, the witch of Endor.39 The witch of Endor, however, markedly differs from both the engastrimythoi of classical antiquity and those referred to by Origen: she does not speak in a trance, nor is she permanently possessed by a demon, and the spirit with whom she is in contact does not speak through her mouth but appears as a ghost. The witch of Endor is a necromancer. In the light of what I have said above, whenever we encounter the word engastrimythos in a Christian text, we are always faced with the necessity of deciding whether it was used in its original meaning (a seer in trance), in that which we find in the Acts of the Apostles and in Origen (a prophesying demoniac) or finally in the sense adopted by the Septuagint (a necromancer). Only the context indicates what the author may have had in mind when using the term. Unfortunately, the context is all too often very ambiguous, and when, for example, Clement of Alexandria writes about some ‘engastrimythoi, who are admired by the crowds also today’, we simply do not know what type of engastrimythoi he is referring to. 40 37 I do not agree with Aune, 1983, p. 41, who writes: ‘the bizarre behavior of the slave girl and her loud cry while delivering the oracle are characteristic features of possession trance’. ‘Bizarre behavior’ and ‘loud cries’ seem to fit perfectly with a permanent condition, too. Aune, on the other hand, omits another element of the description of the Acts of the Apostles, namely that the girl followed Paul and Barnabas ‘for many days’, shouting her prophesies. I cannot really imagine that a presumably mediumistic trance could have lasted for days. 38 See the instances enumerated above in note 31, p. 183, except for Isaiah 44:25. There are only three paragraphs in the Bible where the word ‘ob is translated differently: 2 Kings 21:6 and 23:24, and Isaiah 29:4. On the meaning of ‘ob, see Ebach and Rüterswörden, 1977 and 1980; Jeffers, 1996, pp. 169–72. 39 See also the commentary by Simonetti, 1989, pp. 7–41. For more on the episode itself and the type of divination it describes, see Schmidt, 1995. 40 Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 2.11.2. Other places where the context does not allow us to decide what type of person we are dealing with include Clement’s Paedagogus; Pseudo-Athanasius, Vita Syncleticae 87; Vita Symeonis Stylitae Iunioris 209.


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Aside from the Acts of the Apostles and the treatise on First Principles by Origen, the only occurrence of the pytho/engrastrimythos that unquestionably refers to a person possessed by a demon (or rather to the evil spirit living in that person) is a passage from the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, whose author proudly states that Christians are capable of chasing away pythones from the possessed. 41 In turn, in the fifth-century Questions and Answers to the Orthodox by Pseudo-Justin, the word engastrimythoi almost certainly denotes necromancers, who call on the spirits of the dead. 42 It is possible, however, that necromancers and prophesying demoniacs were sometimes perceived as belonging to similar categories. In his book on ancient Greek necromancy, Daniel Ogden suggests that demons expelled from the possessed were often considered to be the spirits of the dead. 43 The episodes he calls on to support this claim are not fully conclusive, and this identif ication was not necessarily expressed that frequently; nevertheless, it is worth noting that John Chrysostom in one of his Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew went to great lengths to convince his audience that the souls of the people who had died did not suddenly transmogrify into demons. 44 There is no doubt that there were Christians who did not share John’s opinion on the subject and effectively did not clearly differentiate between the prophesying possessed and the necromancers. The term engastrimythos could therefore have referred to fortune-tellers whom today we might like to classify as belonging to different groups; the ancients, however, did not necessarily draw any strict distinctions between these. In addition, the whole matter is complicated by the fact that, on the whole, Christian authors rarely used that word to describe contemporary practices; rather, they would use it when commenting on the Bible. 45 To 41 Pseudo-Clementinae homiliae 9.16: ὅτι καὶ πύθωνες μαντεύονται, ἀλλ’ ὑφ’ ἡμῶν ὡς δαίμονες ὁρκιζόμενοι φυγαδεύονται. 42 Pseudo-Justin, Quaestiones et responsiones ad orthodoxos 81. 43 Ogden, 2001, pp. 114–15, believes that some elements of the literary description of exorcisms, especially the fact that demons often reveal their names and sometimes appear in human form, proves that spirits expelled from the energumens were taken for the souls of the dead. He points to the ‘legion’ of unclean spirits expelled by Jesus in Gaza; a demon who, expelled by Theodore of Sicily, appeared in the form of a black woman; and the demons mentioned by Lactantius, revealing their names during exorcism. On these New Testament materials, see Edwards, 1989. 44 John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum 28.3. 45 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Quaestiones in Octateuchum: in Leviticum 29, explains that the engastrimythoi are ‘tines hypo daimonōn energoumenoi’, but he also seems to refer to a historical phenomenon rather than a contemporary practice.

Interrogating Demoniacs


them, engastrimythoi were, above all, pagan seers, who were condemned in the Pentateuch, the Books of Samuel and the Chronicles, with the witch of Endor taking pride of place among them. One should note that neither Origen nor Eustathius of Antioch nor Gregory of Nyssa, all of whom comment on the episode of the witch of Endor, suggest that engastrimythoi were also operating in their lifetimes.46 Similarly, Latin writers, with the exception of Rufinus in his translation of Origen quoted above, never tell of contemporary ventriloqui. In Western literature, where the word ventriloquus only appeared with the Vetus Latina, it always refers to Old Testament pagan seers, especially to the witch of Endor. The only exception I know of (i.e. the paragraph quoted from On Principles), is translated from the Greek original. Thus, the Latin-speaking Westerners applied this term neither to the possessed nor to any contemporary specialists in divination. In Latin literature it is the term pytho that looks more promising. Admittedly, it can denote necromancers, as was the case with Greek authors. However, in several passages of Augustine’s writings we find that the meaning of the word is most probably different. In his sermons, he mentioned pythones several times, referring to divination practices that were clearly well-known to his North African audiences. To quote but two such examples from Augustine: Isn’t this man a believer? And he consults a pythonissa. This man’s a believer, isn’t he? And when he has a headache – he ties spells around his neck […]. 47 [As for those who consult idols], when their household suffers no ill, they might perhaps be Christians, but whenever it finds itself in trouble, they run to [consult] a pytho, a soothsayer, or an astrologer [currunt ad pythonem, aut sortilegum, aut mathematicum]. 48

We see here that Augustine mentions pythones along with two other categories of divination professionals who can be consulted in similar situations: a sortilex (probably using divinatory books) and an astrologer. Interestingly, in his sermons Augustine also uses another term – arrepticius – apparently interchangeably with pytho. This other term literally means ‘captured, 46 All these texts were published, together with Simonetti’s commentary and an Italian translation in Simonetti, 1989. 47 Augustine, Sermo 260D.2 (trans. by Edmund Hill). 48 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 91.7.


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seized’, which brings us closer to the practice we are interested in. 49 To quote two more examples: When he finds himself in want of something, when his soul is distressed or he suffers from a lack of worldly necessities, he goes off to seek help from demons, he wants to consult those seized [arreptitios] by demons, or he makes inquiries with soothsayers.50 When your head is aching, surely you will not seek after a seized man [arrepticium], a magician, an enchanter, or a quack doctor healing with malicious knots?51

It must be noted that Augustine, enumerating the various professionals to whom people would resort in trouble, mentions one or the other of these two but never both at the same time.52 Moreover, the fact that the term arrepticius was used in the sense of pytho is apparent in Bede, who used it with reference to the witch of Endor, that is, to the archetypal pythonissa of biblical history.53 To Bede, who wrote in the eighth century, but was familiar with Augustine’s sermons,54 the word arrepticius was therefore synonymous with pytho but denoted a necromancer.55 This, however, is certainly not the original meaning of the term arrepticius. This nominalized adjective was introduced into Latin literature, along with ventriloquus, by the Vetus Latina. 49 Souter, 1949: ‘seized by an evil spirit, possessed, mad’; Blaise, 1954: ‘1. en transe, inspiré; 2. (pl.) ceux qui sont possédés d’un délire sacré, prêtres païens en transe; 3. les fous, un possédé du démon’. 50 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 34.1.6: Si aliquid deest, si in angusto est anima, in inopia temporalium, quaerit auxilium plerumque a daemonibus, arreptitios daemonum vult consulere, sortilegos quaerit. 51 Augustine, Sermo 335F, p. 21: Non quando caput doles quaeras arrepticium, maleficum, incantatorem, remediatorem sacrilegis ligaturis. See also Augustine, Sermo 63A.3: Quomodo gentium ecclesia misera quaerens beatitudinem, quaerens aliquas vires habere, vel quaerens medicinam, quanta consumpserat in medicos falsos, in mathematicos, in sortilegos, in arrepticios, et vates templorum? See also Augustine, Sermo Dolbeau 23.12: An forte divinatio divina non est, quae hinc etiam nomen accepit, cuique adeo dedita est curiositas hominum, ut multi hodie propterea nolint esse christiani, dum volunt sibi licere consulere adrepticios, mathematicos, augures et – quid aliud dicam? – magos? 52 Dolbeau, 2003, p. 171, n. 34. 53 Bede, In primam partem Samuhelis 4.28. 54 Dolbeau, 1996, pp. 122–9. 55 Bede, In primam partem Samuhelis 4.28: Dixitque Saul servis suis: quaerite mihi mulierem habentem pithonem ut vadam ad eam et sciscitabor per illam […] Recte pithonissa quam quidam uentriloquam appellant in Aendor.

Interrogating Demoniacs


In the First Book of Samuel (21:15), David, feigning madness out of fear of Philistines, was labelled as ‘seized’ (arrepticius, the Septuagint: epilēptos; the Vulgate: furiosus) by Achish, king of Gath. In the Second Book of Kings (9:11), Jehu’s soldiers describe one of the ‘sons of the prophets’ using that term (the Septuagint: epilēptos; Vulgate: insanus).56 There can be no doubt that the word was coined to convey the Greek ‘epilēptos’, which meant ‘seized’ by a god or spirit. In the context of the books of Kings its meaning is clear: ‘arrepticius’ plainly means a ‘madman’. In his translation of the Bible, Jerome used this term only once, in the Book of Jeremiah (29:26), where we read that Sophonias, son of Maaseiah, was appointed ‘to have charge in the house of the Lord over every arrepticius and prophesying man’ (super omnem virum arrepticium et prophetantem).57 Here, too, this is undoubtedly about madmen, as implied by the Hebrew word meshuga, which Jerome translates as arrepticius; their frenzy, however, is prophetic in nature, which is clear from the context. Also, in the case of the ‘son of the prophets’ in the Vetus Latina, there is a close relationship between ‘seizure’ and prophecy. By contrast, in the episode with David, we see no trace of a prophetic spirit: ‘he changed his behaviour before them and pretended to be insane in their hands, made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard’ (1 Samuel 21:13).58 There is nothing more to that. This description demonstrates that in order to be considered arrepticius, one did not need to prophesy but certainly had to behave like a madman. Neither in the Vetus Latina nor in the Vulgate do the translated biblical texts say directly that the madness of the arrepticii is occasioned by demons. In the Enarrationes in Psalmos (Explanations of the Psalms), however, Augustine points out that people frequented by his flock in need of advice are daemonum arrepticii, that is, ‘seized by demons’.59 This term vividly recalls 56 See the occurrences found in the Vetus Latina database of Brepols (online). Other terms used in Latin translations of this passage are furiosus and insanus. 57 The Septuagint (36:26) has it thus: παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ προφητεύοντι καὶ παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ μαινομένῳ. 58 mutavit vultum suum coram ipsis, et affectabat, et tympanizabat ad ostia civitatis, et ferebatur in manibus suis, et procidebat ad ostia portae, et salivae discurrebant super barbam eius. Augustine refers to this passage in Enarrationes in Psalmos 33.1.2. 59 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 34.1.6, and the same expression at 94.6.21–4. I am not sure if Augustine always considered the prophetic frenzy of arrepticii to be an effect of demonic possession. In De Genesi ad litteram 12.17.36, he speaks in any case of a madman (a phreneticus, not arrepticius) who predicted the death of a certain woman and was clearly not possessed. Augustine admits that he is unable to give an exhaustive explanation of this phenomenon, but he tries nevertheless to link those events to natural causes without making any sort of associations with demons. One may wonder whether this explanation – slightly strange for something that comes from a bishop’s pen – was convincing for those who sought answers to their questions


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the phrases arrepti a daemone, as used by Jerome in the Life of Hilarion, and daemonio arreptus, which can be found in Cassian.60 Both authors clearly referred to energumens.61 The latter author used arrepticius and energumenus interchangeably.62 Slightly later, arrepticii appear in the Lives of Jura Fathers, where the context leaves no doubt that the ‘seized’ lingering in churches were energumens.63 However, returning to the question already asked in the context of the woman of Arles, it is necessary to consider whether, when writing about the arrepticii, Augustine might have been thinking about mediums in a momentary prophetic trance64 or perhaps worshippers of Dea Syria or Cybele,65 who were also known for their prophetic frenzy 66 and whom Christians often considered to be only temporarily possessed by demons.67 with madmen. To me it looks as if these are musings of a Christian intellectual, perhaps inspired by reading a paragraph from Apuleius, which emphasizes the aptness of Plato’s views on the role of divine powers mediating between God and people, powers that were responsible for all forms of preaching. In the passage in question (Apuleius, Apologia 43), Apuleius wonders whether the human soul, under certain conditions, is capable of predicting future events. 60 Jerome, Vita Hilarionis 16.4 and 25.2; Cassian, Collationes 14.7. 61 In a slightly later period, this expression is often used by Gregory of Tours: Historiae 2.3, 4.36, 7.35, Liber in gloria martyrum 38, 42, 68 and Liber vitae patrum 8.5, 17.3. 62 Cassian, Collationes 7.11–12; see also 8.15. 63 Vita patrum Jurensium 15, 34, 89. Nothing in these places suggests a link between the arrepticii and prophecy. It is therefore clearly not a technical term for prophesying madmen, although Jerome, and even more often Augustine, use it in this sense. 64 In Late Antiquity these practices were extremely popular and are well attested in literary texts and magical papyri, see e.g. Apuleius, Apologia 42–3; Iamblichus, De mysteriis 3.6; an entranced magician: De mysteriis 3.31; PGM IV 850–929, VII 348–358, VII 540–544 (for other examples, see Iles Johnston, 2001, p. 101, n. 9). For a commentary, see Dodds, 1965, pp. 53–4. 65 Graillot, 1912, pp. 306–7. 66 See their vivid description in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 8.28–9. The priests of the goddess Ma: Tibullus, Elegiae 1.6.45–50; see Turcan, 1992, pp. 48–9, and Cumont, 1929, pp. 85–6. Other examples of prophecies uttered by adepts of Eastern cults, see Hajjar, 1990, pp. 2307–9. 67 For mediums, see the paragraph mentioned above from the homily of John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum 28.3. As for the priests of Dea Syria, perhaps this is also how Minucius Felix should be interpreted in this passage from his Octavius 27.3: ‘These raging maniacs [ furentes] also, whom you see rush about in public, are moreover themselves prophets without a temple; thus they rage, thus they rave, thus they are whirled around. In them also there is a like instigation of the demon, but there is a dissimilar occasion for their madness’ (trans. by Robert Ernest Wallis). In his edition, Jean Beaujeu notes in a footnote to this passage that the expressions used in that apologetic work correspond to those found in the description of the priests of Dea Syria in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 8.27. Dodds, 1965, p. 56, n. 3, prefers to see there engastrimythoi, to whom he ascribes mediumistic abilities. I do not see any means of deciding which of these interpretations is correct. The ecstatic prophets operating in Palestine and Phoenicia are described by Celsus in a similar manner: Origen, Contra Celsum 7.9.

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Neither of these possibilities can be ruled out completely. In Augustine’s works, in addition to the quotations above, we come across other instances that confirm that at least some arrepticii were associated with pagan cults.68 Moreover, François Dolbeau quotes the previously unpublished text of an anonymous homily, probably of African origin, telling the story of two people, a thief and his victim, who independently went to a man described as an arrepticius.69 The former went there to ask if he would be exposed as culpable, the latter to inquire whether the stolen money would be restored to him. This arrepticius is also referred to in the text as sortilogus and divinus, and his consultations are offered for a fee. The author of the sermon does not tell us anything about the method of divination practised by the man, but it is obvious that he was a professional fortune-teller, certainly not an energumen. Dolbeau suspects that he acted as a medium and would give answers while in a trance and concludes that Augustine’s use of the word arrepticius had this exact meaning. However, in the episode from the First Book of Samuel, which Augustine quotes in his commentary to Psalm 33,70 Achish clearly recognizes the strange behaviour of David as characteristic of someone who was definitively out of his mind and thus could be considered to be a miserable lunatic who does not pose any danger. Had it been otherwise, the story would make no sense. Similarly, when in the same sermon Augustine says that some people perceived Jesus as an arrepticius, he means that they saw him as a permanently deranged person, not as an entranced soothsayer.71 Likewise, the paragraphs mentioned above from Cassian’s Collationes and from the Lives of the Jura Fathers confirm this interpretation of the term. It should therefore be concluded that the term arrepticius, like pytho and engastrimythos, could equally have referred to an energumen as to a soothsayer delivering oracles in a state of trance, and that in the view of late antique Christians the difference between the two forms of ‘possession’ was relatively insignificant. The arepticii of Augustine’s sermons may well have belonged to either group. 68 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 94.6 and 134.20, Sermo 63A.3, Sermo 328 and De civitate Dei 2.4. 69 Dolbeau, 2003, pp. 171–2, n. 34, with an annex on pp. 181–2. 70 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 33.1.2 and 33.1.8. 71 Similarly, Caesarius of Arles, Sermo 127.1, explains to his audience that the Israelites did not show due respect to the prophets, who were treated by them as insani atque arrepticii. The context of the sermon and other biblical examples (especially that of the ‘sons of the prophets’ described by Jehu’s soldiers as insanus and that of Jesus named arrepticius by his opponents) indicate that to Caesarius these two terms were, by and large, synonymous and that both simply denoted a ‘madman’.


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This terminological study shows that the phenomenon of demoniacs uttering oracles was widespread and is attested by different sources, but at the same time it warns against qualifying too easily the actual state of those who are called pythones, engastrimythoi or arrepticii. As David Frankfurter rightly remarks, this is a more general problem of the late antique evidence referring to demonic possession. The statement that someone ‘had a demon’ does not indicate a distinct form of possession performance.72

Consultations in Constantinople and Egypt Luckily, there are other testimonies which do not make use of any of the terms discussed above but nevertheless clearly demonstrate that not only entranced soothsayers but also ‘real’ energumens were consulted with a view to finding out about hidden matters. Probably the most interesting of them is in the episode quoted at the beginning of this chapter, whose essential part is worth citing again. The episode comes from the seventhcentury Miracles of St. Artemios and tells the story of a pious inhabitant of Constantinople, whose house was plundered by burglars when he himself was at an all-night vigil in a church.73 The neighbours of the unfortunate man claimed that they did not see the perpetrators, but: they suggested to him that he go to [the church of] Saint Panteleemon, in the Rouphinos quarter, saying that someone was there dispensing information [epistasin didonta] who would tell him the burglar. For it happened at that time that there were a very large number of possessed [pleistous einai daimoniōntas] in many churches. Relieved for the moment by these words, the man went off to Saint Panteleemon’s, but upon hearing the cry of the possessed one said to himself: ‘Now I am forsaking God and approaching demons; now I have been robbed of and I lost my soul’. Saying this, he returned home.74

This passage is important not only because it directly confirms the existence of the practice in question; the point is also that while we know more or 72 Frankfurter, 2010b, p. 36; about the problematic terminology of demonic possession, see Wiśniewski, 2020, pp. 107–8. 73 This paragraph, as well as other testimonies of the possessed taken from Byzantine literature, are commented upon by Déroche, 1995, pp. 159–61. 74 Miracula Artemii 18.19–27 (trans. by Virgil S. Crisafulli).

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less what the séances of magi evoking the spirits of the dead by means of a medium may have looked like,75 it is more difficult to picture in detail how the consultations with energumens were organized. This episode gives some idea at least of where such consultations took place. In ancient Christian literature we often come across energumens residing permanently in well-known sanctuaries. There are numerous descriptions of this phenomenon, especially but by no means exclusively in hagiography.76 I have argued elsewhere that this phenomenon appeared first in monumental martyrial shrines, constructed throughout the Christian world in the Constantinian period. These places soon attracted large numbers of the poor, sick, and demoniacs who would receive there alms, shelter and sometimes other forms of care.77 In addition to literary sources, acts of church councils and other normative texts also attest to the permanent presence of the possessed in places of worship. In the fifth-century collection of canons known as Statuta ecclesiae antiqua we read that the energumens residing in churches should be provided with food and drink, and be exorcized on a daily basis; they should also be deployed to work in the sanctuary and sweep the pavements.78 Thus, energumens permanently resided in martyria. Certainly, not all of them had the ability to deliver oracles; some did not speak in a comprehensible manner, others did not speak at all. The author of the second series of the Miracles of Cosmas and Damian mentions a number of possessed women who lived in the saints’ sanctuary, but presents only one of those as ‘uttering words’ (logon didosi).79 Even if this expression did not clearly mean that the woman acted as an oracle, it was those ‘speaking’ energumens who may potentially have performed this role. But still, it was probably not difficult to find a suitable energumen in the sanctuary in Constantinople 75 In recent years, a number of studies on the subject have been published, such as Athanassiadi, 1993; Gordon, 1997; Iles Johnston, 2001. 76 Jerome, Ep. 108.13; Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 3.6.2–5; Vita patrum Jurensium 42 and 89; Paulinus of Milan, Vita Ambrosii 14.2–3, 29.2, 33.3; Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica 6.6 (an alleged energumen); Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 7.24; Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 51–6. Gregory of Tours, Historiae 7.29. It is possible that they were also present in some pagan shrines; see Lucian of Samosata, De dea Syria 43. Sometimes possessed individuals were taken to churches by their families. Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre says that during the epidemic of ‘madness and demonic spirit’ which struck Amida in 559–60 ‘those who were spared from this madness managed by allurement or coercion and angry menaces to gather (the mad) in churches so that now all the churches and martyria of the city were filled with them entirely’ (trans. by W. Witakowski). 77 See Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 39–41. 78 Statuta ecclesiae antiqua, can. 62–4; similar provisions: Concilium Arelatense secundum, can. 39(38), 40(39); Concilium Arausicanum, can. 13(14), 14(15). 79 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 2.12.


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or one elsewhere: the woman of Arles detained on Hilary’s order may have been taken on the spot: in the church or its immediate surroundings. However, energumens were interrogated in sanctuaries not only because they were easy to f ind in the holy places, but also because such places guaranteed that one might be sure of the truthfulness of the answers received. The power of the relics deposited in the shrines of the martyrs prevented those who approached them from lying. Even the people who were not considered demoniacs were expected to be afraid to swear a false oath on the tombs of saints. When two clerics in Hippo accused each other of homosexual advances, Augustine sent them to the shrine of St. Felix in Nola ‘where the awesome acts of God might more readily disclose the bad conscience of anyone and might compel him to confession because of fear of punishment’.80 A similar expectation concerned demoniacs. I believe that this is how we should interpret the practice that Athanasius wrote about in one of his Paschal epistles, which has survived only in a Coptic translation. He condemns people who go to visit the tombs of martyrs in order to inquire with demons about the future. He emphasizes that both Paul the Apostle and Jesus urged demons to silence, even though – through the mouths of the possessed – they sometimes did happen to tell the truth, and adds that those who claim that a number of the demoniacs have been healed in martyria misinterpret the source of the healing power: Let them listen, and I will answer them by saying that they are not healed by the martyrs coming upon the demons, but they are healed by the Saviour, the one whom the martyrs confessed. And the demons cry out because they are being tortured by him, just as those in the gospel cried out, saying: ‘I beg you, do not torture us!’ But they try to see the demons that are destroying them! These people give glory to them [the demons] and ask them about what will happen. After these words, will they dare to ask their questions through the intermediacy of the unclean spirits? Yes, they will dare, for they are shameless lovers of pleasure.81

As David Brakke noted,82 the above citation is unclear. Athanasius talks first about people who ask demons about the future, but in the next sentence 80 Augustine, Ep. 78.3. This is probably the oldest attestation of ordeal in a Christian milieu; see Shanzer, 2014, who discusses the circumstances of this consultation and shows what was expected to happen and what may have happened during it. 81 Athanasius, Epistula festalis 42.28; trans. by David Brakke, 1998, 479 (slightly altered). 82 Brakke, 1998, pp. 469–71.

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says that those people would ask their questions ‘through unclean spirits’, which suggests that the questions were asked of the martyrs.83 I think the practice actually consisted of interrogating demons who spoke through the mouths of the possessed, which Athanasius admits at the beginning of the passage. The presence of the martyrs’ relics was nevertheless necessary, because martyrs played the role of torturers who tormented the unclean spirits, thus ensuring the credibility of their utterances: this role is very clearly emphasized in hagiographical literature.84 Athanasius reversed the roles assigned to martyrs and demons merely with a view to discrediting his opponents, who allegedly resorted to demons whenever they wished to interrogate a saint.85 At the end of the letter, Athanasius describes this reprehensible practice as a form of idolatry and enjoins his readers as follows: That is why I am asking you to keep the people of this sort outside the community of God, as lepers and foreign to the faith. Lest a thing of this kind happen among us and those who live with us. We are truly foreign to demons, as we have the prophets and worship the Word of God who speaks from heaven, and we do not need those who ‘speak from the earth’.86

The term that closes this passage comes from the Book of Isaiah,87 but it seems that Athanasius took it directly from Origen’s Commentary to the Book of Numbers, along with his interpretation of the biblical references (in 83 Brakke, 1998, p. 469, proposes translating the passage as follows: ‘question the unclean spirits’. Camplani’s new translation (p. 541) is closer to that of Lefort: ‘attraverso gli spiriti immondi’. 84 For more on this subject, see Brown, 1981, p. 109, and Wiśniewski, 2002, pp. 373–5. See e.g. Paulinus of Milan, Vita Ambrosii 16, 21, 33.3–4, 48.2; Gregory of Tours, Liber de virtutibus s. Martini 3.39 and Liber vitae patrum 8.11. 85 It is also possible that inquirers themselves may have been convinced that they asked questions of martyrs through the possessed as intermediaries. In the Miracles of St. Demetrios we find a man who ‘went to the martyrium of Saint Isidore, both to find out from the locals who this Demetrios was and to ask the saint to reveal the truth to him’. The move turned out to be apposite, because ‘the suffering who were in the sanctuary and through whom, under compulsion from above, the demons in them spoke against their will, unveiled the truth to him’ (Miracula Demetrii 1.9.76). Similarly: Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 36.22, where we come across a possessed man who lives in a martyrial shrine and by the command of the martyrs announces to a Monophysite suffering from some illness that the latter will not recover unless he converts to the orthodox faith. 86 Athanasius, Epistula festalis 42.31 87 Isaiah 29:4 (the Septuagint): οἱ φωνοῦντες ἐκ τῆς γῆς. Similarly in Isaiah 8:19 and 19:3; in the latter two cases the expression is used in conjunction with engastrimythoi.


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particular those of Jesus and Paul, who prohibited demons from speaking). In this text, preserved in Rufinus’s translation, Origen explains that those who ‘speak from the earth’ symbolize pagan divination and adds: Thus, given that Paul could not stand him [a demon] bearing testimony to him [his being a servant of God], but lamented the fact that he did, how much more is it fitting that we lament upon seeing those who believe either the supposedly divine spirit of Pytho [spiritus Pythonis], or a bellytalker [ventriloquus], a soothsayer, an augur, or any other demons of that sort, and have their souls led astray?88

Athanasius therefore followed the path taken by Origen, who fiercely condemned the consultations with pythones and engastrimythoi. Admittedly, Athanasius did not use these terms but, having read Origen, most probably had them in mind. Be that as it may, the demoniacs he was referring to (i.e. those whom people would question) evidently stayed in martyria, close to martyrs’ relics. Consultations with energumens performed at martyrial shrines have one essential feature which makes them resemble the episodes of interrogating demoniacs found in hagiographical works to which I referred at the beginning of this chapter. According to his vita, Martin of Tours was capable of extracting the truth from unclean spirits because he was a mighty friend of God, but the ordinary pious people who wanted to learn about hidden matters probably did not expect to achieve the same effect on account of their own piety. However, they may have expected to achieve it by means of asking the demons that inhabited the bodies of energumens in places where the relics of the martyrs had been buried. Relics were regarded as a no less effective source of power than a living saint.89 We may suppose that the consultations held in martyria and churches were generally offered free of charge, although inquirers might have offered alms to demoniacs.90 However, other possibilities are also conceivable: we 88 Origen (in Rufinus’s translation), In Numeros homiliae 16.7: Quod si Paulus testimonium sibi eum dare non patitur, sed dolet super hoc: quanto magis nos dolere debemus, si quando decipi videmus animas ab his, qui velut divino alicui spiritui Pythonis aut ventriloquo aut divino aut auguri vel aliis quibuslibet huiusmodi daemonibus credunt? 89 See Honoratus of Marseille, Vita Hilarii 31.10–20. 90 I have found only one text (a much later testimony at that) that directly attests to alms being given to the possessed, namely the ninth-century Vita Philareti (10). This, however, does not mean that the possessed should have been debarred from charity. The practice is

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need only remember the demoniac girl from the Acts of the Apostles who brought ‘considerable profit to her owners’.91 The consultations with the possessed could therefore take place in an organized form and as such resemble the practice of asking questions through mediums. Payments could have been made to the organizers of séances by people who wished to receive answers to their questions from those who, as they believed, were the mouthpieces of either a god or a demon. The mediums were inspired only temporarily, whereas the state of mind of the energumens was permanent; but, as we have seen, from the point of view of the inquirers – and from that of the bishops – this difference was probably not particularly important. The evidence so far presented, coming though it does from various regions of the Mediterranean and from various periods of Late Antiquity, does relatively little to help determine where and when the practice in question originated and how it spread. The Acts of the Apostles and Origen’s works seem to indicate that in the early centuries of the Roman Empire this sort of divination could already be found in the East, but the first authors whose writings show that it was practised by Christians are Athanasius and Augustine. The fact that normative sources contain no mentions of that phenomenon may rightly seem somewhat disconcerting, especially as the practice of consulting demoniacs is documented in literary texts written over the stretch of several centuries92 and, significantly, roundly condemned by all late antique authors who referred to it. One might expect instances of outright disapproval and harsh sanctions, but nothing of the sort can be found in the church canons or in imperial laws. We find there no references to people consulting with mediums or energumens. Only one paragraph

conf irmed, however indirectly, in can. 60 of the Concilium in Trullo, condemning ‘those who pretend they are possessed by a devil and by their depravity of manners feign to manifest their form and appearance’ (trans. by Henry Percival). See also the commentaries concerning this canon by Theodore Balsamo and John Zonaras (PG 137.716–17), discussed by Greenf ield, 1988, p. 93. 91 Acts 16:16. 92 In the tenth-century Narratio de imagine Edessena (51–5), a possessed person foretells that Constantine Porphyrogennetos is going to ascend to the throne. The episode is interesting because it suggests that the demon truly knew about the future. In the eleventh century, a similar episode can be found in the novelistic Vita Andreae Sali 7 and 36: the protagonist was believed to be an energumen, and people thought that it was the demon residing in him who revealed hidden matters. In the same century, the phenomenon is subject to analysis by Pseudo-Psellos, De operatione daemonum 15.


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from the Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanarum (Comparison of Mosaic and Roman Laws) has the following: None will be found among you who performs auguries, inspects birds, dabbles in wizardry, sings incantations, has a pytho in his stomach, acts as a haruspex, inquires with the dead, or examines portents.93

It is doubtful, however, if this passage refers to a late antique practice. The Collatio, probably compiled in the late fourth century in a Jewish milieu, is an apologetic work. Its primary purpose was to demonstrate the antiquity of the Mosaic law (or more precisely its compliance with Roman law), the collection never served as a set of normative texts, and the paragraph mentioned above is simply a citation from Deuteronomy (18:10–11).94 Granted, mentions of the possessed can fairly frequently be found in synodal acts and in other normative Christian texts, but these are never placed in the context of divination.95 Why are the normative texts reticent about consulting the possessed? One might think that the phenomenon is included in the canons under such blanket terms as divinatio or manteia. The problem is that there is an abundant record of other forms of divination, including the rarest and the most peculiar of all, which are explicitly mentioned in synodal acts.96 Their reticence about the issue can certainly, though only in part, be explained by the fact that the possessed were considered to be unaccountable for their deeds and so not liable for punishment. In addition, it is worth repeating that the late antique collections of synodal acts were neither codes of canon law nor penitentiaries, which would provide detailed regulations for all spheres of life. Failure to find there an instance of condemnation of one type of misdemeanour or another should not be seen to be as surprising as the reticence about the very same topic in a meticulously drafted medieval penitential book. 93 Collatio legum Mosaicarum et Romanarum 15.1.2: Non inveniatur in te auguriator nec inspector avium nec maleficus nec incantator nec pythonem habens in ventrem nec haruspex nec interrogator mortuorum nec portenta inspiciens. 94 For more on this, see the commentary to the edition of the Collatio by Edoardo Volterra, but also Cracco-Ruggini, 1983, and most recently Frakes, 2011, pp. 143–9. 95 Energumens: Concilium Eliberritanum, can. 29 and 37; Canones Apostolorum, can. 79; Canones Timothei, can. 2, 3 and 15; divination: Concilium Veneticum, can. 16; Concilium Agathense, can. 42; Statuta ecclesiae antiqua, can. 83; Synodus dioecesana Autissiodorensis, can. 4; Concilium Narbonense, can. 14; Concilium Aurelianense, can. 30; Concilium in Trullo, can. 61; Concilium Ancyranum, can. 24; Canones Basilii, can. 72 and 83; Canones Gregorii Nysseni, can. 3. 96 For example, there is a canon that states disapproval of telling the future with the use of bears: Concilium in Trullo, can. 61.

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We may suspect that many Christians considered interrogating energumens to be an acceptable form of acquiring knowledge of hidden matters; some may even have regarded that practice as a form of piety. Surely, those who interrogated the possessed only in the proximity of relics, firmly believing in their power over demons, may have felt in the right to do so without harm to their consciences. Admittedly, Athanasius, who was reluctant to approve of the cult of relics that was coming into existence in his lifetime,97 compared inquiring about the future near the tombs of martyrs to idolatry. But this comparison is merely a rhetorical figure. In fact, we should not doubt that those people whom Athanasius condemned on this account still considered themselves to be good Christians. It is true that in his Letter 42 the practice was attributed to the schismatic Meletians, but there is no reason to assume they should have had different customs from those of the supporters of the bishop of Alexandria. In any case, Athanasius clearly feared that the practice might prove to be attractive to his flock. The same is suggested by the passage quoted above from the Miracles of St. Artemios; although it also clearly condemns that practice, it nevertheless proves that ordinary people considered it completely natural to try to track down a thief by following the clues given by demoniacs. In essence, attitudes differed. The study of the phenomenon in question is equally important for what it tells us about the role of demons in late antique mentality. The practice of interrogating the possessed suggests that even if people were indeed often very wary of evil spirits, they nevertheless managed to strike a modus vivendi of sorts with demons – who were believed to be floating around – and in a way benefit from their meddling in the things of this world.98 In his treatise On divination of demons, Augustine tells us how some Christians of Hippo – and very devout ones at that, given that they used to meet in the bishop’s house – saw nothing wrong in pagan divination, which, even if it did come from evil spirits, was tolerable to God.99 The same can be inferred from the consultations with energumens: demons were doubtless seen as evil and troublesome beings, but at the same time ones that were at times useful, including for Christians.

97 Brakke, 1998, pp. 463–74. See also Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 188–9. 98 Dagron, 1981, p. 148. 99 Augustine, De divinatione daemonum 1–2.

7. Incubation A certain chief physician, Anthimos by name, had a son about 20 years old whose testicles had become dangerously diseased so that he did not even have the strength to go to the latrines by himself. The father brought him on a litter to the church of the Forerunner where the much-revered relic of the holy and glorious Artemios now lies, and he did whatever all are accustomed to do who are similarly afflicted. Then one night the holy martyr appeared to him in a dream in the semblance of his father Anthimos and said to him: ‘Let me see what it is that you have.’ And Anthimos so, after undressing himself, showed him; once he had done this, Artemios took hold of his testicles and squeezed them forcefully so that he awoke and cried out in pain, still in the grip of the frightening dream. Anxious and worried that the illness was growing worse and after touching the afflicted place, he found himself without pain and his testicles restored to health. ‒ Miracula Artemii 1, trans. By Virgil S. Crisafulli

In Late Antiquity, as in many other periods and cultures, people expected that they could learn a lot from dreams.1 This belief was common, and even the authors who mocked or despised it bore witness to its wide spread through various regions, social groups and languages of the ancient world. Nothing suggests that Christians profoundly differed in this respect from other inhabitants of the Mediterranean. Not only did they know that their Jewish or ‘pagan’ neighbours took dreams seriously, but they also had good biblical evidence showing that God could truly speak to people through dreams. It is not easy to say, however, whether in Late Antiquity Christians developed a specific way of interpreting dreams. Admittedly, the great advocate of this art, Synesius of Cyrene, not only wrote about dreams with much appreciation, but also insisted that they should be actively sought.2 But it is not clear whether Synesius was already a Christian when writing his treatise On Dreams. What is even more significant is that the method he promoted does not evince any traits that could be regarded as specifically Christian. The same can be said of a dream book known as the Oneirocriticon of Daniel, possibly written in Late Antiquity, whose only religious component is its attribution to the biblical prophet. As is also the 1 For a general introduction, see N. Lewis, 1976; Cox Miller, 1994. 2 Synesius, De insomniis 12–13; see Sheppard, 2014, and Neil, 2015, who both also refer to earlier studies.


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case with other surviving Byzantine manuals on dream interpretation, it includes no discussion of why this method should have been regarded as effective.3 Neither of these texts is religious in character. There is no doubt that Christians sought dreams long before Synesius recommended it. As we shall see, this custom is already attested to in the early third century; and in the fourth century, Athanasius of Alexandria declares that asking God for a dream is an admissible way of inquiring about the future. 4 It is difficult, however, to say what this practice consisted in. Athanasius recommended that people pray for a dream, and they certainly did so,5 but we cannot say much more about the dreams asked for and dreamt privately. In our evidence, divinatory dreams become better visible only when people leave their houses in order to seek nocturnal visions at the shrines of saints. The method that consisted in falling asleep in a holy place in anticipation of a divinatory dream was called incubation (Latin: incubatio; Greek: enkoimēsis).6 Further below, I will discuss whether this actually was a developed Christian practice. In the meantime, it must be said that incubation was used in various Greek temples all across the Mediterranean, where gods were believed to reveal themselves to the sick in their sleep and either heal them directly or recommend what they should do to regain their health. But this was not limited to dealing with health problems. When Pausanias wants to say that in a sanctuary in Aigosthena no oracular activity was held, he simply states that the local god ‘gives responses neither by dreams nor in any other way’, which strongly suggests that he considered incubation a most standard all-purpose divinatory method.7 Similarly, Servius, an author of the late fourth century, defined it thus in his commentary to the Aeneid: ‘In the strict sense, those who sleep to get an answer incubate. Therefore, he [Aeneas] also incubates at Jupiter’s place; that is, he sleeps on the Capitol Hill so that he might receive answers.’8 Jerome, Servius’s contemporary, tells us that pagans resorted to incubation ‘so as to know the future through dreams’: significantly, there

3 Oberhelman, 2008, pp. 2–5. 4 Athanasius, Epistula festalis 42.30. 5 See Passio Perpetuae 4.1, quoted below, p. 217. 6 The English translations of the Greek and Latin terms sound more technical than they would have in their original ancient languages. For the terminology of incubation, see Canetti, 2010, pp. 149–57. 7 Pausanias, Graeciae descriptio 1.44.5. See Clark, 1968, pp. 73–4. 8 Servius, In Aeneidos 7.88: Incubare dicuntur proprie hi qui dormiunt ad accipienda responsa: unde est ille incubat Iovi, id est dormit in Capitolio, ut responsa possit accipere.



is not a word about regaining health.9 To be sure, most consultations in incubation shrines were performed with a view to finding a cure (as was the case with the Greek shrines of Asklepios, Podalirios and Hygeia), but we also know of other issues that made people consult oracles in this way. In fact, in the Boeotian temples of Amphiaraos in Oropos and of Trophonios in Lebadeia, incubation had absolutely nothing to do with health problems.10 As for Christians, we shall see that the overriding intention of those who came to sleep in the martyrial shrines was to regain health, but they would also come to seek help in other matters.11 For a long time the common opinion of scholars was that late antique Christians practised incubation widely. Recently, however, in his thorough study of this practice, taking into account a vast chronological span throughout Antiquity, Gil Renberg has questioned this conviction.12 He admits that Christians would seek advice and healing in holy places; moreover, he does not oppose the view that some of them who happened to fall asleep in such places may well have claimed that their dream visions were prophetic in character. Nevertheless, he insists, the sources give us no right to assume that Christians regularly engaged in incubation in the manner of their ‘pagan’ contemporaries. In his view, the term ‘incubation’ should be used only with reference to traditional Greek practices. Renberg’s reservations are important and worth considering, especially those demonstrating that the supposed similarities may have been superficial, and that in some aspects ‘pagan’ and Christian practices differed. As we shall see, incubation was indeed more ritualized and instilled with greater procedural rigour in asklepieia than in Christian holy places.13 It seems to me, however, that the textual evidence that will be identified below leaves no doubt that Christians did look for revelatory dreams and strongly suggests that this phenomenon was relatively common. For wont of a better term, I will be using the word ‘incubation’ for it, all the while agreeing with Renberg that Christian practice did not 9 Jerome, In Isaiam 18.65: Nihil fuit sacrilegii quod israel populus praetermitteret, non solum in hortis immolans, et super lateres thura succendens, sed sedens quoque uel habitans in sepulcris et in delubris idolorum dormiens, ubi stratis pellibus hostiarum incubare soliti erant, ut somniis futura cognoscerent. Quod in fano aesculapii usque hodie error celebrat ethnicorum multorumque aliorum, quae non sunt aliud, nisi tumuli mortuorum. 10 Renberg, 2016, p. 313. 11 See further, p. 238. It seems to me that Ildikó Csepregi overstates the difference between pagan and Christian incubation by claiming that the latter was purely therapeutic in character (as opposed to its pagan counterpart, which was also divinatory). See Csepregi, 2002, pp. 90–1. 12 Renberg, 2016, esp. pp. 801–7. 13 Although we should not assume that Greek incubation rituals were the same everywhere, actually they varied even from one asklepieion to another; see Von Ehrenheim, 2015, 183–95.


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have to be identical to classical Greek incubation, and that perhaps there was no direct genetic relationship between these practices. Our knowledge of incubation comes mostly from collections of miracle stories recorded at a number of sanctuaries of saints where people were seeking healing or revelatory dreams. Dating back to Late Antiquity (in their entirety or at least in part) come the collections from Constantinople (Sts. Cosmas and Damian, St. Artemios) and Menouthis near Alexandria (Sts. Cyrus and John). Other collections of this type, such as those from Uzalis in Africa (St. Stephen), Seleucia in Isauria (St. Thekla), Pege in Constantinople (the church of the Mother of God at the Spring), Abu Mena in Egypt (St. Menas) and Thessalonica (St. Demetrios), present individual cases of dream visions obtained at the shrine but do not necessarily prove that incubation was practised there on a regular basis.14 Collections of miracle stories and other literary texts that refer to incubation are not the only sources for the study of this custom. As we shall see, in several late antique churches it is the archaeological evidence that suggests that they may have been used by people seeking dreams. However, such evidence is, in general, extremely difficult to interpret. The arrangement of space within churches intended for incubation was never designed to a standard, and indeed they may all have looked different.15 As regards sanctuaries where incubation is attested in literary evidence, places reserved for sleepers can be identified with a fair degree of probability by archaeological methods, although in part this is done by way of elimination. But where literary testimonies are lacking, the qualification of the given excavated church as an incubation shrine is always risky.

Early developments When did Christians begin to look for dreams in shrines? Did they simply adopt the pagan model, turning that popular technique to their own 14 For the editions, see Miracula Cosmae et Damiani; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis; Liber de miraculis s. Stephani; Lucian of Caphargamala, Revelatio s. Stephani; Miracula Theclae; Miracula Artemii; De templo B.M.V. tēs Pēgēs et miraculis; Miracula Artemii; Miracula Menae Copt.; Miracula Menae Gr. 15 For more on the rash interpreting of the architectural remains that may indicate incubation, see Renberg, 2006, pp. 119–25. Grossmann, 2007, p. 136, argues that the klinai with headrests that have been found in several Egyptian churches prove that incubation must have been practised there. In my view, however, we should treat this type of evidence with greater caution, given that the klinai found in African cemeteries and cemetery basilicas were clearly used for grave-feasts; see Saxer, 1980, p. 303.



purposes, or rework it independently, at least in part? These two questions are closely entwined. The earlier the date to which we assign the beginnings of Christian incubation, the more likely it would seem that the Christian practice traced its origins to asklepieia that were in the process of disappearing in the final decades of the fourth century.16 Let us begin with the chronological issues to see whether Christian incubation could have emerged before the closure of pagan incubation shrines. The earliest text for us to discuss is a passage from Against the Galileans, a treatise written by the Emperor Julian between 361 and 363, that denounces Christians for sleeping among graves in anticipation of a prophetic dream. It runs thus: Why, then, do you creep among the graves? Do you want to hear why is this so? This is something I will not tell you myself, but the prophet Isaiah will: ‘and they fall asleep at the tombs and in the caves for the sake of dreams’ [en tois mnēmasi kai en tois spēlaiois koimōntai di’enypnia, Isaiah 65:4]. Thus, you can see how long-established that kind of witchcraft is among the Jews, that of sleeping among the graves for the sake of dream visions [enkatheudein tois mnēmasin enypniōn charin]. It is therefore likely that your apostles, after the death of their teacher, had already practiced it and handed it down to you – that is, first to those who were the first to receive your teaching – and that they themselves practised magic more efficiently than you do and showed those who came after them the places where they did spells and other disgusting things.17

At first glance, this citation may be seen as confirming that Christians practised incubation as early as the 360s. However, did the author really refer to a divinatory method that was used in his day? This is doubtful. The passage quoted above is preceded by a long-winded attack on the practice of revering the graves of saints. Julian begins by arguing that this, as he saw it, obnoxious practice is not only highly improper for the ‘Hellenes’, but also out of tune with Jesus’s teaching. Subsequently, in the paragraph quoted, he goes on to say that its actual purpose is to acquire knowledge of things hidden by means of magic or, to be precise, with the use of necromancy. Accusing Christians of shady motives (necromancy was widely considered a 16 For the continuity, see Dodds, 1965, p. 46; Hanson, 1980, p. 953; Cox Miller, 1994, p. 117; Bernardi, 2006, pp. 123–5; Saradi, 2008, p. 125; but see the reservations of Wiśniewski, 2013, Graf, 2014, and Renberg, 2016. 17 Julian, Contra Galileos 335B–C (trans. by Wilmer C. Wright).


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taboo18) and discrediting their customs by referring to their sacred writings indicates a clear and well-thought-out rhetorical strategy. But we should be wary not to fall prey all too easily to Julian’s oratory. It is the reference to Isaiah, and not the observation of the custom of his day, that provided Julian with an opportunity to make a pointed remark and attack Christians portrayed as those who sleep among the dead. It would be rash, therefore, to draw conclusions based on this testimony.19 The practice that Julian came into contact with and wanted to attack was ‘creeping among the graves’ (that is, venerating martyrs), not ‘sleeping among the graves for the sake of dream visions’.20 The latter was not what he saw, but what he attributed to Christians. Seven decades after the publication of Against the Galileans, in the 430s, Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, in whose polemical treatise the passage quoted above has been preserved, still claimed that Christians by no means resorted to incubation. It is unlikely that he would have denied it so firmly if incubation had already been a well-established custom among his flock.21 However, there are places where the very beginnings of this practice can arguably be traced back to the time of Cyril or even to the late fourth century, although probably none of these show us a regular practice. I will present the evidence referring to these places in chronological order, which may show us the development of the custom. In his sermon for the feast of St. Mamas, preached in the early 360s, probably in Caesarea in Cappadocia, Basil, bishop of this city, urged his listeners to reminisce about the graces which the martyr had given them in their dreams, how he had helped travellers return home, healed the sick and brought children back to life.22 That long list of Mamas’s interventions seems to indicate that his shrine had already been well known for its miracles; dreams could have been sought there as a matter of routine, although the text is too vague to say so with absolute certainty. More explicit testimony is associated with an estate in the vicinity of Ibora, also in Cappadocia, that belonged to Basil’s family. That particular 18 See Ogden, 2001, pp. 75–92 (for necromancy and incubation) and 263–8 (for attitudes toward necromancy). 19 See also another very uncertain allusion to Christian incubation in Eunapius, Vitae philosophorum 472. 20 See Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 181–3. 21 Cyril of Alexandria, Contra Julianum 10 (PG 76.1024). 22 Basil of Caesarea, Homilia 23.1 (In Mamantem), PG 31.589C. The date of the sermon is not certain, based as it is on the development of Basil’s theological views that can be observed in his works written at various points in his life; see Troiano, 1987.



estate boasted a martyrial shrine that was built on its premises and devoted to the memory of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.23 In the Second Homily on the Forty Martyrs, preached by Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s younger brother, we find the following passage relating a miracle that is said to have occurred in that shrine: A unit of soldiers was stationed there, according to the customary practice of the Romans, and one of the soldiers arrived at the aforementioned village, assigned by his commander to guarding the area, in order to prevent the assaults and offences by his own fellow soldiers, which men of the army in their insolence are accustomed to inflicting on the farmers. Now one of his legs was unwell, and he limped, and his suffering was chronic and diff icult to cure. When he entered the martyrial shrine and the resting place of the saints, he prayed to God and invoked the intercession of the saints. During that night, a dignified man appeared to him and, having talked with him about some other things, he said: ‘Are you limping, soldier, and need a cure? But let me touch your leg.’ And he grabbed and pulled it strongly, in the dream [onar]. And while this was happening in the nocturnal vision [nykterinēs opseōs], in reality there was such a loud sound – just like when a bone, slipped out of its natural order, is violently re-set – that it woke up both the others sleeping with him and the soldier himself, and the man stood up immediately and walked in a healthy and normal way, as he once used to do. I witnessed this miracle by meeting the man himself who was announcing it to everyone, declaring the benefaction of the martyrs, and praising the charity of his fellow soldiers.24

This passage requires a word of commentary. Are we dealing here with deliberate and pre-planned incubation, or is it that the soldier and his companions simply fell asleep when praying there late in the evening? The answer to this question is not self-evident. If the soldier came to the sanctuary specifically seeking dream healing, this sermon, preached in 379, would be a very early testimony of Christian incubation. Certainly, it tells us about a private martyrium and Gregory’s account seems to present this healing as a one-off event. It would be rash, therefore, to suspect that it was a manifestation of a widely used and well-established practice. There 23 See Limberis, 2011, pp. 21–2. 24 Gregory of Nyssa, Homiliae in sanctos XL martyres II, pp. 166–7; trans. by E. Rizos, CSLA E01299 (last accessed on 16 April 2020).


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is no crowd, no fixed ritual and no infrastructure. Still, this passage may attest to early instances of experimenting with incubation. These three observations are worth making: the martyrium remains open for the night; at least one sick person is taking the method into the repertoire of Christian devotional practices; and this does not seem inappropriate to Gregory, the local bishop and an acclaimed Christian intellectual. A generation later, in the early fifth century, Asterius of Amasea, tells us in one of his homilies about ‘miraculous manifestations continuously occurring in dream visions and healings enjoyed by the sick’ thanks to the power of St. Phocas. He does not explicitly mention people sleeping in the sanctuary, but it seems highly probable from the context that this was the case.25 The next testimony comes from Latin Africa. The collection of the Miracles of St. Stephen, written in Uzalis in the 420s, names a few people coming to the shrine to receive a divinatory or healing dream that they hoped to experience at the side of the relics of St. Stephen.26 An important piece of evidence concerns the church of Michael the Archangel, known as Michaelion, which was believed to have been founded by Constantine the Great and erected in the district of Anaplous on the site of the Archangel’s apparition on the European side of the Bosporus. The shrine is mentioned by Sozomen (in the 440s), who claims that he himself had experienced some sort of divine assistance in that church and knew about other people who had been healed there. The case of one of those, a certain Aquilinus, is described in greater detail: Finding that he was already half dead, he commanded his servant to carry him to the house of prayer; for he affirmed earnestly that there he would either die or be freed from his disease. While he was lying there, a Divine Power appeared to him by night [keimenō de enthade nyktōr epiphaneisa theia dynamis], and commanded him to dip his food in a confection made of honey, wine, and pepper. The man did so, and was freed from his complaint.27

As Sozomen tells of several healings in this place incubation in Michaelion seems to have been practised as a matter of routine. The connection between the cult of the Archangel Michael and incubation turns out to be particularly 25 Asterius of Amasea, Homilia 9.13 (In s. Phocam); see E. Rizos, CSLA E01963 (last accessed on 20 April 2020). 26 See below, pp. 224–5. 27 Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 2.3.11 (trans. by Chester D. Hartranft).



interesting if we take into account that there were other sanctuaries dedicated to him where incubation was almost certainly practised in the High Middle Ages.28 The question remains of when this method began to be used in Anaplous. Sozomen maintained that the Michaelion had been founded by Constantine, and there is another source that seems to confirm this link. John Malalas claims that Constantine built a church of Michael the Archangel in a place called Sosthenion, also on the European side of the strait, but at a different distance from Constantinople than Anaplous. It is impossible to determine whether these were one and the same or two different churches.29 In any case, according to Malalas, the church was constructed on the site of a former pagan temple in which Constantine, visiting that place in person in order to close it, found the statue of a hooded figure resembling a monk. Puzzled by this discovery, he prayed to God to find out whose image it was and, crucially to this narrative, spent the following night there and learnt in a vision that he was dealing with Michael the Archangel.30 A story such as this might make us believe that we are now looking at a long-established centre of worship (Malalas went as far as to say that its history reached back to the Argonauts) and a deeply ingrained incubation practice that had not been eliminated when the change in the religious affiliation of the site occurred. This assumption, however, is very uncertain. Some scholars have considered Malalas’s account to be essentially accurate,31 but we should not overlook the evidently anachronistic character of that scene. Constantine would not have known what the monastic garb looked like, given that by that time he had certainly not seen a monk. Neither had he waged a large-scale campaign of closing down places of traditional pagan worship.32 In addition, Christian churches were sometimes ascribed pagan predecessors that they actually never had.33 Finally, even if we identify Sosthenion with Anaplous, we have no reason to assume that incubation had already been practised in the supposed pagan temple. Also, the Christian church on that site, no matter when it was built or whether it had a pagan predecessor, did not have 28 Hill, 1916, pp. 142 and 158 (Monte Gargano in Apulia, Chios, Apollonia in Mysia). 29 See Janin, 1953, pp. 351–2 and 359–62 (against the identification), and Mango, 1984, pp. 58–9 (without resolving the issue). 30 John Malalas, Chronographia 4.9. 31 Mango, 1984, identifies the hooded angel with Attis, whereas Peers, 1998, pp. 115–16, believes that Constantine (or some other emperor) saw there a statue of Telesphoros, one of Asklepios’s companions. 32 Fowden, 1978. 33 Dagron, 1984, pp. 91–2; Foschia, 2000, pp. 416–21; Sotinel, 2004, pp. 53–4; Busine, 2016.


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to serve the role of an incubation sanctuary from its very inception. The only certainty is that incubation began to be practised in the Michaelion before the 440s, which is when Sozomen was writing his historical work. In the late 470s, a collection of miracles of St. Thekla was compiled, the earliest source of this type coming directly from a sanctuary where incubation was at least occasionally used for healing and divinatory purposes.34 It suggests that this practice may already have been known at St. Thekla’s shrine in Seleucia in the 420s, which is roughly about the period to which we may date the episodes from the Michaelion in Constantinople and St. Stephen’s shrine in Uzalis. It does not seem, however, very likely that its origins could go back to an earlier date, given that the pilgrim Egeria, who visited the sanctuary in 384 when returning from her pilgrimage to the Holy Land, makes no mention of this custom.35 As already discussed, still in the 430s, Cyril of Alexandria claimed that Christians in Egypt did not use the practice of incubation, but the earliest testimony to incubation in Egypt dates just a generation later, to the midfifth century, when Shenoute of Atripe delivered a sermon berating those Christians who slept among graves and awaited dreams in the hope of asking the dead about matters of the living. It contains the following passage: And from among those who are in awe of God, who of those shall not say: ‘Woe to those who say “I saw a beacon of light in the topos [holy place] built upon bones in the church and I recovered from my affliction having slept there”’? Those people did not say ‘there was a light in the church; the place where the fragments of bones were deposited in the Church of Christ, the same Church for which He died and which he purified with his blood’. Truly, such men are not worthy of being let into the house of God, that is, the Church. Those who sleep in the tombs for the sake of dreams and who interrogate the dead about the things of the living, what do they do more compared to those who think or do such things? There are also other places where such interrogations and instances of ventriloquism have recently occurred in relation to the bones having been discovered. We reproached such impostors for this misdemeanour in which they had implicated Christians and clerics in the house of God.36 34 Considering the date, see Dagron, 1978, pp. 13–19. 35 Egeria, Itinerarium 23.1–6. 36 Shenoute of Atripe, the sermon,‘Those Who Work Evil, 219–20. See also Shenoute’s other sermon preserved in Vindobonensis K 9040: Young, 1993, pp. 23–5, and Lefort, 1954, p. 230. The exact date of the sermon is uncertain.



This interesting passage shows that in the mid-fifth century Christians in Egypt resorted to incubation fairly routinely. It also demonstrates that while the practice was controversial, there were priests who approved it despite Shenoute’s complaints. In all, the claims of the Emperor Julian concerning Christian incubation may have been wrong, but this practice is well attested in the first half of the fifth century, and the first experiments with dream healing probably began even earlier, preceding the closing of the pagan temples in the 390s. We may thus reasonably assume that the origins of Christian incubation can be traced back to a time when the traditional Greek custom was still practised or at least remembered. In effect, the question of whether the Christian custom was dependent on the old ritual or not is entirely valid.

‘Pagan’ and Christian incubation This dependence was often taken for granted, and that was for a reason. The issues that brought people to pagan and Christian shrines, the ways in which they obtained answers and how they expressed their gratitude – all these were quite similar. Also, those who visited martyria came to listen to answers that were provided by the dead: just like in Greek temples in which they were delivered by heroes or by Asklepios, a god who was once human.37 The parallels are obvious. It should be noted, however, that there were also notable differences. First, unlike in Christian sanctuaries, in which incubation was always practised in the sacred space, in traditional Greek incubation one did not sleep in the temple itself. Second, while the latter practice was usually preceded by a certain ritual, there are only a few traces of such preparations made in Christian sanctuaries.38 Even more importantly, specific places where any continuity can be shown are very few, and even there the evidence is exceedingly tenuous. In recent years, it has been convincingly demonstrated that in several churches that were previously regarded as having inherited incubation from their pagan predecessors, the use of this practice, sometimes both before and after Christianization, is at best a far-fetched guess.39 An excellent example is the church on Isola Tiberina in Rome, currently known as San Bartolomeo all’Isola, that was built on the site of a temple of Asklepios. Although this 37 Iles Johnston, 2008, p. 91, and in particular Ogden, 2001, pp. 75–92. 38 Von Ehrenheim, 2009, p. 247; Renberg, 2016, esp. p. 793. 39 Renberg, 2006, Von Ehrenheim, 2009, and esp. Gascou, 2007.


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place was doubtless an asklepieion and hence a healing sanctuary, the question of whether incubation had actually been practised there remains unanswered. Also, there is no evidence whatsoever attesting to any sort of ritual continuity: although the date when that particular pagan temple was abandoned is uncertain, we may assume that it happened at the end of the fourth century, but the first church to be built on the site was not founded until about 600 years later by the Emperor Otto III. To make matters worse, the earliest connection of this church to any sort of medical activity relates to a Portuguese fraternity that established itself there in the sixteenth century. And finally, there are no documented instances of incubation being practised at San Bartolomeo at any point in history. 40 Dor in Palestine is another place that was tentatively identified as an incubatory shrine. The reason for that was that it had been built on the site of a former pagan temple, the layout of which resembled the shrines of Apollo in Claros and in Didyma. 41 Apollo was Asklepios’s father; hence, it has been argued that the basilica must have been an askepieion and consequently an incubation sanctuary, first used by pagans and then, as if by natural succession, by Christians who took over the practice. However, there is no proof that incubation was practised in Dor by either of these groups. The resemblance of the pagan temple to Claros (both had an adytum and a spring) is vague, and more importantly no source refers to the temple of Claros as an incubatory shrine. Similarly, in the Christian church nothing suggests it was the place where people sought dreams. Admittedly, it had a peristyle and the tomb of a saint, but these elements are by no means specific to incubatory shrines. Another Palestinian sanctuary which was tentatively identified as a site of incubation for people of various religions is the sanctuary of Mamre. It is described by Sozomen as a place where, during an annual festival, all men, pagans, Jews and Christians alike ‘abstained from coming near their wives’.42 But this account, although it suggests that people spent a night somewhere close to the shrine (otherwise there would not be any point in emphasizing that they had no sex during the feast), it does not even mention dreams, divinatory or otherwise. In fact, it is debatable whether Jewish incubation ever existed. True, we know of a Jew named Moschos who happened to practise it, but he did not do so at a place of Jewish worship but in the pagan 40 In this paragraph, I am employing the argument of Brandenburg, 2007. 41 The identif ication was proposed by Dauphin, 1999, and accepted by Markschies, 2007, pp. 180–2; see Graf, 2014, pp. 130–1. 42 Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 2.4.4; see Lipiński, 2006, p. 60.



oracle of Amphiaraos in Oropos. 43 The only place of Jewish cult in which it may have been practised is the Matrona Synagogue in Antioch, as noted by John Chrysostom, but even this testimony is uncertain. 44 The cases of the Isola Tiberina, Dor and Mamre do sound a note of caution, the pattern of continuation having been attributed to them despite no trace of either pagan or Christian incubation having been found in any of them. Still, by drawing on these three examples we cannot rule out that there were indeed churches where incubation was taken over from local pagan sanctuaries. Every such case requires separate examination. Let us take a look at the local oracle of Sarpedonios in Seleucia in Isauria. The oracle is mentioned by the early sixth-century historian Zosimos, who claims that this was where the Emperor Aurelian and the Palmyrenes sought advice on military matters from Sarpedonios (or, to be precise, Apollo Sarpedonios) in the latter half of the third century. Unfortunately, Zosimos does not specify the technique that was used for these consultations. 45 This very oracle, however, is also mentioned by Zosimos’s contemporary, the anonymous author of the Miracles of St. Thekla. Right at the beginning of his work, he claims that the saint effectively silenced the oracle at Sarpedonios’s grave. This must refer to the closing of the pagan temple. We do not know when this happened, but it is possible that there was a time when divination was practised both at the temple of Sarpedonios and at the famous sanctuary of St. Thekla in the same city: the Miracles relate three cases where people who came to the Christian sanctuary to find a cure for their condition after Sarpedonios had failed them. 46 Was Sarpedonios believed, though, to be offering advice and healing in dream visions? This is plausible. The oracle was linked to the grave of a hero, just like the incubation sanctuaries in mainland Greece that we know of. But it has to be said firmly that we do not know whether it was really the case. Apart from that in Seleucia in Isauria, we also know of other sanctuaries where St. Thekla was venerated. One of those was near the town of Aigai in Cilicia. The Miracles include a story of a sophist, Isokakios, who stayed there overnight and was given advice in a dream vision on how to regain

43 D. Lewis, 1957. 44 Kerkeslager, 1998, p. 119. Jewish inspiration for the Christian method is thus highly uncertain, although there is no doubt that Christians visited synagogues in Antioch; John Chrysostom, Adversus Iudaeos 1.5–7 and 8.6–8. 45 Zosimos, Historia nova 1.57.2–4. 46 Miracula Theclae 1 (the silencing of Sarpedonios’s oracle) and 11, 18, 40 (unsuccessful consultations with Sarpedonios).


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health. 47 His visit to the sanctuary is presented as incidental rather than intentional (the sophist is not a Christian and is looking for a secluded, not holy place), but we may well be dealing here with an example of incubation. This specific case deserves consideration, because we know that the town formerly had an asklepieion. But direct continuity is once again uncertain. According to Eusebius, the asklepieion of Aigai was one of the first pagan temples to have been closed (or even knocked down) under the Christian emperors, possibly already during Constantine’s reign. Even if this did not make the cult discontinue immediately, we know that in the early 360s the temple was in ruins, while Julian’s initiative to reactivate it was probably never to be resumed after his death. 48 Thus, it is hardly possible that incubation was practised there continually until the mid-fifth century, when it may have reappeared in the sanctuary of St. Thekla. Let us move to Egypt. The shrine of Sts. Cyrus and John in Menouthis near Alexandria is often regarded as the best example of a Christian holy place to have taken over the practice of incubation from a local pagan temple. The foundation of this shrine used to be attributed to Cyril, bishop of Alexandria (412–444), who supposedly wanted to suppress the pagan cult of Isis that had long existed in the area and was traditionally associated with incubation. However, Jean Gascou has convincingly demonstrated that both the early dating of the sanctuary and the assumption that incubation was taken over from the pagan shrine are based on tenuous evidence that is either difficult to date or contradictory.49 The belief that Cyril had built the shrine to hinder the local pagan cult is hinged on the three short sermons attributed to him that were presumably preached when the new church was being dedicated. In fact, these texts were almost certainly written much later and not by Cyril. The sanctuary of Cyrus and John was probably not built until the episcopacy of Peter Mongos (477–489) or perhaps still later, in the sixth century. It was at an even later date that its foundation came to be associated with Cyril.50 Finally, the first author to mention healings experienced by people sleeping in Menouthis is Sophronios, the author of 47 Miracula Theclae 39. 48 The closing of the temple: Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini 3.56, and Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 2.5. Libanios, Ep. 695.2 and 1342, says that it was demolished on the order of Emperor Constantius. John Zonaras, Epitome historiarum 13.12C–D, says that Julian ordered the reconstruction of the asklepieion colonnade that had been used by the local bishop to build a church; after Julian’s death the columns returned to the church. See the commentary to the English translation of Eusebius’s Vita Constantini by Cameron and Hall, pp. 303–4. 49 Gascou, 2007. An earlier discussion of the issue is summarized in Montserrat, 1998, pp. 261–6. 50 Gascou, 2007, p. 280 (the connection to Cyril should be dated to the 510s at the earliest).



the Miracles of Sts. Cyrus and John, who did not visit the place until early in the seventh century. Perhaps archaeological research may soon help in the dating of the shrine: it has recently been proposed that the complex found on the seabed off the shore of Abu Qir near Alexandria should be identified as Menouthis.51 Nonetheless, taking into account the evidence collected thus far it is hardly conceivable that incubation was continually practised on the site. Another place in Egypt where the continuity in question is sometimes presumed is Deir el-Bahari near Thebes: pagan and Christian incubation practices alike are attested to in inscriptions discovered there. We must note, however, that the Christian and pagan pieces of epigraphic evidence come from distinctly different periods with a vast chronological gap in between, which certainly reflects the actual interruption of any cultic practice. The last traces of the pagan cult in Deir el-Bahari date back to the fourth century, and even then the temple was largely abandoned and used only very occasionally. A Christian monastery was not built on the site until the sixth century, while the testimonies of incubation being practised there are even more recent.52 The list of the sanctuaries where pagan incubation was said to have been supplanted by an analogous Christian custom may also include the asklepieion in Athens that was converted to a church dedicated to St. Andrew or St. Michael’s sanctuary in Monte Gargano in Puglia. But in all these cases there is only frail evidence in support of such claims.53 In effect, there is not a single place where the continuity of incubation practice can be indubitably demonstrated. Of course, pagan inspiration could also have made itself felt in cities that did not have an old incubatory shrine. Beyond doubt, the plain fact that Greeks practised incubation was known to Christians, and some of them appeared to have a good knowledge of the functioning of asklepieia.54 Unfortunately, the sources do not allow us to formulate a definitive answer to the question of whether Christians resorted to incubation in pagan sanctuaries. With their insistence on the exclusive character of their religion, they should have had strong reservations about entering pagan temples; this, however, cannot mean that no such thing ever 51 Stoltz, 2008. 52 Łajtar, 2006, p. 103. 53 Markschies, 2007, p. 178, argues that the practice in the asklepieion of Athens was continued, but it is by no means evident that Christians practised incubation there; see Von Ehrenheim, 2009, p. 247, and Graf, 2014, pp. 131–2. The dates when the asklepieion was closed and superseded by the church built in its place are also uncertain; see Frantz, 1965, pp. 194–6. 54 Tertullian, De anima 48–9; Jerome, Vita Hilarionis 12.35 and In Isaiam 18.65.


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occurred. Augustine soberly observed that those who were considered good Christians as long as they suffered no misfortune often hastened to seek help from pagan specialists whenever they found themselves in trouble.55 They apparently sought help wherever possible (not unlike Moschos, the Jew whom I mentioned above), possibly including in pagan sanctuaries. Still, this cannot be taken for granted. The only direct but uncertain indication that it might have been the case is an inscription from Abydos in Egypt, attesting that a certain John consulted the god Bes in an oracle dedicated to him in the locality.56 The name of the man suggests that he was either a Jew or a Christian. More importantly, at the turn of the fifth century there were still great numbers of Christians who had been adherents of various pagan cults and had visited the shrines of old deities before converting to Christianity. Even if we reject the view (now by and large obsolete) that Christian religious practices were greatly influenced by the sheer mass of the new but tepid converts and as a result became rapidly ‘paganized’, the very existence of this factor should not be doubted.57 In all, while the scheme of a simple taking-over of a ‘pagan’ practice together with specific cult sites does not seem to explain the emergence of the Christian incubation, less direct ways of transmission were certainly open. And yet even the view of incubation as borrowed indirectly from ‘pagan’ religion is only a lame explanation of the rise of the Christian practice.58 For in order to fully understand why Christians started to seek dreams in the shrines of martyrs we need to examine certain features of their own religion, some of them specific, others belonging to a general Mediterranean culture, which may have made Christian incubation develop without straightforward copying of specific ‘pagan’ models.59 First of all, not unlike Jews and pagans, Christians regarded dream visions as a possible if somewhat hazardous means one might resort to in order to communicate with the divine, or, to put it in another way, receive a word of advice or a cure from God. And they could easily justify this. Suffice it to mention a few biblical examples of people who received dream premonitions, such as the patriarchs Abraham, Jacob and Joseph of the Old Testament and the Magi, Joseph and Paul of the New.60 Christian writers of the third and fourth 55 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 91.7 and Sermo 4.36. 56 Perdrizet and Lefebvre, 1919, no. 524; see Athanassiadi, 1993, p. 126. 57 Brown, 1981, pp. 17–19. For a more recent nuanced discussion of the religious change in late antique Egypt, see Frankfurter, 2018. 58 This was first stated clearly in modern scholarship by Luigi Canetti; see Canetti, 2010. 59 This has been already suggested by Festugière, 1971, pp. 91–5. 60 Genesis 15:12–18, 28:10–22, 37:5–11; Matthew 2:12, 2:13–14 and 2:19; Acts 16:8–9.



centuries in their reflections on where dream visions came from did not differ much from pagan authors. In general, they believed that dreams could originate from demons, from one’s own soul, but also (though rarely) from God.61 To experience an unsolicited dream vision, even one that reveals the future or hidden matters, is obviously not tantamount to practising incubation proper. Such visions were the subject of dream interpretation (oneirokritika), and it is worth noting that its specialized practitioners did not believe that dreams were an opportunity to enter into genuine contact with the divine, which is the essence of incubation. Nor were all of them fully convinced that it was possible to receive an answer to any question posed prior to falling asleep.62 Thus revelatory dream visions did not necessarily imply incubation that consisted of seeking a dream, an action that was performed on purpose. Still, the idea of a divinatory dream was there, and some Christians did strive to receive such dreams before the practice of incubation appeared. Dreams were certainly sought at the turn of the third century, at least in the charismatic strands of Christianity. An example of this is the plea of Perpetua’s brother, imprisoned with his co-religionists and awaiting trial in Carthage in the early 200s: Then my brother told me: ‘Sister, you already have such a great grace with the Lord that you can ask him to reveal to you, by seeing [postules visionem et ostendatur tibi]63 what awaits us: martyrdom or deliverance.’ Since I had already been given the opportunity to speak with the Lord, from whom I had received so many blessings, I confidently promised to my brother and answered: ‘I will reveal this to you tomorrow’.64

This and other visions were imparted to Perpetua at night, just like those of the mid-second-century author from Rome, Hermas, who received them after fasting and prayer.65 Some martyrs, such as the bishops Polycarp of 61 For a general discussion of ancient theories of dreams, see Cox Miller, 1994, pp. 39–73, and Amat, 1985, pp. 52–5, 62–86. 62 Artemidorus, Oneirocritica 1.6 and 4.2. See, however, the commentary to these places by Boter and Flinterman, 2007, who insist that Artemidorus was not necessarily against seeking advice through dreams. Note also the attitude of Synesius of Cyrene described at the beginning of this chapter. 63 Visio is a technical term of ancient dream interpretation; see Cox Miller, 1994, p. 151. 64 Passio Perpetuae 4.1–2: Tunc dixit mihi frater meus: ‘Domina soror, iam in magna dignatione es, tanta ut postules uisionem et ostendatur tibi an passio sit an commeatus’. Et ego quae me sciebam fabulari cum Domino, cuius beneficia tanta experta eram, fidenter repromisi ei dicens: ‘Crastina die tibi renuntiabo’. 65 See also Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 49.1–2, who tells us about the dream vision of Priscilla (or Quintilla), but it is not certain whether the prophetess had sought this particular


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Smyrna (second century), Cyprian of Carthage (third century) and the soldier Basilides (third century), also had dreams that foretold future events, although it is not evident that they had actively sought to receive such revelations.66 Admittedly, following the evanescence of charismatic Christianity in the early third century, the practice of seeking divinatory dreams recedes from view for some time and is not recorded in our evidence. However, even supposing that there is no continuity between the practices of the late second and early third centuries on the one hand, and fifth-century incubation on the other, the cases of Perpetua and Hermas demonstrate that it was not inconceivable even for devout Christians to seek divinatory dreams. This striving resurfaced in the fourth and fifth centuries and is especially noticeable in the various strands of the ascetic movement. We know, for instance, that the Messalians, seeking to chase away demons by prayer and distrustful of the church hierarchy, were accused of being overly inclined towards seeking such visions. The earliest mentions of this fourth-century movement found in Epiphanius of Salamis and Ephrem the Syrian offer no evidence on the issue, but Theodoret of Cyrrhus, writing closer to the mid-fifth century, attests to this phenomenon.67 It is probable that such practices of the Messalians date back to a period before incubation was performed in martyrs’ shrines. But they were not the only harbingers of later developments: the Donatists, for instance, claimed that their dreams and visions (some of which implied that they were about to suffer martyrdom) proved that they were the true Church.68 The monks, whom St. Antony warned against seeking visions, probably also received them when sleeping.69 Finally, it is important to mention a person known to us by name, Monica, Augustine’s mother, who asked God for a dream that would reveal to her what sort of marriage awaited her son: At my request, and from her own impulse, she asked with a great inner cry that you would send her a vision [per visum] of my future life in marriage. vision; see also Dodds, 1965, p. 46; Hermas, Pastor 9.2 and 25.1. 66 Cox Miller, 1994, p. 150; Amat, 1985, pp. 52–5, 62–86; Dulaey, 1973, pp. 41–7. 67 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Haereticarum fabularum compendium 5.11 and Historia ecclesiastica 4.11; Timothy of Constantinople, De iis qui ad ecclesiam ab haereticis accedunt 14. See also Gregory of Nyssa, De virginitate 23.3 (although the term ‘Messalians’ does not appear in his account); C. Stewart, 1991, pp. 62–3. 68 Note the premonitions about imminent martyrdom in Donatist passiones – Passio Marculi (PL 8.763; preceded by fasting and vigils) and Passio Isaac et Maximiani (PL 8.770B–771B) – and the polemical treatise of Augustine against the Donatists, De unitate ecclesiae (Epistula ad Catholicos de secta Donatistarum) 19.49. See also Dulaey, 1973, pp. 146–7. 69 Athanasius, Vita Antonii 34.1–2; see pp. 55–6.



But you refused. All that appeared to her were the kinds of dreams, airy and delusive, that answer the human spirit when it is trying too hard. She recounted them to me, but made light of them, not exhibiting the trust that was normal when you revealed something to her. She used to say that she could tell the difference between your revelations and her own mere dreams by a certain odour indescribable in words.70

Secondly, Christians believed that the dead could come into contact with the living in dream visions. Here, too, we are dealing with a universal experience: people dreamt about the deceased, especially their loved ones, and wished that they might appear to them while they were asleep. A Christian inscription from Rome has it thus: ‘May I be allowed to see your venerable face in my dream, Albana, my wife!’71 This husband was longing to see his departed wife; to others, the dead could appear in dreams unexpectedly. In the 490s, Ennodius, a renowned author and deacon at Milan, wrote the following to his fellow cleric in Rome: I tell you – I do not lie! –, that on the third night after my departure my lady Cynegia appeared to me in an unpleasant dream at the break of dawn and reproached me for making a haste journey and for that reason not honouring her tomb with verse.

Ennodius was not exactly sure whether the dream was an ‘image of prophetical truth’ or not, but he accepted the request to write the epitaph.72 Other Christian writers pondering the question of where dreams came from did not deny that such visions happened, although sometimes they had trouble explaining them. Evodius, bishop of Uzalis, asked Augustine the following in his letter: Why is it that persons who are awake or walking about see many of the dead entering homes, as they have been accustomed to, either during the 70 Augustine, Confessiones 6.13: Cum sane et rogatu meo et desiderio suo forti clamore cordis abs te deprecaretur cotidie, ut ei per uisum ostenderes aliquid de futuro matrimonio meo, numquam uoluisti. Et uidebat quaedam uana et phantastica, quo cogebat impetus de hac re satagentis humani spiritus, et narrabat mihi non cum fiducia qua solet, cum tu demonstrabas ei, sed contemnens ea. dicebat enim discernere se nescio quo sapore, quem uerbis explicare non poterat, quid interesset inter reuelantem te et animam suam somniantem. Trans. by Garry Wills. 71 Tuum benerabilem vultum liceat videre sopore, coniunx Albana (ICUR NS I 1496). See also Augustine, De cura pro mortuis 10.12. 72 Ennodius, Ep. 7.28; trans. by Marta Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West database:, ER 1502 (last accessed on 16 April 2020).


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day or during the night? I have heard this more than once, and there is the fact that it is said that at a certain moment of the night disturbances and prayers are made in places where bodies are buried, especially in basilicas […] For I remember that I saw Profuturus and Privatus and Servilus, holy men from the monastery, whom I remember went on ahead, and they spoke to me, and things happened as they said.73

There are two particularly interesting points to make about this text. First, the deceased ‘holy men of the monastery’ (i.e. members of the monastic community in Hippo) foretell events that are yet to take place. Secondly – and this would be an important factor leading to the emergence of Christian incubation – they were to be seen at cemetery basilicas: these places probably remained open at night, which is understandable, given that at least some funerals would have taken place in the evening or at night, as was also the case with the convivia that commemorated the dead.74 At this point, we are certainly not dealing with incubation that we might call systematic, but it seems that Evodius’s belief is not very far removed from actual practice. Furthermore, thirdly, I believe that holding the night vigils in honour of martyrs in their sanctuaries was yet another practice that favoured the emergence of the custom in question. In the already cited sermon on the Forty Martyrs, Gregory of Nyssa says that before he became a clergyman (i.e. before the late 350s), he went to attend one such vigil that was taking place in a garden, close to where the martyrs’ relics had been deposited. Snuggled in some building, Gregory fell asleep and saw the martyrs in his dream: clad in their military outfits, they scolded him for his slothfulness and gave him a flogging.75 Certainly, it was not uncommon to nod off during a vigil, especially as we know that people celebrating the memory of martyrs would not only pray, but also have a meal, at times doused with wine, which 73 Ep. inter Aug. 158.8–9 (written in ad 414): non hoc semel audiui, et illud, quod dicitur plerumque in quadam particula noctis in locis, in quibus humata corpora sunt, et maxime in basilicis fieri tumultus, orationes? […] nam memini me ego uidisse et Profuturum et Priuatum et Seruilium, quos memini sanctos uiros de monasterio praecessisse, locutos mihi et ita fuisse factum, ut dixerunt. Trans. by Roland Teske. See also other dream visions described in the same letter, in which a young notary of Bishop Evodius who had died a sudden death appeared to a few people (Ep. 158.1–3). Augustine dismissed these appartitions as mere dreams, but Evodius wanted to believe that they had been true. See Brown, 2015, pp. 70–4. 74 Toynbee, 1971, p. 46 and n. 138 (only the poor and children), but see the prohibition on celebrating funerals before sunset in the edict issued in February 363 by Julian, CTh, and his comments on the matter in Ep. 136b (= 56 LCL). See Torres, 2009, pp. 206–7. About parentalia being held at night, see e.g. ILCV 1570 (Satafis) and Saxer, 1980, pp. 47–52, 100–2, 134–40. 75 Gregory of Nyssa, Homiliae in sanctos XL martyres II, pp. 167–8.



may not necessarily have been conducive to staying awake.76 In addition, there were sanctuaries where it was possible to make an arrangement with people overseeing the place and stay for the night to pray individually when a vigil was not to be held on that particular occasion.77 Fourthly, the conviction that martyrs contacted the living in dreams may have been confirmed by their apparitions that indicated the place (or places) where their remains had been buried and requested veneration. The earliest stories of such discoveries are datable to the last quarter of the fourth century. An epigram by Pope Damasus on the martyr Eutychius probably alludes to a dream vision.78 In 379, Gregory of Nazianzus remarks in one of his sermons that the body of St. Cyprian had been discovered owing to a revelation (di’apokalypseos).79 In 384, the pilgrim Egeria reported that the grave of Job was found in Carneas in Palestine, also following a dream revelation.80 Then, the story of the discovery of the grave of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius by Ambrose of Milan appeared. In 386, Ambrose himself vaguely attributed it to God’s grace.81 A decade later, in 397, Augustine remarked that Ambrose had experienced a God-given revelation. In the early 420s, Paulinus of Milan claimed these two saints appeared to the bishop in person.82 Paulinus’s version of this story was most probably inspired by the detailed account of the discovery of the body of St. Stephen (415) left by the Palestinian presbyter Lucian.83 Finally, during the reign of Theodosius I, the graves of the prophets of Micah and Habakkuk, followed by that 76 Miracula Theclae 33; Shenoute of Atripe, the sermon, ‘Those Who Work Evil’, 199–200; Italy: Paulinus of Nola, Carmen 27.552–79; Gaul: Caesarius of Arles, Sermo 55.2. For the customs in Africa and the evidence from the writings of Augustine and acts of church councils, see Saxer, 1980, pp. 133–49. 77 There is an interesting story about thieves who pretended that they wanted to spend the night praying in the church of St. Claudius, but in fact wanted to steal something from there: ‘Les trois voleurs de Pmanhabin’, 221–5. 78 Damasus, Epigrammata, 21.9–11: Nocte soporifera turbant insomnia mentem,/ Ostendit latebra insontis quae membra teneret/ quaeritur, inuentus colitur, fovet, omnia prestat. 79 Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 24.17. For more on this particular text, see Mossay’s introduction, p. 27, and Cronnier, 2015, p. 202, with an extensive discussion of the phenomenon; for the Western evidence, see Keskiaho, 2015, 28–35. For a synthesis, see Maraval, 1989. 80 Egeria, Itinerarium 16.5–6. 81 Ambrose, Ep. 77.2; cf. Ambrose, Hymn 11.9–10, where we read: Caelo refulgens gratia/ artus revelavit sacros (‘Grace shining from the heavens unveiled the sacred members’). 82 Augustine, Confessiones 9.7; Paulinus of Milan, Vita Ambrosii 14.1: Per idem tempus sancti martyres Protasius et Gervasius se sacerdoti revelaverunt. Savon, 1997, p. 226, draws attention to the difference between these three accounts. For the literary story of this discovery, see Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 118–20. 83 Lucian of Caphargamala, Revelatio s. Stephani, passim.


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of Zachariah, were found in Palestine. According to Sozomen, all were revealed in dream visions.84 It was not only their resting places that the saints indicated in dreams: the arrival of their relics may also have been heralded in this way, as was the case with the remains of St. Stephen in Africa.85 Some saints demanded martyrial shrines or altars to be dedicated to their memory, and testimony to this can be found in the canon of a council held in Carthage in 401 that forbade building altars or memoriae of martyrs in places indicated ‘in dream visions or inane revelations’ (per somnia et per inanes quasi revelationes).86 Occasionally, there were also other matters that the saints communicated to the living in their dream apparitions. For example, in the early fifth century Palladius claims that St. Kollouthos appeared to a nun while she was asleep and gave her a premonition of her imminent death. This is worth mentioning not least because we know that at a later date the shrine of that saint became an incubation sanctuary.87 The fifth and final point is that the appearance of Christian incubation was preceded by the developing beliefs in the powerful presence of martyrs in their graves that chased away demons and healed diseases. It seems that crediting that power with the capability of revealing hidden matters came about all the easier, given that Christians were by then fairly familiar with the literary image of the martyr-prophets, who predicted their own deaths in detail, as well as the punishments to be meted out to their persecutors, as can be seen in the martyrdoms of Polycarp and Perpetua.88 All these factors may indeed have contributed to incubation becoming adopted by Christians with no major difficulty. It need not have been borrowed from old Greek temples, but even if it was, there was no reason to recoil in disgust at that custom or to suspect that it made one complicit in the error of despicable ‘pagan’ religion. It is therefore fairly natural that Christians started practising incubation, which happened at a time when the belief in the presence of the saints in their sanctuaries, together with the 84 Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 7.29 (Micah) and 9.17 (Zachariah). For all these discoveries, see Cronnier, 2015. 85 St. Stephen in Africa: Liber de miraculis s. Stephani 1.1–2, 1.4, 1.7, 1.11, 1.14. 2.2.6, 2.2.9, 2.3; see Dulaey, 1973, pp. 150–1. 86 Registri ecclesiae Carthaginensis excerpta 83. See Dulaey, 1973, p. 144. Augustine in De cura pro mortuis (10)12–17(21) mentions that there were saints who appeared to people in dream visions that revealed their resting places; we also find there people who wished to be buried close to saints’ relics (ad sanctos), as revealed to them in dreams. 87 Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 60. On incubation practised in the shrine of St. Kollouthos, see further, p. 222; for hagiographical stories of saints appearing in dreams to the living, see Keskiaho, 2015, pp. 36–46. 88 Waldner, 2007.



developing conviction of their miraculous power, had already been firmly established. Even though reminiscent of pagan cults, incubation did not have to seem more suspect than the custom of lighting candles that was likewise observed in Christian and pagan rituals.89

Incubation sanctuaries In the previous section I noted the best-known examples of churches where incubation was practised in Late Antiquity: Sts. Cosmas and Damian and St. Artemios in Constantinople, and Sts. Cyrus and John in Menouthis. It is nevertheless impossible to state with absolute certainty that these were the most important Christian incubatory shrines: we know these three best because we have collections of miracles associated with them. But there may have been other collections that did not survive, and there may have been sanctuaries in which the habit of recording miracles simply did not exist.90 Dispersed references demonstrate that there were more Christian shrines where the infirm might have stayed overnight in the hope of receiving dream visions and healings, although it is often difficult to assess whether we are dealing with an institutionalized practice or an individual case of having recourse to incubation. In some cases, archaeological discoveries may also be of help in expanding the list, but, as I have already noted, this type of evidence is even more difficult to interpret than textual records. I shall discuss these difficulties later in this chapter, but first let us consider how these sanctuaries were distributed across the late antique Mediterranean (and this will be the last extensive list to be featured in this chapter).91 In the West, the custom of looking for dreams in the sanctuaries of saints is poorly attested. The practice was certainly irregular, but not altogether absent.92 Usually, we see just individuals, most often suffering from some illness, who come to a sanctuary to pray but, being exhausted, fall asleep and are graced with the saints appearing in their dreams. Gregory of Tours mentions a few such cases when writing about healings that occurred in the sanctuary of St. Martin.93 However, a few authors tell us about people 89 Jerome, Adversus Vigilantium 7. 90 About the complicated connection between collections of miracles and sanctuaries, see Booth, 2019. 91 For a more detailed list discussing most of the sites at length, see Renberg, 2016, pp. 762–90. 92 The Western evidence is amply discussed by Canetti, 2010, pp. 170–9. 93 Gregory of Tours, Liber de passione et virtutibus s. Iuliani 9 and De virtutibus s. Martini 2.26 and 2.31; see also Vita Eligii 2.51, PL 87.578A (Noviomagus). See Moreira, 2000, pp. 119–20.


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who would visit a sanctuary precisely with a view to sleeping there and making contact with the martyr in the place dedicated to their memory. The earliest record of a dream vision in which a saint appeared to an infirm person and offered advice on how to regain health is found in the Life of Ambrose by Paulinus of Milan. Paulinus, writing in the 420s, refers to an event of the late fourth century: when the relics of the Anaunian martyrs had arrived in Milan, a blind man, seeing those saints in a dream (per visum noctis), reportedly heard from them that he would regain his sight at the tomb of Bishop Ambrose.94 This may be an entirely invented story, and it certainly cannot be taken as testimony to a regular incubation practice, but all elements necessary for its emergence seem to be in place. Another early piece of evidence concerning the sick who came to sleep in churches, close to relics, and with a view to receiving a remedy in their dreams is the Miracles of St. Stephen, the earliest Christian collection of miracle stories, written at about the same time and in the same region (Latin North Africa) as the Life of Ambrose. It contains descriptions of nineteen miracles related to the church in Uzalis that enshrined some relics of St. Stephen that had been brought to Africa in the late 410s. There are several cases in that account where dreams play vital roles in the story: a nun sees that the martyr’s relics are soon to be brought to the city, a sick person is advised to visit the sanctuary where they were placed, and a presbyter is obliged to persuade the local bishop that the relics deposited at the shrine should remain undivided.95 None of those visions was sought after, nor did any of those people sleep in the sanctuary itself. But the text also records cases where it is evident that incubation was intentional. We find there a crippled blacksmith who lingered in the sanctuary for nearly five months, sleeping on the mosaic-decorated floor, until he received a dream vision in which a young man urged him to come closer to the memoria of the saint. Another such example is a woman with her face distorted by some sort of illness. Having spent seven days in the sanctuary, she had a dream and saw a man in deacon’s robes (that is, obviously, Stephen) who told her to heal first the disease affecting her soul so that she may recover from her condition.96 We may also add to this the episode about a woman, distressed by the long drawn out absence of her husband, who wondered whether she should marry another man. To resolve the issue, she went to the memoria of St. Stephen and heard a voice saying that her husband was on his way back (although it 94 Paulinus of Milan, Vita Ambrosii 52. 95 Liber de miraculis s. Stephani 1.1–2, 1.4 and 1.7 (respectively). 96 Liber de miraculis s. Stephani 1.11 and 2.2.6.



is not explicitly stated that this was revealed to her in a dream).97 Thus, we may assume that incubation was almost certainly known in Uzalis at a fairly early date, although it is impossible to determine how often it was practised. Other such cases are recorded in much later sources, beginning with the late sixth century: in addition to the sanctuary of St. Martin in Tours that I referred to above, we can also mention the grave of St. Medard in Soissons and those of St. Maximinus in Trier and St. Liudhard in Canterbury (in the church of Sts. Peter and Paul).98 Among the many miracle-working sanctuaries of sixth-century Gaul that are described by Gregory of Tours, there is one, in Clermont, where incubation may have been practised in a systematic way: ‘Many people with fevers have slept by the tomb of the blessed Abraham and have been cured with the aid of heavenly remedies.’99 The Latin evidence tells us also about visitors who clearly came to stay overnight in sanctuaries with a view to receiving dreams that would reveal to them matters that were unrelated to health. One such person was the bishop of the Italian city of Ferenti, Redemptus, mentioned by Gregory the Great in the Dialogues (written in the late sixth century), who slept by the tomb of St. Euthicius and was graced by the saint who appeared to him at night and informed him of the imminent invasion of the Lombards.100 Gregory of Tours in turn wrote about Bishop Aravacius of Tongern, who slept at the grave of St. Peter, seeking help against the Huns.101 Later, at the turn of the eighth century, Bede tells us about another bishop, who also arranged for a night’s lodging to be prepared for himself at a certain church of Sts. Peter and Paul somewhere in Britain. Having prayed for the Church, he also had a dream vision in which the saints appeared to him.102 In these three accounts we find only bishops, which may imply that their authors were wary of mentioning the dreams of ordinary folk but certainly does not preclude the possibility of such people looking for nocturnal revelations. The last Western shrine to be discussed here is the church of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman forum. The hypothesis that incubation was practised 97 Liber de miraculis s. Stephani 1.5. 98 Gregory of Tours, Liber de passione et virtutibus s. Iuliani 47 and Liber de virtutibus s. Martini 2.4 (Tours); Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 2.16.143–50 (Soissons); Miracula s. Maximini, in Acta sanctorum Mai VII pp. 24–30 (Trier); Vita s. Letardi 6, in Acta sanctorum Februarii III p. 475 (Canterbury). We do not know when this event took place. The church in Canterbury was consecrated in 613, whereas Letard died at the end of the sixth century. 99 Gregory of Tours, Liber vitae patrum 3.1: Ad huius enim beati Abrahae sepulchrum plerumque frigoritici decubantes, medicinae caelestis praesidio sublevantur. Trans. by Edward James. 100 Gregory the Great, Dialogi 3.38.2. 101 Gregory of Tours, Historiae 2.5. 102 Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum 2.6.


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there is based on the partially preserved iconographical evidence found in the church, most notably on the frescos depicting several saints who were famous for their own sanctuaries and miraculous healings, including Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, and Stephen.103 These paintings fill up the walls of the diakonikon, the room adjacent to the chancel on the right-hand side, which is sometimes referred to as the Chapel of Physicians. Particularly interesting is the niche carved out in its southern wall with the life-sized images of six saints standing side by side. Santa Maria Antiqua was originally a ceremonial hall – it was not converted into a church until the end of the late sixth century 104 – while the niche in the diakonikon was made even later, evidently to accommodate the frescoes that we can still find there today. Niches for images of saints were usually placed above the ground level, but this one runs up from the floor, which may suggest that the saints were to be seen from below by people who would lie down on the chapel’s floor. In addition, although this is more uncertain on account of their poor state of preservation, it seems that these paintings were touched by people laying on the floor and, as traces of soot suggest, were illuminated from below: all this may suggest incubation, which is all the more so probable as in the eighth century, Santa Maria Antiqua was a church that catered to the Greek community in Rome which must have been familiar with the famous incubation sanctuaries of the East.105 These testimonies suggest that incubation was not an unknown practice in the western Mediterranean. However, we find there hardly any sanctuaries that were demonstrably specialized in this method. Is this because Latin authors were more prejudiced against this phenomenon than their Eastern counterparts? This is fairly unlikely, given that no Latin text condemns this practice or refers to it in a way even remotely similar to the remonstrances formulated by Shenoute. We cannot say for sure why Christian incubation was not very popular in the West, but it is interesting to note that in this part of the Mediterranean pagan incubation shrines were also few and usually associated with foreign cults of Greek provenance.106 103 Knipp, 2002. 104 Zanotti, 1996, p. 215. 105 The fact that the earliest decoration of the church had a different character is an argument against the supposed continuity between the practice of incubation in Santa Maria Antiqua and the cult and healings attributed to the nearby Templum Castoris and Lacus Iuturnae. Recently, Filippo Ronconi has argued that incubation was brought to Santa Maria together with the cult, and relics, of Cyrus and John: Ronconi, 2018. 106  See Renberg, 2006. For the different attitudes towards holy places between East and West, which may also have been of some importance in this regard, see Wiśniewski, 2015.



In the East, the greatest concentration of incubation shrines that we know of was in Constantinople and its immediate vicinity. I have already mentioned that incubation had been practised at least since the 440s in the Michaelion of Anaplous.107 The paragraph cited from Sozomen, however, is the only credible testimony to that.108 It is worth noting that Procopius of Caesarea, in his extensive account of the restoration work carried out in the Michaelion at the request of Justinian, left no remark whatsoever referring to incubation.109 North of the walls of Constantinople was the sanctuary of Sts. Cosmas and Damian known as the Kosmidion. There are four collections of miracles associated with this place, three of which were most probably compiled in the sixth and seventh centuries.110 The church itself can be dated to the first half of the fifth century, but it is not clear when it began to serve as an incubatory shrine. We know from Procopius that at some point in his reign Justinian (527–565) was healed in his dream by Sts. Cosmas and Damian, most probably at this shrine, which he subsequently ordered to be extended as a sign of his gratitude.111 Another Constantinopolitan collection of incubation miracles is associated with the church of St. John the Baptist in the quarter of Oxeia in the central part of the city, north of Mese, the city’s main street.112 The relics of St. Artemios were deposited in the crypt of that church, while in the diakonikon were those of St. Febronia. The collection of miracles, related mainly to St. Artemios, was compiled in the early 650s, while the earliest healing described in it is said to have occurred during the reign of Maurice (582–602). Artemios is no other than dux Artemios, who earned his reputation for implementing the policy of Constantius II against ‘pagans’ (but also against the Nicenes) in Egypt and was sentenced to death by the emperor Julian. His body was first laid to rest in Antioch, and he was initially revered as a martyr by the Homoian Christians. His martyrdom (BHG 170), which is difficult to date, tells us that his relics were moved to Constantinople, 107  Janin, 1953, pp. 351–2. 108  Less obvious is Malalas’s reference to the famous dream of Constantine. Probably the story was written when incubation was practised there, but we do not know when it started. 109 Procopius of Caesarea, De aedificiis 1.8.2–17. 110 The church itself: Janin, 1953, pp. 296–9; incubation and collections of miracles: Csepregi, 2002; note also her edition she is preparing of the previously unpublished collection of the miracles of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, probably of Miaphysite provenance. 111 Procopius of Caesarea, De aedificiis 1.6.5–6. 112 See Mango, 1979, and, above all, the introduction by John Nesbitt to the English translation of the Miracula Artemii, pp. 1–32.


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but the date when this happened is impossible to determine. Perhaps they were already in Oxeia in the fifth century, but even if that was the case, the question of whether incubation started to be practised there soon after the transfer remains unanswered. Another incubation sanctuary in Constantinople was the church of the Mother of God at the Spring (Pege) built by Justinian on the site of an older shrine established by the Emperor Leo (457–474).113 A collection of miracles from this sanctuary, relating episodes that were said to have happened there between the fifth and tenth centuries, has survived in a twelfth-century manuscript. The healings were mediated through the water of its miracleworking spring, but incubation was practised there as well, at least about the time when the collection was compiled. This probably started already in the late sixth century if not earlier. According to Theophylact Simocatta, writing at the beginning of the seventh century, before his campaign against the Avars, the emperor Maurice was looking for a dream vision in Hagia Sophia, and when no dream appeared to him he went to the church ‘at the Spring’.114 In the Miracles of Artemios, contemporary to Simocatta, a monk from Pege comes to the sanctuary in Oxeia to be healed. In a vision he is asked why he is not sleeping at Pege, where the Virgin Mary has worked so many healing miracles. In the same collection, we also find a case of incubation in the church of the Mother of God in the district of Ta Kyrou.115 The church was built in the sixth century, but as in the case of Pege we are unable to determine when incubation started or how common it was. Incubation was probably also practised at the relics of the prophet Isaiah at St. Lawrence’s in Blachernae, a church associated with the collection of miracles edited by Hippolyte Delehaye from a twelfth-century codex.116 Probably founded in the fifth century, it came to enshrine the relics of the prophet still in that century.117 Once again, it is impossible to determine when the practice in question first appeared in that particular church. Constantinople also had several churches of St. Panteleimon, who was venerated as a holy physician.118 He is mentioned in a miracle story from the Pege collection, where he is said to have appeared, together with the Virgin 113 Justinian: Procopius of Caesarea, De aedificiis 1.3.6–8; Leo: De templo B.M.V. tēs Pēgēs et miraculis 2. See also Janin, 1953, pp. 232–7. 114 Theophylact Simocatta, Historia 5.16.7–8. 115 Pege: Miracula Artemii 37; Our Lady of Ta Kyrou: Miracula Artemii 12. 116 Delehaye, 1924. 117 Janin, 1953, pp. 311–12. For the transfer of his relics, mentioned in later sources, see Cronnier, 2015, pp. 53–4. 118 Janin, 1953, pp. 400–2.



Mary, to a sick person sleeping in the sanctuary ‘at the Spring’.119 One might suppose that incubation should also have been practised in his churches (one of those, especially frequented by demoniacs, is mentioned in the Miracles of St. Artemios).120 However, this cannot be proved in a convincing manner. The same can be said of the two churches of Sts. Cyrus and John. The fame that these two saints enjoyed on account of their incubation sanctuary near Alexandria might make us suspect that their church in Constantinople performed a similar function, but its very existence is attested to only in much later sources, and none of those make reference to incubation. As for Anatolia, incubation was practised in the sanctuaries of St. Thekla in Seleucia and in Aigai, both discussed at the beginning of this chapter. Interestingly, the apparitions of the saint are described in the collection of her miracles in a spectacular, but distinctly non-programmatic way, and one might have the impression that the sick would rather accidentally fall asleep in the shrine than come there seeking a dream. But the author states that it was Thekla’s wont to visit the sick by night, which suggests a regular incubatory practice.121 Healings also took place at the sanctuary of Thekla in Dalisandos, but there is no way of saying whether they were obtained in dreams.122 In Syria, incubation is attested in the church of St. Dometios in Antioch, mentioned in a sermon by Bishop Severus (early sixth century).123 Perhaps this was also the case in the shrine of that saint located near the city of Cyrrhus, as alluded, albeit somewhat ambiguously, in the Greek Life of Dometios.124 That very text, however, tells of a certain man who came to Cyrrhus before the 450s while looking for a remedy for his condition, and lay down to sleep in the church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. This remark suggests that these two saints enjoyed widespread reputation in Syria for the dream healings they performed, and that this reputation dates back to about the same period as do the earliest cases of incubation recorded in Constantinople, Egypt, and in Isauria. It is probable that Cosmas and Damian were originally venerated at Cyrrhus, and that the custom of seeking 119 De templo B.M.V. tēs Pēgēs et miraculis 31.1. 120 Miracula Artemii 18; see pp. 192–3. 121 Miracula Theclae 38. 122 Miracula Theclae 26. 123 Severus of Antioch, Sermo 51, pp. 370–2 (ad 514). 124 Acta Graeca s. Dometii Martyris 12. Gregory of Tours, Liber in gloria martyrum 99, mentions incubation in a church of St. Dometios somewhere in Syria. It is not clear whether these two cases refer to the same saint; for more on this, see Peeters, 1939. For our purposes, however, this is of little importance. See also Parmentier, 1988 and 1989.


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dreams at their shrine reached Constantinople only with the transfer of their relics.125 One of the most famous martyrs’ shrines in Syria was that of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in Resafa (also known as Sergiopolis).126 We do not know of any collections of miracle stories associated with that church, but there is another very interesting piece of evidence related to it. In his Church History, Evagrius quotes the inscription placed on a golden paten which Chosrow II, king of Persia (590–628), had gifted to the sanctuary as a token of gratitude for the birth of his son.127 The text describes extensively how the king prayed at St. Sergius’s and received a dream vision in which the saint announced to him that his wife, Siren, would bear him a son. This is an interesting case, as it shows that incubation could cross barriers between religions. While it was Siren who was a Christian, it was the king himself who would have prayed to the saint. As for Egypt, it is impossible to pinpoint the location of the martyria that attracted frequent visitors and raised Shenoute’s ire. Most probably, he was referring to some local shrines in Upper Egypt where he lived. Incubation is explicitly documented with regard to the sanctuary of St. Kollouthos in Antinoë, where it is confirmed by the miracle stories published by Paul Devos; the scale of this phenomenon, however, is difficult to gauge.128 The same is true of the sanctuary of St. Menas (Abu Mena), probably the most important of the miracle-working Egyptian shrines. Archaeological research, based as it is in this case on well-preserved record, dates its origins back to the late fourth century. Excavations carried out on the site revealed a complex of small rooms arranged in a vast hemicycle around the grave of the saint.129 It is quite commonly believed that these rooms were used for incubation. This assumption is also based on the remains of sleeping benches, known as klinai, that have been found there. In addition, it is argued that the latrines and bathrooms that were found directly outside the hemicycle may indicate that the rooms were intended for practising incubation. This evidence is not easy to interpret. Visitors may indeed have been staying there for several hours, given that such hygiene facilities had been put in place.130 The rooms with klinai were certainly intended for overnight stays. But all 125 Van Esbroeck, 1985, pp. 71–2. 126 Key Fowden, 1999. 127 Evagrius, Historia ecclesiastica 6.21. 128 Devos, 1980 and 1981. For an attempt to identify the site where incubation was practised, see Grossmann, 2008, pp. 52–3. 129 Grossmann, 2007, pp. 126–8. 130 Grossmann, 2007, p. 127.



this does not necessarily imply incubation. We know for certain that Abu Mena was a well-known pilgrimage centre, so these may have simply been rooms for accommodating pilgrims. Taken on its own, the archaeological evidence thus proves somewhat inconclusive. However, the collection of the miracles of St. Menas may suggest that incubation was indeed practised in that sanctuary, even though the credibility of that particular textual record is at times doubtful. It survives in a long Coptic version and a short one in Greek. Both versions include the story of a man who slept in the sanctuary, asking the saint to reveal to him how he should make up for failing to fulfil what he had solemnly promised, and of another man, who assaulted a woman going to the sanctuary and was immediately paralysed. Having repented for his sin, he spent a week there waiting for a revelation from the saint.131 In addition, the Greek collection mentions a paralysed man who healed himself and a mute woman by following the admonition given to him in a dream that he had when sleeping in the sanctuary. Both episodes, however, may originate from other sites than Abu Mena. The latter is identical to the miracle story we find in two collections of miracles: that of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, and that of St. Kollouthos;132 thus, we are dealing here with a story floating freely between various similar collections rather than a testimony of real practice. The same can be said of the first episode: clearly belonging in the field of fantasy, it is set in the early fourth century (i.e. it is described as having taken place at a time when the sanctuary certainly did not yet exist). Exercising extreme caution, we can say only that incubation was probably not unheard of in Abu Mena but was not necessarily used there as a standard practice. Another sanctuary where incubation is inferred from archaeological record is the church in Sidi Mahmud, a relatively short distance north of Abu Mena. The name of the saint to whom the church was dedicated is unknown. Peter Grossmann argues that several klinai, wider than ordinary benches and fitted with headrests, placed along the inner and outer walls of the church, must have been used for incubation.133 If this interpretation is correct, this was a sanctuary where incubation was not only practised, but also constituted an important element in its day-to-day functioning. In continental Greece incubation may have been practised in Thessalonica, in the church of St. Demetrios. The oldest collection of his miracles 131 Miracula Menae Copt. 1 = Miracula Menae Gr. 9 (the unfulfilled vow); Miracula Menae Copt. 16 = Miracula Menae Gr. 6 (the punished stalker); Miracula Menae Gr. 5 (the paralytic and a mute woman). 132 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 2.24. See also Devos, 1980. 133 Grossmann, 2007, pp. 128–36.


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dates back to the early seventh century. It is primarily focused on the interventions that the saint had made in defence of the city warding off the invading Slavs and Avars, but opens with a series of healing miracles. One of those occurs as a result of incubation performed according to the most common pattern: when the physicians are found incapable, the ailing man is carried to the church and laid down on the ground; he falls asleep, sees the saint in his dream and is healed. We also find there the description of a great plague ravaging Thessalonica, which states that those affected by the disease would gather in churches (not only in that of St. Demetrios), a great many of them receiving visions.134 In addition, the Miracles relate several dream apparitions of St. Demetrios, although none of these were clearly solicited: they all came unexpectedly, had nothing to do with seeking a remedy for a health condition and took place outside the sanctuary.135 Finally, we have other literary accounts (difficult to date, but possibly written as early as in the fifth century) that show that dreaming in shrines was ingrained in the mentality of late antique Christians, but are unspecific about the locations where they said it was practised. Note, for example, the shrine of St. Stephen mentioned in his enkomion preserved in Coptic (BHO 1093). It says that the saint appeared in a dream to an infirm man who had robbed the sanctuary. We cannot locate this place, but the author may have been thinking of a specific shrine. In some cases, however, the purported incubation sanctuaries clearly belong to the realm of fiction. So it is with the private Jewish shrines that held the relics of the Three Young Men in Babylon and those with the robes of the Virgin Mary somewhere in Palestine. These sanctuaries are mentioned only in the accounts of the discoveries of those relics and are evidently made up with a view to proving their authenticity by showing that they had lain secure in one and the same place since biblical times.136 The list presented above is certainly incomplete, but it shows well enough that the sanctuaries that were expressly fitted for practising incubation were not distributed evenly through Christendom and did not form a regular network. However, there were many other churches where incubation was practised only occasionally. This observation applies not just to those 134 Miracula Demetrii 1.1.18–24 and 3.37–9. 135 Miracula Demetrii 1.6.56 and 7.62–6 (St. Demetrios prevents the bishop’s silver throne from being melted down and forbids blowing out candles lit in the sanctuary), 9.76, 10.866–93, 14.132 (the saint gives orders concerning provisions and safety of Thessalonica). 136 Descriptions of the unearthing of the relics of the Three Young Men survive in Georgian and Armenian: Garitte, 1959 and 1961. For the story of Galbios and Kandidos and the discovery of the robes of the Virgin Mary (BHG 1058a), see Wenger, 1955, pp. 294–303.



obscure places where the barely surviving evidence tells us, as if by chance, that one or another person stayed there overnight and was graced with a revelatory dream. The same may be said of the well-known shrines, such as St. Stephen in Uzalis, St. Demetrios in Thessalonica and probably even Abu Mena, where we have rich evidence in the form of collections of miracle stories. It seems, therefore, that although the practice of incubation may have been strongly associated with only some sanctuaries, Christians who believed in its effectiveness could have been practising it in other churches too. Of course, the condition was that the church remained open at least partially during the night. As we have seen, this was possible in well-known pilgrimage centres, but also in other shrines, if the person wishing to stay there overnight obtained permission to do so, provided that the building remained closed from the outside.137 One could also participate in night vigils celebrated in churches, which remained open on such occasions, or sleep not in the church itself, but somewhere else on the sanctuary’s premises.138 This does not mean, however, that incubation was practised in any and every church. In fact, all the evidence suggests that it was unique and exclusive to the sanctuaries of saints. The following subchapter will begin with an attempt to explain the root causes of this phenomenon.

Incubation in practice The literary sources make it evident that incubation always consisted of making contact with a saint or an angel, never directly with God. Not a single story included in any of the surviving collections of miracles tells us about Christ appearing to people in their dreams. The usual scene of the apparitions’s occurrence is at the shrine of a saint. Admittedly, late antique authors who promoted the cult of saints fairly often instructed their readers that it was possible to benefit from their assistance not only in sanctuaries but everywhere.139 Nevertheless, such healings were considered exceptional, and people generally preferred to make sure that the saints would listen to them, and believed that to this end one had to offer their prayers in appropriate places. The presence of saints was obviously best guaranteed 137 Miracula Artemii 17 and ‘Les trois voleurs de Pmanhabin’, 221–5. 138 Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 68.2–3, tells us about beggars sleeping in the portico of the church. 139 See e.g. Miracula Artemii 31: we see a woman laying down to sleep in her house, but under the image of a saint.


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close to their relics, and indeed the best known incubation shrines prided themselves on being in possession of a saint’s body. One such place was Menouthis, where the relics of Sts. Cyrus and John were believed to have been laid to rest. The same goes for St. Artemios in Constantinople140 and probably also for St. Kollouthos in Antinoë.141 Also, people who were told off by Shenoute for practising incubation had been found doing so at the relics of some unspecified martyrs. This is equally true of Abu Mena, Uzalis (St. Stephen) and possibly also a few other sanctuaries in the West. As for the relics of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, the issue is more complicated: the four late antique collections of their miracles make no mention of their relics being kept in Constantinople (one of those even tells us that they were enshrined in Cyrrhus).142 Their presence in the sanctuary is attested only in the fifth collection, which must have been written at a later date. The case of Seleucia in Isauria in turn is specific, since the church was believed to have been built on the rock that had engulfed the living body of St. Thekla.143 As for St. Demetrios, initially his sanctuary in Thessalonica was not regarded as having the body of the saint, but at the time when the collection of his miracles was being written, this belief changed.144 The Michaelion in Constantinople, although it could obviously not have had any material relics, owed its sacred status to the belief in St. Michael’s revelations.145 No relics were mentioned in the shrine of Mary at Pege. All this suggests that while it was preferable to practise incubation close to martyrs’ relics, they were not seen as indispensable for performing the consultation. But it was essential that the consultation should have been carried out in a sacred place so as to make sure that the keenly awaited vision would not be a mere figment of the sleeping mind or, worse still, a delusion concocted by demons. In other words, people who wished to receive a healing dream felt attracted to the places that gave them absolute certainty that nothing else but the saint would appear to them there in their sleep.146 Not every church, therefore, was suitable for practising incubation, just as not 140 Patria Constantinopoleos 3.235–6; see Crisafulli and Nesbitt, in their introduction to the Miracula Artemii, p. 4, and Janin, 1953, p. 58, n. 1. 141 Grossmann, 2008, pp. 50 and 55. 142 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 12 (on the relics being kept in Cyrrhus). 143 Acta Pauli et Theclae 44 (only in manuscripts A, B and C; see the commentary in the edition, p. 270) and Vita Theclae 28. 144 Miracula Demetrii 1.5.50–4. 145 According to the anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza, Itinerarium 7, people would sleep in anticipation of visions and healings in the baths of Elijah in Gadara, where the body of the prophet (taken to heaven on a chariot of fire) could not possibly have been buried. 146 Doubts about the origin of the vision: Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 5.34.



every church was suitable for drawing lots or questioning demoniacs. As I have said, there are no documented cases of incubation practices taking place in ordinary local churches that had no particular material relation to the cult of saints.147 An illustration of this is found in the sermon tentatively attributed to Cyril of Alexandria, preserved in a tenth-century manuscript containing also the Miracles of Sts. Cyrus and John by Sophronios, which was purportedly delivered to celebrate the transfer of the saints’ relics to Menouthis. The attribution to Cyril is almost certainly false, so we must bear in mind that there is no way of determining the date when that text was first written. However, the reasoning itself definitely deserves comment. The sermon tells us that Menouthis used to have a church dedicated to the Evangelists that was built by Bishop Theophilos of Alexandria. However, that church did not have a martyrium and, as the sermon has it, ‘people would go to other places’.148 The text gives no specific information as to why those people preferred to go elsewhere, but it implies in a fairly obvious way that they were seeking to regain their health by practising incubation: thus, the author of the sermon clearly suggests that ordinary churches that had no material token of the saint’s presence were considered inappropriate for that purpose. Our evidence shows that visitors to sanctuaries wished to sleep as close to the relics as possible. However, it was difficult to accommodate everyone close to the tomb, and so many of those who stayed overnight had to find other places in the church to lie down to sleep.149 In the Kosmidion people would sleep in the diakonikon (sacristy), in the vestibule, in the katechumenion (upper gallery) or close to the altar.150 In Oxeia, where the relics of St. Artemios were kept, one could come to sleep at the saint’s shrine only on Saturday nights. On other days, only a section of the aisle was open for that purpose, but when there was not enough room for all visitors, it was also 147 Later the division disappears: note, for instance, the church in Sidi Mahmud; Grossmann, 2007, p. 138. 148 Pseudo-Cyril of Alexandria, Oratiuncula 2, PG 77.1101. The question of the authenticity of this sermon is of little importance for this discussion. See Wipszycka, 1988, pp. 138–42, and Montserrat, 1998, pp. 261–6. 149 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 1.10 and 2.17 (incubation is preferably practised inside the church, but also in the nartex; a pagan or a heretic does not dare to sleep in the church itself), 5.34 (people sleeping by the relics, but this part of the collection comes from a later period); Miracula Artemii 17 (only some are permitted to sleep in the crypt); Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 9.6, 10.8, 27.4 (the martyrium), 24.4 (only some are admitted close to the tomb), 36.15 (the crypt with the relics opened at fixed hours). 150 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 2.35 (diakonikon), 2.17 and 4.30 (nartex), 3.21 and 3.23 (katechumenion), 3.21 (altar). For the katechumenion, see Ruggieri, 1993.


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possible to stay overnight in the baptistery. As for St. Febronia, her shrine in the same church (on the right-hand side of the altar) was available to women who came there to seek help from the female saint. One person is reported to have slept in the katechumenion of the same church.151 Finally, in the sanctuary of Sts. Cyrus and John, their shrine was separated from the rest of the church by a grate that was set in place every night, which means that incubation was practised there only at a distance from the relics.152 People would sleep on the floor or on stone benches, klinai (but note that for these we have no literary evidence), presumably on mats they brought for the purpose.153 There were people who expected dream visions while sleeping at home or in other places that were not considered sacred, but these hopes were entertained mostly by those who had paid a visit to the sanctuary beforehand.154 Most incubation shrines were visited by people suffering from various ailments: all sorts of pain, haemorrhages, blindness, deafness, paralysis, broken limbs, gout, leprosy, other conditions of the skin and finally demonic possession, which by most authors was regarded as a bodily disorder.155 For our purposes, it makes little sense to take a statistical approach to this list, as it seems that it hardly reflects the actual state of affairs. From the rhetorical point of view, illnesses that were particularly similar to those famously healed by Jesus must have been especially appealing and so they may be over-represented in the collection of miracles. Also, paralysis and blindness were especially suitable on account of their symbolic weight, since the healing of those bodily conditions was a manifest sign of spiritual recovery.156 But it is worth noting that there were incubation sanctuaries that were evidently specialized. The shrine of St. Dometios in Antioch, although it offered remedies for various diseases, was especially known for those that helped in restoring healthy hips (the saint reputedly managed to keep his hip joints in good health despite observing a rigorous ascetic discipline).157 That of St. Artemios in Oxeia was believed to cure testicular hernia (the 151 Miracula Artemii 17 and 45 (at the tomb), 37 (baptistery), 6, 15 and 38 (side aisle), 24 (chapel of St. Febronia), 31 (katechumenion); see Crisafulli and Nesbitt’s introduction, pp. 11–14. 152 Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 36.15. 153 Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 5.7; Miracula Artemii 10, 13, 37. 154 Miracula Artemii 5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 22, 27, 31, 39, 40, 44. 155 There are also exceptions: Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 14.2, and Miracula Demetrii 1.4.46. On the bodily character of demonic possession, see Wiśniewski, 2020, pp. 107–11. 156 For example, Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 1, 12, 26, 70. For the spiritual meaning of blindness, crippleness and the cure for bodily conditions, see Van Dam, 1993, pp. 68–94. 157 Severus of Antioch, Sermo 51, pp. 372–4.



martyr’s testicles were crushed by his torturers). Both cases are interesting, because it seems unlikely that such narrow specializations could have been established if incubation shrines had been very few and far between. This in turn suggests that in larger cities (particularly in Constantinople and Antioch) there may have been more such places than our evidence allows us to see. Sanctuaries located in smaller centres of Christian worship were probably specialized to a much lesser degree. As I have already noted, incubation was not used exclusively to find a remedy for health problems. In the Miracles of St. Thekla, other cases are fairly numerous: there is an army commander seeking advice on how to wage a military campaign, a letter-carrier of the imperial court who is inquiring about the prospects of his mission, a woman concerned about her husband’s conversion, and two other women wondering whether their loved ones reciprocate their affection. There are three cases in which St. Thekla helps to retrieve stolen things and find out who stole them. There is even a man hoping that the saint would help him seduce a beautiful woman whom he saw at her festival.158 Although these episodes are very vague about the consultation procedure, there are also similar stories in other collections, though they are less frequent. Sts. Cosmas and Damian, for instance, were also asked to answer similar questions, and once a man came to their sanctuary only to check if they were indeed so powerful as they were commonly believed to be. Also, not unlike Sts. Cyrus and John, they were also consulted on how to overcome financial distress. Finally, we read about St. Stephen being asked whether some long-missing family members would ever return home and about the conversion of a relative.159 It is very difficult to assess how frequently people sought dreams unrelated to health issues. In the collections of miracles, they are relatively rare, but we must take into account that we are left only with stories selected by the authors. And since early Christian writers wrote about divinatory practices more warily than about healing miracles, we may suppose that they exercised greater restraint with regard to incubation that had nothing to do with health. In reality, consultations of this kind may have been fairly frequent. Interestingly, most episodes of looking for a divinatory dream that we know of from the Latin evidence had nothing to do with health. It 158 Miracula Theclae 13 (army commander), 16 (letter-carrier), 14 (the husband’s conversion), 20 and 42 (infidelity), 21, 22 and 43 (theft), 33 (a man asks a saint to help him seduce a beautiful woman). 159 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 1.10 (conversion), 2.18 (financial problems), 3.26 (questioning the power of the saints); Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 46.4–5 (financial means to undertake a journey); Liber de miraculis s. Stephani 1.5, 1.14 (return from the journey), 2.2.4 (conversion).


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is difficult to say, however, whether the West and the East really differed in this respect as the Latin evidence, as we have seen, is relatively scant. Christian incubation, regardless of the purpose for which it was used, does not seem to have been strongly ritualized, although the shrines where it was practised on a daily basis were certainly more likely to develop customary procedures than those where this was only occasional. As for the literary accounts, it is only in the Miracles of St. Artemios where we repeatedly find references to ‘usual things’ (ta en ethei) which preceded the incubation.160 The author, most disappointingly does not say what these things consisted of, but he probably thinks about a form of material contribution, which was perhaps not required, but certainly suggested, even if the saint-healers were often referred to as anargyroi (‘who cure without payment’). More specifically, we read there about people who would bring candles or oil to fuel the lamps which they wished to be lit, either on their own behalf or in the name of someone else whose health was the matter of the consultation.161 In itself, this was nothing unusual: candles and lamps were lit in churches not just by those who sought divinatory dreams. Of course, there may have been other rituals that are not mentioned in our sources: the collections of miracles were not written to describe the daily routine observed in sanctuaries, and so we should not treat them as providing a faithful reflection of their decor, practices and customs.162 But what we can see suggests that the level of ritualization of the Christian practice was lower than that of old Greek incubation. It is worth noting that in the sanctuaries of saints, even ritual ablutions were normally not required. In collections of miracles incubation is portrayed as a practice requiring no assistance from specialized personnel. Certainly, this is not to say that members of the clergy who were attached to the sanctuary, along with other related individuals, are entirely absent from those records. We see, for instance, priests who distributed eulogiai in the Kosmidion.163 The Miracles of St. Artemios mention attendants working in Oxeia.164 A group of virgins permanently resided at the shrine of St. Thekla.165 Remarks mentioning sanctuary personnel are most numerous in Sophronios’s Miracles of Cyrus 160 Miracula Artemii 12, 23, 33, 36, 37, 39, 41–5. 161 Candles could be bought from local sellers: Miracula Artemii 21. See Déroche, 2006, pp. 153–4. 162 Déroche, 1993, and Booth, 2019. 163 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 5.36. Eulogiai most often took the form of breads that were distributed once the liturgy was completed. Other forms included vials with water from the sanctuary and other objects containing dust, wax or oil from churches built in pilgrimage sites. 164 Miracula Artemii 15, 30, 44. 165 Miracula Theclae 10, 32, 34, 43, 46.



and John, which tell us about the chief steward of the sanctuary, its doorkeepers, guards overseeing the saint’s tomb, and a confraternity of laymen (philoponoi).166 Even this text, however, has only a few such mentions. Moreover, with the exception of the philoponoi, who helped patients with walking difficulties, members of sanctuary staff are never shown as being directly involved in the practice of incubation. As we have already seen, there was no preparatory ritual that would have required their assistance, nor do we hear of any experts explaining the meaning of dreams. But interestingly, even with regard to the rituals in which the staff must clearly have been involved (such as the distribution of the Eucharist, holy oil and keroté, that is, a mixture of wax and oil from the shrine), the hagiographers generally do not say who was supposed to deal with such activities. This suggests that actual practice may have been different from what these texts would have us believe. The clergy serving in the church must have played a significant role and its importance may have been intentionally diminished in keeping with the narrative aims set by the authors. Although their individual agendas varied, they all wished to emphasize that it was the saint who had worked those miracles, and consequently, focusing too intensely on the sanctuary staff would have switched attention away from the intended message.167 But the clergy were there. Even though they lingered in the background to the thrust of the narrative, they must have contributed to an extent to the growing popularity of the sanctuary, which they certainly cared about. It is difficult to assess if there were indeed many patients who recovered their health (or thought they had recovered it) precisely when they were asleep in a sanctuary as opposed to having implemented the recommendations they were given in dream visions. Hagiographers enthuse over on-thespot healings, not least because they had more literary appeal. One may suppose, however, that in reality the sick usually expected to experience no more than a prophetic dream. It is probable that they might actually see the saints appearing to them ‘in person’ in such dreams (most likely resembling their pictorial representations168) and giving them specific instructions. But, interestingly, in the collections of miracles we also find a fair number of dream visions in which the saints appear to the sick in a form that does not allow for their instant and accurate identification: the array of their personae 166 Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 8.1, 31.4–7, 32.7–8, 35.8, 37.8, 51.10, 67.9 (chief steward), 67.5 (doorkeepers), 40.1 (mnemaites, i.e. tomb guards), 35.5, 56.2 (philoponoi). 167 Booth, 2014, p. 181. 168 Miracula Theclae 14; Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 2.13; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 10.6, 21.4, 70.12; Miracula Demetrii 1.8.70, 10.89; see Dal Santo, 2011a.


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is vast and includes such figures as clergymen, church attendants, monks, soldiers, clerks, doctors, senators, butchers, family members and friends.169 The saints appearing in dreams thus usually impersonated figures known to the dreaming individuals, and it was only after awakening that they were able to recognize the martyr behind the impersonated figure. At times, it was easier to recognize the saint if the figure seen in the dream was his or her namesake or was reminiscent of the saint owing to some other affinity. At other times, however, the vision offers no clue whatsoever that would make it possible to identify the saint. In such cases, the identification was probably based solely on the belief that the dream that came to one in a sanctuary must have been meaningful and must have occurred owing to the martyr venerated in the shrine. This belief, however, was not held without reservations. The literary testimonies of incubation demonstrate that the sick were sometimes at a loss and wondered whether they had actually been visited by a saint. Perhaps the vision was a mere f igment of their imagination? Or, worse still, was it procured by a demon?170 Quite naturally, hagiographers never tell us about situations in which such concerns were fully justified, since their goal was to convince the reader that all dream visions that came to those who slept in the sanctuary were true. But the effort they put into it clearly illustrates that people had their doubts. An example of this is the motif of dreams that repeated themselves three times, featuring fairly widely in miracle stories: although it is obviously and firmly rooted in the Bible (note especially the vision of Samuel and similar accounts related to the discovery of saints’ graves),171 it clearly shows that the authors of such collections found it appropriate to go to great lengths to convince their readers that the vision they were relating was undeniably authentic. Even to those who were convinced that they had truly been visited by the saint, it was not always clear what the recommendations given in the vision actually meant. In such cases, it was usual to discuss the issue with others who were seeking healing in the sanctuary or with members of its personnel.172 However, it does not seem likely that one could consult 169 A clergyman (Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 37.3); member of the sanctuary’s personnel (Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 2.14; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 4.4, 32.7, 36.13); a family member, friend or acquaintance (Miracula Theclae 11; Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 4.35; Miracula Demetrii 1.1.16; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 70.8; Miracula Artemii 1, 16, 23, 31). 170 See e.g. Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 4.34 and 4.35; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 27.5, 30.8–10; Miracula Demetrii 1.7.66, 9.77. 171 Repetitive dream visions are especially common in accounts on the discovery of a saint’s burial place; see Cronnier, 2015, p. 196. 172 See e.g. Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 11.8; Miracula Demetrii 1.1.17 and 10.92.



a specialized chresmologist (i.e. a dream interpreter) on the sanctuary’s premises, contrary to the practice attested to in late antique asklepieia.173 Admittedly, there is some evidence showing that people asked clerics to interpret their dreams, but only very rarely can we see it in the context of incubatory shrines.174 The recommendations received in dreams were generally regarded as necessarily and immediately actionable, most usually on the spot, but they varied in character. Some of them were standard activities, such as partaking of or anointing oneself with lamp oil or keroté, or taking a bath.175 In all collections, however, we also find numerous recommendations with particularly distinctive features. In some cases, according to the author, the goal was to heal the spiritual dysfunction that lay at the root of a physical illness. Thus, we may find there a self-assured man who is made to sweep the floor of the sanctuary, and a famous iatrosophist (teacher of medicine) known for his sceptical attitude to the power of the saints who was ordered to walk around the church with a bell on his neck, carry bags that were usually placed on a donkey’s back and proclaim: ‘I am deranged, I am a wretched fool.’ We also see ‘heretics’ (the Miaphysites) who are ordered to partake communion with the ‘Catholics’ (i.e. the Chalcedonians), Jews who are made to eat pork, pagans who have to be baptized, and sinners who must confess their trespasses.176 The didactic character of these requirements, noticeable especially in Sophronios’s writings, is immediately apparent. Several of these stories are unlikely to relate to authentic experiences; they were almost certainly made up by the authors and reflect their agenda in the religious controversies in which they were involved. The same must be true of the exceedingly startling recommendations that, when implemented 173 Aelius Aristides, a regular visitor to asklepieia in the second century, tells others (also priests) about his dreams, but not one of his listeners seems to have been a specialist in dream interpretation. Such specialists, however, are recorded (albeit rarely) in epigraphic and literary evidence; see Von Ehrenheim, 2015, pp. 99–101. It was probably different in the oracle of Trophonios, where the last stage of consultation was to tell the priests everything that was seen and heard; Pausanias, Graeciae descriptio 9.39.13. 174 Moreira, 2000, pp. 225–6. 175 Lamp oil: Miracula Theclae 7.40; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 1.12, 3.3, 7.3, 22.4, 50.6; Miracula Artemii 15; keroté: Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 2.16, 3.22; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 1.8 and 1.12, 10.8, 22.4, 50.5, 51.8, 65.6, 70.10; Miracula Artemii 3.13; taking a bath: Miracula Theclae 25; Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 3.27; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 38.7, 47.3, 52.2. 176 Eating pork: Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 1.2; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 54.6; conversion of pagans: Miracula Theclae 14; Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 1.9; confession of sins: Liber de miraculis s. Stephani 2.2.6.


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by the sick person, resulted in healing the disease in a paradoxical and spectacular way. For example, a man named Paulos, who suffered from horrible headaches and sought healing at the sanctuary of Sts. Cyrus and John, was instructed to leave the sanctuary’s premises and punch the first person to pass by in the jaw. The man was hesitant about fulfilling the command, but having experienced the vision a third time, he caved in and hit a certain soldier whom he saw when leaving the shrine through the gate. The nonplussed soldier grasped a club and hit the sick man on the head: then, through the resulting wound, worms came out, which, as was now evident, were the cause of the pain. A similar story is also found in the Miracles of St. Artemios.177 Such picturesque accounts cannot possibly reflect the day-to-day routine of incubation sanctuaries. The same is probably true of the recommendations received in dreams that urged the sick person to act contrary to the advice given by medical professionals. Among late antique authors, Sophronios described such cases with particular relish, especially as he aimed to juxtapose the miracle-working power of the saints with the art of medicine and took evident pleasure in demonstrating that the latter was miserably inferior. Incubation is presented in our evidence as an egalitarian method of divination. The hagiographers insist that the poor and rich alike would come to sleep in the sanctuaries, and we may trust in the veracity of their claims in this regard, since we also have other sources that make it clear that sanctuaries were open to all. No special skills were needed to practise incubation; by contrast, casting lots or consulting divinatory codices required at least some degree of literacy or entailed seeking help from an expert. What remains fairly dubious, however, is whether a beggar and a rich man would have slept there close to one another. As we have seen, every sanctuary had its more and less privileged zones, and the better ones must have been fewer, and there may have been some criteria for allocating them to individuals. We know, for instance, that the rich were given privileged access to the saints’ resting places in the sanctuary of St. Artemios and in that of Sts. Cyrus and John. Also, in the Miracles of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, we find two rich men who sleep in the same (unspecified) spot, even though previously they did not know one another.178 Although it is unlikely that sanctuaries were divided into neatly delimited zones for practising incubation depending on social status, the cases shown above were probably not exceptional, and 177 Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 18; Miracula Artemii 26. 178 Miracula Artemii 17; Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 24.4; Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 3.24.



in reality the separation may have been more frequent than in literature. The authors of miracle stories usually go to great lengths to underline that the saints heal the sick with no regard for their wealth or social standing (note, once more, the epithet of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, who were known as anargyroi, which emphasizes that they offered their help for free as opposed to ordinary physicians). Clearly, then, there was no reason for their authors to write about the poor and the rich occupying separate spaces in the sanctuaries, and so the rare scenes listed above probably give a true reflection of historical reality. Aside from the very best places there must have been others that were far less convenient, especially those outside the church, that were occupied by people who for some reason had been denied entry into the church. In the Kosmidion, for example, we see a ‘pagan’ sleeping in the vestibule; in Menouthis, a demoniac does not even dare to enter the sanctuary to stay there for the night.179 However, there was no strict rule concerning access by energumens, non-Christians or heretics. We find that even within one and the same collection of miracles people of different religious adherence sleep close to each other inside the sanctuary. The collections of miracles nearly always note the origin of those who sought healing in incubation sanctuaries. People who came to the shrines of St. Thekla (Seleucia in Isauria), St. Demetrios (Thessalonica) and St. Stephen (Uzalis) generally lived nearby, but there were also others who travelled from neighbouring provinces. Sanctuaries founded in or close to the largest cities, such as Sts. Cyrus and John’s (Alexandria) and St. Artemios’s (Constantinople), also attracted pilgrims from further afield. The snippets of information concerning their origin are important and interesting, but they certainly do not allow us to calculate the actual proportions between the short- and long-distance visitors to a given sanctuary. The authors of the collections of miracles were keenly involved in touting their special position among other healing shrines and readily picked up the stories of travellers from afar. Sophronios even went as far as to devise the structure of his collection according to the origin of the people featuring in the miracles stories, where we see pilgrims coming from Alexandria, Egypt, Libya and ‘from all countries under the sun’. The catalogue of peoples that opens the final part of the collection (51–70) includes Romans, Galatians, Cilicians, inhabitanats of Asia Minor and neighbouring islands, Phoenicians, Byzantines (from Constantinople), Bithynians, Ethiopians, Thracians, Medes, Arabs, Syrians and Elamites. In the episodes that follow we indeed 179 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 1.10 (but note 1.9, where there is no such reluctance) and Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 14.


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find visitors from most of these regions (Tarsus and Anazarbos in Cilicia, Constantinople, Eleutheropolis in Palestine, Damascus, Cyprus, Rhodes, Aphrodisias, Makra Kome, Phoenicia, Antioch, Lycia, Hierapolis and Rome), and it is only Ethiopia and Elam that seem to have been added to complete the image of oikoumene that was obviously modelled on the description of the Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. Sophronios states that all those people came to Egypt specifically to visit the sanctuary of Sts. Cyrus and John, but was this actually the case? The author himself admits that some had initially been heading for Abu Mena, which was clearly more famous than Menouthis. It is possible that the sick who sought healing in Egypt visited all places where they hoped they might find it, including, aside from sanctuaries, the dwellings of holy monks. The same may have been true of Constantinople with its several incubation shrines existing at the same time and attested to in the sources. Also, a few stories from the Miracles of St. Artemios demonstrate that people from outside the city would come to the saint’s sanctuary when visiting the city on business.180 Likewise, we may safely assume that it was no different with Abu Mena or Menouthis, which attracted people travelling to handle their affairs in the great city of Alexandria. Conversely, that factor was probably of minor importance for the smaller cities such as Seleucia in Isauria and Uzalis, where visiting the local sanctuary must have been the high point of the trip. As for the social composition of people coming to incubate at the shrines, we should note that there is ample evidence of incubation being practised by women, who usually slept in the same space as men. At the shrine of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, and at that of Sts. Cyrus and John, women are about a fifth of the figures described in the respective collections, while in the sanctuary of St. Thekla they make up about a quarter. For obvious reasons, no woman was healed by St. Artemios, whose chief specialization was treatment of testicular hernia. However, his Miracles mentions two cases of women healed by St. Febronia, who was venerated in the same church in Oxeia that held the tomb of St. Artemios. Equally importantly, it mentions several healings of young boys that resulted from dream visions received by their mothers. In total, therefore, also in this collection women make up a fifth of the individuals described as practising incubation. Of course, these observations cannot be taken as reflecting the actual proportions, but they do demonstrate that women were routinely present in incubation sanctuaries. However, while the men who visited them came from distant parts of the Mediterranean, the women were mostly from the vicinity, which 180 Miracula Artemii 5, 6, 14, 27, 32.



may be an accurate reflection of the difference in mobility between the two sexes during this period. The only women who travelled long distances to visit the sanctuaries were members of the highest social strata, such as the wife of the governor of the province of Palaestina I, who went from Caesarea to Menouthis, or a certain rich woman from Carthage who set off to Uzalis.181 As we have already seen, incubation shrines attracted members of various religious groups. Aside from Christians, the Miracles of St. Thekla mention a few ‘pagans’. In the sanctuary of Sts. Cosmas and Damian we also find Jews, Arians and other unspecified ‘heretics’. A number of Miaphysites are recorded as visiting the sanctuary of Sts. Cyrus and John. St. Menas’s accommodated also Samaritans.182 Some of these accounts end with conversion (which is described as either a prerequisite to or a result of the healing), and although we cannot completely rule out the possibility that they may testify to the actual state of affairs, such stories must be taken with a pinch of salt, as they undeniably appealed to the authors, whose aim was to add weight to the convictions of their religious group. One may suppose, therefore, that the conversions to Nicene and Chalcedonian Christianity are at least over-represented. However, we can safely take it for a fact that religious ‘dissenters’ did perform such consultations in Seleucia, Constantinople and most evidently in Menouthis. At the time when Sophronios was compiling his collection of miracles, the shrine of Sts. Cyrus and John remained in the hands of the Chalcedonians, but the region was largely inhabited by Miaphysites, and these stories cannot have been completely divorced from facts. First of all, many of them do not mention the conversion of the healed individual, which substantially weakens their didactic value. Others show people who enter into communion with the Chalcedonians, but once returned home they renege on the commitment and apostatize.183 Secondly, the author records the fact that Miaphysites took oil from the lamps but did not receive communion from the hands of the clergymen serving in the sanctuary, and that they even participated in the liturgy but would leave the congregation after the readings.184 These pieces of information did not really serve Sophronios’s agenda, and there is every reason to believe that in this regard he faithfully reflects the everyday routine of the shrine. People 181 Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 68.3–5; Liber de miraculis s. Stephani 2.2.2. 182 Miracula Theclae 18, 39, 40 (pagans); Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 1.9, 1.10 (pagans), 1.2 (Jews), 2.17 (Arians), 3.26 (unspecified heretics); Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 12, 36, 37, 38, 39 (Miaphysites described as followers of Julian of Halicarnassus); Miracula Menae Copt. 16 = Miracula Menae Gr. 6 (Samaritans). 183 Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 37.6–7 and 38.6. 184 Sophronios, Miracula Cyri et Iohannis 12.13, 36.15–24; see Csepregi, 2011, and Booth, 2011.


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were thus willing to look for healings and answers in holy places whose personnel did not share their doctrinal convictions.

Popularity, resistance and discussions How popular was incubation? Rich literary evidence does not necessarily mean that it was the most common of Christian divinatory methods. The literary success of incubation stories is largely owing to their (most frequently) therapeutic aim. Questioning demoniacs, consulting books and drawing lots was regarded as suspicious or at least unedifying, and even if not necessarily seen as sinful, the very purpose of divination was regarded as inappropriate, as we saw in the first chapter of this book. Miraculous healings, by contrast, were never embarrassing. On the contrary, Christian authors were very keen to write about them. But there was also another reason for the literary popularity of incubation cures: they simply lent themselves more easily to rhetorical elaboration and could have been described in a much more spectacular way than the humdrum divinatory consultations performed by means of other methods. It must indeed have been difficult for even the most talented authors to write about that man who used a divinatory ticket to ask St. Kollouthos whether he should rinse his sore leg, even though eventually the advice he received helped him restore his health. A story such as this was hardly a good fit for displaying one’s writerly flair. But a similar healing that involved incubation by its very nature provided material that was especially conducive to storytelling. We can see it, for instance, in the Miracles of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, in the lively episode of a magistrate whose wound healed after he took a bath following the advice given to him by the saints in his dream.185 It is a picturesque dream vision that stands at the heart of the story. The healing itself is given scant attention. In other episodes it is frequently mentioned only in passing, if recorded at all. Thus, the literary success is not a perfect measure of the popularity of the practice, but it does strongly suggest that incubation was widely accepted, all the more so as incubation stories do not betray any trace of apology concerning the method itself. It appears, therefore, that usually no such apology was deemed necessary. Another argument for the widespread acceptance of incubation is that it could have been practised only with the consent of the sanctuary personnel, given that churches were normally closed overnight. The fact that they were left open (at least in part) means 185 Miracula Cosmae et Damiani 27.



that incubation was not regarded as something reprehensible. Finally, possibly some churches were purposefully adapted to accommodate those who came to perform their consultations by this method (this may be the case of the broad klinai in Sidi Mahmud and the hemicycle rooms in Abu Mena). If this was the case, it implied a high level of not just tolerance, but also support for incubation. Altogether this does not mean that everybody accepted incubation enthusiastically, but traces of suspicion or hostility are rare. Of course, in spite of the strong tradition of biblical dream revelation and the widely shared conviction that God could communicate with people in this way, most early Christian writers advised abstinence from both seeking and interpreting prophetic dreams.186 Even Augustine, who wrote approvingly of his mother’s prayers for a dream that would reveal to her the prospects of his marrying, did not recommend using this method.187 However, such discussions on the general veracity of dreams were conducted without reference to incubation and probably had little affect on this practice. Incubation could have raised some specif ic concerns regarding its theological implications, however. The common view that the dead could and did manifest themselves to the living was not universally shared by Christian authors. One argument countering that view, formulated by Augustine in his On the Care of the Dead, was that the dead, even those who joined the ranks of the saints, had no means of communicating with those who remained in this world. He recognized that some people may have experienced such visions, but confessed that he was at a loss to explain how it happened. He tentatively suggested that it was the doing of God-sent angels, who appeared in dreams by taking the form of holy martyrs so as to urge Christians to respect those who had laid down their lives for the faith; but he explicitly stated that he did not find this explanation entirely satisfying.188 Vigilantius of Calagurris, Augustine’s contemporary, went even further and openly combatted the view that the saints’ souls were actually present at their graves, and that they could enter into contact with those who visited them.189 The issue in question also involved other convictions aside from the belief that the saints could appear in dreams: Vigilantius’s polemical ire was mostly aimed against the belief that the saints’ relics could work miracles. The opinion of these two churchmen does not seem 186 Dulaey, 1973, pp. 55–68, 129–32. 187 Augustine, Confessiones 6.13. 188 Augustine, De cura pro mortuis 13(16)–15(18). 189 Jerome, Adversus Vigilantium 6; see Hunter, 1999; Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 194–8.


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to have resonated far and wide, but it is fairly possible that this is due to the fragmentary character of the surviving sources: the enthusiasts of the cult of relics got the upper hand and, as a consequence, their opponents had little chance of their writings surviving (it is worth noting that we know the arguments formulated by Vigilantius only from a polemical treatise by Jerome who quotes them). Two centuries later the issue was discussed by Gregory the Great and Eustratios of Constantinople, which may indicate that some continued to be concerned by the fact that people were seeking help at the tombs of saints.190 Once again, however, in none of these theological debates can we see a direct reference to incubation. This does not mean that it was not met with targeted criticism, but the only opposition that deals specifically with incubation comes from early, fifth-century literature. I have already mentioned the remarks made by Cyril of Alexandria, who denied that Christians practised incubation, and those of Shenoute, who tried to stop them from doing so. It is also worth mentioning the Greek Life of Dometios,191 where we read about a man who came to the shrine of Sts. Cosmas and Damian to have his health restored by incubation. This turned out to be of no avail, but the saint suggested that he partake of the Eucharist instead, which indeed brought the expected result. The criticism is there, but interestingly in none of the three texts is it focused on dreaming. Shenoute, who is the only author to explicitly condemn the practice of incubation by Christians, is not so much displeased by seeking dreams as by sleeping at the graves of true or presumed martyrs. This hostile attitude towards incubation is thus derivative of Shenoute’s aversion to the cult of relics, which rings true also in the Life of Dometios. This observation emerges even more clearly in Athanasius, who probably looked on the issue very much like Shenoute. However, we have already seen that while he attacked those who sought answers by interrogating demoniacs at the graves of saints, he recommended praying for a dream as an alternative.192 Admittedly, Athanasius does not specify what method one should apply to receive it, and we must remember that he gave this recommendation before regular incubation became widespread among Christians. But it is clear that to him the very idea of seeking prophetic dreams was nothing objectionable, and he formulated his advice in a festal letter sent to and read in all the churches in Egypt. It is difficult to imagine a stronger sign of approval. 190 Constas, 2002; Dal Santo, 2011b, pp. 134–42. 191 Acta Graeca s. Dometii martyris 12. 192 Athanasius, Epistula festalis 42.30; for more on the hostility towards the cult of relics, see Wiśniewski, 2019, pp. 189–202.

Conclusions Revisiting the questions that were brought up in the introduction, it is worth taking a broader look at the conclusions formulated in the successive chapters of this book. Let us begin with chronology. Except for prophecy, which is a well-attested phenomenon among Christians before the final decades of the second century, there is no evidence whatsoever suggesting that Christian divination came into existence before the mid-fourth century: textual sources, both literary and legal, and archaeological finds datable to that early period are conspicuously silent on the matter. However, we must be very cautious when dealing with this silence and be wary of leaping to hasty conclusions. It might be tempting to say that during the first three centuries of the Common Era Christians simply subscribed to the view expressed by Origen and others about the inappropriateness of resorting to divination. But using the argument ex silentio is always risky, and for the period in question, this sort of reasoning would be even more defective for one reason: the earlier stages in the history of Christianity are in general poorly documented when compared with the period from the fourth to the sixth century. The point is not only that the later sources are greater in volume, but also that they are greatly varied, with such new types of evidence as Lives of saints or conciliar canons. It would be equally risky to assume that Christians did not feel any need to inquire into hidden matters in the centuries preceding the Constantinian era. The remark by Hermas that condemned prophets who acted as soothsayers and gave answers to people asking them about the future suggests that such a need indeed existed.1 However, it is impossible to say how this need was fulfilled after prophecy was marginalized, or perhaps vanished altogether, as occurred at the turn of the third century. It is hardly conceivable that in the early centuries Christians never used traditional ‘pagan’ methods, even if this remains impossible to prove on the basis of available evidence. Certainly, most Christians would abhor methods that were closely associated with pagan worship, especially if they included offering sacrifices. But we may well suspect that they would not have found it excessively inappropriate to have a go at rolling dice by a divinatory fixture carved in stone and set in the agora, even if it had the names of pagan deities inscribed on it. Given that early Christians were found having such inscriptions as ‘to Hades’ engraved on their tombstones, such names were probably not so distasteful 1

See p. 47.


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to them as it might seem. Moving on to another method, did Christians practise incubation in pagan shrines? Let us remind ourselves of the case of the Jew named Moschos, who commemorated his visit to the incubation sanctuary in Oropos with an inscription that clearly stated his religious allegiance. Of course, this analogy cannot settle the argument for good, but it does suggest that at least some followers of monotheistic religions were not entirely impermeable to pagan influence in their everyday lives. But what about those Christians who wished to stay untainted by such influences? What did they do? Little is known about this; in fact, the only thing we can say is that the belief in prophetic dreams was always around, unaffected by the remonstrances of the numerous Christian authors who were concerned about their origin and character. However, there are only few documented instances of anyone’s actively seeking divinatory dreams datable to before the end of the fourth century, and certainly no specifically Christian method of interpreting such dreams had been developed before then. We can, however, be fairly conf ident in saying that before the 350s Christians did not practise any of the methods described in this book. Not only are the sources silent about them, but even more importantly Christians had not by that time developed an environment that would have allowed such methods to operate. Consultations with energumens, casting lots and especially incubation required holy places, something that the Christians of the pre-Constantinian era simply did not have. Similarly, it seems that after the Montanist crisis there was for a long time no group or category of Christians who would have gained strong enough authority to overcome the resistance of the bishops who looked askance at any form of prophetism. Only in the fourth century was the resultant void f illed with the emergence of monasticism and its heroes, the holy monks, which incidentally occurred at the time of the building of the f irst monumental martyrial shrines – the earliest centres of Christian cult to qualify as holy places. Moving on to another method, namely seeking divinatory responses in the Bible, it is doubtful that it was in use in the earlier centuries in much the same form as that observable in Late Antiquity. Granted, the transition from scrolls to codices, an inescapable requisite for bibliomancy to emerge, occurred before the fourth century. Nevertheless, a factor that was particularly conducive to the development of this method was probably the emerging belief in the miraculous power of the codex and appearance of richly decorated codices. This belief and the books of this type are unattested before the reign of Constantine the



Great.2 Such codices were equally essential for the Christianized sets of divinatory responses (hermēneiai) that are found to accompany the text of the Gospels; the earliest surviving example of such a set is preserved in the large and lavish fifth-century Codex Bezae. More importantly, although one could open the Bible at random or consult a collection of hermēneiai in any place, the sources make it evident that such consultations were most often performed in holy places, which again demonstrates that it was the fourth century that witnessed an epochal change in the history of Christian divination. That remarkably close relationship between divination and holy places, people and objects is vitally important for explaining the origins of the phenomenon in question. These places, people and objects were seen as vectors of the divine power that guided the drawing of lots, indicated situation-specific verses from the Bible and forced demons to reveal what they knew through the mouths of energumens. The dominant view among researchers of late antique Christian divination is that Christian divinatory practices were based on the commonly known and readily accessible pagan models. There are two lines of argument in favour of this claim. One rests on chronological considerations. Since all divination techniques that fall within the scope of this inquiry appeared after the reign of Constantine the Great, it might be tempting to explain this by saying that an early pristine form of Christianity had become ‘contaminated’ by elements of pagan religion brought into the Church by the multitude of the newly and only superficially converted followers of the old cults. This argument, however, is not convincing. The traditional opinion as to the apparently mass and merely outward character of conversions to Christianity under the reign of Constantine and his successors has lost much of its appeal: the Christianization of the Roman Empire did not end in the fourth century and certainly did not progress as rapidly as previously thought. The Church was never really flooded by a wave of only superficially converted ‘pagans’. The other argument is based on the observation that almost all methods of divination employed by late antique Christians have parallels, and sometimes very close ones, in Greek, Roman or Egyptian techniques known from ancient sources. These parallels, which become particularly suggestive when testimonies of similar ‘pagan’ and Christian practices come from one and the same region, may suggest that ‘pagan’ and Christian divination are genetically related. However, this conclusion, though possible, 2 Eusebius of Caesarea of Caesarea, Vita Constantini 4.36; see Metzger, 1968, pp. 42–61; Skeat, 1969, pp. 74–6.


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is rarely as justified as it seems to be. As we have seen, the hypothesized continuity between pagan and Christian methods is usually impossible to demonstrate; moreover, there is a conspicuous chronological gap between them, as we have seen with oracular lots. But the most important point to make here is that a simple wholesale adoption of ‘pagan’ methods would have been extremely difficult for Christians. And this is not merely about their fear of becoming contaminated by pagan cults. The point is that without the holy places that were regarded as the sources of miraculous power, almost all the practices discussed in this book would have been suspended in a ritual void. The fundamental change, therefore, that made Christian divination possible was the emergence of Christian holy places, which were certainly not a crude copy of pagan shrines. Thus, Christian divination derives from a belief in the miracle-working power of the saints present in their shrines, most notably owing to the relics deposited there. Certainly it may have developed under the influence of ‘pagan’ cults, which is conceivable even if we had no direct evidence to prove it. However, this development may also have been parallel in character. After all, most of the methods analysed in this book are quite simple in procedural terms, and we may well suppose that they might have appeared independently in societies that shared two basic beliefs: first, that there existed spiritual beings whose knowledge included things that humans did not know, and second, that it was possible to contact them. It is also worth noting that only select methods of pagan divination were taken on and adapted by Christians or had a Christian equivalent. It is understandable that the art of examining the entrails of sacrificial animals was entirely incompatible with the Christian religion, as can be seen in bloody sacrifices being vehemently rejected and repeatedly condemned by Christian authors. But it is less evident why there was no Christian parallel to interpreting the flight of birds or using magical signs (charaktēres). The same is true of oracles where entranced mediums answered questions submitted to them for consultation. The adaptation of pagan methods was therefore selective and certainly did not occur automatically. In all, while Christians might have taken on some divinatory methods almost unchanged, they creatively adapted others; still others they rejected altogether, and some they constructed from scratch. There was no clear-cut switch from ‘pagan’ to ‘Christian’ divination. The process involved taking on or abandoning certain practices, but it consisted above all in a lot of tinkering and a respectable dose of invention. I hope that by studying Christian divination this book has revealed part of a bigger picture and contributed to a better understanding of the broader history of late antique religiosity as



a complex process of accepting, rejecting, adjusting, improving, inventing and reinventing practices and ideas. This process can also be studied in other spheres of religious practice, such as the emergence of holy places and the seeking of miracles at the shrines of martyrs, but also the regular cult centred on the altar. Needless to say, in each, the ratio of elements that can be qualified as old, new or adapted was different. These and other related phenomena have recently been explored by David Frankfurter in his compelling study focused on late antique Egypt,3 but while Frankfurter’s main interest lies in the adopting of the old, in this book I have tried above all to show the inventing of the new. The attitudes of Christians towards divination greatly varied. ‘Pagan’ divination was unequivocally condemned on account of its religious character (which does not necessarily mean that it was not practised at all). It must be emphasized, even at the risk of excessive repetition, that the reason for this condemnation was not only the need to silence the fearsome pagan rivals, but also the sincere belief that pagan oracles, especially those whose utterances were at times wickedly accurate, were the doings of demons. It was with equal fervour that several Christian writers condemned astrology: a type of divination that was essentially non-religious, but based on a fatalistic worldview. There is little doubt that horoscopy was practised by Christians, but nothing indicates that in the period under consideration attempts were made to Christianize this method – a tendency that did appear in Byzantium in later centuries. 4 Late antique Christian authors often condemned pagan divination in all its forms, including not only those that were popular at the time but also others that were little more than a mere remnant of the past. However, the polemical edge was aimed against the phenomena known mostly from history: when Eusebius, Athanasius and Augustine discussed pagan divination, they usually wrote about it as if it consisted primarily in asking questions of the old-style oracles. This was not because they shut their eyes to reality (the condemnation of contemporary methods can be seen well enough in sermons); rather, they consciously selected a target that was easy to attack, especially as this could be done by using arguments drawn from Greek philosophy. Attitudes towards Christian or Christianized methods of divination present a more complex problem. Most authors who dealt with it were of the opinion that while the craving to learn about hidden matters of this 3 4

Frankfurter, 2018. Dagron, 1981; Magdalino, 2006.


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world might have been natural and possible to satisfy, it was inappropriate for a Christian. Thus, even the methods that might have been seen as manifestations of Christian piety were not recommended. But, on the whole, neither were they condemned. It is fairly rare that we find any references to condemnation in the acts of Church councils or sermons: instances are known only from individual regions and it seems that they related only to particular methods rather than to the phenomenon as such. It seems that the general attitude of the church hierarchy to Christian divinatory practices was to condone them, although there were Christian leaders who strongly condemned even such widely accepted methods as incubation, with Shenoute being the most prominent example. It is more difficult to find advocates of divination, but they did exist: Augustine’s lay friends in Hippo, for example, were inclined to believe that the art of divination came from God.5 However, we do not see any Christian writers endorsing such beliefs. Only two practices reminiscent of divination were advertised with nearly unanimous approval: consulting holy monks and practising incubation. Presumably, this had to do with their distinctive aims: the former was used to obtain spiritual or moral advice, whereas the latter was about healing. The intention of having one’s health restored was evidently practical and mundane in character, but owing to well-established biblical models it was regarded as different from other questions submitted for divinatory consultation, such as those concerning business, political careers and travel. It is worth emphasizing once again that the fact that church writers and lawmakers treated Christian divination with great reserve, but were generally not inclined to condemn it outright, is of vital importance for our sources. Despite the extensive research carried out for this book, the relevant evidence has proven to be very limited in scope for the simple reason that religious practices usually went on record only when they were either praised or condemned. The reserve described above did not necessarily mean that all members of the clergy were reluctant to approve of divination, and as a result at best tolerated its Christianized forms without becoming directly involved. Conciliar canons and preachers sometimes inveighed against priests who practised divination, either for their fellow Christians’ sake or their own. We may even suspect that clergymen were especially regarded as specialists in at least some divination methods. This should have been quite natural, given that they oversaw and controlled access to holy places and objects, had considerable authority in their communities and no less importantly 5 Augustine, De divinatione daemonum 1–3.



were literate. It is very probable that the biblical codices designed for use in divination were produced at their behest. Consultations performed in sanctuaries probably seemed more trustworthy when forming part of a ritual carried out by a priest. Regardless of how common it was for clerics to actively participate in divination practices, their consent (or at least a lack of resistance) was essential to nearly all the methods that required access to a church. While the question of divination specialists is interesting, it is equally important to ask about the inquirers. As we have seen throughout this book, those who sought answers to questions on hidden matters came from all social strata and walks of life. But this general and by and large unsurprising statement should be qualified when referred to individual divination methods and groups of inquirers. Representatives of the elite are the most numerous group for all the methods we have discussed. As far as the literary evidence is concerned, this is perfectly understandable. In ancient literature, representatives of the lower social strata appear only very occasionally. It is no surprise, therefore, that such methods as bibliomancy or consulting monks, which are known only from literary descriptions, appear to have been the preserve of the most powerful, most notably of the emperors. This observation tells us more about the character of our evidence than about historical reality. It is interesting, however, that the presumed over-representation of the elites among the inquirers seems equally valid for methods known to us from other written sources. Admittedly, these do not cite a great number of aristocrats, but we do find many people who played important roles in their locality, including clerics, shipowners, teachers, municipal officials, and the like. It is this sort of people that we see most often asking for advice in their letters to Barsanuphios and John or using such divinatory tools as Sortes Sangallenses. Of course, in order to use either of these methods on one’s own, one had to be literate, but this does not narrow the extent to which they may have been specific to one group or another, since hiring a professional scribe was an easy and affordable solution. Why then is it so rare that a given consultation appears to have been performed on behalf of a poor person? I would think that this is largely due to the fact that there are simply more questions that identify the inquirers as members of the elite: their social, political, economic and religious activities were distinctive, diverse and often susceptible to risk. People inquiring about the chances of holding an official position or asking whether they should establish a business partnership must have been relatively rich. By contrast, questions about health and marriage could be asked regardless of financial capabilities, and there were few questions that might clearly indicate that


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the inquirer was poor. The poor are most probably present in our evidence, but we cannot recognize them as such. The same can be said of women making use of divination: they are rarely discernible in the sources, literary or otherwise. There are only few instances of women consulting holy monks (the correspondence of Barsanuphios and John does not include a single letter from a woman). Divinatory books contained only questions that were gender-neutral or typically ‘masculine’ (such as concerning career prospects). However, it would be rash to conclude that women were rarely involved in practising divination: as the case of the poor has demonstrated, we may safely assume that the questions that women may have wished to submit for consultation were narrower in scope than those that men were preoccupied with. As a rule, women did not take part in political life, their economic activity was limited, they were excluded from participation in games, and most of them had little say in matters of religion. It seems, however, that this is not the only explanation. For why do women make up only a quarter or a fifth of those who are described as visitors to incubation shrines in search of a cure, considering that they were no less susceptible to disease than men? This certainly cannot be explained away by the presumption that the authors of miracle stories might have been more reluctant to describe healings experienced by women, all the more so that a similar imbalance can be seen in divinatory lots. In this context it is interesting to take a look at one possible similarity between practising divination and resorting to magic. In the literature of the imperial period, women are often portrayed as being inclined towards magic, but the magical tablets and papyri suggest that this inclination was less prevalent among women than among men. This invites the question of whether there existed any specifically feminine magical practices that had little chance of leaving a trace in the sources. The same may have happened to divination. It is conceivable that there were methods used primarily at home, requiring little professional knowledge and leaving no material traces or descriptions in the literary sources. However, this analogy, which rests solely on the assumption that there had been some exclusively feminine magical techniques, is imperfect and cannot prove that a specifically feminine type of divination ever existed. Leaving behind the social background of divination, the question of the geographical distribution of divination practices is also intriguing. Most of the described methods, such as consulting demoniacs or using biblical codices, are known to us from all over the Mediterranean, but it must be noted that they are generally far more visible in the East. In view of the fragmentary character of our evidence, it would be imprudent to conclude



that divination was more widely used in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. In any case, the East by no means forms a coherent entity in this regard. For instance, all the techniques described in this book are attested in Egypt, but none in continental Greece. But this is mainly due to the immense disparity in the volume of evidence available for the study of these two regions, and not only in sources related to divination. When examining the development of monasticism or the emergence of the cult of relics, to say nothing of the system of taxation, we see the same disproportion: we can say a lot about Egypt but almost nothing about Greece. Nevertheless, it seems that at least some regional differences may tell us something about the historical reality and not only about our evidence. There is no reason to doubt that consulting holy monks or practising incubation were indeed more popular in the East. As we have seen in the moralizing of preachers, some Christians did resort to ‘pagan’ divination. It is worth asking, however, whether this worked the other way round: did the Jews or the adherents of the old cults use Christian methods? We have already noted that there were ‘pagans’ visiting Christian incubation shrines in Constantinople and in Egypt.6 The available evidence is too scant to help us determine whether they cast lots at the graves of the martyrs or used Christian divinatory books, but it seems fairly probable that they did. The principal methods of Christian divination attested in the late antique sources are the following: a variety of practices that used the Bible or other texts specially written for the purpose, drawing lots, consulting holy ascetics, incubation and interrogating demoniacs. This is not to say, however, that no other methods of divination were used in the period. Considering that our knowledge of some divinatory methods is based exclusively on the surviving artefacts, we may assume that there were also other methods that are unattested in literary sources, but that, unlike oracular tickets and codices, had no chance of leaving identifiable material traces. A number of opaque and sparse references that can be detected in the evidence strongly suggest that the list provided above is incomplete. It is almost certain that there were other methods practised on at least a local level: we know nothing about the caragii mentioned by Caesarius of Arles and in the canons of the church in Gaul, or about the divination technique that required using a bear that is recorded in the acts of the Quinisext Council.7 Again, due to the scarcity of the sources it is impossible to say anything specific about the character 6 See p. 245–6. 7 See pp. p. 198, n. 96.


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of these (and possibly still other) divination practices. We may assume that they were rather traditional (i.e. not subject to Christianization), but this can hardly become an establish fact. All in all, Christians who wished to inquire into hidden matters without forsaking their religion could use a whole panoply of methods. Despite the occasional murmurings of discontent on the part of Christian writers and preachers, these methods were clearly used and believed to provide access to hidden knowledge without risking one’s salvation.

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Eucherius of Lyon, Instructiones ad Salonium, ed. by Carmela Mandolfo, CCL 66 (2005), pp. 77–216. Eugippius, Vita Severini, ed. by Philippe Régerat, Vie de saint Séverin, SC 374 (1991). Eunapius, Vitae philosophorum, trans. by Wilmer C. Wright, LCL (1921). Euripides, Bacchae, ed. and trans. by David Kovacs, LCL (2003). Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio evangelica, ed. by Ivar August Heikel, GCS 23 (1913). ———, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. by Gustave Bardy, SC 31, 41, 55, 73 (1952–73); trans. by G.A. Williamson, rev. by Andrew Louth (London: Penguin Classics, 1989). ———, Praeparatio evangelica, ed. by Édouard des Places and others, La préparation évangélique, SC 206, 228, 262, 266, 292, 307, 338, 369 (1976–91). ———, Vita Constantini, ed. by Friedhelm Winkelmann, 2nd ed., GCS 9 (1991); trans. by Averil Cameron and Stuart George Hall, Life of Constantine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999). Eustathius of Antioch, De engastrimytho, ed. by Erich Klostermann, in Origenes, Eustathius von Antiochien und Gregor von Nyssa über die Hexe von Endor (Bonn: Marcus und Weber, 1912). Evagrius, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. by Joseph Bidez and Léon Parmentier (London: Methuen, 1898). Fulgentius of Ruspe, De veritate praedestinationis, ed. by Jean Fraipont, CCL 91A (1968). Gregory of Nazianzus, Contra Iulianum, ed. by Jean Bernardi, Discours 4–5: Contre Julien, SC 309 (1983). ———, Oratio 24, ed. by Justin Mossay, Discours 24–26, SC 284 (1981). Gregory of Nyssa, Contra fatum, ed. by James A. McDonough, Gregorii Nysseni Opera 3.2: Opera dogmatica minora (Leiden: Brill, 1987). ———, De virginitate, ed. by Michel Aubineau, Traité de la virginité, SC 119 (1966). ———, Homiliae in sanctos XL martyres I–II, ed. by Otto Lendle, Gregorii Nysseni Opera 10.1: Sermones (Leiden: Brill, 1990). ———, Vita Macrinae, ed. by Pierre Maraval, SC 178 (1971). Gregory of Tours, Historiae, ed. by Bruno Krusch and Wilhelm Levison, MGH SRM 1.1 (1937–51); trans. by Lewis Thorpe, The History of the Franks (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974). ———, Liber de passione et virtutibus s. Iuliani martyris, ed. by Bruno Krusch, MGH SRM 1.2 (1885), pp. 112–34. ———, Liber de virtutibus s. Martini, ed. by Bruno Krusch, MGH SRM 1.2 (1885), pp. 484–561. ———, Liber in gloria confessorum, ed. B. Krusch, MGH SRM 1.2 (1885), pp. 294–370. ———, Liber in gloria martyrum, ed. by Bruno Krusch, MGH SRM 1.2 (1885), pp. 34–111. ———, Liber vitae patrum, ed. by Bruno Krusch, MGH SRM 1.2 (1885), pp. 211–94; trans. by Edward James, Life of the Fathers (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991). Gregory the Great, Dialogi, ed. by Adalbert de Vogüé, SC 251, 260, 265 (1978–80); trans. by Odo J. Zimmerman, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 30 (Washington, DC, 1959). Hermas, Pastor, ed. by Robert Joly, SC 53bis (1968); trans. by Frederick Crombie, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.). Herodotus, Historiae, ed. by Philippe-Ernest Legrand (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1932–55). Hilary of Poitiers, Contra Constantium, ed. by André Rocher, SC 334 (1987). ———, De Trinitate, ed. by Pieter Smulders, CCL 62–62A (1979–80). Hippocrates, Epidemiae, trans. by Wesley D. Smith, LCL (1994). Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium, ed. by Paul Wendland, GCS 26 (1916). Historia Augusta, ed. and trans. by André Chastagnol, Histoire Auguste: les empereurs romains des IIe et IIIe siècles (Paris: Laffont, 1994). Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Greek version), ed. by André-Jean Festugière (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1961); trans. by Norman Russell, The Lives of the Desert Fathers: Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1981). Honorat of Marseille, Vita Hilarii, ed. by Paul-André Jacob, La Vie d’Hilaire d’Arles, SC 404 (1995); trans. by John-Henry Clay, (accessed 21 October 2019).

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Index Abu Mena, sanctuary 230-1, 247 Adrianople, battle of 113 Africa (Latin) 81, 146-7, 187-91, 208-9, 222, 224 Aigai, temple and sanctuary 213-4 Alexander of Abonouteichos, seer 24, 48 Alexandria 30, 64, 88, 204, 214-5 altars 30, 35, 74, 121, 125, 132, 173-4, 247 Amphiaraos, deity 203, 212-3 Anaplous, sanctuary 203, 208-9 anargyroi see Cosmas and Damian angels 30, 35, 58, 74, 79, 115, 125, 132, 173-4, 233, 247, see also Michael the Archangel Antichrist 51-53, 107 Antinoë, sanctuary 131, 150, 153, 155, 157-61, 167-8, 170, 230, 234 Antoninos, holy man 82 Antony, monk 50, 52-6, 74-6, 81, 89, 92, 218 Apamea 93-4 Apollo, deity 212 Apollonius of Tyana, holy man 52, 82 Apuleius, author 28, 48, 190 archaeological evidence 14, 17-8, 69, 157-66, 204, 215, 223, 230-1, 236, 247 Arians 245 Armenian sources 107, 139, 141-2, 144, 232 arrepticii 187-92 Anatolia 120-8, 204, 210, 213-4, 229 asklepieia 203, 205, 209, 211-15, 241 Asterius of Amaseia, bishop 208 astragaloi 118-20, 123-4, see also dice astrology 23, 29-30, 53, 55-6, 75-6, 80-1, 89, 194-7, 199, 202, 248 Athanasius of Alexandria, bishop 19-20, 24-5, 36-8, 41-2, 67, 144-6 Athens 215 augurs 24, 28, 32, 38, 41-2, 181, 196, 198 Augustine of Hippo, bishop 15, 24-5, 27-30, 59, 87, 91-3, 98-9, 101, 110, 113, 146, 187-92, 194, 199, 216, 218-22, 247, 254 Aurelian, emperor 213 Avars 228, 232 Balaam, biblical prophet 29 Barsanuphios and John, monks 68-74, 177-8, 255-6 Basil of Caesarea, bishop 206-7 Bede, author 188, 225 Bes, deity 164, 216 Bible, on divination 31-5, 45-6, 169, 178-9, 2167; as a prophetic book 85-6; as a powerful text 86-7; as an instrument of divination 89-104, see also exegesis, hermēneiai, codex Blemmyes 59-60, 64 Bohak, Gideon 31

Boura, oracle 121, 123-4 Brakke, David 54, 194 business (as an object of consultations) 65, 69, 72, 105, 148, 151, 157-8, 255-6 Caesarius of Arles, bishop 25, 227 Canons of Rabbula 147, 149 Canterbury 225 Cassian, author 59, 190-1 Cassius Dio, author 93-5 Champeaux, Jacqueline 128 Chilperic, king 102, 108 Chosrow, king 230 Chramn, king 102, 162 chresmology 42, 201-2, 217, 241 Cicero, author 11 clairvoyance 51-7, 61-3, 74-81 Claros, oracle 48, 212 Clement of Alexandria, author 185 clerics 15, 18, 23, 27, 69, 71, 81, 89, 99, 102, 115-7, 126-7, 135, 142, 148-50, 162-3, 169-70, 194, 210, 219, 238-41, 254-5 Clermont 225 Clovis, king 85, 90 codex (book) 87, 92, 98-101, see also Sortes, hermēneiai and divinatory books concordance 134-5, 140 Constantine, emperor 41, 209, 250-1 Constantinople 25, 64, 105, 177-8, 192-3, 204, 208-10, 227-30, 234, 237, 244-5 Constantius, emperor 41-3, 227 continuation: books 91-99; Sortes 117-23; 136; ticket oracles 163-5, 203; incubation 211-23, 251-3 Coptic sources 56, 66, 130-2, 137, 139, 142-4, 160, 194, 204, 231-2 Cosmas and Damian, martyrs 160-1, 193, 204, 223, 226-7, 229, 231, 234, 237, 242-8 councils 16-7, 25, 51, 57, 79-81, 104, 115-7, 126-7, 147-9, 162, 193, 198, 222, 254, 257 Courcelle, Pierre 31, 36 court (of law) 70, 134, 153 Cybele, deity 48, 190 Cyprian of Carthage, martyr and bishop 218, 221 Cyril of Alexandria, bishop 206, 214, 235 Cyril of Scythopolis, author 80 Cyrrhus 229, 234 Cyrus and John, martyrs 204, 214-5, 226, 229, 234-7, 242-5 Dalisandos, sanctuary 229 Damasus of Rome, bishop 221 Daniel, biblical prophet 107-8, 111, 201

284  Daniel the Stylite, monk 54, 64-5, 80 David, biblical personage 86, 147, 189-91 de Kisch, Yves 94-5 death (as an object of consultations) 35, 50, 60, 63-4, 75, 133, 177, 189, 222, see also health Deir el-Bahari, temple 215 Delattre, Alain 21, 155, 157-61, 167 Delehaye, Hippolyte 228 Delphi, oracle 12, 26-7, 48, 77, 88, 175, 181 Demetrios, martyr 204, 231-4, 243 demoniacs 28, 173-99, 243, 248 demons 15, 19-20, 23, 26-30, 52-3, 55-7, 66-8, 74-6, 88, 92, 155-6, 166, 173-99, 217, 222, 234 devil see demons diakonikon 226-7, 235 dice 116-20, 123, 128, 130, 135, 140-1, 152 Didyma, oracle 26, 212 disease see health divinatory books 16, 73, 82, 115-54, 181, 187, 256 Dodona, oracle 48, 159, 164, 168 Dolbeau, François 191 Dometios, martyr 229, 236, 248 Donatists 218 Dor, sanctuary 212-3 dreams 11, 14, 34-6, 71, 77, 201-248, see also chresmology Egeria, pilgrim 60, 201, 221 Egypt 29, 50-83, 94, 130-2, 139, 148, 150, 153, 15572, 194-5, 210, 214-6, 230-1, 244, 248, 253, 257 Elijah, biblical prophet 35, 38-9, 46, 52 Elisha, biblical prophet 35, 46, 52, 75 elite (social) 43, 71, 148, 151, 167, 242-5, 255 Endor, witch of 184-8 energumens see demoniacs engastrimythoi 182-7, 191-2 Ennodius of Pavia, author 219 Ephrem, author 218 Epicureans 24, 27 epigraphic oracles 121-4, 144, 148 Epiphanius, monk 69-71 Epiphanius of Salamis, bishop 77, 218 Eucharist 102, 124-5, 149, 239, 248 Eugenius, usurper 59, 177 Eunapios, author 82-3 Euphemia, martyr 162 Euricles see engastrimythoi Euripides, author 94, 98, 125 Eusebius of Caesarea, bishop 15, 25-8, 36, 41, 49, 77, 111-2, 180, 214, 253 Eustathius of Antioch, bishop 187 Eustratios, author 248 Euthicius, martyr 225 evil spirits see demons Evodius of Uzalis, bishop 219-20 exegesis 48, 66-7, 88, 105-14, 155, 186 exorcism 56, 180-2, 186 Ezekiel, biblical prophet 105-7, 110-4, 137

Christian Divination in L ate Antiquit y

false prophets 85, 102 fatalism 20, 36-7, 153-4, 253 Febronia, martyr 227, 236, 244 Felix of Nola, martyr 194 Filoramo, Giovanni 45 Flavius Josephus, author 111-2 Forty Martyrs 207, 220 Frange, monk 70-2 Frankfurter, David 61, 131, 164, 192, 253 Frigidus, battle of 177 Gaul 25, 50-1, 68, 102, 107-8, 114-127, 146, 150, 178-82, 223, 225, 257 Germanus of Auxerre, bishop 125, 176 Germanus of Paris, bishop 64 Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs 221 Gog and Magog, biblical personages 105-6, 111-4 Gospel of the Lots of Mary 129-37 Goths 64, 90, 110, 112-14 Graf, Fritz 121 Gratian, emperor 112-3 graves of saints 59, 102, 156, 158, 166, 194, 199, 205-6, 210, 213, 221-2, 225, 230, 240, 247-9 Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop 155, 221 Gregory of Nyssa, bishop 51, 72, 187, 207, 220 Gregory of Tours, bishop 67-8, 72, 80, 85, 89-90, 102-4, 108, 162-3, 167, 182, 223, 225 Gregory the Great, bishop 225, 248 Grossmann, Peter 231 Habakkuk, biblical prophet 221 hagiography 16, 51-7, 65-6, 72, 79-80, 104, 169-70, 176-9, 193, 195-6, 239-42 haruspices 24, 41-2, 181, 198 health (as an object of consultations) 30, 43, 46, 56, 67-9, 72-3, 101, 134, 151-2, 155-6, 158, 164, 167, 188, 194, 201-14, 222-9, 231-48 Hebdomon, sanctuary 177 Helena, empress 72 Heraclius, emperor 103 Hermas, author 47, 217-8, 249 hermēneiai 99, 104, 137-44, 152, 251 heroes (Greek) 135, 211 Hilarion, monk 50, 175, 190 Hilary of Arles, bishop 178-82 Hilary of Poitiers, bishop 166 Hippocrates, author 184 Historia Augusta 95 Historia monachorum 45, 59-61, 63, 71, 75 Homeric poems 29, 86, 88, 93-9 Homeromanteion 94-5 Honoratus of Marseille, author 179-82 Honorius, emperor 42 horoscopes see astrology Huns 105-6, 110, 225 Hygeia, deity 203



Iamblichus, author 76-7, 83 illness (as an object of consultations) see health inscriptions 215-6, 219, 230 see also epigraphic oracles invasions 64-5, 105-113, 176, 225 Isaakios, monk 64 Isaiah, biblical prophet 110-2, 195, 205-6, 228 Isola Tiberina, 211 Jerome, author 50-1, 77-8, 107-8, 110-4, 175, 183, 189-90, 202-3, 248 Jerusalem 109, 111 Jewish divination 19, 32-3, 35, 37-9, 45, 86-9, 93, 96-8, 111, 169, 198, 205, 212-3, 216, 241, 245, 257 John Chrysostom, bishop 18, 24-5, 39-40, 77, 181, 186, 213 John Moschos, author 65-6 John of Ephesus, author 107 John of Lykopolis, monk 54, 59-64, 67, 71 John the Baptist 52, 177, 227 Joseph, biblical personage 32-5, 216 Julian, emperor 42, 50, 155, 205-6, 211, 214, 227 Justinian, emperor 64, 107, 227-8 katechumenion 235-6 klinai 230-1, 236, 247 Klingshirn, William 14, 117, 127, 135, 147, 149 knucklebones see astragaloi Kolenkow, Anitra 180 Kollouthos, martyr 131, 150, 153, 158, 160-1, 222, 230-1, 234, 246 laity 15, 68-71, 99, 149, 154, see also clerics Latopolis, council of 56-7, 79-80 Law Code of the Frisians 162-3 Leo, emperor 54, 64-5, 228 Leontius, martyr 160 Liudhard, saint 225 Lucian od Caphargamala, author 221 Lucian of Samosata, author 24, 48 Luijendijk, AnneMarie 14, 16, 129-32, 152 lunaria 144-6 Macarius, monk 66 Macrina, nun 51, 72 Macrinus, emperor 93 magic 24, 28, 87-8, 142, 188, 205, 252, 256 Malalas, author 65, 209 Mamas, martyr 206 Mamre, sanctuary 212 Marcionites 180 Maro, monk 64-5 marriage 37, 108, 152-3, 158, 164, 167, 218-9, 224, 247, 255 Martin of Tours, bishop 51, 53, 57-8, 64, 81, 85, 89-90, 102, 176, 196, 223, 225

martyrs 16, 51, 59, 74, 137, 150, 158, 161, 166, 168-70, 193-6, 199, 201, 203, 206-8, 211, 216-8, 220-2, 224, 227, 230, 234-5, 237, 240, 247-8, 250, 253, 257 Mary, Mother of God 131, 158, 228, 232, 234 Mass see Eucharist Matthias the Apostle 35, 169 Maurice, emperor 227-8 Maximilla, prophetess 48 Maximus, usurper 51, 59, 64 Meens, Rob 148 Melania the Elder, nun 60 Menas, saint 204, 230-1, 245 Menouthis, sanctuary 204, 214-15, 223, 234-5, 243-5, see also Cyrus and John Messalians 218 Miaphysites 162, 241, 245 Micah, biblical prophet 221 Micaiah, biblical prophet 35 Michael the Archangel 208-10, 215, 227, 234 Millenarianism 53, 109, 110, 113 Minucius Felix, author 26-7 Monica, Augustine’s mother 218-9, 247 monks 18, 23, 29, 45, 50-83, 136-42, 147-9, 158, 162, 167-8, 175, 177, 209, 218, 228, 240, 244, 250, 254-7 necromancy 31, 184-8, 205-6 Neoplatonism 52, 77, 82-3, 88 New Prophecy see Montanism Odoacer, king 64 office (as an object of consultations) 148, 151, 255 Ogden, Daniel 186 omens 24, 31-2, 38, 85, 90-1, 95, 97 oneirokritika see chresmology Optatus of Milevis, author 107 Origen, author 18, 38-40, 77, 174-5, 181, 183-7, 195-7, 249 Oropos, oracle 203, 213, 250 Oxeia, sanctuary 227-8, 235-6, 238, 244, see also Artemios Oxyrhynchus, sanctuary 157, 160-1, 163 Pachomius, monk 51, 54, 56-7, 62-3, 65, 79-81 Palladius, author 59, 66-7, 72, 222 Pamphylia 117 Panteleimon 173, 192, 228 papyri 17, 86-8, 94-5, 121, 132, 139, 142-3, 157-71 Patroclus, monk 162-4, 167 Paul the Apostle 35, 92-3, 101, 155-6, 179, 185, 194, 196, 216, 225 Paul of Thebes, monk 50 Paula, nun 60 Paulinus of Milan, author 221, 224 Pausanias, author 91, 123, 202 Pbau, monastery 62, 79 Pege, sanctuary 204, 228, 234

286  Perpetua, martyr 217-8, 222 Peter Mongos, bishop 214 Peter the Apostle 35, 155-6, 225 Pharai, oracle 91 Philo of Alexandria, author 88 Philostratos, author 82 Philoxenos, martyr 157, 160-1 Phrygia 49, 86, 117 physicians 201, 228, 232, 243 physiognomy 19, 30 Piamoun, martyr 72 pilgrims 60, 166, 168, 210, 221, 231, 233, 243 Pisidia 117-8 Plato, author 26, 28, 184 Plotinus, author 52 Plutarch, author 28, 183-4 Podalirios, Greek hero 203 politics (as an object of consultations) 15, 54, 58-60 148, 151, 254-6 Polycarp of Smyrna, bishop 217-8, 222 Porphyry, author 83 prayer 59, 69-70, 73, 78, 96, 102-3, 121, 123-6, 129, 136, 162, 202, 207, 209, 217-8, 220-1, 223, 225, 230, 233, 247-8 Primasius of Hardumetum, author 114 Priscilla, prophetess 48 Proclus of Constantinople, bishop 105-6, 108, 111 Procopius of Caesarea, author 227 prophets 34-9, 45-83, 86, 102, 180, 183, 185, 189-91, 195, 205, 221-2, 228, 249-50 Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, author 107 Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, author 106 Pulcheria, empress 72 Pythagoras, holy man 52, 136, 150 Pythia, see Delphi pytho 32, 102, 178-9, 182-92 Quodvultdeus, author 114 relics 35, 102, 138, 149, 156, 162, 165, 168, 194-6, 199, 201, 208, 220, 222, 224, 227-8, 230, 232, 234-6, 247-8, 252, 257 Renberg, Gil 14, 203 Resafa 230 Rome (city) 42, 64, 110, 211, 217, 219, 226, 244 Rougas, ruler of the Huns 105-6, 9 Rufinus of Aquileia, author 59, 75, 183-4, 187, 196 Rugii 64 Sabas, monk 64 Salic Law 163-4 Samaritans 245 Samuel, biblical prophet 34, 38-9, 46 Samuel, rabbi 97-8 Santa Maria Antiqua, sanctuary 225-6 Sarpedonios, Greek hero 213 scribes 130, 141-2, 164, 170-1, 255

Christian Divination in L ate Antiquit y

scrolls 96-9, 121, 139, 250 Seleucia in Isauria 204, 210, 213, 229, 234, 243-5 Septimius Severus, emperor 93 Serapeion, temple 30 Sergius and Bacchus, martyrs 230 Severinus, monk 78, 80 Shenoute, monk 54, 57, 61-5, 73, 78, 80-2, 210-1, 226, 230, 254 Sibylline oracles 29 Sidi Mahmud, sanctuary 231, 247 Sigibert, king 64, 89 Simeon the Stylite, monk 64 Simeon the Fool, monk 64 Siren, queen 230 Slaves 45, 69, 71, 134, 148, 151, 167-8, 179 Slavs 232 Socrates Scholasticus, author 105-6, 108 Soknopaiou Nesos, oracle 163 soldiers 103, 207, 218, 240, 242 Sophronios of Jerusalem, author 214, 235, 238, 241-6 Sortes Apostolorum 117, 147 Sortes Astrampsychi 14, 132-7, 150-3, 167 Sortes Homericae see Homeric poems Sortes Monacenses 127-9 Sortes Sanctorum 104, 115-29, 131-2, 134, 136, 140, 144, 147-8, 152 Sortes Sangallenses 132-7, 140-1, 147-8, 150-2, 167, 255 Sortes Vergilianae 93-6 Sortes XII Patriarcharum 135 sortition 14, 18, 117, 121, 125-6, 138, 144, 150, 152-3, 155, 160-3, 166, 169 Sosthenion, sanctuary 209 Sozomen, author 59, 72, 177, 208-10, 212, 222, 227 Sulpicius Severus, author 50-1, 53, 57-8, 68, 74, 89, 110, 176 Synesius of Cyrene, author 201-2 Syria 49-50, 71, 82, 93, 147, 229-30 Syriac sources 107, 139, 144, 147-8 Talmud 97 Tebtunis, temple 163 Thebaid 50, 54, 60, 69 theft (as an object of consultations) 62, 65, 67-8, 70, 73, 79-80, 82, 151-2, 163, 176, 191, 199, 237 Thekla, martyr 155-6, 204, 210, 213-4, 229, 234, 237-8, 243-5 Theo, monk 45 Theodore, monk 62-3, 65, 79 Theodoret of Cyrrhus, bishop 34, 59, 65, 114, 218 Theodosian Code 41-2 Theodosius I, emperor 42, 59-60, 64, 108, 221 Theophanes, author 103 Theophilos of Alexandria, bishop 235



Thessalonica 204, 231-4, 243 ticket oracles 17, 73, 95, 153-71 Torah 93, 96-8 trance 11, 77-8, 180-5, 190-2, 252 travel (as an object of consultations) 37, 104, 121, 151, 153, 158, 206, 243-5, 254 Trier 176, 225 Trophonios, Greek hero 203 urim and thummim 33 Uzalis 204, 208, 210, 219, 224-5, 233-4, 243-5 Valens, emperor 63-4, 113 Valentinian I, emperor 42-3 Valentinian III, emperor 42 Van der Horst, Peter 93, 96-7 Vannes, council of 115, 117, 126-7, 148 ventriloqui see engastrimythoi

Vigilantius, author 315, 370 Virgil, author 247-8 war (as an object of consultations) 27, 35, 46, 60, 66, 86, 90, 96-7, 101-2, 105-6, 108-9, 111-4, 177 women, as inquirers 70-2, 151-3, 167-8, 224, 231, 236-7, 244-5, 256; as prophetess and seers 77,178-184, 193-4, 236 Xenocrates, author 28 Zacchaeus, monk 66 Zachariah, biblical prophet 221-2 Zeno, emperor 54, 65 Zeus, deity 93-4, 159, 164, 168 zodiologia 144-6 Zosimos, author 41, 213