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Descriptions of Ancient Documents and Writers

©1997 Barry Bickmore. All Rights Reserved

Descriptions of various early Christian and Jewish writers and documents are provided in this section. Document titles are given in italics.

Quick Index: A, B, C, D, E, G, H, I, J, L, M, O, P, R, S, T

The Acts of Paul was written around A.D. 185-195 by a presbyter in Asia Minor, according to Tertullian. The writer was apparently expelled from the Church for his work, although it contains nothing that would have been considered overtly heretical, except one passage where a female heroine, Thecla, baptized herself.1

The Apocalypse of Abraham was probably written in the first century A.D., and is most likely of Jewish origin, although there may have been some Christian interpolations in the text. This document has been preserved only in the Slavonic language, and was first published 1863. It is an account of some events in the patriarch Abraham's life, including various revelations.2

Apolinarius of Hierapolis was a bishop in that city sometime during the reign of the emporor Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180). His writings have been lost, but fragments are preserved by such writers as Eusebius.3

The Apostolic Constitutions are a fourth century compilation of the teachings and practices of the Christian Church. However, the material included in the work is of varying age and some of it may be based on documents, such as the Didache, going back to the first century.4

Arians: see "Arius".

Aristides (early to mid-second century) wrote the earliest preserved Christian apology, which was addressed to the Roman Emperor. Nothing further is known about him.5

Arius was a presbyter (elder) at the Church in Alexandria ca. A.D. 320. His opposition to Bishop Alexander on the doctrine of the Trinity was the spark that ignited the doctrinal controversy which ultimately led to the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 and 13 subsequent councils culminating with the Council of Constantinople of A.D. 381. Arius downplayed the divinity of the Son and insisted Jesus was merely a created being. Followers of this doctrine were called "Arians".6

The Ascension of Isaiah is a work of early Christian apocrypha, probably written in the first and second centuries A.D. The first section, which deals with the martyrdom of Isaiah, is probably of Jewish origin and was written at least as early as the first century. The second section deals with Isaiah's vision and journey into the heavens. This is probably had its origin in second century Christianity.7

Athanasius (ca. A.D. 300-373) was bishop of Alexandria from A.D. 328 to 373. He led the fight against the Arians at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) while a deacon under bishop Alexander. Active in this controversy till the end of his life, Athanasius, was exiled and readmitted as bishop several times during his career as the political winds changed in favor of either the Arians or Nicenes.8

Athenagoras [ca. A.D. 177] was an Athenian philosopher who converted to Christianity. His only surviving works are a defense of Christianity which was presented to the Roman Emporor, and a treatise on the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.9

Augustine (A.D. 354-430) was bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Although his mother was a Christian, he was never converted until he was over thirty by bishop Ambrose of Milan. One of the most prolific early Christian writers, Augustine was also one of the most important theologians.10 His life's work was essentially to put Christian theology on what he saw as the solid foundation of Platonic philosophy.

Barnabus (first or early second century) is an early epistle by an unknown author attacking Judaism. It has been attributed by many to Barnabus, the companion of Paul, but others doubt this.11

Basil of Caesarea (A.D. 330-379) was bishop of that see starting in A.D. 360 and is considered a most important theologian, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.12

Book of the Secrets of Enoch: see "Enoch Literature".

Cerinthians: The followers of Cerinthus (first half of the second century), who was Jewish Christian Gnostic, characterized as a "pseudo-apostle" by Epiphanius. This sect flourished in Asia Minor.13

The Christian Sibyllines are a work of Christian apocrypha dating from the middle of the second century A.D. Parts of the text may have had their origin at a later time. "Sibylls" in Greek legend were women who prophesied in a state of ecstasy.14

1 Clement: see "Clement of Rome".

2 Clement is the oldest complete Christian sermon now extant, written around A.D. 150. Although the author is unknown and it certainly was not Clement of Rome, it came to be associated with 1 Clement by the fourth century.15

Clementine Homilies: see "Pseudo-Clementines".

Clementine Recognitions: see "Pseudo-Clementines".

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 160-215) headed the official Christian catechetical school in Alexandria. One of his pupils was apparently Origen. Heavily influenced by Greek philosophical speculations, Clement tried to present the gospel in a manner that would be acceptable to the Greek mind. His work had a significant impact on later theologians.16

Clement of Rome was the bishop of Rome from about A.D. 88-97. He reportedly knew Peter and had significant influence even outside his own see. His letter, known as 1 Clement, was written to exhort the Corinthian saints to resist certain factions which had arisen in opposition to the leadership of the Corinthian Church. A plausible date for its composition is ca. A.D. 96.17

Cyprian (ca. A.D. 200-258) was elected bishop of Carthage in A.D. 248 or 249. He was involved in various schisms which afflicted the Christianity of his day, persuading the various factions to preserve unity.18

Cyril of Jerusalem (d. A.D. 387) was bishop of Jerusalem from about A.D. 349 till his death. His beliefs are known to us from his Catechetical Lectures, which were designed to explain the faith to catechumens (those who were studying to join the Church) and to explain the sacraments (mysteries) of baptism and the eucharist to those who had just participated in them for the first time.19

The Didache dates from somewhere between A.D. 70 and the early second century, and was probably written in Syria or Egypt. It's full title translates as "The Teaching of the Lord Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations". Its contents include moral teaching and instructions on various aspects of Church practice.20

Dionysius of Corinth (A.D. 110-180) was bishop of that city, and wrote several important letters to various other churches. Fragments of some of these letters have been preserved by Eusebius.21

1 Enoch: see "Enoch Literature".

2 Enoch: see "Enoch Literature".

Enoch Literature: Manuscripts of a body of literature based on the life and revelations of the biblical prophet Enoch have lately come to light, revealing that he was a favorite hero in Jewish apocalyptic literature. It has also become clear that many early Christian documents, including those in the New Testament, relied heavily on the language and teachings of these texts. The most well-known examples of this genre are 1 Enoch and 2 Enoch (Secrets of Enoch), and both of these documents are thought to have been written in the first two centuries before Christ. 1 Enoch in particular was very respected in the early Church. Not only did Jude quote from it in the New Testament, but it was considered canonical by many early Christians including the author of Barnabus, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.22

Epiphanius (ca. A.D. 315-403) was bishop of Salamis in Cyprus. In his Panarion he attempted to refute every heresy known to him.23

The Epistle of the Apostles is an apocryphal work dating from about 150 A.D. The beginning is worded as a letter, but the overall form of the work is that of a postresurrection dialogue between Jesus and his eleven disciples. This was a literary form used extensively in gnostic writings, but apparently the author of this work used it as a vehicle to propagate strongly anti-gnostic views. For example, the work argues for the full humanity of Christ, the resurrection of the flesh, and the necessity of literal water baptism.24

Epistula Apostolorum: see "The Epistle of the Apostles".

Eusebius (ca. A.D. 260-339) was bishop of Caesarea. His most famous work was his Ecclesiastical History, and indeed, he was the first major historian of Christianity. Many fragments of early writings that are otherwise lost can be found in Eusebius' writings.25

The Gospel of Bartholomew is an apocryphal document from the third century which describes Jesus' crucifixion and descent into Hades.26

The Gospel of Philip is a collection of statements concerning ordinances and ethics. It probably originated with the Valentinian gnostics in third century A.D. Syria, and was most likely used to prepare investigators for initiation rites.27

The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings of Jesus which many scholars feel is closely related to the hypothetical source of the gospel narratives in the New Testament. Many of the parables and sayings of Jesus found in the Gospels appear in the Gospel of Thomas, as well, but in an apparently more primitive form. It was probably written in the second half of the first century A.D., but the version available today may not be original. Clearly some gnostic influence has been exerted on the text, but the extent of this influence is not clear.28

Gregory of Nyssa [ca. A.D. 331-395] was bishop of that city from 372 until his death. He was an extremely influential theologian, and was heavily involved in the fight against extreme forms of Arianism. He was very acquainted with the Greek philosophy of the day, especially Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism, and he put this education to use in his theological speculations. His major theological accomplishment was to elaborate on the concept of the fundamental distinction between God and created beings and to exclude from mainstream Christian belief any concept of subordinationism. His brother, Basil of Caesarea, was also a noted theologian.29

Gregory Thaumaturgus (ca. A.D. 210-260), known as the "wonder worker", was bishop of Neocaesarea. He studied under Origen at the catechetical school at Alexandria.30

Hermas lived in Rome and was the author of the document known as the Shepherd of Hermas or the Pastor of Hermas. Written in stages between A.D. 90 and 150, this work is a chronicle of a series of visions given to Hermas in which an angel sometimes appeared as a shepherd. This document was extremely important in the early Church and was even considered canonical by many Christians for centuries after its composition.31

Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 170-236) was a presbyter (elder) at Rome and an important theologian. In consequence of a theological dispute with the bishop of Rome, he became the bishop of a rival, schismatic community. In A.D. 235 the emporor exiled both Hippolytus and his rival bishop and later had them put to death. Apparently he and the other bishop were reconciled before their martyrdom.

Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. A.D. 110) was bishop of that city and a martyr. He was arrested during the reign of Trajan, and on the way to Rome for judgement he wrote seven letters - six to various churches and one to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. One of the main purposes of many of these letters seems to have been to establish the authority of the bishops.32

Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. A.D. 115-202), the first great Catholic theologian, was bishop of Lyons and a student of Polycarp. Irenaeus' major concern was to stop the spread of gnosticism in Christianity, and this is the theme of his most famous work, Against all Heresies.33

Jeu, Two Books of: This gnostic work was probably composed in Egypt around the beginning of the third century. It is supposedly a record of some conversations of Jesus with His disciples and some women after his resurrection. The Coptic manuscript was discovered in 1769, and was published in 1891.34

John Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 347-407) was bishop of Constantinople from 398 to shortly before his death. "Chrysostom", meaning "golden-mouthed" refers to John's extraordinary preaching ability. He was known as the greatest preacher in early Christianity. His writings were very popular, especially in the East, and hundreds of manuscripts of them have been preserved. John took some uncompromising moral stances, and even critisized the empress for the opulent life of the court. He overstepped his authority, however, when he deposed several bishops who were not under his jurisdiction for selling church offices and embezzling church money. This gave his enemy, Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, an opening to hold a synod and depose John on the basis of a series of trumped up charges. He lived out his final few years in exile.35

Justin Martyr (d. ca. A.D. 163) was a most important apologist for the early Church. Educated in philosophy, he was converted to Christianity and wrote several tracts calculated to win favor for the Christian cause. He established a school in Rome, where he continued to wear his philosopher's cloak. Tatian was one of his students. Justin was condemned, scourged, and beheaded by the Romans when he would not deny his faith and sacrifice to the pagan gods.36

Lactantius (ca. A.D. 250-325) was a Christian apologist from North Africa. Lactantius was more of a rhetorician than a theologian, and his works were more calculated to persuade than inform.

Marcionites were followers of Marcion (d. ca. A.D. 154), who was a gnostic heretic expelled from the church at Rome. Marcion believed that the Gods of the Old and New Testaments were separate and only the New Testament deity was worthy to be called God. This sect was extremely successful and survived at least into the late fourth century.37

Methodius (d. ca. A.D. 311) was bishop of Olympus and an opponent of Origen's theology. Only fragments of his writings are now available.38

Montanism was an ecstatic Christian prophetic movement (in some ways comparable to today's Pentecostals) which fluorished in Asia Minor from the late second century till the fourth century. This sect was named after its founder and first prophet, Montanus (ca. A.D. 170), who supposedly received revelation while in an unconscious ecstasy. He was joined by two prophetesses, Priscilla and Maximilla. They were fairly mainstream in their theology, but differed from other Christians in asserting that a prophet is not in control of his faculties when he prophesies. The first councils of the Church, in the late second century, were called in order to excommunicate the Montanists. The most famous convert to this movement was Tertullian.39

Montanus: see "Montanism".

The Odes of Solomon are a collection of beautiful songs or poems dedicated to Christ. One of the most plausible explanations of their origin is that they were written by newly baptized Christians in the first century.40

Origen (ca. A.D. 185-251) was one of the most important theologians of the early Church, and produced some 2000 works, including commentaries on almost every book in the Bible. He was born of Christian parents in Alexandria. He eventually succeeded Clement as the head of the catechetical school there. Origen was an incurable speculator at a time when orthodoxy was not strictly defined, and later councils judged some of his doctrines heretical.41

The Pastor of Hermas: see "Hermas".

Papias (ca. A.D. 70-155), bishop of Hierapolis, wrote a series of five books about the Gospel, of which only fragments have been preserved. He made a special effort to collect items of doctrine preserved orally by those who had actually heard the Apostles speak.42

The Pistis Sophia is a group of gnostic documents composed at various times during the third century in Egypt. Included in this work is a supposed conversation between Jesus and His disciples after His resurrection.

Polycarp (d. ca. A.D. 156) was bishop of Smyrna. Irenaeus claimed that he had been appointed to that post by the apostles themselves, and was taught by the Apostle John. Polycarp apparently wrote several letters to neighboring congregations, but only his letter to the Philippian saints remains. An early account of his martyrdom is also preserved, which describes various miracles accompanying that event.43

Proklos (d. A.D. 446) was bishop of Constantinople from 434 to 446.

Pseudo-Clementines: These documents, whose main constituents are the Clementine Homilies and the Clementine Recognitions, are pseudonymously attributed to Clement of Rome, and are in the form of biographical novels. In their present form, these works had their origin in fourth century Syria, but probably were derived from a common second century source. They describe various travels of Clement, his conversion, and conversations with Peter the Apostle. They were originally written in Greek, but the only extant version of the Recognitions is a Latin translation by Rufinus, who apparently made some "corrections" to the text.44

Rufinus of Aquileia (ca. A.D. 345-410) was a monk who translated many earlier Christian documents into Latin, and also defended the doctrines of Origen against detractors. Many of Origen's writings survive only in Rufinus' translations, which is unfortunate, since Rufinus felt that certain "unorthodox" doctrines Origen preached were later insertions, so he felt free to delete them in his translations.45

Secrets of Enoch: see "Enoch Literature".

The Shepherd of Hermas: see "Hermas".

Tatian (mid-second century) was born a pagan and lived the life of a wandering Sophist before he was converted to Christianity about A.D. 150. He was a student of Justin, but later left the Catholic church to found a gnostic group called the Encratites.

Tertullian (ca. A.D. 155-225) was born to heathen parents in Carthage, and was trained to become a lawyer. When he became a Christian he used his training to write tracts in defense of the Church. Tertullian was an ordained presbyter (elder), but eventually defected to the Montanist camp and wrote several bitter attacks against the Catholics.46

The Testament of Job is a work of Jewish apocrypha most likely dating from the first century A.D. However, its original form may have been older. It contains an account of the discourse the Biblical figure Job gave to his children just before he died.47

Theophilus of Antioch (second century) was bishop of Antioch about A.D. 180. Versed in Greek philosophy and rhetoric, he used his skills to defend Christianity and attack idolatry, in particular emperor worship.48


References

1 TOB, pp. 445-447.

2 Sparks, ed., The Apocryphal Old Testament, pp. 363-367.

3 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 63.

4 ANF 7:387-388.

5 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 90.

6 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 92-93.

7 TOB, pp. 517-519.

8 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 110-111.

9 ANF 2:125-127.

10 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 121-126.

11 Davies, The Early Christian Church, p. 80; Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, p. 40.

12 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 139-140.

13 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 190.

14 TOB, p. 554.

15 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 217.

16 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 214-216.

17 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 216-217.

18 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 246-248.

19 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 250-251.

20 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, pp. 24-25; Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 262.

21 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 267.

22 Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come, p. 176; TOB, pp. 485, 495; Platt, ed., The Forgotten Books of Eden, p. 81.

23 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 307-308.

24 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 309.

25 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 325-327.

26 TOB, pp. 350-351.

27 TOB, pp. 87-88.

28 TOB, pp. 299-300.

29 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 400-402.

30 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 403-404.

31 Davies, The Early Christian Church, p. 81; Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 421.

32 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 451-452.

33 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 471-473.

34 NTA 1:259-261.

35 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 495-497.

36 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, p. 54; Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 514-516.

37 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 568-569.

38 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 595.

39 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, pp. 56-60.

40 Platt, The Forgotten Books of Eden, p. 120.

41 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, pp. 72-76; Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 667-669.

42 Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook, p. 763; Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 686.

43 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 742.

44 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 768-769; ANF 8:69-76.

45 Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, pp. 803-804.

46 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, p. 79.

47 Sparks, ed., Old Testament Apocrypha, pp. 617-621.

48 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, p. 62; Fergusen, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 895.