The rediscovery of the lost portion of John Chrysostom's "Sermon 2 Against the Jews."

This information I found on the web.  It appears to be a copy of an article published in a journal.  The article is most interesting as a description of how to go about finding manuscripts of a work, and getting access to them.  I propose to use similar techniques myself in searching for codices.  

Lesbos Codex Graecus 27: The Tale of a Discovery by Wendy Pradels

It is impossible to describe the exhilaration that one feels upon reading a manuscript that has been actively sought by scholars for more than two centuries. First, upon taking the manuscript in hand, there builds a mounting sense of expectation and feverish impatience, mingled with anxiety, for in the back of one's mind the question remains, "Isn't there a slight chance that the text might turn out to be nothing more than a 'filler' concocted by a later scribe?" After rapidly turning the pages containing the familiar part of the text, then, more slowly, tracing with a finger the lines of the manuscript up the point in the text where all published editions and translations suddenly break off in the middle of a sentence. Upon reading that last word before the editions end in a bracket, and then the first word of the missing text, the tension suddenly gives way to relief, triumph and intense curiosity. Such joy is, I presume, the same for all who make a discovery or attain a summit in their chosen field of activity.

My tale began when I first read through the entire text of a series of discourses that had attracted my attention for some time, the Discourses Against the Jews of John Chrysostom. I was intrigued to note that Discourse 2 contained an apparently large gap, for it was only a third as long as the others. The introductions to the various editions of the discourses lamented the fact that scholars had long sought the missing text without success. This discourse was, to the best of knowledge, contained in only one manuscript, and a mutilated one at that, a surprising fact in light of the "best-seller" status of the rest of the series in the medieval period as evidenced by the great number of copies that were made of the rest of the series.

When in 1997 I finally had the opportunity to devote myself to the critical edition of these discourses, I naturally harbored the hope of finding a copy of the missing text. But my colleague, Dr. R. Brändle, had already raised this question with one of the leading experts on such matters, Dr. Joseph Paramelle, then director of the Greek section of the Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes in Paris. He had received a long response in 1990 which indicated that the Institute's archives of manuscript catalogues contained no reference to another copy of Discourse 2, and that such a discovery was altogether unlikely.

I then set out to read through the catalogues at the Institute myself. Dr. Brändle had been told to expect roughly 40 to 60 manuscripts containing the series of discourses. These figures were between two and three times the number I had found for another set of homilies of similar length (1). In reality the final list totalled a surprising 122 manuscripts, and among this wealth of textual transmission were a considerable number of manuscripts listed in the catalogues as containing Discourse 2.

A listing of Discourse 2 turned out in most cases to refer to what was the second of a total of six discourses, which constituted the series in all of the manuscripts and early editions until the edition of Montfaucon. Thus the discourses numbered 1 to 6 in the older catalogues correspond to Montfaucon's Discourses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, and accordingly the discourse listed in these catalogues as Discourse 2 is the one we know as Discourse 4. But for catalogues published in the 19th century it was often difficult to determine which numbering was used, and even if the numbering appeared to follow Montfaucon's edition, the possibility for error made it seem worthwhile to order reproductions of all the manuscripts listed specifically as containing Discourse 2. The only listing that truly appeared to be promising, however, was one that I noted in the computerized database of the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies of Toronto, which is now housed at the Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes. This listing describes the only known manuscript that contains seven discourses: 1-2 and 4-8. The description in the database reads as follows:

Mutilene, Lesbos, Monè tou Leimonos 27, fol. 95-116.

When I asked the staff at the Institute for the address of the monastery in question, I was told that they had not had direct contact with this monastery themselves and did not have any address or any idea how to enter into correspondance with its staff.

As the ordered copies arrived one by one, the list of potential copies of Discourse 2 grew shorter, for each of the doubtful listings proved to be a reference to Montfaucon's Discourse 4. Finally, as the huge task of collating the available manuscripts was nearing an end, I contacted the Institute once again in late September 1999, as well as several colleagues with experience in tracking down manuscripts in Greece. This time my letter to the Institute fell into the hands of Dr. Pierre Augustin, one of the research staff, who happened to have found himself in the same situation two years earlier in trying to obtain a copy of another manuscript from the same monastery. His response, dated October 12, described in detail the long, complicated process he had undertaken: first, he learned that the manuscripts from Lesbos had all been reproduced on microfilm, which is stored at the Greek National Library in Athens. But as he informed me, a request for copies must be preceeded by the authorization of the Higoumenos (Abbey) of the monastery, and once permission has been granted, letters of request must be addressed to both the curator of the museum and the museum's official photographer. The entire process had taken 18 months. Given the approaching end of my research contract and our eagerness to proceed, as well as the relatively high cost of the microfilm reproduction, it was decided that a personal visit to the monastery was in order.

Dr. Augustin had included with his letter a copy of the relevant pages from the catalogue of this monastery(2), and from the titles and incipit it listed, there was no doubt that this was indeed the discourse published by Montfaucon as Discourse 2. Furthermore, since the list indicated the folio numbers for the beginning of each text, it should have been possible to calculate the number of folia for this discourse and thereby to determine whether or not the missing text was present in this copy. As luck would have it, however, some of the figures on the faxed copy were barely legible; it was clear that Discourse 2 began on folio 112v and that Discourse 6 began on folio 168r, but for Discourses 4 and 5 the last two numerals were illegible. An immediate telephone call to the Institute confirmed that the quality of the original copy was no better; the figure was somewhere between 120 and 129 for Discourse 4, and between 140 and 149 for Discourse 5. Still, in comparing the length of the text in Migne's edition, it seemed certain that the text at Lesbos was in any case longer than that of the published edition.

The next problem was to determine who should make the trip. Being a woman, I was quite pessimistic about my chances of penetrating into the secret world of a Greek orthodox monastery, for this would not be my first such attempt(3), and I had heard discouraging tales from others. Therefore it was decided to send Dr. Brändle's assistant, Martin Heimgartner, who by that time had become quite involved as a third collaborator in our project. He readily agreed to include a stop at Lesbos during a trip to Greece that was already planned for the following month. I must admit that I was quite envious! A few days before this decision, I had taken a few moments, on a whim, to see if there was any information about Lesbos on the Internet. What I considered to be a distraction during a moment of leisure turned out to be one of the most fruitful research steps I have ever taken!

At first sight, the long list of web sites seemed to be entirely devoted to the realm of interest for which Lesbos is best known; some of the site descriptions went well beyond the bounds of decency! And yet I continued scrolling through to the last item, a plain-sounding site with the address "". This site turned out to be a true gold mine, to the great credit of its author, Matt Barrett, an impassioned amateur who has come to know the island through his wife, a native of Lesbos. He has included a wealth of travel information and many descriptions and photos of people, customs, food, events, flora and fauna, thermal baths, and, of most interest to me, monasteries. I was amazed to find so much more than I had expected: a picture and detailed description of the Leimonos monastery, including the encouraging statement that "overnight stays are possible". Given the mention of its large museum and its activities including a summer camp for children and a retirement home, the situation now appeared considerably more promising.

The author invited individual questions or comments, so I sent him a message asking how I might find out if it would be possible for a woman to obtain authorization to read one of the monastery's manuscripts. The reply was immediate and very encouraging: he suggested contacting a friend at a travel agency who "is able to work wonders and knows everybody. Her husband does religious tours of Lesvos and to the Holy Land, so if anyone can get you in, she can." I quickly sent a fax explaining in detail the manuscript I wanted to consult and why, and requesting permission to stay at the monastery for a week beginning November 1. She then placed a telephone call to the monastery and reported back the next day that it would suffice to present a letter in writing from the university sending me, and that no, it did not matter if I was a woman! Thanks to Internet once again, and to the competent work of the travel agency in Athens recommended by Mike Barrett, within two days I had arranged for airline tickets and a hotel reservation in Mutilene for the first and last nights of the trip. In the meantime, modern technology once again came into play as I drafted a letter to the monastery, had it translated into modern Greek, sent it by fax to the University of Basel for Dr. Brändle to sign it on official letterhead, received the return copy by express mail, and faxed it on to my helpful travel agent on the island of Lesbos. The magic wand of modern communication media had allowed all of this to transpire between October 12 and 22, and I left for Greece on October 30, with the understandably dizzy sensation of a scholar who had spent two rather sedentary years patiently collating manuscripts and was suddenly living at a much faster pace!

Coming to Lesbos at the beginning of November is like arriving at a party a few minutes after the majority of the guests have left: the weather is still warm and sunny, and the vacation season does not seem to belong to the distant past, yet it is perceptibly over. The few tourists still in town are looked on as stragglers whose presence is somewhat surprising, and the population is busily cleaning up and making the transition to the lowseason mode of life. Such was the case at any rate on October 31, a Sunday, which I spent exploring the town of Mutilene while waiting to present myself at the monastery the following morning. A week later, my last day on the island, was an exception, for it was the eve of the island's annual festival day, and this year the event was crowned by the visit of the country's Minister of Culture, who happened to be staying at my hotel. On my arrival I was travelling against the tide of tourists returning home, and a week later I was once again going against the flow, leaving as everyone else arrived.

The island fully lived up to Matt Barrett's glowing description as "one of Greece's best-kept secrets". My only disappointment was that the thermal bath I was eager to visit turned out to be closed, despite its posted year-round schedule. The most unforgettable moments were the evening meals of fresh fish, cleaned at dockside before my eyes at one of the many outdoor fish taverns as the sun set over the Aegean sea.

In one of the gift shops I bought the tour guide recommended by Matt Barrett as the best available, and was surprised to find at the end of the description of the Leimonos monastery the following ominous, categorical sentence, which constituted a paragraph of its own:

"Women are forbidden entry to the monastery" (4).

Could it be that I had come in vain after all? Had the higoumenos misunderstood the question about my feminine status? And yet it seemed unlikely that the entire compound would be off limits, since it housed a large folk art museum, a heritage from the early years of the Turkish occupation, during which it had served as the intellectual center of the island.

The next day, after an early departure and a long taxi ride through olive groves and pine forests which gradually gave way to the increasingly dry and barren hills in the center of the island, I arrived at 9 a.m. at the monastery, a large red-brick compound in a valley surrounded by empty hillsides. The taxi driver accompanied me through the open gate and a large courtyard to the inner main square of buildings; we encountered no one, and he was reluctant to leave me at the apparently deserted monastery. Soon after he finally took leave, I heard voices, one female, and was shortly joined by a housekeeper/cook and two painters. My limited knowledge of modern Greek proved to be a handicap then, as throughout my stay at the monastery, but I was able to understand that Father Nicodemos was conducting the morning service at the "other" monastery. I later discovered that this other monastery was the Myrsiniotissa Convent, founded in 1527, four years after Leimonos, as its counterpart for women, and located a few kilometers to the east. As I awaited his return I explored the compound's inner courtyard, in the middle of which was a small church whose perimeter was carefully roped off at a distance of two yards or so. A sign indicated that, according to an "old church custom", women were not allowed inside. The blanket statement of the guide book apparently applied only to this small church, which represented a mere fraction of the monastery's total surface area! In one corner of the courtyard was the cell of a certain Nicolas, the monastery's founder, and in another corner was a faucet dispensing holy water, both of which were obviously popular with tourists. My attention was attracted in particular towards another corner where a massive door led to the monastery's museum. The courtyard itself was pleasantly decorated with a large number of potted plants and antique farming instruments. Coming from beyond the main compound was a strange sound; my curiosity led me to return to the main entrance, where I followed the outer wall to the rear of the monastery and discovered that there were a number of ostriches and two donkeys in large pens spread over the foothills in back of the monastery. Among them were scattered a considerable number of small, domed red-brick prayer cells. The monastery's farming days seemed to be over, for there was no sign of cultivation of any sort.

Two hours later Father Nicodemos Paulopoulos appeared, accompanied as always by a small, energetic, blond poodle. He studied my letter of introduction with care, and then entrusted me to the museum's curator, who knew a little English and who was therefore designated to show me to my room. My examination of the manuscript would have to wait a few more hours.

At 2 p.m. I was finally ushered into the museum. The "library" is not a separate room, but rather one end of a long room at the main entrance which contains many display cases filled with various ancient and modern documents, the latest of which date from the Turkish occupation. The manuscripts not on display are stacked in cupboards under the display cases. There were no study tables, so I was shown to a small table covered with postcards and cassettes on sale as souvenirs. After pushing them to the side, there was just room for the large volume and a notepad into which to copy the text. First I had to wait as the curator took the precaution of counting all of the pages before handing it over to me.

Still another moment of anxiety awaited me, for when I opened the manuscript to folio 112, where Discourse 2 should have begun, I immediately saw that this folio contained the middle of a long uninterrupted portion of text. I then turned back to folio 95, where Discourse 1 should have begun, but it too contained the middle of an uninterrupted text. A quick look at the binding confirmed that this volume was indeed Cod. 27. When I noticed that the first four sheets, which were blank, were numbered, and that the numbers were written in pencil with large, modern strokes, it seemed obvious that this was not the original numbering, and quite probable that the blank pages had originally not been numbered. My suspicion was soon confirmed, for Discourse 1 began on f. 99, and Discourse 2 on f. 116. Then came the exciting moment when I reached the line where the other known manuscript broke off in the middle of a sentence, and saw that the text of this manuscript did indeed continue, in the same careful handwriting from the 11th century (5).

A rapid count showed that the heretofore missing text comprised 9 folia, the equivalent of approximately 7 columns of text in the edition of Migne, which confirmed our hypothesis that the lacuna represented two thirds of the original homily. I then set about to copy the text as carefully as possible. My sense of relief soon became complete as the last remaining worry proved unfounded: the manuscript was in perfect condition, and the copyist had written in a beautiful, even and very readable script. The only difficulty was in deciphering the abbreviations at the ends of many of the lines, for this copyist was particularly scrupulous in attempting to maintain even margins on both sides of his columns, and this had led him to abbreviate an unusually great number of word endings. Such endings are easy to decipher when one is reading the text with an understanding of its contents, but it is not an easy task when one is preoccupied with making a flawless copy of the text and therefore deliberately trying to ignore its meaning. I found it necessary to copy the abbreviations as they stood, and to re-read the text later in order to fill in the corresponding word endings.

I had brought along a camera and tripod with a variety of lenses, including a particularly powerful wide-angle lense, which had been lent to me by Prof. Pierre Prigent, a mentor and close friend at the University of Strasbourg who has considerable experience in photography, including that of ancient manuscripts. He had warned me that it might be very difficult to obtain permission to make photos, as his own experience had proved at the monastery at Patmos. But when the museum curator put the question to Father Nicodemos, he had no objection, and the helpful curator even held the pages flat as I took the photos. Although the artificial lighting was not ideal and my expertise in adjusting the camera was even less so, the results, though dark, turned out to be readable. They would later prove to be a valuable backup to my hand-written copy, especially in the case of abbreviated word endings, despite all the pains I had taken to make an exact copy.

Given the short opening hours of the museum, I had ample leisure time in which to become acquainted with the monastery. The guest house is located at the back side of the compound, separated from the inner square of buildings by a large courtyard containing pens for ducks, hens, and rabbits, and housing a dozen free-ranging peacocks. These birds had a predilection for roosting on the outside stairs leading to the guest rooms, which were located on the second floor; this presented somewhat of an obstacle in the pitch-black darkness of the early November evenings! A sign mentioned that this was a "zoo", and my host explained that the monastery held a summer camp for needy children, for whom the animals represented a major attraction. My room was at the end of a long wing containing the kitchen, dining room, and a number of rooms for the elderly pensioners, all of whom turned out to be women. The hot-water heater in the upstairs bedroom was out of order and the bed was old and sagging, but the meals were delicious and varied, and the company was a constant source of amusement.

Attendance at morning and evening services was strongly encouraged, and it was a pleasure to listen to the rich voices of the three or four officiating monks as they sang the liturgy. It was also, I might add, a relief to hear the ancient Greek liturgy, as it contained words I could understand! At first I was hesitant to partake of the bread offered to worshippers, despite the fact that it was not, strictly speaking, the communion bread, which was reserved for the priests, but after a few days I was literally pushed forward by one of the fervant elderly pensioners. Many of those attending stepped in for only a part of the long morning service, which lasted from 7:00 to 8:30 a.m. The service was broadcasted over a loudspeaker for the benefit of those who were otherwise occupied in the vicinity of the chapel. The peacock must be a particularly favored symbol at this monastery, for the living examples in the courtyard were duplicated in both painted and sculpted form throughout the chapel. One morning an elderly woman stood close to the altar during the entire Eucharist portion of the service, and partook of the wine, which was never offered at any other time to the public. It was highly frustrating to be hindered by the language barrier from inquiring about this and other curiosities of life at Leimonos.

Meals were lively interludes. The transition from worship was gradual, for Father Nicodemos continued singing during the short walk to the dining hall, though the melodies were more modern ones. Then, while chanting the blessing liturgy, he simultaneously stirred his soup and kept an eye on the television located to his left, which was turned on at all meals. There was something of a hierarchy in the choice of foods, for the monks and I were often given meat or other delicacies that were not offered to the elderly pensioners or the painters and construction workers who were renovating several buildings. Once an elderly woman of particularly noble bearing asked me to pass her a small plate of apparently special olives, small and pale green in color. For this she was sharply rebuked by Father Nicodemos. At meal times the Father was joined by another of his faithful animal companions, an affectionate Siamese cat who sat on his knees and ate from his hands.

Vespers were at 5:00 p.m., followed by supper, and by 6:15 p.m. everyone turned in for the night. The long evenings provided ample time to enter into my portable computer the text I had copied each day. The estimation of a week's work turned out to be fairly accurate, despite the short working hours and the delay on Monday. By Thursday evening I had finished copying and proofreading my copy of the newly discovered text. Friday morning sufficed to complete a rapid collation of the significant variants in the other six discourses in order to determine this manuscript's relation to the others in the history of the text's transmission.

That afternoon, after a hair-raising taxi ride back to Mutilene, with a more typical driver than the careful, friendly one I had had the good fortune to accompany the previous Monday, I took the precaution of sending the 14 pages of new text by e-mail to my computer at home, as well as by fax to Dr. Brändle in Basel, in case of lost luggage or some other mishap. Dr. Brändle was anxiously awaiting news, since I had not had any means of sending word from the monastery (6). The return to the bustle of a modern city was somewhat of a jolt, and by that evening I was already invaded by the nostalgic feeling that what was probably the most exciting moment of my professional career was coming to an end.


(1) Namely, nine exegetical homilies by John Chrysostom: six homilies on Titus and three homilies on Philemon, for which I had found a total of 27 manuscripts.

(2) A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, [Greek], in Ellhnikos Filologilos Syllogos. Vol. 1, Constantinople 1884. The description of Discourse 2 is found on pp. 43-45.

(3) I had already visited the group of Meteores monasteries, in particular Hag. Stephanos, which possesses a manuscript containing a homily I was then working on. I was told there that they had no library and therefore no manuscripts. But at Barlaam, the principal monastery of the group, I was told by a warm and encouraging priest that the manuscript in question was indeed housed there, but that his superior was absent at the moment; however, it would probably be possible to consult the manuscript if I returned the following morning. The next day, after a second long trek up from Kalambaka to the monastery perched on its spectacular peak, I was met by the same priest, who was visibly uncomfortable as he reported that his superior had firmly declined authorization. Fortunately, in this case the manuscript in question was of minor importance to the establishment of the text I was preparing to edit.

(4) P. Lesbios, Lesbos: History, Folklore, Archaeology, Touring, Athens 1989, 80.

(5) The other manuscript, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 190, contained several other lacunae which had been filled in some five centuries later by a copyist in the 16th century. He was apparently unable to do so for this discourse, for lack of another copy in his possession.

(6) Had it been the height of tourist season, this would not have been the case. There was a pay phone just outside the entrance to the monastery, and a small hotel-restaurant across the road from the main entrance which caters to pilgrims. The restaurant sells telephone cards, and was still open for a last week of business, though I never noted any clients. Unfortunately the owner had recently run out of cards, and was not planning on replenishing his supply at this late date in the tourist calendar.


Address details for Prof. Dr. Rudolf Brändle:
Theologisches Seminar,
Nadelberg 10 
4051 Basel
Tel. 267 29 04

Wendy PRADELS, Rudolf BRÄNDLE and Martin HEIMGARTNER, Das bisher vermisste Textstück in Johannes Chrysostomus, Adversus Judaeos, Oratio 2. Zeitschrift fur Antikes Christentum, vol 5.1 (2001) pp. 23-49. Not checked.  I think this has the text and a German translation.

Wendy PRADELS, Lesbos Cod. Gr. 27: The Tale of a Discovery. Zeitschrift fur Antikes Christentum, vol 6.1 (2002) pp. 81-89.  Not checked.  Probably the source of the above post.

Wendy PRADELS, Rudolf BRÄNDLE and Martin HEIMGARTNER, The Sequence and Dating of the Series of John Chrysostom's Eight Discourses Adversus Iudaeos. Zeitschrift fur Antikes Christentum, vol 6.1 (2002) pp. 90-124. Not checked.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.

This page has been online since 9th April 2005

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