Re-imagining Tatian: The Damaging Effects of Polemical Rhetoric NAOMI KOLTUN-FROMM

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Tatian, a second-century Christian apologist, is best known on the one hand for his much admired and only extant text, the Oratio ad Graecos, and on the other for heresy. Starting with Irenaeus, Tatian develops a reputation particu- larly among the western Fathers for heresy and extreme asceticism—including sexual renunciation, vegetarianism, and abstention from alcohol. In the late fourth century Tatian reappears as the reputed (and heretical) author of the Diatessaron, possibly the gospel harmony most popular in the Syriac-speaking churches. In medieval Syriac Christian writings, due to a conflation of these two earlier associations, Tatian’s reputation transforms itself yet again. Thus, due to his presumed now generic-heretical standing, these authors further accuse Tatian of removing the NT genealogies from his harmonized text thus undermining the human element in christological theory. Yet I think it can be demonstrated that these two reputations—the one of heretical encratism, and the other of heretical Christology—in fact reflect polemical constructions created to deflect external anti-Christian polemic and internal cross-Christian conflict onto another group rather than historical reality.

In the mid-second century, Tatian, a well-born and educated man, traveled from the East to Rome seeking philosophical truth. According to his own testimony in his Oration to the Greeks, his only surviving full treatise, Tatian converted to Christianity after reading “some barbarian writings, older in comparison with the doctrines of the Greeks, more divine by com- parison with their errors.”1 In Rome, subsequent to or in coordination

1. Molly Whittaker, Tatian: Oratio ad Graecos and Fragments (Oxford: Claren- don Press, 1982), 55. All translations of Tatian are from Whittaker’s edition (unless otherwise noted) and cited by her section divisions and pagination. It is interesting to note that Tatian never labels his new-found philosophy “Christianity.”

Journal of Early Christian Studies 16:1, 1–30 © 2008 The Johns Hopkins University Press2JOURNAL OF EARLY CHRISTIAN STUDIES

with his conversion, Tatian is reputed to have studied under the tutelage of Justin Martyr.2 The ancient patristic writers suggest that Tatian founded his own school in Rome after Justin’s death (c. 165 c.e.).3 Sometime later Tatian supposedly returned to the East and perhaps founded his own school in Mesopotamia.4 William Petersen estimates that he died there sometime between 180 and 190.5 Such is the scant biographical infor- mation we have on Tatian and most of this culled from the pages of his own writings and other ancient authors who prove themselves none too favorable to Tatian.6

Starting with Irenaeus, Tatian develops a reputation particularly among the western Fathers for heresy and extreme asceticism including sexual renunciation, vegetarianism, and abstention from alcohol. In the late fourth century Tatian reappears as the reputed (and heretical) author of the Diatessaron, possibly the gospel harmony most popular in the Syriac- speaking churches. In medieval Syriac Christian writings, due to a confla- tion of these two earlier associations, Tatian’s reputation transforms itself yet again. Thus, due to his presumed now generic-heretical standing, these authors further accuse Tatian of removing the NT genealogies from his harmonized text thus undermining the human element in christological theory. Yet I think it can be demonstrated that these two reputations, the one of heretical encratism, and the other of heretical Christology, in fact reflect polemical constructions created to deflect external anti-Christian polemic and internal cross-Christian conflict onto another group. That is

2. Irenaeus, haer. 1.28.1 (SC 264:354–56). For instance, Irenaeus notes that Tatian was a “hearer” of Justin’s. Tatian mentions Justin twice in the Or. (sections 18 and 19; Whittaker, Tatian, 36–39). Whittaker even suggests that Tatian converted under Justin’s influence (p. 1). William Petersen notes the similarities between these two Christian philosophers’ intellectual trajectories. Both come from non-Christian back- grounds in the Levant, wandered from place to place and school to school until their intellectual/philosophical journeys brought them to Rome and conversion to Christi- anity. See his recent volume, Tatian’s Diatessaron: Its Creation, Dissemination, Sig- nificance and History in Scholarship (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 69.

3. Iren. haer. 1.28.1 (SC 264:354–56); Eusebius, in his h.e. 5.13.1 (Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History, with an English translation by K. Lake, in 2 vols., LCL [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929], 1:466–67) adds that Rhodus was Tatian’s student. Irenaeus makes similar claims of pedagogic lineage for many of his “heretics.” See nn 13–14 below.

4. Epiphanius, haer. (GCS 2:204).

5. Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 72. See full text of Irenaeus below. Epiphanius (haer is the only one to claim he returned to Mesopotamia.

6. For two short biographies of Tatian see the introduction to Whittaker’s Tatian and the second chapter of Petersen’s Tatian’s Diatessaron.


to say that Tatian’s reputations emerge from Christian struggles for author- ity, legitimacy, and orthodoxy both among Christians and in opposition to their surrounding cultures and hence do not necessarily reflect historical reality. Thus it is troubling to find these various reputations, particularly the encratic and diatessaronic reputations, merging further in modern scholarship producing an ascetically inclined Tatian who helped promote religiously inspired ascetic practice in the Syriac churches through the promulgation of the Diatessaron (his heretical-christological reputation is more or less forgotten in these studies).7

In what follows I argue that almost all elements of Tatian’s reputation among ancient, medieval, and modern scholars are open to question. Concerning the early criticisms, it is not clear from the extant material that Tatian was indeed radically ascetic, nor that the Diatessaron was any more ascetically inclined than any other Syriac gospel text, nor even that Tatian had a hand in composing or asceticizing the harmonized gos- pels popular among the Syriac-speaking churches. And even if Tatian did compose and asceticize the Diatessaron it is not evident to me how that text influenced the ascetic nature of the early Syriac church. Concerning the later criticism of heretical Christology, again the extant Diatessaron witnesses disagree: some contain the genealogies and some do not. The reputations of Tatian, then, raise two questions: first, how or why did the figure of Tatian acquire these various reputations? And second, why do we modern scholars accept these accusations as valid in spite of the lack of supporting evidence?8 In this essay I strongly suggest that we need to re-evaluate Tatian and his place in the development of Syrian Christian ascetic theology and practice in light of the information we have in hand, starting with a re-assessment of Tatian’s only extant writing, the Oration to the Greeks, and ending with a re-evaluation of Tatian’s influence on

7. See for instance, what John Behr writes on Encratites in “Social and Historical Setting,” in the Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature (ed. Francis Young, Lewis Ayres and Andrew Louth [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004], 64): “By the end of the second century, such ascetic tendencies [celibacy] were described as ‘Encratite,’ and its advocates were accused of rejecting the use of wine and meat, and insisting on total sexual renunciation for all Christians; these tendencies are often associated with Tatian, who taught at Rome in the middle of the second cen- tury, before returning home to Syria, taking with him his Diatessaron and perhaps his ascetic leanings.” Behr bases his historical analysis on the writings of Vööbus, Brown, and Drijvers.

8. I include myself in the “we” of these statements, for as a student of Syriac asceti- cism, in my early research I followed the arguments I describe above as presented in the works of earlier scholars such as Vööbus, Murray, Drijvers, Whittaker, and others.


the Diatessaron and asceticism of the Syriac church. Finally we need to understand why the medieval Syriac writers appear more concerned with his supposed heretical Christology than his presumed heretical encratism. I will first discuss Tatian’s theology as presented in the Oration, then turn to his dual reputation as an encratic heretic in the West and author of the Diatessaron in the East, and finally address his place in medieval chris- tological controversies. I think in the end we will discover that Tatian fell victim to an age-old phenomenon in religious polemics: his critics demonized him using sensationalist and “hot-button” claims that in the end produced the effects his critics intended but retained minimal relation in historical reality.


Tatian’s Oration, written in Greek, probably while he was still in Rome, proposes to convince the Greeks of the error of their ways (worship of their false gods) and to badger them into discovering the truth as Tatian himself has already done. Tatian puts himself forward as a model convert. He too studied Greek philosophy and literature, but after finding them lacking, he turned to an ancient barbarian literature (Christian Scripture) which enlightened him to his true human condition. In the Oration, then, Tatian lays out the truth as he understands it in order to persuade his audi- ence to follow suit. Nevertheless, his argument proves difficult to follow as he digresses from his theological discourse into several diatribes and polemics against Greek culture, literature, mythology, and philosophy. Tatian’s purpose is two-fold: to demonstrate the truth of his faith all the while showing the ridiculous nature of all aspects of Greek culture. Tatian proves himself as much on the defensive as on the offensive.

Tatian’s core theological argument can be found in sections twelve through fifteen of the Oration. God created humans in the divine image, thus placing them just below the angels, but above all other fleshly ani- mals. Although humans also have bodies, their “image of God” is that thing which they share with God, which Tatian calls the divine spirit, and which gives humans immortality. According to Tatian then, the true human condition is immortality. However, humans became mortal when they chose (en masse) to follow the rebellious angels instead of God. The first humans were then kicked out of heaven with the bad angels and live mortal lives on earth. (He does not refer to Adam or Eve by name, but to a more general crowd of first humans.) Moreover, having chosen to fol- low these fallen angels, the descendants of these first humans have come


to worship them as gods. Thus Tatian argues that the Greek gods are no more than demons, angels gone bad. For centuries now these demons have kept the Greeks in thrall (and in bondage), denying them access to The Truth.

The intelligent person, however (such as Tatian), with the help of these barbarian scriptures can discover the truth and return to the worship of the one and only True God, creator of the universe, controller of human destiny. For when God kicked the humans out of heaven, a spark of the divine spirit remained in them. So, when a human being uncovers the truth of human existence, she or he can re-unite with the divine spirit, by turning his or her worship fully and exclusively on God. When the soul of this person re-unites (through acknowledgment of God’s existence and supremacy) with the divine spirit, she or he returns to his or her true human and therefore immortal nature. According to Tatian this is the only means to immortality and, of course, The Truth which he presents.

In the end Tatian describes a soteriology of knowledge. One discovers The Truth by diligent intellectual inquiry and it is the knowledge of that truth which saves a person. Moreover, Tatian’s soteriology of knowledge proves rather individualistic. Any human can discover the truth through due diligence. While Tatian presents a logos persona—one who partitions himself (or is partitioned by God) from the God-father and aids the God- father in creation—Tatian never once calls the logos “Christ” nor claims that the logos leads him to the truth.9 Rather reading the Scriptures leads him to the truth. Yet at the same time he claims to be imitating the Logos in ordering the world. As the Logos, at God’s command, created the world and ordered it, so too Tatian brings order to the Greek world by preach- ing this truth to them.

Yet, with this truth that Tatian advocates, he neither describes nor advo- cates baptism or other rituals that solidify or finalize a person’s conversion. Hence one cannot describe the Oration in any way as a ritualistic or as an ascetic text, for Tatian never advocates religiously motivated practice, let alone ascetic practice, which must accompany a person’s conversion. My point here is that from a simple and isolated reading of the Oration, one does not get the impression that the author was necessarily ascetically inclined. Only in comparison to his other supposed writings (known to us only through fragmentary citations found in his enemies’ writings) or

9. Although he makes several allusions to Jesus, Tatian never mentions him by name. See discussion below.


in comparison with later demonstrably ascetic texts, such as the Acts of Judas Thomas, can one construe the Oration in and of itself as an ascetic text. Prioritizing the ascetic fragments and reading that ascetic agenda back into the Oration distorts the narrative agenda of the Oration, which purports only to lead people to the Truth: knowledge of God, not how to act once one attains that knowledge. Even Eusebius and Clement, who condemn Tatian for heresy and encratism, also praise him for composing the Oration. Hence, the terminology that proves to be ascetic in later texts was not necessarily used as such by Tatian.10 Thus, in order to uncover Tatian’s reputed ascetic program we must turn to his ancient critics who claim to represent his real theology and religious practices as found in what prove to be otherwise unknown or now lost tatianic treatises (in order to condemn them, of course.)


Irenaeus, the second-century bishop of Lyon (c. 130–200) and self- appointed heresiologist, is among the earliest commentators on Tatian’s character when he states the following:

Springing from Saturninus and Marcion, those who are called Encratites (self-controlled) preached against marriage, thus setting aside the original creation of God, and indirectly blaming Him who made the male and female for the propagation of the human race. Some of those reckoned among them have also introduced abstinence from animal food, thus proving themselves ungrateful to God, who formed all things. They deny, too, the salvation of him who was first created. It is but lately, however, that this opinion has been invented among them. A certain man named Tatian first introduced the blasphemy. He was a hearer of Justin’s, and as long as he continued with him he expressed no such views; but after his [Justin’s] martyrdom he separated from the Church, and, excited and puffed up by the thought of being a teacher, as if he were superior to others,

he composed his own peculiar type of doctrine. He invented a system of certain invisible Aeons, like the followers of Valentinus; while, like Marcion and Saturninus, he declared that marriage was nothing else than corruption and fornication. But his denial of Adam’s salvation was an opinion due entirely to himself.11

10. See n 30 for Eusebius’s words and a further discussion below of Tatian’s theology.

11. Iren. haer. 1.28.1 (SC 264:354–56). Translation from The Ante Nicene Fathers (Edinburgh: T & T Clark; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1993), 1:353.


Tatian, wanting to be as famous a teacher as his Roman instructor, Jus- tin Martyr, created his own “heterodox school.” He preached against marriage, meat eating, and the salvation of Adam. Irenaeus accuses him of following in the footsteps of another accused gnostic heretic, Valen- tinus (also second-century) in that he supposedly “invented a system of certain invisible Aeons,” as well as copying his (Tatian’s) negative stance on marriage from two other second-century heretics, Marcion (d. 160) and Saturninus.12 These accusations, independence in establishing a new school, individualized doctrines (not sanctioned by Irenaeus’s church), pride, and superiority prove to be standard in Irenaeus’ polemical reper- toire.13 Tatian, however, bears the brunt of Irenaeus’s catalog of sins as he appears among the last in a long line of heretics that begins with Simon Magus.14 Tatian represents Irenaeus’s worst nightmare in that he suppos- edly combines the most wicked of those three “heresies” and adds his own, the non-salvation of Adam. Indeed it is this “blasphemy” which seems to bother Irenaeus the most and perhaps may be key to Irenaeus’s ire, for it points to the developing link between Adam and Jesus in the solidifying orthodox Christology.15

12. Of course most of the information we have concerning these men is found only in the writings of their enemies such as Irenaeus. This only adds to the questionable nature of the accusations particularly in the area of practice.

13. The above citation is preceded by the following remarks: “Many offshoots of numerous heresies have already been formed from those heretics we have described. This arises from the fact that numbers of them—indeed, we may say all—desire themselves to be teachers, and to break off from the particular heresy in which they have been involved. Forming one set of doctrines out of a totally different system of opinions, and then again others from others, they insist upon teaching something new, declaring themselves the inventors of any sort of opinion which they may have been able to call into existence” (haer. 1.28.1; ANF 1:353).

14. Note his comments on Marcion in haer. 1.27.4 (SC 264:352–53): “But since this man is the only one who has dared openly to mutilate the Scriptures, and unblushingly above all others to inveigh against God, I purpose specially to refute him, convicting him out of his own writings; and, with the help of God, I shall overthrow him out of those discourses of the Lord and the apostles, which are of authority with him, and of which he makes use. At present, however, I have simply been led to mention him, that you might know that all those who in any way corrupt the truth, and injuriously affect the preaching of the Church, are the disciples and successors of Simon Magus of Samaria. Although they do not confess the name of their master, in order all the more to seduce others, yet they do teach his doctrines” (ANF 1:352).

15. While Tatian describes the fall of humans at the provocation of the fallen angels, he does not narrate or refer to a specific individual fall of Adam. Tatian’s fall is more beholden to the Enochic literature than to Genesis (Or. 7; Whittaker, Tatian, 12–14).


Much of the tatianic scholarship focuses on Tatian’s supposed “gnos- tic” tendencies based on Irenaeus’s accusation that he, like Valentinus, invented a system of aeons.16 Yet the lion’s share of Irenaeus’s accusations focuses on what he calls Tatian’s encratism, and it is on this claim that I focus here. According to Irenaeus then, Tatian was a member of a group called the Encratites, a group which advocated sexual renunciation and vegetarianism. Tatian, however, added to their theology by denying sal- vation to Adam (though here Irenaeus does not tell us on what grounds nor the connection between the two). Nonetheless he argues that these practices and theology deny the role that God plays in human propaga- tion and survival.

If Irenaeus had read the Oration (and only the Oration) there is no way he could have come to such a conclusion concerning Tatian’s sex- ual or eating habits, let alone his theology of Adam. The Oration is not even mildly ascetic, if we can differentiate “ascetic” from “encratic” by degree of extremity. (Encratism usually refers to extreme ascetic practices in which one permanently renounces wine, meat, and sexual intercourse. I use asceticism here as the broader term for all religiously inspired self- denying practices whether extreme or not, thus encratism is a sub-category of asceticism.) Nor does Tatian there discuss Adam’s fate. And though the Oration certainly does not promote active sexuality or marriage, it does not enforce any kind of ascetic practice either. In fact, in this philosophi- cal tract, Tatian never broaches the subject of human sexual practice or food consumption. Tatian’s ascetic views (encratic or otherwise), if he indeed held any, may have been written up in other now lost treatises, but they do not manifest themselves in his Oration.17 Hence I think Irenaeus

16. See for instance, A. Vööbus, R. M. Grant, and more recently Petersen. I think Vööbus reads too much into Tatian’s treatise. See his treatment of Tatian in History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient (Leuven: CSCO, 1958), 1:31–39. Likewise, R. M. Grant, “The Heresy of Tatian,” JTS (n.s.) 5 (1954): 62–68. Whittaker also suggests that the “gnostic” tendencies have been overdetermined. In subordinating the gnostic question here I follow the lead of Michael A. Williams (Rethinking “Gnosticism”: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category [Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univer- sity Press, 1996]) and Karen King (What is Gnosticism? [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003]), who suggest that given the state of gnostic studies today, the question of whether or not Tatian (or any other second-century Christian) was a gnostic is in the end the wrong question.

17. While Tatian gladly criticizes the Greeks for worshipping gods, who carry on like immoral humans (murder, intrigue and adultery, etc.), he never suggests that human sexuality is bad, rather, that humans should not follow the promiscuous examples set by the gods.


either fabricates his characterization of Tatian or draws this information from these other sources. Irenaeus clearly found these other writings or the rumors of such writings more indicative of the Tatian he wanted to pursue. Again I wish to emphasize here that it is quite possible that Ire- naeus may have had solid grounds for accusing Tatian of encratic-heretical tendencies. We, however, do not have the same evidence. Whatever texts Irenaeus may have had at hand are no longer extant. Moreover, the Ora- tion alone does not give sufficient evidence for Tatian’s supposed encratic reputation. But as will become clear, I am, nevertheless, suspicious of Irenaeus’s intentions.

Two such accusatory passages can be found in the writings of Jerome and Clement. Jerome, for instance, calls Tatian the founder of the Encrat- ites, and here criticizes him for promulgating a ban on wine consumption. Jerome notes:

“And you gave the Nazareans wine to drink and commanded the prophets not to prophesy” [Amos 2.12]. On the basis of this passage Tatian, founder of the Encratites, tries to establish his heresy, asserting that wine should not be drunk, since it was both laid down by law that the Nazareans would not drink wine and also those who give the Nazareans wine to drink are now accused by the prophet.18

Jerome here links Tatian’s “known” encratism with his biblical support for the practice of avoiding wine. Following biblical precedent, Tatian, according to Jerome, bases his abstinence from wine on the practices of the Nazirites, who were self-proclaimed temporary priest-like (holy) individuals who abstained from wine for the duration of their nazirite- ship. If the Nazirite could transform himself into something else (a holy person belonging or devoted to God) through ascetic practice, so too can a Christian elevate and transform himself into someone more loved by God. Jerome, however finds this reasoning untenable, for not everyone can be a Nazirite. While calling attention to Tatian’s supposed encratism, Jerome clearly finds Tatian’s “misinterpretation” of the biblical text more troubling and the real source of his “heresy.” Because Tatian misunder- stands the import of the Nazirite example he is led to heretical positions, such as abstention from alcohol. Remember of course that Jerome too was an ascetic. But, presumably for the sake of the eucharistic ritual, he did not refuse to drink wine. Similarly Irenaeus suggests that Tatian proves ungrateful to God (namely he does not understand the true import of the biblical narratives) when he advocates vegetarianism and celibacy. For

18. Jerome, In Amos 2.12 (Whittaker, Tatian, 82–83 [text also in CCL 76:23]).


both Irenaeus and Jerome, Tatian shows himself to be a poor (and dan- gerous) interpreter of Scripture. His “heresy,” encratism (in this case any ascetic practice that proves more extreme than the critics’) is a direct result of his misuse of Scripture. In contrast, those who know how to interpret Scripture correctly (such as Irenaeus and Jerome) are necessarily led to correct behavior.

Clement of Alexandria provides the only “witness” to Tatian’s sup- posed encratic theology that cites a named textual source. In his Stroma- teis Clement quotes a supposed fragment of Tatian’s now lost work, “On Perfection according to the Savior,” in which Tatian comments on 1 Cor 7.5. Clement writes:

For one must not imagine, as some took him to mean, that a bond between husband and wife is declared to be a physical union leading to corruption. For he (i.e., Paul) blames the opinion of impious men who attribute the invention of marriage directly to the devil, an opinion which runs perilously close to blasphemy against him who made the law. I fancy that Tatian

the Syrian had the hardihood to formulate such a doctrine. At any rate he writes word for word in “On Perfection according to the Saviour”: “Agreement goes suitably with prayer, but partnership in corruption weakens intercession. At least he makes the concession in such a way as to put to shame and act as a restraint. For by conceding that they might come together because of Satan and lack of self-control he made it clear that anyone who would conform was going to serve two masters; through agreement he would serve God, but through want of agreement he would serve license [lack of self control] and fornication and the devil.” He [Tatian] says this by way of commentary on the apostle.19

According to Clement Tatian understands Paul here to condemn marriage as corruption and a creation of the devil rather than to leave it as a small concession for the weakest. Clement, however, understands Paul to suggest in 1 Cor 7.5 that it is admirable for a married couple to agree to restrain themselves from sexual contact—temporarily—so as to devote themselves to prayer—for a time. However, he [Paul] concedes, they should not try to renounce sexual activity entirely lest they are led to porneia—that is in a moment of weakness and overwhelming desire they will indulge in illicit sex—sex with someone other than their spouse (i.e., be caught unguarded by Satan.) Thus they will be “serving” akrasia, “lack of self-control.” Clement claims though that Tatian understands Paul to condemn mar- riage here (and hence even “legitimate” sex), for he, Tatian, understands

19. Clement, Str. 3.12.80–81 (Whittaker, Tatian, 78–81 [text also in GCS Clemens Alexandrinus 2:232]).


Paul to have created a dichotomy between devotion to God (no sex) and devotion to Satan (yes sex).

Yet Clement’s citation seems questionable when he opens his discus- sion first with “I fancy that Tatian the Syrian had the hardihood to for- mulate such a doctrine” even as he proceeds to quote what he claims are Tatian’s writings. But even if it is an exact citation, I think Clement mis- reads Tatian. The key lies in part in Clement’s understanding of the tati- anic phrase, “partnership in corruption weakens intercession” which is Whittaker’s translation of koinvn¤a d¢ fyorçw lÊei tØn ¶nteujin. Koinonia, partnership or sexual intercourse, clearly stands in tension with enteuk- sis, prayer/intercession/communication with God, but Tatian’s ambigu- ous wording [luei] allows one to see sex as either detrimental to prayer (destroys it) or just problematic (weakens intercession). Does Tatian here condemn marriage as a creation of the devil as Clement claims or does he simply highlight Paul’s reasoning for allowing a separation between sex and prayer? Furthermore Tatian’s conclusion focuses more on the issue of agreement rather than on the perishable nature of sexual bodies. When he claims that the couple that comes back together for sex after prayer is serving two masters (God and Satan) he also notes, “anyone who would conform was going to serve two masters; through agreement he would serve God, but through want of agreement he would serve license [lack of self control] and fornication and the devil.’”

It seems to me that Tatian’s focus here is not on sex per se but on control, i.e., enkrateia. If the couple is in agreement—in control of when they have sex—then they are with God, but if they give in to passion—even between themselves—then they are serving two masters: God in their prayers, but Satan through their uncontrolled bodies. Hence, according to this clem- entine citation, Tatian could legitimately be called an encratic, but not in the sense of one who renounces marriage and sex, but only in the sense of one who places his passions under his rational control. Ironically Clement would probably agree with this position, for he counters his (mis)reading of Tatian with the following comments:

But he [Tatian] falsifies the truth in that by means of what is true he tries to prove what is untrue. We too confess that incontinence [lack of self control] and fornication are diabolical passions, but the agreement of a controlled marriage occupies a middle position. If the married couple agrees to be continent, it helps them to pray; if they agree with reverence to have sexual relations it leads them to beget children.20

20. Clem. Str. 3.12.81 (GCS Clemens Alexandrinus 2:232; trans. Oulton and Chadwick, Alexandrian Christianity: Selected Translations of Clement and Origen [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954], 90).


Clement argues here, as I claim for Tatian above, that control of one’s pas- sions, even in marriage, is key to proper Christian living. Indeed, Kathy Gaca suggests that Clement’s ire against Tatian has much to do with the dangerous similarities in their understanding of Paul. In this case Clement felt the need to distance himself from Tatian, perhaps to downplay what others may have perceived as affinities.21 Nevertheless it is probably this supposed tatianic interpretation of 1 Cor 7—as misread by Clement—cou- pled with Irenaeus’s encratic-heretical characterization (perhaps based on the same text) that cements Tatian’s reputation in the West.

Nevertheless Irenaeus not only accuses Tatian of “preaching against marriage” but also of copying Marcion and Saturninus, two other “her- etics” who place marriage and human sexuality within the material, earthly realm, which is divided irreconcilably from the spiritual realm. In this way Tatian too becomes an encratic-heretic who condemns marriage because of its materiality.22 Yet no argument of this sort manifests itself in the Oration. Nor is it essentially the argument of either of the fragments found in Clement or Jerome which both point to his misunderstanding of Scripture rather than any rejection of Scripture (like Marcion). In the end we have perhaps two Tatians: the one constructed by his critics, the heretical encratic, and the one he presents of himself, the simple (yet sharp) philosopher and purveyor of the truth. Do they even represent the same person? The fragmentary bits of Tatian that appear in the writings of his critics contrast greatly with the Oration in two ways. First they present strong ascetic agendas and second they are grounded in scriptural read- ings, both Hebrew biblical and Christian scriptural. The Oration is many things, but one thing it is not is scripturally grounded. The “real” Tatian is now lost to us. The extant evidence points in several different direc- tions. I wish only to highlight the contradictions in that evidence in order not to oversimplify or homogenize it. In the end Tatian may prove more complex and enigmatic than his critics would allow.

21. Kathy Gaca, The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), 262–66, esp. 261.

22. In fact Marcion condemns marriage and sexuality because he rejects any notion of Jesus’ humanity. Marcionites imitate Jesus by rejecting their human body. From Irenaeus we learn that Marcion rejects the Hebrew Bible and the God which it describes, but Irenaeus does not there label him an encratic. Other than his com- ments linking Tatian and Marcion, we learn of Marcion’s ascetic life from Tertul- lian, Marc. 1.29.5 (PL 2:307–8), Carn. Chr. (PL 2:804), and Clem. Str. 3.3.12 (GCS Clemens Alexandrinus 2:200).



So, while it can be argued that Tatian, in his extant writings at least (i.e., the Oration), was not ascetic, he may still prove himself to be “heretical,” or at least problematic for his orthodox critics but on other grounds: his individualistic soteriology, weak Christology, and lack of biblical support. For instance, as noted earlier, his Logos theology remains rather unclear. The Logos, though partitioned from God (and hence still of God) and responsible for creation, does not really acquire a life of its own. Concern- ing the Logos (the Word) Tatian writes:

God was “in the beginning” and we have received the tradition that the beginning was the power of the Word. The Lord of all things who was himself the foundation of the whole was alone in relation to the creation which had not yet come into being. In so far as all power over things visible and invisible was with him, he with himself and the Word which was in him established all things through the power of the Word. By his mere will the Word sprang forth and did not come in vain, but became the “firstborn” work of the Father. Him we know as the beginning of the universe. He came into being by partition, not by section, for what is severed is separated from its origin, but what has been partitioned takes on a distinctive function and does not diminish the source from which it has been taken. (Or. 5.1–2; Whittaker, Tatian, 10)

Starting with a reference to the opening lines of the Gospel of John, Tatian explains that the Logos was there from the beginning of the cosmos in the Father who was the only thing existing before creation. Tatian insists on the oneness and eternity of God. The Logos then emanated from God, but functioned as a subsidiary. It has no will of its own. God established the rest of the world through the Logos. The Logos does not exist on its own; it is a part of God. Here the Logos appears closest to a Christ or Wisdom figure. Yet, the Logos appears elsewhere as solely or primarily responsible for the creation of humanity and for forging its natural relationship with God, the Father. Tatian writes:

The celestial Word, made spirit from the Spirit and Word from the power of the Word, in the likeness of the Father who begot him made man an image of immortality, so that just as incorruptibility belongs to God, in the same way man might share God’s lot and have immortality also. (Or. 7.1; Whittaker, Tatian, 12)

The Word, himself made of divine matter (Spirit and Logos), was created by (or partitioned from) God and is thus in the likeness of the Father. But then the Word creates humans also in the likeness of the Father so that


they too can share in the Father’s eternal substance. This is the closest Tatian gets to a demiurgic23 construct—in that it appears here as if the Logos acts on its own in creation. Nonetheless this being works with God, not against him. Similar to other images of Christ, Tatian’s Logos shares with humanity the “image of God” which he describes as the divine spirit. Hence Tatian’s Logos is more Christ-like than demiurgic.24 Humanity’s goal is knowledge of God and the reclamation of its share of the divine spirit, namely that divine spirit that all humans possessed (through the original creation) and that originally made them immortal. The Logos plays little role in the reclamation of this spirit. He is neither guide nor object of wor- ship. Rather, an individual gains his/her own salvation through the knowl- edge that there is only one True God (Or. 7, 13; Whittaker, Tatian, 12, 20–22). This knowledge is free and accessible to all who read the Scrip- tures. Hence I suggest that Irenaeus perhaps found Tatian’s ambiguous construct troubling in its inexactness. Moreover the highly individualistic soteriology of knowledge would most likely cause consternation among the ecclesiastical class because it undermined its authority to manage that salvific experience. Irenaeus in effect displaces Tatian’s “heresy” (a prob- lematic soteriology and weak Christology) to the evolving yet standard- izing categories of heretical doctrine and encratism when in fact the issue may have been soteriological and christological.25

Moreover Tatian’s critics highlight his scriptural “misreadings.” Jerome points to his reading of Amos, Irenaeus to Genesis, and Clement to Paul. While we do not have those texts in front of us anymore, Tatian’s lack of scriptural grounding in the Oration is readily apparent—particularly in comparison to Justin, his reputed teacher. First of all, Justin’s apologies are structured around the carefully selected and over-abundant witnesses of the Scriptures (Hebrew Bible) to the truth of the Christ event. Second of all, Justin marshals these texts particularly to underline the reality of Jesus’ Messiahhood, life, death, resurrection, and program for salva- tion. Both Justin and Tatian claim to be nothing more or less than Chris- tian philosophers; in a landscape of multiple philosophies they consider

23. Hence Tatian’s erstwhile “gnostic” reputation.

24. Contra Petersen (“Tatian the Assyrian,” in A Companion to Second-Century “Heretics,” ed. Antti Marjenen and Petri Louman [Leiden: Brill, 2005], 146–52), and others who argue for a “gnostic” Tatian. See n 16 above.

25. Moreover, one need not read the terminology of “immortality” and “incor- ruption” necessarily as ascetic code words. While they are used often in later ascetic texts, such as the Acts of Judas Thomas, they need not be so construed in order to understand the Oration.


themselves lucky to have discovered the one true philosophy: Christian- ity. Nevertheless, Justin backs up this contention (that his philosophy is true) through cumbersome scriptural evidence. Tatian does not. More- over, while Justin marshals the lion’s share of these textual proofs as evi- dence for his Christology, Tatian neither mentions the Christ, nor Jesus at all.26 Even though his philosophical outlook is based on the notion of a Logos—which springs forth from the Godhead and is responsible for creation—he displays no explicit theology of Sonship. As Molly Whit- taker notes, the incarnation, the passion, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment are all associated with God. One gains redemption through an intellectual soteriology, a soteriology discovered by reading the ancient Scriptures. Tatian’s Logos theology, though dependent on the Gospel of John, never quite gets off the ground. As Emily J. Hunt argues it stays closer to a philonic notion of wisdom than an emerging orthodox Christian notion of incarnation. The Logos’s sole purpose in the Oration is to facilitate God’s creation of the world.27

In sum, in the ancient western imagination Tatian becomes a generic heretic who practices an encratic asceticism more likely due to his weak Christology, individualistic soteriology, and disdain for a biblical textual foundation (even as he claims he gained his knowledge through the reading of the Scriptures) rather than for any manifest heretical or radical ascetic tendencies. Later writers such as Eusebius, Hippolytus, and Jerome all copy Irenaeus’s characterization uncritically.28 And while Tatian may have been ascetically inclined as possibly witnessed in Jerome and Clement, there is little evidence that his rationale for ascetic practices were related to Val- entinus’s or Marcion’s as Irenaeus implies. Rather Irenaeus rather uncriti- cally lumps him together with others he has already determined heretical. Furthermore on the basis of two small fragmentary citations we should at least hesitate to infer radical ascetic theology back into Tatian’s only extent work, the Oration.29 As noted earlier, even Clement and Eusebius

26. Tatian seems to allude to Jesus at least twice, once even alluding to the histori- cal Jesus, not just the incarnate Christ/Logos. See Or. 13.3 (Whittaker, Tatian, 28). 27. Whittaker, Tatian, xv. Emily J. Hunt, Christianity in the Second Century: The

Case of Tatian (London: Routledge, 2003), ch. 5. 28. Hippolytus, haer. 8.16.1 (GCS Hippolytus 3:236); Eus. h.e. 4.28.2, 29.2 (Lake,

E. H. 1:394–95); Epiph. haer. (GCS Epiphanius 2:204); and Jer. In Amos 2.12 (CCL 76:239).

29. See for instance Kathy Gaca, who, taking Clement at his word reads Tatian’s supposed encratic tendencies back into the Or. creating a whole theology of encra- tism which does not really exist in the Or. when the Or. is considered on its own


widely praised the Oration while uncritically condemning Tatian for his other heresies as outlined by Irenaeus.30 Hence the Tatian of the fragments and Tatian of the Oration do not mesh easily together.

Yet, Irenaeus’s forced characterization of Tatian as a heretical encratic after the likes of other known heretics is most likely deliberate, for in the mind of Tatian’s accusers, such as Irenaeus, the two often come together as we see in his condemnations of Valentinus, Marcion, and Saturninus.31 It is also possible that Tatian suffers in the hands of this western Father in part because he was an easterner in origin and these other “heretics” were also easterners who found ready followers in the West as well as the East. As far as Irenaeus was concerned, “false teachings” were an east- ern import.

Finally, Jennifer Knust cogently argues that early Christian writers used sexual slander against both their external critics and internal opponents. Religious polemicists throughout the ancient world used sexual invec- tive as an effective polemical rhetorical strategy. That is to say that their practice of sexual invective existed outside and prior to Christian polem- ics and these Christian polemicists learned this method from the sur-

merits. This intertextual over-reading of the Or. causes Gaca to draw unsupportable conclusions. For instance she argues that Tatian, because of his encratism, essentially loathed Aphrodite and everything she represented in Greek culture. Greek culture, as understood by Tatian, according to Gaca, centered on Aphrodite and human subjuga- tion to Eros through Aphrodite’s manipulations. Christianity, then, must react to and overturn Aphrodite’s domination. Encratism supplies the best mechanism to “take back” human sexuality from the demon-goddess. To overcome sexuality is to over- come Aphrodite (Fornication, ch. 8). Yet Aphrodite barely makes an appearance in the Or. and never in conjunction with human sexuality or subjugation to Eros. Hunt likewise accepts Tatian’s reputed ascetic tendencies (even as she “downgrades” him to just ascetic from encratic, that is to say she does not believe he was an extreme or radical ascetic) because of his supposed authorship of the “asceticizing” Diatessaron (a subject I address below). Hence she too imputes an ascetic agenda back on to the Or., even as she denies Tatian’s encratic tendencies (Christianity, 151–53, 156).

30. Clem. Str. (GCS Clemens Alexandrinus 2:64). Eusebius likewise in h.e. 4.29.7 states: “He has left a great number of writings, of which the most famous, quoted by many, is his discourse Against the Greeks. In it he deals with primitive his- tory, and shows that Moses and the prophets of the Hebrews preceded all those who are celebrated among the Greeks. This seems to be the best and the most helpful of all his writings” (Lake, E.H., 1:397). It seems that Tatian’s Or. is best remembered for its defense of the chronological priority of Moses over Homer which Tatian pres- ents at the end of the treatise.

31. Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 78 who cites Vööbus, Asceticism, 1:54–61. Though it should be noted that Irenaeus does not accuse Valentinus of being an encratic, he is lumped together with Marcion here.


rounding cultures as well as from within.32 For instance, Roman writers undermined their enemies by calling them “unmanly.”33 Moreover, some Hebrew biblical writers labeled those who sacrificed to YHWH outside Jerusalem as pagans or those who worshiped other gods (even alongside YHWH) as adulterers or prostitutes. Christians suffered being called pro- miscuous by their Greco-Roman neighbors for their presumed lack of civic responsibility on the grounds that surely someone who refused to honor the proper gods would necessarily display other debauched behavior. As Knust rightly argues, “[s]exual slander . . . was a widespread practice in ancient polemics, and similar charges were deployed against Christians and by Christians. Still, however widespread and stereotypical, charges of sexual misbehavior were hardly ever ‘mere rhetoric.’ Intended to malign and defame, these accusations were deployed in fierce struggles for iden- tity, prestige, and power.”34

Thus, Tatian, in the Oration, fights such anti-Christian rhetoric in kind when he accuses the Greeks of sexually deviant behavior while contrasting all Christian women as svfrone›, chaste or controlled (not promiscuous). Tatian attempts to show how decadent and debauched Greco-Roman cul- ture is because of its misplaced worship of false gods. Those who know the one and only true God display sexually pure behavior, as demonstrated by the chaste Christian women.35 While Tatian throws these sexually slan- derous accusations back at the Greeks, Knust argues that Irenaeus deflects these same kinds of anti-Christian invective onto others, those he would label “false Christians.” In his fight for orthodoxy, legitimacy, and author- ity both among Christians and as an oppositional position against Greco- Roman culture, he accuses all “false Christians” not only of not being truly Christian, but also of being sexually deviant (again the two go hand in hand—only true Christian women can be truly chaste). While most of these accusations suggest promiscuous sexual behavior, Knust argues and I concur, that encratism, i.e. radical asceticism, was also considered sexu- ally deviant behavior by its critics.36 In this way Irenaeus or Clement, both ascetics themselves, could deflect criticism of their ascetic practices onto others. Thus if the Greco-Romans could accuse Christians in general of

32. Jennifer Wright Knust, Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Chris- tianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 1.

33. Knust, Abandoned, 7. 34. Knust, Abandoned, 6. 35. See for instance Or. 33 (Whittaker, Tatian, 60). “Chaste” here means “not

promiscuous,” not necessarily “celibate.” 36. Knust, Abandoned, 143–45.


not fulfilling civic duty by refusing to marry, Irenaeus can accuse Tatian of subverting God’s command by “setting aside God’s creation” and calling marriage corruption. So, in partial answer to my first question, I argue that Tatian becomes encratic as a result of a self-protecting polemical move on the part of his critics. It proved easier and more effective to label him “ungodly” and “promiscuous” than to nitpick over esoteric soteriologi- cal or christological issues, especially when the Greco-Roman world was also accusing the broader Christian community of being atheistic and anti-social.37 In addition this deflective move allowed the deflector (in this case Irenaeus) to establish firmer boundaries between his construct of true Christian faith and practice and the others he deemed heretical, such as encraticism.


When Tatian resurfaces in the East, several centuries later, he is more often remembered, praised, or reviled for his hand in composing and dissemi- nating a wholly other text unknown in the West until the fourth century: the Diatessaron. There his critics concern themselves primarily with the changes to the NT texts that appear in this gospel harmony. Hence in the East Tatian develops a third persona as author of the Diatessaron. And depending on whether the author approved of the harmonized text or not, Tatian was praised or reviled. But did Tatian really compose the Diatessaron? The evidence proves inconclusive. Moreover, Tatian’s west- ern heretical reputation surfaces only when a particular eastern critic con- demns the supposed changes Tatian made to the gospels in the harmony, the implication being of course that a known heretic’s gospel harmony would not be trustworthy. But not all Syriac writers connect the gospel harmony with Tatian, nor criticize its contents. Irenaeus’s sexual invective sticks to Tatian when it proves useful first to the eastern writers (such as Theodoret) and later to the medieval Syriac writers (such as Michael the Syrian) who pursue other polemics and find the need to build other religio- political boundaries in a much different Christian landscape.

A gospel harmony, known variously as the Diatessaron, meaning “of the four” [gospels] in Greek, or as the evangelion da-mehallete or the “Gospel

37. See Elizabeth Clark’s useful discussion of how Jerome, Augustine, and the like deflected criticism of their ascetic practices onto others (Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999], 39–42).


of the Mixed” in Syriac, was widely read pedagogically and liturgically from the third into the fifth century in many Syriac-speaking churches. In some regions a gospel harmony may have been the exclusive gospel text, though it seems that in many churches a Gospel of the Mixed was read alongside a “Separated Gospels” text.38 Unfortunately we do not have an extant version of the Diatessaron or any evangelion da-mehallete in Syriac. The closest we can come to a text is the many other versions (stretching from Arabic to Dutch) and Ephrem’s (supposed) fourth-century commen- tary on only parts of a Syriac gospel harmony text.39 William Petersen sug- gests that Tatian took his teacher Justin’s Greek harmony of the synoptic gospels, translated it into Syriac, and further harmonized it with the Gospel of John.40 The earliest textual evidence we have for any harmonized Syriac gospel is the fourth-century commentary on a gospel harmony attributed to Ephrem, which is called (at least in the Armenian version), “the Gos- pel Concordant.” This commentary has been mostly recovered recently in a Syriac manuscript of the fifth or sixth century, but it also survives in an Armenian translation of the twelfth century. Neither the Syriac nor the Armenian preserves the whole of the harmony text. Aphrahat serves perhaps as another textual witness in that his gospel citations seem to be in harmonized form, though this can be disputed.41 In the East a full harmony text is preserved earliest in an Arabic translation of the eighth century. In the West the earliest harmonized gospel text is the Latin Ful- denese manuscript of 546 c.e. A Greek fragment of a harmonized gospel text also surfaced at the excavations of Dura Europus.42

38. Or at least this is what Theodoret claims. See below.

39. This of course has not stopped modern scholars from attempting to uncover the “original” text. See the monographic works of Petersen, M. E. Boismard (Le Diatessaron: De Tatien à Justin [Paris: Gabalda, 1992]) and T. Baarda (The Gospel Quotations of Aphrahat the Persian Sage [Amsterdam: Meppel, 1975]) as well as the methodological discussion in two more recent articles, Jan Joosten, “The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron,” HTR 95 (2002): 73–96 and August den Hollander and Ulrich Schmid, “The Gospel of Barnabas, the Diatessaron, and Method,” VC 61 (2007): 1–20. Hollander and Schmid argue that too much emphasis has been placed on East-West comparisons to determine true diatessaronic witnesses; more focus, they insist, must be given to local literary traditions and cultures for each harmony on a case by case basis before such comparisons can be made.

40. Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 28. 41. See note 49 to Baarda below. 42. While this would be the oldest manuscript/fragment and in Greek, most scholars

agree that this is most likely a translation from the Syriac. Either way it testifies to a harmony in the East as early as the mid-third century. Moreover, scholars disagree as to how many gospel harmonies existed in the late ancient Mediterranean basin.


The first non-textual witness to a harmonized gospel is Eusebius in his Historia Ecclesiastica who, following Irenaeus, connects Tatian to encratism by upgrading him to the leader of the Encratites, and adding that he also wrote this harmony, which Eusebius calls TÚ diã tessãrvn.43 (Note that Irenaeus does not mention the harmony.) Eusebius’s history was translated into Syriac in the late fourth century. This translated text describes the Diatessaron as the same as the “Gospel of the Mixed,” the usual Syriac title for a harmonized version.44 The need to explain what the Diatessaron was by reference to a known Syriac text (the Gospel of the Mixed) suggests that a gospel harmony was known and used by Syriac Christians already in the fourth century but without any association to Tatian or probably to any other author for that matter. Prior to Eusebius and his Syriac translator there seems to be no clear association between Tatian and the Diatessaron and certainly not the “Gospel of the Mixed” either in the East nor the West. If Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History was composed in the early fourth century (the final book published in 323) and its Syriac translation no later than the late fourth century (the oldest manuscript is dated to 462), the fourth-century Syriac theologians (Aphra- hat and Ephrem) seem either unaware or unconcerned about the author- ship or the integrity of their “Gospel of the Mixed.”

While it can be proven, more or less, that Justin used a harmony of sorts, and it is reputed that Tatian wrote one of his own (and scholars surmise that he made use of his teacher’s earlier edition, revised, updated, and translated it) who can say how many others did the same? Even Eusebius who attributes the Diatessaron to Tatian, elsewhere attributes it or another Diatessaron to one Ammionus (Eus. ep. Carp. 1; see Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 33 n. 83). Scholars suggest further that Justin’s original harmony may have circulated in the West attesting to a separated harmony tradition in addition to Tatian’s revised edition. Boismard argues that Justin’s harmony made it to the East as well (Le Diatessaron, 9, 93, 156). Petersen argues similarly that Justin’s harmony circulated separately in the West (but not in the East) (Tatian’s Diatessaron, 428). Nonetheless, one recent study suggests that the Dura fragment is originally Greek and unconnected to the Diatessaron. Furthermore, these authors sug- gest that if they can question the Dura fragment’s relation to the Diatessaron then all other witnesses should also be re-examined too (D. C. Parker, D. G. K. Taylor, M. S. Goodacre, “The Dura-Europus Gospel Harmony,” in D. G. K. Taylor, ed., Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts, TSt [Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 1999], 192–228).

43. Eus. h.e. 4.29.6 (Lake, E. H., 1:396): “Diatessaron: of the four (gospels).” Epiph. haer. (GCS Epiphanius 2:204) adds that some call this Diatessaron “The gospel according to the Hebrews.” See Petersen’s discussion, Tatian’s Diates- saron, 39–41.

44. Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 37.


The fifth-century Theodoret, on the other hand, stands out as the first to point out the problematic christological nature of Tatian’s reputed Dia- tessaron. He writes: “This one [Tatian] also composed the gospel called Diatessaron by cutting out the genealogies and whatever goes to prove the Lord to have been born of the seed of David according to the flesh.”45 Denying Jesus’ genealogical descent from David raises questions about his human nature and undermines orthodox incarnation theology: i.e., that Jesus actually was a human, descended from David, and destined for Messiahhood. Theodoret further notes that what he refers to as Tatian’s Diatessaron was widely read “. . . not only among his [Tatian’s] own party but also among those who follow the Apostolic teachings, who use it somewhat too innocently as a compendium of the Gospels, because they did not recognize the wickedness of its composition.” Theodoret is so incensed by the liturgical use of the Diatessaron that wherever he found a copy in his diocese he confiscated it and replaced it with a copy of the separated gospels.46 Moreover, Theodoret appears to be the first to link Tatian’s western reputation for heresy as presumable cause for the way he mutilated the gospel texts.47 Most likely Theodoret invokes Tatian’s western heretical reputation in conjunction with Tatian’s authorship of the Diatessaron as a means to undermine the text’s authority, for up until this point in Syrian oriental church writings, Tatian remains unconnected with any gospel harmony. It is also important to note, that while Theo- doret cites Tatian’s western encratic-heretical reputation, he accuses him more specifically of denying Jesus’ human nature by excising the davidic genealogies. That is to say that he does not accuse him of adding a system of aeons to the text, nor of recasting passages to present a more ascetic theology. Theodoret simply recycles and re-applies Irenaeus’s sexual slan- der (heresy-induced encratism) in order to demonize the use of the gospel harmony. Here Theodoret is very clear as to where the problem lies: the christological nature of the text. Nonetheless he has no problem resurrect- ing Tatian’s encratic reputation with the expectation that Tatian’s heretical name will rub off on the text and cause its popularity to drop. Indeed, it is unclear how successful Theodoret was in his campaign to rid the Syriac

45. Thdt. haer. 1.20 (PG 83:369–72).

46. Thdt. haer. 1:20 (PG 83:372). Translation in Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 42.

47. Theodoret also notes that Tatian not only founded the Encratite movement, but also the practice of the “water drinkers,” i.e., those who do not drink wine and hence use water for their eucharistic ritual.


churches in his domain of the Diatessaron, as no other Syriac author links Tatian with the Diatessaron until the late eighth century (Theodore bar Koni), nor links Tatian’s western heretical reputation with his diatessaronic authorship until the tenth century (Moses bar Kepha).48

While Theodoret’s Diatessaron may very well have lacked the davidic genealogies, it seems that not all diatessaronic witnesses were without gene- alogies. The primary fourth-century Syriac Christian theologians, Aphra-

48. Although Theodoret writes in Greek, he situates himself within the Syrian Ori- ent. The first Syriac writer to note Tatian’s “heresy” and to link it to his authorship of the Diatessaron is the early tenth-century Moses bar Kepha who only refers to Tatian as a heretic without defining his heterodoxy. Like his predecessors in the Syr- ian East he is more concerned with Tatian’s reputed changes to the gospel text than with Tatian’s personal beliefs and practices. Agapius (Mahbub) of Hierapolis, writing in Arabic in the late tenth century, appears more dependent on the irenaean tradi- tion when he states that Tatian embraced heterodoxy only after Justin died. Agapius repeats and expands on the aeonic accusations known from Irenaeus, but leaves out any mention of encratism. Rather he focuses on how Tatian supposedly mutilated the gospel narrative in that he composed a gospel that differed from the others by sup- pressing the genealogies in order to deny Jesus’ descent from David (Kitab al-‘Unvan, Histoire Universelle écrite par Agapius [Mahboub] de Menbidj, ed. A. Vasiliev, PO tome 7, fasc. 4 [or: tome 7, partie 2, pars 1] [Paris, 1909], 515–16 as translated in Petersen Tatian’s Diatessaron, 57). The last line of this text is missing. Nevertheless it seems to me that the reference to David should be that he denied his descent from David, since that would go along with the notion that he suppressed the genealogies. It is only with the twelfth-century Michael the Syrian that Tatian is fully accused once more and in Syriac of encratism and denouncing marriage. Again it is clear that Michael is dependent on the irenaean traditions that claim Tatian was a student of Justin, became heterodox only after Justin’s death, was a follower of Saturninus, Marcion, and Valentinus, and was an encratic. Michael further states that:

He [Tatian] acted stupidly and spoke of invisible Aeons, and he called legitimate mar- riage corruption and fornication. And he collected and mixed [or combined] a gospel and he called it Diatessaron, that is to say, of [the] Mixed. And from him the heresy of the Encratites sprang up. And there were tracts in which he was showing that Christ was [not?] from the seed of David. He, moreover, in his audacity, changed the words of the Apostles [or: Apostle (cf. “his words” at end)] in order to make strong the style of his words (Chronique de Michel le Syrien, ed. J. B. Chabot, 4 vols. [Paris 1924, 1901, 1905, 1910]. Citation from 4:108–9, based on translation in Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 61).

Michael the Syrian brings together a litany of now familiar complaints against Tatian: he had aeonic tendencies, called marriage corruption and fornication, was an encratic, and following Agapius possibly also suggested that Christ was not of the seed of David and furthermore changed the words of the Apostles. Similarly Tatian’s hubris in messing with the gospel texts appears to irk Michael more deeply than his “heresy.” Strangely enough Michael (and perhaps Agapius above) accuses Tatian of supporting Jesus’ Davidic descent rather than denying it. I am presuming for now that this is a scribal mistake.


hat and Ephrem, make no such criticism concerning theological problems within the harmonies they use (if they are indeed harmonies). Aphrahat, for instance, seemingly cites from a gospel harmony without acknowledg- ing that this might be unusual.49 He certainly has no problem calling Jesus “a man.” Nonetheless, modern scholars look to Aphrahat as the earliest witness to the Diatessaron because of his supposed citations thereof. For instance, in Demonstration 1.10 Aphrahat notes: “. . . as is written in the beginning of the Gospel of our Messiah: ‘In the beginning was the Word.’”50 Aphrahat associates what in the separated gospels is the opening line of John as the opening line of a “Gospel of our Messiah.” That he refers to the opening line of John not as John’s but as the Messiah’s attests to this literary orientation. Other diatessaronic witnesses also begin with John 1.1 confirming that at least some gospel harmonies opened that way. As a matter of course throughout his writings Aphrahat acknowledges only one apostle (Paul, whom he calls “The Apostle”) and the direct discourse of “our Lord the Messiah.”51 Aphrahat, when he cites gospel text, cites as if directly from the word/writings of Jesus and not mediated by the four gospel writers. Most often, however, he does not even indicate that he is citing a source but simply weaves the gospel verses and lemmata into his own discourse. Furthermore Aphrahat cites strings of mixed synoptic verses without differentiation pointing to a possible harmonized gospel

49. See Baarda, The Gospel Quotations of Aphrahat, 322–49. After a thorough investigation of the Gospel of John citations in Aphrahat’s Demonstrations, Baarda can only conclude that he would like to believe Aphrahat depended on a gospel har- mony, but there is not enough evidence. Rather Baarda argues for an evolved harmony that develops in conjunction and cross-fertilization with the four separated gospels. See also Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 45.

50. PS 1.22.18–19. All translations of Aphrahat are my own.

51. The phrases “gospel of our Savior” ( ), “gospel of the Messiah” ( ), or simply “his gospel” () appears 7 times in the Demon- strations. Three times the citation is to John (Dem 1.10/PS 1.21.14–19—John 1.1; 14.31/PS 1.653.4—John 5.22; 20.11/PS 1.909.25—John 16.5). This last one could also refer to Matt 28.6. The other four examples seem to be general labels for the teachings of Jesus and more often than not refer to something in Paul! (Dem 1.8/PS 1.20.7—Ps 19.4 or Rom 10.18; 6.1/PS 1.244.7—Eph 6.16?; 22.18/PS 1.1028.7—1 Cor 3.8; 23.9/PS–16—a possible reference to “God’s gospel” in 2 Cor 11.7).

Throughout the Demonstrations, when citing Paul, Aphrahat references him simply as the Apostle or as the Blessed Apostle. In Dem 6, for example, he cites the Apostle directly 11 times. In all of the Demonstrations he cites pauline texts directly upwards of 75 times. Only once does he call him “Paul the Apostle” (Dem 23.44/PS 2.86.5). Two other times he refers to Paul by name, but only in reference to his biography, persecution, and martyrdom (Dem 14.45/PS 1.713.11, 22).


source. However he does not cite whole sections of text making it difficult to determine how these texts came together.52

In the mid-fourth century Ephrem (or perhaps a disciple writing in his name) writes a commentary on a gospel harmony (which scholars either assume or conclude was the one and the same Diatessaron of Tatian),53 but he does not associate his harmonized gospel text with Tatian. The extant Syriac manuscript is missing its title page, but the Armenian version entitles the work “Commentary on the Concordant Gospel,” which could be a direct translation of the Syriac evangelion da-mehallete (“Gospel of the Mixed”) rather than of “diatessaron” which means “of the four.”54 Similarly to Aphrahat, Ephrem seems to quote unattributed harmonized gospel text in his other commentaries as well.

Thus, the tradition that Tatian wrote a gospel harmony called the Diates- saron stems from the Greek East (Eusebius) and is relatively late compared

52. For example Dem 6.6/PS 1.268.1–13 reads:

The table is set (Ps 23.5) and the banquet ready. The fat ox has been slaughtered (Matt 22.4), the cup of salvation mixed, the feast prepared and the Bridegroom approaches the wedding banquet. The messengers (Apostles?) invited and the called are many (Luke 14.16). You Chosen-ones! Prepare yourselves. The light shines with glory and splendor. The garments that were not made by hand are ready. The cry approaches (Matt 25.6). The graves are opening (Matt 27.52) and the treasures are being discovered. The dead are rising and the living fly to meet the king (1 Thes 4.17). The banquet is set (Matt 22.4) the cornets encourage and the trumpets urge on (1 Cor 15.52).

53. Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 44. See also Carmel McCarthy’s introduction to her annotated translation of the Chester Beatty Syriac Manuscript in which she notes that Ephrem does not ever mention Tatian by name (Saint Ephrem’s Commentary of Tatian’s Diatessaron [Cary, NC: Oxford for the University of Manchester, 1993], 6, n. 2). Note that C. Lange has recently argued that the commentary is not completely ephremaic in that its composite nature seems to suggest additions by later hands, or even compilation from Ephrem’s notes by a disciple (C. Lange, “A View on the Integ- rity of the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron,” The Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 56 [2004]: 129–44 and his more complete work: The Portrayal of Christ in the Syriac Commentary of the Diatessaron, CSCO sub. 118 [Leuven: Peeters, 2005]). Of the ancient authors, only Ishodad of Merv, in his Commentary on the Gospels claims that Mar Ephrem specifically wrote a commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron (The Com- mentaries of Ishodad of Merv, ed. M. D. Gibson, HSem V–VII, 3 vols. [Cambridge, 1911], 2:204). See also Petersen’s commentary, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 52.

54. Although I am not an expert in Armenian, the other connotations Petersen gives for the title word he translates as “concordant,” that is “symphonic” and “homo- phonic,” imply “mixed” more readily than “of the four” as a literal translation of Diatessaron. So I do not agree with Petersen or Baarda that Ephrem necessarily titled his work “A Commentary on the Diatessaron.” He more likely called it by its Syriac name, “The Gospel of the Mixed.” And even if he did call it a Diatessaron, he makes no mention of Tatian. See Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 44 and notes.


to Tatian’s own lifetime. Moreover the earliest “witnesses” to a Syriac gos- pel harmony (Aphrahat and Ephrem) make no mention of Tatian nor the Diatessaron. Nor do they, as upholders of Jesus’ human nature, complain of a lack of genealogies in their texts. This connection appears for the first time only in the fifth-century writings of Theodoret who argues that the Syriac gospel harmony known to most Syriac-speaking Christians as the “Gospel of the Mixed” is the same as the reputed Diatessaron of Tatian and questions its validity as a liturgical text. And while some later medieval writers make note of Tatian’s “heresies,” they are more concerned with the christological issues manifest in the gospel harmony itself. His western heretical reputation proves useful only to those who wish also to discredit the Diatessaron for its problematic Christology, though it should be noted that some late Syriac writers find the gospel harmony inspiring.55

The concern over Jesus’ human genealogy clearly points to the chris- tological controversies flourishing in the fifth and later centuries. The “orthodox” Syriac Christian community, of which Theodoret would consider himself a part, was consumed with polemics against those who denied some element of Jesus’ humanity. The question of the genealogies is an interesting one, for given that we have no “original” text it is hard to determine whether or not the Diatessaron or other harmony contained the genealogies or not. Petersen posits two variants—one which did and one which did not (but added them in an appendix at some later point). Nevertheless he takes Theodoret at his word that the Diatessaron he had in hand did not.56 Moreover, the christological controversies that defined this period were in part responsible for the splintering off of several churches including those that would be called the Monophysite/Miaphysite and Nestorian churches. Hence from the Chalcedonian as well as from the Nestorian viewpoint the Monophysite/Miaphysite approach did not allow for the full human nature of Christ—just as in the other direction, in the eyes of the Monophysites/Miaphysites, any duality in Christ (of either the Nestorian or the Chalcedonian type) lead to an underestimation, or denial, of Christ’s full divine nature.57 And while none of these churches ever denied the humanity of Christ, the accusation that they did was easy enough to make since the issues were so confusing to start with. Similar to how Irenaeus differentiated between “orthodoxy” and “heresy” with

55. For instance, Abd Iso Bar Berika. See Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 64. 56. Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 136–37. 57. This succinct and eloquent phrasing and summary of the fifth-century chris-

tological controversies was suggested by Lukas von Rompay, in his role as associate editor to this journal, to whom I am most grateful.


sexual slander in the West, it appears here that the issue of Jesus’ humanity served as the theological and polemical flashpoint that becomes associated with Tatian’s supposed heresy in the East.

In Theodoret’s and the later medieval Syriac Christian hands the Dia- tessaron suffers the same fate as Tatian, for it is pushed out of the canon and community on dubious grounds. Whether or not the text actually con- tained the genealogies or not was no longer relevant, but the belief that it did not and hence would support a contentious Christology was all that mattered. Linking the Diatessaron with Tatian and his presumed hereti- cal reputation only helped to undermine its authority and legitimacy in the community. Effective rhetoric proves stronger than historical reality. Knust’s theory of strategic polemical invective (often sensational and/or sexual) proves useful here as well. The already demonized Tatian comes to demonize a potentially problematic text by association.

Yet here the polemical strategies and issues at hand are more apparent. It seems that at least some gospel harmonies did indeed lack the genealogies and hence could pose problems for some christological constructs. Tatian’s encratic reputation comes in only as secondary support for the text’s opponents. A reputed heretic’s text surely would be suspect even as the reputed heresy (encratism) really has little to do with the issue at hand: the human element in christological speculation. In Irenaeus’s second-century Christianizing Roman milieu, sexual invective is the polemical tool most effective, but in the late ancient and early medieval Syriac-speaking world christological “slander” proves more useful for undermining the author- ity of one’s competition and for establishing firm community boundaries. Tatian’s heretical reputation evolves and crystallizes under the crossfire of these various polemical confrontations.

Nonetheless Tatian’s more realistic contribution to second-century Chris- tianity and the Diatessaron’s function as punching-bag for fifth-century Christological debates is displaced yet again by modern scholarship’s fas- cination with Tatian’s hand in composing the Diatessaron and its reputed place in the history of Syriac Christian asceticism.


As I have noted above, when studying the history of Syrian asceticism we often turn first to Tatian as obvious instigator. I wish to question this early association between Tatian and the ascetic nature of that church. Moreover, many scholars point to the Diatessaron as the logical means of transfer. The theory is then, that Tatian purposefully asceticized his


gospel harmony and promulgated it in the East in order to affect and produce the ascetic nature of the Syriac church.58 Thus Tatian’s individu- alistic soteriology and the Diatessaron’s unorthodox Christology are lost in the modern scholarship’s search for the foundations of Syriac Christian asceticism. Yet a cursory look at the supposedly asceticized texts of the Diatessaron raises serious questions for me—not questions so much as to whether these particular texts have been consciously asceticized or not but rather despite their potential ascetic nature—did they have any real or traceable influence on the nature of Syriac Christian asceticism, both its theology and practice?

I came to this question through my own research into the sources of Aphrahat’s ascetic theology. In support of sexual renunciation as a reli- giously inspired ascetic practice, Aphrahat proves more beholden to penta- teuchal paradigms of holiness and sexual purity then to any ascetic agenda native to or injected into the New Testament gospel texts (whether in har- monized form or not). In fact, in his exegetical support for total sexual renunciation, Aphrahat rarely draws on New Testament texts. And while images of virgin bridesmaids flow through his discourse on celibacy, ulti- mately he draws his textual support from Exodus and the image of Moses as God’s faithful and devoted servant. Likewise, the Acts of Judas Thomas builds its case for celibacy on levitical paradigms of sexual purity as filtered through Paul’s construct of porneia.59 Thus for the Acts and Aphrahat’s

58. William Petersen, for example, gathers together the various “proofs” of asceti- cized text on pages 81–83 in Tatian’s Diatessaron. He collects 13 possible examples of changes made to the text that appear encratically sympathetic. The four gospels combined have over several thousand verses. Even the edited harmony must have had similar, if fewer, numbers of verses. Thirteen “asceticized” verses is hardly significant data even for one separate gospel. Yet even according to Petersen’s own criteria for determining true diatessaronic witnesses five examples drop out immediately due to having only one supporting diatessaronic witness. That is to say the particular ascetic reading appears in only one diatessaronic text. Four more examples prove to be in the questionable category of omissions or arguments from silence. This leaves us with four examples of asceticized text, hardly a large sample, considering the length of a harmo- nized gospel. (Note Petersen, Tatian’s Diatessaron, 374: “The first criterion, developed by Quispel, requires multiple testimony: a single witness cannot offer convincing proof that its reading is genuinely Diatessaronic. A reading in Ephrem’s Commentary, but unsupported elsewhere, for example, cannot pass this first hurdle.”)

59. This is not to say that Tatian had no influence on the Acts. Drijver argues con- vincingly that parts of the Acts, particularly the hymns, echo tatianic themes or even narrativizes tatianic philosophies as presented in the Or. (Han J. W. Drijvers, “The Acts of Thomas,” in NT Apocrypha ed. W. Schneemelcher, Eng. trans. A. J. B. Hig- gins [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963–66], 2:323). Rather I am arguing that


Demonstrations I see little connection between the Diatessaron (or any gospel texts) and these two texts’ ascetic agendas.60

So, with this essay I wish to raise the possibility not only that Tatian has been misunderstood, but ultimately that the reputed Diatessaron’s influ- ence on Syriac Christian asceticism has been over-determined. Yet I also want to suggest that the ascetic nature of that very text has perhaps also been over-determined since it is most likely due to Tatian’s ancient west- ern reputation that we moderns are willing to consider the possibility that he was radically ascetic and hence asceticized his gospel harmony. What would happen if we reversed course and started with the assumption that he was neither encratic nor the author of the Diatessaron? Given that we do not have an original text of the Diatesseron, can it be stated unequivo- cally that this particular gospel harmony is more ascetically inclined than any of the versions of the separate gospels we have in Syriac? (Baarda, for example, argues for their interdependence.)61 Given that from Theo- doret onwards we only hear complaints about the lack of genealogies and hence the Diatessaron’s questionable Christology, why do we persist on researching the ascetic nature of the Diatessaron?62 If the Diatessaron is the original gospel known in the Syriac church it is not clear to me how it influenced the asceticism of that church. It may very well have aided and

a) the “asceticized” texts of the Diatessaron or any other harmony have no apparent effects on the Acts and that b) Tatian’s influence, even if through the Or., did not influence the ascetic nature of that text.

60. I present this argument more fully in my forthcoming monograph, Hermeneu- tics of Holiness: Ancient Jewish and Christian Notions of Sexuality and Religious Community.

61. See n 49 above.

62. If Aphrahat is dependent on an asceticized gospel harmony, he makes little use of it, and even contradicts it at times. Aphrahat, for instance does not make use of the example of Prophetess Anna, whose Lukan context could be understood to mean that Anna remained a virgin even after her marriage. Concerning Luke 20.36, in which one diatessaronic witness takes out “of the resurrection” so that it refers to the wor- thy as those that espouse sexual renunciation in this age, there is only one witness. Furthermore, Aphrahat cites Luke 20.36 in toto as it appears in the separated gospels (Dem 22.13; PS 1.101.6–7). Though there may be some reference to living as angels in Dem 6, the Acts do not cite, paraphrase nor allude to this passage at all.

About Adam: One diatessaronic witness makes Adam responsible for the physical side of marriage. This could just be a literary/stylistic change in that Adam is also speaking in the verse immediately above (Gen 2.23–24). Aphrahat does not go there at all. On the one hand he blesses marriage—because God created it—all of it. On the other, he places celibacy on a higher plane using the same passage in a very different manner. (Note that the harmonized text may simply have been reading the Genesis text as a continuation of Adam’s words from the verse preceding.)


abetted a nascent ascetic trend, but hardly more than that. While Tatian may have been an extreme ascetic, equating marriage with fornication and corruption and writing a gospel harmony in the second century, none of these “facts” (all of which I have begun to doubt in any case) necessarily influenced the ascetic nature of the early Syriac Church.

In conclusion I wish to re-imagine Tatian and to separate him from his convoluted reputation. Except for his supposed citation in Clement (and perhaps Jerome), from the material we have at hand, he does not appear to have been as radically ascetic or heretical as Irenaeus would have us believe. He most likely did exactly what his biography suggests—he faded into oblivion after Justin died and he returned to the East. At the very least I wish to argue that the Oration is not an ascetic text. Moreover and again due to lack of evidence, I seriously question Tatian’s association with the Diatessaron or any gospel harmony that was popular in Syriac-speaking communities and especially question the ascetic influence of that docu- ment on the Syriac Church.

Yet my research has raised another question, one which I have tried to answer here by focusing on the rhetoric of polemical confrontations: why does Tatian nonetheless develop a reputation as heretic in the West and much later as the author of the problematic Diatessaron? I suggest the answer lies in the first case in the western church Fathers’ internal theologi- cal struggles. On the one hand, I think Tatian’s weak Christology and indi- vidualistic soteriology posed problems for some more orthodox Fathers. It was too individualistic and focused on a soteriology of knowledge, rather than on the Sonship and the church that Son founded. Yet, as Hunt argues, Tatian’s soteriology, like Justin’s was based in a Hellenistic philosophical framework that was quickly becoming Christianized.63 Nonetheless his critics wished to differentiate Tatian from his teacher. On the other hand, many of Tatian’s critics centered on his supposed encratic theologies and practices. Clearly, extreme asceticism—as imputed to Tatian—vexed and frightened the emerging orthodox. In order to support their own versions of asceticism, that which I might call “elitist” or “high-church” asceticism (asceticism for the leaders only), which made room for married procreating lay Christians, Irenaeus and the like needed to distance themselves from those, such as Marcion, and Saturninus, who advocated sexual asceticism for all Christian believers. The western heresiologists thus lumped together all whom they perceived to be extreme ascetics and presumed they all renounced sexuality and other human goods for all the wrong reasons. As

63. Hunt, Christianity, chs. 3 and 4.


western Christians developed their own ascetic theologies and practices, so too did the easterners—but not necessarily through aeonic determin- ism and dualities. Yet, by merging radical asceticism with other “known” heresies and implying that they all were eastern tendencies, the western heresiologists distanced themselves both theologically and geographically. In the end Tatian, like many other eastern Christians, may indeed have been ascetic, but not for the reasons given by the western heresiologists. Finally for Irenaeus encratism also fit his notion of “bad sex.” He can dismiss these radical ascetics as sexually deviant because they do not fit his own model of Christian lifestyle. And in his Roman milieu this claim proved to be an effective polemical strategy.

Unraveling the issues surrounding Tatian’s supposed authorship of the Diatessaron is no less complicated. Eusebius is the first writer to associate Tatian with a gospel harmony; moreover, a gospel harmony was clearly used by some Syriac-speaking churches. More than this we cannot say for sure. Eusebius clearly had only heard about this Diatessaron but had not actually seen it. Rather it is the fifth-century Theodoret who reports that it is in this text that Tatian repressed all historical “evidence” of Jesus’ humanity. Later authors uncritically follow suit. Irenaeus’s sexual slander against Tatian comes to aid the “christological” slander against the Dia- tessaron, the reputed mutilated gospel harmony attributed to Tatian. By the fifth century the conflicts between Christian sectors in the East were primarily christological in that they differed on how they understood the relationship between Jesus’ human and divine natures. Yet it is not the case that any one group completely denied Jesus’ human nature, but it became legitimate to accuse one’s opponents of denying his human nature, whether they did or not, in order to undermine their authority. Thus this christo- logical slander functions in the same way as Irenaeus’s sexual slander. This accusation was the worst thing an opponent could fling at the competi- tion in order to malign them, thus proving to be as effective a polemical strategy as sexual slander was for Irenaeus. Yet, the direct victim here is the Diatessaron as much as anyone who might use it liturgically or devo- tionally. With this invective Tatian and his “true” reputation slide further into murky oblivion. Finally, I think I have demonstrated here that there is as much (if not more) evidence to represent Tatian as a non-ascetic as there is to claim him as an encratic. The same holds for the Oration and the Diatessaron. I leave it to others to find a better balance between the several Tatians I have constructed here.

Naomi Koltun-Fromm is Associate Professor of Religion at Haverford College

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