M.R. James's Review of The Testament of Solomon

(from the Journal of Theological Studies, Vol.24, 1923, pp.467-468;
reprinted by kind permission of N.J.R. James)

The Testament of Solomon: Edited from MSS at Mount Athos, Bologna, Holkham Hall, Jerusalem, London, Milan, Paris, and Vienna, with Introduction by Chester Charlton McCown, Professor of N.T. Literature and Interpretation in Pacific School of Religion. (Leipzig. Hinrichs, 1922.) (Untersuch. i. N.T., herausg. v. H. Windisch, Heft 9.) 8vo, pp.xii + 136 + 166*.

Most people who know of the existence of the Testament of Solomon in print have been obliged to read it in Migne's reprint of Fleck's text, which is a poor copy of a single MS. The title of Professor McCown's new edition, transcribed above, shews that a large range of authorities has been employed in the constitution of a fresh text. Probably other copies, as the editor admits, may be in existence: one, indeed, turned up at Jerusalem too late to have its readings included in the apparatus criticus, though they are given in an appendix: but it may be said without hesitation that we now have before us adequate material for judging of the history of the text, and, above all, for getting hold of all the odd lore which the original writer and the successive redactors and interpolators desired to convey to posterity. The work has been most thoroughly done by Professor McCown. If one does not always agree with the readings he puts into the text, one has the materials at hand for improving them. And in the Introduction he will be found to have had his eyes open to all the sources from which any light could be brought to bear on the origins of the book. He is, in a word, to be very warmly congratulated on having performed in such excellent fashion a task which must have been, at times, irritating and irksome to the last degree. All his MSS are late, and most of them very badly written and worse spelt: only a true vision of the possibilities which such fables contain in the way of contribution to the understanding of history could have carried him through.

The completest text is, on the whole, that of the MS employed by Fleck (Paris gr. 38: here P): with N (Jerusalem St Saba 422) and another fragmentary copy it represents the editor's Recension B.

Recension A is furnished by H (Holkham 99), I (Paris gr. 500), L (Harl. 5596). Recension C by V (Bologna 3632), W (Paris gr. 2419), and some fragments.

Another form of the book is found in D (Dionysius Monastery, Mt. Athos, 132).

Recensions A and B do not differ so widely as to need separate reproduction, except at the beginning. Their text fills pp.1*-75*. Recension C has a prologue, and a long episode about a spirit named Paltiel Tzamal (pp.76*-89*). The text of MS D follows. It is a straightforward story from which all the demonic lore of A B C is absent, and also the unhappy ending that tells of Solomon's fall (pp.88*-97*). After some extracts from other MSS (pp.98*-101*) is appended a similar story from a Jerusalem MS (St Saba 290) in frankly modern Greek, which brings the tale down to the Captivity and even beyond it (pp.102*-120*).

According to the editor, MS D represents the story which formed the basis of the Testament: it is not the original tale, but a revision of it. It begins with the sin of David, and gives the story (found in the Pseudo-Epiphanian Lives of the Prophets) of Nathan's being prevented by the devil from getting to David in time to warn him. Nothing of this is found in A B C: A B begin at once with the story of the young workman or overseer who was attacked by the vampire-demon Ornias. The authors of A B (C) have decapitated the story, filled it out with the demonology in which they were interested, and added a fitting conclusion: and it was they who made the Testament out of the Story. This view of the evolution of the Test. is plausible, but not wholly convincing: I do not quite agree with Dr McCown when he says (p.32) that it is "inconceivable that any one should take the Test. as found in Recs. A, B, or C", and reduce it to the form found in MS D. As against this I would cite the treatment meted out to the Ascension of Isaiah by the author of the "Greek Legend of Isaiah", who has cut about and rearranged the old text, with large omissions, and put in matter from the Epiphanian Lives, producing a result very much like D.

This question of recensions, however, I am, rightly or wrongly, inclined not to stress much. The editor's other conclusions as to the date and origin of the book are, to my thinking, more solid. He would assign, as date, the early part of the third century; as place - with hesitation - the province of Asia; as author, a Greek Christian not well versed in his religion.

As I have already hinted, the introduction will be found a storehouse of curious lore, most diligently gathered from every quarter. The opening sentence of it characterizes the book admirably. "The Testament of Solomon is a combination of folk-tales and a magician's vade-mecum."

There are still some awkward places in the text. I have never understood, and do not now understand, what Uriel did when he came down to quell Ornias (ii 8); iv 8 is another desperate passage, and so is xii 4.(1) In xvii 4 we should punctuate hou to stoicheion en to metopo ei tis grapsei, and in xix 1 read euthenousa.(2) In xx 4 the young man ought to say "To what degree am I filled with madness (or "Am I so filled with madness") that I should strike my father?"; and heos (tinos) or heos (tosoutou) is wanted.(3) In xx 15 read epitelountai, and in xxii 5 aei dia.(4) Lastly, in a quotation from a letter of mine on p.73, please read list for bit.


Copyright © 1923 N.J.R. James

Notes (by Rosemary Pardoe):

(1) The lines which so puzzled MRJ are, in the TSol translation:

(ii 8) The angel [Ouriel] commanded sea monsters to arise out of the sea and he withered up their species and cast his fate to the ground. (TSC 12: And the angel bade the whales of the sea come out of the abyss. And he cast his destiny upon the ground, and that [destiny] made subject [to him] the great demon.)
(iv 8) Next I asked her [Onoskelis] how she came into being. She said, "I was generated from an unexpected voice which is called a voice of the echo of a black heaven, emitted in matter." (TSC 18: And I Solomon questioned her about her birth, and she replied: "I was born of a voice untimely, the so-called echo of a man's ordure dropped in a wood.")
(xii, 4) "But at the place at which he [Christ] ascended, King Solomon, he will erect a dark pillar formed on the air after Ephippas has brought gifts from the Red Sea, from inside Arabia. (TSC 55: "But in the place where thou sittest, O King Solomon, standeth a column in the air, of purple... The demon called Ephippas hath brought [it] up from the Red Sea, from inner Arabia". The ellipsis is Conybeare's, caused by his professed inability to translate the latter half of the word porphyrodanomenos in Fleck's text. McCown prefers porphyroun: strictly speaking, purple cloth, though TSol translates it as "dark".)

(2) That is: "He who is about to return (as) Saviour thwarts me if his mark is written on (one's) forehead. It thwarts me, and because I am afraid of it, I quickly turn and flee from him"; instead of: "He who is about to return (as) Saviour thwarts me. If his mark is written on (one's) forehead, it thwarts me, and because I am afraid of it..." (TSol).
Euthenousa instead of euthunousa.

(3) Instead of: "I did not become so filled with rage, King, that I struck my father..." (TSol).

(4) Epitelountai instead of epitelounta; and aei dia instead of aeidia.

Notes Copyright © 2000 Rosemary Pardoe

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