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Pseudo-Chrysostom Sermon, Part 2

The other day, WordPress decided to get rid of about half of the sermon post, which I had to rewrite; and then later it gave up on letting me post anything more. So I guess I’m not going to fight it anymore; and here’s a second post with the non-Chrysostom, non-Ephrem, non-John Damascene sermon. Back to talking about the widow who was planning to make some cakes for herself and her kid, and then die of starvation, before Elijah came along and multiplied oil.

To her, in a time of famine, Elijah was sent, when nearly all the ground was cracking into pieces from drought — when the sky was burning, and the air turned bronze, and the clouds were held back. When not an herb, not a flower, not a thorn branch, not a dewy breath of air, and not an ear of grain stirred. When the rivers dried up, and the breasts of springs would not let down the waters, and the sea at the river mouth had nothing coming into it, with no sweet water or rain running down.

Then Elijah was sent to the poor woman, and to the widow.

But look, a widow endures trouble even in a time of prosperity. And yet the prophet left the rich, who had loaves of bread, and descended from the mountain, and came to her.

So why is it better that he bring the fire down from heaven than that he bring down bread?

Could he not do it?

Oh yes, he could. But he doesn’t do it.

Why?

Because then the widow would be deprived of the fruit of her hospitality. But in this other way, he multiplies both the handful of flour and the tiny drop of oil, by his blessing.

For the prophet was not so much fed, as that he provisioned the poor woman. And he proved that her hidden heart was a resolutely purposeful and good one (euproaireton). [cf. 2 Cor. 9:7, “proairetai kardia”]

The mighty God does this with all the saints who are in the world, so you are fed yourself [by others]. He presents a gift, so that at the time of hospitality, one may pick out the resolutely purposeful and good hearts from their fruit. (cf. Mt. 23:33, Lk. 6:44)

But if those indebted [to God] may not be persuaded to receive them with welcome, either they will be fed by birds, like Elijah on the mountain; or by a prophet-host, like Daniel in the pit; or by a sea animal, like Jonah by the whale; or they will rain down food for themselves, as with our fathers in the wilderness. For, when not received with welcome by the true indebted, the manna rained down from heaven, and water sprang forth from the rock.

But whenever the saints should go about living with others in the world, He suspends His right hand. And when He should see them afflicted, He allows it, so that, taught by the grace given to them through others, having shown beneficence to them, the many willing may harvest fruit of salvation.

Therefore Elijah was sent to the widow – to her and nobody beside her (cf. Lk. 4:26) — not for the handful of flour, which was the very thing which she got with toil, and which would have been enough for her and her son in better times.

And what did he say to her?

‘”Fetch me a little water in a vessel, so I can drink.” (3 Kgs 17:10/1 Kgs. 17:10)

But as she was going after it, ‘he cried out after her… “And bring me a bit of bread in your hand.”‘ (3 Kgs. 17:11/1 Kgs. 17:11)

And she, who did not have anything, spoke to him — and what she did not have, she was granted.

Why?

‘”As [your] Lord lives, I have no ash cake; but only a handful of flour, and a little oil in the bowl.”‘ (3 Kgs. 17:12/1 Kgs. 17:12)

Admirable, because in such a lack of food, what her present poverty left to her was not denied to him.

How many inviters now, who, treating gold and silver like clay, renew good deeds to their friends, and how many flatterers refuse to take them? And turning to the ones consoled for an investment, letters are drawn up in terms stronger than iron; and the hand that was accepted at first is handcuffed by the scribes, taking the gold as proxies and mediators.

But at the first sound, she did not deny him that handful of flour.

And what did the prophet say to her?

“Hurry, and make an ash cake, and first give it to me, and afterwards make one for yourself and your son.” (cf. 3 Kgs. 17:13/1 Kgs. 17:13)

The saying of the prophet was a testing, a trial of heart, a touchstone of resolution. And the heart of that blessed woman was as if under a yoke; and it was tested.

How would she choose? To care for her own son, or to hospitality for the prophet?

But her decision was to accept trouble for herself and for her child, and to receive the prophet with welcome. For she sees that “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward… and he who pours a cold cup of water… in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward.” (cf. Mt. 10:41-42)

And what did the prophet say to her? “Hurry.”

[This is not in our existing Septuagint versions of 3 Kgs. 17:13. But it is in the LXX version of Genesis 18:6, in which Sarah is told to make cakes.]

In fact, therefore, was he so hungry as to beg for hurry?

Not at all; instead, he begged the cheerful and warm haste of doing good, not the haste of suffering or “necessity. For God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7, cf. Deut. 15:10)

“Hurry… and make it for me first… and afterward, for yourself and for your son.”

“Hurry,” as Abraham hurried when the angels came to stay — “to the cattle,” to the “calf,” so that he could welcome the Lamb. (LXX Gen. 18:7)

And like Sarah, she hurried to make an ash cake, so that she could receive the hidden Bread from the Heavens. (LXX Gen. 18:6)

“Hurry,” and do a sacrifice to God, like Abraham — and not “Do it for yourself first, and then for me.” Not like Cain; not like Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli the priest; who insulted God, first receiving the first fruits of the gifts offered to God. But do in haste what has been commanded.

And so, having considered her wealth, the ash cake bread — it was acceptable — it was worthy of proclamation, and He filled the house of the virtuous woman. For He says, “It shall not run out — the handful of flour in the pitcher, and the oil in the cruse — until the Lord gives rain upon the earth.” (LXX 3 Kgs. 17:14/cf. 1 Kgs. 17:14)

Why until then?

Also according to necessity.

For the end is to restrain the old Law, until there should be a loosing of the rain of new grace. And the work followed the word.

Do you see how virtuous women harvested the fruits of hospitality? For the fruits of virtuous labors are famous, and the root of prudence is imperishable.

O women, you have heard about the practices of wicked women, and the excellences of virtuous women! Therefore, love the latter, but do not long [to be like] the former! And imitate the latter, but hate the former!

So that by following the virtuous around the racecourse — I say more beautifully, by following them in their holy dance — you may be counted in Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

And that’s both parts of the sermon. As you see, it’s not misogynist at all.

An ash cake or hearth cake or hoecake is when you make flatbread on a nice flat stone next to a fire, using it like a baking sheet, and then you rake warm ashes over the top, using the ashes like aluminum foil or a pot lid. When the bread is done, you take it out of the ashes; and since it’s a flatbread, the ashes can be brushed off. It’s a camping thing, nowadays, but it used to be a standard way to make bread. You can also roast skin-on potatoes in ashes.

White ashes are hot enough for cooking; gray ashes are too cool. And if you don’t want to be eating ashes, it’s good to wrap the cakes in leaves, or to put a lid on top of the cake before piling on the ashes. And if you don’t have a flat stone (or don’t trust local stone varieties in the fire), you can even use a sturdy board as your cookie sheet, like this guy. (Because the ashes shouldn’t be hot enough to set your board on fire.) Propping it up in the air next to the fire, like this guy does, is a pro move that is also used to cook meat. (The infamous Civil War recipe for cooking rat uses a board, but the peacetime use was cooking squirrel. Obviously the meat is very lean and skinny.)

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Pseudo-Chrysostom, “On the Beheading of the Forerunner and Baptizer, John; and on Herodias.”

Part 1:

Jezebel has come around again, asking [Ahab] to seize Naboth’s vineyard, and to pursue St. Elijah into the mountains. But I suppose I do not connect them alone, in a daze; but that you all can hear it with me (who am the voice of the evangelist), and wonder at the freedom of speech of John, the shallowmindedness of Herod, and the brutish madness [theriode manian] of impious women.

Then what did we hear?

‘For Herod had laid hold of John… and put him into prison.’ (Mt. 14:3)

Why?

‘Because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.’ (Mt. 14:3)

And you rightly blame the shallowmindedness of Herod for bringing in this most miserable woman.

What would you say, and how would you explain the remarkable wickedness of these women?

Indeed, it seems to me that no evil wild animal in the world is comparable to evil women. [Ἐμοὶ μὲν δοκεῖ μηδὲν εἶναι ἐν κόσμῳ θηρίον ἐφάμιλλον γυναικὸς πονηρᾶς.]

Surely the sermon by me now is in regards to evil women, not about virtuous and sensible [agathes kai sophronos] women. And indeed, I know many women to be honestly behaved and virtuous [euskemonas kai agathes], whose lives I have recounted, along with the reward of their works — for edification, and for stirring up a love of good things.

But indeed, no evil wild animal in the world is comparable to evil women. What is more ferocious among four-legged creatures than the lion? Nothing. What is more savage among serpents than the dragon? Nothing. And yet, both the lion and the dragon give way, in this matter, to evil women.

My witness is wisest Solomon, saying, “I would rather dwell with a lion and a dragon, than to live together with an evil and sharptongued woman.” (Sirach 25:23, LXX Sirach 25:16) And lest you should suppose the prophet to have said this as irony, you should study it according to these same matters.

In the lion’s den, Daniel was treated with awe; but indeed, Jezebel slew the righteous Naboth. The whale served Jonah in his belly; Delilah handed over the caught and bound Samson to the foreign-born. The dragons, asps, and horned vipers shivered before John in the desert; but indeed, Herodias cut off his head at a banquet. Ravens nourished Elijah on the mountain; Jezabel pursued Elijah to kill him, after the favor of rain had been given.

Then what did she say?

‘”If you are Elijah and I am Jezebel, may the gods do these things to me, and add these other things, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like the life of one of those you killed.” And Elijah was afraid… and ran for his life’ (LXX 3 Kgs. 19:2-3/1 Kgs. 19:2-3), and he ran from her ‘forty days’ road into the wilderness’ (LXX 3 Kgs.19:8/1 Kgs. 19:8). And when he came ‘under the broom tree… and asked, concerning his life, that he might die,’ he said, ‘”O Lord God, let it be enough now; take my life from me… for I am no better than my fathers.”‘ (LXX 3 Kgs. 19:4/1 Kgs. 19:4)

Oh, my! The prophet Elijah was afraid of a woman?

The same guy who commanded the globe’s rains with his tongue? Who brought down fire from heaven (cf. Sirach 48:3), and awoke the dead with a prayer (cf. 3 Kgs. 17:17-22/1 Kgs. 17:17-22)? He was afraid of a woman?

Indeed, he was afraid. So there is no wickedness that can be compared with an evil woman.

Wisdom speaks as a witness to this word when she says, “There is no head worse than the head of a serpent, and… there is no wickedness… above… the wickedness of a woman.” (LXX Sir. 25:15, 13/Sir. 22-23, 19)

O evil and sharp spear of the Devil! Through a woman, at the beginning, in Paradise, [the Devil] ran Adam through. Through a woman, he instigated David, the mildest man, to trickery for killing Uriah. Through a woman, he led Solomon, the wisest man, to lying. Through a woman, he blinded and cut off the hair of Samson, the strongest man. Through a woman, he laid low the sons of Eli the priest. Through a woman, he locked up Joseph, the noblest man, in prison. Through a woman, he cut off the head of John, the lantern of all the world.

But what am I saying about humans?

Through a woman, he made angels fall from heaven. (cf. Gen. 6:2?)

Through a woman, he has slain all, murdered all, dishonored all, cursed all. (cf. Eve.)

So a shameless woman spares no man (oudenos). She honors no Levite, she reveres no priest, she fears no prophet.

O evil wicked woman of evilest evil! Even if she be poor, she is rich in evil. But if wealth be her co-worker, twice the evil unbearable life! An incurable disease is the untamed wild animal.

I have seen both an asp tamed by gentling, and lions and tigers and panthers soothed and made mild. But a bad woman both rages when insulted, and swells up when gently treated.

So if she has a husband who is a ruler, she sharpens him with her wiles, night and day, to do murder, as Herodias did to Herod. If she has a husband who is a poor man, she stirs him up with tempers and quarrels. If she happen to be a widow, she herself holds everyone in dishonor.

She does not restrain her tongue for fear of the Lord; neither does she look toward the future Judgment, nor does she look toward God; nor did she know to heed the institution of friendship.

To a wicked woman, it is nothing to hand her own husband over to death. Even back then, Job’s own wife, reckless of her own blasphemy, would have handed over righteous Job, saying, “You should say some word [a curse] to the Lord, and be finished!” (Job LXX 2:9)

O, one of wicked temper! O, one of chosen lack of distress! To see the guts of her own husband not spared under the blistered pustules, as if under the sparks of burning coals, and all his flesh seized by worms. She did not turn to pity, to see him all rolled up into himself, and burning, and agonized, and constantly gasping for breath, with pain in his mouth. Not softened with compassion to see him first in royal purple robes, and then with his naked body on a dungheap. She did not remember her habit of old toward him — not as far as his glory days and when she was blooming beautifully.

And what?

“You should say some word to the Lord, and be finished!”

O gratitude of a woman! O soothing lotion in the bath preparation room of pain! O institution of friendship of one equally yoked!

Therefore, at the time he was sick, should he have uttered such a word from you [or not]? And [did you or] did you not cleanse his disease with lotion, with your prayer and beneficence?

So did temporary chastisement not suffice for him, but do you also help him toward “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46) for blasphemy? Or do you not know that “Every blasphemy and sin will be forgiven to humans, but however, blasphemy toward the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven”? (Mt. 12:31, variant quote)

Would you like to see another equally-yoked one of wickedness?

Look at Delilah with me.

For she both cut off the hair of that manly Samson and tied him up, handing him over to the Gentile tribes — her own man, her own bedmate. She warmed him, coaxed him, flattered him, pretended love for him. She loved him yesterday, she cheats on him today. She warmed him with loving yesterday, she buried him by cheating on him today.

And wasn’t he handsome? And who at that time was more handsome than him, who bore seven locks on his head, which carried the image of the sevenfold Grace?

And wasn’t he manly? And who at that time was more manly than him, who, alone on the road, choked a lion, and who laid low a thousand Gentile tribesmen with a single jawbone?

But wasn’t he holy? He was so holy that when there was a lack [of water] and he was thirsty, he prayed; and still water sprang forth, from the damaged place left [in Ramath-lehi], by the jawbone he held in his hand; and from there he poured out the remedy for his thirst.

And the one so handsome, the one so manly, the one so holy — his own wife tied him up for the enemy, handing him over to the Gentile tribesmen.

And from where, therefore, came a woman who prevailed against one so manly?

Out of the household of the man, from his beneficence. She looted the mystery of his strength by night, overcoming him, naked, with a strong rope. 

For this reason, Wisdom orders you, “Beware what you entrust to your bedmate.” (LXX Micah 7:5)

Tell me, what kind of wild animal ever considered such a thing? What dragoness wants to destroy her equally yoked one? And what kind of lioness would hand over her male for slaughter? 

Do you see that Wisdom hit the mark when she said that “There is no head worse than a serpent’s head” and “there is no evil like an evil woman”? 

And clearly, he who has a wicked wife has already paid the wages of his lawlessness. The word is not unwitnessed. Listen to Wisdom talking: “A wicked woman will be given to a lawless man, for wicked works.” (Sirach 26:26)

But the word about this has to be the end, absolutely, about wicked women.

Part 2: 

But at present, we must remember the virtuous women (tas agathas) most of all. For virtuous women look for the excellence of their own virtuous husbands, and they are counted as the crowns of their husbands’ previous labors.  (cf. Prov. 12:4)

The blessed Shunammite woman — who, having urged her husband, built a little room for Elisha, so that whenever he came he could have his rest unhindered — was virtuous and hospitable, preparing for him “a bed… and a lampstand… and a table.” (2 Kgs. 4:10)

The bed was not lacking a bedcover (himation); instead, it had bedclothes (stromata) fit for a prophet. The lampstand was not without a lantern; instead the light had oil poured into it. The table was not left empty of bread; instead it had fruit and meat.

But what could be said, what, about that blessed widow who hosted the prophet Elijah? Poverty of goods in no way hindered her, because she was rich in purpose. She had no bread, no wine, no side dish, not another earthly thing besides the consolation of poverty. No wheatbearing seed was offering her material for bread; no vine grew her a  sweet juicy bunch of grapes. No tree was offering her its late summer fruit.

For how could they, with no place with a handspan of arable earth, nor a cubit of ground for planting a vine? 

Otherwise, in the hot season, in the plowed fields of bowing grain, she would glean the ears of wheat let fall from the hands of the scythe-reapers, putting away food in proper measure to the time, according to the cycle of the year. 

Continued in next post.

Here’s the text of the sermon in digital format.

Modern article on the text parallels and reversals between Jezebel/Herodias and Ahab/Herod. “Femme Fatale Redux: Intertextual Connection” Very nice summation.

A good chunk of this sermon is found under the name of St. John of Damascus in Sacra Parallela Recensiones secundi Alphabeti, aka Parallelon. It’s also attributed to St. Ephrem under the title “Kata ton Poneron Gunaikon.”

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Not a Chrysostom Quote, Not Quoted Correctly

There’s a longish list of supposed quotes from the Fathers that shows up repeatedly in supposedly feminist works. The quotes are almost always in identical wording of an English translation, and they never provide citations from the Fathers. Rather, they cite other feminist authors, who also turn out to have cited other feminist authors as authorities. It shows up in the Congressional Record, in Irish letters to the editor, and in the Antioch Review from 1954… but with never a citation.

This is just the dumbest thing. It’s not scholarly. It’s a pre-Internet photocopy meme, or even a mimeograph meme. You can smell the purple ink.

So here’s a meme picture drawing from the Internet meme version, from “Women Without Religion”:

https://me.me/embed/i/11820961

via MEME

However, unlike many meme quotes, this one wasn’t just made up from wholecloth. It was made up from a different quote, by a different author, with a different context, which was only in existence in Greek at a monastery on Mount Sinai and some other places, and in a Latin translation, during the entire Middle Ages. (And it was also a sermon which took pains to avoid being misogynist, both in Latin and Greek, if you read the whole thing.The author specifically says in the first paragraph that he’s not talking about good and honest women. Sheesh.)

It was from a sermon by an anonymous author. It is referred to as Pseudo-Chrysostom, because it was one of many sermons misattributed to him. The Greek manuscript was found in the Sinai Polycephalon, from the 5th-7th centuries. It was a sermon about Herodias getting Salome to dance and to ask for St. John the Baptist’s head. (The sermon is also misattributed to St. Ephrem of Syria and to St. John of Damascus, so it’s Pseudo-Ephrem and Pseudo-Damascene too.)

The actual quote says, “It seems to me, that there is no other beast [therion, wild animal] on earth like an evil woman.”

And there’s a long list of Biblical bad women, but the sermon ends by praising good women.

So it’s not Chrysostom, it’s taken out of context, and it makes a specific “an evil woman” into Woman. Checks off most of the bad quote boxes, and it’s also terrible scholarship.

The paper that had the quote with actual Greek text in it was “Motivations for the Beheading of John the Baptist in Byzantine and Old Georgian Writings” by Maia Barnaveli, in the journal Phasis, 2014. (So “not all women.”)

The citation for the homily itself is Sinai Polycephalon of 864th Year, ed. by A. Shanidze, Tbilisi, 1959, 212-215; and also in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, tome 59, columns 483-490. The quote itself is in column 483 of Migne, in Greek, and in column 485 in a Latin translation that was kicking around.

Thank you, Maia Barnaveli!

I will get the Greek wording in here, but I have to get to work.

UPDATE: Even in Migne’s Chrysostom edition, back in Victorian times, the homily was listed under Spurious Works!!!!

And apparently the meme list… at least partly comes from Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum! Seriously, ladies and gentlemen? You are quoting a medieval nutcase’s out of context meme list, and turning it into a modern feminist meme list? I know what his misogynist excuse was, but what’s yours? Why am I having to dismantle his crud “proof,” when you could have done it?

(And heck, I’m sure there’s dismantling already, in the medieval anti-Malleus literature. Arrrgh.)

UPDATE 2: The sermon is actually a two-part structure, and the subject is evil wives and good wives. The first part compares Herodias to Jezebel and St. John the Baptist to St. Elijah. Then it brings in Job’s wife and Delilah, and closes with various references to evil women/wives in Micah, Sirach, and Proverbs. The second part talks about the rich, married Shunamite woman who housed Elisha, and the poor widow who housed Elijah, as examples of good women.

Seeing as both “gune” and “mulier” mean “wife” as well as “woman,” it’s possible that the best translation of the quote is that it is about an “evil wife.” (And actually, there’s several true crime shows just about evil husbands and/or evil wives….)

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