Back to work

May 28, 2010

I have been on the road recently. Last week I drove down to Florida to visit my sister and her family and to attend my nephew Michael’s graduation from medical school, which occurred last Saturday in Gainesville; he was one of a class of 130 students, and received honors for research. The trip took me through parts of the country I had not been to before, and was, indeed, undertaken partly with a view towards seeing them, partly, also, to visit old friends, some of whom put me up on various stages of the journey. One of these previously unseen places was Charleston, South Carolina, the original home of states’ rights political philosophy, a major port of entry for the slave-trade, and the place where the Civil War began; I made a stop there on my way down, sat for awhile contemplating a statue of John C. Calhoun, which stands on top of a pillar at the edge of a public park, visited the old Marketplace and the museum of the Confederacy which sits above it, and made my way briefly down to the Battery, a rectangular sea wall enclosing a remarkably beautiful park lined with palm trees and old mansions, from which I was able to catch sight of Fort Sumter, faintly visible on the horizon. Animating all this sightseeing was a desire to understand the South, a world that remains quite foreign to me and to whose merits I generally give insufficient recognition; I am, in most ways, an archetypical Northerner, in my habits of mind and body and speech, and, like most of us, I take on such habits from my surroundings without fully understanding how the societal form which I instantiate got to be what it is.

After driving on Interstate 95 for twelve wearisome hours on Monday and spending most of Tuesday in the nation’s capital and Annapolis, I arrived back in New Jersey late Tuesday night, and have since been trying to resume my work on John Bekkos. Some readers of this blog may be wondering where this work currently stands, and why they haven’t heard more about it recently.

For much of the past three months, I have been transcribing the Greek text of John Bekkos’s unpublished work Against George Moschabar from a microfilm copy I acquired of a manuscript owned by the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, Italy. On May 4th I completed a handwritten transcription, and since then I have been entering the text onto my computer, checking it against the microfilm as I go along. This is one of the few works of Bekkos that have never been edited, and it has, accordingly, remained largely unknown and unread for most of the past 700 years. I began reading it with the expectation that it might help clarify certain obscurities in Bekkos’s history; in particular, there are questions about exactly when John Bekkos began publishing books in defense of the Union of Lyons; from the evidence of the work Against George Moschabar, it is clear that there never was a hiatus in his writing, as might be supposed from the testimony of George Pachymeres’ History. (Pachymeres, Book V, ch. 28, states that Bekkos, probably around the year 1276, promised a friend of his, Theodore Xiphilinos, that he would not write in reply to the attacks that were being made against the Union in various tracts that were being circulated anonymously at the time. This testimony has generally been interpreted to mean a promise not to write at all in favor of the Union, a promise which, according to Pachymeres, Bekkos eventually broke, around the year 1280. But in his work Against George Moschabar, written around 1280, Bekkos refers repeatedly to other, earlier writings of his, and gives no indication that, in writing this new book, he is taking up his pen again after a long intermission; the only difference he indicates is a difference of manner: in this new book, he says, he will not be so deferential as in previous writings, but will give a plain counterattack to this new disseminator of lies.)

The work to which Bekkos’s book was a response was published by George Moschabar anonymously around the year 1279. Moschabar was, in fact, a member of Bekkos’s own clergy, a man who held the official position of professor of scriptural exegesis at the patriarchal school at Constantinople. Bekkos does not know the author of the work which had been written against him — he refers to the writer sarcastically as “the Philosopher” or “the Aristotelian”; later, he found out who had written it, and he cites it as Moschabar’s in his Notes on his own writings (written sometime around 1286-1288). In the Florentine manuscript, Bekkos’s work against Moschabar is titled as follows: τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀντιρρητικὰ τῶν κατὰ τῆς ἐκκλησιαστικῆς εἰρήνης ἀνεπιγράφων εὑρεθέντων κεφαλαίων, By the same author: A refutation of the anonymous chapters that have been found, which were written against the ecclesiastical peace. The fact that this title gives no indication of Moschabar’s being the author of the opposing work, something that was later widely known, corroborates Vitalien Laurent’s view that the Florentine manuscript (Laurentianus pluteus VIII.26) is an official copy of Bekkos’s works dating from the time of his own patriarchate.

About the content of this work Against George Moschabar, I would prefer, for the time being, to remain reticent. But I hope soon to write an article about it; I think it is theologically an important work, which raises issues that would reappear over a half a century later during the Palamite Controversy. Indeed, I might make the claim that it is the earliest statement of Antipalamite theology that was ever written, appearing some sixteen years before Gregory Palamas was born. For this reason, if for no other, it deserves to be published; my guess is that it may shed an important light upon the origins of that later controversy.

6 Responses to “Back to work”

  1. T. Chan Says:

    I am intrigued about the content of the work, and hope you will write that article soon!

  2. Tap Says:

    Wow, that must be tedious. You have to hand write, and then type all over again! How close are you to finishing the book? I’m really excited, dying in anticipation, lol.

  3. bekkos Says:

    Ted and Tap,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I am going to try to produce an article on this work by the end of this summer — not an edition of the whole thing, but a presentation, with translation and commentary, of some of the more interesting passages. An edition of the whole thing, with an English translation, will be a longer-term project.

    Many people have asked when this book of mine on Bekkos is actually going to come out (my father asks me this question all the time). What I can say is this: I could, immediately, publish my translation of Bekkos’s De unione ecclesiarum, which I finished over three years ago, and have checked and rechecked to the point where I’m pretty satisfied with its accuracy and readability as a translation. (I’ve also been translating other works by Bekkos during that time, and have been writing this blog.) But I was told by a former teacher of mine that the scholarly value of such a work would increase fourfold if I could supply a critical edition of the Greek text to go along with it, and my guess is that this professor is right; accordingly, for some time now, I have been gathering the materials to make such an edition, acquiring reproductions of the manuscripts from different libraries, and purchasing a microfilm reader on E-Bay. As well as this work Against George Moschabar, I have now also copied, by hand, the published Greek text of the De unione ecclesiarum onto my computer. It should not now be too difficult to revise this published text on the basis of what I find in the manuscripts. At least, I’m hoping it won’t be too difficult.

    So, as for a concrete answer: maybe a book could be finished sometime next year. I’d like to think that that would be possible. But there are many practical difficulties that I face, among them the necessity of finding economic means of supporting myself, i.e., a job, or a patron. Perhaps there are, among the readers of this blog, some Carnegies or Mellons or Rockefellers or other persons of means who are convinced that supporting efforts for Christian unity is a sound investment, and will provide eternal dividends. I’d like to think that such persons exist somewhere, but my experience over the last few years, e.g. with the Transfiguration College project, leads me to think that such benefactors are about as rare, and perhaps as imaginary, as the Loch Ness monster, and it would be a waste of my time to go hunting for them.


  4. T. Chan Says:

    Dr. Gilbert, I hope you have plenty of backup copies of all your electronic materials!

  5. Tap Says:

    Dr. Gilbert,
    I was wondering, if you’ve heard about the upcoming series Translated Texts for Byzantinists,
    Why don’t you contact, Dr. Ryder explain to her how far you’ve already gone with this Bekkos’ works and the manuscript you mentioned in this blog post. They might yet need someone to do at least this part of the translations.

  6. bekkos Says:


    I had not in fact heard about this new series; it seems like an excellent fit for the sort of work I’ve been doing. I am deeply grateful to you for the information, and will get in touch with Dr. Ryder very soon. (Currently I am on the road, in the process of moving from New Jersey to Ohio, so this is not the best time for me to put together a formal letter of introduction. But I will definitely get in touch with her.)


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