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SEXTUS, JULIUS AFRICANUS:

His Knowledge of Languages.

Byzantine chronographer, noted for his surprisingly lucid interpretations of some Biblical questions; flourished in the first half of the third century of the common era. Suidas (s.v. Ἀφρικανός) says that Africanus was a Libyan philosopher; and this statement is supported by Julius' works, which, although written in Greek, betray their author's knowledge of Latin, indicating, therefore, that he was a native of Latin North Africa. He was, it seems, the son of Christian parents and, doubtless, the scion of a noble family. This assumption explains the fact that he took part in the expedition of Septimius Severus against Osrhoene in 195. He was a friend of Abgar VIII. of Edessa; and he found much material for his works in the archives of that city. These relations with the Orient explain his knowledge of Syriac, which he shows, for example, in the fourth chapter of his Κεστοί, where he gives the Syrian name of a fish. He may also have become personally acquainted with the condition of the Jews in Babylon; for he says in the Susanna Epistle that the Jews were living under their own jurisdiction in the Exile. His works in Biblical criticism indicate that he knew Hebrew also. Toward the end of his life he was presbyter, or, according to others, bishop, of Emmaus (Nicopolis) in Palestine, and as such headed an embassy to Rome in behalf of that city. He was a contemporary and friend of Origen, and lived under the emperors Heliogabalus and Alexander Severus.

All the works of Africanus, which are of course especially important for Christianity, are also highly interesting for Judaism. These works include:

  • (1) a chronography in five books, in virtue of which he is not only the founder of Church history and the predecessor of Eusebius, but also the source and pattern for the Byzantine chronographers, who frequently make extracts from this work, thereby preserving considerable fragments. He divides the history of the world into seven epochal weeks, similar to the Jewish work "Lepto Genesis" (Jubilees), treating within these divisions the earliest history of the human race, then Jewish history, and, finally, the latter synchronistically with general history. He places Moses 1,020 years before the first Olympiad, a date probably derived from Justus of Tiberias, from whose lost history much has been preserved by Africanus; and it is to this source that are to be traced various statements of facts found in Africanus' history and parallel to those given by Josephus. In connection with the Biblical stories Africanus relates many legends whose origin may in part be found in the Apocalypses and the Midrashim.
His Works.
  • (2) Κεστοί (= "Embroidery"), a figurative name given to a large work said to have included twenty-four (according to others, fourteen and nineteen) books, and dedicated to Alexander Severus. The two books that have been preserved deal chiefly with matters pertaining to warfare, the whole work having been devoted to similar subjects. Here also are found important data relating to Jewish history; e.g., that the Pharisees, i.e., the Jews engaged in war with Titus, destroyed a division of the Roman army by poisoning the wine the soldiers drank (Κεστοί, § 3). This work, filled with pagan views and gross superstitions, was formerly ascribed to a pagan author; but recent criticism assigns it to Africanus.
  • (3) A letter to Origen relative to the Susanna Epistle appended in the Septuagint to the Book of Daniel. The penetration that Africanus displays in proving this letter to be a forgery has earned for him the reputation of a sound Bible critic.
  • (4) A letter to Aristides on the discrepancies in the genealogy of Jesus. In this letter also Africanus shows that he is well versed in Jewish history.
  • (5) He may also have written a commentary on Daniel's weeks of years.
Bibliography:
  • Fragments from Africanus have been collected in Galland. Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum, ii., Venice, 1781;
  • Routh, Reliquiœ Sacrœ', 2d ed., ii.;
  • Migne, Patrologia Grœca, x. et seq.:
  • Veterum Mathematicorum Opera ed. M. Thevenot, Paris. 1693;
  • Fabricius-Harles, Bibliotheca Grœca, iv. 240-245;
  • H. Gelzer, S. Julius Africanus, Leipsie, 1880-85;
  • Harnack, Gesch. der Altchristlichen Litteratur, i. 507, ii. 70 et seq.
G. S. Kr.
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