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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Africanus, Julius

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Africanus Julius (Ἀφρκανός) a Christian writer at the beginning of the 3rd cent. A great part of his life was passed at Emmaus in Palestine—not however the Emmaus of St. Luke (24:16) as assumed by the ancient authorities (Soz. H. E. v. 21; Hieron. in libro de Locis Hebraicis s.v. Ἐμμαοῦς ii. p. 439; et in Epitaph. Paulae iv. p. 673); but as Reland has shewn in his Palaestina pp. 427 758 (see also Smith's Dict. of Geogr. s.v. Emmaus) the Emmaus in the plain (1Ma_3:40) 22 Roman miles (=176 stadia) from Jerusalem. He may have been born A.D. 170 or a little earlier and died A.D. 240 or a little later. There seems to be no ancient authority for dating his death A.D. 232.

Africanus ranks with Clement and Origen as among the most learned of the ante-Nicene fathers (Socr. H. E. ii. 35; Hieron. Ep. ad Magnum, 83, vol. iv. p. 656). His great work, a comparative view of sacred and profane history from the creation of the world, demanded extensive reading; and the fragments that remain refer to the works of a considerable number of historical writers. His only work now extant in a complete state is his letter to Origen referred to by many authors (Eus. H. E. vi. 31; Hieron. de Vir. Ill. c. 63; Photius, Cod. 34; Suidas, s.v. Ἀφρικανός; Niceph. Call. H. E. v. 21, and others). The correspondence originated in a discussion between Origen and a certain Bassus, at which Africanus was present, and in which Origen appealed to the authority of that part of the Book of Daniel which contains the story of Susanna. Africanus afterwards wrote a short letter to Origen urging several objections to the authenticity of this part of the book; among others, that the style is different from that of the genuine book, that this section is not in the book as received by the Jews, and that it contains a play on Gk. words which shews that, unlike other O.T. books, it was originally written in Gk. and not in Heb. Origen replied at greater length. That Africanus had any intimate knowledge of Heb. must not be regarded as proved by this letter. The date of the correspondence is limited by the facts that Origen writes from Nicomedia, having previously visited Palestine, and refers to his labours in a comparison of the Gk. and Heb. text, indicating that he had already published the Hexapla. These conditions are best satisfied by a date c. 238.

Not less celebrated is the letter of Africanus to Aristides on the discrepancy in our Saviour's genealogies as given by St. Matthew and St. Luke. A considerable portion of this has been preserved by Eusebius (H. E. i. 7), and Routh ( Rel. Sac. ii. 228) has published this together with a fragment not previously edited. A compressed version of the letter is given also in Eusebii ad Stephanum, Quaest. iv. (Mai, Script. Vet. Nov. Coll. vol. i.). Africanus begins by rejecting a previous explanation that the genealogies are fictitious lists, designed to establish our Lord's claim to be both king and priest by tracing His descent in one Gospel from Solomon, in the other from Nathan, who was assumed to be Nathan the prophet. Africanus argues the necessity of maintaining the literal truth of the Gospel narrative, and against drawing dogmatic consequences from any statements not founded on historical fact. He then gives his own explanation, founded on the levirate law of the Jews, and professing to be traditionally derived from the Desposyni (or descendants of the kindred of our Lord), who dwelt near the villages of Nazareth and Cochaba. According to this view Matthew gives the natural, Luke the legal, descent of our Lord. Matthan, it is said, of the house of Solomon, and Melchi of the house of Nathan, married the same woman, whose name is given as Estha. Heli the son of Melchi (the names Matthat and Levi found in our present copies of St. Luke are omitted by Africanus) having died childless, his uterine brother Jacob, Matthan's son, took his wife and raised up seed to him; so that the offspring Joseph was legally Heli's son as stated by St. Luke, but naturally Jacob's son as stated by St. Matthew. For a critical examination and defence of this solution, which is adopted by St. Augustine (Retract. lib. ii. c. vii.), see Mill, On the Mythical Interpretation of the Gospels, p. 201.

The great work of Africanus was his "accurately laboured " (Eus. H. E. vi. 31) treatise on chronology, in five books. As a whole it is lost, but we can form a good idea of its general character from the still remaining Chronicon of Eusebius, which was based upon it, and which undoubtedly incorporates much of it. Eusebius himself, p. 132, mentions Africanus among his authorities for Jewish history, subsequent to O.T. times. Several fragments of the work of Africanus can be identified by express quotations, either by Eusebius in his Praeparatio and Demonstratio Evangelii, or by other writers, in particular by Georgius Syncellus in his Chronographia. These have been collected by Gallandi (Bibl. Vet. Pat. vol. ii.), and more fully by Routh ( Rel. Sac. vol. ii.).

Christian Apologists had been forced to engage in chronological discussions, to remove the heathen contempt of Christianity as a novelty, by demonstrating the great antiquity of the Jewish system, out of which the Christian sprang. Thus Tatian (Or. ad Graec. c. 39), Theophilus of Antioch ( ad. Autol. iii. 21), Clement of Alexandria ( Stromata, i. 21), discuss the question of the antiquity of Moses, and, following Josephus ( cont. Apion. i. 16), arrive at the conclusion that Moses was a contemporary of Inachus, and that the Exodus took place 393 years before the coming of Danaus to Argos. Africanus set himself to make a complete synopsis of sacred and profane history from the Creation, and to establish a synchronism between the two. He concludes that Moses and Ogyges were contemporaries. He thinks a connexion between the Ogygian deluge and the plagues of Egypt likely; and confirms his conclusions by deducing from Polemo, Apion, and Ptolemaeus Mendesius, that Moses was a contemporary of Inachus, whose son, Phoroneus, reigned at Argos in the time of Ogyges. Africanus follows the LXX: he counts 2262 years to the Deluge; he does not recognize the second Cainan; he places the Exodus A.M. 3707. In computing the years of the Judges he is blamed by Eusebius for lengthening the chronology by adding, without authority, 30 years for the elders after Joshua, 40 for anarchy after Samson, and 25 years of peace. He thus makes 740 years between the Exodus and Solomon. Our Lord's birth he places A.M. 5500, and two years before our common computation of Anno Domini. But he allows only one year for our Lord's public ministry, and thus dates the Crucifixion A.M. 5531. He calculates the commencement of the 70 weeks from the 20th year of Artaxerxes: from this to the death of our Lord he counts only 475 years, contending that the 70 weeks of Daniel are to be understood as 490 lunar years of 354 days each, equivalent to 475 Julian years.

Another interesting passage in the χρονικά is one in which he treats of the darkness at the Crucifixion and shews in opposition to the Syrian historian Thallus that it was miraculous and that an eclipse of the sun could not have taken place at the full moon. Lastly we may notice his statement that there were still in his time remains of Jacob's terebinth at Shechem Gen_35:4 held in honour; and that Jacob's tent had been preserved in Edessa until struck by lightning in the reign of the emperor Antoninus (Elagabalus ?). Africanus probably had personally visited Edessa whose king Abgarus he elsewhere mentions.

The work in all probability concluded with the Doxology, which St. Basil has cited (de Spir. Sanct. § 73, iii. 61) in justification of the form of doxology σὺν Ἀγίῳ Πνεύματι .

It remains to speak of another work, the κεστοί , expressly ascribed to Africanus by Eusebius ( H. E. vi. 31), Photius ( l.c. ), Suidas (l.c. ), and Syncellus (p. 359). Perhaps (as Scaliger suggests) quoting the Chronika of Eusebius. According to this authority, the work consisted of nine books; and it is probably owing to errors of transcribers that we now find Photius enumerating 14 and Suidas 24. The work seems to have received the fanciful name of Cesti, or variegated girdles, from the miscellaneous character of its contents, which embraced the subjects of geography, natural history, medicine, agriculture, the art of war, etc. The portions that remain have suffered mutilation and addition by different copyists. The external evidence for ascribing the Cesti and Chronology to the same author is too strong to be easily set aside, and is not without some internal confirmation. Thus the author of the Cesti was better acquainted with Syria than with Libya; for he mentions the abundance of a certain kind of serpent in Syria, and gives its Syrian name (Vet. Math. p. 290), but when he gives a Libyan word ( Geopon. p. 226) he does so on second-hand testimony. And he was a Christian, for he asserts (Geopon. p. 178) that wine may be kept from spoiling by writing on the vessels "the divine words, Taste and see that the Lord is gracious." The unlikelihood of Africanus having written such a work becomes less if we look upon him not as an ecclesiastic, but as a Christian philosopher, pursuing his former studies after his conversion, and entering in his note-books many things more in accordance with the spirit of his own age than with that of ours. Cf. Harnack on Julius Africanus Sextus in Herzog, 3rd ed. The last edition of the Chronography is in Gelzer, Sex. Jul. Afr. (2 vols. Leipzig, 1880–1898); see also Spitta (Halle, 1877) on the letter to Aristides, Harnack, Lit. i. 507–513 and ii. 1, pp. 124 sqq.


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Africanus, Julius'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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