Detective Story

Does the Liber Genealogus contain work by Lactantius? A detective story is developing around this unexpected proposition. I have only just discovered that the Liber Genealogus etymologies were comprehensively studied by the German philologist and Old Testament scholar Franz Wutz in his 1914-1915 book Onomastica Sacra. Unfortunately he did not notice during his years of study that the source he was using was in fact identical with the Liber Genealogus as published by Theodor Mommsen. This is a grand example of two great ships passing one another unseen in the night which has not, as far as I know, been brought to wide attention. Without Mommsen, Wutz's broad conclusions are weakened, although his fine detail bears continued reading.

Wutz (1882-1938) (short biography) was extending the work done two generations earlier by Paul de Lagarde (1827-1891) who had published a compilation of materials on biblical onomastics with a limited critical apparatus but without commentary, also entitled Onomastica Sacra, the first edition in 1870 and the second in 1887. Lagarde had presented a paper in 1890 with complete transcriptions of the Lucca (L) and Turin (T) recensions of the Liber Genealogus, and would doubtless have used these to proceed to a third edition of his Onomastica handbook, had it not been for his early death.

It was thus left to Carl Frick (1848-?)to begin a more thorough investigation of these documents. He published an edition of T in 1892 as part of his Chronica minora, with each biblical name carefully linked to certain Greek etymologies which Lagarde had published in his Onomastica compilation. Wutz thus had coherent texts available to him in printed form and could proceed to their analysis.

Wutz arrived at a most curious conclusion. He refers throughout his book to the set of etymologies in T and L as the "Laktanzgruppe", literally, the "Lactantius Group". He also included in the Laktanzgruppe those parts of Lagarde's Greek which Frick had painstakingly linked, word by word, to T. Wutz concluded that some lost Greek work had somehow been included in a manuscript of mixed notes and was able to distinguish two coherent fragments of it (reproduced below, denominated V3 and V4). His designation of T, L, V3 and V4 as the Laktanzgruppe implies he had solved a great mystery, but as it turns out, this nomenclature may have been simply a little joke by Wutz.

Wutz appears to have realized only at the last moment that Mommsen had published a wider-ranging collation of the Latin witnesses, binding T and L to the other recensions of the Liber Genealogus, in his MGH series (note 1, page xviii: Mommsen's Ausgabe des Lib. genealogus ... ist mir leider entgangen.) Had Wutz known of the St Gall (G) and Florence (F) recensions while he was conducting his research, he would probably not have attached the name "Lactantius" to the work and might well have reached different conclusions.

He was approaching the topic from a very different perspective to our own, and it is interesting to consider the basis on which he was thinking. As far as I have been able to understand his argumentation, Wutz suspected T was a Latin translation by Lactantius from a Greek work by a now unknown author and that Lactantius had attached it as an appendix to his Epitome. T appears just after the Epitome in the sole manuscript to have transmitted that ancient work more or less entire. This 6th- or 7th-century codex is at Turin: Archivio di Stato IB. 11.27 (formerly IB. VI.28), CLA IV. 438. Charles McNelis, who examined it in 1999, provides the following useful listing of its contents:
  • f. 2-42v, Lactantius, De opificio dei (CPL 87);
  • f. 42v-61, Lactan­tius, Epitome divinarum institutionum (CPL 86);
  • f. 61-62, extracts from the Latin translation of Hegemonius, Acta Archelai (CPG 3570);
  • f. 62­-71, Liber genealogus (Incipit origo generis humani and Explicit de generationibus);
  • f. 71v-81, Quintus Julius Hilarianus, De ratione paschae et mentis (CPL 2279);
  • f. 81 v-122v, Origenes, Omelie iv de Exodo. i. De can­tico; ii. De amaritudine aquae Merhae; iii. De Decalogo; iv. De tabernaculo (CPG 1413);
  • f. 122v, Augustinus, Sermo ad Caesareensis ecclesiae plebem Emerito presente habitus (CPL 284, ser. 339).
It will be clear from this juxtaposition why Wutz was able to believe the Liber Genealogus to be a work by Lactantius, whereas Bruno Krusch had earlier believed it to be the work of Q. Julius Hilarianus. Monceaux (vol. 6, p. 253) appears not to have known of Wutz's assessment and in any case favoured Krusch, writing, "Le Taurinensis contient à la fois le De ratione Paschae d'Hilarianus et le Liber genealogus." At the same time he was not 100 per cent convinced (Rouse and McNelis over-estimate Monceaux's certainty: sans doute (Monceaux) is the lowest degree of certitude in French, not the highest, rather like the exhortative English "surely"). In my own view, both Krusch and Wutz were barking up the wrong trees.

Since the T text of the Liber Genealogus ends with the life of Christ, there is no easy way to date it. I have only recently shown that it is in fact a descendant from the Liber Genealogus of 427.

Wutz devoted considerable effort to backing up his Lactantius hypothesis, and here I summarize from his German, with page numbers in parentheses:
The Lactanzgruppe (hereafter LGr) of Greek and Latin texts is "completely new" and "completely independent of the Origen Group" (56). The names are presented in genealogical order, not the order of the biblical texts (57). The author's purpose was to present a 'stemma' of Christ and he thus limited his supplementary material to the tribes of Israel only (57). This shows the list is of purely Christian origin, and not Jewish (58). The Origen Group and LGr were created completely independently of one another. If the LGr were really the work of Lactantius, we would be well on the way to understanding how this onomastic work came to be written: Lactantius died in about 330, whereas Jerome did not translate the Philo/Origen list until 390, meaning the LGr would have existed in Latin translation 70 to 90 years earlier, only decades after Origen had completed his work (62). Supposing the Greek text is the prior one, it must therefore date from well before [the year 330] (63). Even though the Latin text is more comprehensive than the Greek fragments at many points, for example in the Exodus material, it too must derive from a Greek vorlage. The order of the Latin text we know must be that which originally prevailed in the lost Greek text, and this proves that the existing Greek fragments are not the vorlage (76). The actions of Jerome, who undoubtedly is the translator of the Origen Group, and had plainly intended to translate everything of this nature that he could lay hands on, indicate that either the LGr did not exist in Jerome's day or that it was unknown to him. The former is unlikely, since the Greek forms of certain names indicate a very early date. So the tradition that Lactantius translated this Greek Onomastica has historical plausibility behind it and should not be rejected without significant reason. Therefore Jerome did not know of the LGr. This is particularly remarkable insofar as other Origen Group lists do consult the LGr (77). Wutz's conclusion bears translating in full:
This thorough examination of the LGr has yielded some remarkable conclusions: A completely independent study of biblical names was composed in Greek by a Christian. If as tradition holds, a translation [into Latin] was performed on African soil at a very early point, six to eight decades before Jerome, then the Greek work must be dated much earlier to a point before the Origen Group. This does not necessarily mean its author worked in Africa. All that we can say is that he had a very good knowledge of Syrian, most probably the Christian Palestinian [dialect]. We have found no evidence to cast doubt on tradition. Up to the time of Jerome, this Onomastica remained almost hermetically sealed off from the numerous Origen Group explanations in circulation, but thereafter it influenced one fork of the Origen Group (96).
Once this false idea of Lactantius's role in the work had been placed in the world, it naturally put down roots. Ilona Opelt in her 1965 encyclopaedia article Etymologie appears to misunderstand Wutz's citation of T and L and compounds the error, describing these Latin codices as "zwei Hss. des Laktanz aus dem 6. und 7. Jh." I cannot see any material from Lactantius listed in the descriptions of codex L by Mommsen and Lagarde.

Let us now turn to the Greek texts of the Laktanzgruppe. Wutz performed a major service by re-edited these. They had earlier been printed by Lagarde and had originally been published by Jean Martianay (1647-1717) and later Dominic Vallarsi (1702-1771). Lagarde had applied the somewhat misleading heading "Onomastica Vaticana" to the pages where the two fragments are printed, although neither of them is in the Apostolic library at the Vatican. Roger Gryson in 1966 proposed fixed sigla, and possibly relying on Opelt 828 and Wutz 238, suggested that a fourth onomastic group be distinguished:
  • L (Laktanzgruppe)
  • O (Philo-Origen)
  • V (Onomastica Vaticana)
  • C (Glossae Colbertinae)
Wutz states (page xviii) that the Greek redaction of the Laktanzgruppe is to be found in seven manuscripts, while pointing out (page 3) that one 10th-century Rome manuscript, Biblioteca Vallicellana 66,4 (link), contains the source text (249v-254r) of the six others. He differentiates the following two fragments (page 4), but take the view that they once formed separate parts of a single text, now lost:
  • Lag. 177,63 -- 179,23 (Martianay: fragmentum tertium) == V3
  • Lag. 179,24 -- 181,83 (Martianay: fragmentum quartum) == V4
We start with V3, whereby line numbers are printed on one margin at every fifth line and the opposite margin contains biblical references keyed to those line numbers. The other numbers are possibly pages of Martinay's and Vallarsi's editions. Obviously, lines 56 to 61 are references, but are not visible on this blog entry because they are not part of V3. I have omitted the footnotes.

Fragmentum tertium (V3)

Fragmentum quartum (V4)

Wutz edited V3 and V4 with a more advanced apparatus than Lagarde had provided and published this at 685-703 of his book. Here is a summary of the names in English, with Lagarde's line numbers in bold, and Wutz's line numbers in italics. Some of the names I could not understand, but I have nevertheless transcribed them:

63 1 65 [Filum of Christ according to Matthew:] Adam 67 Abel 68 Cain Seth Enosh 69 9 Kenan Mahalalel 70 Jared Enoch Methuselah 71 Lamech Noe Shem 72 Ham Japheth [from Shem:] Arpachshad 73 Shelah Eber 74 Nahor 75 Esrom Thara Abram 76 Abraham 77 Isaac 78 Jacob [filum stops here] Esau 79 21 Reuben Simeon 80 Levi Judah 81 Issachar Zebulon Dan 82 Nephtali Gad Aser 83 Joseph Benjamin 84 Melchisedech 86 [Jacob's family from Gen 46:8-25:] Reuben Pallu 87 Carmi 88 31 Simeon Jemuel Jamin Ohad 89 Iachin Zohar 90 Levi Gershon Kohath 91 Merari 92 Judah Er Onan 93 Shelah Perez Zerah 94 Issachar Tola Puvah Iob? 95 Solomon? 96 Zebulun Sered 97 Elom Jahleel 98 Dan [see Wutz 66; sons of Gad:] Ziphion Haggi Shuni 99 48 Ezbon Eri 100 Areli 1 [sons of Dan:] Naphtali Jahzeel 2 Guni Jezer 3 Shillem 4 Gad 5 Asher Imnah Ishvah 6 Ishvi Beria 8 Joseph Ephraim Manasseh 9 Asenath Potiphera 10 Benjamin 11 62 Becher Ashbel Gera 12 Naaman Ehi Rosh 13 Muppim Huppim 14 [From Exodus:] Pithom Rameses Shiphrah 15 Moses 16 Reuel 17 Jethro 18 Perez Hezron Hamul 19 [Additional LXX Josephites:] Ephraim Southalaam Taam 21 Manasseh Galaad 22 Beriah Eber Melchiel 24 Ermeneia (2) 25 78 [Biblical women:] Eve Sarah 26 Agar Rebecca 27 Deborah 28 Zipporah Rachel 29 Aeia? 30 Bersabee Saraa? Tamar 31 Maria 32 Miriam 33 Ruth 34 Serah 36 [Filum of Christ according to Matthew resumed] Perez Hezron Ram 37 Amminadab Nahshon 38 Salmon* Boaz* 39 93 Jesse* David 40 Solomon 41 Rehoboam* Abijam* 42 Asa* 44 Jehoshaphat Jehoram Uzziah* 45 Jotham* Ahaz 46 100 [omissions!] Zedekiah [1st insert:] Madiam 47 Iesba (Jezebel?) Samareia Raasson 48 Romelion Pharaoh 49 Bathouel Chettoura 50 Chet Gerson [Num. 13:6:] Caleb Jephunneh 51 Elias Elissaie 52 Chebron Asaph 53 Gelbone Nelcha 54 110 Edem Gaidad Maiel 55 Adda Sella 56 Thobel Neomin 57 Iarer Chanaan 58 [Races of Japheth:] Gomer Magog 59 Medes Meshech Tiras 60 [of Gomer:] Ashkenaz [of Javan:] Elishah Tarshish 61 Kittim [Races of Ham:] Cush 62 Misraim 63 Put Seba Dedan 64 Nimrod 65 [Place-names:] Babel Erech Shinar 66 Ashur Nineveh Canaan Sidon Chethatha 68 127 [Races of Shem:] Elam Arpachshad 69 Aram Job Gamer 70 Mosoch Eber Joktan Almodad 72 Uzal Obal Abima-el 73 Ored Havilah 74 Aram? Jobab [mixed list:] Nachor 75 Aot Chaldaeans Suchem 76 Bethel Haggai (prophet?) Amarphal (Gen 14:1?) 77 Ariol Heschod 78 Onam 79 [Sinai (corr. Wutz 80-81)] batos* [peoples of Canaan:] Canaan Amorites 80 Girgashites Jebusites [2nd insert:] Daron (=Aaron) 82 143 Sinai? Israel.

The asterisks mark material that Wutz also found in the hypothetical "Lexikon" used by Ambrose of Milan. It is noticeable that the overall order of the names has some similarities to that in the Liber Genealogus, although considerable amounts of material (particularly Fila B and Fila D) are omitted.

Now the plot thickens. The Liber Genealogus has been written about by a series of scholars in the past hundred years, most notably by Paul Monceaux, Hervé Inglebert and Charles McNelis. Frick's exploration of the etymologies was known to them, but as far as I know, none mentions the very important analytical contribution a generation later by Wutz, an oversight which is understandable, since Wutz did not use the current title for the work. As a result, a century of research has proceeded along two tracks. This blog post is, as far as I know, the first time the two tracks have again met.

So the question is, did Lactantius write a glossary of biblical names that was expanded, 100 years after his death, into the Liber Genealogus of 427? Attractive as the idea is, it relies on only the weakest of supports: Wutz's modern "tradition" that associates Lactantius with the text because it is in the Turin manuscript. There does not seem to be any other evidence for such a link. But we do not have any idea who the true author of the etymologies is. One suspects that Wutz, having spent years looking at fanciful names and etymologies, smiled to himself one morning and made up a fanciful name of his own to leave to posterity. I believe that we should continue to use the term Laktanzgruppe, since it has the weight of a century of (somewhat obscure) tradition, while recognizing that it is a misnomer and misleading.

Wutz argues that the Greek text on which V3 and V4 are based is older than the Latin text of 427, and moreover that there is an Armenian branch of the Laktanzgruppe (document cited in a note by Erwin Preuschen (Wutz, 84), further study apparently conducted in 1981 by Michael E. Stone). If this is so, we are obliged to consider how the Laktanzgruppe of etymologies might have diffused. We can conceive of two paths by which it could have reached Donatist North Africa:
  • A Latin translation, now lost, could have been prepared in the 4th century, and could have lain side by side on the table with the Great Stemma while the Liber Genealogus was being written.
  • The manuscript may have remained in Greek, untranslated, until a Donatist scholar conceived the bold idea of translating it while using a familiar document, the Great Stemma, as a giver of structure.
The second of these choices is marginally more plausible, given that the underlying motive for writing the Liber Genealogus remains unclear. I have suggested that in the broadest terms it was an ekphrasis of the diagram, but we remain uncertain as to what the incentive to publish it was. A new translation, especially of a work that remained "untainted" by the touch of Catholic writers including Jerome, might perhaps have seemed a rewarding project for a Donatist to undertake.


  • Gryson, Roger. "L'interprétation du nom de Lévi (Lévite) chez saint Ambroise." Sacris Erudiri 17, 2 (1966), 217-229.
  • Krusch, Bruno. Studien zur christlichen-mittelalterlichen Chronik, Leipzig, 1880.
  • Lagarde, Paul de. Onomastica Sacra: Pauli De Lagarde Studio Et Sumptibus Alterum Edita. Göttingen, 1887.
  • Monceaux, Paul. Littérature donatiste au temps de Saint Augustin. Vol. 6. 7 vols. Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne depuis les origines jusqu'à l'invasion arabe. Paris, 1922.
  • Opelt, Ilona. "Etymologie". Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (RAC), 6, col. 829. 1965.
  • Rouse, Richard, and Charles McNelis. “North African literary activity: A Cyprian fragment, the stichometric lists and a Donatist compendium.” Revue d'histoire des textes 30 (2000): 189-238.
  • Wutz, Franz. Onomastica sacra: Untersuchungen zum Liber interpretationis nominum hebraicorum des hl. Hieronymus (2 vols). Leipzig, 1914-15. Archive.org: PDF complete.

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