Re-assessing the use of scriptural material and interpretations in the "Peri Pascha" attributed to Melito of Sardis

Lynn Harrison Cohick, University of Pennsylvania


The recently discovered (1932) and published (1940) $\Pi$EPI $\rm\Pi A\Sigma XA$ (PP) has excited much discussion in early Christian theology and homiletics, as well as in Jewish/Christian relations. The homilist proposes that the Passover (Ex. 12) foreshadows Jesus' Passion, and includes a virulent anti-Jewish attack. The author of PP is identified by most scholars as Melito, Quartodeciman bishop of Sardis (2d century CE) described by Eusebius (EH 4.26.1-13, 5.23-5). Many scholars interpret the homily's anti-Jewish rhetoric as the author's reaction against an influential, wealthy Jewish community in Sardis (as evidenced by the Sardis synagogue excavations). Some scholars suggest that our homilist was influenced by emerging rabbinic thought and the developing Passover Haggadah. Both approaches are challenged through an evaluation of the Jewish scriptural material cited by our homilist. The scriptural quotations and allusions help formulate and support the author's argument. The evidence suggests that our homilist had access to derivative-biblical sources (sources other than a biblical manuscript), such as testimony books, liturgies, catechisms, etc. The study recommends caution in interpreting the homily as reflecting Jewish/Christian relations in Sardis. The suggested dependence on emerging rabbinic Judaism lacks adequate and convincing evidence. Both positions misinterpret the evidence from Eusebius, and thus the authorship and provenance of our homily cannot be secured. The Quartodeciman label is rejected based on a deficiency in the homily of defining Quartodeciman characteristics. The PP can be most helpfully understood as an anonymous second or third century CE text with an undetermined provenance. The homily's anti-Jewish invective is best interpreted in light of developing Christian self-definition.

Subject Area

Religious history|Ancient civilizations

Recommended Citation

Cohick, Lynn Harrison, "Re-assessing the use of scriptural material and interpretations in the "Peri Pascha" attributed to Melito of Sardis" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9712910.