Procopius of—Gaza!?

I love my life. I live at an intersection where several worlds meet. One of those worlds sends me announcements like the one below.

Have you ever heard of Procopius of Gaza? I have. But I haven’t read him. My PhD dissertation was on a Christian writer in Alexandria in the fourth century. Procopius lived and wrote late fifth century and early sixth century. Somehow, as I sat in my study carrels and in my basement roaming the space-time continuum in strange languages, before it ended and I settled into the world where one works at a desk for a living, producing books for other people to buy and read, I never traveled the two centuries or few hundred miles from fourth-century Alexandria to sixth-century Gaza.

And now? Leaving aside the time-travel difficulties, Google Maps says “Flights not available”; “Cycling not available”; “Sorry, we could not calculate walking directions”; “Sorry, we could not calculate driving directions from ‘Alexandria, Alexandria Governorate, Egypt’ to ‘Gaza’.”

And we know why, right? We all know why.

Somehow it is comforting and inspiring to know that 1,500 years ago, in a place now lacerated by conflict and poverty, a Christian monk sat and read Scripture, and wrote verbose (I do love verbosity!—in English—in Greek it’s a pain in the ΟΝΟΣ) but learned commentary on the Old Testament, and wrote letters to an emperor that we can still read, and that perhaps the same monk wrote commentaries on rhetoric and debated with pagan philosophers, and that he did not get caught up in the hot theological arguments between other Christians in his day.

Comforting and inspiring but also ominous. Procopius is just one of thousands of examples that show us that a place where Christian piety and scholarship have flourished can become over time a wilderness of darkness and despair. “Ichabod” is written on the schools and churches, and the glory cloud representing the protective and guiding presence of the Holy One, no longer welcome, lifts off and soars elsewhither. This is a thing that has happened many times and can happen again.

Ominous but also hopeful? Remains the hope, the promise, that the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. I don’t know what is happening in my country. But in other places the waters are rising. There will always be an abode for the Name until that name is pronounced everywhere, simultaneously, in one voice.

I won’t get to this conference in Leuven. If I did, the papers would be over my head because I haven’t read the texts. Maybe one day I’ll hunt them up in Migne online or maybe Sources Chrétiennes will publish a diglot and a copy will fall off a passing truck in front of my bicycle. The Latin or French will help me with the Greek, which I expect is not easy. Or English translations will turn up. Meanwhile, from time to time, sitting by the fire, or falling asleep at night, I may just recall the phrase “Procopius of Gaza,” wondering, as my father, who worked 40 years in a chemical plant, sat when I was a college student and said “Council of Nicaea,” with awe in his voice, wondering aloud what that could possibly have been like (to him Nicaea was always a vague, distant rumor), and perhaps say a prayer for the people living in Gaza today.

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Call for Papers

Procopius of Gaza: Catenist, Compiler, and Exegete

(Leuven, 9–11 December 2020)

In the last decades, the study of the literary output of Gaza in the 5th-6th centuries AD has seen a significant revival of interest. New editions and studies of rhetorical, poetic, monastic and hagiographic texts –produced in, or related to Gaza– have emerged; three international symposia were devoted to Gaza in Late Antiquity. However, a far lesser attention has been paid to the biblical commentaries of Procopius the Christian sophist from Gaza. This conference aims to shed light on Procopius’ work as catenist, compiler and exegete of the Bible, and further the understanding of the author and his writings. More specifically, it will raise the question whether the profane and the Christian works assigned to Procopius are by one and the same author. It will assess the critical edition project of Procopius’ Commentaries on the Octateuch. It will seek to contextualise Procopius’ In Genesim, especially regarding the debate on the creation of the world and the Origenist crisis. It will study the patristic sources of the In Exodum and In Canticum and the use that Procope made of them. It will examine the relationship between Procopius’ In Canticum and In Proverbia on the one hand, and the Greek exegetical catenae on the same biblical texts on the other hand. It will compare the main characteristics of Procopius’ Epitomae with those of the anonymous epitomae on the Twelve Prophets. It will study the patristic sources of Procopius’ In Isaiam and the process of transforming them into a new commentary. It will finally reflect on the nature and usefulness of Procopius’ catenae and epitomae: are these works collections of commentaries, new forms of commentary, or Bible study tools?

Conveners: J.-M. Auwers, J. Verheyden, D. Zaganas

Confirmed speakers: E. Amato (Université de Nantes), J.-M. Auwers (UCLouvain), R. Ceulemans (KU Leuven), C. Markschies and K. Metzler (Humboldt Universität, Berlin), E. Prinzivalli (La Sapienza, Rome).

Proposals are invited for a limited number of papers of 20 minutes.

Proposals (between 250 and 500 words) may be sent to Dimitrios Zaganas (dimitrios.zaganas@kuleuven.be), no later than August 30, 2020.

The proposals will be assessed by a scientific committee. Candidates will be informed of the decision by September 10, 2020.

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