(Pseudo-) CLEMENT, the unknown author of a work of fiction falsely ascribed to Pope Clement I (88-97 CE) and now generally known as the Pseudo-Clementines, which contains passages reflecting myths and teachings of Persian origin. The text has survived in two versions, a collection of homilies, purportedly missionary preachings of Saint Peter, and the Recognitiones (Anagnōrismoí, Reconsiderations), preserved in a Latin translation by Ruffinus (before 400 c.e.) in the guise of a Roman book of “investigations.” Both versions are derived from a single original, which was probably written in the 3rd, or perhaps as early as the 2nd, century c.e. (Cullmann, pp. 142-43, 156, 157; Quasten, pp. 70-74; Baus, cols. 334-35).
One of the most noteworthy of the stories with a Persian background is that of Nebrod (Nimrod; Genesis 10:8-12), the descendant of Ham, identified in the text with Zoroaster. According to this account, Nebrod aspired to become king. Being a great magician, he attempted to force the star of evil, which, according to the author, still governed the world, to grant him kingship, but the star was angry and sent the fire of kingship down from heaven in the form of a lightning bolt, which killed Nebrod. It was then that the Greeks named him Zoroaster (ostensibly < zôon ástron “living star”). Human beings, however, misguidedly supposed that the lightning had come to take Zoroaster’s soul because of his love for God, and in Persia they built for him a tomb, which they venerated as a temple and where they worshiped him as a god. Furthermore, the Persians collected the embers left by the thunderbolt and became the first to worship the heavenly fire, in return for which they received as their reward the first kingship (Homilies 9.4-6; ed. Rehm and Irmscher, p. 133; Recognitiones 4.27-29; ed. Rehm and Paschke, pp. 159-61; cf. Bidez and Cumont, II, pp. 50-53). The etymology on which the identification of Nebrod with Zoroaster was based, though false, seems significant. Some scholars have interpreted it as evidence of the westward spread of Zoroastrianism, particularly into Babylonia and Assyria, and of the fusion of Zoroastrianism with the astral religion of the Chaldeans and Babylonians (Bousset, pp. 376-77; Schoeps, 1960, p. 2). The evil governing the world is, of course, to be identified with Ahriman (Schoeps, 1960, pp. 23). As for the “fire of kingship,” it has been variously explained as the xᵛarənah (“divine light”) mentioned in the Avesta (Bousset, pp. 147-48) and as the sacred fire that burned perpetually on an altar in the palace of the Sasanian kings (Bidez and Cumont, II, pp. 52-53; Schoeps, 1960, p. 3).
Recognitiones contains accounts of the laws of different nations, which follow closely the text of “Book of the Law of the Countries” (29) embodying teachings of Bardesanes, probably written down by one of his students. In the passage on the laws of the Persians it is stated that Persians who had emigrated to Media Atropatene, Parthia, Egypt, and Phrygia were known as “Maguseans” (9.21; ed. Rehm and Paschke, pp. 276-77).
Another noteworthy element in the Pseudo-Clementines is the doctrine of a god, the creator of all things, who has divided sovereignty between two kings, one good, the other bad. The latter reigns over the present world and has received authority to punish men who are guilty of injustice; the former (Christ) will reign over the world to come (Homilies 15.7; ed. Rehm and Irmscher, p. 215). This dualistic and pessimistic conception of the creation has been linked with the Zurvanist speculations that “limitless time” (Av. Zruuan akarana, Pahl. Zurwān ī akanārag) gave birth to both good and evil, to both Ormazd and Ahriman. It has been plausibly surmised that the author of the original work was well acquainted with the cosmological notions peculiar to the Mazdean religion (Bousset, pp. 139-40; Schoeps, 1960, pp. 4-7). In accordance with the same dualistic ideology, a sharp contrast is drawn in the Homilies between men, representing good and truth, and women, representing evil and error. A similar low estimate of the feminine principle is expressed in certain late Pahlavi writings, like the Selections of Zatspram (Zādsprahm 39.30-31, tr. in Zaehner, pp. 350-51) and the Bundahišn (tr. Anklesaria, pp. 39-41), and in the Christian Book of Scholia by Bishop Theodore bar Kōnay (tr. in Zaehner, pp. 421-29).
The general tone of the Pseudo-Clementines is one of open hostility to Persian religious beliefs. Fire is described as a demonic element, harmful to the human soul, Zoroastrianism as the pinnacle of paganism, and Zoroaster as the arch-imposter.
K. Baus, “Klementinen,” in Lexikon für Theologie and Kirche VI, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, 1961, cols. 334-35.
J. Bidez and F. Cumont, Les mages hellénisés, 2 vols., Paris, 1938.
W. Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, Göttingen, 1907.
(Pseudo-)Clement, Homilies, in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Graeca II, Paris, 1857, cols. 57-468, with Latin tr.; ed. B. Rehm and I. Irmscher as Die Pseudoklementin I, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 42, Berlin, 1953; tr. T. Smith, P. Peterson, and J. Donaldson, in A. Roberts and J. Dondaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers VIII, New York, 1895, pp. 223-346; tr. A. Siouville as Les Homélies clémentines, Les textes du christianisme 11, Paris, 1933.
Idem, Recognitiones, in Patrologia Graeca I, Paris, 1837, cols. 1201-1474; ed. B. Rehm and F. Paschke as Die Pseudoklementinen II, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 51, Leipzig, 1965; tr. T. Smith, in A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers VIII, New York, 1895, pp. 73-112.
O. Cullmann, Le problème littéraire et historique du roman pseudo-clémentin, Paris, 1930.
J. Quasten, Patrology I, Utrecht and Brussels, 1950, pp. 59-63; tr. J. Laporte as Initiation aux pères de l’église I, Paris, 1955, pp. 70-74.
B. Rehm, “Clemens Romanus II.,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum III, Stuttgart, 1957, cols. 197-206.
H. J. Schoeps, Aus frühchristlicher Zeit. Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen, Tübingen, 1950.
Idem, “Iranisches in den Pseudoklementinen,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 51, 1960, pp. 1-11.
R. C. Zaehner, Zurvan. A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955.
(Marie Louise Chaumont)
Originally Published: December 15, 1992
Last Updated: October 21, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. V, Fasc. 7, pp. 706-707