History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325.
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§ 191. Julius Africanus.

(I.) The fragments in Routh: Rel. Sacr. II. 221–509. Also in Gallandi, Tom. II., and Migne, "Patr. Gr., " Tom. X. Col. 35–108.

(II.) Eusebius: H. E. VI. 31. Jerome: De Vir. ill. 63. Socrates: H. E. II. 35. Photius: Bibl. 34.

(III.) Fabricius: "Bibl. Gr." IV. 240 (ed. Harles). G. Salmon in Smith and Wace I. 53–57. Ad. Harnack in Herzog2 VII. 296–298. Also Pauly’s "Real-Encykl." V. 501 sq.; Nicolai’s "Griech. Lit. Gesch." II. 584; and Smith’s "Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biogr." I. 56 sq.

Julius Africanus,14891489    Suidas calls him Sextus Africanus. Eusebius calls him simply Ἀφρικανός.490 the first Christian chronographer and universal historian, an older friend of Origen, lived in the first half of the second century at Emmaus (Nicopolis), in Palestine,14901490    Not the Emmaus known from Luke 24:16, which was only sixty stadia from Jerusalem, but another Emmaus, 176 stadia (22 Roman miles) from Jerusalem.491 made journeys to Alexandria, where he heard the lectures of Heraclas, to Edessa, Armenia and Phrygia, and was sent on an embassy to Rome in behalf of the rebuilding of Emmaus which had been ruined (221). He died about a.d. 240 in old age. He was not an ecclesiastic, as far as we know, but a philosopher who pursued his favorite studies after his conversion and made them useful to the church. He may have been a presbyter, but certainly not a bishop.14911491    Two Syrian writers, Barsalibi and Ebedjesu, from the end of the twelfth century, call him bishop of Edessa; but earlier writers know nothing of this title, and Origen addresses him as "brother."492 He was the forerunner of Eusebius, who in his Chronicle has made copious use of his learned labor and hardly gives him sufficient credit, although he calls his chronography "a most accurate and labored performance." He was acquainted with Hebrew. Socrates classes him for learning with Clement of Alexandria and Origen.

His chief work is his chronography, in five books. It commenced with the creation (B. C. 5499) and came down to the year 221, the fourth year of Elagabalus. It is the foundation of the mediaeval historiography of the world and the church. We have considerable fragments of it and can restore it in part from the Chronicle of Eusebius. A satisfactory estimate of its merits requires a fuller examination of the Byzantine and oriental chronography of the church than has hitherto been made. Earlier writers were concerned to prove the antiquity of the Christian religion against the heathen charge of novelty by tracing it back to Moses and the prophets who were older than the Greek philosophers and poets. But Africanus made the first attempt at a systematic chronicle of sacred and profane history. He used as a fixed point the accession of Cyrus, which he placed Olymp. 55, 1, and then counting backwards in sacred history, he computed 1237 years between the exodus and the end of the seventy years’ captivity or the first year of Cyrus. He followed the Septuagint chronology, placed the exodus A. M. 3707, and counted 740 years between the exodus and Solomon. He fixed the Lord’s birth in A. M. 5500, and 10 years before our Dionysian era, but he allows only one year’s public ministry and thus puts the crucifixion A. M. 5531. He makes the 31 years of the Saviour’s life the complement of the 969 years of Methuselah. He understood the 70 weeks of Daniel to be 490 lunar years, which are equivalent to 475 Julian years. He treats the darkness at the crucifixion as miraculous, since an eclipse of the sun could not have taken place at the full moon.

Another work of Africanus, called Cesti (Κεστοὶ) or Variegated Girdles, was a sort of universal scrap-book or miscellaneous collection of information on geography, natural history, medicine, agriculture, war, and other subjects of a secular character. Only fragments remain. Some have unnecessarily denied his authorship on account of the secular contents of the book, which was dedicated to the Emperor Alexander Severus.

Eusebius mentions two smaller treatises of Africanus, a letter to Origen, "in which he intimates his doubts on the history of Susanna, in Daniel, as if it were a spurious and fictitious composition," and "a letter to Aristides on the supposed discrepancy between the genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke, in which he most clearly establishes the consistency of the two evangelists, from an account which had been handed down from his ancestors."

The letter to Origen is still extant and takes a prominent rank among the few specimens of higher criticism in the literature of the ancient church. He urges the internal improbabilities of the story of Susanna, its omission from the Hebrew canon, the difference of style as compared with the canonical Daniel, and a play on Greek words which shows that it was originally written in Greek, not in Hebrew. Origen tried at great length to refute these objections, and one of his arguments is that it would be degrading to Christians to go begging to the Jews for the unadulterated Scriptures.

The letter to Aristides on the genealogies solves the difficulty by assuming that Matthew gives the natural, Luke the legal, descent of our Lord. It exists in fragments, from which F. Spitta has recently reconstructed it.14921492    Der Brief des Jul. Africanus an Aristides kritisch untersucht und hergestellt. Halle 1877.493

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