Sextus Julius Africanus

Sextus Julius Africanus

Africanus, Sextus Julius, c.160-c.240, Christian historian. He wrote Chronologia, a history of the world from the creation to 221. Tying together the events of the Old Testament, the Greek world, and Christianity, this history helped to place the new religion in a historical context.
Sextus Julius Africanus, was a Christian traveller and historian of the early 3rd century AD. He was possibly born in Libya, though he calls himself a native of Jerusalem, which some scholars take as his hometown. He may have served under Septimius Severus against the Osrhoenians in 195. Little is known of his personal history, except that he lived at Emmaus, and that he went on an embassy to the emperor Elagabalus to ask for the restoration of the town, which had fallen into ruins. His mission succeeded, and Emmaus was henceforward known as Nicopolis. Dionysius bar Salibi says he was a bishop, but the author of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article doubts that he was even a presbyter.

Writings

He wrote a history of the world (Chronografiai, in five books) from Creation to the year AD 221, covering, according to his computation, 5723 years. He calculated the period between Creation and Jesus as 5500 years, placing the Incarnation on the first day of AM 5501 (our modern March 25, 1 BC), according to Venance Grumel, La Chronologie (1958). This method of reckoning led to several Creation eras being used in the Greek Eastern Mediterranean, which all placed Creation within one decade of 5500 BC.

The history, which had an apologetic aim, is no longer extant, but copious extracts from it are to be found in the Chronicon of Eusebius, who used it extensively in compiling the early episcopal lists. There are also fragments in George Syncellus, Cedrenus and the Chronicon Paschale. Eusebius (Church History i. 7; vi. 31) gives some extracts from his letter to one Aristides, reconciling the apparent discrepancy between Matthew and Luke in the genealogy of Christ by a reference to the Jewish law of Levirate marriage, which compelled a man to marry the widow of his deceased brother, if the latter died without issue. His terse and pertinent letter to Origen impugning the authority of the part of the Book of Daniel that tells the story of Susanna, and Origen's wordy and uncritical answer, are both extant.

The ascription to Africanus of an encyclopaedic work entitled Kestoi (Κεστοί "embroidered"), treating of agriculture, natural history, military science, etc., has been disputed on account of its secular and often credulous character. August Neander suggested that it was written by Africanus before he had devoted himself to religious subjects. A fragment of the Kestoi was found in the Oxyrhynchus papyri. According to the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, the Kestoi "appears to have been intended as a sort of encyclopedia of the material sciences with the cognate mathematical and technical branches, but to have contained a large proportion of merely curious, trifling, or miraculous matters, on which account the authorship of Julius has been questioned. Among the parts published are sections on agriculture, liturgiology, tactics, and medicine (including veterinary practise)."

References

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