Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review of Magny, Porphyry in Fragments

Ariane Magny, Porphyry in Fragments: Reception of an Anti-Christian Text in Late Antiquity. Ashgate studies in philosophy and theology in late antiquity. Farnham; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. 202. ISBN 9781409441151. $104.95.

Reviewed by John Granger Cook, LaGrange College (


It has become fashionable in recent years to produce editions of Porphyry’s Contra Christianos, despite the manifest problems associated with the text.1 Ariane Magny’s refreshing examination of the fragments attributed to Porphyry’s work against the Christians is a revised dissertation done under the guidance of Gillian Clark. At this time in Porphyrian scholarship, such a careful monograph is probably of more practical use than another attempted edition of the lost text. After an introduction and a chapter on methodology, Magny limits her investigation to three primary authors from whom most of the alleged fragments have been drawn: Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine. She does not include other authors such as Didymus the Blind and Theophylact who preserve texts associated with what is usually entitled the C. Christ. of Porphyry. In addition, Magny (11) rather casually dismisses the texts from the anonymous philosopher of Macarius Magnes’ Monogenes (formerly called the Apocriticus) that Adolf Harnack thought derived from Porphyry.2 She calls her method (22-23) “decontextualization” (or “deconstructing the cover-text”)—a method which includes analyzing the rhetorical strategies of the Christian authors who transmit texts and ideas from Porphyry or other pagan critics of Christianity. Herein lies the strength of her book. Such a method is hardly revolutionary, but it does call attention to the problem of working with the fragments of a book whose disappearance is in part explained by an imperial prescription in 448 C.E.3

Porphyry, by the way, was the first one in late antiquity to figure out that the Book of Daniel was a work of the Maccabean period.