1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Africanus, Sextus Julius

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424761911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1 — Africanus, Sextus Julius

AFRICANUS, SEXTUS JULIUS, a Christian traveller and historian of the 3rd century, was probably born in Libya, and may have served under Septimius Severus against the Osrhoenians in A.D. 195. Little is known of his personal history, except that he lived at Emmaus, and that he went on an embassy to the emperor Heliogabalus[1] 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 makes him a bishop, but probably he was not even a presbyter. He wrote a history of the world (Χρονογραφίαι, in five books) from the creation to the year A.D. 221, a period, according to his computation, of 5723 years. He calculated the period between the creation and the birth of Christ as 5499 years, and ante-dated the latter event by three years. This method of reckoning became known as the Alexandrian era, and was adopted by almost all the eastern churches. 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 Syncellus, Cedrenus and the Paschale Chronicon. Eusebius (Hist. Ecc. i. 7, cf. 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, 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 apocryphal book of Susanna, and Origen’s wordy and uncritical answer, are both extant. The ascription to Africanus of an encyclopaedic work entitled Κεστοί (embroidered girdles), treating of agriculture, natural history, military science, &c., has been needlessly disputed on account of its secular and often credulous character. Neander suggests that it was written by Africanus before he had devoted himself to religious subjects. For a new fragment of this work see Oxyrhynchus Papyri (Grenfell and Hunt), iii. 36 ff.

Authorities.—Edition in M. J. Routh, Rel. Sac. ii. 219-509; translation in Ante-Nicene Fathers (S. D. F. Salmond) vi. 125-140; See H. Gelzer, Sex. Jul. Africanus und die byzant. Chronographie, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1880–1885); G. Kruger, Early Christian Literature, 248-253; A. Harnack, Altchristl. Litt. Gesch. i. 507, ii. 70.

  1. So Eusebius. Syncellus says Alexander Severus.