1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/John of Asia
JOHN OF ASIA (or of Ephesus), a leader of the Monophysite Syriac-speaking Church in the 6th century, and one of the earliest and most important of Syriac historians. Born at Āmid (Diarbekr) about 505, he was there ordained as a deacon in 529 but in 534 we find him in Palestine, and in 535 he passed to Constantinople. The cause of his leaving Āmid was probably either the great pestilence which broke out there in 534 or the furious persecution directed against the Monophysites by Ephraim (patriarch of Antioch 529–544) and Abraham (bishop of Āmid c. 520–541). In Constantinople he seems to have early won the notice of Justinian, one of the main objects of whose policy was the consolidation of Eastern Christianity as a bulwark against the heathen power of Persia. John is said by Barhebraeus (Chron. eccl. i. 195) to have succeeded Anthimus as Monophysite bishop of Constantinople, but this is probably a mistake. Anyhow he enjoyed the emperor's favour until the death of the latter in 565 and (as he himself tells us) was entrusted with the administration of the entire revenues of the Monophysite Church. He was also sent, with the rank of bishop, on a mission for the conversion of such heathen as remained in Asia Minor, and informs us that the number of those whom he baptized amounted to 70,000. He also built a large monastery at Tralles on the hills skirting the valley of the Meander, and more than go other monasteries. Of the mission to the Nubians which he promoted, though he did not himself visit their country, an interesting account is given in the 4th book of the 3rd part of his History. In 546 the emperor entrusted him with the task of rooting out the secret practice of idolatry in Constantinople and its neighbourhood. But his fortunes changed soon after the accession of Justin II. About 571 Paul of Asia, the orthodox or Chalcedonian patriarch, began (with the sanction of the emperor) a rigorous persecution of the Monophysite Church leaders, and John was among those who suffered most. He gives us a detailed account of his sufferings in prison, his loss of civil rights, &c., in the third part of his History. The latest events recorded are of the date 585, and the author cannot have lived much longer; but of the circumstances of his death nothing is known.
John’s main work was his Ecclesiastical History, which covered more than six centuries, from the time of Julius Caesar to 585. It was composed in three parts, each containing six books. The first part seems to have wholly perished. The second, which extended from Theodosius II. to the 6th or 7th year of justin II., was (as F. Nau has recently proved) reproduced in full or almost in full, in John’s own words, in the third part of the Chronicle which was till lately attributed to the patriarch Dionysius Telmaharensis, but is really the work of an unknown compiler. Of this second division of John’s History, in which he had probably incorporated the so-called Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite, considerable portions are found in the British Museum MSS. Add. 14647 and 14650, and these have been published in the second volume of Land’s Anecdota Syriaca. But the whole is more completely presented in the Vatican MS. (clxii.), which contains the third part of the Chronicle of pseudo-Dionysius. The third part of John’s history, which is a detailed account of the ecclesiastical events which happened in 571–585, as well as of some earlier occurrences, survives in a fairly complete state in Add. 14640, a British Museum MS. of the 7th century. It forms a contemporary record of great value to the historian. Its somewhat disordered state, the want of chronological arrangement, and the occasional repetition of accounts of the same events are due, as the author himself informs us (ii. 50), to the work being almost entirely composed during the times of persecution. The same cause may account for the somewhat slovenly Syriac style. The writer claims to have treated his subject impartially, and though written from the narrow point of view of one to whom Monophysite “orthodoxy” was all-important, it is evidently a faithful reproduction of events as they occurred. This third part was edited by Cureton (Oxford, 1853), and was translated into English by R. Payne-Smith (Oxford, 1860) and into German by J. M. Schönfelder (Munich, 1862).
John’s other known work was a series of Biographies of Eastern Saints, compiled about 569. These have been edited by Land in Anecdota Syriaca, ii. 1–288, and translated into Latin by Douwen and Land (Amsterdam, 1889). An interesting estimate of John as an ecclesiastic and author was given by the Abbé Duchesne in a memoir read before the five French Academies on the 25th of October 1892.
- See Land, Joannes Bischof von Ephesos, pp. 57 seq.
- Cf. Land's Appendix (op. cit. 172–193).
- See Bullettin critique, 15th June and 25th Aug. 1896, and 25th Jan. 1897; Journal asiatique, 9th series, vol. viii. (1896) pp. 346 sqq. and vol. ix. (1897) p. 529; also Revue de l’Orient chrétien, Suppl. trimestriel (1897), pp. 41–54, 455–493; and compare Noldeke in Vienna Oriental Journal (1896), pp. 160 sqq. The facts are brieliy stated in Duval’s Littérature syriaque, p. 192. A full analysis of this second part of John’s history has been given by M. Nau.