Patristic Commentaries on the Book of Daniel: Hippolytus of Rome


While scholarship might be able to define the rough period of time in which Hippolytus lived, it is more difficult to identify who he is and how this identity correlates with the various references made to a Hippolytus in the early history of the church.1 Several options have existed since the fifth century for the identity of the author of the alleged third century Hippolytian corpus: 1. a single western author – Hippolytus of Rome, 2. a single eastern Hippolytus, 3. a single author named Hippolytus who traverses from the east to Rome, writing in both places, 4. a single author named Hippolytus who carried on an itinerate ministry, writing as he traveled, and 5. two Hippolyti during the 3rd century, one Roman and one from the east.2 Incidentally, a number of martyrs are identified with the name Hippolytus. For the purpose of our discussion, the identity of Hippolytus is not necessary. There is enough extant evidence to warrant confusion of an eastern or western provenance for the author of the Hippolytian corpus. The question of authorship and provenance is of particular interest to those trying to understand the authorship and provenance of the Apostolic Tradition.3

All scholarship seems to concur that the author of the alleged corpus in question was Greek or at least wrote in Greek. None, to Cerrato’s knowledge, believe that he ever “wrote in Latin, Syriac, Armenian, or any other ancient language.”4 All authentic works of the corpus based upon the testimony of Eusebius and internal evidence strongly suggest (Cerrato: “assure”) a late second century to early third century date (198-235) which is pre-Diocletian. Other views put the corpus in the mid third and late third century.5

Commentary writing is a sort of genre. Christian sentiments concerning Scripture are adaptations of Jewish sentiment. Early Christianity focused on the exegesis of biblical books. “Fear of the new heresies became formative within the life of the early churches and also affected commentary activity.” Style, however, was borrowed from “Hellenistic academic models.” Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel is just such a work.6

Several commentators preceded Hippolytus. In Palestine (c. 75-100) there was Justus or Justinus of Tiberias; among the Gnostics (c.140-180) there was Ptolemy, Heracleon, and Basilides; in the Roman Province of Asia (c. 100-212) there was Papias of Hieropolis; Melito of Sardis; and Rhodo, in Syria (c. 160-180) there was Theophilus of Antioch; of unknown provenance (c. 80-212) there was Candidus, Apion, Heraclitus, and Judas; in Egypt (c. 180-230) there was Nepos and Pantaenus of Alexandria.7 Interestingly, Nepos writes against allegorical interpretation with respect to the apocalypse.8

The chiliasm of Papias was expressed in a work on the millennium, known to Jerome as annorum mille iudaicum ?????????? [deuterosin](vir. ill. 18). The approach was perhaps exegetical in form, drawing on the Apocalypse, other chiliastic sources, and the oral traditions. It became, according to Eusebius and Jerome, a chief influence on the later millenarians of both the east and west. Papias, therefore, bears similarities to our author. He is an exegetical writer and prominent interpreter of apocalyptic eschatology, whose literary activity served to establish chiliasm as a doctrinal tradition in the second and early third centuries.9

Cerrato maintains that exegetical commentaries were a distinctive endeavor well before Rome’s attempts and even those early commentators of Rome, Justin and Tatian, came to Rome from the east.10 The earliest reference by Eusebius to Hippolytus is made in HE 6:20 and occurs as a passing reference to the works contained in the library in Jerusalem established by Alexander of Jerusalem.

Jerome is also one of the early and prolific writers who attests to Hippolytus. Himself a transcultural figure, as he moves west to east, Jerome refers to the commentary material of Hippolytus as contained in Hippolytus’ commentary on Zechariah, Daniel, and Isaiah.

A significant feature of the witness of Jerome to be noted in closing, is the exemption of any Hippolytus from his lists of early Christian chiliasts, implying that he understands the Hippolytian eschatology to be moderate in form. His chief criticism of the older millennarianism, that it advocated an earthly and self-indulgent, materialistic, eschatological kingdom, is not applied to the corpus. The commentator Hippolytus, whom he thought he knew, was one who had revised the chiliasm of the early age and avoided its excesses.11

Irenaeus and Tertullian both express a fairly specific millenarianism that is consonant with Hippolytus. This early chiliasm contains the prophetic concepts of the fall of Rome, the rise of ten empires, the subsequent rise of an antichrist who dominates the earth for seven years, the appearance on earth of Enoch and Elijah, the persecution of the church by antichrist, the parousia of Christ from heaven destroying the antichrist and his allies, the resurrection and judgment of mankind, a literal earthly millennial kingdom, and the separation of humans to heaven or hell. Hippolytus differs from Irenaeus and Tertullian in that he is the only one to identify all four kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7 as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Irenaeus fails to name them and Tertullian only identifies Rome with the last of these kingdoms. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus all outline history in terms of a cosmic week with each day representing 1000 year epochs of history.12

Commentary Background

Textual issues abound regarding Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel due to its fragmentary existence. The text in ANF includes the preamble, commentary Daniel beginning with chapter 7 and ending with 12; there is the Scholia on Daniel which is more of a verse-by verse gloss on the commentary; there is another shorter fragment covering something in chapter 2 and chapter 7; there is the commentary of the Song of the Three Children, and finally a commentary on Susanna. The Bardy and Lefevre text with French translation utilizes the Old Slavonic to fill in some of the gaps in the texts that ANF utilizes. These portions do not have any of the Old Slavonic printed, but the translation in French is available. The Bardy and Lefevre text is divided up into the traditional four books of Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel.13

1Ceratto frames the question of the identity of Hippolytus: The questions to be answered are as follows:1.Who were the early church leaders who identified him? 2. Which of these church leaders wrote? 3. Is there a unity to the ante-Nicene writings attributed to Hippolytus that bespeaks a single author? 4. If it is a single author, what can be known about him? 5. If authorship is multiple, how do we separate out the veriegated writings? 6. If the authorship is multiple, what can be known about them? Essentially, these questions bring to bear the old source critical theories to patristics. (J. A. Cerrato, Hippolytus Between East and West: The Commentaries and the Provenance of the Corpus, Oxford Theological Monographs [Oxford:: Oxford Univ Press, 2002], 3–4)
2Cerrato, Hippolytus Between East and West, 4–5.
3Those involved in this debate include J. A. Carrato, Alistair Stewart-Sykes, David Dunbar, Allen Brent, Paul Bradshaw, and J. Baldovin among others.
4Cerrato, Hippolytus Between East and West, 6.
6Ibid., 15–16.
7Ibid., 17–22.
8Ibid., 21–22.
9Ibid., 19.
10Ibid., 25.
11Ibid., 67–68.
12Ibid., 236–38.
13I have not found anywhere a means whereby to compare the text of Lefevre and Bardy: Hippolyte, Gustav Bardy, Maurice LeFevre, trans. and ed., Hippolyte Commentaire sur Daniel, Sources Chrétiennes (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1947) to ANF Hippolytus, On Daniel, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), (ANF 5:177–94), Reprint. Trakatellis gives the outline for the Bardy-Lefevre text, but does state how it compares to the translation in ANF.( Demetrios Trakatellis, ????? ???????????[LOGOS AGONISTIKOS]: Hippolytus’ Commentary on Daniel,” in Religious Propaganda and Missionary Competition in the New Testament World [Leiden: E J Brill, 1994], 527 ).The ANF translation is obviously fragmentary, but that still leaves the question of what parts parallel it in the Bardy-Lefevre text. Without doing a verse-by-verse analysis, this seems to be the layout:
(1) Bardy and Lefevre Book I “On Susanna and Daniel” comments on Susanna (the thirteenth chapter in the Septuagint) and provides a background preamble for Daniel. It roughly corresponds to ANF “I. On Daniel” Hippolytus, On Daniel, 1.1–44 (ANF 5:177–85) and “VI. On Susanna .“ Hippolytus, On Daniel, 6.1–61 (ANF 5:191–94) There is also the Old Slavonic material which appears in French but not in the text. The page is blank where this material would be inserted in parallel with the French translation. Book I.XII and following is also not included in ANF. Although there is information from ANF “II. On Daniel” included in Book I
(2)Bardy and Lefevre Book II “On the image which Nebuchadnezzar the King made” comments on roughly Daniel 2-3 and apparently has no parallel in ANF.
(3) Bardy and Lefevre Book III “On Nebuchadnezar and on Daniel when he was cast into the den of lions” comments roughly on Daniel 4-6 and has no parallel in ANF.
(4)Bardy and Lefevre Book IV “On the vision of the prophet Daniel” comments on Daniel 7-11. ANF “II. On Daniel” Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2.1–44 (ANF 5:178–85) begins with with Bardy-Lefevre IV.II.4 Hippolyte, Bardy, and LeFevre, Hippolyte Commentaire sur Daniel, IV. II. 4 (262) and continues with it until nearly the end of Book IV.

The author is terribly sorry that he cannot seem to get the fonts to display properly. Two times he resorted to transliterating the text in Latin characters.

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