An alternative theory of
Article 73: The Inscription of Abercius, dated 216 CE
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and perception and inference
together with their fallacies
are useful for self-understanding"
-- Dignaga (India, about 550AD)
The Inscription of Abercius
The inscription in question recalled the memory of a certain Alexander, son of Anthony. De Rossi and Duchesne at once recognized in it phrases similar to those in the epitaph of Abercius. On comparison it was found that the inscription in memory of Alexander corresponded, almost word for word, with the first and last verses of the epitaph of the Bishop of Hieropolis; all the middle part was missing. Mr. Ramsay, on a second visit to the site of Hieropolis, in 1883, discovered two new fragments covered with inscriptions, built into the masonry of the public baths. These fragments, which are now in the Vatican Christian Museum, filled out the middle part of the stele inscribed with the epitaph of Abercius. It now became possible, with the help of the text preserved in the Life, to restore the original text of the epitaph with practical certainty.
The subject of the epitaph is often identified with a writer named Abercius Marcellus, author of a work against the Montanists, and claimed to be at one time the christian Bishop of Hieropolis, in Phrygia. Some fragments of this work have been preserved by Eusebius.
Here is the text from Quasten, Patrology, v. 1, p. 172.
1. The citizens of an eminent city, I made this (tomb) 2. In my lifetime, that I might have here a resting-place for my body. 3. Abercius by name, I am a disciple of the chaste shepherd, 4. Who feedeth His flocks of sheep on mountains and plains, 5. Who hath great eyes that look on all sides. 6. He taught me . . . faithful writings. 7. He sent me to Rome, to behold a kingdom 8. And to see a queen with golden robe and golden shoes. 9. There I saw a people bearing the splended seal. 10. And I saw the plain of Syria and all the cities, even Nisibis, 11. Having crossed the Euphrates. And everywhere I had associates 12. Having Paul as a companion, everywhere faith led the way 13. And set before me food the fish from the spring 14. Mighty and pure, whom a spotless Virgin caught, 15. And gave this to friends to eat, always 16. Having sweet wine and giving the mixed cup with bread. 17. These words, I, Abercius, standing by, ordered to be inscribed. 18. In truth, I was in the course of my seventy-second year. 19. Let him who understands and believes this pray for Abercius. 20. But no man shall place another tomb upon mine. 21. If one do so, he shall pay to the treasury of the Romans two thousand pieces of gold, 22. And to my beloved fatherland Hieropolis, one thousand pieces of gold.
Resolution of this exception
For example, there have been a number of different interpretations of Abercius. In 1894 G. Ficker, supported by O. Hirschfeld, strove to prove that Abercius was a priest of Cybele. In 1895 A. Harnack offered an explanation based upon religious syncretism and in 1896, Dieterich made Abercius a priest of Attis.
It is considered moreover that "The Shepherd" referred to above at the time in history around 216 CE, has a greater likelihood of being associated with the "The Shepherd" and the "Teacher" referred to in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts. As such, the inscription of Abercius is refuted to be associated with early christianity.