Pseudo-Clement and the Syrophonecian woman

The Pseudo-Clementines sound like an odd citrus fruit, but are (at the earliest) third-century sermons purporting to be from the first-century Clement, Bishop of Rome. I’ve been working on Matthew 15:21-28 and picked up on the relation of the same incident in Psedo-Clement’s Homilies:

“There is among us one Justa, a Syro-Phoenician, by race a Canaanite, whose daughter was oppressed with a grievous disease. And she came to our Lord, crying out, and entreating that He would heal her daughter. But He, being asked also by us, said, ‘it is not lawful to heal the Gentiles, who are like to dogs on account of their using various meats and practices, while the table in the kingdom has been given to the sons of Israel.’ But she, hearing this, and begging to partake like a dog of the crumbs that fall from this table, having changed what she was, by living like the sons of the kingdom, she obtained healing for her daughter, as she asked. For she being a Gentile, and remaining in the same course of life, He would not have healed her had she remained a Gentile, on account of its not being lawful to heal her as a Gentile.”
Pseudo-Clement, Homily II:19

Bearing in mind that this is essentially fictional expansion of Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, there are some interesting points (beyond finding out that the name of the woman is Justa – perhaps a question the UK Borders Agency can add to their “Are you really a Christian?” exam) raised by Pseudo-Clement.

For a start, he seems to make the exact opposite point to Matthew with relation to the grounds of the Canaanite/Syrophonecian woman’s acceptability. Pseudo-Clement has her converting to Judaism and following the (Mosaic) Law in order to get Jesus to heal her daughter. Matthew has Jesus stating explicitly that her request is granted on account of her faith (15:28) and no mention of conversion to Judaism is made in either of the gospel accounts.

Why would Pseudo-Clement come up with such a bizarre theology, considering that the overall thrust of his homilies is not Judaistic? Perhaps his copy of Matthew had the textual variant ἔξεστιν in15:26 (“It is not lawful to take the children’s bread…”) rather than ἔστιν καλὸν (“It is not good/fitting to take the children’s bread…”) – this would make sense of why he feels that (at least, before Easter) the woman must convert to Judaism to receive any blessing from the Messiah. ἔξεστιν is found only in one major Greek manuscript  – Codex Bezae (D) – the readings of which, according to Aland, originate from a theologian of the third/fourth century at the earliest, probably located in or around Egypt (The Text of the New Testament, pp.67-69). This might give us more of a clue as to whom Pseudo-Clement was – he must be writing in the third or fourth century at the earliest; and using a Greek manuscript with the readings of Codex Bezae, suggesting that he was not anywhere near Rome, but in fact likely to originate from the eastern end of the Mediterranean. It’s not conclusive, but a bit more specific than the description of him as a “post-Nicene pseudonymous author” in NPNF.

Finally, it’s interesting that Pseudo-Clement doesn’t describe the daughter as suffering from demon-possession, as Mark and Matthew do, but as being seriously ill. Perhaps even by a few centuries after the New Testament, such things were being de-mythologised?


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