A Previously Unknown Greek Commentary on the Psalms (Rahlfs 9201)

Georgi Parpulov
March 15, 2022

In the course of his overseas travels, Peter I. Sevastianov (1811-1867), a high-ranking civil servant and keen antiquarian, collected seventy-eight Greek manuscripts which are now preserved at the State Library of Russia and have all been digitised. Lyudmila I. Shchegoleva lately published two instalments of a new catalogue that will eventually encompass this collection and that covers, for the moment, the first seventeen items in it. There are also handwritten descriptions prepared shortly after World War II by the young Alexander P. Kazhdan (1922-1997) and an older, rather summary catalogue by Alexei E. Viktorov (1827-1883).

Sevastianov’s Greek codex 55 is a fragmentary commentary on the Psalms copied on thirty-seven leaves of paper with fourteenth-century watermarks. To the best of my knowledge, this commentary is not found in any other manuscript. It might perhaps be the work of a certain Job the Sinner (Ἰὼβ ἁμαρτωλός) who might perhaps be identical with the monk and writer Job Melias Iasites (ὼβ Μελίας ασίτης) documented in the 1270s. But this is just a stab in the dark. Job’s explanation to the first fifteen Psalms, probably a fragment from a larger work, once survived at the Turin University Library in a unique sixteenth-century copy that perished in the terrible fire of 1904. Since only the preface for his now-lost commentary has been published in print, it is not possible to compare it directly with the text of the Moscow codex. The latter certainly deserves to be edited and studied. As a sample, here is what it has to say on the first verse of Psalm 129 (known in Latin as De profundis):

Περὶ μὲν τῆς ἐπανόδου τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ ἀπὸ τῆς Βαβυλωνίας γῆς οὐδὲν παρὼν διαγορεύει ψαλμός, προσευχῆς δὲ ὅλος δικαίων ἀνδρῶν φέρει σκοπόν, ψυχῆς τὲ τῷ ἔρωτι τετρωμένης Θεοῦ πόνον καὶ συντετριμμένου πνεύματος ῥήματα, διὸ καὶ ἐκ προοιμίων αὐτῶν τὴν ὅλην τοῦ οἰκείου σκοποῦ ποιεῖται ἀνάγνωσιν καὶ φησί· Ἐκ βαθέων ἐκέκραξά σοι, Κύριε. Αὕτη τοιγαροῦν φωνὴ τῆς εὐχῆς οὐ κοινὴ καὶ πάντων ἐστίν, ἀλλ᾽ ὀλίγων καὶ τῶν ἀπὸ βάθους καρδίας μόνων κεκραγότων ἀεὶ πρὸς Θεόν, τῶν τὰ ἀπόρρητα τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν φανερὰ ποιουμένων ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀκοιμήτου καὶ φοβεροῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ. Χείλεσι μὲν γὰρ καὶ στόματι ψάλλουσι καὶ ἀνυμνοῦσιν οἱ πλείονες, ὧν τῆς φωνῆς ἦχος τὰ ὦτα μόνον τῶν ἀκουόντων περιβομβεῖ καὶ πλήττει τὸν ἀέρα διαχεόμενος, ῥεμβομένου τοῦ νοὸς αὐτῶν καὶ αἰχμαλωτιζομένου εἰς μερίμνας τοῦ βίου, εἰς ματαιότητας καὶ μανίας ψευδεῖς, ἔσθ᾽ ὅτε καὶ εἰς ἀτόπους ἐπιθυμίας τῶν ἀκαθέκτων τῆς ἁμαρτίας παθῶν κατὰ τὸ ὑπὸ τοῦ προφήτου ἄνωθεν εἰρημένον· « λαός, φησί, οὕτος χείλεσί με τιμᾷ, τῇ δὲ καρδίᾳ πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ». Οἷς ἄρα οὐδὲ εἰπεῖν ἔξεστι πρὸς Θεὸν πρὸ μετανοίας εἰλικρινοῦς, ἄλλα μὲν διὰ χειλέων εἰς τοὐμφανὲς ᾄδουσιν, ἄλλα δὲ λογιζομένοις ἀφανῶς ἐν καρδίᾳ, τὸ «ἐκ βαθέων ἐκέκραξά σοι, Κύριε». Ὀλίγοι δὲ ταύτην ἐκ βάθους ψυχῆς ἀναπέμπουσι τὴν φωνήν, ἐπειδὴ ὀλίγων καὶ τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀγαθῶν ἔφεσις καὶ ὧν διακαεὶς ἔρως πρὸς τὴν τῶν νοητῶν ἐπιθυμίαν ἐπηύξησεν. Οἱ γὰρ δυνάμενοι νοερῶς ἐκδημεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ σώματος μᾶλλον εἰπεῖν μετὰ Πνεύματος ἁγίου ἐνδημεῖν καὶ ἐγγίζειν Θεῷ, ἐκεῖνοι μόνοι καὶ πρὸς αὐτὸν εἰπεῖν ἱκανῶς ἔχουσιν «ἐκ βαθέων ἐκέκραξά σοι, Κύριε», οἷον ἀπὸ ψυχῆς, ἀπὸ καρδίας, ἀπὸ βάθους τῆς διανοίας μου, ἔτι δὲ καὶ ἐκ βαθέων καὶ ὑψηλῶν νοημάτων, ὧν τὸ βάθος τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς σῆς σοφίας καὶ γνώσεως ἐρευν. Ἐκ τούτων οὖν καὶ τῶν τοιούτων ἐκέκραξά σοι, φησί, ἵνα τὴν μέριμναν τῆς ἐμῆς ψυχῆς καὶ τὴν φροντίδα μου γνῶς, πᾶντα εἰδώς, καὶ αὐτὴν τὴν μελέτην τῆς καρδίας μου, οἷς ἐξέτηξα ἐμαυτὸν καὶ τῶν σαρκῶν τὸ πλεῖστον κεκένωκα, τὸν ὕπνον ἐκ βλεφάρων ἀπεβαλόμην, οὐ δέδωκά μου τοῖς κροτάφοις ἀνάπαυσιν. Καὶ ἀφήσεις μοι τὰ ἐξ ἀσθενείας πεπλημμελημένα· οὐ τοῦτο δὲ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς μεθέξεως τῶν σῶν ἀγαθῶν ἀξιώσῃς με, ὧν ἡτοίμασας τοῖς ἀπ᾽ αἰῶνος ἁγίοις σου.  

The present psalm says nothing about Israel’s return from the land of Babylon but is all filled with the prayer of righteous men, with the labour of a soul wounded by love for God, with the words of a contrite spirit. It declares its full meaning at the very outset by saying: ‘Out of depths I cried out for you, O Lord’. The praying voice is therefore not common and of all people, but just of those few who have always cried out to God from the depths of their heart and who uncover their hearts’ secrets to God’s sleepless, fearsome eye. Most people recite psalms and hymns just with their lips and mouths; the sound of their voices just hums in the ear and trembles in the air while their minds wander enthralled with life’s cares, with deceptive vanities and madness, sometimes even with improper desires and uncontrollable, sinful passions (‘these people honour me with their lips, but with their heart are far from me’, as the prophet [Isaiah] said long ago). Visibly chanting one thing with their lips yet invisibly thinking another in their heart, it is impossible for such people to say to God (before sincere repentance): ‘Out of depths I cried out for you, O Lord’. Few speak up these words from the bottom of their soul, because few are those who strive toward the good things of heaven and whose burning love has grown towards desiring the spiritual. Those whose mind can leave the body behind or rather, those whose mind can cleave to the Holy Spirit and approach God, they are solely capable of saying to him: ‘Out of depths I cried out for you, O Lord’, that is, from the soul, from the heart, from the bottom of my understanding, from profound and sublime notions whose depth the spirit of your wisdom and knowledge penetrates. In other words: from these and from such I cried out for you, so that you, who know everything, may perceive my care, my soul’s anxiety, this striving of my heart through which I let myself melt away, nearly emptied out my flesh, threw off sleep from my eyelids, did not give respite to my sides. Forgive me errors I have committed out of weakness, and what is more, judge me worthy to partake of the good things that you have prepared for your saints since the world began.