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AUGUSTINE'S CANAANITES1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 October 2014

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Abstract

There is a widespread idea that the people we call ‘Phoenician’ called themselves ‘Canaanite’. This article argues that the only positive evidence for this hypothesis, a single line in the standard editions of Augustine's unfinished commentary on Paul's letter to the Romans, where he claims that ‘if you ask our local peasants what they are, they answer ‘Canaanite’', is prima facie highly unreliable as historical evidence, and on closer inspection in fact is almost certainly an editorial error: our examination of all the manuscripts — the first to have been carried out — established that what the peasants were really asked in the archetype was not quid sint — ‘what they are’ — but quid sit — ‘what is it’, a phrase that would most obviously refer to their language. While this new reconstruction of the archetype does not necessarily mean that quid sit was what Augustine originally wrote, this passage cannot be used as positive evidence for Canaanite identity in late antique North Africa, or anywhere else.

C'è un'idea diffusa che il popolo che noi chiamiamo ‘Fenici’ chiamasse se stesso con il nome di ‘Canaaniti’. Il presente articolo sostiene che la sola testimonianza che va nella direzione di quest'ipotesi è prima facie estremamente inaffidabile come fonte storica. Si tratta di un'unica riga nell'edizione standard del commentario incompiuto di Agostino alla lettera di Paolo ai Romani, in cui si dice che ‘se tu chiedi ai nostri contadini locali che cosa siano, essi rispondono ‘Canaaniti’' e che a una verifica più dettagliata corrisponde quasi certamente a un errore redazionale. Il nostro riesame di tutto il manoscritto — il primo a essere stato effettuato — ha stabilito che ciò che nell'archetipo viene chiesto effettivamente ai contadini non è quid sint — ovverosia ‘che cosa sono’ — ma quid sit — e quindi ‘che cos’è', una frase che si riferisce con probabilità al loro linguaggio. Mentre questa nuova ricostruzione dell'archetipo non implica necessariamente che quid sit fosse ciò che Agostino originariamente scrisse, questo passaggio non può essere usato come una prova dell'identità dei Canaaniti nella tarda antichità in Nord Africa o in qualsiasi altra localizzazione.

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Copyright © British School at Rome 2014 

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Footnotes

1

The origins of this paper lie in a series of conversations between Jo Quinn, Stephen Heyworth and Jonathan Prag, and we are extremely thankful to the two latter for their ongoing advice and enthusiasm. We also gratefully acknowledge the help given to us by Maria Giulia Amadasi Guzzo, François Bron, Gillian Clark, Mark Edwards, Peta Fowler, Lionel Galand, Brien Garnand, Bruce Hitchner, Reinhard Lehmann, Paul Mosca, Tobias Reinhardt, Philip Schmitz, John van Seters, José Ángel Zamora López, Maxine Anastasi, and the Papers of the British School at Rome's readers, Editor and Publications Manager. A list of abbreviations can be found before the References.

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