The Testament of Ivan the Terrible is not one of the major sources on the history of the reign, if for no other reason than its lack of impact on the succession. Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich’s death rendered it irrelevant. No interpretation of Ivan’s reign will stand or fall by this document, though it does contain a confession of the testator’s sins and a detailed disposition of the lands and property of the tsar. Both add a few details to the story of the oprichnina. To complicate matters, the Testament survives only in a very late copy. Not surprisingly, historians have rarely used it, though Günter Stökl devoted a short book to it.1
Cornelia Soldat is convinced that the text we have is a creation of the early 19th century, the work of the antiquarian A. A. Malinovskii. The surviving document, for which she provides some facsimiles, is in the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA) fond 197, Malinovskii’s papers, in an early 19th-century copy with notations by “A. Kurbatov(a)” dated 1739. Soldat reviews the attempts to find a date for the document, which S. B. Veselovskii on internal evidence dated to 1572. Attempts to find other dates from the 1570s on the basis of the same internal evidence, those of R. G. Skrynnikov and A. L. Iurganov, she shows to be speculative at best.2 Her own methodology, however, is not particularly consistent. [End Page 653]
Soldat opens with a discussion of Edward Keenan’s attempt to challenge the dating of the Kurbskii–Ivan Groznyi exchange (12–20), an attempt based on the assumption of a fixed authorial text, authentic or falsified, an assumption that she seems to share.3 Yet she then appears to follow Riccardo Picchio and Harvey Goldblatt’s conception of Orthodox Slavic literature in general (222–29), which devoted considerable attention to the existence of an “open tradition” for many literary monuments. In their view, Orthodox Slavic scribes added, deleted, and altered texts as they saw fit, and the presence of later textual elements tells us nothing about the date of original composition. In her analysis of the Testament, Soldat follows the Keenan approach, rather unexpectedly since she accepts the authenticity of a part of the Kurbskii–Ivan texts (I owe this point to Charles Halperin). From Picchio and Goldblatt she has taken their auxiliary notion of the biblical thematic clue, a scriptural quotation that begins many Old Slavic compositions and sets the direction for the text.4 Such a clue is absent in the Testament. Soldat regards this absence as proof that the text is a forgery, though Picchio and Goldblatt never argued that the clue was invariably present. The two approaches cannot be reconciled: if Picchio is right about the open tradition, then trying to date texts based on the presumed dates of particular passages is not fruitful.
Soldat’s argument rests on three textual similarities that purportedly indicate a later date than the 16th century. One comes from Ihor Ševčenko, who noted in 1974 that an anonymous quotation in the Testament comes from paragraph 21 of the work of the sixth-century Byzantine deacon Agapetus.5 Ševčenko believed that the version that occurs in the Testament had to come from Peter Mohyla’s 1628 Kiev edition of the text, since as a Byzantinist he assumed that Old Russian texts were, like Byzantine texts, products of a closed tradition. There are at least two Slavic translations of Agapetus, one as early as the 11th century and another found in 16th-century manuscripts, both most easily available in Lobakova’s study and publication [End Page 654] of the Life of Metropolitan Filipp.6 In the Testament and the Mohyla text the quotation is that the tsar should “iako Bogu ne gnevatisia, i iako smertnu ne voznositisia”; in the two Slavic versions of Agapetus we read “iako smertnu...