Journal of Early Christian Studies 9.4 (2001) 598-599
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Melito, Peri Pascha and the Quartodeciman Paschal Liturgy at Sardis
Alistair Stewart-Sykes Melito, Peri Pascha and the Quartodeciman Paschal Liturgy at Sardis Supplement to Vigiliae Christianae 42 Leiden: Brill, 1998 Pp. xiii + 229. $100.00.
Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Assistant Professor of Liturgics at the General Theological Seminary in New York, offers the first complete study of the Peri Pascha since B. Lohse (Das Passafest der Quartadecimaner [Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1953]), and the only study to employ seriously a rhetorical critical method. His work is a marvel of clarity, detailed analysis, and significant new insights on the nature and function of this important early Christian text. A summary of the entire work is skillfully condensed in the brief introduction (xi-xiii), the most salient point of which is the claim that the Peri Pascha "constitutes the two parts of the Quartodeciman liturgy with [the first] a homily on Exodus 12, delivered on the eve of Pascha, and [the second] a commemorative ritual which constituted the celebration of Pascha itself."
The work unfolds in four chapters. Chapter 1 provides a general introduction and surveys all the extant data on Melito himself and on the Jewish and Christian character of Sardis in the mid-second century. Stewart-Sykes concludes that Sardis had a significant Jewish presence, was a cosmopolitan center loyal to Rome, and was a center of Hellenistic culture. These influences shaped the development of the Peri Pascha, a text which reflects a strongly Jewish tradition, as well as a familiarity with Hellenistic rhetorical forms. The author is equally convinced that the Christianity which developed in Sardis was thoroughly Johannine, showing the same early Palestinian origins, expressing the same ambiguity of both Jewish and anti-Jewish elements held together in tension, affirming the same repudiation of Judaism as a necessary concomitant to an acceptance of Christianity and supersession of the Torah, and embracing the same prophetic character that flourished in Asian circles and emerges in the Epistula Apostolorum and in the Montanist controversy.
Having established the Johannine character of the Peri Pascha, Stewart-Sykes turns in chapter To to an examination of Jewish Pascha traditions. He claims that "the paschal haggadah existed in some form before the parting of the ways, and [End Page 598] that a domestic seder was practiced at this time" (31). Citing references in Josephus (Ant. 14.214) and Philo (Spec. 145), Stewart-Sykes argues for a domestication of the Passover rite in the latter days of the second temple. Further, he sees evidence of this trend in Johannine traditions and concludes that Melito was acquainted with this practice in the Jewish Christian context of Sardis. The Jewish paschal traditions included a table rite with haggadah, distinct from the celebrations which took place in the Temple, whose function it was to remember through re-enactment the events of the Egyptian Passover. For the Christians of Sardis, it was not the Egyptian Passover but the mysteries which that Passover prefigured which were celebrated. Stewart-Sykes concludes therefore: "the context of the delivery of Peri Pascha conforms to that in which Jewish tradition would deliver the haggadah, that is to say it is delivered in the context of a table rite" (50).
Chapter 3 is the longest and most original chapter of this work, the "central plank" as the author calls it. Here Stewart-Sykes presents a painstaking analysis of the form and function of Peri Pascha. In serial fashion he examines the rhetorical shape of this work to determine whether it can be classified as a homily, as haggadah, as diatribe, as epideixis, as rhetorical history, as allegory, as targum, as liturgical hymn, or as midrash. The conclusions of these careful investigations affirm a clear and distinct two-part division in the Peri Pascha between PP 1-45 and PP 46-105. The first part in form is a "haggadic homily, . . . not expository, and liturgical to a higher degree than an expository homily, . . . more comparable to...