Lias: Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and Its Sources vol:40 issue:1 pages:29-82
Almost seventy-five years ago, in the ‘Traversariana’ section of his famous Ultimi contributi alla storia degli umanisti, Cardinal Giovanni Mercati mentioned a curious opusculum De sacerdotio D. N. Christi, ascribed in a few manuscripts and a 1496 Bolognese incunable to Ambrogio Traversari. Mercati pointed out that the text is actually a translation of a short Greek treatise that has been transmitted both independently and as a lemma in the large Byzantine Suda lexicon (compiled in the twelfth century). He lists five different Latin translations of this apocryphal excerpt: a first one by bishop Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln in the thirteenth century, and then four from the fifteenth century: the one ascribed to Traversari, another one by the Venetian humanist Lauro Quirini (along with an alleged second version of the same translation, edited by an anonymous reviser), the one dedicated in 1476 by Francesco Filelfo to Pope Sixtus IV, and finally another anonymous translation, which was printed a first time in 1541 and reprinted at least four times in the course of the sixteenth century. Although the tale about Jesus’ priesthood may have become well-known in the West thanks to its insertion as the Ἰησοῦς lemma in the Suda lexicon, the apocryphal story was originally an independent composition, and early on it was translated into various other languages as well.
This story about Jesus’ alleged Jewish priesthood (which is as much to be read as a corroboration of the Virgin Birth narrative) is known in a shorter and a longer redaction of the original Greek version, but also in Church Slavonic, Arabic and Georgian translations. However, the translations into Latin are the most numerous – and the less studied. When Mercati published his overview of these Latin versions, he referred to some manuscript witnesses – mainly from the Vatican library – and added a few letters illustrating the circulation of in particular Quirini’s version. Yet, since Mercati’s seminal study was published, scholarship has hardly added any new findings about the transmission and reception of these translations, and none of the Latin renderings has hitherto been published in a modern scholarly edition. The present contribution aims to fill that gap by providing reliable editions of these texts and hopes thereby to give an impetus to more thorough research concerning the proliferation and reception of a fascinating apocryphal story that in the fifteenth century seems to have stirred wide interest.