Legend of Aphroditianus

Narratio Aphroditiani

Standard abbreviation: Leg. Aphr.

Other titles: also known in scholarship as the “Narrative of Events Happening in Persia on the Birth of Christ,” falsely attributed to Julius Africanus

Clavis numbers: CANT 55; BHG 802–806

Category: Infancy Gospels

Related literature: De gestis in Perside, On the Star by Pseudo-Eusebius of Caesarea, Revelation of the Magi, Sibylline Oracles 8; John Damas­cene, Homilia in nativitatem Domini

Compiled by Tony Burke, York University (tburke@yorku.ca) based on work by Katharina Heyden

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Burke, Tony. “Legend of Aphroditianus.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR.  http://www.nasscal.com/e-clavis-christian-apocrypha/legend-of-aphroditianus/.

Posted August 2017.


The Legend of Aphroditianus is a supple­ment to the pericope of the adoration of the Magi in Matthew 2:1–12. It first explains how the Magi knew about the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem and then describes their journey and their encounter with Christ and Mary in more detail than the canonical account. In its first part (chaps. 1-6), Leg. Aphr. describes a miracle in the temple of Hera in Persia at the time of Jesus’ birth (1). In the presence of the Persian king and a priest, the statues of the temple dance and sing, announcing that Hera has been made pregnant by Zeus and will give birth to a child (2). Then a star appears above the statue of Hera. A voice proclaims the birth, and all the other statues fall down upon their faces (3). The wise men of Persia interpret the miracle as an announcement of the birth of the Messiah in Judah (4). In the evening, the god Dionysus appears to confirm this interpretation and to proclaim the end of the worship of the pagan gods (5). Then the king sends the Magi to Judea with gifts, the star pointing them along their way (6). The second part of Leg. Aphr. (chaps. 7-9) is a report of the Magi about their journey to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, including a discussion between the Magi and the Jewish leaders (7), and their meeting and encounter with Mary and the two-year-old Jesus (8). Of interest here are the precise description of Mary’s appearance (8:4) and the remark that the Magi brought back to Persia a likeness of the mother and child, which they placed in the temple where the star originally appeared. The report of the Magi concludes with the appearance of an angel who, warning the Magi of a plot against them, advises them to return home (9).

Named historical figures and characters: Cyrus, Dionysus, Helios, Hera, Herod (the Great), Jesus Christ, Judah (patriarch), Karia, Magi, Mary (Virgin), Muses, Pege, Prouippus, Tyche, Urania.

Geographical locations: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Judea, Persia, temple (Jerusalem).


2.1 Web Sites

“De gestis in Perside.” ANR Ctesiphon (introduction to the text and French translation by Pauline Bringel; Greek text from Wirth’s edition).


3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Armenian

Bratke (Das sogenannte Religionsgespräch, 128) mentions an Armenian version of the text, but this has not yet been published.

3.1.2 Greek

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, gr. 61, fols. 313–316 (ca. 1550)

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, gr. 199, fols. 292v–295v (ca. 1550)

Aretin, Johann Freiherr von. Beyträge zur Geschichte und Literatur, vorzüglich aus den Schätzen der pflazbaierischen Centralbibliothek zu München. 2 vols. München: Scherer, 1804 (editio princeps of Leg. Aphr. as an independent text based on the two Munich manuscripts, with Latin translation, pp. 49-69).

Migne, Jacques Paul. Patrologiae cursus completus: Series graeca. Vol. 10. Paris: Cerf, 1857 (republication of Aretin’s text, cols. 97–108). De gestis in Perside

The oldest written version is incorporated in an anonymous Greek work entitled De gestis in Perside, a fifth- or sixth-century fictional religious dispute between pagans, Christians, Jews, and a Persian magus at the court of the Sasanian Empire.

Short Recension

J  Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. Palat. gr. 4 (10th/11th cent.)

Long Recension

A  Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 1084 (11th cent.)

C  Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, gr. 467 (11th cent.)

Mount Athos, Vatopedi, gr. 10 (14th cent.)

Moscow, State Historical Museum, Synod. gr. 252 (11th cent.)

Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. Palat. 364 (14th/15th cent.)

Bratke, Eduard. Das sogenannte Religionsgespräch am Hof der Sassaniden. TU N.F. 4/3. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1899 (comparison of 29 manuscripts of Pers. and a new edition with A as its base).

Bringel, Pauline. “Une polémique religieuse à la cour perse: le De gestis in Perside. Histoire du téxte, édition critique et traduction.” 2 vols. PhD diss., Université de Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2007 (comprehensive edition and translation of Pers. drawing on 14 additional manuscripts, with French translation; divided the evidence into two recensions: a short one that is preserved in J and a long one found in all other manuscripts, of which Bringel favored C as the best witness).

Vassiliev, Athanasius. Anecdota graeco-byzantina, pars prior. Moscow: Imperial University, 1893 (editio princeps based on Moscow Synod. gr. 252 and Vatican, Palat. 364, pp. 73–125, with manuscript details pp. xxvii–xxxii.)

Wirth, Albrecht. Aus Orientalischen Chroniken. Frankfurt-am-Main: M. Diesterweg, 1894 (Greek edition based on C, pp. 152–193). John Damas­cene, Homilia in nativitatem Domini

Kotter, Bonifatius ed. Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos. 5 vols. PTS 7, 12, 17, 22, 29. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1969–1988 (the homily, preserved in 58 manuscripts, incorporates Leg. Aphr.; text in vol. 5, pp. 324–47).

3.1.3 Romanian

Translation from Slav II.

Gaster, M. “Die rumänische Version der Legende des Aphroditian.” Byzantinisch-Neugriechische Jahrbücher 14 (1938): 119-28 (German translation from a seventeenth-century manuscript.)

3.1.4 Slavonic

Slav I: excerpt from De gestis in Perside made, probably in Bulgaria, in the tenth century.

Slav II: translation from a different version of De gestis in Perside (the model is Mount Athos, Vatopedi, gr. 10 [14th cent.], which contains the entire text) in the fourteenth century probably by Serbian monks of Mount Athos.

Bobrov, Alexander G. The Apocryphal Legend of Aphroditianus in the Literature and Book-making of Old Russia. Dissertation and Edition (in Russian). St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1994 (edition of Slav II, pp. 127–32).

Veder, William R. “The Slavonic Tale of Aphroditian: Limitations of Manuscript-Centred Textology.” rnovska knižovna škola 9 (2009) (edition of Slav I).

3.2 Modern Translations

3.2.1 English

Heyden, Katherina. “The Legend of Aphroditianus: A New Translation and Introduction.” Pages 3–18 in New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Vol. 1. Edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016 (translation based on editions of Bratke and Bringel).

(translator unknown). “Narrative of Events Happening in Persia on the Birth of Christ.” ANF 6:128–30 (as a work of Julius Africanus).

3.3 General Works

Bringel, Pauline. “Interprétation et réécritures dans la tradition manuscrite du Récit d’Aphroditien.” Pages 285–96 in Entré Actes. Regards croisès en sciences humaines. Réalités et représentations: les pistes de la recherche. Actes du Ier Colloque international des jeunes chercheurs en sciences humaines et sociales de Strasbourg, 10 et 11 mai 2004. Edited by Laurent Angard. Strasbourg: Université Marc Bloch, 2005.

Déroche, Vincent. “La polémique anti-judaique au Vie et au VIIe siècle. Un mémento inédit, les Képhalaia.“ Travaux et Memoires 11 (1991): 275–311.

Heyden, Katharina. Die “Erzählung des Aphroditian.” Thema und Variationen einer Legende im Spannungsfeld von Christentum und Heidentum. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 53. Tübingen: Morh Siebeck, 2009. (Further bibliography may be found here.)

__________. “Die Christliche Geschichte des Philippos von Side. Mit einem kommentierten Katalog der Fragmente.” Pages 209–43 in Julius Africanus und die christliche Weltchronistik. Edited by Martin Wallraff. TU 157. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter 2006.

Kaufmann, Carl Maria. “La pègè du temple d’Hiérapolis.” RHE 2 (1901): 529–48.

Külzer, Andreas. Disputationes graecae contra Iudaeos. Untersuchungen zur byzantinischen antijüdischen Dialogliteratur und ihrem Judenbild. Byzantinisches Archiv 18. Leipzig/Stuttgart: Teubner, 1999.