Lentulus, Epistle of
Lentulus, Epistle Of (Epistola Lentuli), is the well-known title of an apocryphal letter on the physical appearance of Christ, which the Romish Church receives as authentic, and as having been written by Publius Lentulus, a Roman of Palestine, and perhaps of Jerusalem, to Rome. . Manuscript copies of it are to be found, according to Job. Albert Fabricius (Cod. apocryph. Novi Testamenti, 1:302), in several libraries of England, France, and Italy (viz., in those of the Vatican and of Padua), Germany (at Augsburg and Jena, where two copies formerly existed, one of which was embellished with a fine image of Christ, and had been presented to the elector Frederick the Wise by pope Leo X). A librarian of Jena, Christopher Mylius (Memorab. biblioth. academ. Jesensis, Jen. 1746, 8vo, p. 301 sq.), states that this copy was written in golden letters upon red paper, very richly bound, and beautifully illustrated. This copy, however, is lost. The work was first printed in the Magdeburg Centuries (q.v.) (Basil. 1559), 1:344; it was then reproduced in Mich. Neandri Apocrypha (Basil. 1567), p. 410 sq., afterwards in Job. Jac. Grynsei Monumenta s. Patrum orthodoxographa (Basil. 1569, fol.). Joh. Reiskius, in Exercitatt. histor. de imaginibus Jes. Chr. rel. (Jen. 1685, 4to), gave a twofold version of it, one after Grynaeus, the other a reproduction of that described by Mylius. This epistle was highly regarded in former times; the papal legate, Jerome Xavier, translated it into Portuguese (in his history of Christ, a work full of legends and fables), and from this language it was subsequently translated into Persian; Reiske and Fabricius translated it into German, and published it at Nurenberg and at Erfurt. It is also to be found in a condensed form in the introduction to the works of archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, which, though without date or name of place, are, from internal evidence, supposed to have been published at Paris towards the close of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century; in this work it is accompanied by a description of the personal appearance of the Virgin Mary. In the earliest ages of the Church the question of the personal appearance of Christ while on earth had begun to attract considerable attention. Had there been anything positively known on the subject then, it would certainly have been eagerly received. Yet, although the Church fathers Justin, Tertullian, Hegesippus. and Eusebius mention a letter of Pilate to Tiberius, one of Abgarus to Christ, and one of Jesus to Abgarus, they make no mention of any letter of Lentulus concerning Christ. On the contrary, during the first century, while the Christian Church was suffering persecution, the impression prevailed, derived from Isa 53:2-3, that the Lord's personal appearance was very unprepossessing. But as the Church grew in prosperity and power this idea underwent a complete change. Eusebius and Augustine are heard to complain that nothing is known as to the Lord's personal appearance. In the Middle Ages a directly opposite opinion from that of the ancients prevailed, and the Lord was considered as having been an eminently handsome man, which opinion was only based on the passage Ps 45:2. In the works of the Greek historian Nicephorus (surnamed Callistus Xanthopulus), who lived in the 14th century, and whom Weismann considers a credulous, uncritical writer, we find a description of Christ's personal appearance, for which, however, the writer gives no authority, saying only that it is derived from the ancients. As it greatly resembles that of Lentulus, and perhaps served as its basis, we give it here as a curiosity: ῾Ημέντοι διάπλασις τῆς μορφῆς τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ι᾿ησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὡς ἐξ ἀρχαίων παρειλήφαμεν, τοία δέ τις ὠς ἐν τύπῳ παραλαβεῖν ῆν, ὠραῖος μὲν ῆν τὴν ὄψιν σφόδρα. Τήν γε μὲν ἡλικίαν εἰτ οῦν ἀναδρομὴν τοῦ σώματος, ἑπτὰ σπιθαμῶν ῆν τελείων. Ε᾿πίξανθον ἔχων τὴν τρίχα καὶ οὐ πάνυ δασεῖαν, μᾶλλον μὲν οῦν καὶ πρὸς τὸ οὔλον μετρίως πῶς ἀποκλίνουσαν, μελαίνας δἐ γε τὰς ὄφρυς εῖχε καὶ τὸ πάνυ ἐπικαμπεῖς, τοὺς δὲ ὀφθαλμοὺς χαρόπουςτινὰς καὶ ἤρμα (sic !) ἐπιξανθίζοντας, εὐοφθαλμὸς δ᾿ην καὶ ἐπίῤῥιν τὴν μέντοι τρίχα τοῦ πωγῶνος ξανθὴν τινὰ εῖχε, καὶ οὐκ εἰς πολὺ καθειμένην. Μακροτέραν δὲ τὴν τρὶχα κεφαλῆς περιέφερεν οὐδέποτε γὰρ ξυρὸς ἀνέβη ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ οὐδὲ χεῖρ ἀνθρώπου, πλὴν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ νηπιάζοντιος. ῎Ηρεμα ἐπικλινὴς τὴν αὐχένα, ὡς μηδὲ πάνυ ὀρδίου, καὶ εὐτεταμένην ἔχειν τἡν ἡλικίαν τοῦ σώματος σιτόχρουςδὲ καὶ οὐ στρογγύλην ἔχων τὴν ὄφιν ἐτύγχανεν, ἀλλ᾿ éσπερ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ μικρὸν ὑποκαταβαίνουσαν, ὀλίγον δὲ ἐπιφοινισσομένην, ὅσον ὑποφαίνεν τὸ σεμνόν το καὶ τὸ σύνετον τοῦ ἤθους καὶ ἣμερον καὶ τὸ κατάπαξ ἀόργητον. Κατὰ πάντα δὲ ῆν ἐμφερὴς τῇ δείᾷ καὶ πανασπίλῳ ἐκείνου μητρί. Ταῦτα μὲν ἐντούτοις. Compare the articles CHRIST, IMAGES AND PORTRAITS OF; JESUS CHRIST (II, 11, in vol. 4, p. 884). The same tendency prevailed also in the Western Church until the Reformation, when Luther took a more reasonable view of the question, saying, "It is very possible that some may have been as handsome, physically, as Christ. Perhaps some were even handsomer, for we do not see it mentioned that the Jews ever wondered at his beauty." The same view was taken by a Roman Catholic writer (Il libro de forma Christi, Paris, 1649), who said that the Redeemer was not either ill favored nor more handsome than other men. In other cases, however, the Roman Catholic Church has retained the ideas presented in the epistle of Lentulus.
If we now look more closely into this epistle of Lentulus, we find in the edition of Grynaeus (Monum. orthodoxographa) that it reads, "Lentulus, Hierosolymitanorum Preses, S. P. Q. Romano S.: Apparuit temporibus nostris et adhuc est homo magne virtutis, nominatus Christus Jesus, qui dicitur a gentibus propheta veritatis, quem ejus discipuli vocant filium Dei, suscitans mortuos et sanans languores [MS. Vatic. "languentes"]. Homo quidem staturie procerme [Goldast. addit. "scilicet xv palmorum et medii"], spectabilis, vultum habens venerabilem, quem intuentes possunt et diligere et formidare: Capillos vero circinos, crispos aliquantum caeruliores et fulgentiores [MS. 1 Jen. "Capillos habens coloris nucis avellanae praema.turme et planos usque ad aures, ab nuribus vero circinos, crispos aliquantulum ceruliores (t fulgentiores"], ab humeris volitantes [omnes alii: "ventilantes"], discrimen habens in medio capitis juxta-norem Nazarenorum [Centur. Magd. et Anselmi opp. 'Nazaraeorum"]: frontem planam et serenissimam, cu i facie sine ruga (ac) macula aliqua, quam rubor moderatus venustat. Nasi et oris nulla prorsus est reprelensio, nbarba habens copiosam et rubram [fere omn ss alii: "impuberem"], capillorum colore, non longam ssd bifurcatam [omnes addunt: "adspectum habet simplicem et maturum"], oculis variis et claris existentibus. In increpatione terribilis, in admonitione placidus [plurimi alii: "blandus"] et amabilis, hilaris servata gravitate, qui nunquam visus est ridere, flere autem saepe. Sic in statura corporis propagatus [plurimi alii addunt: "et rectus"] manus habens et membra [ceteri omnes: "brachia"] visu delectabilia in eloquio [rectius ceteri: colloquio"] gravis, rarus et modestus speciosus inter filios hominum. Valete [Hoc Valete deest in reliquis MSS. et edd.]." The very contents of the letter are sufficient evidence of its spuriousness. Had it really been written by a Roman, it would not have been addressed to the senate, but to the emperor, who was the immediate master of the Syrian provinces. It appears that this objection was already noticed in former times, for in the Magdeburg Centuries it is said to have been addressed to the emperor Tiberius. A fact of still greater importance is that Lentulus designated as Hierosolymitanorum praeses. No such office existed. There was a Praeses Syriae and a Procurator Judaeae but no Praises of the Roman inhabitants at Jerusalem. For this reason he is called in the Manuscr. Jen. 1, Proconsul in partibus Judaeae, and in the Manuscr. Vatic. and Jen. 2, in a thoroughly Roman Catholic manner, Officialis in provinicia Judaea, while there was no such office known in one at that period. But he is nowhere represented as a friend of Pilate, as Zimmermann attempts to make him in his Lebensgeschichte d. Kirche Christi, 1:70. We know most of the proconsuls or presides of Syria, and all the procurators of Judaea. but none of them was nalmed Lentulus. In the classics there are forty-three persons of that name mentioned, but four only belonged to the times of Tiberius. One of them only, Enaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus, was, according to Tacitus (Ann. 4:46), in the year 26, consul with Tiberius, and in 34 was the chief of the legions in upper Germany (Tacitus, Annal. 6:30); he may, indeed, according to Suetonius (Calig. c. 8) and Pliny (Epist. 5:3), have been in Judaea during the years 26 to 33, but there is no proof of it. On the other hand, the Lentulus who wrote the epistle is expressly called in the MS. Jen. 1, Putblius. Moreover, there is no mention at all made of the epistle by any of the ancient writers, whilst other epistles, even some of an apocryphal nature, are mentioned by them, and this one, had it then been known, would certainly have attracted the attention of the apologists at a time when the general impression was so strong against the fine personal appearance of the Lord. Nicephorus Xanthopulus, whose description of Christ's personal appearance we gave above, states only that it is based on old traditions, while, if such a description as that given in the Epistle of Lentulus had been known in the Greek Church in the 14th century, he would certainly not have failed to quote it as an authority. Regarding the literary merits of the work, it must be confessed that it is written in old Latin; but as it is full of expressions which would not naturally be used by a Roman citizen — as the whole tenor of the work, moreover, is thoroughly unclassical, it is to be supposed that its writer aimed to imitate the style of the ancients, and pass it off as a work of their age. A Roman would never have used the expression propheta
veritatis.filii hominum, at the beginning and at the end of the epistle. So also the appellation Christus Jesus is evidently taken from the New Test., for the Redeemer was never thus designated during his lifetime. Jesus himself declined the name of Christ, forbade his disciples calling him thus, and he never was called so by his enemies. How, then, could a heathen have come to call him Christ, and even to put that appellation before that of Jesus — a change which only took place after his claim to be considered as the Messiah had been established beyond cavil. If it is claimed that Christ was called by the heathen the prophet of truth, yet, as Christ's activity during his life was not directed towards the heathen in general, it could only apply to the Romans residing in Palestine. Yet these we do not find to have been designated as heathen, but as Romans; and they did not interest themselves enough in the wandering Rabbi to render such an expression general among them. Nor was it otherwise with the heathen residing on the frontiers of Palestine. "His disciples called him the Son of God." Though they gave him occasionally that name, it was so far from being a general custom that the governor himself knew nothing of it. So this, like the following sentences on the raising of the dead and healing of the sick, is all taken from the Gospel. It also says that his hair was parted after the manner of the Nazarites: we find the substitution of Nazarene for Nazarite, which only took place afterwards. Now a Roman officer would know little or nothing about the Nazarites; moreover, Christ could not properly be called a Nazarite, for he drank wine, touched the dead, and did many other things contrary to the customs of the Nazarites. The remark that he was never seen to laugh, but often to weep, proves him to have led a solitary life, such as we have no example of at the supposed time of the writing of this epistle, and is only an idea derived from the Gospels, and from the state of things in the Middle Ages. The last words also, "beautiful among the sons of men," are quite unsuited to the mouth of a Roman, who would never have made use of such a Hebraism, and it is clearly taken from the 45th Psalm, which is the basis of the whole description. This consequently could not apply to our Lentulus, but only to a monk of the Middle Ages.
Having thus seen how this epistle carries within itself the proofs of its spuriousness, the question arises, When was it written? If it were included in the works of Anselm, we would have to consider it as having been composed in the 11th century. Yet it is simply appended to the works of this author, and was never made use of until the 15th century, to give favor to an opinion which the monks had an interest to propagate. Laurentius Valla, who lived in the 15th century, was the first who made any mention of it in his argument against the pseudo donation of Constantine. A postscript of great interest is appended to the 2d Jena MS., and it, in our estimation, tends to reveal the true character of the work: "Explicit epistola Jacobi de Columpna anno Domini 1421 reperit earn in annalibus Romge, in libro antiquissimo in Capitolio ex dono Patriarchye Constantinopolitani." If this postscript is to be relied on, this epistle was sent to Rome in the 14th century by a patriarch of Constantinople as a present, just as it was afterwards sent to the elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony by pope Leo. But as from Constantinople there were generally sent Greek MSS. only. and as there is no mention made of the name of the patriarch supposed to have sent it, and as, moreover, the work is claimed to be a very old one, it is most likely that this description is a Latin translation of that of Nicephorus, which we gave above, that the translator added the postscript with the intention of rendering his spurious work more credible, and that consequently both epistle and postscript are spurious. The imitator or translator of Nicephorus, who gives ample proofs in his work of the source whence he drew when he speaks of the stature of Christ (in a copy in Goldast we find, after statura procerus, "scilicet xv palmorun et medii"), gave the work the form of an epistle, and gave it the name of Lentulus, taken from some tradition, or which otherwise seemed suitable to him. It is now evident that the epistle could only have been written at some time after Nicephorus, and before the year 1500, consequently in the 14th century. Dr. Edward Robinson, after carefully examining all the evidences for and against the authenticity of this work, thus presents the results of his inquiry — "In favor of the authenticity of the letter we have only the purport of the inscription. There is no external evidence whatever. Against its authenticity we have the great discrepancies and contradictions of the inscription; the fact that no such official person as Lentulus existed at the time and place specified, nor for many years before and after; the utter silence of history in respect to the existence of such a letter; the foreign and later idioms of its style; the contradiction in which the contents of the epistle stand with established historical facts; and the probability of its having been produced at some time not earlier than the 11th century." See Joh. Bened. Carpzov, Theologi Helmstadiensis progsramma: de oris et corporis Jesu Christi, etc. (Helmstadt, 1774, 4to); Joh. Philippians Gabler, Theologus Altofjensis an. 1819 and 1822 in Authentiam epistole ublii Lentuli cad Senatum Romanum de Jesu Christo scripptce; Herzog, Real-
Encyklopädie, 8:292 sq.; Dr. Robinson in Biblical Repository, 2:367; Schaff, Ch. Hist. 3:569; Jamieson, Ourlord, 1:35; Friends' Review, March 3, 1867, p. 769 sq. SEE JESUS CHRIST.