A DISCOURSE OF ABBA EPIPHANIUS BISHOP OF SALAMIS
Edited by: Fr Athanasius Eskander
Saint Epiphanius (feast day Pachons 17) was born 312 AD in Judea to Jewish parents. He converted to Christianity, was baptised and later became a monk under Abba Hilarion (feast day Paopi 24). He later came to Egypt and spent some sometime in Scetis (Shiheet). He became bishop of Salamis (Cyprus) as prophesied by Abba Hilarion. This is an excerpt from one of his homilies translated from Coptic.
The Book of the generation of Jesus the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac ; and Isaac begat Jacob ; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren; and Judah begat Phares and Zara by Thamar. Pay great attention now to this passage in truth. Tell me now why he mentions Thamar in this
passage. He does not mention Sarah, the wife of Abraham, he does not mention Leah, and Rachel, and Rebecca, those glorious women, but he says, “by Thamar”. Of what kin was Thamar ?
Hearken, and I will tell you.She was not descended from Israel, but from an alien people who knew not God. Judah took for his first-born son Er a wife whose name was Thamar. Afterwards Er died, and Onan his brother took her. And Onan did evil before the Lord, and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Thamar, “Dwell thou in the house of thy parents, and remain a widow until my son Selom (Shelah) shall have grown up, and then I will take thee for him to wife.” (Gen 38) And when very many days had passed by, and Thamar saw that his son Selom (Shelah) had grown up, and that he did not take her to wife, she was angry with Judah, since no one else had taken her to dwell with him. For at that time, when the husband of a woman died, no man, except the brother of him that had died, was able to take her to wife.
And further, when Thamar saw that Judah had deceived her, and she heard that he was coming along the road to go to his sheep-shearing, she rose up, and putting off the garb of a widow which she was wearing, she dressed herself in the attire of a harlot, and covered her face, and sat down by the side of the highway. And when Judah saw her, he thought that she was a whore, for he did not recognize her because her face was covered. And he gave her a pledge, and went in to her, and afterwards he departed on his way.
And when he came among the sheep, he sent to her a young he-goat, but his messenger told him that he did not find her. For when subsequently the man asked, “Where is the whore who was sitting here” they said unto him, “There is no whore here.” And after certain days a report was received by Judah, saying, “Behold, Thamar, thy son’s wife, is with child by fornication,” And when he heard of the matter, to speak briefly, he gave the command, “Take her out, and burn her in the fire;” and they took her out to destroy her. And she took with her the three silent witnesses, which were the staff, the signet ring, and the necklace, which are the pledge he gave her.
And she sent these to Judah, saying, “Identify these things, and say whose they are. Deny not, by God, with the denial of thy tongue.” And when Judah saw them he recognized them, and he confessed, saying, “They belong to me.” For he made no denial, and he said, “Thamar is more justified than I.”Afterwards Thamar brought forth two sons at the same time. The first stretched out his hand, and the midwife bound round it a scarlet thread, and after he had withdrawn his hand, his brother came out, according to what the Evangelist saith, “And Judah begat Phares and Zara by Thamar.”
Now let us continue in the narrative a little further so that our discourse may come to an end, and we will complete our narrative with the wonderful words of the Evangelist Matthew, in order that we may know that, although the matter that has been mentioned was disreputable, it is shewn to have been one that was highly applauded. And when he hath mentioned Thamar, Matthew is not wholly content, for having advanced a little further after these things he saith, “Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; and Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; and Salmon begat Boes of Rahab.”
Now it is good for us to digress in our discourse a little at this point, so that we may find out who Rahab was, or from what place she came. There is no need for us to heap up many words, for all we have to do is to follow the Scriptures confidently. Who is Rahab, except Rahab the harlot, who received into her house the envoys of Joshua the son of Nun, who had sent them to spy out Jericho. And after many other words between her and those men, she delivered them out of the hand of the people of Jericho, and she said unto them, “According as I have done this good unto you, and have delivered you, ye shall swear unto me that ye will spare me and the house of my father.” And they swore an oath to her, and they gave to her a sign, namely, that she was to tie a red cord to her window whereby she helped them to escape, for her house was on the wall. Behold, O ye who are listening, in what way the facts concerning these two women are similar. Rahab was a harlot, who received every one into her house, and Thamar dressed herself in the garb of a whore. Likewise, Rahab tied a red cord to her window, and it became a protection for her, and a red thread was tied round the hand of the son of Thamar. After the Israelites took the city of Jericho, they destroyed it, but they preserved the house of Rahab, and it was kept safe, and she herself was numbered among Israel, and is numbered to this day. She was the harlot whom Salmon took to wife, and he begat Boes of her.
And afterwards, Matthew saith, “Boes begat Obed of Ruth.” Verily how marvellous are these matters. Those who are sinners, according to the earth, are the princesses of the Scriptures! Let us consider now in this place who Ruth was. Now Ruth was not an Israelitess, but she was descended from the children of Moab. And Moab was the eldest son of Lot, whom he begot of his own daughter, and he was descended from the seed of Sodom, through his mother, that is to say, the wife of Lot.
Now I hear the Scriptures saying in a concise manner, “Neither a Moabite nor an Ammonite shall enter the house of God.” (Deu 23:3) and yet Ruth herself was a Moabitess, and she obtained such great honour that Christ sprang from her seed! And the Evangelist Matthew is not content with what is given above, but he continues to the end, saying, “And Obed begat Jesse ; and Jesse begat David; and David begat Solomon of the wife of Uriah. Who now is this wife of Uriah except Bersabee (Bathsheba)? But because the name of Bersabe is not known unto all men, for this reason Matthew saith, “The wife of Uriah,” and doth not mention her name, and the cause for this is very clearly manifest. Saint Matthew saith, “David begat Solomon of the wife of Uriah; and Solomon begat Rehoboam; and Rehoboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asaph; and Asaph begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; and Ozias begat loatham; and loatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; and Ezekias begat Manasse; and Manasse begat Amos; and Amos begat Josias; and Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren at[the time of the removal to Babylon.
And after the removal to Babylon, Jechonias begat Zalathiel; and Zalathiel begat Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eleakim; and Eleakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadok; and Sadok begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Mathan; and Mathan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, who brought forth the Christ Jesus from her body.
You can see what his result is, and how the matter concludes, and that there are forty and two generations from Abraham to the Christ. Of all these generations which passed, the Evangelist mentions no women except the four who have been referred to above, namely, Thamar, and Rahab, and Ruth, and Bersabee. And that he hath mentioned these is not due to the subject of the worship of God, but to the reason which we stated early in our discourse.
Thamar was descended from the Philistines, and knew not God, and she was treated as a whore by Judah, and by whom she conceived. Rahab, likewise, was descended from a foreign tribe, and was of the race of the people of Jericho, and was a whore. And Ruth was a Moabite, and from an abominable native of Sodom. And Bersabee was an adultress. Now these things happened in this wise in order that the righteous might not feel offended at sinners ; and that those who have been begotten by righteous and well-conducted parents, who were properly married to suitable wives, might not be offended at those who were brought forth by parents irregularly married, and that the matter might be evident to every one, namely, that it was for this reason, and many other good purposes, that Christ was produced by women of this kind; so that those who were produced in sin, and those who were produced in righteousness, might be bound together in one communion, and that they all might have good hope.
For He came to gather together those who were scattered, and those who were in despair about themselves, and He was produced by a virgin only, who produced Him from the seed of two kinds, which were bound together, that is to say, pious seed and impious seed. Now those who are in despair about themselves at this time, and who have been saved by mercy, are of the seed of righteousness, and these are they who are fixed firmly in the wall of the spiritual edifice (the Church), and are with all the others united with the Stone in the corner.
And that he who is of the circumcision may not boast himself, and in order that those of the seed of Israel who believe in Christ may know that He is the true Stone, the chosen one for the corner, that is to say, our Lord Jesus Christ, this same Christ came to us, and swept away the dividing wall between the two, that is to say, circumcision and uncircumcision, righteousness and lawlessness, and yoked them together in one union. Jesus was descended from two kinds of men, the sinful and the righteous, the worshippers of God and those who knew not God, indeed true is the saying of the Lord, “I did not come to invite the righteous, but the sinners to repentance.” And according as His infinite mercy spreads over every one, He shews mercy to the righteous, He forgives the sinner, He loves the righteous, He has compassion on the sinner, He speaks words of good cheer to the sinner, and He heals his wounds which are putrefying and stinking. Behold, the Word made Himtself flesh, and dwelt with us, in order that He might shew mercy unto all men together, both the sinners and the righteous! He rejects no man who goes unto Him with repentance. And you know that the harlot anointed His feet with unguent, and wiped them with her hair, and He blotted out her sins and iniquities. The Magi came to Him, they worshipped Him, and He made them citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
And this holy Evangelist, who speaks to us in this holy Gospel, himself bears witness concerning Him, for he was a tax gatherer, and when he forsook the collecting of taxes, He bestowed upon him the holy Gospel. And even the thief who had shed blood, as soon as he made supplication to Him in the hour of his necessity, saying, “Remember me, Lord,” straightway He took him to Paradise. For this reason, O man, be not in despair concerning yourself. Whether you are a fornicator, or a robber, or you fall into sin of any kind, only turn to the Lord, and He will forgive you; for there is no sin which doth not become powerless before God, the Physician of our soul. And unto us all together may He grant that we walk in the ways that please Him at all times, and that we may cast away from us the old man and his wickedness.
Why do you distract your mind so greatly, and labour for the things of men? Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. Three cubits of earth are all that remain to you, and a few clods will be cast upon you to cover your miserable carcase. Whose law do you transgress ? Remember the judgement of God and the moment when all the deeds which you have committed shall compass you round about. What help will you be able to obtain? The Judge Who shall preside will not accept possessions from your hand and let you go free. Riches shall have been unto you a means of enjoyment and the cause of the punishment that shall last for ever. Your glory and your honour shall be your betrayers. You shall not find an advocate who will plead for you. You shalt suffer anguish, and be in despair, and shall be stupefied through fear. Behold the tears of the orphan whom thy have oppressed! Behold the sighings of the widow whose house you have plundered! Behold the poor men whose wages you have filched!
Behold the slaves whom you have oppressed mercilessly! In short, all the sins which you have committed you shall find inhabiting your soul, even as you have made them to do. Remember the day wherein your natural disposition shall be revealed in heaven. Remember the glorious presence of Christ, according to what our Saviour said, “Those who have done what is good shall have the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil the resurrection of judgement. What shall I say unto you, O my beloved? Behold, the kingdom which is in the heavens is prepared, and so likewise is Gehenna. Let the hope for the enjoyment of the kingdom which is in the heavens spur you on. Let the threat of the fire of Gehenna stir you up to turn away from the works of the Devil, and to walk in the ways that please the Lord at all times. Then shall you inherit the things that shall never pass away, the which “eye has not seen, nor the ear heard, nor has the imagining of them entered into the mind of man, that is to say, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him,”
Through the grace and love of man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom, as is meet, and to His Good Father, and the Holy Spirit, the Life-giver,
be glory, now and always, and forever.