Melito of Sardis°

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MELITO OF SARDIS ° (c. 120–185 c.e.), bishop of Sardis (Asia Minor), Christian author, and the earliest known pilgrim to the Holy Land. Scholars found his description of the crucifixion of Jesus "in the middle of the city [of Jerusalem]" confusing. Clearly Melito was referring to the site in the context of the layout of Aelia Capitolina and not of the city from the time of Jesus. Together with other bishops of Asia Minor, Melito continued to celebrate Easter on the 14th of Nisan, the eve of Passover. He visited Palestine in an effort to establish an accurate canon (Greek διαυήκη) of the Old Testament (from which he excerpted passages pertaining in some way to Jesus). His list of books (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. iv, 26:13 f.) corresponds to the Hebrew canon (excluding Esther). Only brief quotations from Melito's works were known until the mid-20th century, when two papyrus copies of his homily on the Passion (On Pascha) were published. As a result of this discovery, Latin, Coptic, Georgian, and two Syriac translations of this treatise could be identified. The bishop delivered the treatise as a sermon after the biblical account of the Exodus was read on Easter, precisely the time when the Jews observed the Passover feast. The coincidence of observances and Melito's animosity toward Judaism caused his sermon, which was written between 160 and 170 c.e., to become one of the most important documents of early Christian anti-Judaism. After a theological introduction, Melito gives a dramatic description of Egypt's sufferings at the time of the Exodus. Influenced by the Midrash on Exodus 10:21, the darkness that engulfed Egypt is described as tangible. However, the events surrounding the Exodus were only a prefiguration of the Passion of Christ, the true Passover lamb. The earlier model no longer had validity and usefulness, because the prefigurations of the Old Testament had become a reality in the New Testament. The second part of the sermon is the oldest and one of the strongest accusations of deicide made against the Jews in early Christian literature. Jews are, among other things, described as having themselves crucified Jesus; and the murder is clearly defined as deicide: "God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been slain by an Israelite hand" (§96). In view of the tragic events suffered by the Jews of this period – the destruction of the Temple and the defeat of Bar Kokhba – Melito could say that, in consequence of the deicide, "Israel lay dead," while Christianity, "the broad grace," was conquering the whole earth. The sermon, nevertheless, attests the antiquity of the Passover Haggadah. Paragraph 68 of the sermon contains a Greek version of part of the introduction to Hallel in the Haggadah; and paragraphs 84–85 and 88 derive from the famous Passover litany "Dayyeinu."


Eusebius Pamphili, Ecclesiastical History, 2 vols. (1926–32), index; T. Otto, Corpus Apologetarum Christianorum, 9 (1872), 374–478, 497–512; E.J. Goodspeed, Aelteste Apologeten (1914), 306–13; C. Bonner, Homily on the Passion (1914); M. Testuz (ed. and tr.), Papyrus Bodmer xiii, Méliton de Sardes, Homélie sur la Pâque (1960); O. Perler, Méliton de Sardes sur la Pâque, sources Chrétiennes (1966); J. Blank, Meliton von Sardes vom Passa (1963); E. Werner, in: huca, 37 (1966), 191–210. add. bibliography: S.G. Hall (ed.), On Pascha (1979); E.D. Hunt, Holy Land Pilgrimage in the Later Roman Empire AD 312–460 (1984), 3; J.E. Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places (1993), 116ff.

[David Flusser /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]