Procopius of Gaza

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Christian rhetorician and Biblical exegete; b. Gaza, c. 475; d. Gaza, c. 528. Procopius was the foremost member of the school of rhetoric that flourished in Gaza during the 5th and early 6th centuries; among his colleagues were Choricius, Aeneas, and his brother Zacharias. Here the programs and techniques of the Greek sophistic education were applied to Christian purposes. Among his nontheological works are a panegyric to the Emperor Anastasius I and a lost paraphrase of Homer. Modern scholarship rejects the Procopian authorship of several occasional pieces in rhythmic prose and assigns to Nicholas of Methone (12th century) the polemical treatise against the Neoplatonism of Proclus, an example of Byzantine pseudepigraphy. A collection of 163 elaborately rhetorical letters devoid of theological interest but supplying biographical data has survived. Further information about his life is contained in the funeral oration for Procopius by his pupil Choricius.

Procopius's major achievement was in the field of scriptural interpretation, specifically the compilation of catenae for a number of the books of the Old Testament. These catenae, or chains, of passages selected from earlier authors (e.g., philo, origen, basil the Great, Theodoretus, cyril of alexandria), are so arranged as to provide, along with the collector's personal exegesis, a continuous and comparative explanation of the Biblical text. Procopius composed two commentaries on the Octateuch: the shorter survives in a Latin translation with some Greek fragments, while the longer has been identified as essentially the Catena Lipsiensis assembled by Nicephorus Hieromonachus. Other genuine works by Procopius are the commentaries on historical books of the Old Testament, Isaiah, and Ecclesiastes (not yet edited). The Migne edition prints two commentaries on the Canticle of Canticles: one (Patrologia Graeca 87:15451754) is genuine, the other (Patrologia Graeca 87:175580) is spurious. Scholars reject the authenticity of the commentary on Proverbs (Patrologia Graeca 87:12211544); however, some sections of a genuine work on this book have been discovered.

Bibliography: Patrologia Graeca 87:12842, works. r. hercher, ed., Epistolographi Graeci (Paris 1873) 533598, letters. Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich 414416. w. aly, Paulys Realencyclopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 23.1 (1957) 259273. h. g. beck, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2 8:787. r. devreesse, Dictionnaire de la Bible suppl. ed., 1:110305.

[r. j. schork]