The Church that was at Antioch

These notes, by George Engle, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in the ORG. We have also been grateful for critical comments and suggestions from Peter Havholm. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Limits and Renewals, as published and frequently reprinted between 1932 and 1950.


[Title] The Church that was at Antioch The words of the title are taken from Acts 13,1. The Antioch referred to is Antioch-in-Syria, the great city of Syria, situated on the river Orontes some 13 miles from the sea. In 64 BC Pompey made Antioch the capital of the new Roman province of Syria.

[Heading] “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed” This comes from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians 2,11 and focuses the reader’s attention on the main theme of the story — the difference of opinion between Peter and Paul over whether Gentile converts to Christianity (i.e. those who were not Jews) must observe orthodox Jewish law before they could be called true Christians. Peter, who had earlier been against that requirement, showed signs of adopting the opposite view while on a visit to Paul in Antioch and was rebuked by him (Gal. 2,12-14).

[Page 89, line 4] Constantinople. The city of Byzantium (the modern Istanbul) was renamed Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine the Great in 330 AD when he made it the capital of the Roman Empire in place of Rome. Calling it Constantinople in a story set in the first century AD is thus a solecism — but a deliberate one, since in line 1 of page 91 Valens refers to it as Byzant.

[Page 89, line 16] Your—er—baggage. An avuncular joke. As well as meaning luggage, “baggage” is slang for a saucy or immodest girl, and so also refers to Valens’s slave-girl, bought by him in Constantinople a few months previously, who appears later in the story.

[Page 90, line 2] overland from Constantinople. A distance of over 500 miles

[Page 90, lines 5 and 11] Tarsus. Paul’s birthplace, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia in what is now southern Turkey.

[Page 90, line17] Syria. More or less the same as the modern Republic of that name.

[Page 90, line 20] Hellicat. A wicked creature.

[Page 90, line 21] Judaea. A Roman province occupying the part of Palestine situated to the west of the Dead Sea.

[Page 90, line 29] the strict Latin Trinity. The three Roman deities, Jupiter, Juno (his wife) and Minerva (goddess of wisdom, art etc.), corresponding to the three Greek deities Zeus, Hera and Athene.

[Page 91, line 2] the Fifteenth. The 15th Legion (Legio XV Apollinaris) of the Roman Army. Probably raised by Octavian before the battle of Actium (31 BC). Its camp was possibly at Emona (now Ljubljana, some 50 miles NE of Trieste). Valens had evidently served in it before being posted to Byzantium — presumably on detachment, since nothing is known of any legion being stationed there.

[Page 91, line 4] Mithras. The male god at the heart of Mithraism, an Eastern cult introduced into Rome in the first century BC. Its impressive ceremonial was conducted by trained priests. Like Christianity, it promised immortality to its followers and inculcated an impressive moral code. At its initiation ceremony, symbolising Mithras’s sacrifice of the Cosmic Bull, the votaries were gathered in a specially prepared pit covered with a wooden grating. A bull was led onto the grating and stabbed in the throat by the officiating priest. As the blood streamed through the grating the votaries drank it and splashed it over their bodies. This baptism of blood was thought to confer on them the strength and virility of the bull and to guarantee them immortality in the world to come. The cult was popular among Roman soldiers of all ranks. See the article “Kipling’s allusions to the Mithraic cult” by A.J.C. Tingey (KJ June 1962, p.10).

[Page 91, line 11] Off the trident and into the net. This is Kipling’s Roman version of the old English proverb “out of the frying-pan into the fire”, used of someone who in escaping from one dangerous situation finds himself in an even more dangerous one. The Roman gladiator known as a retiarius or net-fighter carried a three-pronged trident and a net in which to entangle his opponent who, if he escaped the former, risked being caught in the latter.

[Page 91, line 18] Stolen from the Mithras ritual. See Lancelyn Green on Kipling’s “overstating the case for Mithras”.

[Page 91, line 22] Scythians. Scythia lay to the north of the Black Sea, its people being notoriously aggressive.

[Page 91, line 26] Divide and rule. An old Latin saying (Divide et impera). The English version dates from the beginning of the 17th century.

[Page 91, line 26] Especially with Hebrews. Approaching a rioting subject people as a herd to be managed might well have been the style of a Roman policeman, as it is of the British (and Indian) troops and the Men from the Club who manage and disperse “fanatic Hindus” and Muslims in “On the City Wall”.(Soldiers Three: In Black and White).

[Page 91, line 30] The Supper The followers of Mithras, like the early Christians, ate together as part of their worship.

[Page 92, line 16] Never decide on the evidence, when you’re dealing with Hebrews! Compare “a land where you can buy a murder-charge, including the corpse, all complete for fifty-four rupees” in “The Bronckhorst Divorce Case”. (Plain Tales from the Hills p. 249 lines 5-7)

[Page 92, line 27] Aedile. One of a body of magistrates in charge of streets and markets.

[Page 93, line 4] lictors. Attendants attached to a magistrate as a sign of his authority. They each carried fasces (bundles consisting of rods surrounding an axe) signifying their power to discipline and punish malefactors, and cleared the way for the magistrate on his rounds. In the story Valens, though not a magistrate, is accompanied by at least two lictors — possibly the “couple of his uncle’s men” assigned to him (see page 92, line 29). For more about lictors see KJ 91, pp.12-13.

[Page 93, line 15] one Roman dozen. A dozen strokes of the rod, as a punishment.

[Page 94, lines 3-4] One of our Governors…some years ago. This of course refers to Pontius Pilate, who, under pressure from a tumultuous Jewish crowd, ordered Jesus to be crucified. (see Matthew 27).

[Page 94, line 11] Apella. Evidently the name of the Jew ordered a “Roman dozen” on page 93.

[Page 95, line 7] Barnabas. St Paul’s friend and companion, frequently mentioned by him in the New Testament. It was Barnabas who brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch (Acts 11, 25-26).

[Page 97, line 29] vanished like a trout. The trout is a river-fish that stays in one spot, but if disturbed shoots off and is gone in a flash.

[Page 98, line 8] your Cilician friend. Valens’s assailant, whose brother had died in Tarsus Pass (in Cilicia).

[Page 98, line 16] There’s no lying about in secluded parks for us! See the “cutting from a home paper” in “At the End of the Passage” “for all the luxuries in which they [the ICS] are lapped” (Life’s Handicap p. 186 lines 5-26).

[Page 99, line 18] Petrus. St. Peter, the disciple who denied Christ in Jerusalem before the Crucifiction (Matt. 26,34 and 75). The next lines refer to the tradition that he held up his right hand to emphasise his denial, whereupon the hand immediately became useless.

[Page 99, line 24] Via Sebaste. The great Roman road running from Antioch across the centre of Asia Minor via the pass known as the Cilician Gates. It was begun under Julius Caesar and completed under Augustus, (in Greek Sebastos) — hence its name, which as an adjective means connected with Augustus.

[Page 99, line 33] ‘I have covered’…Paulus checked himself. ‘And yet not I but the God…It is hard to cure oneself of boasting.’ Cf. 1 Cor. 7,10 ‘And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord…’; and 1 Cor. 15,10 ‘I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.’

[Page 101, line 19] one day the Light and the Voice of God broke over him. See the account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9,3-4.

[Page 101, lines 22-27] Then he met…some men who had seen [Jesus] after, like Mithras, he had risen from His grave. Kipling was mistaken in thinking that Mithras was believed to have risen from the dead. See A.J.C.Tingey’s article on Mithras in KJ 142 (Jun. ’62 pp. 10 ff.).

[Page 102, line 22] Do you too twit me with my accent? This must refer to Peter’s third denial of Christ (Mark 14,70) when “they that stood by said again to Peter, surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto.”

[Page 102, line 32] “Pickled Fish”. Since around 50 BC a fish-curing or fish-pickling industry, established by the Greeks, had existed on the shores of the Lake of Gallilee; and the Prefect is clearly fond of this local delicacy. Independently of this, a picture of a fish was used as a symbol by the early Christians, since the initial letters of the Greek words for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour form the Greek word for fish. The words of the song (page 103) poke fun at the Christians and their readiness to eat all kinds of food — till the day when the Roman Gods go into decline and the fishy Christians ascend the Esquiline (the largest of the seven hills on which Rome stands). The first two lines of the song would be clearer if they ran:

“The clean and the unclean, from the Shark and the Sardine
To the Pickled Fish of Galilee, said Petrus, shall be mine.”

[Page 103, line 19] that Centurion. Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed at Caesarea who with his family was converted to Christianity and baptized by Peter, thus giving a lead to other non-Jews. See Acts 10.

[Page 103, lines 28-29] “we drank the long, long Eastern day out together”. Serga is recalling an epigram by the Greek poet Callimachus on the death of his friend Heraclitus, well-known in its English translation by William Cory, whose version of the lines recalled by Serga is:

“I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.”

[Page 103, line 31] camel-kit. In Tarsus, where he was born, Saul learned the trade of tent-making (or perhaps of weaving goat-hair for making tents, a thriving industry there). He may well have made other travel and camp equipment as well as tents.

[Page 104, line 9] Jerusalem never forgives. See “The Burden of Jerusalem”, a poem unpublished in Kipling’s lifetime, and reproduced in Birkenhead (pp. 354/6). ‘It does not pay to interfere/With Cohen from Jerusalem’ (verse 14). See also Thomas Pinney’s Poems of Rudyard Kipling (Cambridge, 2013) pp. 2154-6 and notes on pp. 2304-5).

[Page 104, line 28] block-trimmings. Scraps trimmed from a piece of meat on the butcher’s block during its preparation for use as a sacrifice.

[Page 105, line 6] your Syria. This Province was a proverbial trouble-spot.

[Page 105, line 12] Catch me eating pig east of the Adriatic… Under-cooked pork could and can infest those who eat it with tape-worms which in the intestines of their human hosts can attain a length of up to three metres; to be avoided. therefore.

[Page 105, line 14] Sabine tush-ripe boar. A wild boar with developed canine teeth, from the region of the Appenines to the east of Rome where the poet Horace had his villa.

[Page 106, line 5] the Rock. See Matt. 16,18 — “thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Peter (Petros) is the Greek for rock.

[Page 106, lines 17 and 30] Syrian malaria. An unusual form of the disease, since Paul’s attack passes off within a matter of hours instead of lasting for several days.

[Page 109, line 6] Enthroned above Caesar … The first two lines refer to the Second Coming of Christ, which was expected to occur within the lifetime of some of St. Paul’s contemporaries (see I Thess.4,15-16). The reference in the next two lines to the ‘Kings of the Sunrise’ drawing sword at Jesus’ birth is obscure. It has been suggested that it refers to Rev. 16,12 where the forces of God on the field of Armageddon are referred to as ‘the kings of the east’ (literally ‘of the sunrise’). But Armageddon did not occur at Jesus’ birth. There may be no scriptural reference but only an image of mythic conquering force, in this free-thinking story, to set up “So we arm” in the last line.

[Page 110, line 1] her well-earned hymn. The blaring of the trumpets mentioned in line 4.

[Page 110, line 10] gridironed it. Moved up and down and across the square along lines parallel to its sides.

[Page 110, line 13] how cleverly the incense was cast down over the withers into the spouting cressets. The incense was (perhaps surprisingly) carried by the mounted men and sprinkled by them into the wall-mounted iron baskets (cressets) containing flaming pitch or wood for illumination.

[Page 110, line 29] down-country. In Kipling’s day a colonial expression meaning the flat part of a country (as opposed to its hilly regions), used here as an adjective meaning “in use in the sophisticated society of near-the-sea Antioch”.

[Page 111, line 1] The virtue has gone out of . . . him. Mark 5,30 says the same of Jesus after the healing of a woman who touched his clothes.

[Page 111 line 31] ‘Home! Quick! I have it!’ Philip Holberton writes: ‘What Valens has – and knows that he has – is his death wound. In gladiator fights, a shout from the spectators “Habet!” – Latin for “he has it!” – greeted the death blow or coup de grâce.’ (In modern soldier parlance ‘He’s had it’ means ‘he is dead or dying’.)

[Page 113, line 3] ‘Give him drink and wait,’ said Petrus. ‘I have — seen such a wound’. Valens’ wound is “the deadly upward thrust under the ribs” recognised by the Prefect at page 112, line 11. Peter is reminded of the spear-wound in the side given to Jesus by one of the soldiers after his death on the cross. (John 19,34)

[Page 113, line 10] They don’t know what they are doing. Cf. Jesus’ words at his crucifixion: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23,34)

[Page 114, line 4] the blasphemy. Peter’s use of the words “any God” rather than simply “God” — prompted perhaps by the knowledge that Valens was a follower of Mithras. See also Mallett’s comment on “the power of human love . . . as the deepest element in religious life”.

[Page 113, line 15] yearning pillow. See page 112, line 7.