The Priene Calendar Inscription is text inscribed on two stones found in the market-place in the old town of Priene, Asia Minor. It is dated around 9 BC.
The Priene Calendar Inscription is seen as a response to a letter by the consul/proconsul Paullus Fabius Maximus
(d. AD 14) to the Provincial Assembly, recommending the lunar year be changed to the Julian calendar; the New Year commencing on the 23rd September to mark the birth of 'Augustus', and also to herald a new Era:
The letter by Paul Fabius Maximus: -
Decree of the Greek Assembly in the province of Asia, on motion of the High Priest Apolionios, son of Menophilos, of Aizanoi whereas Providence that orders all our lives has in her display of concern and generosity in our behalf adorned our lives with the highest good: Augustus, whom she has filled with arete [virtue] for the benefit of humanity, and has in her beneficence granted us and those who will come after us [a Saviour (σωτῆρα)] who has made war to cease and who shall put everything [in peaceful] order; and whereas Caesar, [when he was manifest], transcended the expectations of [all who had anticipated the good news], not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him, with the result that the birthday of our God (τοῦ θεοῦ) signalled (ἦρξεν δὲ τῶι κὀσμωι τῶι δι᾽ αὐτὸν εὐαγγελίων ἡ γενέυλιος ἡμέρα τοῦ θεοῦ) the beginning of Good News for the world because of him; ..... [proconsul Paul Fabius Maximus] has discovered a way to honour Augustus that was hitherto unknown among the Greeks, namely to reckon time from the date of his nativity; therefore, with the blessings of Good Fortune and for their own welfare, the Greeks in Asia decreed that the New Year begin for all the cities on September 23, which is the birthday of Augustus; and, to ensure that the dates coincide in every city, all documents are to carry both the Roman and the Greek date, and the first month shall, in accordance with the decree, be observed as the Month of Caesar, beginning with 23 September, the birthday of Caesar."1
1 Frederick W. Danker, Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament Semantic Field (St. Louis, MO.: Clayton Pub. House, 1982), 217.
The Priene Calendar Inscription
(Text, transliteration and translation, of a few lines only): -
It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: ‘Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a saviour, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings/news for the world that came by reason of him which Asia resolved in Smyrna.
Εδοξεν τοις επι της Ασιας Ελλησιν, γνωμη του αρχιερεως Απολλωνιου του Μηνοφιλου Αζανιτου· Επειδη η παντα διαταξασα του βιου ημων προνοια σπουδην εισενενκαμενη και φιλοτιμιαν το τεληοτατον τω βιω διεκοσμησεν ενενκαμενη τον Σεβαστον, ον εις ευεργεσιαν ανθρωπων επληρωσεν αρετης, ωσπερ ημειν και τοις μεθ ημας σωτηρα πεμψασα τον παυσοντα μεν πολεμον, κοσμησοντα δε παντα, επιφανεις δε ο Καισαρ τας ελπιδας των προλαβοντων ευανγελια παντων υπερεθηκεν, ου μονον τους προ αυτου γεγονοτας ευεργετας υπερβαλομενος, αλλ ουδ εν τοις εσομενοις ελπιδα υπολιπων υπερβολης, ηρξεν δε τω κοσμω των δι αυτον ευανγελιων η γενεθλιος ημερα του θεου· της δε Ασιας εψηφισμενης εν Σμυρνη.
Edoxen tois epi tês Asias | Ellêsin, gnômêi tou archiereôs Apollôniou tou Mênophilou Azanitou: | epe[idê hê panta] diataxasa tou biou hêmôn pronoia spoudêneisen [enka|m]enê kai philotimian to telêotaton tôi biôi diekosmê[sen] | enenkamenê ton Sebaston, hon eis euergesian anthrô[pôn] eplêrôsen aretês, [hô]sper hêmein kai tois meth hê[mas sôtêra pempsasa]| ton pausonta men polemon, kosmêsonta [de panta, phaneis de]| ho Kaisar tas elpidas tôn prolabontôn [euangelia pantôn huper]|ethêken, ou monon tous pro autou gegonot[as euergetas huperba]|lomenos, all oud en tois esomenois elpid[a hupolipôn huperbolês,]| êrxen de tôi kosmôi tôn di auton euangeli[ôn hê genethlios]| tou theou, tês de Asias epsêphismemês en Smurnêi...
The Priene Calendar Inscription suggests the existence of messianic prophecy was widespread in the Graeco-Roman world around this time. Other similar well-preserved inscriptions discovered in Asia Minor include those of Halicarnassus, Apameia and Emneneia.
Paul Carus noted
The word "Augustus" is originally a title, not a name. It reads in Greek Sebastos [τον Σεβαστον] which means "venerable, majestic, worshipful," and might be translated either "Your Majesty," or "Your Holiness." It applies not only to political but also to religious authority.
Carus, P (1918) Virgil's Prophecy on The Saviour's Birth: The Fourth Eclogue, The Open Court Publishing Co., London; pp. 14-17.
Carus noted the following interpretation of most of the inscription: -
"Since Providence [πρόνοια] which ordains all things in our life, has restored enterprise and love of honor, it has accomplished for [our] life the most perfect thing by producing the August One, whom it has filled with virtue for the welfare of the people; having sent him to us and ours as a Saviour [Σωτήρ]4, who should stop war and ordain all things. Having appeared, however, the Caesar5 has fulfilled the hope of prophecies, since he has not only outdone the benefactors who had come before him, but also has not left to future ones the hope of doing better; the birthday of this God has become through him a beginning of the good tidings."6
The phrase "welfare of the people" reads in Greek euergesia8 which means "well doing, or well working," rendered in the dictionary "good service, a good deed, kindness, bounty, benefit." This word is similar to the Gospel term translated "good-will" in our Bible.9 But the former is stronger than the latter; the latter denotes ''well-meaning'' while the former means ''well-doing." A similar expression is that which proclaims Augustus as the source of universal welfare, the last word of which belongs to that group of auspicious designations beginning with the particle eu, meaning "well," but it has no parallel in our Gospel language. It might briefly be translated "bliss."
4 Σωτήρ - the same word that is applied to Jesus as a synonym of Christ.
5 The name of Caesar has here become a title.
6 In Greek εὐαγέλλιον the same term which is used in the New Testament, meaning "gospel" or "evangel."
7 τον Σεβαστον.
Gerald Massey saw the Priene Calendar Inscription as yet another example of 'the original type', -ie. the Repa (or 'coming prince') - finding its expression in the same terms in this text, as it had been since antiquity, and that this office of the Messiah was carried through to the Caesar, and then, lastly, to the Christ. Massey has argued there was no physical, historical Christ, only a spiritual one based on the original type which has its validity in the realm of the mythos, and in the mythos only. It was the early believers of Christ and other Christians who appropriated the original type and substituted it for a human type.
A writer by the name of J. Rouffiac, in his Caractères du Grec
, p. 72 passim, remarked how easy it would have been for a Christian to 'touch up' this text and substitute the name of Christ, thereby replacing the name of Augustus with Christ's name.
...this is exactly what the Christians have been doing for centuries; over-writing, substituting, interpolating, etc., every text they could get hold of to make out that not only did Christ come into this world to redeem mankind, but his destiny was foreshadowed in the messianic prophecy of earlier ages.