The Novatian ‘Indifferent Canon’ and Pascha in Alexandria in 414: Hypatia’s Murder Case Reopened

in Vigiliae Christianae
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In an earlier paper I suggested that the murder of the Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia by a clique of Bishop Cyril’s zealots resulted from her involvement in the conflict between the Roman and Alexandrian Churches regarding the date of Easter in the year 417. The murder would have been committed in March 416 after she had performed controversial astronomical observations that supported the Roman date over the Alexandrian one.

This version faces severe problems from various sides. Therefore, I suggest here another scenario, where an unorthodox position of the Novatian Church on determining the time of Easter and early Passover celebration in 414 triggered the chain of events leading to Hypatia’s murder. This scenario places the murder in March 415 and offers a unique time frame for all the related events. Here Hypatia displays astronomy skills that justify her subsequent historical reputation. I also shed light on the immediate circumstances of her murder, specifically suggesting it happened on the day she was making the equinoctial observations.

Finally, I propose instituting a memorial day for Hypatia on the day of the vernal equinox.

The Novatian ‘Indifferent Canon’ and Pascha in Alexandria in 414: Hypatia’s Murder Case Reopened

in Vigiliae Christianae




Hoche R.“Hypatia, die Tochter Theons,” Philologus 15 (1860) 435-474; esp. pp. 422-23.


Alic M.“Women and Technology in Ancient Alexandria: Maria and Hypatia,” Women’s Studies International Quarterly 4 (3) (1981) 305-312.


Alic (1981); also Dzielska (1995) 96.


Belenkiy A.“An Astronomical Murder?” Astronomy & Geophysics 51 (2) (2010) 2.09-2.13.


Codex Vaticanus Reg. Chr. 2077. Mommsen Th. Chronographus Anni lxxxiiii. Monumenta Germaniae historica auctores antiquissimi 9.1 (Berlin 1892) 741-2.


Neugebauer O.“Ethiopic Easter Computus,” Oriens Christianus 63 (4) (1979) 87-102.


Both tables can be found in Mosshammer (2008) 210-14.


Mosshammer (2008) 209.


Sirat C. Caudelier P. Dukan M. and Friedman M.A. La Ketouba de Cologne: un contrat de marriage juif à Antinoopolis. Papyrologica Coloniensia 12 (Opladen 1986) 20.


Bickerman (1980) 49correctly gives the sequence of the Alexandrian leap years. Yet he incorrectly claims that the Alexandrian year always began on August 29. See Bagnall R.S. and K.A. Worp The Chronological Systems of Byzantine Egypt (Zutphen 1978) 95-102.


Belenkiy A.“ ‘Shana Meuberet’, ‘Theory of Others’ and the origins of the Christian Ecclesiastical calendar,” Oriens Christianus 94 (2010) 147-75.


As did e.g. Haas (1997) 302.


And not in 384 as Van Nuffelen (2010) 431 asserts.


Toomer (1998) 247. Here 1´ (arcmin) = 1/60th part of 1º.


Evans (1998) 206.


Evans (1998) ibid.


As maintained by Robert Newton (1977) 98this wrong expectation could be a major reason why the conspicuous lateness of Ptolemy’s equinoxes went undetected for almost three centuries. Another reason could be a sizeable error inherent in observing with non-stationary instruments like a hand quadrant (a “little astrolabe”). This I shall discuss elsewhere.


Dzielska (1995) 93.


Haas (1997) 283-6.


  • View in gallery
    The 19-year calendar cycle of the Alexandrian Church and the Alexandrian Jewish community in the fourth and fifth centuries. The second and third columns come from O. Neugebauer, “Ethiopic Easter Computus,” Oriens Christianus, 63 (4), 1979, p. 94. The fourth column is a translation of the third into Roman calendar dates. The Egyptian month Phamenoth relates to March as Phamenoth X = March X-4, while the month Pharmouthi to April as Pharmouthi Y = April Y–5. The earliest Paschal moon falls on Phamenoth 25 = March 21 in line 16 corresponding to year 414 and alike, i.e., ±19 years apart. Line 8 corresponds to years 387, 406, and alike. Line 19 corresponds to year 417 and alike. “Saltus lunae” (a 12-day shift) is applied between lines 19 and 1. The asterisks in the fourth column show the confirmed changes in the Jewish calendar: * since 387, ** since 417.


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