When to this far-famed city Matthew came,
There rose great outcry through the sinful tribe,
That cursed throng of Mermedonians.
Soon as those servants of the Devil learned
The noble saint was come unto their land,
They marched against him, armed with javelins;
Under their linden-shields they went in haste,
Grim bearers of the lance, to meet the foe.
They bound his hands; with foeman’s cunning skill
They made them fast—those warriors doomed to hell—
– Andreas: The Legend of St. Andrew, translated from the Old English by Robert Kilburn Root (1899)
And now for something completely different.
If St. Andrew’s First Missionary Journey reminded me of Harold Lamb’s eastern adventures, and the Second Talbot Mundy’s oriental tales, then the Third goes into the realm of Conrad, Haggard, and Burroughs – to Africa.
The sources for Andrew’s southern adventure are Ethiopian Coptic traditions, and the controversial apocryphal Greek text Acta Andreae et Matthiae apud Anthropophagos (Acts of Andrew and Matthew Among the Man-Eaters). The Coptic traditions held that Andrew traveled to Berber lands. That is, unfortunately, not helpful, as the Berbers dwelt all across North Africa during this period, from the banks of the Siwa Oasis to the Pillars of Herakles: he could have travelled a relatively short distance to Roman Egypt, or beyond.
The Berbers (Imaziɣen, “free people” or “noble men” in their language, or Mazices to the Romans and Greeks) were one of the reasons the Romans did not conquer more of Africa than they did. Before Rome, there were three great “kingdoms” of Berbers: Mauretania, Numidia, and Gaetulia. The Mauri and Numidians, sometimes considered to be one and the same, were ancient, and retained their distinct cultures even after the Phoenicians came and founded the Carthaginian Empire. The Gaetulians were less “civilised” than the other two, and so resisted the cultural assimilation proximity to civilisation incurs. The Berbers had a stormy relationship with the Punic peoples: frequently they raided and plundered Carthaginian cities as far north as Carthago Nova (southern Spain). However, over time Punic-Berber relations would warm, and eventually Berber soldiers became the largest single element of the Punic army.
Centuries before Andrew, the Berbers allied with their old foes the Carthaginians against Rome in the Punic Wars: Numidian cavalry was considered among the finest of the ancient world, and they were a significant threat to the largely infantry-dominated Roman legions. Yet the Carthaginians were arrogant: their punitive taxes, tribute and levies to subject peoples like the Berbers led to uprisings and revolts; their lack of tactical acumen put them at odds with Hannibal, now and then regarded as one of the finest generals in history; finally, their enemies in Rome were starting to offer better deals to the Berbers. Eventually, enough was enough: Masinissa of the Numidians switched sides, an action which led to the ruinous Battle of Zama, and eventual destruction of Carthage itself – with him established as the first true King of Numidia.
Following Carthage’s destruction, Numidia became a client kingdom, but the the tribal republics surrounding the fallen empire continued to harass the Roman provinces. This came to a head during the time of Jesus, when a confederation of Gaetuli tribes, the Musulamii, embarked on a three year campaign of chaos and disruption against the Romans, before being brutally put down. Upon the death of their last king, Numidia was a kingdom no more, and became yet another province of the Roman Empire, along with its sister kingdom Mauretania.
It’s also possible that Andrew visited a rather more infamous Berber people: the Garamantes.
After ten days’ journey again from Augila there is yet another hill of salt and springs of water and many fruit-bearing palms, as at the other places; men live there called Garamantes, an exceedingly great nation, who sow in earth which they have laid on the salt. The shortest way to the Lotus Eaters’ country is from here, thirty days’ journey distant. Among the Garamantes are the cattle that go backward as they graze, the reason being that their horns curve forward; therefore, not being able to go forward, since the horns would stick in the ground, they walk backward grazing. Otherwise, they are like other cattle, except that their hide is thicker and harder to the touch. These Garamantes go in their four-horse chariots chasing the cave-dwelling Ethiopians: for the Ethiopian cave-dwellers are swifter of foot than any men of whom tales are brought to us. They live on snakes and lizards and such-like creeping things. Their speech is like no other in the world: it is like the squeaking of bats.
– Herodotus, The Histories
The Garamantes were a remarkble, poorly-known civilisation who only appeared in the historical record around the 5th Century BC. For centuries, it was believed that they were just another Saharan tribe of barbarian troublemakers, but from the 1960s onward, new discoveries shed new light on their agricultural and engineering innovations: an underground water-extraction system of tunnels which practically terraformed the Sahara into fertile land. With this technology, they could develop several urban centres, farm grain, grapes, figs, ates, and other fruits, rear cattle, and fuel an aggressive expansion into the desert.
Garamantian warriors were particularly fearsome, with ritual scars and tattoos, clad in cow skin cloaks and ostritch feathers on their crowns. They were masters of hit and run tactics, hurling their spears with deathly accuracy: their nobility rode four-horse chariots. It was with these chariots that they were said to hunt the Troglodytae, the “cave-dwellers.” African writer Alice Werner deduced that Herotodus’ comparison of Troglodyte speech to the sounds of bats may link them to the Khoisan people, whose language has an abundance of click consonants. However, there were other Troglodytae in classical sources: Strabo’s Geographical mentions a tribe of cave-dwellers in Scythia Minor (the area around the Danube River delta), while Flavius Josephus spoke of a “Troglodytis” on the coast of the Red Sea. Perhaps the most famous “cave-dwellers” in that locality are the Nabataeans – the people who built the legendary city of Petra.
Regardless of which “Berbers” St. Andrew visited, his next port of call was just as mysterious – the land of the Anthropophagi. Unlike his previous destinations, Andrew’s purpose in this part of the journey was a rescue mission: his fellow disciple Matthew was captured, and so it fell to Andrew to bring him home.
Anthropophagi means “man eaters.”
As with the Troglodytae, there are many Anthropophagi in classical sources: Herodotus and Pliny the Elder wrote of man-eaters in Scythia. Though Herodotus describes them as dressed and nomadic like the Scythians in The Histories, Pliny claims in Geographica that they drank from human skulls and wore scalps around their necks “like so many napkins.” There are many legends in antiquity across many cultures: the Attacotti, Massagetae, Issedones, and indeed even the ancient Greeks and Romans all have tales of humans eating human flesh. And we Scots certainly have our complicated history with cannibals…
However, the Anthropophagi which Andrew was alleged to have encountered populated rather warmer climes. According to Ptolomy, the Anthropophagi dwelled beyond the Prasum Promontory, which was somewhere between Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Cape Delgado is often equated with Prasum. The Coptic texts further identify it as “between the Mountains of the Moon and the land of Barbaria.” This land was called Mermedonia in the early Greek and Coptic texts, as well as Andreas: according to Alexandrou, in Bantu, Emere muntu na means “the place where men are food.”
Reading Andreas, it’s easy to see why the Acta Andraea was not considered for inclusion into Biblical canon.
At that time all the apostles were gathered together and divided the countries among themselves, casting lots. And it fell to Matthew to go to the land of the Anthropophagi. Now the men of that city ate no bread nor drank wine, but ate the flesh and drank the blood of men; and every stranger who landed there they took, and put out his eyes, and gave him a magic drink which took away his understanding.
So when Matthew arrived he was so treated; but the drink had no effect on him, and he remained praying for help in the prison. And a light came and a voice: “Matthew, my beloved, receive sight.” And he saw. And the voice continued: “I will not forsake thee: abide twenty-seven days, and I will send Andrew to deliver thee and all the rest.” And the Saviour went up into heaven. Matthew remained singing praises; when the executioners came to take victims, he kept his eyes closed. They came and looked at the ticket on his hand and said: “Three days more and we will slay him.” For every victim had a ticket tied on his hand to show the date when his thirty days would be fulfilled.
When twenty-seven days had elapsed, the Lord appeared to Andrew in the country where he was teaching and said: “In three days Matthew is to be slain by the man-eaters; go and deliver him.”
“How is it possible for me to get there in time?”
“Early tomorrow go to the shore and you will find a ship.” And he left him.
They went, Andrew and his disciples, and found a little boat and three men. The pilot was the Lord, and the other two were angels. Andrew asked whither they were going.
“To the land of the man-eaters.”
“I would go there too.”
“Every man avoids that place; why will you go?”
“I have an errand to do; and if you can, take us.”
He said: “Come on board.”
Jesus seeing that they were near land, leaned his head on one of the angels and ceased speaking to Andrew: and Andrew went to sleep. Then Jesus bade the angels take the men and lay them outside the city of the man-eaters and return: and then all departed to heaven.Andrew awoke and looked about him and realized what had happened, and roused his disciples. They told him their dream: eagles came and bore therm into paradise, and they saw the Lord on his throne, and angels, and the three patriarchs and David singing, “and you the twelve apostles and twelve angels by you, whom the Lord bade to obey you in everything.”
Andrew rejoiced and prayed the Lord to show himself: and Jesus appeared in the form of a beautiful young child. Andrew asked pardon for his boldness on the ship. Jesus reassured him and told him what trials awaited him in the city, and encouraged him to endure them, and departed. They entered the city, unseen, and went to the prison. The seven guards fell dead at his prayer: at the sign of the cross the doors opened. He found Matthew and they greeted each other.
Andrew looked at the victims, who were naked and eating grass, and smote his breast and reproached the devil: “How long warrest thou with men thou didst cause Adam to be cast out of paradise: thou didst cause his bread that was on the table to be turned to stones! Again, thou didst enter into the mind of the angels and cause them to be defiled with women and madest their savage sons the giants to devour men on the earth, so that God sent the flood!” Then they both prayed, and they laid their hands on the prisoners and restored first their sight and then their sense, and Andrew bade them go out of the city and remain under a fig-tree and await him: there were 270 men and 49 women. And Andrew commanded a cloud, and it took Matthew and the disciples and brethren to the mount where Peter was teaching and there they remained.
Andrew went out and walked in the city, and sat down by a brazen pillar with a statue on it, to see what would happen. The executioners came and found the prison empty and the guards dead, and reported to the rulers. They said: “Go and fetch the seven dead men for us to eat to-day, and assemble to-morrow, the old men, and we will cast lots for seven a day and eat them, till we can fit out ships and send and collect people to eat.” So they fetched the seven corpses; there was a furnace in the midst of the city and a great vat for the blood: they put the men on the vat. A voice came: “Andrew, look at this.” Andrew prayed, and the men’s swords fell and their hands turned to stone. The rulers cried: “There are wizards in the city: go and gather the old men, for we are hungry!”
They found 215, and lots were cast for 7. One of these said: “Take my young son and kill him instead of me!” They asked leave of the rulers, and it was granted, and the old man said: “I have a daughter, take her too, and spare me!” So the children were brought to the vat begging for their lives, but there was no pity. Andrew prayed, and again the swords fell from the men’s hands, and there was much alarm.
Then came the devil in the guise of an old man, and said: “Woe to you, you will all die of hunger; but search now and look for a stranger named Andrew: he is the cause of your trouble!” Andrew was looking at the devil, but the devil could not see him. And Andrew said: “O Beliar, my lord will humble thee to the abyss.” The devil said: “I hear your voice and know it; but where you stand I see not.” Andrew said: “Art thou not called Amael because thou art blind!” The devil said: “Look for the man who spake to me, for it is he.” And they shut the gates and looked everywhere, but could not find him. The Lord appeared and said to Andrew: “Show thyself to them.”
He rose and said I am Andrew whom ye seek. And they ran and took him, and debated how to kill him: If we cut off his head, it will not pain him enough; Let us put a rope round his neck and drag him through the streets every day till he dies, and divide his body and eat it. They did so, and his flesh was torn and his blood flowed, and they cast him into prison with his hands bound behind him.
And so they did next day, and he wept and cried to the Lord: and the devil told the people to smite his mouth that he might not speak; and they bound his hands behind him and left him in the prison. The devil took seven other devils, whom Andrew had driven out from places in the neighbourhood, and they came to Andrew, and the devil said: Now we will kill you like your master whom Herod slew.
And he said: “Now my children, kill him.” But they saw the seal on his forehead and were afraid, and said: “Do you kill him, for we cannot.” And one of them said: “If we cannot kill him, let us mock him;” and they stood before him and taunted him with his helplessness, and he wept. And a voice – the devil’s voice disguised – said: “Why weep?” Andrew said: “Because of our Lord’s word: Have patience with them; otherwise I would have shown you!” … “But if the Lord grant me a visitation in this city, I will chastise you as you deserve.” And they fled.
Next day the people dragged him again, and he cried out to the Lord: “here are thy words: A hair of your heads shall not perish lo, my flesh is torn from me.” And a voice said in Hebrew: “My words shall not pass away: look behind thee.” And he saw great fruit-bearing trees growing up where his flesh and blood had fallen. And they took him back to prison, and said: “Perhaps he will die to-morrow.”
And the Lord came and took his hand and he rose up whole. And in the prison was a pillar, and on it a statue. Andrew went to it and spread out his hands seven times and said: “Fear thou the sign of the cross, and let this statue pour forth water as a flood. And say not, I am but a stone for God made us of earth, but ye are clean, and therefore God gave his people the law on tables of stone.” And the statue poured water out of its mouth as from a canal, and it was bitter and corroded men’s flesh.
In the morning all the people began to flee. The water killed their cattle and their children. Andrew said: “Let Michael wall the city about with fire.” A cloud of fire came and surrounded it, and they could not escape. The water came up to their necks and consumed their flesh. They cried and lamented till he saw their spirit was crushed, and told the alabaster statue to cease. And Andrew went out of the prison, the water parting before him, and the people prayed for mercy.
The old man who had given up his children came and besought. But Andrew said: “I wonder at you; you and the fourteen executioners shall be swallowed up and see the places of torment and of peace.” And he went as far as the great vat, and prayed, and the earth opened and swallowed the water and the old man and the executioners. And all feared greatly, but he consoled them.
Then he bade them bring all who had been killed by the water, but there were too many, so he prayed and revived them. Then he drew out the plan of a church and baptised them and gave them the Lord’s precepts. And they begged him to stay with them a little; but he refused, saying “I must first go to my disciples;” and he set forth, and they lamented grievously.
And Jesus appeared in the form of a beautiful child and reproved him for leaving them, and told him to stay seven days; and then he should go with his disciples to the country of the barbarians, and then return and bring the men out of the abyss. And he returned and they all rejoiced greatly.
Christianity in Africa long pre-dated the colonial period: indeed, the Kingdom of Aksum adopted Christianity as its religion before many European countries even existed. Andrew’s Third Missionary Journey may have been short, but it was certainly eventful for all that. Whatever one’s feelings on Christianity as a religion or a faith, the simple theme of shared humanity, love, and compassion is something that transcends tongues, traditions, or creeds.
Andrew has one more journey, and it’s the most challenging of all…