A golden diadem, why has Polycrates been ignored?


Eusebius in his Church History III.xxxi.2-51 discusses John as follows quoting from a letter Polycrates wrote to Bishop Victor of Rome.

"For great luminaries sleep in Asia, and they will rise again at the last day of the advent of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and call back all the saints, such as was Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps at Hieropolis with his two daughters who grew old as virgins and his third daughter who lived in the holy spirit and rests in Ephesus. eti de kai Iwannhs, o epi to sthqos tou kuriou anapeswn, os egenhqh iereus to petalon pejorekws kai martus kai didaskalos, outos en Ejesw kekoimhtai. tr:" And there is also John, who leaned on the Lord's breast who was a priest wearing the mitre (" this word is wrongly translated it should read, golden diadem ") and martyr, and teacher, and he sleeps at Ephesus."


A footnote to the Loeb translation of Polycrates letter in Eusebius's Church History states the following, 1" the word petalon is used in the LXX. of the " plate, " or " diadem, " of the High Priest (cf.Exod. xxviii.) but what it means here has never been discovered." a rather curious statement which avoids the logical conclusion that Polycrates writing from Ephesus against Pope Victor in Rome would not have attempted to assert something unproved during his time. From his account it can be seen that Polycrates was in no doubt as to the Priestly lineage and official position of the John who was such a young boy in the NT accounts. Polycrates, Bishop in Ephesus the center of Asia at this time was writing to Bishop Victor in Rome to support the claim of the Asian Churches against the Bishop in Rome ascerting they had a higher authority regarding the dates upon which to celebrate the passover feast, or Easter. Victor wished to move the passover feast from the Jewish passover date of 14 Nissan to a different day. This was the first time Rome had challenged the independence and authority of the Asian churches. Irenaeus intervened and later told Victor that the dispute was really over a minor issue and the subject of the controversy was left unsettled at this time. Later Rome was to succeed in implementing Rome's authority over the Eastern churches and the changing of Easter from it's original obvious origins as a Jewish festival ie. Pesach to the Romish Christian Easter in other words the orthodox Jewish origins of this vital question of what was being celebrated were hidden from those who knew nothing about Jewish holy days.


This word is clearly a mistranslation in this text and should never have been used. In the Septuagint the word for mitre is mitran not petalon which refers exclusively to the "golden plate" which the High Priest wore in front of the mitre on his head. This is clear from the Trans. by Brenton 2. Also according to Lampe,3 and Redpath et al 4,5 the Heb for the golden plate of the High Priest is "tzeetz" which is the term used in Exod.28.36 Where the golden plate is referred to in the context of the High Priest.


  1. Eusebius, Eusebius The Ecclesiastical History
    Trans.L.H.Feldman.(Cambridge Harvard Univ Press, 1969) Loeb ed. Vol 3 xxxi.2-5 p.271

  2. Sir L.C.L.Benton, Trans. The Septuagint Greek, "Leviticus VIII.9"
    (Zondervan Ed. 1970) 135

  3. G.W.H.Lampe A Patristic Greek Lexicon "petalon"
    (Oxford Press, 1961)

  4. Hatch and Redpath, Concordance to Septuagint Vol2 K-Omega, "petalon"
    (Oxford Press, 1897)

  5. Englishmans Concordance Vol II
    (London, 1843) P 1071
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