A note on the authenticity of Eusebius of Caesarea’s “Commentary on the Psalms”

In Rondeau’s account of ancient Christian commentaries on the psalms,[1] there is naturally a section on the commentary by Eusebius of Caesarea.  It contains an interesting footnote on the authenticity of the text.  But first, a few words about this little known item.

Eusebius is a writer whom we do not usually associate with exegesis.  But his extensive Commentary on Isaiah was rediscovered 60 years ago, and an English translation published in the last decade.  His Commentary on the Psalms has been less fortunate.  The portion devoted to Psalms 51-95, 3 has reached us, in a single manuscript, BNF Paris Coislin 44, which was edited by Montfaucon in the 17th century.[2]  The section on Psalm 37 was transmitted among the works of Basil of Caesarea.[3]

The remainder, however, is known only from extracts preserved in the medieval Greek bible commentaries.  These were composed of chains (catenae) of extracts linked together, with the author’s initial against each extract (but this initial was often corrupted).  Eusebius figures largely in the catenas and so there is a lot of material extant, if somewhat dubious.

Nobody has undertaken a critical edition of any of this material, and the portions derived from catenas are unreliable.  There is no translation of any of it, to the best of my knowledge, other than a translation of the section on psalm 51 made for this site by Andrew Eastbourne.

Now I’ve always had a soft spot for this huge but neglected work, and so I’ve started looking at Rondeau’s description, from which the above is mainly taken.  One of his footnotes caught my eye at once.

Dans la notice Eusèbe de Césarée de certaines encyclopédies, il est insinué que le texte du Coislin. 44 est non de l’Eusèbe authentique et pur, mais de l’Eusèbe caténal, interpolé ou remanié (E. Preuschen, dans Realencyclopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 5, 1898, p. 615; E. Schwartz, dans PW 6, 1907, col 1435; J. Moreau, dans DHGE 15, 1963, col. 1446, et dans RAC 6, 1965, col. 1064). Notre expérience de l’ensemble de l’exégèse antique du Psautier ne confirme pas cette méfiance.

In the article Eusebius of Caesarea in some encyclopedias, it is insinuated that the text of Coislin. 44 is not direct from Eusebius himself, but rather the “Eusebius” of the catenas, i.e. interpolated or reworked. (E. Preuschen, in Realencyclopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 5, 1898, p. 615; E. Schwartz, in PW 6, 1907, col 1435; J. Moreau, in DHGE 15, 1963, col. 1446, and in RAC 6, 1965, col. 1064). Our experience of the entire collection of ancient exegesis of the psalter does not confirm this suspicion.[4]

It is good to hear this.  To cast suspicion on the authenticity of a text is easy; to remove it hard.  The need for an edition and translation of this text is not helped by such suspicions.

UPDATE (17/8/16): There is a critical edition in progress of this work, at the BBAW, headed by Christoph Markschies.  This has been in progress for a while, but I enquired and he kindly wrote back and told me: “The project is still active and the three colleagues mentioned at the website (Bandt, Risch and Villani) are still working hard to produce the first volume (that will be a multi-volume edition …) the next year.”

Which is excellent news, of course.  Now all we need is a team of translators.

  1. [1]Marie-Josephe Rondeau, Les commentaires patristiques du psautier, vol. 1, 1982.
  2. [2]Reprinted as the whole of Patrologia Graeca 23; material on psalms 119-150, edited by Mai, appears in PG 24, cols. 9-76.
  3. [3]Edition in PG 29, columns 194-6 and 202.
  4. [4]Rondeau, l.c., p.64, n.137.

15 thoughts on “A note on the authenticity of Eusebius of Caesarea’s “Commentary on the Psalms”

  1. On a side note, is there a translation yet on those recently re-discovered Origenes material on Psalms?

  2. Christoph Markschies wrote back and told me: “The project is still active and the three colleagues mentioned at the website (Bandt, Risch and Villani) are still working hard to produce the first volume (that will be a multi-volume edition …) the next year.”

    Which is excellent news, of course.

  3. Fantastic news! Thanks for contacting him.

    With respect to the Origen homilies, Professor Perrone informed me that several individuals had approached him about getting first access to the Greek for an English translation. So with any luck, those will be in print in the next few years.

  4. None of any of the Latin translations of Origenes homilies (either full or fragments) have been translated in English either, have they?

  5. Actually they all have! Thomas Scheck has been working away at them. All offline, sadly. But …

    I actually had Origen’s “Homilies on Ezekiel” translated (I didn’t know that Scheck was also working on this), and published it in printed form. It’s here on Amazon.com. When it’s sold whatever it’s going to, I will make it available freely online.

  6. One of Origenes’ works that I’m surprised has never been translated, is the rest of his commentary on Matthew (which is only in a Latin version). Actually, what would be nice, at lesat for easy reference, would be if some group did an entire Origenes corpus, including every single fragment, like was done with every other Ante-Nicene writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *