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.

Catenas on the Psalms – two important French works now online!

Great news!  A correspondent writes to say that two important French works on commentaries and catenae on the Psalms are now available online in full:

1) M.-J. Rondeau, Les Commentaires patristiques du Psautier (IIIe-Ve siècles), 2 vols, OCA 219-220, Roma 1982, 1985.

2) G. Dorival, Les chaînes exégétiques grecques sur les Psaumes: contribution à l’étude d’une forme littéraire, 4 vols, Leuven 1986, 1989, 1992, 1995.

These are tremendously useful, and one can only congratulate the publishers, Peeters, and the Pontifical Institute in Rome, respectively.  These highly specialist tomes now stand a chance of being read!

Euthymius Zigabenus, Commentary on the Psalms – draft translation online!

John Raffan has written a comment on another post, which deserves to be much more widely known:

On the topic of translations of Greek patristic texts, I would like to announce that I have made a new edition of the Commentary on the Psalter by Euthymius Zigabenus and have started to make an English translation of the work.

I have posted a draft translation of the Introduction and first 75 Psalms on my academia.edu page.

This, needless to say, is being done without payment or prospect of payment, since commercial demand for such work is essentially non-existent. If, however, anyone would like to sponsor the translation of a patristic work, I would very happily consider the proposition!

Dr Raffan is not kidding: available for download is a complete and rather splendid edition of the Greek, and also the translation in draft.  And, curiously, nobody seems to be aware of it, for it has had only 3 downloads!  Grab yours NOW!

Would somebody like to assist this very worthwhile project?  Surely this should attract a publisher?