Translating Eusebius on the Psalms – a new blog

A friendly note from Justin Gohl of the Sophiaphile blog informs me that he is translating selected passages from the monster Commentary on the Psalms by Eusebius of Caesarea!

This is extremely good news.  This text is very long, and has accordingly been very neglected.  I seem to remember commissioning translations of a few of these myself, in fact.

Of course Justin is only nibbling at it, but he’s making the first ever translations of what he’s doing.  Here’s what he has done so far:

I don’t know if he will do any more, but this is just invaluable.  Blessedly he is translating the whole commentary for a given psalm.

More please!

Eusebius of Caesarea, Six extracts from the Commentary on the Psalms, in English

Last year I gave a list of passages from Eusebius’ massive Commentary on the Psalms which deserved to be read in English.  Thankfully Fr. Alban Justinus stepped up and translated six of these for us, before other events drew him away.  I’d like to make that material accessible now.  Here they are:

The files can also be found at here.

As usual, these are public domain.  Do with them whatever you like, personal, educational or commercial.

Our thanks to Fr. Alban Justinus for translating all this material!

Making a selection of interesting passages to translate from Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms

I dislike translations of “selected passages”.  You always wonder what was in the missing bits.  On the other hand Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms is so immense that nobody has translated anything much of it.  Indeed Andrew Eastbourne’s translation of the portion on Ps.51/52 is pretty much all that anybody has done.

I’ve been compiling a list of passages that might usefully be translated (psalm numbers as in PG, i.e. LXX/Vulgate, rather than KJV/NIV).  Contributions are welcome, of course!

  • Introduction – PG23.68-72 – a short list by Eusebius of the subject matter of each of the 150 Psalms, entitled Hupotheseis (“Themes”).  This is already done.
  • Ps. 51 – PG 23.445d-448a, the conclusion to his preface to Ps 51, in which he presents a detailed review of the jumbled chronology of the psalms attributed to David in the first two portions of the Psalter.  This is already done as part of the Ps.51 translation.
  • Ps. 60, v.6 – PG 23.580c – Recognizing that the psalms originated in the prayers of Israel, he says “. . . the things that were uttered were rightly no longer regarded as ordinary prayers but as prophetic words, and the ones who had received the charisma of the discernment of spirits inserted them into the divine books”.  TODO. There is a chunk of stuff about inspiration of the bible here, perhaps half a column to a column.
  • Ps 62, 2-3 – PG 23.601a–604b – Prof. Hollerich in his article (below) says that he has a translation of this in the Eusebius chapter in the forthcoming New Cambridge History of the Bible, presumably vol. 1.  I don’t have access to this though.  It contains material on how the psalter was assembled.  TODO.  The commentary on v.2-3 actually starts on col. 599-605; but the interesting material is 599-603B, two and a half columns.
  • Ps 86, 2-4 – PG 23.1040b – 1041d.  This has more material on how the psalter was assembled.  “There too, he says, the order of events and of prophecies is sometimes reversed, with prophecies from later times being found in earlier parts of the books. In both cases, the “probable” (eikos) explanation is that the unhistorical sequencing of the books is due to the fact that those who preserved the prophecies added them to the book as they incidentally came to their attention, following disruptions like the Babylonian Exile. The same explanation applies to the Psalter—unless, he adds, someone wishes to propose a deeper meaning (bathuteros nous) that has escaped him (PG 23.1041d).  He flatly denies that the psalm numbers themselves could carry inherent significance, as if “. . . the fiftieth in number contains the understanding of the forgiveness of sins because of the fifty year period referred to in the Law, the period which the children of the Hebrews call a ‘jubilee’ . .”  TODO:  Two columns, from 1040 to the top of 1043.
  • Ps 86:5-7 – PG 23, 1048C – 1049C – In this psalm the LXX differs notably from the other Greek versions (and Eusebius usually presumed that that meant the LXX differed from the Hebrew as well).  So ought to be interesting.  TODO:  A column at most.
  •  Ps.87:11 – PG 23, 1064A – This mentions the mnêma (tomb) and martyrion of the Savior in Jerusalem, where, he says, miracles were being performed among the faithful, thereby indicating that this is a late work.  TODO: Just a few lines before and after the sentence.
  • Ps 91 (92), PG 23. 1169/1170B, the psalm is entitled, A psalm or song for the sabbath-day. Eusebius begins his commentary by stating that the patriarchs had not the legal Jewish sabbath; but still ‘given to the contemplation of divine things, and meditating day and night upon the divine word, they spent holy sabbaths which were acceptable to God.’  Then a long quote which I have here.  Then Ps 92 – PG 23. 1172A: καὶ πάντα δὴ ὅσα ἄλλα ἐχρῆν ἐν Σαββάτῳ τελεῖν, ταῦτα ἡμεῖς ἐν τῇ Κυριακῇ μετατεθείκαμεν (and so all the other things that one must observe on the Sabbath, these things we have transposed to the Lord’s Day’, as discussed here; and here).  TODO: The psalm starts at 1163D.  Our interest fades at 1173B.  About four columns.  The whole psalm would be nine columns.

   *   *   *   *

That’s not an impossible quantity of material, perhaps ten columns in all.  I might enquire whether Fr Alban Justinus might like to translate it for us.

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.

Eusebius on the Psalms – a project for a new edition in Germany

I heard this week about a new edition of the Eusebius Commentary on the Psalms.  It’s very good news!

This monster work has survived in a rather curious fashion – the section on Psalms 51-100 has been transmitted directly, which is pretty unusual for an ancient biblical commentary.  But the sections on the other psalms are recovered from medieval Greek biblical commentaries – catenas – and the status of these is often very suspect.  The Patrologia Graeca edition by Montfaucon is not reliable.

The new edition is a project under the august auspices of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften.  It is being undertaken by a large team of scholars directed by Prof. Christoph Markschies. In theory it is a ten year project and the edition is not to be completed before 2021. My guess is that it will run late!

A short description can be found here, at the top of a page dedicated to a series of projects (including an edition of the homilies of Severian of Gabala, scheduled for 2022-2032!).

Eusebius on the Psalms – some old quotations on the sabbath

A couple of years ago I discussed a quotation from Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms.  An incoming link alerts me to a discussion which gives a longer quotation, and a source for it.

The source given is Moses Stuart’s Commentary on the Apocalypse (vol. 2, p.9, p.40; Andover: Allen, Morrill, Wardwell, 1845).  But a quick look at the 1850 reprint suggests that something is awry.  A better source is Harmon Kingsbury, The Sabbath, 1840, p.218 f. As Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms does not exist in English, it seems useful to repeat what is said:

Professor Stuart says:

“The important testimony of Eusebius, (fl. 320,) in the time of Constantine has been unaccountably overlooked by all the patristical investigators whom I have yet been able to consult. It is contained in his commentary on the Psalms which is printed in Montfaucon’s Collectio Nova Patrum and some of it is exceedingly to our purpose and withal very explicit.

“In commenting on Ps. xxi. 30 (xxii. 29 in our English version) he says ‘On each day of our Savior’s resurrection [i.e. every first day of the week] which is called Lord’s day, we may see those who partake of the consecrated food and that body [of Christ] which has a saving efficacy after the eating of it bowing down to him.’ pp. 85, 86.

“Again on Ps. xlv. 6 (xlvi. 5) he says ‘I think that he [the Psalmist] describes the morning assemblies in which we are accustomed to convene throughout the world.’ p.195

“On Psalm lviii. 17 (lix. 16) he says ‘By this is prophetically signified the service which is performed very early and every morning of the resurrection day [i.e. the first day of the week throughout the whole world].’ p.272

“But by far the most important passage of all remains to be adduced. It is in his commentary on Ps. xci (xcii) which is entitled ‘A psalm or song for the Sabbath day’. He begins his commentary by stating that the patriarchs had not the legal Jewish Sabbath but still, ‘given to the contemplation of divine things and meditating day and night upon the divine word, they spent holy Sabbaths which were acceptable to God.’

“Then observing that the Psalm before him has reference to a Sabbath he refers it to the Lord’s day and says that ‘it exhorts to those things which are to be done on resurrection day.’ He then states the precept respecting the Sabbath as addressed originally to the Jews and that they often violated it. After which he thus proceeds: ‘Wherefore as they rejected it [the sabbatical command], the Word [Christ] by the New Covenant translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the morning light and gave us the symbol of true rest, viz. the saving Lord’s day, the first [day] of the light in which the Savior of the world, after all his labors among men, obtained the victory over death and passed the portals of heaven, having achieved a work superior to the six days creation.’ … ‘On this day which is the first day of light and of the true Sun, we assemble after an interval of six days and celebrate holy and spiritual Sabbaths, even all nations redeemed by him throughout the world AND do those things according to the spiritual law which were decreed for the priests to do on the Sabbath, for we make spiritual offerings and sacrifices which are called sacrifices of praise and rejoicing, we make incense of a good odor to ascend as it is said, Let my prayer come up before thee as incense. Yea we also present the shew bread, reviving the remembrance of our salvation, the blood of sprinkling, which is of the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world and which purifies our souls. … Moreover we are diligent to do zealously on that day the things enjoined in this Psalm, by word and work making confession to the Lord and singing in the name of the Most High. In the morning also with the first rising of our light we proclaim the mercy of God toward us also his truth, by night exhibiting a sober and chaste demeanor; and all things whatsoever that it was duty to do on the Sabbath [Jewish seventh day], these we have transferred to the Lord’s day as more appropriately belonging to it, because it has a precedence and is first in rank and more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath. For on that day, in making the world, God said Let there be light and there was light; and on the same day the Sun of righteousness arose upon our souls. Wherefore it is delivered to us [paradedotai, it is handed down by tradition] that we should meet together on this day and it is ordered that we should do those things announced in this Psalm.’

“After some interval he speaks again of the title to the Psalm and says that it does not so much respect the Jewish Sabbath for ‘it signifies the Lord’s day and the resurrection day as we have proved in other places.’ ‘This Scripture teaches that we are to spend the Lord’s day in leisure for religious exercises (twn qeiwn a)skse)wn) and in cessation and vacation from all bodily and mortal works which the Scripture calls Sabbath and rest.’

It is useful to have this material.  I wonder what else in the way of patristic material lies buried in elderly English bible commentaries?

How I love these forum arguments! I have gained so much from them over the years.  How sad it is that, today, it is simply impossible for me to even find the discussions online, since it became impossible to search only for forums online.

More on Eusebius on the Psalms

Alex Poulos is starting to translate portions of the commentary of Eusebius on the Psalms.  Catch the English and the Greek here.

Alex modestly deprecates his work, but frankly everyone seems scared to translate stuff from this huge work.  So whatever he does, however he does it, he’s a pioneer in an unexplored land.  Well done!

Montfaucon on Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms

Volume 23 of the Patrologia Graeca contains the start of Eusebius’ monster commentary on the Psalms.  At the start of it is a preface, presumably by Bernard de Montfaucon, the 18th century Benedictine scholar.  It’s the size of a small book itself!

It would be interesting to know whether Eusebius takes a literal or allegorical approach in this work.  He was very much a disciple of Origen, whose enthusiasm for the allegorical method led him to the curious statement that the literal meaning of some passages of scripture is of no importance.  But he was also his own man.

I had wondered about commissioning a translation of the preface; but not at that length!

Testing the catenas – Carmelo Curti on Eusebius on the Psalms

We all know that medieval Greek commentaries on the bible were compiled by chaining together extracts from commentaries on the book in question by the Fathers. Often these catenas continue to exist, when the original works are lost.  They are therefore a valuable source for retrieving early Christian comments on biblical verses.

But … to string these quotes together, the compilers had to adapt the quotations, if only slightly; they had to add bridging words, tweak tenses.  They had to abbreviate, very often.  So the question before us is whether we can rely on the quotations.

Eusebius of Caesarea wrote a monster commentary on the Psalms.  Unusually, a third of it still exists, preserved in ms. Coislin 44.  This means we can compare the original text with the catenas, and get an idea of the value of each.  Carmelo Curti wrote an interesting article on this [1], from which I have translated a couple of passages:

Of the famous “Commentarii in Psalmos” of Eusebius of Caesarea, about a third, Pss. 51-95,3, has been transmitted to us directly in the manuscript Coislin 44, saec. X [1] and the rest of the work, Pss. 1-50 and 95,4-150, came to us through the catenas, i.e. a path which, as is well-known, is among the least easy for the editor of Christian texts in the Greek language. The importance of the Coislin manuscript does not end in giving us a text genuine, complete and, in principle, correct of one part of the commentary of Eusebius. The manuscript also allows us to determine through appropriate comparisons, the value of those catenas that, together with other fragments of the Eusebian commentaries, contain some passages related to Pss. 51-95,3, i.e. that part attested by Coislin 44. This is the case for two catenary codices, Patmos Monastery St. John 215, saec. XII-XIII and Ambrosianus F 126 sup. century. XIII, deriving independently from a common original and, according to the classification of Karo-Lietzmann, Catena-type XI [2]. Together with fragments of other exegetes of the Psalter, the first one transmits fragments of the commentary of Eusebius on Pss. 78,5-150, the other,  fragments of the same comment that referring to Pss. 83,4-150 [3].

In my study published in 1972, comparing the text of these manuscripts with those witnessed by Coislin 44, I have demonstrated: first, that the compiler of the base catena, from which directly or indirectly our two witnesses derive, used a copy which belonged to the same branch of the tradition as the Coislin manuscript and secondly, that this compiler, while often omitting the comment of entire entries, has worked on the text under his eyes generally by abbreviating …, i.e. removing words or phrases or even whole periods not deemed essential to the meaning …. It follows that from Ps. 95.4 — as has been said, with Ps. 95.3 the Coislin manuscript unfortunately stops — the editor of the Eusebian commentary can be  certain that the text given by the two catena codices is usually genuine, though mutilated and spoiled by the omission of words or phrases or even whole sentences in the passages relating to verses for which they have preserved the comment.

By contrast, the contribution of the two catenas for the constitution of the exegesis of the Eusebian text on Pss. 51-95,3 — for this section, as we have said, we are aided by Coislin 44 — is of course not as relevant but still not entirely negligible. They in fact, as we will show in this chapter, in many cases allow us to improve the text offered by the Coislin manuscript, some correcting obvious mistakes, others filling gaps, others attesting variants which may deserve more consideration.

As documentation of what we have stated above, we give some examples. We quote the text of Coislin, which generally corresponds to that reproduced in PG 23, noting the variations  between the two catena manuscripts in parentheses. …

In conclusion, for the constitution of the text even in that part of the Eusebian commentary that is preserved in Coislin 44, the manuscripts Ambrosiano F 126 sup. and Patmos S. John Monastery 215 can not be ignored. They in fact, as we believe we have demonstrated, correct obvious errors in Coislin 44, restored to Eusebius words (or phrases) missing in this codex — both attributable to the copyist of the oislin ms. or that of his source –,  and also offer alternative readings that are worthy, in some cases, of some attention. The mistakes of Coislin in truth are mostly of the sort that could easily be corrected by the action of a prudent, unhurried editor (but all those mentioned in the course of this chapter are found in the edition of de Montfaucon reproduced in PG 23). It is a different matter for omissions, which are always difficult to divine and are risky to infer in any text and, more importantly, in a text of prose. For these the testimony of the two catenary manuscripts becomes extremely important and irreplaceable.

It is always good to test our theories about what is happening in catenas.  It is a relief to learn that they really do have value to the editor.  That lesson should be applicable well beyond the specific case of Eusebius on the Psalms.

1. C. Curti, I “Commentarii in Psalmos” di Eusebio di Cesarea: tradizione diretta (Coislin 44) e tradizione catenaria.  In: Eusebiana 1, 2nd ed, 169-179.

More on Eusebius on the Psalms

I got curious as to what else might be found using Google books. about Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on the PsalmsApparently Syriac fragments also exist, mentioned in Wright’s Catal. Syr. MSS. Brit. Mus. pp. 35 sq., 125.  A certain Robert Leo Odom, Sunday in Roman Paganism: A history of the planetary week and its “day of the Sun” in the heathenism of  the Roman world during the early centuries of the Christian Era, writing on the transfer of the Sabbath to Sunday repeats the quotes we saw before, but with a Migne reference and his own translation:

He appears to be the first ecclesiastical writer to spiritualize and accommodate to Christian thought the very pagan name of the day, saying that “on it to our souls the Sun of Righteousness rose.” 7 And he speaks of seeing “the face of the glory of Christ, and to behold the day of His light.” 8 Indeed, he is the first Christian writer to maintain that Christ Himself transferred Sabbath observance from the seventh to the first day of the week. On this point he said: “Wherefore, being rejected of them [the Jews], the Word [Christ] by the new covenant translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the dawn of light, and handed down to us a likeness of the true rest: the saving and Lord’s and first day of light.” 9

It is interesting to note, also, that in the very same discourse he unwittingly reveals who the real authors of the change were, saying: “All things whatsoever it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s day, as being more appropriate, and chief, and first, and more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath.” 10

7 Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms, Ps. 91 (Ps. 92 in A. V.), in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Gratia, Vol. 23, col. 1172, author’s translation.
8 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, book 4, chap. 16 (comment on Ps. 84:9, 10), translation by W. J. Ferrar, Vol. 1, p. 207.
9 Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms, Ps. 91 (Ps. 92 in A. V.), in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 23, col. 1169, author’s translation.
10 Ibid., col. 1172, author’s translation. 

Of course by “us” Eusebius means “the Christians”, not himself personally!

The Odom book is very interesting, and full of hard factual data.  Looking at the overview, we see instantly that he reprints all the images of the pages of the days of the week from the “Chronography of 354”.  I’d like to read it; but who can read such a book on-screen?

Moving on, apparently Eusebius also refers to the finding of the cross.  Lardner seems to be one of the few to use this work by Eusebius, and did so from Montfaucon’s publication; and indeed, what else could he use?  Again, how we need someone to edit this work!