Eusebius, Letter to Constantia – an English translation by Cyril Mango

It’s always a shock to realise that some important early Christian text has never been translated; or, at least, is inaccessible online.  Such was myi feeling on seeing a quotation from the letter of Eusebius of Caesarea to Constantia, sister of the emperor Constantine the Great.  The quotation was:

To depict purely the human form of Christ before its transformation is to break the commandment of God and to fall into pagan error.

The letter has not reached us directly.  Rather it was quoted as part of a dossier of texts assembled by the iconoclast synod of Hieria in 754.  In turn so those sections were also quoted in the acts of the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 AD in order to condemn them.   Other fragments exist, apparently.

I find that a translation of the material from Nicaea 2 was made by Cyril Mango from the PG 20, 1545 f. text, and printed in The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453 (1972, rep. 1986),p. 16-18.  Here it is:

You also wrote me concerning some supposed image of Christ, which image you wished me to send you. Now what kind of thing is this that you call the image of Christ? I do not know what impelled you to request that an image of Our Saviour should be delineated. What sort of image of Christ are you seeking? Is it the true and unalterable one which bears His essential characteristics, or the one which He took up for our sake when He assumed the form of a servant?  . . . Granted, He has two forms, even I do not think that your request has to do with His divine form. . . . Surely then, you are seeking His image as a servant, that of the flesh which He put on for our sake. But that, too, we have been taught, was mingled with the glory of His divinity so that the mortal part was swallowed up by Life. Indeed, it is not surprising that after His ascent to heaven He should have appeared as such, when, while He—the God, Logos—was yet living among men, He changed the form of the servant, and indicating in advance to a chosen band of His disciples the aspect of His Kingdom, He showed on the mount that nature which surpasses the human one—when His face shone like the sun and His garments like light. Who, then, would be able to represent by means of dead colors and inanimate delineations (skiagraphiai) the glistening, flashing radiance of such dignity and glory, when even His superhuman disciples could not bear to behold Him in this guise and fell on their faces, thus admitting that they could not withstand the sight? If, therefore, His incarnate form possessed such power at the time, altered as it was by the divinity dwelling within Him, what need I say of the time when He put off mortality and washed off corruption, when He changed the form of the servant into the glory of the Lord God. . . ? … How can one paint an image of so wondrous and unattainable a form—if the term ‘form’ is at all applicable to the divine and spiritual essence—unless, like the unbelieving pagans, one is to represent things that bear no possible resemblance to anything. . . ? For they, too, make such idols when they wish to mould the likeness of what they consider to be a god or, as they might say, one of the heroes or anything else of the kind, yet are unable even to approach a resemblance, and so delineate and represent some strange human shapes. Surely, even you will agree that such practices are not lawful for us.

But if you mean to ask of me the image, not of His form transformed into that of God, but that of the mortal flesh before its transformation, can it be that you have forgotten that passage in which God lays down the law that no likeness should be made either of what is in heaven or what is in the earth beneath? Have you ever heard anything of the kind either yourself in church or from another person? Are not such things banished and excluded from churches all over the world, and is it not common knowledge that such practices are not permitted to us alone?

Once— I do not know how—a woman brought me in her hands a picture of two men in the guise of philosophers and let fall the statement that they were Paul and the Saviour—I have no means of saying where she had had this from or learned such a thing. With the view that neither she nor others might be given offence, I took it away from her and kept it in my house, as I thought it improper that such things ever be exhibited to others, lest we appear, like idol worshippers, to carry our God around in an image. I note that Paul instructs all of us not to cling any more to things of the flesh; for, he says, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.

It is said that Simon the sorcerer is worshipped by godless heretics painted in lifeless material. I have also seen myself the man who bears the name of madness57 [painted] on an image and escorted by Manichees. To us, however, such things are forbidden. For in confessing the Lord God, Our Saviour, we make ready to see Him as God, and we ourselves cleanse our hearts that we may see Him after we have been cleansed. . .

“the man who bears the name of madness” is Mani, of course.

According to David M. Gwynn, “From Iconoclasm to Arianism: The Construction of Christian Tradition in the Iconoclast Controversy”, in: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 47 (2007), 225–251; 227 (online here), who discusses the letter, its authenticity and reception, further fragments may be added from the writings of the Iconophile Patriarch Nikephorus, which he references thus:

5. The best-known edition of the text is that of H. Hennephof, Textus byzantinos ad iconomachiam pertinentes (Leiden 1969) 42–44, of which there is an English translation in C. Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312–1453 (Englewood Cliffs 1972) 16–18.  A new Greek edition of the surviving fragments has now been prepared by A. von Stockhausen, in T. Krannich, C. Schubert, and C. Sode, Die ikonoklastische Synode von Hiereia 754 (Tübingen 2002), although in her most recent article Claudia Sode is sceptical that any coherent text can be reconstructed from those fragments: C. Sode and P. Speck, “Ikonoklasmus vor der Zeit? Der Brief des Eusebios von Kaisareia an Kaiserin Konstantia,” JÖByz 54 (2004) 113–134.

It should be noted that Mango in fact does not reference Hennephof, but the PG edition.

It has to be said that Eusebius is not really addressing the idea of icons at all.  The Byzantine veneration of icons is not his concern, for this did not exist.  Rather he is a man who grew up when paganism was triumphant, concerned to prevent the continuation of pagan practices in the newly Christianised populace.

Interesting to learn little snippets about antiquity – such as that an image of Mani was being paraded around in procession by his devotees.  We gain something from every morcel of ancient literature.

Update: A. von Stockhausen writes:

My edition (not critical, but re-instating the fragmentary state of transmission and annotation parallels in his other works) with German translation and short thoughts on Eusebius’ position on images (interpreting prep. ev. III 10,13–19) is online here: https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:bvb:29-opus4-81432

Thank you!

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Order my books before they go out of print!

Long term readers will remember that I commissioned two texts and translations in printed form: Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions (2011), and Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel (2014).  The first is the only version of this text; the second is the best version of the work.  Both contain catena fragments, the original text, and a facing translation.  The hardbacks are very splendid; and the paperback is a solid item too.

But all good things must come to an end, and these will go out of print in the next month or two.  So … if you or your library want copies, order them now from Amazon!

I know these are pricey, but once they are gone, they are gone.

Amazon don’t keep a lot of stock, naturally, but you can order any of these as all are in print.  Lead time is probably about a week when “out of stock”.

Thank you, everybody who supported this project!

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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 Archive.org 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!

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Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Luke – now online in English

Alex Poulos of the Catholic University of America has kindly translated for us the text of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on Luke.  Here it is:

I have also added it to Archive.org here.  As ever, I place these in the public domain.  Use them in any way you like.

The “work” itself is a wee bit bogus.  It was created by Angelo Mai by combining all the bits of Nicetas of Serrae’s Catena on Luke where the author is given as “Eusebius”.  It is most unlikely that all of these are Eusebius of Caesarea.  It is possible that none of them are.  All the same, the work is listed in the CPG, and so it is worth making available!

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Porphyry on quotation practices in antiquity

An interesting volume has come my way on the quotations in Eusebius.  It is Sabrina Inowlocki, Eusebius and the Jewish Authors: His citation technique in an apologetic context, Brill, 2006.  This, remarkably, was a PhD thesis in French.

The study is interesting enough that I should like to read the paper volume. I have a PDF but reading more than a bit on screen is impossible. But sadly the price at $150 renders that impossible.  However the PDF is indexed, and as a result I keep finding good things.

Chapter 2 is about the way that ancient authors quoted sources.  In chapter 2E, Faithfulness to the Text Cited, we find the following statements:

The changes brought by an author to the cited passage vary substantially. They generally consist in the omission or addition of words, in grammatical changes, in the combination of citations, and in the modification of the primary meaning of the quotation. These changes may be deliberate, which means that they are made by the citing author specifically in order to appropriate the content of the citation.52 They may also be accidental. If deliberate, the changes result from the author’s wish to adjust the citation to his own purposes, to ‘modernize’ the stylistic expression of a more ancient writer, or to adapt the grammar of the cited text to that of the citing text. It may be noted that deliberate changes do not always stem from the citing author’s eagerness to tamper with the primary meaning of a passage, as modern scholars often suspect and harshly condemn.

A passage from Porphyry, cited in the Praeparatio, is particularly revealing. It shows the methodology applied to the cited text, even by an author who was eager to preserve the primary meaning of that cited text:

(I omit the Greek, since I can’t paste it and don’t have time to retype it tonight)

To such you will impart information without any reserve. For I myself call the gods to witness, that I have neither added, nor taken away from the meaning of the responses, except where I have corrected an erroneous phrase, or made a change for greater clearness, or completed the metre where defective, or struck out anything that did not conduce to the purpose; so that I have preserved the sense of what was spoken untouched, guarding against the impiety of such changes, rather than against the avenging justice that follows from the sacrilege.(53)

53.  De philosophia ex oraculis I, p.109-110 (Wolff) = PE IV. 7. 1.

The sense, in other words, is what Porphyry transmits, not the exact words before him.  This is perhaps easier to understand if we remember that the copies before him were manuscripts, and so could easily contain corruptions.

Inowlocki goes on to say:

This passage emphasizes the prominence of the meaning of the text over its phrasing: The nous is clearly opposed to the lexis.54 Porphyry claims not to have tampered with the noemata of the oracles but he does not claim that he has not changed the terms and expressions of the cited text.55 Yet it should be noted that the respect shown to the meaning of the oracles is due to their sacredness. Similar attitudes are also found among Jewish and Christian authors regarding the modification of the Scriptures. Such changes are even more harshly condemned in the Jewish and Christian traditions.56[1] This was not the case with secular texts, as can be seen from Porphyry’s use of citations in his De abstinentia.57 Porphyry was especially gifted in manipulating texts, although the concept of manipulation hardly applies to antiquity. At any rate, the neo-platonic philosopher was not the only one to do so. Plutarch, who is well known for his extensive use of quotations, does not hesitate to transform the passages he cites by omitting, adding or modifying terms or expressions occurring in the quotation. Not even Plato was spared by him.

However, it should be emphasized that our scholarly criteria of citation are not relevant to the practice of ancient authors. Purpose and methodology differ dramatically. Actually, that which we might consider falsification was viewed by ancient writers as a methodology in explicating the true, authentic meaning of a text. In a sense, in the ancient authors’ view, modifying the text cited was meant to express its essence more clearly.59

In addition to the distinction between sacred and secular texts, the treatment of prose citations differs from that of poetic citations. Indeed, it was more difficult to modify poetic texts because of the metric rules. Moreover, in many cases, the readership knew them by heart. This was especially the case with Homer. As Stanley has pointed out in a study on Paul,60 the status of Homeric poems in Hellenism was to some extent comparable to that of the Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity. Both texts constituted the most authoritative text. Homer had been critically edited in the Hellenistic period and this ‘vulgate’ was in general faithfully copied by second-century C.E. authors. This observation may probably also apply to Euripides’ and Sophocles’ tragedies.

However, the poetic text cited by the ancient authors is not always identical to that which has reached us through direct transmission, i.e., in manuscripts. Several explanations other than the responsibility of the citing authors may be suggested. Firstly, the authors often cited passages from memory and therefore made mistakes;61 secondly, in the case of Homeric quotations, the authors could use a text other than the Alexandrian ‘vulgate;’ thirdly, most authors excerpted passages from florilegia rather than from the original text;62 finally, some differences may be due to the corruptions to which medieval manuscripts were subject.

As for prose texts, they could be more easily modified thanks to the flexibility of their form. They could easily be summarized, paraphrased and transformed. It is worth noting that the faithfulness to the text also depends on the feelings of the quoting author towards the quoted author. An author such as Strabo, whose faithfulness to the Homeric text has been shown by Stanley, proves to be rather loose in his citations from Herodotus.63 Likewise, Plutarch quotes Herodotus faithfully only in half of the cases64 whereas it is well known that he cites Homer faithfully.

The different methodologies in modifying a text may be presented as follows:65 …

But here we must halt our quotation.  Most of the footnotes refer to studies.

Isn’t this fascinating stuff?  It is really useful to hear Porphyry’s statement.  It is really useful to hear some solid examples of how ancient writers handle these things.

The author, Sabrina Inowlocki, is a Eusebius scholar, and her study of the quotations in the Apodeixis (i.e. the Praeparatio Evangelica and Demonstratio Evangelica) is really interesting.  But it’s the kind of book to read through.

What a murder it is, that so useful a volume, funded by a tax grant, should be obscured by such a high price!

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  1. [1]56. See, e.g. Josephus, Antiquities I. 17, X. 218 and Against Apion I. 42; Letter of ps.Aristeas 310…

Words, Words, Words: A response to Richard Carrier on Feldman and Eusebius

It’s always nice when my blog posts attract attention. I learned last week that an old post of mine, from 2013, has attracted a response from a professional atheist polemicist named Richard Carrier. In a rather excitable post here on his own blog he roundly denounces my casual remarks, and indeed myself (!), and offers a new theory of his own. A correspondent drew my attention to this, and asked me to comment.

My original post was written after I happened to see an article by the excellent Josephus scholar Louis Feldman. This tentatively endorsed the fringe idea that Eusebius of Caesarea (fl. early 4th century) may have composed the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (TF), the rather odd passage in Josephus Antiquities 18 which mentions Christ.[1] This claim is not one that anybody has previously had much time for, and I didn’t see any purpose in rebutting it. Feldman was only summarising work by others, I felt.

But then I saw something interesting. The article made the claim that, if you search the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database for a phrase towards the end of the TF, “And the tribe of Christians has not died out even to this day” (eis eti te nuneven/still to this day),[2] then it gives a bunch of hits in Eusebius’ works, and pretty much nowhere else.

I do computer searches. I’m interested in Eusebius. So I did the search for the phrase, but I got only a handful of results. Disappointed, I blogged about it, added some cautions on rushing to conclusions from these kinds of matches, and thought no more about it.

Last week I learned that, after four years, Richard Carrier has written a blog post in which he asserts rather over-enthusiastically that I simply did the search wrong – that instead I should have searched for eis eti nun; the te is just a particle, with the vague sense of “and”, and the two phrases are pretty much the same in meaning. Of course the two are indeed more or less identical in meaning.

Carrier’s search produces splendid results. It gets 94 matches.[3] Of these, 6 are later than Eusebius; one each in six authors. The other 88 are entirely in Eusebius. In other words, practically nobody in all Greek literature ever uses the phrase other than Eusebius, if we can trust this search.  It looks like the claim that Eusebius wrote the TF is proved!

But 88 out of 94 is not just a good result for the theory. It’s a fabulous result! In fact, it’s too good to be true. It’s like a Soviet election result with 99% voting for the official candidate. The number is supposed to produce confidence in the result, and does the opposite. It’s a sign that we need to sanity-check what we are doing.

Doing so produces instant discomfort. Surely “even to this day” is a trivial phrase? Are we really saying that Eusebius invented something as obvious as that? It seems unlikely. Imagine a Greek, complaining about his neighbour, as man has done since time immemorial. Would he not say, “How long has this been a problem?” “Oh it started when we landed, and it has continued even to this day.” How else would you express that idea?[4]

In fact, if we look at little further we find that the idea in rather similar words is indeed kicking around well before Eusebius, six centuries earlier, in the third century BC.   Apollonius Rhodius uses the idea in his Argonautica. He uses it to tie together past and present, in precisely the way that Eusebius does. [5]   The historian Polybius uses it, the poet Callimachus uses it. Nobody in our corpus uses it like Eusebius does; but then nobody is writing quite the kinds of works that Eusebius is.

So why didn’t these authors appear in the results, when we do the search? Because these rely on searching for versions of eiseti nun, which differs only by a word-division and means much the same thing.[6] We can omit te; we can replace it with the stronger equivalent kai; we can run eis and eti together, especially when we know that Greek manuscripts did not feature word division.  Any claim that depends on the presence of a space in the text is a pretty fragile one.

In fact there are quite a number of things we can do to twiddle the search, once we start thinking about it. Let’s just give the numbers from the TLG for a few versions of this search string, all of which mean much the same:

  • eis eti te nun – 4 hits. Josephus (1 hit), Eusebius (3 hits).
  • eiseti te nun – 7 hits. Eusebius (4), Sozomen (2), Oecumenius (1).
  • eis eti nun – 94 hits. 88 are from works of Eusebius, and the other 6 are later: Didymus the Blind (d.398) On Genesis, Procopius of Gaza (5th c.) Commentary on Isaiah, Stobaeus (6th c.), Chronicon Paschale (6th c.) and two 12th century Byzantine writers.
  • eiseti nun – 142 hits. Mostly pre-Eusebius; 7 hits in Apollonius Rhodius (3rd c. BC), Timaeus Historicus (3rd c. BC), Polybius (2nd c. BC), Philo (1st c. AD), Aelius Aristides (2nd c. AD), Lucian (2nd c.), Oppian (2nd c.), Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200), and others.  But Eusebius (63 hits) and Sozomen (41 hits) do appear.
  • eis eti kai nun – 23 hits. 2 hits from Porphyry (3rd c.) from different works. Some from Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, and then Byzantine writers.
  • eiseti kai nun – 110 hits. Callimachus (3rd c. BC), Herennius Philo (ca. 100 AD), Lucian, the Book of Jubilees (ca. 150 BC), Eusebius (56 hits) – especially in the commentaries on Isaiah and Psalms – Eutropius, Chrysostom, Palladius, and Byzantine writers.  Also an LXX variant reading for Isaiah 9:6 (given by Eusebius).

All of these do show significant use by Eusebius. Some of these show pre-Eusebian use; others don’t.

In fact Carrier is quite well aware of the pre-Eusebian results, which he proceeds to mention briefly in a paragraph that reads as if it was tacked on afterwards.   But it’s terrible stuff. Clement of Alexandria is just a Christian, so he doesn’t count (?!).  Polybius doesn’t count because no other historical writer after him uses this phrase.  In fact Carrier has changed his argument; from “only Eusebius uses this, so it proves that Eusebius forged the TF” – a defensible argument, if wrong – to “Eusebius uses this more than anyone, so that proves that he forged the TF”.  Which, of course, it does not.  Carrier has defeated himself.[7]

Here’s the rub; the success or failure of our search comes to depend on us, on our judgement, on our ingenuity, on our knowledge of Greek.   This subjectivity was precisely why, in my first blog post, I never proceeded beyond the exact match.

There are further possible issues with this method. Only 1% of Greek literature has survived. Much of that is biased towards technical, classical or ecclesiastical writings, those that were useful to copyists in the Dark Ages. The TLG contains only a portion of that 1%. Someone who knew more about computational linguistics than I do could easily point out more problems.

The database itself is not “clean”;[8] it is comprised of texts edited by many different editors, whose choices from the manuscript tradition will reflect their preferences. One example of this may be found in searching outside the TLG for eis eti nun. The TLG gives no hits before Eusebius. But I find that the 1831 R. Klotz edition of Clement of Alexandria, Protrepicus, has three hits for it.[9] In the TLG, based on the GCS edition, eis eti is replaced by eiseti. There is no indication in the apparatus as to why. The results of each database search are therefore a reflection of editorial choices.

Stylistic analysis, whether manual or automated, can be something of a trap. It’s terribly easy to forget how little we really know about the texts before us, the language which none of us speak as a native and which changes considerably over the thousand years before us, the vagaries of editors, the influence of ammanuenses and copyists, and of the non-literary spoken language, which surrounds the literary text like a warm bath at every instant but is almost invisible to us.

To sum up, we saw that a search for the exact phrase does not confirm Carrier’s claim. A search for revised phrases which mean the same does not confirm the claim either.  Attempts to dodge this simply destroy the argument.

*   *   *   *

Now let’s go back to where we started. The argument in Feldman’s article was that the use of this phrase proved that Eusebius wrote the TF.   We don’t want any implicit assumptions here, so let’s lay the argument out explicitly.

The claim is: (1) we have no evidence that eis eti te nun (etc) was used in Greek literature before Eusebius; (2) the search proves that Eusebius uses it extensively; therefore (3) any use of the term proves that Eusebius composed that bit of text; and (4) the TF as found in the Church History of Eusebius does contain it; so (5) Eusebius composed the TF.

The second point is correct. Eusebius does use the eis eti nun phrase extensively, once or twice in every book of the Church History, and elsewhere.

But the first point is dodgy, and so is the third. We have seen that in fact we do have evidence of its use for 6 centuries before Eusebius.

But let us suppose for a moment that the TLG searches did in fact show, as Carrier contended (before he discovered otherwise), that nobody used eis eti nun before Eusebius. The argument still is flawed. For this argument is an argument from silence – that we have no evidence that anyone else … so it must have been him. Arguments from silence are not valid.

The archaeologists never tire of telling us that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is the first thing that we must remember. And we’re searching only a subset of 1% of Greek literature, as we saw.  According to Carrier this means that we don’t have any evidence of use before Eusebius … very well. But even then we don’t have all the evidence. We have only a fraction of it.

In conclusion, the claim that examining the use of eis eti nun proves that Eusebius composed the TF is not correct. The claim itself seems to involve an argument from silence. And the silence itself can only be sustained by ignoring the exact matches, using a related search, and then finding reasons to ignore other related searches.

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  1. [1]There is another brief mention in Ant. 20 which also does so.
  2. [2]I have transliterated the Greek so that general readers can follow along.
  3. [3]This from a search of the TLG-E disk; I am currently unable to access the online system.
  4. [4]In fact it would be rather interesting to know how this was expressed in the classical period, as eis eti nun does not seem to be classical.
  5. [5]M.P. Cuypers, “Apollonius of Rhodes”, In: Irene J. F. De Jong, René Nünlist, Angus M. Bowie, “Narrators, Narratees, and Narratives in Ancient Greek Literature: Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative”, vol. 1. Brill, 2004, p.56 and n.24.
  6. [6]My thanks to Ken Olson for pointing this out in a comment on my original post. Dr O. is clearly no bigot, for he did so despite this information working against the interest of his theory: clearly a gentleman and a scholar.
  7. [7]Full disclosure: I wrote the majority of this post without Carrier’s post before me, so I did not remember his change of mind at this point.
  8. [8]See further M. Eder, “Mind your corpus: systematic errors in authorship attribution”, Literary and Linguistic Computing 28, 2013, 603-14.
  9. [9]Page 9 line 29, p.12  l.17, p.18 l.16. The first of these reads “καταδουλοῦται καὶ αΐκίζεται εἰς ἔτι νῦν τοιὶς άνθρώπους,”

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.

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  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.

Manuscript of Eusebius’ Quaestiones ad Stephanum/Marinum now online!

Readers may remember that a few years ago I published a translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Gospel Problems and Solutions (Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum).  Today I learn from a correspondent that the main manuscript, Vaticanus Palatinus Graecus 220, has been digitised and is now online at the Vatican website!  Folios 61-91 contain the work, which is itself an abbreviation of the original in 3 books, which discussed differences between the start and end of each gospel, and attempted to resolve them.

It is interesting to see that there are scholia on some leaves.  I include an image of one below.  Does anyone know what it says?

Here’s the opening of the work (f.61) (click on the images for a clearer image):

vat_pal_gr_220_f61_eusebius_ad_steph

Here is an example of the start of a “question” (f.92):

vat_pal_gr_220_f92

Here is where it breaks of, without any colophon (f.96):

vat_pal_gr_220_f96

And here on folio 90v is a scholion:

vat_pal_gr_220_f90v

I’ve zoomed in somewhat, and it would be interesting to know what it says.

Seeing this crystal-clear manuscript makes me wish we had had it available, back when David Miller was working on the translation.   As it is, we may be so grateful that this is now freely available online!

UPDATE: A correspondent in the comments has kindly translated the gloss for us – thank you!  It reads:

No! But the true mother of the Lord herself is said mother of Jacob and Jose, who are considered brothers of the Lord, being natural sons of Joseph, from his first wife, Salome. For Joseph had four sons: Jacob and Jose and Simon and Jude. And as the mother of the Lord was considered wife of Joseph, so she was considered mother of his sons.

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Ezekiel the Tragedian’s play on Moses; quoted by Eusebius, found at Oxyrhynchus

A number of news reports have circulated this week about the finds of Greek literature at Oxyrhynchus.  One of the better ones is in the Daily Mail, which has been running a lot of articles on subjects of interest lately.  The report by James Dunn (2 March 2016) is here.  It’s based on an article in the soon-to-be-extinct Independent, which nobody reads.

A long-lost speech from a play about Moses has been discovered on newly translated papers found more than a hundred years ago on an ancient Egyptian rubbish pile.

The speech explains how he was given the name Moses because he was found on the riverbank, written in a Greek-style tragedy about the Biblical character written in the Second Century BC.

It means that the classic Biblical story would have been performed more than 2,000 years before Charlton Heston played Moses in the 1956 blockbuster The Ten Commandments.

It is one of 500,000 documents found when the Victorian archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt discovered the ancient city Oxyrhynchus, about 120 miles south of modern Cairo, in 1897.

Between then and 2012, only 5,000 had been translated, but thousands more have been translated thanks to an army of volunteers who have inspected the documents which were put online.

But the most interesting to many will be the fragment of a long-lost rendition of the Book of Exodus, written in the style of a Greek tragedy by little-known author called Ezekiel.

It had been quoted in another documents by Church Father Eusebius, written 400 years later, but until now, no-one had ever seen it.

Dr Dirk Oddbink, of Oxford University, co-ordinating the project, said: ‘We didn’t know for certain that a text existed: Eusebius might have made it up or misremembered it,’ reports The Independent.

‘Now we have a real copy, a long speech by Moses, in iambic trimeters, telling the history of his life and how he was discovered as a baby in the bulrushes.

‘We can put some flesh and bones on a lost work of literature, one that was presumably performed long before Charlton Heston.’

Dirk Oddbink is better known as Dirk Obbink.  The Independent has a less people-friendly introduction, but then adds a translation:

Newly discovered fragment of Ezekiel’s Exagoge, spoken by Moses:

Then the princess with her maidservants came down to bathe.
When she saw me, she took me up and recognised that I was a Hebrew.
My sister Mariam then ran up to her and spoke,
‘Shall I get a nursemaid for this child from the Hebrews?’ The princess urged her on.
Mariam went to fetch our mother who presently appeared and took me in her arms.
The princess said to her, ‘Woman, nurse this child and I shall pay your wages.’
She then named me Moses, because she had taken me from the watery river-bank.

The Mail also prints a couple of pictures of papyri, but I learn from a correspondent that these are in fact nothing to do with the Exodus, but are POxy 1.2 (Matthew) and POxy 6.846 (Amos).

We learn more about this author from Louis H. Feldman, here.[1]

2.26 Ezekiel the Tragedian, The Exodus, quoted by Alexander Polyhistor (first century BC), cited by Eusebius (end of third and beginning of fourth century AD), Preparation for the Gospel 9.29.4-6

We know of a Jew, Ezekiel, who composed tragedies, considerable fragments of one of which, The Exodus, have been preserved. His thorough familiarity with various classical authors, particularly Aeschylus and Euripides, indicates that he was well schooled in Greek literature. The play itself follows the biblical narrative closely, though the dream here mentioned, together with the interpretation by Moses’ father-in-law Raguel (Jethro), is non-biblical. There would appear to be significance in the fact that this crucial dream is interpreted by a non-Jew, Raguel.

Ezekiel thus mentions these things in his work The Exodus and includes the dream seen by Moses and interpreted by his father-in-law.

In the following extract, Moses himself speaks in dialogue with his father-in- law.

‘I dreamt there was on the summit of Mount Sinai
A certain great throne extending up to heaven’s cleft,
On which there sat a certain noble man
Wearing a crown and holding a great sceptre
In his left hand. With his right hand
He beckoned to me, and I stood before the throne.
He gave me the sceptre and told me to sit
On the great throne. He gave me the royal crown.
And he himself left the throne.
I beheld the entire circled earth
Both beneath the earth and above the heaven,
And a host of stars fell on its knees before me;
I numbered them all.
They passed before me like a squadron of soldiers.
Then, seized with fear, I rose from my sleep.’
His father-in-law interprets the dream thusly:
‘O friend, that which God has signified to you is good;
Might I live until the time when these things happen to you.
Then you will raise up a great throne
And it is you who will judge and lead humankind;
As you beheld the whole inhabited earth,
The things beneath and the things above God’s heaven,
So will you see things present, past, and future.’

Feldman does not make clear that Eusebius actually quotes far, far more than this: too much, indeed, for me to include in this post.

The Gifford translation of the Praeparatio Evangelica of Eusebius is online, and book 9 is here.  

Eusebius is not quoting directly, however.  He introduces, in chapter 17, his source: the lost work by Alexander Polyhistor:

AND with this agrees also Alexander Polyhistor, a man of great intellect and much learning, and very well known to those Greeks who have gathered the fruits of education in no perfunctory manner: for in his compilation, Concerning the Jews, he records the history of this man Abraham in the following manner word for word…

The Ezekiel material is stated to be copied “word for word” from Polyhistor.

It is nice to see Eusebius confirmed, once again, as an accurate source for lost works.  It has always seemed rather mean-minded, to me, to cast aspersions on a man to whom we owe so much knowledge of antiquity.

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  1. [1]Louis H. Feldman, Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings (1996) p.41. Online here.

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!).

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