Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.11.47

Sébastien Morlet, La ‘Démonstration évangélique’ d’Eusèbe de Césarée: Étude sur l’apologétique chrétienne à l’époque de Constantin. Série Antiquité 187.   Paris:  Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, 2009.  Pp. 701.  ISBN 9782851212337.  €50.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Aaron P. Johnson, Lee University (

Table of Contents

In spite of the fact that the last two decades have seen a good deal of scholarly industry dedicated to works of the fourth-century bishop and bibliophile Eusebius that had not yet received their due in modern discussions , his Demonstratio Evangelica had not received the critical attention it deserves until the sustained and careful treatment of the volume under review here.1 Having been published in an admirable critical edition by I. A. Heikel almost a century ago, the Demonstratio had nonetheless been translated (inadequately) into only one modern language until a decade ago, and its significance had largely been limited to investigations of the biblical text at Eusebius’ disposal or (not always compelling) analyses of his interpretive approaches. Morlet’s study is thus a welcome and long overdue contribution to the field of Eusebian studies as the first attempt to provide a thorough assessment of the literary and polemical context of this work. In over six hundred pages of painstaking, sometimes dense and technical, but always rewarding, investigations into the background and contours of the Demonstratio, Morlet manages to take on nearly all of the most important new (or revived) themes in the study of Eusebius: the uniquely textual nature of his literary enterprise, anti-Jewish polemic, anti-pagan polemic (especially centering around the figure of Porphyry of Tyre), pedagogical innovations, Christian universalism, and the impact and reception of Origen.

Morlet’s study is divided into three major parts of three chapters each and is introduced with a hefty three-chapter long introduction, which canvases the important issues of the literary genre, date, audience and structure of the Demonstratio. The conclusions of the introduction are of great significance and built upon careful consideration of the evidence: the Demonstratio is first and foremost a pedagogical text for Christian students, not a polemical assault against Jewish (or pagan) opponents, even though the polemical element is certainly strong; a later date than usually presumed cannot be dismissed (as late as 333 AD); Porphyry of Tyre is not the target of Eusebius’ Demonstratio or its earlier sister-work, the Praeparatio Evangelica; and, in spite of the fact that nearly all of the second half of the Demonstratio has been lost, much can be surmised about the missing material from evidence in the first half, fragments of the fifteenth book, comparanda in Eusebius’ other writings (the Eclogae propheticae and Hypotyposeis in Psalmos), references in Jerome, comparanda from the anti-Jewish literary tradition, and later exegetical chains. Throughout, the carefully nuanced discussions and the admission of what can and cannot be gleaned from a methodical sifting of the evidence are admirable in their refusal to fall into less-defensible conclusions.

Morlet’s discussion in the long introductory section of his work deserves more consideration than a review can offer; I would only like to emphasize here the importance of his refutation of the general tendency to see Porphyry as the lurking specter behind Eusebius’ apologetic efforts in the Praeparatio and Demonstratio Evangelica. The authority of Wilamowitz and Harnack at the beginning of the twentieth century has supported finding “fragments” of Porphyry’s Against the Christians at key moments of the apologetic argument where anonymous criticisms of Christianity are aired by Eusebius. In spite of the sage and cautionary assessments of Harnack’s collection of fragments by Barnes and Benoit, it has remained unquestioned that the Eusebian material possesses a Porphyrian provenance. Morlet’s investigations provide what I consider to be a devastating critique of this assumption. The formulation of pagan (and Jewish) criticisms within the apologetic “diptych” (the Praeparatio and Demonstratio) is most likely the product of Eusebius’ own attempt to structure his response in such a way as to be pedagogically sound for Christian students being educated in a Christian identity and set of interpretive skills. If, however, we must look for a pagan source to those criticisms, according to Morlet, Celsus stands out as a much more plausible figure than Porphyry. Morlet does allow that Eusebius might still have had fr. 39 in mind when penning the prologue of the Praeparatio, but this would only have been a supplementary source. This reviewer would only note that a close reading of fr. 39 need not conclude that the issue at stake is the Christian apostasy from Hellenism, and hence, even Morlet’s admission that the fragment might inform Eusebius here is not a necessary move. Instead, the fragment is, by my reading, a criticism of a Christian’s continued practice of Hellenism after converting to Christianity; rather than adopting and defending the Jewish writings in a properly Jewish way, the Christians (Origen in particular) are blamed for continuing “to Hellenize.”2 Since the issue of the anonymous Greek in the prologue to Eusebius’ Praeparatio is precisely Christianity’s refusal to Hellenize (to “think the things of the Greeks”), invocation of Porphyry’s fr. 39 is not quite relevant and, indeed, is even misleading here. The occurrence of some terms missing in Celsus but present in Porphyry (e.g., othneios) are, to my mind, insufficient to give weight to the hypothesis of a Porphyrian provenance of the material in Eusebius.3 In other words, Morlet’s characteristically cautious and even-handed approach should, in this case, be pushed further so as more firmly to exclude Porphyry as a source behind Eusebius’ formulation of the problem set before him in the apologetic double-work. Doing so clears up our modern perceptions both of Porphyry’s anti-Christian polemic and of Eusebius’ strategic presentation of a work that stands as a monumental achievement on pedagogical and polemical fronts simultaneously. It is this last point that is made so clearly in Morlet’s introductory section.

The first major section of the work treats the “major axes” of Eusebius’ polemic: the Law/Gospel distinction, the contested status of the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures (are they for Jews or Christians?), and the person of Christ. A key component of Morlet’s approach in each is the extent to which Eusebius marked an innovative stance with respect to his predecessors in the anti-Jewish literary tradition. Importantly, Eusebius maintained the distinction between the Hebrews, known for piety, and the Jews, known for ritual. These two marked progressively higher spiritual stages beyond Hellenism. For Morlet, Eusebius’ conception of these spiritual stages involved what we might label “religions;” but they were never static phenomena, but rather diachronic and dynamic. In spite of somewhat favorable references to Boyarin’s thesis that it is precisely in fourth century Christian authors, and especially Eusebius, that we find the invention of “religion” as a discrete conceptual category (156 n.25, 157 n. 38), this reviewer remains skeptical as to the degree to which the language of politeia and related terms could be disembedded from their framework within an ethnic discourse, or become “transhistorical” (157 n.39). As Morlet recognizes, the historical dimension to this educational and encyclopedic summa is persistent: even in Eusebius’ arguments regarding Christ, much of which are indebted to Origen, the Demonstratio’s approach marks a “historicizing” of Origen’s theological formulations (290). Likewise, if Book 3 of the Demonstratio marked a fulfillment of the program laid out in his earlier contra Hieroclem 4 (as Morlet remarks at 241, 280-281), then comparison of these two works would only highlight further the distinctive location of the Demonstratio’s placement of Christ within a carefully crafted vision of nations and their histories.4

The second major section of Morlet’s work addresses the role of scriptural dossiers (that is compilations of selected passages of the Scriptures) in the Demonstratio as well as its forebears in the testimonia tradition. Morlet carefully examines the degree to which Eusebius maintained or broke from that tradition and shows repeatedly his distinctive use of biblical testimonia in the inclusion of novel passages, the greater extent of quoted material, and the general refusal to use texts not deemed scriptural by Jews. In particular, it is within Eusebius’ defense of the inspired nature of the biblical prophecies that Porphyry becomes a target (though even here, the broader context remains based on material from Celsus). Indeed, Morlet argues that Porphyry may provide the explanation for differences between an analogous argument in Eusebius’ earlier Eclogae propheticae and that of the Demonstratio (349-357). Significantly, if Eusebius depends on a source in the testimonia tradition for his own compilations it remains his own Eclogae propheticae (though Origen, too, may have been important, 415-417). Extensive tables comparing Eusebius’ and other early Christian uses of biblical testimonia furnish a useful reference tool for all future work on the testimonia tradition.

The third section addresses the central features of what Morlet terms Eusebius’ “exegetical argumentation.” Here, both the polemical and scholarly (even philological) nature of the Demonstratio is investigated with a wealth of beneficial observations and comparisons. We find that Eusebius’ treatment of biblical theophanies in the Demonstratio remains distinctive in its aims, emphases, and selections, in spite of similarities with earlier sources such as Justin and others, as well as his own Eclogae propheticae (442-456). Eusebius creates a historical-theological system comprised of the main themes of the “calling of the nations,” the destruction of the Jews, and, in connection with this latter point, the role of Rome, whose universalism could be mapped easily onto Christianity’s (or Eusebius’) own universalizing conceptions.5 The polemical edge to this system is paired, however, with Eusebius’ various scholarly engagements in philological, historical, scientific and text-critical areas of inquiry. This section contains valuable discussions of Eusebius’ use of the other Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures (as well as Origen’s), his use, evaluation and juxtaposition of the spiritual and literal senses, and an extensive investigation into Eusebius’ relationship to Origen’s exegetical approaches within his biblical commentaries and other writings.

The preceding remarks can scarcely gesture at the wide range of material in Morlet’s study that mark substantial contributions to scholarly appreciation of Eusebius’ literary enterprise, his role within the anti-Jewish discourse of Christian antiquity, his preservation and manipulation of the Origenian heritage, the rise of Christian pedagogical treatises, and the history of biblical scholarship and interpretation in late antiquity. Even those non-specialists in Eusebian studies who may otherwise baulk at confronting the lengthy investigations of this volume can felicitously avail themselves of the useful tables of testimonia (358-404) and the meticulous indices locorum. Morlet’s work overwhelmingly sets the standard for all future work on the Demonstratio.


1.   The scholarly industry I refer to includes studies of Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah, Commentary on the Psalms, the Praeparatio evangelica, the Chronicon, the Eclogae propheticae, and the Quaestiones evangelicae. See respectively, M. Hollerich, Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999); C. Curti, Eusebiana, I: Commentarii in Psalmos (Catania: Università di Catania, 1987); A. P. Johnson, “The Blackness of Ethiopians: Classical Ethnography and the Commentaries of Eusebius,” HTR 99 (2006): 179-200; idem, Ethnicity and Argument in Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); S. Inowlocki, Eusebius and the Jewish Authors (Leiden: Brill, 2006); A. Grafton and M. Hale Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); C. Zamagni, Eusèbe de Césarée. Questions évangéliques, SC 523 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2008). Though slightly earlier, T. D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981) deserves to be noted for its illuminating discussions of all these works.
2.   See the reviewer’s “Porphyry’s Hellenism,” in S. Morlet, ed., Le traité de Porphyre contre les chrétiens (Paris: Études d’Institut Augustiniennes, 2011), forthcoming.
3.   See the reviewer’s “Rethinking the Authenticity of c.Christ. fr. 1,” St. Patr. 46 (2010): 53-58.
4.   Here, Morlet should have directly addressed Hägg’s doubts about the c.Hier. ’s authenticity; see T. Hägg, “Hierocles the Lover of Truth and Eusebius the Sophist,” SO 67 (1992): 138-150.
5.   This reviewer has called for a more cautious approach to Eusebius’ attitude to Rome, based upon a close reading of the passages containing the Augustus-Christ synchronism and a reconsideration of his later “Constantinian writings” (Ethnicity and Argument, 174-185).

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