Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.01.28

Françoise Petit, Lucas Van Rompay, Jos J. S. Weitenberg (ed.), Eusèbe d'Émèse, Commentaire de la Genèse. Texte arménien de l'édition de Venise (1980); fragments grecs et syriaques. Traditio exegetica Graeca, 15.   Leuven; Walpole, MA:  Peeters, 2011.  Pp. xxxix, 442.  ISBN 9789042923133.  €94.00.  

Reviewed by Mark DelCogliano, University of St. Thomas (

Eusebius of Emesa was a fourth-century bishop, exegete, and theologian. His extant writings include a collection of homilies, biblical commentaries, and an abundance of homiletic and exegetical fragments. Little of his corpus exists in the original Greek; most of it has been preserved in Latin, Syriac, and Armenian. Eusebius is somewhat of an enigmatic figure. While long known for his connections with major players in the fourth-century church (such as Eusebius of Caesarea and George of Laodicea), his theology does not fit neatly into the traditional categories used to analyze the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth century (e.g. Arian, Nicene, etc.). Nor is his style of exegesis easily classified, as we shall see, though he is often associated with the so-called “Antiochene” school of exegesis. Eusebius is important not least of all because he problematizes the simplistic (and downright unhelpful) labels sometimes used to pigeonhole fourth century churchmen. And more significantly, his uniqueness enriches our understanding of the complex contours of theology and exegesis in the fourth century.

The pioneering work on Eusebius was done in the late 1940s and early 1950s by É. M. Buytaert, who produced an edition of the homilies preserved in Latin and many homiletic fragments.1 While shorter studies occasionally appeared thereafter, it is only in recent years that interest in this under-studied figure grown. R. Bas ter Haar Romeny’s 1997 study of his commentary on Genesis situated Eusebius at the forefront of the Antiochene school of exegesis.2 Yet it is 2011 that surely marks a turning point in the study of Eusebius. Robert E. Winn’s recent monograph on Eusebius has vastly improved our understanding of Eusebius and his place in the fourth-century church.3 And now the volume under review here provides scholars with all the necessary resources for studying Eusebius’s interpretation of Genesis.

Eusebius’s commentary on Genesis is extant in its original language only in fragments preserved in the Greek exegetical catena and in Procopius of Gaza’s Epitome from the early sixth century. Yet there is also extant a translation of the entire commentary into Armenian that dates from the early fifth century. A Syriac translation of the commentary was made around the same time. Though it is no longer extant, there are fragments preserved in a ninth-century commentary by Isho'dad of Merv. The present volume reassembles the four branches of the tradition, providing new editions of each that are accompanied by annotated French translations on facing pages, in this order: the whole commentary in its ancient Armenian translation, the Greek fragments from the catena and Procopius, and the Syriac fragments from Isho'dad. Thus this volume enables for the first time a comprehensive view of Eusebius’s commentary on Genesis. The meticulous research of the three editors has resulted in a truly remarkable achievement that will be used with great benefit in all future studies of Eusebius. It is a model of what an edition of a fragmentary text preserved in multiple languages can and should be.

In the introduction, the editors situate Eusebius’s commentary on Genesis in its original context as part of a larger exegetical project focused on the Octateuch. In the manuscripts, this Octateuch commentary is ascribed to Cyril of Alexandria. But in 1923 it was re-assigned to Eusebius by Vahan Hovhannessian, a judgment that several other scholars have confirmed since then. The 1980 edition of the Armenian Octateuch commentary published posthumously by Hovhannessian is the basis for the edition printed in this volume.4 In the estimation of the editors, the Armenian version can be regarded as the work of Eusebius himself, since the translators did little to retouch it and made insertions only rarely. However, there are some divergences between the original Greek and the Armenian translation when a comparison is possible. These differences are variously explained (see p. xxxii).

One recurrent theme in the Introduction is to what degree Eusebius can be considered part of the Antiochene school of exegesis. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain from whom Eusebius learned the exegetical art, note the editors, even though he was closely associated with Eusebius of Caesarea, and studied in Alexandria and Antioch. But his influence on Diodore of Tarsus is undeniable, they admit, even if we cannot be sure whether the relationship between the two was personal or purely literary. The editors also discuss some noteworthy features of Eusebius’s commentary on Genesis which bear upon the question of his association with the Antiochenes. First of all, Eusebius likes to cite the biblical text in Hebrew and Syriac. While he probably did not know Hebrew that well, he appears to have been bilingual in Greek and Syriac. Incidentally, Eusebius’s quotations from the Syriac Bible constitute one of the earliest witnesses to the Peshitta. The editors also problematize the views of those who have noted the similarities between Eusebius and Diodore in their commentaries on Genesis and accordingly linked Eusebius with the Antiochene school of exegesis by pointing out some notable differences between Eusebius and typical Antiochene exegetes such as Diodore and Theodore of Mopsuestia. They elaborate upon four major differences: (1) Eusebius does not exhibit the systematic approach of the Antiochenes; (2) Eusebius does not use the same technical exegetical vocabulary; (3) Eusebius is not explicitly motivated by opposition to Origenian allegorism; and (4) Eusebius gives far more prominence to Hebrew and Syriac readings than the Antiochenes. Hence, the editors suggest that Eusebius’s connections with the Antiochene school should not be pushed too far, as has been done by some recent scholars.5 To further buttress this position, the editors also compare Eusebius’s comments on Genesis to those of Ephrem. They find several similarities between the two which perhaps shows indebtedness to the same Syriac traditions, some of which seem to be originally Jewish. Finally, the editors note that in the commentary Eusebius proceeds by discussing textual readings and variants and by investigating exegetical problems, often employing a question-and- answer approach. And so, Eusebius’s indebtedness to Syriac exegetical traditions and his dialectical method of interpretation further separate him from the Antiochenes. Even if they seem to recognize the continued validity of the category, the editors’ refusal to place Eusebius squarely within the Antiochene school inadvertently makes a significant contribution to the ongoing debate sparked by some scholars of patristic exegesis who argue that “Antiochene” and “Alexandrian” as labels for “schools” of exegesis are misguided and should be dropped.6 In the judgment of the editors, what makes Eusebius’s commentary on Genesis unique is the fact that he is neither Syriac exegete like Ephrem nor an Antiochene exegete like Diodore, but a blend of both worlds. And so, just as the Trinitarian theology of Eusebius eludes easy categorization, so too does his exegesis.

In addition to the general introduction, there are more technical introductions to the Armenian commentary (p. 3-20) as well as to the Greek and Syriac fragments of the commentary (p. 183-192 and 367-371). Each helpfully discusses the manuscript evidence, previous editions and their particularities, and departures from the previous editions found in this volume. (The Greek fragments from Procopius edited here for the first time.) Based on their analysis of the style and language of the Armenian commentary the editors argue that the translation of the commentary into Armenian was done in the first half of the fifth century from the Greek original (and not from the Syriac translation, as some previous scholars have contended). They also maintain that, while Procopius utilized Eusebian texts from the Greek exegetical catena, he also quoted from the original Greek commentary. In fact, more original Greek fragments are preserved by Procopius than by the catena. Finally, the Eusebian fragments preserved by Isho'dad are anonymous, but have been identified as Eusebian based on comparisons with the Armenian commentary and the Greek fragments. It is possible that Isho'dad himself used a collection of extracts in which the Eusebian texts were anonymous. There is ample evidence for the existence of a Syriac translation of the commentary long before Isho'dad era, from which extracts were presumably taken and later used by Isho'dad.

In gathering together the four branches of the tradition, there is inevitably some overlap. The editors provide a helpful comparative chart (pp. 419-424) which clearly indicates the points of contact among the traditions for the interpretation of each verse of Genesis. Also supplied is a detailed scriptural index and an exhaustive index of proper names. Both the chart and the indices will prove quite helpful for those investigating the exegesis of particular verses or biblical figures and places. The care taken to compile these scholarly aides is in line with the editors’ overall intention to provide researchers with all the necessary resources to facilitate the study of Eusebius of Emesa’s exegesis of Genesis. Through their reassembling of the four branches of the tradition, their editions and translations, and these scholarly aids, they have succeeded admirably in this endeavor.


1.   É. M. Buytaert, L’héritage littéraire d’Eusèbe d’Émèse. Étude critique et historique. Textes, (Louvain: Bureaux de Muséon, 1949); Eusèbe d’Émèse. Discours conservés en latin. Tome premier: La collection de Troyes (Discours I à XVII); Tome second: La collection de Sirmond (Discours XVIII à XXIX) (Louvain: Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, 1953-1957).
2.   R. Bas ter Haar Romeny, A Syrian in Greek Dress: The Use of Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac Biblical Texts in Eusebius of Emesa's Commentary on Genesis (Leuven: Peeters, 1997).
3.   Robert E. Winn, Eusebius of Emesa: Church and Theology in the Mid-Fourth Century (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011).
4.   V. Hovhannessian, ed., Commentaire de l’Octateuch (Venice: St. Lazare, 1980).
5.   E.g. Nils Arne Pedersen, Demonstrative Proof in Defence of God: A Study of Titus of Bostra’s Contra Manichaeos—The Work’s Sources, Aims and Relation to its Contemporary Theology, Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 56 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004), esp. 126-146.
6.   E.g. Frances Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); John O’Keefe, “‘A Letter that Killeth’: Toward a Reassessment of Antiochene Exegesis, or Diodore, Theodore, and Theodoret on the Psalms,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 8 (2000): 83-103.

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