Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.39
Roger Pearse (ed.), Eusebius of Caesarea. Gospel Problems and Solutions: Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum (CPG 3470). Ancient texts in translation, 1. Ipswich: Chieftain Publishing, 2010. Pp. xv, 415. ISBN 9780956654007. $64.00.
Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chieftain Publishing is a new publishing house, founded by the editor Roger Pearse, that has started its career with a series called Ancient Texts in Translation, of which the present volume is the first to appear. The publisher claims on the website: “There are many existing series of English language translations of ancient texts. But there are many ancient texts which have never appeared in English at all. Many of these are of the highest interest, both to the specialist, and to the interested layman.” This is surely true of the Gospel Problems and Solutions by Eusebius. The latter is a very fine specimen of the Question-and-Answer genre (Erotapokriseis) that has remained much understudied since the seminal work of Gustave Bardy some 80 years ago1 but has recently witnessed a modest upsurge in interest.2 The original of Eusebius’ work is lost, but we do have a Vatican manuscript with an abridged selection of several parts of the book; moreover, there are a number of quotations in catenae (collections of comments on biblical passages by various ancient Christian authors); there are also fragments of translations into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Arabic; and finally there is a letter of the sixteenth-century Latino Latini to Andreas Masius that contains information about a then still extant complete manuscript of the work. All this evidence is presented in this work in both the original languages and in first-ever English translations. The original texts are taken from existing editions, but without critical apparatus, the recent Sources Chrétiennes edition of the Greek abridged selections by Claudio Zamagni (2008) being the most important of them.
In this work, Eusebius deals with serious exegetical conundrums such as ‘Why does the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew differ so radically from that in Luke?,’ ‘Why do the evangelists trace Joseph’s descent instead of Mary’s?,’ ‘Why does Matthew record that the child Jesus was taken from Bethlehem to Egypt whereas Luke says that he was taken to Jerusalem and from there to Nazareth?,’ ‘How is it possible that Matthew states the resurrection of Jesus took place late on the Sabbath whereas John says it was on the first day of the week?’ These were often vexing questions for early Christians since such apparent discrepancies were used by the opponents of Christianity such as Porphyry and Julian in their attacks on the Bible.
Eusebius answers all these questions with his usual acumen and ingenuity, and to his fellow believers his answers will certainly have carried conviction, although a modern reader may find many of his explanations farfetched (being based upon a literalist view of the Bible). His eagerness to harmonize conflicting stories in the Gospels even induces him to postulate the existence of two persons called Mary Magdalene (see pp. 111-113, 223, 291). As Eusebius says, the Gospels “are not at variance in anything they say” (p. 119), an adage repeated emphatically by Augustine in his De consensu evangelistarum. It is worthwhile to compare Eusebius’ methods of solving Gospel problems with those of his slightly earlier contemporary, Porphyry, in his Homeric Questions.3 The resemblances are very close, as was to be expected, and they deserve closer scrutiny.
Because the fragments in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Arabic are often translations of material already known from the Greek tradition, there is a considerable amount of repetition in this volume, but instead of viewing that as a nuisance, one should regard it as a window to what was considered as important in the tradition in this kind of material.
As far as I can judge, the translations are accurate (but I cannot assess the merits of the translation of the Arabic fragments), although sometimes somewhat free, except in the case of the Syriac evidence. Unfortunately, the English version does not always follow the original at the facing pages because on numerous occasions the translators preferred variant readings or conjectures to the text printed. They always indicate this in the notes, but it would have been more user-friendly to adopt the readings they translated into the text, though probably copyright reasons made that impossible. I found very few mistakes.4 A useful concordance of the present edition with previous ones concludes the book.
Since Eusebius’ Gospel Problems and Solutions is one of the earliest specimina of Christian Erotapokriseis literature, it is very helpful to have this edition with translation, which will surely facilitate and stimulate future study of this and related documents. An elaborate commentary is certainly needed in order to situate this kind of work more clearly in the landscape of classical (pagan, Jewish, Christian) Erotapokriseis literature. Let us hope more will follow in this new series.
1. See the series of six articles by G. Bardy in Revue Biblique 41 (1932) and 42 (1933), all of them with the title “La littérature patristique des Quaestiones et responsiones sur l’Écriture Sainte.”
2. See, e.g., A. Volgers and C. Zamagni (edd.), Erotapokriseis. Early Christian Question-and-Answer Literature in Context (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 37), Leuven: Peeters, 2004.
3. See my review of the recent edition by John A. MacPhail, Porphyry's Homeric Questions on the Iliad: Text, Translation, Commentary (2011), in BMCR 2011.06.02.
4. I spotted oion instead of oikon (Jacob’s ‘house’, at p. 164); at p. 220 the final three lines of Greek have been left untranslated; and at p. 299 ‘though’ should be ‘through.’