Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.02.05 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.02.05

Aaron P. Johnson, Jeremy M. Schott (ed.), Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations. Hellenic studies, 60.   Washington, DC:  Center for Hellenic Studies, Trustees for Harvard University, 2013.  Pp. x, 380.  ISBN 9780674073296.  $24.95 (pb).  


Reviewed by Hazel Johannessen, King’s College London (hazel.johannessen@kcl.ac.uk)

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This high-quality collection of essays assembles the contributions to a series of sessions on Eusebius held at meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature between 2009 and 2011, together with a number of additional essays. Sharing the approach of an earlier colloquium in Brussels and its resulting volume Reconsidering Eusebius,1 these essays aim to examine Eusebius as a complex writer and theologian, rather than, as so often in the past, merely a mine of historical ‘facts’ about the Constantinian era (p.1). As a result of this joint perspective, this volume has rather more coherence than is often found in collected conference proceedings. It also thereby fulfils the promise of ‘innovations’ made by its title, for, as Johnson notes in his introduction, interest in Eusebius’ literary technique and theological views is a comparatively recent development (p.2).

‘Tradition’, however, is not neglected. Unlike the earlier Reconsidering Eusebius, which avoided discussion of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History,2 the editors of the present volume have not deliberately excluded any of Eusebius’ works from consideration. Alongside essays on Eusebius’ works of exegesis and theological polemic (chapters 8-13), which have often been overlooked by scholars, we therefore find discussions of some of Eusebius’ ‘major’ works, the Ecclesiastical History and Martyrs of Palestine (chapters 2-4) and the Life of Constantine (chapters 6 and 7). The inclusion of these essays is to be welcomed, for they demonstrate how an approach informed by close literary and textual analysis can provide new insights even into Eusebius’ most familiar works.

The volume contains seventeen contributions in total, including an introduction by Johnson and an afterword by Schott. It has been sensibly arranged, with essays on the same, or similar works by Eusebius grouped together. The first part of the book focusses on some of Eusebius’ better-known works, beginning with essays on the Ecclesiastical History, and progressing through discussion of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum in Eusebius’ apologetic Demonstration of the Gospel (chapter 5) to chapters on the Life of Constantine. In later contributions, the focus shifts to works which have been less frequently studied, among them the biblical commentaries, Gospel Questions and Solutions, and anti-Marcellan works. As the book progresses, there is also a gradual shift from contributions which assess Eusebius’ literary style and narrative technique to essays which probe his theological views, such as Drecoll’s discussion of Eusebius’ pneumatology (chapter 14). Lastly Meinking (chapter 16) broadens the perspective beyond Eusebius with an examination of the educational background of Eusebius’ near-contemporary Lactantius. An afterword by Schott concludes the volume with a useful survey of past and current work on Eusebius.

One topic that recurs frequently in various essays is the question of Eusebius’ relationship with Origen, often regarded as a significant influence on Eusebius. Penland’s essay (chapter 4) explores this in some detail, arguing that Eusebius sought in the Martyrs of Palestine and Ecclesiastical History to establish a strong connection through his mentor Pamphilus back to Origen and thereby to present himself as the guardian of Origen’s legacy. Close ties between Origen and Eusebius are also emphasised in Ramelli’s discussion of apokatastasis. Ramelli suggests that Eusebius largely shared Origen’s view that the restoration of an original state of unity with God represented the ultimate goal of humankind. Elsewhere, Morlet’s study (chapter 11) of the relationship between Eusebius’ and Origen’s biblical exegesis acknowledges that Origen was not the only source upon which Eusebius drew. Nevertheless, Morlet argues that Origen was Eusebius’ ‘main source’ and suggests that at times Eusebius ‘may follow his master so close’ that Eusebius’ work can be used to recover something of Origen’s lost commentaries (p.222).

Other contributors, however, seek to establish more distance between Eusebius and Origen. Corke-Webster, for instance, explores the differences between Eusebius’ and Origen’s treatments of the Maccabean story of the martyred mother and her seven sons, highlighting the two writers’ different attitudes towards family relationships (chapter 3). Hollerich’s discussion of Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms (chapter 8) draws attention to further areas of disagreement with Origen, noting that Eusebius denied Origen’s claim that the numbers of the psalms should be interpreted symbolically (p.164). Similarly, Johnson, in his essay on Eusebius’ disputed Commentary on Luke (chapter 10),3 argues that Eusebius had a ‘less optimistic interpretive approach’ to biblical accounts of the Transfiguration than that of Origen (p.202). These authors therefore challenge widespread assumptions about the extent of Eusebius’ debt to Origen. The different perspectives taken here on this question suggest that this is a debate which will continue to run, and the various contributions which address the question of Origen’s influence are thus worth reading alongside each other, in order to help form a balanced picture.

Another welcome feature of this book is the discussion of Eusebius’ eschatology that appears in the contributions of both Johnson and Ramelli (chapters 10 and 15). Scholars have long suggested that Eusebius held a ‘realised eschatology’.4 In contrast, by looking more closely at some of Eusebius’ under-studied works, both Johnson and Ramelli show that Eusebius in fact continued to direct his gaze forward, anticipating a true fulfilment for humankind at some point in the future. They thereby not only challenge received wisdom about Eusebius, but also highlight the value of studying those lesser-known works that have often been neglected.

Two further chapters demand individual treatment here. Olsen’s essay on the Testimonium Flavianum (chapter 5) will be of interest beyond the field of Eusebian studies, contributing as it does to the continuing debates about the authenticity of references to the life of Christ in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities.5 Olsen suggests that this famous passage6 is in essence a Eusebian forgery.7 Not everyone will be convinced by this argument – as, indeed, Olsen himself recognises (p.110) – but the chapter nevertheless raises important questions about why the language of the Testimonium Flavianum finds so many more echoes in Eusebius than it does in Josephus. Those who wish to make use of this passage in the future, or to argue for a Josephan core which was later subjected to scribal interpolation, will need to engage with many of the points Olsen raises.

Finally, Zamagni’s contribution on Eusebius’ Gospel Questions and Solutions (chapter 12) is worth mentioning as an example of the important work presently being done towards making some of Eusebius’ most obscure works more easily accessible. The Gospel Questions survive only in an abridged form and in fragments in a variety of ancient languages. Zamagni not only discusses the place of the Gospel Questions as ‘one of the first true specimens’ of early Christian question-and-answer literature (p.242), but also provides a list of all the manuscripts hitherto identified as containing fragments of this text. This represents both an important step in the development of a new critical edition (p.247), and also, hopefully, a spur to further work on this neglected text.8

Many of the other chapters in this volume, which it is not possible to discuss, also call on scholars to look afresh at the familiar figure of Eusebius, either by adopting a new perspective on his well-known works, or by directing us to pay greater attention to the under-studied areas of his oeuvre. The book will, of course, be essential reading for anyone with an interest in Eusebius. Various contributions will also appeal to those studying the theological disputes of the early to mid-fourth century (chapters 13-15) or early Christian intellectual culture (for example chapter 16).

The only criticisms are minor. There is some inconsistency between chapters over the form of the title used for each of Eusebius’ works (for example Praeparatio Evangelica or Preparation for the Gospel), which the editors deliberately chose to allow (p.vii). This is hardly a serious problem, but for those whose familiarity with Eusebius’ works is limited, it has the potential to cause confusion. Readers should therefore be alert to these differences from the outset.

The volume does not claim to be an exhaustive or a comprehensive account of Eusebius’ oeuvre (p.10), and some of his works, such as the Against Hierocles or the Tricennial Orations, are conspicuous by their near or total absence. Nevertheless, this book is an important snapshot of some of the work being done on Eusebius at the moment. It demonstrates, at the very least, the healthy state of Eusebian studies at the present time. Several contributors express the hope that their essays will prompt further research (for example, p.154, 250). If the editors’ aim was to stimulate further and more nuanced debate about Eusebius in the future, then they have surely fulfilled their task.

Table of Contents

1. A.P. Johnson, ‘Introduction’
2. D.J. De Vore, ‘Genre and Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Toward a Focused Debate’
3. J. Corke-Webster, ‘Mothers and Martyrdom: Familial Piety and the Model of the Maccabees in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History
4. E.C. Penland, ‘The History of the Caesarean Present: Eusebius and Narratives of Origen’
5. K. Olsen, ‘A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum
6. F. Damgaard, ‘Propaganda Against Propaganda: Revisiting Eusebius’ Use of the Figure of Moses in the Life of Constantine
7. P. Van Nuffelen, ‘The Life of Constantine: The Image of an Image’
8. M.J. Hollerich, ‘Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms and Its Place in the Origins of Christian Biblical Scholarship’
9. J.M. Schott, ‘Textuality and Territorialization: Eusebius’ Exegesis of Isaiah and Empire’
10. A.P. Johnson, ‘The Ends of Transfiguration: Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah
11. S. Morlet, ‘Origen as an Exegetical Source in Eusebius’ Prophetic Extracts
12. C. Zamagni, ‘New Perspectives on Eusebius’ Questions and Answers on the Gospels: The Manuscripts’
13. M. DelCogliano, ‘Eusebius of Caesarea on Asterius of Cappadocia in the Anti-Marcellan Writings: A Case Study of Mutual Defense Within the Eusebian Alliance’
14. V. Henning Drecoll, ‘How Binitarian/Trinitarian was Eusebius?’
15. I. Ramelli, ‘Origen, Eusebius, the Doctrine of Apokatastasis, and its Relation to Christology’
16. K.A. Meinking, ‘Eusebius and Lactantius: Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Christian Theology’
‘Afterword’, J.M. Schott

Notes:


1.   S. Inowlocki and C. Zamagni, ed., Reconsidering Eusebius: Collected Papers on Literary, Historical, and Theological Issues (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
2.   Inowlocki and Zamagni, ‘Preface’, in ibid., ix.
3.   D.S. Wallace-Hadrill claimed that Eusebius’ fragmentary discussions of Luke’s gospel, found in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca at 24.529-606, originally came, not from an independent commentary, but rather from the tenth book of Eusebius’ partially-lost General Elementary Introduction: ‘Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on Luke: Its Origin and Early History’, HTR 67 (1974), 55-63. Johnson briefly discusses this question here (p.191), arguing against Wallace-Hadrill’s view. Johnson has discussed this question in greater detail in an earlier article: ‘The Tenth Book of Eusebius’ General Elementary Introduction: A Critique of the Wallace-Hadrill Thesis’, JTS 62 (2011), 144-60.
4.   Examples of those who have argued for Eusebius’ ‘realised eschatology’ are too numerous to list here. The most notable exception is: F.S. Thielman, ‘Another Look at the Eschatology of Eusebius of Caesarea’, Vigiliae Christianae 41 (1987), 226-37. The seeds of Johnson’s argument against Eusebius’ ‘realised eschatology’ here can also be found in an earlier article: A.P. Johnson, ‘The Tenth Book of Eusebius’ General Elementary Introduction’ (n.3 above), 160.
5.   On which, see, most recently: R. Carrier, ‘Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200’, JECS 20.4 (2012), 489-514.
6.   Jos. AJ 18.63-64.
7.   Olsen is not, of course, the first to express doubts about the authenticity of this passage, or even to suggest that it might be, in its entirety, a forgery. For example: Carrier, ‘Accidental Interpolation’ (n.5 above), 489, n.1.
8.   In addition to Zamagni’s excellent work on this text, the recent English translation should also be noted: R. Pearse, ed., Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions. Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum, trans. D.J.D. Miller et al. (Ipswich, 2010).

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