BMCR 2023.06.29

Eusebius the evangelist: rewriting the fourfold gospel in late antiquity

, Eusebius the evangelist: rewriting the fourfold gospel in late antiquity. Cultures of reading in the ancient Mediterranean. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022. Pp. xiv, 234. ISBN 9780197580042.



Eusebius of Caesarea is an elusive ecclesiastical writer: we have Eusebius the panegyrist author of the Life of Constantine; Eusebius the ‘father’ of Ecclesiastical History; the (semi?) Arian (?), the champion of the Nicene homoousion, Eusebius the Saint in some traditions; Eusebius the hagiographer of the Martyrs of Palestine; the biblical exegete; and also Eusebius the evangelist and author of the Eusebian Canon Tables, known also as Apparatus or Pinakes. Jeremiah Coogan’s erudite book focuses on this last aspect of Eusebian output, the so-called Apparatus as a means of (re-)ordering the Fourfold Gospel. The monograph is the author’s revised PhD thesis at the University of Notre Dame and has already received the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise 2022. The book reflects the renewed interest in Eusebian Canons[1] and complements the recent scholarly focus on ancient reading and writing technologies,[2] to which two Series are dedicated, ‘Cultures of Reading in the Ancient Mediterranean’ by OUP and ‘Studies in Manuscript Cultures’ by De Gruyter.

Christianity’s predilection for the codex, as argued by, e.g., A. Grafton and M. H. Williams,[3] profoundly reshaped ancient reading and writing practices. The codex allowed for several books to be bound together in a single volume and enabled the reader to move back and forth with more ease. Eusebius adapted the technologies of his times and applied them to his re-writing of the Fourfold Gospel and poses not only as a commentator or an exegete but mainly as an evangelist. This is Coogan’s main thesis. By contrast to Crawford’s monograph (see n. 1), Coogan focuses on book- and reading-technologies and less on Eusebius’ philological training and predecessors; the analysis differs from Bausi’s edited volume (see n. 1) and Crawford’s ch. 7 in that it does not dwell on the Canon’s art historical reception. In line with Crawford (pp. 107-112, 110), Coogan (pp. 115-119, 174) stresses the non-apologetic character of the Canons and their open-endedness.

The Introduction presents Eusebius and the State of the Art, familiarises the reader with the concept and use of the Apparatus, and presents the book’s aims: to (1) challenge scholarly histories of Gospel writing that “focus myopically on the first-century origins” (p. 4) and show how Eusebius’ Canons transformed scholarship and liturgy; (2) discuss the Eusebian tabular preface alongside similar non-Christian paratexts; and (3) explain marginal texts and paratextual phenomena through the Apparatus.

Chapter 2 explores the technological changes that enabled Eusebius to design his tabular Apparatus. The author moves beyond the impact of the codex and proposes an innovative comparison of the Canon Tables with other paratextual ‘mapping’ tools. The Apparatus, Coogan claims, is the first referencing system for the Fourfold Gospel allowing the reader to navigate the Gospel narrative while making use of it. By contrast to other prefatory columnar texts used to present technical texts such as translations, Origen’s Hexapla, or Ptolemy’s Handy Tables, the user of the Canons needs both the text and its paratext (p. 54). Thus, pinakes, a scholastic tool used for learning, epitomizing, or cataloguing, becomes eventually embedded in and entangled with the narrative of the Fourfold Gospel (p. 56).

Chapter 3 focuses on Gospel writing. In this very exciting chapter that drives home the first aim of the book, Coogan explores Eusebius’ achievement not as a scholarly tool but as a literary achievement. Eusebius is part of the same tradition of rewriting the Gospel(s) that begins with Mark: for example, Matthew and Luke expand on Mark; Tatian weaves passages from the Four Gospels into a seamless whole; by contrast, Marcion excels in contracting narratives; and yet, differently, Ammonius reassembles Gospel material in a columnar format to stress continuities. Eusebius adapted and adopted some of these approaches, such as expansion, resequencing, and negotiating plurality, while simultaneously creating a new system for reconfiguring the Fourfold Gospel and providing new readings and narrative sequences, without even distorting the flow of the narrative – if seen through the lense of formalism, Eusebius kept both the fabula (story elements) and its sujhet (sequencing), intact.

Chapter 4 illustrates the uses of the Eusebian Apparatus as a reference and literary text. Eusebius was aware of the similarities and the differences in the Fourfold Gospels as highlighted in the programmatic Letter to Carpianus. To stress the narrative’s unity, Eusebius used multiple juxtapositions of passages that modern readers may have found divergent. Elsewhere, Eusebius collects similar passages; like Crawford (pp. 109, 112-113), Coogan (p. 113) discusses as a key example the divergent genealogy of Jesus and observes (p. 121) that the differences are often downplayed for the sake of similarity. Some arguments, though, are less persuasive: for example, this reviewer may disagree regarding Eusebius’ tendency to juxtapose different parables under canon X (p. 108) as problematic. For the sake of the reliability of the Gospel message, Jesus could not have pronounced entirely different parables, but ones at least presented as similar. This reviewer may have also wished for less case-study and a more in-depth analysis of the Canons, but also acknowledges the difficulties arising from the open-ended nature of the Apparatus and the complex relationships between the references.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to the reception of Eusebian Canons across time and space (including Greek, Latin, Gothic, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Slavonic) but seems more descriptive. The Canons were used to structure catenae, create chapters and chapter titles, but also organise the Gospel text into paragraphs. Augustine, we learn, used the apparatus for his treatise on the Harmony of the Evangelists and Victor of Capua to retrieve the harmony between the Gospels. The author’s interesting observations on the impact of Eusebius’ Canons on exegetical catenae (pp. 157-158), on shaping the Byzantine Typicon, a liturgical book, and on the textual criticism of the Gospel may have needed more space to be fully articulated and appreciated, but they provide a good starting point for thinking about Eusebius’ reception.

Some themes highlighted in the book’s aims, for example the liturgical use of the Canons, are only briefly discussed. A newcomer to Eusebius’ world may also find the footnotes overwhelming in their richness (e.g., p. 11 n. 34) as they are bulky and often expand across pages. This reviewer has noticed some problems with the copyediting and printing of Eusebius’ Letter to Carpianus in Greek as the splitting of words appears copy-pasted from another source (e.g., p. xv). The reviwer has been informed that a revised edition to emend such errors is in process. Also, some translations do not capture the sense of the original languages and provide a more superficial reading, although this may have helped the argument: e.g., in the translation of the Letter to Carpianus (p. xv) ὁμόφωνος is not correspondent, but consonant (as Augustine repeats in his Cons. 1.2.4: cum ceteris consonante) or concordant (as per Crawford’s translation at p. 295). However, in translating Augustine’s passage above, Coogan renders the term as “in harmony” (p. 35). Yet speaking in voices or, better, in one Spirit-inspired voice may have been consistent with the evangelical mission given to the Apostles at the Pentecost. Other potentially technical terms such as Victor of Capua’s comment “unum ex quattor compaginauerit evangelium” are more freely translated as “joined” (p. 59), whereas the original may be hinting at the process of book production as well, literally the mise-en-page.

Overall, the monograph is an excellent in-depth study of the reading innovations effectuated by Eusebius’ Canons. This is a brilliant addition to the blossoming scholarship on Eusebius, the Canon Tables, and to the Reading and Writing Cultures in Antiquity that would be of interest to Classicists and early Christianity scholars alike.



[1] E.g., M. Crawford, The Eusebian Canon Tables: Ordering Textual Knowledge in Late Antiquity (Oxford, OUP, 2019); and A. Bausi, et al., eds., The Art of Harmony: The Canon Tables of the Four Gospels (Berlin, De Gruyter 2020).

[2] E.g. J. Köning and T. Whitmarsh, eds., Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire (Cambridge, CUP, 2007); G. Boudalis, The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity (New York, Bard Graduate Center, 2018); and A. Riggsby, Mosaics of Knowledge: Representing Information in the Roman World (Oxford, OUP, 2019).

[3] A. Grafton and M. H. Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book (Cambridge MA, HUP, 2008).