I remember

I remember
when I was a kid
riding in the back
of the station wagon
telling my little brother
that I had the moon on a string
and I gave the string to him.

I still love you, brother.

A Christmas Carol

Thank God, thank God, we do believe :
Thank God that this is Christmas Eve.
Even as we kneel upon this day,
Even so, the ancient legends say,
Nearly two thousand years ago
The stalled ox knelt, and even so
The ass knelt full of praise, which they
Could not express, while we can pray.
Thank God, thank God, for Christ was born
Ages ago, as on this morn.
In the snow-season undefiled
God came to earth a little child :
He put His ancient glory by
To live for us and then to die.

How shall we thank God? How shall we
Thank Him and praise Him worthily?
What will He have who loved us thus?
What presents will He take from us?
Will He take gold, or precious heap
Of gems? or shall we rather steep
The air with incense, or bring myrrh?
What man will be our messenger
To go to Him and ask His will?
Which having learned, we will fulfil
Though He chose all we most prefer :—
What man will be our messenger?

Thank God, thank God, the Man is found,
Sure-footed, knowing well the ground.
He knows the road, for this the way
He travelled once, as on this day.
He is our Messenger beside,
He is our door and path and Guide :
He also is our Offering :
He is the gift that we must bring.
Let us kneel down with one accord
And render thanks unto the Lord :
For unto us a Child is born
Upon this happy Christmas morn ;
For unto us a Son is given,
Firstborn of God and Heir of Heaven.

Christina Georgina Rossetti. 7 March 1849


I apologize for a drastically slowed pace of posting here.

I’m spending time this holiday working on a comprehensive citation index to Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume 1 and volume 2, now in the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. This is one of two books I’m working on for publication, with Charlesworth as co-author. The other is a complete concordance to the translations included in the two volumes of the OTP. This is taking an extraordinary amount of time because I have been doing it properly: checking every citation for accuracy. I’ve been working on this index for over two years now, but I I’m finally in the home stretch.

I’ve forty handwritten pages of corrections to citations in the two volumes so far (and I’ve got about half the second volume still to go), have filled one Blueline quadrille notebook (highly recommended) completely with citations from the footnotes, have started another, and have marked up a printed copy of my OTP index of citations that I used to have available from my website (which itself was full of all the errors found in the printed volumes, with bonus errors from my own typing mistakes). I still face typing all this stuff up. It’s faster writing the notes initially, though, believe me. I’ll do the typing, and I or someone else will do the proofreading.

I’m excited to be nearly done with this. I feel guilty whenever I read a book because I haven’t finished this! And I still have to knuckle down and do the scanning and proofing of all the translation texts. That’s not as daunting, though, or as time consuming. Once the scanning is done, I’ll be able to do the proofing anywhere, with a printout of the scans and the disassembled pages from the copy of the books that I’m using for scanning. I could even do it in a pub! Or a café! How exciting.

So, maybe I’ll be posting some few things over the next few weeks, but it won’t be much.

For you Christian readers: I wish you a blessed Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Eusebius and the Apocalypse

I recommend to all the dissertation of Presvytera Jeannie Constantinou: Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation (Université Laval, Québec, 2008). There are several points of interest in her dissertation: 1.) the first complete English translation of Andrew of Caesarea’s Commentary to the Apocalypse; 2.) the very clear summary discussion of the text types of the Apocalypse; and 3.) the extended discussion on the canonical status of the Apocalypse, with particular focus on its reception in the East. It’s a subset of this third topic that I’d like to discuss here, particularly in light of my last post, titled Eusebius and “canonical”.

In short, Constantinou describes a determined effort on the part of several Greek writers, culminating in Eusebius, who undermined the previously more positive reception of the Apocalypse in the East. The popularity of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History led to his position being valued more highly than it really deserved, a point that Constnantinou clarifies through tracking the scheme of Eusebius’ quotations, particularly his practice of mining various authors, even heretics, for aspersions and doubts to cast upon the Apostolic authorship of the Apocalypse. Eusebius was so much an anti-chiliast that no dirty tricks were considered too low to accomplish his self-assigned task.

I will recommend to all readers that they read the discussion in full in Constantinou’s dissertation, but I’ll summarize here some of the points involved:
1.) Eusebius treats the Apocalypse in a very peculiar fashion in his list of canonical works in Ecclesiatical History III.25, where he divided the books of the New Testament into three categories, based in the recognition of Apostolic origin: “agreed-upon”, “disputed”, and “spurious.” In the first category, describing those works which are generally agreed to be of Apostolic origin, are included the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistles, First John, First Peter, and (note this!) the Apocalypse. In the second category, that of works whose authenticity as Apostolic writings is in dispute, are the epistles of James, Jude, Second Peter, and Second and Third John. (Note the similarity to the classical Syrian NT canon, exemplified by the Peshitta version, which also excluded these epistles.) Then comes the third category, of those works generally recognized as not being of Apostolic origin, and thus inauthentic or spurious: the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd (of Hermas), the Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Teachings of the Apostles (i.e., the Didache), and, shockingly, the Apocalypse of John.

In this case, Eusebius has trounced his own categorizations in order to cast aspersions onto the Apocalypse. As Constantinou shows in her historical survey, the Apocalypse was almost universally accepted as Apostolic at the time Eusebius wrote. This is reflected by his placing the Apocalypse in the first category, that listing of books which all or very nearly all Christians agreed were of Apostolic origin. Yet, this is not to Eusebius’ liking. And, rather than placing the Apocalypse in the group of books of disputed authenticity, he instead includes the Apocalypse in the list of inauthentic books. There are two possible reasons for this: a.) Eusebius simply made a mistake and was sloppy in his categorization; or b.) this was a deliberate choice on his part. In the face of the broader sweep of evidence that Constantinou relates, it is clear that the latter is the case. Eusebius was, in the Ecclesiastical History, among other things, embarking on a program designed to damage the Apostolic reputation of the Apocalypse.

Eusebius quotes with favor both Dionysius of Alexandria, who shows a clear animadversion to the Apocalypse already in his letters, and invents out of whole cloth the tale of two tombs of Johns in Ephesus. Eusebius also approvingly quotes with favor Gaius the presbyter, from Rome, in relation to the Apocalypse. Yet Gaius was one of the Alogoi heretics, who denied Apostolic origin to the entire Johannine corpus: the Gospel, three letters, and the Apocalypse! Eusebius brazenly trots out Gaius in support for his anti-Apocalypse machinations. Perhaps betting on his good standing with Emperor Constantine, Eusebius was able to spread his idea of a non-Apostolic and therefore non-canonical Apocalypse throughout the Empire and beyond, as his original Ecclesiastical History was often copied and was even translated into multiple different languages for various Christian communities over the centuries. Unfortunately, Eusebius’ ideas about the Apocalypse also spread far and wide, particularly in the East, where the Apocalypse finally settled into a solid and unquestioned recognition as Apostolic and canonical only in the modern period, in the seventeenth century.

Really, though, it’s a cracking good story, and one ought to read of it in full, in Presvytera Constantinou’s dissertation. It’s really that good.

Eusebius and “canonical”

Most readers of Eusebius’ History of the Church are familiar with his interesting chapter (Book III, Chapter 25) devoted to discussing the canonical status of the books of the New Testament. After a recent re-reading of Eusebius, I thought it would be good to share some interesting things that have come up in light of this reading, informed as I am now by a wealth of further reading on the subject of the Biblical canon since I last read Eusebius. In such a case of re-reading, formerly innocuous words and phrases often take on new meaning. This is precisely the case here in regards to Eusebius’ interesting discussion of the books of the New Testament.

First, it is necessary to emphasize that the word “canon” (κανὼν, κανόνος) and its derivative forms are not used by Eusebius to refer to the books of the Bible, but primarily to the Rule of Faith of the Church.

The word κανὼν appears only in the title of one of Clement of Alexandria’s works (VI.13: Κανὼν ἐκκλησιαστικὸς ἢ πρὸς τοὺς Ἰουδαΐζοντας, “The Canon of the Church, or, Against the Judaizers”), and nowhere else in the text of Eusebius’ History of the Church. No derivative forms of this spelling appear. Eusebius himself prefers the alternate spelling, κανόνος, and its derivatives.

In Eusebius’ lengthy work, it is perhaps surprising to find κανόνος and its derivatives used only 16 times:
1.) II 17.1: …τῆς ἐκκλησίας περιέχει κανόνας· “…it contains the rule of the Church.”
2.) III 32.7-8: …τὸν ὑγιῆ κανόνα τοῦ σωτηρίου κηρύγματος· “…the healthful rule of the preaching of salvation.”
3.) IV 23.5: …τῷ τῆς ἀληθείας παρίσταται κανόνι…. “…defending the canon of faith….”
4.) V 24.6: …ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν κανόνα τῆς πίστεως ἀκολουθοῦντες· “…rather following according to the rule of faith.”
5.) V 28.13: …πίστεώς τε ἀρχαίας κανόνα ἠθετήκασιν…. “…they have rejected the rule of the ancient faith….”
6.) VI 2.14: …φυλάττων ἐξ ἔτι παιδὸς κανόνα ἐκκλησίας…. “…from the age of a boy keeping the rule of the Church….”
7.) VI 22.1: …καί τινα κανόνα ἑκκαιδεκαετηρίδος περὶ τοῦ πάσχα προθείς… “…and he puts forth a sixteen year rule relating to Pascha….”
8.) VI 25.3: …τὸν ἐκκλησιαστικὸν φυλάττων κανόνα…. “…guarding the rule of the Church….”
9.) VI 33.1: …τὸν ἐκκλησιαστικὸν παρεκτρέπων κανόνα…. “…perverting the rule of the Church….”
10.) VI 43.15: …κατὰ τὸν τῆς ἐκκλησίας κανόνα…. “according to the rule of the Church….”
11.) VII pinax: …ἐκκλησιαστικοῦ κανόνος. “…the rule of the Church.”
12.) VII pinax: …ἔνθα καὶ περὶ τοῦ πάσχα κανονίζει. “…in which he also gives rules regarding Pascha.”
13.) VII 7.4: τοῦτον ἐγὼ τὸν κανόνα καὶ τὸν τύπον παρὰ τοῦ μακαρίου πάπα ἡμῶν Ἡρακλᾶ παρέλαβον. “This is the rule and model I took from our blessed father Heraclas”
14.) VII 20.1: …ἐν ᾗ καὶ κανόνα ἐκτίθεται ὀκταετηρίδος….” “in which he also proposes an eight-year rule”
15.) VII 30.6: ὅπου δὲ ἀποστὰς τοῦ κανόνος…. “Whereas he has forsaken the canon….”
16.) VII 32.13: Ἐκ τῶν περὶ τοῦ πάσχα Ἀνατολίου κανόνων· “From the rules concerning Pascha by Anatolius.”

Eusebius’ usage is clear. When κανόνος and its derivatives are used in his writings, he is primarily referring to the Rule of the Faith, the Rule of the Church, that is, the tradition of conduct and belief that originated with the Apostles and was preserved inviolate in the Church (excluding heresies) down to his own day. Secondarily, he uses it to refer to the rules regarding the calculation of the date for Pascha, Easter.

Reflecting upon this usage, we must notice that elsewhere Eusebius interestingly chooses to refer to what we would call the canonical books of the New Testament by terminology which ultimately describes these books in terms of their Apostolic origins. His discussion of the various books of the New Testament (III 25) is particularly interesting, and has garnered much commentary. His description involves a threefold categorization in which a book is described as ὁμολογουμένος, ἀντιλεγομένος, or νόθος, that is, agreed-upon, disputed, and spurious. This terminology does not refer to agreement or disagreement in terms of belonging to the Bible, but rather in terms of agreement or disagreement of Apostolic origins for the book. The distinction is a crucial one. There is no hypothesis here of a “Bible” to which a book is going to be either included or excluded. Rather, there are various books, and those which the churches agree in recognizing as of Apostolic origin belong to the “agreed-upon” category, those in which books are recognized by some as authentically Apostolic yet not recognized as so by others belong to the “disputed” category. To the “spurious” category belong those books which are generally recognized as not originating with the Apostles. So we see the criterion of organization here is not based upon an idea of what we now think of a Biblical canon, but was rather motivated by concerns for authenticity and authority. The Apostles are the foundation of the Church, and their writings are therefore considerered the protocanon of all ecclesiastical writings. The concern for ascertaining the proper list of those authentic works in order to safeguard against heresy and other failure is one that is shown throughout Eusebius’ work.

In light of this, it’s perfectly legitimate to translate Eusebius’ tripartite terminology above as “agreed to be authentic”, “disputedly authentic”, “agreed to be inauthentic.”

In the next post, I’ll touch on Eusebius’ peculiar treatment of the Apocalypse.