9. Textuality and Territorialization: Eusebius’ Exegeses of Isaiah and Empire

Jeremy M. Schott
That we should study Eusebius’ works within the context of late-ancient Roman imperialism appears self-evident. Eusebius lived and wrote in one of Rome’s provincial capitals. He lived under and had direct contact with Roman imperial power—he witnessed the persecution of Christians in Caesarea under the governors Flavianus, Urbanus, and Firmilianus, but also met, delivered panegyrics for, and corresponded with Constantine. Consequently, Eusebius figures prominently in all histories of late-ancient political theology and political philosophy. In the 310s and 320s, works like his Ecclesiastical History and Gospel Demonstration developed a salvation history that linked Roman imperial expansion and Christian mission. In the 330s, the Life of Constantine and the Tricennial Orations pressed these connections further and more explicitly by offering a political theology amalgamated from Hellenistic philosophies of monarchy, Roman imperial ideology, and Christian theologies. Studies of “Eusebius and Politics” or “The Politics of Eusebius” traditionally focus on the explicit political messages recorded in his works. Certain questions dominate: What is Eusebius’ theology of empire? Where do the emperor and the empire fit in salvation history? What is his theology of Christian monarchy? [1]
This essay asks that we consider what it might mean to study Eusebius’ works as imperial texts. In emphasizing textuality rather than oeuvre, I am adopting an approach to “politics” that begins from an examination of form, structure, and process, rather than message and meaning. This approach is one of the key insights of post-colonial theory. Drawing upon the distinction between work and text elaborated by Roland Barthes and other Tel Quel theorists, this approach understands the “work” as the relatively bounded object printed between the covers of a book (or inscribed in a scroll or codex). A text, on the other hand, is a network of signification, a field produced in and through the work of production. [2] Works (or books) make arguments, have theses, and offer, for example, “theologies of empire.” Textualities are produced within, and productive of, existential possibilities. To say that Eusebian texts are imperial is to say that they participate in a textuality of empire, a semiotic field produced within, and productive of, territory, conquest, and colonization.
This essay lays particular stress on imperial textuality as spatiality. Empire, after all, brings into being/is brought into being as particular kinds of places: metropolis, province, border, frontier, and so forth. My essay’s emphasis on space, territory, and aesthetics is, moreover, suggested by Eusebius’ oeuvre itself. For all of his bookishness, Eusebius was also profoundly interested in the visual and spatial world around him. He travelled fairly widely in the eastern Mediterranean, from Egypt to Constantinople. [3] He was responsible for the earliest extant detailed descriptions of early Christian architecture and played a key role in mapping a Christian “Holy Land” onto the geography of fourth-century Roman Palestine. [4] And as Peter Van Nuffelen’s contribution to this volume shows, theorizations of image and vision were important in Eusebius’ thought. Eusebian texts demand (and exploit) an aesthetics of movement and viewing. This essay explores several of Eusebius’ texts cartographically, aiming to trace the spaces they mediate and types of movement they effect.

Theorizing Imperial Space and Textuality

Space is never merely “there,” a neutral, three-dimensional vacuum within which we live and history unfolds. Rather, as Henri Lefebvre influentially contended, space is a production. [5] Like other products, space (and our experience and analysis of it) tends to become divorced from the labors that produce it. [6] But space, like other products, is shaped by, and bears the traces of, the specific modes of production that generated it. In Lefebvre’s words, “[s]pace is social morphology.” [7] The activity of production simultaneously produces space(s) that make the relations of production possible. [8] In a passage worth quoting at length, Lefebvre likens the work of the historian of space to interpreting a manuscript:
. . . one might say that practical activity writes upon nature, albeit in a scrawling hand, and that this writing implies a particular representation of space. Places are marked, noted, named. Between them, within the ‘holes in the net,’ are blank or marginal spaces . . . Paths are more important than the traffic they bear, because they are what endures in the form of the reticular patterns left by animals, both wild and domestic, and by people . . . Always distinct and clearly indicated, such traces embody the ‘values’ assigned to particular routes: danger, safety, waiting, promise. This graphic aspect . . . has more in common with a spider’s web than with a drawing or plan. Could it be called a text, or a message? Possibly, but the analogy would serve no particularly useful purpose, and it would make more sense to speak of texture rather than of texts in this connection.
Lefebvre 1991:117–118
Here, Lefebvre’s contrast between “text” and “texture” is homologous to the post-structuralist distinction between “work” and “text.” Space, in other words, is not a “book” legible through linear “reading,” but like the post-structuralist text, is a complex web of interrelations. To press the scribal analogy: space, in its depth and texture, is much like a hand-made, hand-penned manuscript that bears the marks of its creation and has experienced the vicissitudes of transmission (blemishes in the skin/parchment, the marks of cutting and assembly, errors, erasures, additions, and so forth). A historical account of a written or artistic work that takes account of space, then, would aim to understand the relations of power and political interests at work in these textured webs (or textualities).
But if space is textual, if it is semiotic, it may also be submitted to rhetorical analysis. As we might pose aesthetic questions about what it feels like to read or write a written work, we can consider the aesthetics of working over spatial texts. Hence Michel de Certeau describes the negotiation of space as an enunciative practice homologous to other rhetorical practices and having its own grammar and figures of speech. [9] In pointing to the broad homologies between verbal acts and spatial acts, de Certeau’s insights help to elucidate the complex relationships between texts and social space. As writing appropriates the parameters of language and the page, enacting new relationships among semiotic and scribal positions, movement (walking, sitting, standing, pausing, entering, exiting, and so forth) appropriates and improvises upon the possibilities of social space. Like Lefebvre, moreover, de Certeau recognizes that spatial enunciation is also a production: “. . . if it is true that the spatial order organizes an ensemble of possibilities . . . and interdictions . . . , then the walker actualizes some of these possibilities. In that way, he makes them exist as well as emerge.” [10]
If we take these insights seriously, to say that Eusebius’ works are “imperial” demands that we examine the spatial modalities that produced them and that they, in turn produce(d). Empire can be described in terms of spatial enunciation (in de Certeau’s sense) and as a particular kind of space or spatiality (in Lefebvre’s sense). Imperial spatial enunciation, for its part, involves a particular set of figures of speech, for example: invasion (movement into a space territorialized as both foreign and conquerable), destruction (the clearing of conquered space), provincialization (the redistribution or reterritorialization of space[s] within [and as] imperial territory), and colonization (movement from space territorialized as [another’s] homeland to space re-territorialized as colony or province). There is a “feel,” a poetics to an imperial text/texture.
The space of empire is a production brought into being by and in turn productive of specific relations of production. The Roman province (its boundaries as well as its bureaucratic structure) served to administer the exploitation of resources within the empire. The roads and seaways that crossed the Mediterranean developed and were maintained to facilitate flows of labor and material. The literary productions of the Roman Empire, then, are likewise spatial productions. Apuleius’ Metamorphoses and the Acts of the Apostles, to take two examples, are imperial productions in that the narrative vectors of these texts—Odysseys that unfold along the highways and shipping routes of the Mediterranean—“embody the ‘values’” [11] of the spatialities that made possible the economics of empire. The space of empire, in turn, made possible the transnational literary culture(s) of which these works were a part. The scribal labor force, concentrated in major metropolises, produced volumes that then circulated through networks of friendship and patronage, via the same roads and seaways as other products. [12]
Caesarea, an intermodal trade hub and provincial capital, is a case in point. The historical narrative we might write of the processes that created its famed Christian library, for example, embodies the social relations of production (themselves embodied in roads, harbors, and so forth) that bound Caesarea to the towns and villages of Palestine and other urban centers, such as Tyre, Laodicea, Alexandria, and Antioch. Such a narrative would include the “transnational” travels of Origen, Origen’s inter-city and inter-province patronage relationship with Ambrose, Pamphilus’ efforts to acquire manuscripts of Origen’s works from other locales, the migration of Anatolius (the Aristotelian philosopher, mathematician, and later, bishop of Laodicea) from Alexandria to Caesarea after the defeat of Zenobia’s Palmyrene kingdom, [13] and, of course, Eusebius’ drawing together of sources for his literary projects, his sending of dedication copies of texts to friends and patrons such as Paulinus of Tyre [14] and Theodotus of Laodicea, [15] and the dossier of missives so integral to the Life of Constantine—all of which could be plotted as vectors within and constitutive of the space of imperial power and economy.
What follows focuses on selected passages from Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah as a test case for exploring the aesthetics and poetics of imperial textuality in early Christian literature. As a genre, exegetical works are not fertile territory for explicit discussions of monarchy and empire. Michael Hollerich has shown, however, that the relative dearth of explicit engagement with Constantine and the Christian Empire in texts like the Commentary on Isaiah offers a necessary corrective to stock portraits of Eusebius as a “court theologian.” [16] Instead, Hollerich presents a more politically nuanced Eusebius; a theologian and exegete concerned primarily with the theology and ecclesiology of the Christian polity than the details of Constantinian politics.
But Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah is also an excellent example of an aesthetic of imperial territorialization. Eusebius’ exegesis of the first verses of Isaiah lists, in effect, the figures of spatial speech just mentioned above. Isaiah’s vision, he writes, was “just as if someone could see the approach of wars and the sacking and enslavements of besieged lands represented in color on a great tablet (pinax)” (Commentary on Isaiah [CI hereafter] 3.20–23). [17] Here, the reference to “tablets (pinakes)” invokes a territorialized and territorializing writing. Isaiah previews history on figurative tablets like those upon which classical city-states would record their histories. Such tablets offered, in the concise but powerful form of chronological lists, a linear narrative (or, in the case of Eusebius’ own Chronicle and Chronological Canons, a linear narrative comprised of the parallel chronologies of several peoples) marked by the ebb and flow of wars, conquest, victory, and defeat. Written in colored inks, these figurative tablets also suggest particular scribal technologies. Colored inks aided the presentation of large sets of information—like that presented in tables and chronographies. The colored inks also hint at Eusebius’ own scribal practices. He adverts to using colored inks as a visual aid in his Gospel Canons, while later versions of the Chronicle also employed the device. [18] Eusebius’ likening of Isaiah’s vision to the reading of a particular kind of book produced with particular scribal technologies locates Isaiah as a narrative of territory, its acquisition, its loss, and recovery—that is, as an imperial textuality.
The book of Isaiah as we have it, and as Eusebius had it, is itself, of course, patterned on the strophe and antistrophe of the loss and recovery of the Land of Israel. We can conceptualize the relations among the text of empire, the text of Isaiah, and the text of Eusebius’ exegesis, I suggest, as “hypertextual.” Here I adapt this term as defined by literary theorist Gerard Genette. [19] For him, “hypertextuality” defines any situation in which two or more texts are interconnected, in ways other than that of explicit commentary; for him the intertextual relationship among Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, and Joyce’s Ulysses is “hyper​textual.” Genette also distinguishes “hypertextual” relations from direct commentary (a relation he terms “metatextuality” [20] ). Hypertextuality is characterized by relationships of dependence and transformation. [21] Genette’s use of terms like “transformation” and “transposing” signals the kinetic quality that operates in hypertextual relationships. [22] Taking Genette’s example of the hypertextual relationship between the Odyssey and Ulysses, for instance, a reader of the latter must constantly transpose Homeric plot, characters, idioms, and the present text of Ulysses. Of course, these analogical movements are not always linear; Bloom is not the same as Odysseus, but a reading of Bloom refers, that is, carries back or returns (Latin: refero) the reader to Odysseus and the Odyssey. [23] Genette develops and applies this terminology only to written texts, but the concept is easily extended to “textuality” in its broadest sense—any semiotic network, including spatial textures. Joyce’s Ulysses again provides an apt example. Not only does Bloom refer to Odysseus, but as the narrative traces his wanderings it also effects a doubled spatial movement within the cityscape of Edwardian Dublin and, referentially, back to and within the epic spatiality of the Homeric text. Contemporary Bloomsday pilgrimages, of course, enact these movements on the streets of contemporary Dublin, territorializing the post-modern city as epic space. The contemporary experience of navigating Internet hyperlinks also offers a good example of the kinetic aspects of hypertextuality. Web pages do not read in a linear, unidirectional way; rather, the structure of the “web” refers us constantly to new (web)sites, and so on. The “web,” however, is not a limitless space offering unbounded possibilities for movement. It is a structured space, a “net,” that makes possible specific forms of movement within and among particular types of spaces. Indeed, as Lefebvre would remind us, the feeling of free movement that the web effects is the territorializing effect of a particular economic modality (e.g. the “free, global market”). Similarly, then, we might conceptualize imperial textuality as the “net” or “web” of metaphors, references, figures of (spatial and rhetorical) speech, and so forth, that structure the (politically and economically interested) space of Eusebius’ Commentary, the text of Isaiah, the spatial text of the late-ancient Levant, and referentiality among them.

Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah and Imperial Textuality: The vision against Tyre

I have chosen to focus on Eusebius’ exegesis of Isaiah chapters 15 and 16 (the vision against Moab) and chapter 23 (the vision against Tyre) because they pertain to territory with which we might assume Eusebius had at least some personal familiarity. He identifies Moab with the Roman province of Arabia, portions of which had been incorporated into the province of Palestine by Diocletian. [24] Some of this territory, then, would have been within Eusebius’ purview as metropolitan of Palestine. He had also traveled through portions of this region when he visited martyrs at the mines at Phaeno during the Great Persecution. [25] He had visited Tyre on several occasions and was closely allied with the city’s bishop, Paulinus. [26]
First, Tyre. Eusebius opens with remarks characteristic of his exegesis of the ten visions against the nations:
If the prophecies concerning foreigners pertained only to matters undertaken of old and to deeds completed a long time ago, it would be superfluous to be curious about things which have nothing to do with us, but in addition to saying what will happen to the nations mentioned in each prophecy, the text addresses piety. Indeed, it is amazing how it prophesies something specific about each nation individually, yet in these same verses conveys things pertaining to the godly doctrine at the same time.
CI 149.5–11
Here, Eusebius’ hermeneutic seems rather simple—a tempered Origenist exegesis that looks for deeper meanings, the dianoia, behind the lexis, or letter, of the text. The body of the text consists of prophecies against the nations, while the dianoia of the text concerns the parousia and the coming kingdom of God. Yet, Eusebius’ explanation of his exegetical principles leaves unspoken or unexamined the precise mode in which lexis and dianoia are related. That relation is effected through a hermeneutic of territorialization.
The exegesis depends on Eusebius’ implicit claim to read the spatial text of Tyre correctly. Isaiah 23:1 (“Wail, ships of Carthage, because she has been destroyed and they no longer come from the land of Kitieon”) prompts Eusebius to explain the historical geography of Tyre and its colonies. This is a history territorialized imperially:
Now at this time, during which the city of the Tyrians remained such a desolate place, it was likely that those who were nautical and dedicated in all respects to oceangoing commerce no longer plied their accustomed trade. Thus he has said: Wail, ships of Carthage, because she has been destroyed and they no longer come. Why else has the prophecy mentioned Carthage in these verses, but for the fact that there was an ancient kindred relationship between the Tyrians and Carthaginians, when the Tyrians took control of those inhabiting Africa, and became the first founders of Carthage. Therefore, with Tyre destroyed, there no longer were those who transported goods from Tyre to Carthage nor those accustomed to sail from Carthage to Tyre. Thus he says: Wail, ships of Carthage, because she has been destroyed, and they no longer come from the land of Kitieon, or from the land of Chetteim according to the rest of the translators. But Cyprus is said to be indicated here and Kition to be a city there, by way of which seafarers from Tyre sailed. And the reason why the usual commerce of Tyre ceased he declares next, saying: they have been taken captive—clearly this means Tyre.
CI 150.9–23
The invasion of Tyre by the Assyrians, he infers, would have disrupted economic movement within the Phoenician empire. The deeper meaning, the dianoia, of the prophecy is determined by reflection on the deterritorialization and reterritorialization of Tyrian space. When Tyre asks: “Who planned this for Tyre” the answer must be that the Assyrian invasion teaches the lesson of Proverbs 3:34: “God is opposed to the boastful, but gives favor to the humble” (CI 151.14–15). Imperial figures of speech thus provide a hermeneutical key to exegesis: the boastfulness and humbleness of Proverbs map, respectively, the imperial hubris and subsequent conquest of Tyre as an imperial power.
Eusebius’ interpretation of the final verses of the vision against Tyre is also illustrative of the Commentary as an imperial textuality. He reads the final verses of the vision—“And her commerce and her wages shall be consecrated to the Lord, and it shall not be collected for them, but all her commerce will be for those who reside in the presence of the Lord to eat, and drink, and be satiated”—as prophesying the establishment of the Christian church in Tyre and donations to its clergy. Here, Eusebius’ exegesis depends on a text-critical argument based on his reading of the Hexapla. Eusebius states that the LXX reads pasa hē emporia autēs (“all her commerce”). He notes, however, that Symmachus and the Hebrew lack the adjective “all.” Symmachus reads hē emporia autēs (“her commerce”), while the Hebrew has saherat (“her commerce”). Eusebius then opines a corrected version: “some of her commerce” (ta apo tēs emporias autēs). The Hebrew lacks a definite article before “commerce” and “wages,” and so it seems did the Hexapla, for Eusebius’ proposed emendation assumes that the lack of the definite article in the Hebrew indicates an indefinite with a partitive sense: that is, “some of the commerce.” This must be the case, Eusebius explains:
For not all her commerce nor all her profits, but a portion of the commerce and a portion of the wages will be consecrated to the Lord. This is indeed fulfilled in our very own day, for when God’s Church was established in the city of the Tyrians much of her profits, gained from business, are consecrated to the Lord, when donated to his Church.
CI 152.30–34, emphasis added
This exegesis is based, ostensibly, on (inaccurate) knowledge of Hebrew. The Hebrew, though it lacks a definite article, does have a pronominal suffix, making the word definite, so Eusebius’ reading is philologically incorrect. Rather, the changed economic distributions within imperial space lead Eusebius to opine about the Hebrew. His suggested reading of the verse looks, on its surface, to account for the economy of article usage in the Hebrew, but it is driven by the present system of wealth distribution in Tyre. Tyre’s place as a merchant city bookends Eusebius’ exegesis of the vision against Tyre. The movement of the exegesis follows the flow of Tyrian commerce through a sequence of imperial spatialities; the city is territorialized as a metropolis of the Phoenician empire, reterritorialized as conquered land under the Assyrians, and reterritorialized as Christian metropolis.
Therefore what other refuge will you find, or where will you procure hope of salvation? Thus it is reasonable that your colonists—I mean the Carthaginians—sing dirges for you who were at that time their fortress of Tyre, and that all the things prophesied against Tyre would be fulfilled in a few years, during such time as the city of Jerusalem, purified by God, remained desolate. For God determined that Tyre would be seized by the coming desolation for a time equal to the lifespan of one man—I mean seventy years—or the reign of one king who rules for many years.
During these seventy years all those people who in times past correctly perceived that you were like a woman who has lost her proper virtue will sing an ode and a lyric about your desolation. And you yourself spent the period of your desolation roaming and moving from place to place and prostituting yourself to the rest of the Gentiles, inasmuch as, indeed, you had been forgotten by God. But if, when you no longer take up your own lyre like a harlot, you are able to use your own instrument skillfully, strum much and sing much in the form of prayers and supplications to God. For thus a remembrance of you will be before God, if you use the parts of your body and your well-orchestrated senses themselves skillfully like a lyre, living a life of self-control and singing pleasingly to God—for thus there will be a remembrance of you, since God’s memory of you deemed you worthy. For immediately after the aforementioned time has been completed, he will make his own visitation [27] and she will be reestablished again as she was at the beginning, so that there will once again be commerce in you and those from everywhere will stream eagerly to you and ship their goods to you.
CI 151.30–152.19
The dianoia refers to the present Christian reterritorialization of Tyre, and, hypertextually, situates the present space of Tyre, colonized by the Church, in terms of Isaiah’s reterritorialization of Tyre as tributary of the God of Israel (via his clergy).
Who happening upon these words would not marvel that a prediction made so long ago, which says that idolaters and those especially crazed by polytheistic error, who were always enemies of and hostile towards the Jews, will have changed so much that they will know the God who is honored among the Jews and bring him gifts! Indeed, it shows that these things have come to perfect completion in actuality through the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ.
CI 153.24–29

Prophecies against Moab

Eusebius argues for an explicitly historical exegesis (kata tēn historian) of the prophecies against Moab in Isaiah chapters 15 and 16, contending that “a figurative interpretation of these passages is forced” (CI 108.4; 19). The prophecy against Moab was given because the Moabites “thought their own gods great and laughed at and mocked the God of Israel” (CI 107.26–28). This he infers from references to regional cult at 15:1–2: “Debon will perish. Where your altar is, there you will go up to weep,” and 16:12: “Moab has become weary at the altars, and she will enter the works of her hands to pray but will not be able to deliver him.” Eusebius argues that these verses were fulfilled in historical fact “at the time of the invasion of the Assyrians and Babylonians and at the time of those who controlled the territory of Arabia after them” (CI 108.3–5). As he does frequently in the Commentary and elsewhere, Eusebius claims that the prophecy refers to the defeat of this nation’s tutelary demon. [28] Thus Isaiah 16:4 (“The ruler who trampled upon the land has perished”) refers to “the wicked demon who presides over the nation, or ‘ruling’ the nation, like the one ruling the kingdom of the Persians, the one ruling the kingdom of the Greeks, and the one ruling the Babylonians” (CI 108.33–36).
The passages about Moab also prompt Eusebius to locate these biblical sites within past and contemporary landscapes. He notes that the prophecy mentions a series of Moabite cities and that “these places and villages are still known today in the territory around what is now called Areopolis” (CI 108.14–16). In the Onomasticon, an earlier work, he identifies several of these villages. Debon, for instance, is described as a stop along the Israelites’ Exodus journey and in Eusebius’ day as the site of “another immense village” near the Arnon; Eusebius also recounts that this village passed from Moabite to Amorite control before it was conquered by the Israelites. [29] Essebon “is now called Esbus, the famous polis in Arabia. It lies in the mountains opposite Jericho about twenty miles from the Jordan,” [30] while Elealeh is explained as the site where “a very large village is still preserved, not more than a mile from Heshbon.” [31] Indeed, the formula “Isaiah mentioned it in the vision against Moab” that appears at least 14 times in the Onomasticon establishes hypertextual links among references to these sites in the contemporary landscape, the historical books of the Hebrew Bible, and Isaiah. [32]
According to Eusebius, the prophecy against Moab may in fact signify several historical invasions of this chōra, that is, “space” or “territory.” These include the invasions of the Assyrians and Babylonians, but also the “Arabs” that Isaiah 15:7 and 9 says God will send against Moab. “Arabs,” Eusebius explains, can refer either to the “adjacent Arabs” or “the Saracens who lie beyond them” (CI 108.6–7). By “adjacent Arabs,” Eusebius likely means the Nabataean kingdom, which controlled the area until its annexation in AD 106 as part of the new province of Arabia. [33] “Saracens,” on the other hand, probably refers to what was for Eusebius the more recent past. In AD 291, a panegyric to Diocletian’s co-Augustus Maximian mentions a recent victory over “Saracens” who border Syria. [34] In the Onomasticon, Eusebius locates the biblical Midian (e.g. Gen 25:2) “beyond Arabia to the south in the desert of the Saracens, east of the Red Sea,” and Pharan (e.g. Gen 14:6) as “a city beyond Arabia near the desert of the Saracens.” [35] The panegyric and Eusebius’ comments in the Commentary and Onomasticon mark the earliest references to Roman conflict with Sarakenoi, and suggest that Diocletian, known from other sources to have been in Syria in AD 290, had repulsed some type of incursion or series of incursions along the frontier of the provinces of Arabia and Syria. [36] Diocletian’s innovative border defenses were concentrated in this region and several elements of the emperor’s new defensive installations are mentioned by Eusebius. [37] In the Onomasticon, for example, the Arnon of Isaiah 16:2 is identified with a river/wadi to the east of the Dead Sea. He writes that the Arnon marked the border between the Moabites and Amorites in the days of Joshua, and served as the site of a series of contemporary border posts along the Strata Diocletiana, the system of Roman roads that ran from the Red Sea to Damascus and Palmyra and was the backbone of Diocletian’s frontier defenses in the East. [38]
[Arnon] is located between “Moab and the Amorites.” It is a boundary of Moab, which is Areopolis in Arabia. Until the present day the place is still shown of a very dangerous canyon trail that is named Arnon extending to the north of Areopolis. On it also garrisons of soldiers watch on every side because of the fear of the place.
Onom. 18
Here again, the underlying exegetical poetic is that of imperial territorialization. The “Moab” of Isaiah marks a space (chōra) that for Eusebius bears the traces of a number of spatial writings and rewritings. Eusebius produces the meaning of these verses by establishing a hypertextual link between the space of the prophetic text and the present demographic situation of Roman Arabia: the prophecy ends with a prediction of Moab’s dishonor and depopulation, “as is easily observed by those who travel to the place” (CI 112.30–33). “Moab,” identified by Eusebius with the chōra of fourth-century Areopolis, is a polysemic spatial text that is spread (again, spatially) across several textual planes: the prophetic text of Isaiah, the historical geography of Moab, and the present territory of Roman Arabia marked by imperial defenses and marking the limits of Roman power.
Eusebius goes on to interpret Isaiah 16:5: “Then a throne shall be restored with mercy, and he shall sit on it with truth in the tent of David, judging and seeking decisions and striving after justice.” For Eusebius, this passage indicates a radically new enunciation of “Moabite” territory being inscribed in the present:
Who would not be astounded at the fulfillment of this verse, when he sees with his own eyes the churches of God and the “throne” of Christ in them that have been established in Areopolis itself and the territory around it, and in the rest of the cities of Arabia, when those demons who in former times worked terrible things among them no longer have even their names remembered.
CI 110.6–9
The verse from Isaiah is explicitly concerned with land and territory, but establishing a hypertextual link between Isaiah and Roman Arabia was not the only exegetical avenue open to Eusebius. Commenting on the same verse, Jerome notes a range of explanations: some interpreters read the verses as a prophecy of Hezekiah’s reign after the return from exile, while others saw an eschatological prophecy of Christ’s eternal kingdom after the defeat of the anti-Christ. [39] Given that Jerome claims to draw on both Eusebius’ and Origen’s commentaries on Isaiah, Jerome’s comments could suggest that these other interpretations stood in Origen’s work. Since at other points in his Commentary, Eusebius clearly refers to alternative exegeses that likely derive from Origen, Eusebius may deliberately ignore these less-territorialized exegeses here. For Eusebius, the verse points to a material, historical alteration of Moabite/Arabian space: the altars of the demons have been scraped from the land and churches with bishops’ thrones now dot the landscape. That this different enunciation of space is a conquest and colonization was not lost on Jerome as he drew upon Eusebius’ exegesis. His vocabulary makes the hypertextual references between the prophetic past and ecclesiastical and Roman imperial presents even more explicit: “in the whole land of Moab the imperium of Christ is evidenced by the signs of the churches that have been built.” [40]
Eusebius’ hypertextual reading of Isaiah 15 and 16 kata historian may appeal to history, but it is not a diachronic or unidirectional mode of reading. Eusebius’ figurative readings of the text’s dianoia are marked by the same hypertextual connections between geographic and textual space as his historical exegeses. A good example is Eusebius’ treatment of a portion of the prophecies against Ethiopia in Isaiah 18:2–3: “Now the rivers of the earth will all become an inhabited territory,” though one might also render the phrase used here, chōra katoikoumenē, as “colonized territory.” Eusebius reads the two previous verses of chapter 18, which describe ships and messengers sent “beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,” as a figurative reference to universal Christian mission. [41] Eusebius explains that the “rivers” and “territory” of 18:3, however, do not correspond to any identifiable literal/historical rivers or territory:
But through these verses it seems to me that rivers enigmatically signify the multitude of the peoples that have come to know God, and territory [to enigmatically signify] the churches. For as above he compared the multitude of the unbelieving nations to the wave of the sea and to troubled waters (Isa 17:12–13a), so too he now likens the peoples of Christ to rivers that are sweet and flow tranquilly, indicating the Church by their territory. Of old, then, these rivers were uninhabited and foreign to God (cf. 1 Clem. 7:7), and their territory was devoid of piety, but now, he says, through your (pl.) preaching, those designated rivers and their territory will become inhabited.
CI 120:34–121:6
Here, the spatial logic of the imperial text points to what is for the book of Isaiah a future and for Eusebius’ commentary a present colonization of people and peoples, souls and nations, by the “preaching (kerygma)” of the apostles (CI 121.5). This reterritorialization is not figurative:
But how the rivers and their aforementioned territory will be able calmly to be inhabited he necessarily teaches, saying: Therefore in this way the Lord says to me, ‘There will be security in my city’ (Isa 18:4). And the aforementioned territory is my city, the Lord’s. Thus, there will be security in it, as it were with me guarding it and in every way securing it, so that naturally it will be said about it: Glorious things have been spoken about you, the City of God (Ps 87:3 LXX) and: The rushings of the river gladden the City of God (Ps 45.5a). Thus scripture is wont to call the community (politeia) that is according to God, in which, it adds, saying there will be security and there will be light in the same city, not the common kind, but of a sort such that compared it to the brightest noon-time ray of the sun (e.g. Isa 18:4) . . . Now the light is the very Word of God that illuminates his church everywhere, [while] cloud full of water is the Holy Spirit that casts the shadow of the highest theology of the Only-begotten Son of God to those not making room for it, so that, having coalesced, the greatness and purity of the theology concerning Christ would be brought to perfection through the diffusion of the Holy Spirit, just like that of a cloud.
CI 121: 11–28
As we have seen in the examples of Tyre and Moab, churches, and here in the prophecies about Ethiopia, the preaching of the “theology of Christ,” are indeed material enunciations upon real (material) people and peoples and interpolated between the real (material) lines of Roman inscriptions of imperial power.

Conclusions and Speculations

In this chapter, I have asked that we take seriously, even literally, that texts are spaces—that they subsist in the kinetics of intertextual relationships and are productive of ways of being in spatial relation. To be in the text of Eusebius’ Commentary is to be in an imperial space. The text is textual, rather than a paper nowhere, because it is a space produced in, or a chōra occupied through, hypertextual relationships with other productions of space. Its parameters, its borders, its spatial possibilities are all shaped by the forces that draw and redraw the space of the Levant. Imperial spatiality is the text—the metaphors, the figures of speech, the semiotic web—that suffuses the text of Eusebius’ commentary, the text of Isaiah, and the spatial text of late-ancient Palestine, Arabia, and Ethiopia.
It can be tempting to read geography and landscape as stable and univocal in contrast to texts as rhetorical, tendentious, or even manipulative. Like late-ancient pilgrims, historians can feel a thrill at visiting or recovering the “real” places mentioned in biblical or other texts. But, as I have hoped to show in this chapter, the relationship between ancient political landscapes and Eusebius’ works is not a simple matter of texts and contexts, but a complex problem in semiotics and spatial theory. Landscapes are formed through political processes of conquest, settlement, displacement, administration, and so forth. In fact, landscapes and cityscapes are landscapes and cityscapes, rather than empty nowheres, only because they are seen, walked, sailed, and inhabited by politically situated residents and sojourners. The space of the written text, like the geographic space or chōra, is never blank. Eusebius cannot merely write the Levant anew on the blank page of a codex. This is a space already territorialized by the text of Isaiah, redrawn in the Septuagint translation and those of Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotion, repositioned in the Hexapla from which Eusebius reads Isaiah, and redistributed further in Origen’s lost Commentary on Isaiah, which Eusebius had on hand as he wrote his own. The poetics of this hypertextual web is constituted by decidedly spatial figures: halts, invasions, attacks, sieges, sackings, colonizations. The strophe and antistrophe from the prophetic past to the late-Roman present acts as the shuttle weaving the warp and woof of the text. This strophic movement is itself a territorialization or colonization: the spatial text of the seventh and sixth centuries BC are biblicized and the spatial texts of the late-Roman present Christianized.
If it is productive to think about space and territory as texts, collapsing the homology in the other direction—again, attending seriously to the spatiality of textuality—may offer new perspectives on works not explicitly concerned with space and geography. Eusebian texts were produced as and in particular spaces—the page, the codex, the library, or rather, the page-scape, the codex-scape, the library-scape. Eusebius was a pivotal and innovative figure in the development of new technologies of the book. We might well ask if there might be any historical connection between the changing landscape of Eusebius’ Levant and the changing landscape of the late-ancient book.
Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah and Onomasticon are the pieces of his oeuvre that yield most readily to hypertextual and territorial analyses. But we can appreciate other, less explicitly geographical of his works in new ways by reading them in terms of the enunciation of imperial spatiality and territorialization. Eusebius’ quotational habits, for instance, involve the marking off or seizure of other literary territories and resettling them in the territory of his own works. The Gospel Canons, moreover, another of Eusebius’ innovative biblical study aids, seems to operate similarly to the Onomasticon. By providing a cross-referencing system for parallel material in the gospels, the Canons encourages at least two modes of territorialization. First, it subdivides each gospel text into regions. Second, it asks readers to colonize the text of Mark with the text of Matthew, populate Luke with John, and so forth.
To conclude with a final speculation, let us imagine again the spaces and movements produced by the Onomasticon. The Onomasticon is readable neither as a travel manual nor as historical geography. Rather, it consists of toponymic lemmata, or nodes. One either enters a node after alighting on an obscure place-name while reading scripture, or alternatively, one visits the node in order to reconnoiter the location of a geographic place in scriptural space. To use the Onomasticon, then, is to enact various movements across several textual planes. Consequently, when we examine the production of imperial spatialities in Eusebius’ late-ancient works we are not looking at an ossified, ancient “representation” of a since-disappeared ancient geography. To study space-as-production is an historical enterprise with “presentist” implications. Indeed, the continued popularity of biblical atlases and similar study aids, not to mention the centrality of the Onomasticon itself for scholarly reconstructions of Holy Land geography, [42] should make us consider to what extent these Eusebian spatialities and territorializations remain very much alive, productive, in the contemporary academy and beyond.

Works Cited

Adriaen, M. 1968. Commentariorum in Esaiam Libri I-XI. S. Hieronymi Presbyteri Opera. Pars I. Opera Exegetica. CCSL 73. Turnhout.
Barnes, Timothy. 1981. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, MA.
———. 1982. The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine. Cambridge, MA.
Barthes, Roland. 1977. “From Work to Text.” In Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath. New York.
Bowersock, Glen. 1983. Roman Arabia. Cambridge, MA.
de Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. S. Rendall. Berkeley.
Drake, Harold. 2000. Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance. Baltimore.
Dvornik, Francis. 1966. Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy. 2 vols. Dumbarton Oaks Studies 9. Washington, DC.
Farina, Raffaella. 1966. L’impero e l’imperatore cristiano in Eusebio di Cesarea: la prima teologia politica del cristianismo. Zurich.
Gamble, Harry. 1995. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts. New Haven.
Genette, Gerard. 1997. Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. C. Newman and C. Doubinsky. Lincoln, NE.
Grafton, Anthony and Megan Williams. 2006. Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea. Cambridge, MA.
Hollerich, Michael. 1990. “Religion and Politics in the Writings of Eusebius of Caesarea: Reassessing the First Court Theologian.” Church History 59:309–325.
Inowlocki, Sabrina and Claudio Zamagni, eds. 2011. Reconsidering Eusebius: Collected Papers in Literary, Historical, and Theological Issues. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 107. Leiden.
Jacobs, Andrew. 2004. Remains of the Jews: The Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiquity. Stanford.
Johnson, Aaron. 2006. “The Blackness of Ethiopians: Classical Ethnography and Eusebius’s Commentary on the Psalms.” Harvard Theological Review 99:165–186.
Kristeva, Julia. 1980. “The Bounded Text.” In Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon Roudiez, trans. A. Jardin, T. Gora, and L. Roudiez, 36–63. New York.
———. 1980. “Word, Dialogue, Novel.” In Desire in Language, 64–91.
Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford.
Millar, Fergus. 1981. “The World of the Golden Ass.” Journal of Roman Studies 71:63–75.
———. 1993. The Roman Near East: 31 BC–AD 337. Cambridge, MA.
Nestle, Eberhard and Kurt Aland, eds. 1969. Novum Testamentum Graeca. London.
Notley, Steven and Ze’ev Safrai. 2005. Eusebius. Onomasticon: The Place Names of Divine Scripture. Boston and Leiden.
Peterson, Eric. 1935. Der Monotheismus als politisches Problem: Ein Beitrage zur Geschichte der politischen Theologie im Imperium Romanum. Leipzig.
Sartre, Maurice. 2005. The Middle East Under Rome. Trans. C. Porter, E. Rawlings, and J. Routier-Pucci. Cambridge, MA. (Abridged translation of Maurice Sartre. 2001. D’Alexandre à Zénobie. Paris.).
Schott, Jeremy M. 2011. “Eusebius’ Panegyric On the Building of Churches (HE 10.4.2–72): Aesthetics and the Politics of Christian Architecture.” In Inowlocki and Zamagni 2011:177–198.
Schwartz, E., T. Mommsen, and F. Winkelmann, eds. 1999. Eusebius. Werke Band 2, Teils 1–3. Die Kirchengeschichte. Die Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte N.F. 6. Berlin.
Sirinelli, Jean. 1961. Les vues historiques d’Eusèbe de Césarée durant la period prénicéenne. Dakar.
Smith, Christine. 1989. “Christian Rhetoric in Eusebius’ Panegyric at Tyre.” Vigiliae Christianae 43:226–247.
Taylor, Joan, ed. 2003. Palestine in the Fourth Century AD: The Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea. Trans. G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville. Jerusalem.
Wilken, Robert. 1992. The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought. New Haven.
Williams, Stephen. 1985. Diocletian and the Roman Recovery. New York.
Ziegler, Joseph. 1975. Eusebius. Werke, Vol. 9. Der Jesajakommentar. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller. Berlin.


[ back ] 1. The bibliography is vast, but some key works that focus on or include important discussions of Eusebius and the politics of empire include: Peterson 1935; Sirinelli 1961; Dvornik 1966; Farina 1966; Hollerich 1990: 309–325; Drake 2000.
[ back ] 2. Barthes 1977; Kristeva 1980a:36–63; Kristeva 1980b:64–91.
[ back ] 3. Eusebius spent time in Egypt during the 310’s, and recounts martyrdoms of Christians he witnessed in the Thebaid (HE 8.9.4); he had also spent time in Tyre (HE 8.7.1–8.1) and Antioch (HE 7.32.2). Eusebius visited Constantinople in 336, where he delivered an oration in honor of Constantine’s Tricennalia.
[ back ] 4. Wilken 1992 and Jacobs 2004 are two excellent studies (with different methodological approaches) within the vast bibliography on this subject. On Eusebius’ architectural description see Smith 1989:226–247 and Schott 2011:177–198.
[ back ] 5. Lefebvre 1991.
[ back ] 6. Lefebvre 1991:113.
[ back ] 7. Lefebvre 1991:94.
[ back ] 8. Lefebvre 1991:115.
[ back ] 9. De Certeau 1984:91–110.
[ back ] 10. De Certeau 1984:98 (emphasis added).
[ back ] 11. Lefebvre 1991:118; though without the theoretical implications explored here, compare Millar 1981:63–75.
[ back ] 12. For an excellent discussion of early Christian “publication” and “circulation” in the context of ancient book production, see Gamble 1995:82–143.
[ back ] 13. HE 7.32.6–21.
[ back ] 14. HE 10.1.2; HE 10.4; Onom., praefatio.
[ back ] 15. PE 1.1.1.
[ back ] 16. Hollerich 1990:309–325.
[ back ] 17. Greek text in Ziegler 1975, my translation throughout.
[ back ] 18. Eusebius mentions the use of different colored inks in the letter that accompanies his Canon Tables (Epistula ad Carpianum), text in Nestle and Aland 1969:32*–37*; on Eusebius’ use of colored inks and their subsequent use by Jerome and others, see Grafton and Williams 2006:199–201, 344n54.
[ back ] 19. Genette 1997. Others have also recognized a hypertextual quality in Eusebius work; Grafton and Williams, for example, drawing on and adding to James J. O’Donnell’s observations: “the . . . Canon Tables were extraordinarily original and effective information retrieval devices: the world’s first hot links. They enabled readers not simply to rely on memory or to use rearranged texts of the Bible, but to turn the four Gospels into a single web of cross-commentary—to move from text to text as easily as one could move from kingdom to kingdom in the Canon” (Grafton and Williams 2006:199; 344n53 cites http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/jod.html, but this link does not currently function). These observations do capture the innovation of Eusebius’ method and point to important points of contact between modern and ancient media technologies; in drawing on Genette’s work, however, I aim to trace the specific kinds of (spatial) movements and (political) forces (the aesthetics) at work in this hypertextual web.
[ back ] 20. “. . . metatextuality, is the relationship most often labeled “commentary.” It unites a given text to another, of which it speaks without necessarily citing it” (Genette 1997:4). Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah does bear such a relationship to the text of Isaiah, and the analysis of that relationship is the basis of most studies of early Christian commentary.
[ back ] 21. “. . . such as text B not speaking of text A at all but being unable to exist, as such, without A, from which it originates through a process I shall provisionally call transformation, and which it consequently evokes more or less perceptibly without necessarily speaking of it or citing it” (Genette 1997:5).
[ back ] 22. For “transposing,” see Genette 1997:5–6.
[ back ] 23. De Certeau plays on words to make a similar point about the movements effected by written texts: “In modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai . . . Stories could also take this noble name: every day, they traverse and organize places; they select and link them together; they make sentences and itineraries out of them. They are spatial trajectories”; where de Certeau emphasizes the way in which (verbal) narratives “regulate changes in space” and “organize walks”—that is, how written or spoken texts produce enunciations of space (de Certeau 1984:115–116), I have adapted Genette’s concept of “hypertextuality” because it better blurs the distinction between verbal and geographic/architectural space. Hypertextuality connotes the interconnectedness of written and geographic texts as different planes within a spatial continuum.
[ back ] 24. Barnes 1982.
[ back ] 25. Eusebius was in Phaeno on or around May 4, 311, when the martyr Silvanus of Gaza (who was presiding as bishop of a church set up by Christians working as forced labor at the copper mines there) was executed; it was also at this time that Eusebius reports hearing John the Egyptian recite scripture from memory (Eusebius, MP 13.1–10, Greek text in Schwartz, et al. 1999).
[ back ] 26. Eusebius was invited to deliver his oration for the dedication of the rebuilt and remodeled basilica at Tyre ca. AD 315 (HE 10.4); he had visited Tyre on previous occasions, however: he was in Tyre at least once during the Great Persecution, sometime between 311–313 (HE 8.7.1–8.1). Eusebius also reports having “come to know” the learned presbyter Dorotheus in Tyre or Antioch in the 280’s or 290’s (HE 7.32.2–4); any overland travel to Antioch would have taken Eusebius along the coastal Roman road that passed through Tyre.
[ back ] 27. The word episkopē (“visitation” or “watching over”) would also, of course, suggest “bishop” (episkopos) and “the epsicopal office” (episkopē) to Eusebius.
[ back ] 28. See discussion in Hollerich, Commentary on Isaiah 90.
[ back ] 29. Onom. 372: ἐπὶ τῆς ἐρήμου σταθμὸς τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ. ἔστι δὲ καὶ ἄλλη εἰς ἔτι νῦν κώμη παμμεγέθης παρὰ τὸν Ἀρνωνᾶν, ἣν τὸ παλαιὸν οὖσαν τῶν υἱῶν Μωὰβ καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα Σηῶν τοῦ Αμορραίου οἱ υἱοὶ Ἰσραὴλ ἀπέλαβον, καὶ γέγονε φυλῆς Γάδ. μέμνηται δὲ αὐτῆς Ἡσαΐας ἐν ὁράσει τῇ “κατὰ τῆς Μωαβίτιδος,” καὶ Ἱερεμίας (Greek text and English translation: Notley and Safrai 2005).
[ back ] 30. Onom. 408: καλεῖται δὲ νῦν Ἐσβοῦς, ἐπίσημος πόλις τῆς Ἀραβίας, ἐν ὂρεσι τοῖς ἀντικρὺ τῆς Ἱεριχοῦς κειμένη.
[ back ] 31. Onom. 410: καὶ σῴζεται εἰς ἔτι νῦν κώμη μεγίστη, οὐ πλεῖον σημείου ἑνὸς ἀπέχουσα τῆς Ἐσβοῦς.
[ back ] 32. Onom. 173, 175, 176, 360, 372, 388, 408, 410, 647, 525, 725, 745, 795, 815, 822.
[ back ] 33. On the establishment of the province of Arabia, see Bowersock 1983:76–89, Millar 1993:414–428, and Sartre 2005:133–135.
[ back ] 34. Panegyrici Latini III.5,4; 7,1. See also discussion in Millar 1993:177, 399.
[ back ] 35. Onom. 650; 914, translation slightly modified for clarity.
[ back ] 36. Millar 1993:177; Williams 1985:63.
[ back ] 37. For Eusebius’ references to garrisons (phrouria stratiōtōn) stationed on the limes see for example Onom. 193 (Bela), 676 (Mephaath), 953 (Carmel), 227 (Beer-sheba).
[ back ] 38. For maps showing the Arnon and the portion of the Strata Diocletiania crossing it to the east of the Dead Sea, see Millar 1993:572 and the map included in Notley and Safrai 2005:endpapers.
[ back ] 39. Jerome, Commentariorum in Esaiam 16.5, Latin text in Adriaen 1968.
[ back ] 40. Jerome, Commentariorum in Esaiam 16.5.
[ back ] 41. For a detailed study of Eusebius’ treatment of “Ethiopians” as contrasted with Origen see Johnson 2006:165–186.
[ back ] 42. One might also note the tendency to render or market editions and translations of the Onomasticon as, after the application of critical analysis and the insights of biblical archaeology, a relatively transparent “map” or “plan” of ancient Palestine. Thus Brill’s three-column “triglot” edition (Greek edition, English translation, Jerome’s Latin, in that order) is in fact a four-column edition, as the running notes along the bottom of each page aim to correct or corroborate Eusebius’ remarks (e.g. the note for Onom. 372 [Dibon]: “The present-day village of Dibban,” and Onom. 410 [Elealeh]: “This is al-Al, four kilometers to the north of Heshbon. The distance cited by the author [i.e. Eusebius] is inaccurate (Notley and Safrai 2005:75, 82). The title of another recent resource, Palestine in the Fourth Century A.D.: The Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea (Taylor and Freeman-Grenville 2003) adverts to the volume’s intended use as an accessible resource for studying the historical geography of late-ancient Palestine; in asking the reader to refer the Onomasticon to the present territorial enunciations of Israel/Palestine (and vice versa), the book extends the very hypertextual web of reference it aims to “read past” at the same time that it obscures the textuality of the Onomasticon (“our principal aim is to provide an accessible translation, with a helpful index, for use by anyone interested in the sites of this remarkable area of the world, as recorded in the fourth century” (8, emphasis added). Notably, both volumes conclude with maps that effectively immobilize hypertextual movements of the text into a reconstructed aerial “snapshot.” My criticism is not that such volumes are not useful or important works of scholarship, merely that they attend to but one aspect of the spatiality of the Onomasticon as a textuality/texture.