8. Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms and Its Place in the Origins of Christian Biblical Scholarship

Michael J. Hollerich
Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms (hereafter CPs) is probably the longest book he ever wrote. It came late in his career, at a time when the Church was basking in the emperor’s favor and when the party of those with misgivings about the Council of Nicaea felt that politico-dogmatic momentum had swung in their favor, with the rehabilitation of Arius and the ascendancy of Eusebius of Nicomedia at court. It is one of only two line-by-line biblical commentaries that he appears to have written. It is the first Christian commentary on the entire Psalter. And it shows Eusebius both in the full possession of the skills he had acquired during his tutelage under Pamphilus and refined in his many books, and also exploiting the resources in the library at Caesarea, the richness of which recent scholarship has given us fresh appreciation. [1]
All of this being so, one may ask why the CPs has drawn relatively little scholarly attention. Reasons are not hard to find. A major problem is the condition of the text. Like so much of the patristic exegetical legacy, the CPs has survived exclusively in the tangle of anthologies known as the catenae. The authentication problems are well known. Existing manuscripts may represent multiple stages of revision and editing, during which selections may be shortened, paraphrased, or combined with selections from other authors, and the authorship confused (just such a confusion has given us Eusebius’ commentary on Psalm 37, preserved in the works of Basil of Caesarea [2] ) or simply dropped altogether. The labors of several generations of scholars, mainly French, have shed much light on the landscape. We now have a new survey of the state of research on the catenae available in English, thanks to the publication (in 2006) of the last volume of the Patrology completed by Angelo Di Berardino and his team of scholars. That volume contains a fifty-page survey of research on the Greek exegetical catenae. We are doubly fortunate that the lead scholar on that chapter was the late Carmelo Curti (d. 2003), who contributed a discussion of the basic literary problems posed by the catenae and a special section on the catenae based on the Psalter. Curti devoted a good portion of his life’s work to Eusebius’ Psalms commentary. His goal, announced years ago but never completed, was a new edition. Failing that, we at least have his republished papers and his survey of the manuscript remains in the Patrology volume. [3]
The edition of the Psalms commentary in PG 23 (and a small portion of PG 24) is basically the work of Montfaucon. Modern research has shown that the section of PG 23 commenting on Ps 51 through Ps 95:3 is certainly Eusebius’. [4] That material comprises almost 800 columns, about sixty percent of the volume. Substantial portions of the commentary on the first 50 psalms are also Eusebius’. [5] Also available in a sound edition are extracts in the Palestinian Catena on Ps 118 edited by Marguerite Harl. [6] Its value is heightened by the editor’s thesis that the Palestinian Catena in its earliest form originated in the library at Caesarea, a conclusion partly based on Origen’s dominance among the selections, followed by Eusebius himself—she notes the numerous citations of non-LXX versions in the Eusebian extracts and suggests that that was an important part of their appeal to the original redactors of the catena. [7]
A second discouragement to research may be the suspicion that Eusebius merely borrowed from Origen. No one would deny Origen’s influence. Eusebius apparently knew two Psalms commentaries by Origen, neither of which covered the whole Psalter. The first one was written perhaps as early as 214–218 [8] while Origen was still in Alexandria and dealt only with the first twenty-five psalms (HE 6.24.2). The second and much longer one was written in Caesarea late in Origen’s life (Nautin has dated it to 246–248). It probably stopped at Ps 72, with an appended treatment of Ps 118, though the precise terminus is uncertain. [9] The confirmed remains of Eusebius’ commentary extend to Ps 95:3, and the length and substance of its comments on individual psalms differ not at all before and after Ps 72. Eusebius did not need to depend on Origen for his exegesis, as the parallel case of his Commentary on Isaiah shows: he certainly used Origen’s Isaiah commentary for as much of Isaiah as Origen had commented on (up to Isa 30:6), but his own commentary covered the whole of the book of Isaiah. In one notable instance in the Psalms commentary (see below on the question of the significance of the numbers of the psalms), Eusebius unequivocally separates himself from his master’s opinion. [10]
There is also the fact that patristic exegetical works tend to be low yield for the kinds of interest that have typically driven research in the past. In the case of our bishop-scholar, there are, as we know, texts that have for a very long time drawn the attention of scholars from a host of disciplines. If we were to rank them, the historical works would take first place, followed closely by the Constantinian literature; then the apologetic writings; the polemical theological tracts; and, last of all, the biblical commentaries. Yet numerous publications over the last decade indicate the landscape is changing, and elaborate productions like Charles Kannengiesser’s new handbook on patristic exegesis show that scholars—and publishers—have recognized the patristic exegetical legacy as a whole as worthy of and in need of (re?) consideration. [11]
My preference for reading patristic biblical interpretation is to treat it as an outstanding instance of Christianity’s naturalization within the high literary culture of late antiquity, a process in which Eusebius and the library at Caesarea indisputably played central roles, as Megan Williams’ and Anthony Grafton’s splendid book has shown. By “naturalization” I mean the two-fold process of performing the sort of exegetical care with respect to a corpus of texts that was already being done on Homer, Plato, and Aristotle by the educated elite of the Roman Empire and the widespread shaping of the cultural imagination by the biblical texts. Elsewhere, I have sketched the basic contours of Eusebius’ work as a biblical scholar, in an article surveying current research on his many-sided engagement with the Bible. It looks especially at the literary, textual, and historical aspects of Eusebius’ biblical scholarship and was based in part upon consideration of the sections of his Psalms commentary that can with reasonable certainty be identified as his. [12] My contribution to the present volume will consist of a general characterization of the commentary as I have become acquainted with it, under the assumption that it has not been a frequently visited text. [13] It is hoped that this introduction to the CPs will prompt greater appreciation of this important work and of its significance for the “making of late antique literary culture.”

The Date of the Commentary

The CPs is a late work of Eusebius’, as proven by the mention in his commentary on Ps 87:11 of the mnêma (tomb) and martyrion of the Savior in Jerusalem, where, he says, miracles were being performed among the faithful. [14] This is a reference to the buildings constructed by Constantine over the alleged site of Christ’s burial, sometime between 326 and 333. That is also the time when he was composing the Commentary on Isaiah, which can be dated to the years immediately after the Council of Nicaea. [15] The two works have a great deal in common, though the CPs, unlike the Isaiah commentary, shows Eusebius occasionally reverting to the subordinationist theological vocabulary that marks all of his books prior to 325. [16] Rather than indicating a pre-Nicene date, this could suggest that Eusebius was at work on the Psalms commentary when the political fortunes of Arius’s supporters were turning in their favor.

Purpose and Occasion for Writing

Eusebius only chose two biblical books on which to write line-by-line commentaries (though the fragments on Luke may represent a third). [17] Those two books were the primary Christian sources for prophetic exegesis of the Old Testament, and he returned to them repeatedly throughout his career. That tells us how profoundly he cared about the historical fulfillment of prophecy (hê tôn pragmatôn ekbasis), a concern that grew first of all out of traditional Christian competition with Judaism for interpretive hegemony over the Jewish scriptures. The ugly anti-Judaism of the Constantinian documents in Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, which he wrote (and left incomplete) in the immediate aftermath of the emperor’s death, [18] shows that the emperor’s conversion may have only whetted Christian ambitions in the struggle with Judaism. But Eusebius’ predilection for historically oriented proofs is a dominant feature of all his writings. It may have originated in the Palestinian setting in which he lived his whole life, and it certainly suited his scholarly training and temperament.
It also reflected his long preoccupation with Porphyry. One element of Porphyry’s attack on the Christian scriptures seems to have consisted of denying that the psalms qualified as authentic prophecy. Porphyry apparently conceded that Hebrew prophecy could in principle be genuine, so long as the gift of prophecy was not thought of as the exclusive property of the Jews. In his Demonstration of the Gospel, Eusebius quotes an unnamed pagan, who is usually understood to be Porphyry, as saying: “. . . for the God of the universe . . . is God not only of the Jews but of all the rest of the human race as well. He does not care for some more than others, but his providence watches over all equally” (DE 5.Proem.3–5, ed. Heikel; my trans.). Elsewhere in the Demonstration, Eusebius defends the Psalter against unnamed critics:
As it has been proposed by some that the Book of Psalms merely consists of hymns to God and sacred songs, and that we shall look in vain in it for predictions and prophecies of the future, let us realize distinctly that it contains many prophecies, far too many to be quoted now . . . [19]
This statement comes from Eusebius’ preface to his exposition of Ps 40, one of the psalms of Asaph, who is credited with divine inspiration according to 1 Chronicles 16:4. To Asaph scripture also attributed Ps 73, which Eusebius construed as prophesying the destruction of both the first and the second temples (DE 10.1.6–10), and Ps 78, which he thought predicted the temple desecration and the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (DE 10.1.10–12). In the same way, Eusebius proceeds to read Ps 40 as a highly specific prophecy of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (DE 10.1.13–40). The whole Psalter becomes an interconnected skein of biblical prophecy fulfilled historically in both the Old and the New Testaments—and thus cements Christian claims to both. [20]

Content and Character

The general character of the Psalms commentary resembles that of the Isaiah commentary: its laborious textual exposition based on the resources of the Hexapla; its theology, though with a more candid subordinationism; its anti-Judaic apologetic theses, the rejection of Israel and the calling of the Gentiles; and its constant attention to prophetic fulfillment, both in the history of Israel and the history of the Church, which to Eusebius is really the same history. Of the type of spiritual exegesis that Origen pioneered and that came to dominate patristic commentary on the Psalter, there is proportionately less. Spiritual exegesis was not, however, necessary in Eusebius’ mind to justify his steady attention to the Church, “the godly polity” (to theosebes politeuma), which he regarded as the literal fulfillment (kata lexin) of biblical prophecy, just as he did in the Isaiah commentary. Finally, the CPs devotes a great deal of space to distinctively literary questions involving the authorship, the genre, and the ordering of the psalms; perhaps Eusebius worried that these were areas that were particularly vulnerable to intelligent pagan criticism.
Of the Psalter as the medium of the prayer of the Church, we need only say the obvious: Eusebius, in common with most other Christians, thought that many passages were spoken by the Psalmist in persona Christi. [21] Ps 58:16–18, for example, represents words that the Prophetic Spirit led the prophetic author of the psalm to speak ek prosôpou tou Sôtêros, just as was true of Ps 21:23 (PG 23.549d). Words spoken by Christ to the Father are thus also the Spirit’s way of teaching Christ’s followers to pray, so that Ps 58:16, “I will sing your mercy at the dawn,” anticipates the universal Church’s morning worship every Sunday (PG 23.552a–b). To assist readers in identifying the various speakers and authors of the individual psalms, Eusebius created a tabular reference tool in the format that we are familiar with from his universal history, known as the Chronological Canons, and from his Evangelical Canons, a table of gospel pericopes for comparative study of the four gospels. Little evidence of it survives, although a version of the work may have recently been identified in a medieval manuscript preserved at Oxford. [22]
Of the theological content of the commentary, I will mention only the occasional Christological expositions that speak of the divine and the human in the Incarnation as such distinct entities as to appear Antiochene, if the anachronistic category may be permitted, e.g. the comment on Ps 88:6, in which Eusebius speaks rather casually of “the Son of God who dwells in him [= the Son of David]” (PG 23.1084c). Compare the similar language with which Eusebius comments on Ps 87:5: “For just as Zion, being the city of God, is the locality of the man who will be born in her, so too is the man himself a locality and receptacle (dokheion) of the divine Word who is begotten in him, as in a holy place and temple, or rather, as in a statue (agalma) and receptacle of his divinity that dwells in him” (PG 23.1049a).
Of the apologetic topoi, the calling of the Gentiles is fitted in wherever Eusebius thinks he can find a sufficiently universalizing or “open” passage in a given psalm. Of anti-Judaism there is all too much, though not in a measure that distinguishes the CPs from any of Eusebius’ earlier works. The staple elements are all there: their rejection of Christ led to their destruction, and their “fleshly” interpretation of the Scriptures had led them into error and ignorance. More than once he refers to the Roman expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem after the revolt of 132–135 (at PG 23.541c, on Ps 58:7; also PG 23.753c, on Ps 68).
Just as in the Isaiah commentary, the Church understood as the godly polity is a significant subject in the CPs. [23] The Roman state is not, however: in one of his rare political references, Eusebius celebrated the end of “polyarchy,” i.e. national and ethnic divisions and warfare, which he believed was prophesied in Ps 71:7 (PG 23.801d–804a [24] ). Polyarchy, along with other lamentable forms of government like tyranny, democracy, and oligarchy, has been overcome by monarchy (monarkhia). That is a staple element in Eusebius’ political theology. In the Demonstration of the Gospel, he had already interpreted Ps 71:7 in terms of monarchy’s elimination of polyarchy (DE 8.4). But in the Psalms’ commentary on Ps 71, it is the Church more than the empire that heals humanity’s divisions: the Church, established in every city and land, “. . . is called the city of God because of the legal and evangelical politeia which she embodies” (PG 23.816d). This “legal and evangelical politeia” is not a reference to the Church’s juridical establishment in the empire but to its incorporation of a dual way of life, one that is fitting both to the Law and to the Gospel. The Church thus recapitulates biblical Israel’s two grades of piety, one for the masses and one for a spiritual elite. [25]
In the passages that refer to the godly polity, a common theme is the various orders (tagmata) that constitute it. The community is hierarchical, being governed by the successors of the apostles, among whom Peter was the koruphaios (PG 23.449c). But bishops per se aren’t all that prominent. The true elite are the spiritual virtuosos, the ascetics. And when the Church’s “archons and hegemons” are referred to, it is more in terms of spiritual advancement than of ordination to clerical office. [26] The first tagma, he says in one place, are the monks (he actually calls them monakhoi, adopting the word from Symmachus’s version of Ps 67:7a). Eusebius cites four different versions, beginning with the LXX, which reads: ho theos katoikizei monotropous en oikôi (“God makes the single-minded to dwell in a house”). Symmachus has didôsin oikizein monakhois oikian; Aquila, kathizei monogeneis oikonde; and “the fifth edition,” katoikizei monozônous en oikôi. The passage is worth quoting:
And this is his [God’s] first virtuous action, and indeed the greatest of the favors which have been given to the human race. For the first tagma of those who have progressed in Christ is that of the monakhoi. They are rare; therefore according to Aquila they were named monogeneis for having been likened to the only-begotten Son of God. According to the Seventy they are monotropoi, but not polutropoi [!—a critical swipe at the wily Odysseus?], nor in any other way fluctuating in their way of life but keeping only to one, and so have come to a pitch of virtue. The fifth edition calls them monozônous, ‘those who journey alone,’ since they were solitaries and as it were girded up for travel by themselves. Such were the first disciples of the Savior, to whom it was said, ‘Do not take gold or silver for your belts, or a bag for the journey, or sandals, or a staff (Mt 10:9–10)’. [27]
Among other passages on the godly polity, I point in passing to one on Ps 52, dealing with the existence of two tagmata already in Israel (PG 23.449c), and another on Ps 86:3, “Glorious things have been said of you, O City of God,” which Eusebius says refers to to theosebes politeuma, the Church spread throughout the world and the eikôn of “the great politeuma of the heavenly Zion” (PG 23.1045a). This of course is the great psalm text that gave Augustine the title for On the City of God. Eusebius is equally fond of it; note how he cites Ps 86:3 when commenting on Ps 71:16–17 (PG 23.816d) and on Ps 59:11 (PG 23.572b–c)—where he follows immediately with a reference to Mt 16:18!
The most distinctive features of Eusebius’ exegetical production are his use of philological methods and material and his interest in literary questions and topics. Timothy Barnes’ assessment still seems right: “Eusebius was by instinct and training a scholar; he became an apologist only because circumstances demanded that he do so, and his style of argument in apology and polemic continually betrays the biblical exegete.” [28]
Citations from Origen’s Hexapla are ubiquitous in the Psalms commentary, as they also were in the Isaiah commentary. A rough estimate of their respective frequencies shows that Aquila and Symmachus are quoted most often, frequently as a pair. An unnamed third version, which Eusebius calls simply the “fifth edition” (pemptê ekdosis, or Quinta as modern scholars have labeled it), appears half as many times as the first two. Theodotion, whom in the Isaiah commentary Eusebius routinely lumped with Aquila and Symmachus as hoi loipoi, in the Psalms commentary has retreated to fourth place, showing up less than a third as often as Aquila and Symmachus. [29] Once Eusebius cites “yet another version” [30] besides Aquila, Symmachus, and Quinta. That is presumably the unnamed “sixth edition” which in the Church History Eusebius credits Origen with discovering (along with still another, seventh version) and adding to the Psalms portion of the Hexapla (HE 6.16.2–3). In addition to the Greek versions, Eusebius frequently appeals to to Hebraïkon, “the Hebrew.”
Two questions to ask about his use of the Hexapla:
  1. What is the interpretive status of the Greek versions in relation to the LXX?
  2. And what use, if any, was Eusebius making of the Hebrew?
I will deal with the second question first. His synopsis must have had a Hebrew column in Hebrew script, not merely a Hebrew text in Greek transliteration, because he frequently alludes to the “Hebrew writing” (graphê, PG 23.809c), the “Hebrew reading” (lexis), or “Hebrew letters” (stoicheia). Most often his gestures towards the Hebrew serve to verify that instances of sôtêrion in the LXX are based on some form of the Hebrew name for Jesus (although he is also interested in the Hebrew names for God as well). [31] He notes that the Hebrew original of Ps 52:2 (= Ps 53:2 MT) is verbally identical with the Hebrew of Ps 13:1 (= Ps 14:1b–c MT) because “the same words and the same letters are contained in both” (PG 23.456b). That tells us he is doing a painstaking check, letter by letter, of the Hebrew column of the Hexapla. Did Origen’s commentary tell him this or did he discover it himself? Even if it is not his own discovery, the care to specify the Hebrew reading—in a passage in which Eusebius did not have an apologetic investment—is suggestive. We can attribute it partly, I propose, to scholarly precision. [32] But it also reflected the motive behind the very existence of the Hexapla: to gain access to the Hebrew original as a necessary instrument for correcting the Church’s own scriptures. That at least is what Origen gives as the purpose of the Hexapla in a celebrated passage in his Commentary on Matthew. [33] The project was controversial, which perhaps explains the rather different and somewhat defensive motive he expounds in his Letter to Africanus, where he says that his retention of the Hebrew text, even when it contained material missing from the Church’s bible, was necessary for the sake of discussions with the Jews—it did not mean the devaluing of the Church’s scriptures. [34]
Eusebius’ practice regarding the authority of the Septuagint is not totally consistent with his theory, so far as we can reconstruct that theory. He certainly accepted the privileged status of the LXX, though in one programmatic passage in The Demonstration of the Gospel, he describes its status as a matter of custom:
We must recognize that the sacred oracles include in the Hebrew much that is obscure both in the literal sense (pros lexin) of the words and in their deeper interpretation (pros dianoian), and are capable of various translations into Greek because of their difficulty. The Seventy Hebrews in concert have translated them together, and I shall pay the greatest attention to them, because it is the custom of the Christian Church to use their work (têi tou Christou ekklêsiai toutois kekhrêsthai philon). But wherever necessary, I shall call in the help of the editions of the later translators, which the Jews are accustomed to use today, so that my proof may have stronger support from all sources. [35]
In more than one place, he explains (or explains away) the obscurity of the LXX prophecies about Jesus as the result of an exercise in discretion (oikonomia) on the part of the Seventy. An example of this is his commentary on Ps 86:5–7, for which the LXX differs notably from the other Greek versions (and Eusebius usually presumed that that meant the LXX differed from the Hebrew as well). Recalling the Septuagint’s origins in Ptolemaic Egypt, he argued that the Seventy had intentionally made their text “dark and enigmatic” because they knew their work would be preserved under foreign rulers (he mentions the foreign rulers because the LXX of Ps 86:6 introduced an anomalous reference to arkhontes). Predictions about Christ could not be too overt lest they threaten the powers that be, who were not yet ready to receive them. But when the time came, the verse that spoke of the Most High’s registering of the peoples would then be seen fulfilled in the census that attended the birth of Jesus. [36]
In practice, Eusebius treats the Hexapla as if the whole synopsis were authoritative scripture. The LXX is the base text, but the versions are drawn upon for all manner of purposes: linguistic obscurity in the LXX, apologetic and dogmatic needs, or simply the desire to preserve and record the sheer diversity of witnesses. Scientific his practice is not, but at least it recognizes the difficulty of interpreting an inspired text if so much labor must be devoted just to the text itself. To further complicate the status of the Hexapla, the translators of the other Greek versions were believed to have been Jewish or Jewish-Christians, which in Christian eyes meant their work was compromised. [37] So Eusebius (and of course Origen) should be honored for his willingness to use whatever instruments were at hand to interpret divine scripture. It has recently been suggested that his synthetic approach was “a turning point in the de-canonization of the Greek Torah.” [38] That seems overstated (certainly the LXX’s place remained secure in the Greek East). But he does appear to be groping towards the position that Jerome would embrace unambiguously several decades later.
Perhaps an even deeper concern was at work in Eusebius’ forays, however limited, into the Hebrew text. Pierre Nautin once suggested that Origen entertained the belief, acquired from his Jewish teacher (so Nautin), that the very letters of the Hebrew alphabet were revealed by God. [39] Did Eusebius entertain a similar conception, or at least feel compelled to pay it respect? It appears that he did. Elsewhere, in his apologetic work The Preparation for the Gospel, he presented a philological argument for the historical priority of the Hebrew alphabet over the Greek alphabet, based on the fact that the names of the individual letters were intelligible as distinct words in Hebrew and that the words could even be clustered as intelligible phrases (PE 10.5). Hebrew, he said, has an exceptional “correctness” (orthotêta) in its names for things, befitting the language of a people whose very name is taken from “Heber” (cf. Gn 14:13), the etymology of which means “to pass over,” from the things of this world to things divine (PE 11.6.36–40). [40]
Besides his attention to the actual text, a second literary preoccupation in the CPs is the status of the Psalter as a composite work. Eusebius devotes much time to explaining the ordering of the psalms and to establishing connections among them, based on verbal parallels, similar titles, and common authors or ascriptions (not all Christians were happy with the notion that David wasn’t the author of the whole Psalter). [41] He acknowledges the traditional division of the Psalter into five parts [42] but introduces divisions of his own as well, such as his identification of Pss 51–70 as a unit defined by their location in the life of David while Saul was still alive, whereas Ps 50, the great psalm of repentance, was composed by David after his adultery with Bathsheba. The chronological reversal is explained away with the moralizing interpretation that David did not want those who prayed the psalms to see what was better give way to what was worse. [43] In contextualizing Ps 56, Eusebius notes that the title might refer either to the cave story in 1Sa 22:1–2 or the one in 1Sa 24:2–8. He solves his dilemma by appealing to the similar title in Ps 141 and splitting the narrative difference: Ps 56 refers to the cave of Odollam, and Ps 141 to the second cave story, set in Engaddi (PG 23.504).
In other places Eusebius is more candid about the redaction of the psalms. To be sure, he believes that the process as a whole was inspired. Recognizing that the psalms originated in the prayers of Israel, he says “. . . the things that were uttered were rightly no longer regarded as ordinary prayers but as prophetic words, and the ones who had received the charisma of the discernment of spirits inserted them into the divine books” (PG 23.580c). But he knows that many hands must have been involved in that discernment and perhaps more than a little contingency. In two separate passages, he proposes scenarios for explaining how the Psalter may have assumed its present shape. [44] The basic hypothesis is that the psalms were composed by numerous authors over a long period of time, and then assembled gradually by an editor or editors as the individual psalms came to their attention. Eusebius says he isn’t sure whether that person was actually Ezra, as “the children of the Hebrews” allege. In this way, e.g. of the twelve psalms eventually attributed to “the sons of Kore,” eight were found and numbered 41 through 48; then later, two more (83 and 84), after which one of David’s was placed (85); and then the last two of the sons of Kore (86–87). [45] Eusebius compares the process to what he thinks may also have happened to the books of Jeremiah and of Ezekiel. There too, he says, the order of events and of prophecies is sometimes reversed, with prophecies from later times being found in earlier parts of the books. In both cases, the “probable” (eikos) explanation is that the unhistorical sequencing of the books is due to the fact that those who preserved the prophecies added them to the book as they incidentally came to their attention, following disruptions like the Babylonian Exile. The same explanation applies to the Psalter—unless, he adds, someone wishes to propose a deeper meaning (bathuteros nous) that has escaped him (PG 23.1041d). He flatly denies that the psalm numbers themselves could carry inherent significance, as if “. . . the fiftieth in number contains the understanding of the forgiveness of sins because of the fifty year period referred to in the Law, the period which the children of the Hebrews call a ‘jubilee’ . . .” [46] As Eusebius well knew, the author of that symbolic interpretation was none other than Origen. [47]
With that blunt testimony to his scholarly independence, we take our leave of Eusebius and his commentary. Its importance lies mainly in its summation of the exegetical prowess achieved by Christian scholarship at Caesarea, in the century-old trajectory going back to Origen’s residence. Eusebius of Vercelli, banished to Palestine in 355, discovered the commentary at Caesarea and made a Latin translation, which unfortunately has not survived. But the massive scale of the original made it unlikely that it would survive intact for too many generations. It was fated to leave its mark mainly in the ample selections in the catenae, beginning with the Palestinian Catena, which appears to have been assembled in the library at Caesarea. We can expect much new light to be shed on the commentary by the German team that has now begun work on a critical edition. [48] It is gratifying to know it will receive the careful attention it deserves, and that Carmelo Curti’s efforts will find an appropriate completion. As we have seen, the CPs shows the heights to which Eusebius rose in his exegetical industry and the ways in which such industry could be formative of ecclesiological notions, anti-Judaism, and late antique literary culture generally.

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———., ed. 1983. Sur les Écritures: Philocalie 1–20/Origène. Sources chrétiennes 302. Paris.
Harnack, A. 1904. Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius. 2 vols. Leipzig.
Hollerich, M. J. 1989. “Myth and History in Eusebius’ De vita Constantini: Vita Const. 1.12 in its Contemporary Setting.” Harvard Theological Review 82:421–445.
———. 1999. Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on Isaiah: Christian Exegesis in the Age of Constantine. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford.
———. 2002. “Hebrews, Jews, and Christians: Eusebius of Caesarea on the Biblical Basis of the Two States of the Christian Life.” In Blowers 2002:172–184.
Johnson, A. 2006. “The Blackness of Ethiopians: Classical Ethnography and Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms.” Harvard Theological Review 99:165–186.
Kannengiesser, C., ed. 2004. Handbook of Patristic Exegesis: The Bible in Ancient Christianity. Leiden.
Lange, N. de, ed. 1983. Sur les Écritures: La lettre à Africanus sur l’histoire de Suzanne. Sources chrétiennes 302. Paris.
Mercati, G. 1948. Osservazioni a proemi del Salterio di Origene, Ippolito, Eusebio, Cirillo Alessandrino e altri, con frammenti inediti. Studi e Testi 142. Vatican City.
Moreau, J. 1966. “Eusebius von Caesarea.” Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 6:col. 1064.
Nautin, P. 1977. Origène: sa vie et son oeuvre. Christianisme antique 1. Paris.
Rajak, T. 2009. Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora. Oxford.
Rondeau, M.-J. and Kirchmeyer, J. 1967. “Eusèbe de Césarée.” In Dictionnaire de Spiritualité 4, 2:1688–1691.
Rondeau, M.-J. 1982, 1985. Les commentaires patristiques du Psautier (IIIe–Ve siècles) I, II. Orientalia Christiana Analecta 219–220. Rome.
Schoene, A., ed. 1967. Eusebii Chronicon. 2 vols. Zurich.
Veltri, G. 2006. Libraries, Translations, and ‘Canonic’ Texts: The Septuagint, Aquila, and Ben Sira in the Jewish and Christian Traditions. Leiden.
Wallace-Hadrill, D. S. 1960. Eusebius of Caesarea. London.
Wallraff, M. 2011. “The Canon Tables of the Psalms. An Unknown Work of Eusebius of Caesarea.” Oxford Patristics: The Conference Blog, July 13, 2011. http://oxfordpatristics.blogspot.com/2011/07/martin-wallraff-canon-tables-of-psalms.html.
Wasserstein, A., and Wasserstein, D. 2006. The Legend of the Septuagint: From Classical Antiquity to Today. Cambridge.


[ back ] 1. Grafton and Williams 2006; Carriker 2003.
[ back ] 2. PG 30.81–104; cf. CPG 3467 (1).
[ back ] 3. Curti 1989a; idem 2006. A team of German scholars at the academic initiative “Die alexandrinische und antiochenische Bibelexegese in der Spätantike” (under the aegis of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften) has begun a ten-year project to produce a critical edition of the commentary. See the project’s website: http://www.bbaw.de/forschung/bibelexegese/projekte.
[ back ] 4. Curti 1989c:3–17. MS. Coislin 44 is based on a direct tradition from Eusebius’ actual commentary. Curti notes that it is by no means free from errors.
[ back ] 5. See the detailed review of the extracts on the first fifty psalms in Rondeau and Kirchmeyer 1967:col. 1689.
[ back ] 6. Harl 1972.
[ back ] 7. Harl 1972:90, 153.
[ back ] 8. The dating of Cadiou 1936, cited in Harl 1972:154n1.
[ back ] 9. On the complex questions surrounding the fragmentary evidence for Origen’s engagement with the Psalter, see Nautin 1977:249–250, 258–259, and 261–292. Nautin identifies two true commentaries, the ones just mentioned, plus a collection of short explanations or sêmeiôseis, a word which Jerome translated as excerpta (Nautin 1977:259n73), consisting of various passages culled from throughout the Psalter; Nautin argues that Jerome’s own Excerpta in Psalterium is heavily dependent on Origen’s (cf. Nautin 1977:249–250 on the length of the Caesarean commentary).
[ back ] 10. The Philocalia (1.29) preserves a fragment of Origen’s commentary on Ps 50, but what is said there bears no resemblance to Eusebius’ treatment of that psalm—assuming that we can accept that the passage is really Eusebius’. Considering the emphasis it gives to to theosebes politeuma as an eikôn of the heavenly City of God (PG 23.441), I see no reason to doubt that it belongs to Eusebius.
[ back ] 11. Kannengiesser 2004.
[ back ] 12. To appear in vol. 1 of Carleton Paget and Schaper forthcoming.
[ back ] 13. A recent exception is Johnson 2006.
[ back ] 14. CPs on Ps 87:11 (PG 23.1064a), already noted by Montfaucon, the original editor (PG 23.20b–21b), as a terminus post quem. On the Constantinian buildings, cf. Eusebius Life of Constantine 3.25–40, and the commentary of Cameron and Hall 1999:274–291. Montfaucon’s late dating is followed by Harnack 1904:II 122–123; Wallace-Hadrill 1960:52, 57; Moreau 1966:col. 1064; and Curti 1989c:196n7. Rondeau 1982:66–69 presents arguments for a slightly earlier date and for the hypothesis that there were two editions of the commentary. Barnes 1981:391n38 also admits the possibility of an earlier edition before 324 that was later updated. Curti 1989a:196n7 comments that even if there was an earlier edition, the present version is the only one that has survived, and the datum of the comment on Ps 87:11 trumps efforts to lower the date on the basis of such things as an alleged change in Christological vocabulary.
[ back ] 15. Hollerich 1999:19–26.
[ back ] 16. Commenting on Ps 67:23–25, Eusebius several times calls the Logos “a secondary Lord” (cf. PG 23.705d and 709b, with reference to Ps 109:1) but never, that I can see, a secondary God, a usage that does show up in the pre-Nicene works, such as DE 5.Proem.23, which speaks of “the secondary Lord and God after the supreme Father.” Neither usage, secondary God or secondary Lord, occurs in the Isaiah commentary, which was written in the immediate wake of the Council of Nicaea.
[ back ] 17. See Johnson 2011, for the argument that the fragments on Luke derive from an otherwise lost commentary on that gospel, rather than from the tenth book of the General Elementary Introduction (as argued by Wallace-Hadrill).
[ back ] 18. Cf. Barnes 1981:265–271 and Cameron and Hall 1999:9–12 on the incomplete status of our text of the VC.
[ back ] 19. DE 10.1.3 (trans. Ferrar). Cf. also DE 6.18.11 (= frag. 19, Berchman), where Eusebius identifies unnamed skeptics as claiming that Zech 14:1–10 was fulfilled in the days of Antiochus, not in the coming of Christ and the destruction of the sacrificial cult of the Temple. For the identification of Porphyry as the critic, see Barnes 1981:363n96. For criticisms of attempts to see Porphyry as the anonymous critic, see Morlet 2009. Even if Morlet’s caution is well placed, it remains clear from other fragments of Porphyry’s Against the Christians that he was opposed to Christian attempts to interpret the Jewish Scriptures as prophetic of Christ or Christian events.
[ back ] 20. And beyond the New Testament into the Christian era: Hollerich 1989 proposes Porphyry as one of those who regarded the Exodus story as a “myth.” Eusebius saw Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge as a typological fulfillment of the defeat of Pharaoh and his troops—providing perhaps the first of what would become many political extrapolations from the book of Exodus.
[ back ] 21. For a fine recent survey of patristic exegesis of the Psalter, with special emphasis on its spiritual internalization as Christian prayer, see Daley 2003. Rondeau 1985:169–195 offers a detailed analysis of Eusebius’ méthode prosopologique in identifying the various speakers or referents in the Psalms.
[ back ] 22. See Grafton and Williams 2006:198–199, who cite both Rondeau 1982:71–72 (“a supplementary trace of the scholarly endeavors of Eusebius on the Psalter”) and Mercati 1948:95–104, which latter work I have not been able to consult. We do have a short list by Eusebius of the subject matter of each of the 150 Psalms, entitled Hupotheseis (“Themes”; reprinted in PG 23.68–72). On the newly identified version of the Psalms canon tables, see the paper of Martin Wallraff presented at the Oxford International Patristics Conference in 2011: http://oxfordpatristics.blogspot.com/2011/07/martin-wallraff-canon-tables-of-psalms.html. His paper deserves publication, which I expect to happen in the near future.
[ back ] 23. Hollerich 1999:165–203.
[ back ] 24. A passage that contains a quotation from Homer Odyssey i 23–24, on the location of the Ethiopians at the ends of the earth (PG 23.805b); see Johnson 2006:179.
[ back ] 25. See Eusebius’ exposition of this apologetic motif in DE 1.8 and Hollerich 2002:172–184.
[ back ] 26. CPs on 64:14 (PG 23.644d). Eusebius’ esteem for celibacy is well documented; see the previous note and also Eusebius’ defense in his Life of Constantine of Constantine’s repeal of the Augustan legislation that penalized childless marriages (VC 4.26.2–4; cf. the discussion in Cameron and Hall 1999:322–324).
[ back ] 27. PG 23.689c.
[ back ] 28. Barnes 1981:164. That was also Carmelo Curti’s judgment, expressed in an excellent survey of Eusebius’ exegesis: “L’approccio filologico al testo è peculiare di tutta la produzione di Eusebio, dalle opere giovanili a quelle della maturità e della vechiaia, ma in poche è condotto con tanta acribià come nei Commentarii in Psalmos” (Curti 1989b:205).
[ back ] 29. Theodotion’s diminished significance compared to Quinta becomes more intriguing when seen in connection with Mercati’s discovery that the Milan Hexapla palimpsest, which has five columns of Greek translations of the psalms (fragments of Psalms 17 through 88), contains a transliterated Hebrew column, Aquila, Symmachus, the LXX, and Quinta—not Theodotion—in the fifth and final column on the right. See Fernández Marcos 2000:212–213.
[ back ] 30. CPs on Ps 61:5 (PG 23.592c).
[ back ] 31. Including one instance when he knows that the LXX rendering of ’Iêsouach (to use the Greek transliteration) as tou sôtêrion sou reflects the addition of the pronominal suffix, and that the abstract noun sôtêria would be “the commoner form among the Hebrews,” thus signaling (to him, anyway) that something or someone special is indicated by the more unusual sôtêrion (PG 23.440d, on Ps 50:14/Ps 51:14 MT).
[ back ] 32. He is not beyond a certain pedantic pride, which at one point trips him up. Commenting on the puzzling repetition of “Saba” in both Aquila’s and Symmachus’ translations of Ps 71:10 (=72:10 MT) as “the kings of Saba and Saba,” Eusebius notes that the Hebrew has two different words that to a Greek ear are not easily distinguished because both begin with sibilants, sheba’ and seba’. Unfortunately, he gets the letters wrong, saying that the first word begins with a shin (in Greek sen) and the second with a tsade (in Greek sadê). But the second word actually begins with a samekh (23.808b). See the discussion in Johnson 2006:181–182.
[ back ] 33. Origen Commentary on Matthew 15.14, as cited and discussed in Fernández Marcos 2000:208–210.
[ back ] 34. Cf. Origen’s Letter to Africanus 5. See the comments of Nicholas de Lange in his edition of the letter (de Lange 1983:496, 500, and 535).
[ back ] 35. DE 5.Proem.35–36, trans. Ferrar (slightly revised). Like Origen, he accepted the authenticity of the Letter to Aristeas, but also like Origen, he avoided the later elaboration of the legend of the mysteriously identical translations. Irenaeus, on the other hand, had accepted it, in a passage that Eusebius quoted in the Church History (HE 5.8.10–15). See now Wasserstein and Wasserstein 2006:109–112.
[ back ] 36. CPs 86:6 (PG 23.1049b–c). Cf. also PE 8.1. The Armenian translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle preserves a more scurrilous explanation for deviations between the LXX and the Hebrew text possessed by the Jews of Eusebius’ time: see Schoene 1967:I 84.22–35, 94.5–28, 96.3–5.
[ back ] 37. See Fernández Marcos 2000:111–113 (traditions about Aquila), 123–126 (Symmachus), and 142–143 (Theodotion). The Christian devaluing of the versions because of their Jewish associations has recently been emphasized by Rajak 2009:310–311.
[ back ] 38. Veltri 2006:56.
[ back ] 39. Nautin 1977:268, citing a passage from Origen’s first commentary on the Psalms, on Ps 1, as preserved in the Philocalia 3 (Harl 1983:260.1–13; see her commentary, 262–268, esp. 264n2), and Origen’s comments on the parallel between the twenty-two books in the Hebrew scriptures and the twenty-two letters in their alphabet (cf. Eusebius HE 6.25.1–2).
[ back ] 40. My thanks to Aaron Johnson for pointing out this interesting passage; see Johnson 2006:134–135. Eusebius is partially dependent here on Origen’s discussion in Contra Celsum 1.24–25.
[ back ] 41. See Curti’s detailed account of Eusebius’ elaborate web of cross-comparisons in Curti 1989b:206–210.
[ back ] 42. PG 23.65a–68a (Pss 1–40, 41–72, 73–88, 89–105, 106–150). At Ps 40:14 (PG 23.365d), he draws attention to the first of the four doxologies that divide the Psalter.
[ back ] 43. PG 23.445d–448a, the conclusion to his preface to Ps 51, in which he presents a detailed review of the jumbled chronology of the psalms attributed to David in the first two portions of the Psalter.
[ back ] 44. Curti has already drawn attention to these two passages, one on Ps 62 and the other on Ps 86 (Curti 1989b:208). My translation of the commentary on Ps 62:2–3 (PG 23.601a–604b) will appear in the Eusebius chapter in the forthcoming New Cambridge History of the Bible.
[ back ] 45. See PG 23.1040b–1041d (on Ps 86).
[ back ] 46. Not everyone was comfortable with this contingent explanation. Hilary of Poitiers, Theodoret, and Cassiodorus are among those who thought that the arrangement and the numbering were the inspiration of the Spirit and were therefore essential to the psalms’ interpretation (Daley 2003:199).
[ back ] 47. Origen Selecta in psalmos (PG 12.1073d–1076b). In fairness it should be noted that Origen recognized the possibility of a historical explanation as well.
[ back ] 48. See note 3 above.