10. The Ends of Transfiguration: Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke (PG 24.549)

Aaron P. Johnson
In an illuminating treatment of the rise of Platonic commentaries, David Sedley has argued that at the origins of such a parasitic genre as the commentary lies the need to explain a text whose meaning is no longer clear, primarily because of temporal distance, to its readers. [1] Commentaries on Plato’s dialogues were necessitated by the linguistic shift from the classical Attic of Plato to the koine of Platonists in the late Hellenistic period. Hence, the occurrence of what may seem to modern readers as the simple and uninteresting paraphrase of lines of the source text in the commentaries. Plato’s expression in Greek required translation into a more comprehensible idiom. Pierre Hadot had already suggested another reason for the rise of the Platonic commentary, which was at once political and personal, or even spiritual. Following the rupture of continuity in the philosophical schools caused by the Roman conquest under Sulla (88 BC), a fissure was opened up between the intellectual heritage formed by the line of Plato’s successors at Athens in the previous generations and the now scattered groups of Platonists (especially at Rome itself). [2] Commentaries filled the gap and provided a sort of intellectual and spiritual parentage for the orphaned Platonic diaspora. Commentaries were an attempt to maintain continuity and stability in the transmission of Plato’s philosophy across disruptions of time and geographical space.
Both of these approaches to the rise of the Platonic commentary bear an important point for appreciating any particular commentary or commentary tradition. The relation of a text and its commentary involves the transference of meaning across a space or gap between the source and the target, whether this be of a temporal, conceptual, linguistic, or even spiritual nature. Commentary is the practice of transposing units of meaning from one (“native”) frame of reference and system of conceptual interconnections to another (“foreign”) one. Hence, commentary is the practice of translation—a term which, unlike “interpretation,” evokes this image of carrying across a space, of transport between textual territories. [3] The translation (whether this was presented in the form of paraphrase or segments of a philological or philosophical commentary) created a second conceptual place that was at once rooted in, and yet different from, the source text. As Eusebius would note in the Praeparatio Evangelica, those who gave a translation and explanation of the biblical texts for those who needed it were named deuterōtai, those who carved out a second (deuteros) space across from and connected to the biblical textual frame. [4] Eusebius’ description of these experts highlights an important element of any translation in its placement of these translators in relation to other readers. Besides the transfer of truths “overshadowed in enigmatic riddles” out into the light, the deuterōtai stood at a higher level above the “first teachings” to those who were intent on hearing the biblical words. Translation instantiated relations of authority between the master of the second, deeper level of meaning and the student-reader, who would otherwise be left with the mere surface of the letter and so remain “infants in their souls,” and not yet “matured in their disposition.” [5]
A related image brings us to the passage of Eusebius that will concern us below: commentary may fruitfully be characterized as an act of “transfiguration”—of figuring meaning differently across conceptual and textual boundaries. In figural terms, I suppose it could be represented variously depending on how optimistic or pessimistic we might be about such an enterprise. Is the work of commentary (as translation) merely like the removal and transporting of a framed picture from one room to another, from one gallery to another? Or is it, rather, the removal of the myriad fragments of a mosaic and their subsequent re-assemblage within a different space? In the first instance, the arrangement of many elements remains intact from one space to another; but, in the second, any purportedly original scheme of ordering is replaced. Such different modes of translation, exposition, paraphrase, commentary, and selection depend upon the contexts, needs, and training of the transmitter of meaning. For my present purposes, I only want to make explicit the ways in which we might construe the task of the commentator in late antiquity and raise the metaphoric possibilities of translation and transfiguration when reading the commentaries of Eusebius in particular.
Sometime after 311 (probably much later), Eusebius composed a remarkable—yet remarkably under-studied—commentary on the gospel of Luke. [6] In its treatment of the Transfiguration of Christ (Lk 9:28–36) we can appreciate the ways in which certain elements of the biblical text could be transposed into a different frame of reference in the fourth century so as to produce a vision of the world and its peoples that was resonant of, and yet quite different from, the vision of the biblical account. In what follows, I would first like to offer some very brief comments on the background to the Commentary on Luke; then I would like to consider two frameworks into which Eusebius translated or transfigured Luke’s Transfiguration account.


The precise form, nature, and scope of Eusebius’ original Commentary on Luke elude us. The surviving thirty-eight columns of Greek text published in Migne’s series (PG 24.529–606) are dwarfed by the extensive remains of his important commentaries on Isaiah and on the Psalms. Extracted from the pages of the eleventh-century Nicetas of Heraclea’s Luke catenae, the Commentary on Luke has received almost no modern scholarly attention: it remains in need of a critical edition, translation (into any modern language), and analysis in terms of the history of biblical interpretation, especially the commentary genre, as well as with respect to Eusebius’ theological positions. The most notable exception to this modern neglect has been Wallace-Hadrill’s exposition of the Commentary in support of his thesis that the fragments had not been taken from a full-length commentary at all, but originated rather in the tenth book of the General Elementary Introduction. [7] Yet, close analysis of both sets of texts shows Wallace-Hadrill’s thesis to be quite unlikely.
The content, proportions, emphases, and style of the fragments on Luke and the four extant books of the General Elementary Introduction are sufficiently different as to be, in my mind, irreconcilable within the limits of the same original work. [8] The fragments from Nicetas would scarcely fit within the average length of the books of the Introduction. There is little hint of how any of the material contained in the Luke fragments would cohere with the themes and purpose of the Introduction. Even the inclusion of material from the other evangelists, especially Matthew, is directed toward the goal of explicating the passages from Luke. Persecution seems to be a thing of the past (whereas it was a pressing threat in the Introduction). Furthermore, in the closing comments of the surviving Introduction, Eusebius promises that he would turn to dispelling the errors of the heretics in his next book (the tenth); if the fragments on Luke come from that missing book, then we would have to conclude that he entirely failed to keep his promise. [9] Thus, all the indications point to the existence of a full commentary—or possibly a series of homilies—on the Gospel of Luke, from which our fragments in Nicetas’ catenae derive. The treatment of the Transfiguration to which we now turn was part of a continuous linear treatment of Luke quite similar to the extant commentaries on Isaiah and the Psalms.

Text and Translation

“Παραλαβὼν τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάννην καὶ Ἰάκωβον.”  [5] Καὶ ἐν μὲν τῇ μεταμορφώσει τρεῖς μόνοι τὴν δυνάμει ὀφθεῖσαν αὐτοῖς βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν θεάσασθαι ἠξιώθησαν· ἐν δὲ τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος, ἐπειδὰν μετὰ τῆς δόξης τῆς πατρικῆς ὁ Κύριος ἀφίκηται, οὐκέτι Μωϋσῆς μόνον καὶ Ἠλίας δορυφορήσουσιν [10] αὐτὸν, οὐδὲ τρεῖς μόνοι τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτῷ συνέσονται, ἀλλὰ πάντες προφῆται καὶ πατριάρχαι καὶ δίκαιοι· καὶ οὐκ εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλόν, ἀλλ’ εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνάξει τοὺς ἀξίους τῆς αὐτοῦ θεότητος. Τότε δὲ λάμψει ἡ θεότης αὐτοῦ οὐχ ὡς ὁ ἥλιος, [15] ἀλλ’ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ἐπινοούμενον ἔν τε αἰσθητοῖς καὶ ἐν νοητοῖς γεννητὸν φῶς· ἐπείπερ ἐστὶν αὐτὸς τὸ φῶς τὸ φωτίζον πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον· ὅτε καὶ δείξει αὐτοῦ τὸ πρόσωπον· οὐ γὰρ ὡς πάλαι τῷ Μωϋσεῖ ποτε ἔλεγεν, ὅτι Τὰ ὀπίσω μου ὄψει, τὸ [20] δὲ πρόσωπόν μου οὐκ ὀφθήσεταί σοι, οὕτω καὶ τότε ποιήσει· ἀλλ’ οὕτως ἑαυτὸν παρέξει τοῖς ἁγίοις, ὡς δύνασθαι πάντας λέγειν· Ἡμεῖς δὲ, ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ τὴν δόξαν Κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι, τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα ἀπὸ [25] δόξης εἰς δόξαν. Καὶ τότε οὐ νεφέλη βοήσει, οὐδὲ διὰ νεφέλης ὁ Πατὴρ μαρτυρήσει τῷ Υἱῷ, ἀλλ’ αὐτὸς δι’ ἑαυτοῦ δίχα παντὸς ἐπισκιάσματος, καὶ δίχα παντὸς ἑρμηνέως, αὐτῷ τῷ ἔργῳ τὸν μονογενῆ αὑτοῦ Υἱὸν ἐπὶ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὑτοῦ δοξάσει, σύνθρονον [30] αὐτὸν ἑαυτῷ καὶ συμβασιλέα ἀποδείξας, καὶ ὑπεράνω πάσης ἀρχῆς καταστήσας αὐτόν· οὔτε οὐκέτι ὥσπερ τότε οἱ τρεῖς μαθηταὶ μόνοι ἐπὶ τοῦ ὄρους ἀκούσαντες τῆς φωνῆς ἐπὶ πρόσωπον ἔπεσον, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν, ἀλλὰ καὶ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψει ἐπουρανίων [35] καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων. “Φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα,” κ. τ. λ. Φωνὴ πατρικὴ διὰ νεφέλης, οὕτως γὰρ φαίνεται ὁ Θεὸς, ἐμαρτύρει Χριστῷ τὴν υἱότητα· ἔδει γὰρ μὴ παρὰ Πέτρου μόνου γνωσθῆναι, ὅτι αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ Χριστὸς [40] ὁ Υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος· μηδ’ αὐτὸν μόνον τῷ Πέτρῳ μεμαρτυρηκέναι ὡς παρὰ τοῦ Πατρὸς τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τὴν περὶ αὐτοῦ γνῶσιν εἰληφὼς εἴη· ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτὴν τὴν πατρικὴν φωνὴν ἐπισφραγίσασθαι τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ λόγου, μαρτυροῦσαν αὐτὸν [45] εἶναι Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, δεῖν τε ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ παρακελευομένην.
“Taking Peter, John and James . . .” (Lk 9:28) [5] In the Transfiguration (metamorphosis), [10] only three disciples were deemed worthy of seeing the kingdom of heaven when it appeared to them with power; but in the consummation of the age, when the Lord returns with the Father’s glory, no longer will Moses and Elijah alone attend [10] Him, nor will only three disciples be with Him, but [it will be] all prophets, patriarchs and just people; and He will lead those worthy of His divinity up to heaven, not to a lofty mountain. At that time His divinity will shine not like the sun [15], but beyond every conceivable begotten light, both in perceptible and in intelligible realms; since He Himself is ‘the light illumining all humanity coming into the world’ (Jn 1:9); at which time He also will show His face (prosōpon); for at that time, he will not do as he did long ago when he said to Moses, ‘You shall see my back, [20] my face shall not be seen by you’ (Ex 33:23); on the contrary, He will show Himself to the saints in such a way that they will be able to say, ‘We, with unveiled face (prosōpon) reflecting the glory of the Lord are transfigured (metamorphoumetha) into the same image from [25] glory to glory’ (2 Cor 3:18). At that time, a cloud will not speak, nor will the Father bear witness to the Son in a cloud, but He Himself, through Himself, apart from any darkness and apart from any translator (hermēneus) will glorify His only-begotten Son before all His saints in very deed [not merely in word], proving that He is a co-ruler [30] and fellow sovereign and establishing Him beyond all power. No longer [will it be] like it was at that time when only three disciples fell on their face when they heard the voice on the mountain and were afraid; but ‘every knee will bow, of heavenly [35], earthly and netherworld [beings]’ (Phil 2:10). “A voice came from the cloud saying . . . ,” etc. (Lk 9:35) It was the Father’s voice in the cloud, for God appears in this way, when He used to confirm Christ’s status as a Son; for it was necessary not only for Peter to make Him known, because He was ‘the Christ [40] the Son of the living God’ (Mt 16:16); nor that He alone testified to Peter that He had received knowledge about Himself from the ‘Father who is in heaven’ (Mt 6:9); but on the contrary, the very voice of the Father sealed the truth of the account, testifying that He [45] was the Son of God, and exhorting them that they must listen to Him.

Eschatology and Transfiguration

What is striking about this passage is Eusebius’ unequivocal claim to see in the episode of the Transfiguration a window of a future transformation. Earlier readings of the passage in Luke had found the narrative to be an attempt to confirm and authorize Jesus’ status as God’s Son (through the voice from heaven) as well as His fulfillment of the Law and prophets (through the figures of Moses and Elijah). [11] Indeed, Eusebius would likewise assert that the divine voice “sealed” the truth of Christ’s status as God’s Son (549CD). [12] Just such an interpretation of the Transfiguration would find a place in the considerations seeking to problematize the making of icons of Christ in Eusebius’ Letter to the Empress Constantia. There, he claimed that the Transfiguration gave a glimpse of the divine nature, which was otherwise unrepresentable (hence, Christ’s prohibition of the building of shrines to memorialize it). [13]
The commentary had, however, begun its discussion of the passage with a series of contrasts between the Transfiguration as reported in Luke (with echoes of Matthew’s account) [14] and the final, glorious end toward which the episode was merely a prefigured image: in the past only three disciples were deemed worthy of seeing the kingdom of heaven in its power, “but at the end of the age, when the Lord returns with the Father’s glory, no longer will Moses and Elijah alone attend Him, nor will only three disciples be with Him, but [it will be] all prophets, patriarchs and just people” (549A). In the Transfiguration, Jesus and the three disciples had gone up a lofty mountain; [15] but at the end, He would lead his followers up to heaven (549A). In the Transfiguration, His face had only shone like the sun; [16] but at the end, He would shine “beyond every conceivable begotten light, both in perceptible and in intelligible realms” (549B). [17]
Such an eschatological emphasis in his interpretation of the passage resonates with a general tendency throughout the Commentary on Luke. [18] Numerous fragments discuss the Antichrist (584A), the “son of destruction” (585B; 596C), the rapture (584D–585A; 585CD), the subsequent great apostasy (584A, C; 585BC; 588CD), the upheavals of cosmic phenomena (597B–D; 600C-601B), the second coming of Christ (548B, D; 549A–C), and the final judgment of the Jews, about whom Christ will say, according to Eusebius, “Bring them here, and slaughter them before me” (593C). [19] In his comments on the Transfiguration, the eschatological themes comprise the raising of the faithful (549A), the glorification of the only-begotten Son as a co-ruler (sunthronon . . . kai sumbasilea, 549BC), and the submission of all cosmic phenomena to Christ (549C).
It has often been remarked that Eusebius’ anti-millenarianism and openness to the prospects of a Christian Roman Empire under a Christian emperor produced in him only a very weak eschatological sensibility. Because of the eschatological elements enumerated here, however, the Commentary on Luke has been assigned an earlier date under persecuting emperors when a desire for a final, awesome reparation of wrongs committed would have been more natural. [20] Yet, Maximinus Daia is referred to without any special hostility on the part of Eusebius (541D–544A), [21] and, if he was concretely concerned with persecuting emperors, he missed every opportunity to connect them with the Antichrist or the “son of destruction” when he discussed these figures (if they are not, in fact, one and the same). Instead, after noting that the “vultures” of a biblical passage symbolize those who persecute the saints, he quickly moves on to assert that they also designate any kings who had besieged Jerusalem (such as Nebuchadnezzar in Ezeckiel, 588B). [22] A sense of Christian triumphalism, as may be found in almost all of Eusebius’ works, is also present in the commentary (553BC; 569AB; 572C; 593B; 597C). [23] Furthermore, Thielman has already argued cogently for an acknowledgment of eschatological elements even in Eusebius’ later writings. [24]
The eschatological expressions in the passage on the Transfiguration are thus of little help in any attempt to delineate a theological or political development in Eusebius’ thought over time. Instead, they provide us with an important instance of the interpretive mechanisms that could be utilized in order to evince an eschatological image even without explicitly eschatological material in the biblical text at hand. In most of the other fragments of the Commentary on Luke, where the end of the age receives elaboration, the biblical text had presented him with details requiring a relatively small interpretive step (e.g. a landlord returns to deal with wicked servants). His eschatological comments on the Transfiguration, on the other hand, depend upon two interpretive means to arrive at their ends. First, details surrounding the description of Christ (some not taken from Luke’s account at all) are made to stand as partial types of a future glorification: his being flanked by attendants, his brilliant face, [25] his standing atop a mountain, and the voice from heaven. Based on these features, Eusebius sees the Transfiguration as a clearly typological prefiguration of the final glory.
Secondly, his interpretation of the passage invokes biblical cross-​referencing. [26] Christ’s shining face recalled John’s declaration that he was “the light illumining all humanity coming into the world” (Jn 1:9, at 549B). The metamorphosis of Christ himself recalled the metamorphosis of his followers, who “with unveiled faces reflect the glory of the Lord and are metamorphosed into his same image” (2 Cor 3:18, at 549B), which Eusebius then identified with the final ascent of believers. Or again, the disciples’ act of falling on the ground [27] recalled Paul’s assertion that “every knee will bow, of heavenly, earthly and netherworld [beings]” (Phil 2:10, at 549C). [28] Such inter-biblical evocations provided a richer texture to his interpretation, provided it with a greater legitimization and authority, and made his eschatological interpretive move seem much more natural and even obvious.
The translation of Lucan meaning into Eusebius’ fourth-century context thus involved the assemblage of words and images from different, even disparate, locations in the biblical corpus into a newly constructed unity. Verses from John or the epistles of Paul were carefully excised from their original literary, moral, and theological contexts and made to contribute to a new, distinctively eschatological vision. The Transfiguration narrative in Luke was put to creative ends through Eusebius’ transfiguring performance.
One of the biblical cross-references in his commentary on the Transfiguration prompts us to turn to a second fundamental feature of this text. Christ’s shining face, made manifest to his disciples, recalled a similar, yet less revelatory, encounter in the Old Testament. “For in that time, he will not do as he did long ago when he said to Moses, ‘You shall see my back, my face shall not be seen by you’” (Ex 33:23, at 549B). This passing juxtaposition of the New Testament theophany with that of Moses may have been prompted by Irenaeus’ earlier connection of the two episodes. [29] But, Eusebius himself had already shown great concern over the proper interpretation of the Exodus theophany, and his comments on the Transfiguration find their proper contextualization within his larger framework for interpreting Old Testament theophanies, which we find expressed most frequently in his General Elementary Introduction (a work which, as already noted, has been improperly identified with the Commentary on Luke).
All that survives of the General Elementary Introduction are Books Six through Nine, and even these are in damaged and lacunose form. [30] They were published by Migne under the title Prophetic Eclogues, since that was Eusebius’ own subtitle for that section of his Introduction. These four books are united in their aim of locating and discussing passages of the Hebrew Scriptures that contained manifestations of the Logos, who was second in divinity only to the “God over all.” In Book Six of the Introduction, Eusebius makes some illuminating distinctions in God’s revelations to Abraham, on the one hand, and to Moses, on the other. [31] Whereas He had appeared to Abraham openly at Mamre in a “face to face” encounter, the appearances to Moses were always at a second remove: in a fire, a cloud, or even when the divine presence was fullest to Moses, it was only God’s back. In spite of the fact that the Scriptures declared that God spoke with Moses “as with a friend,” Eusebius emphasized that the biblical text only granted Moses an encounter that was “visage to visage” (using enōpios), not “face to face” (using prosōpon) as with Abraham. The “visage to visage” theophany was obscured by the cloud. “He used to speak, therefore, in a cloud, and certainly he did not appear to him like he did to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. For it is recorded that he appeared to them openly (gumnōs) and clearly without any [physical] form (eidous), but to Moses in a so-called form (eidous) and the cloud” (Gen. El. Intr. 6 [= Ecl. Proph. 1].12, 1061B).
The clouded vision of the Mosaic theophany was a result of years of spiritual and moral decline under Egyptian servitude. The lofty radiance of a more direct access to the divine, which was allotted to the Hebrew forefathers, was beyond the visionary abilities of the children of the Hebrews. As Eusebius declared in another treatise, the label of Jews was only attached to the ancient Hebrews’ descendants during and after their sojourn in Egypt, the land of idolatry. [32] While Moses was able to recall them to the monotheism of their forebears, they were capable of only a moderate form of piety and wisdom. The Law’s deepest truths were concealed in riddles of which the Jews were scarcely aware. [33] God’s backside theophany was all that Moses, though a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” [34] was granted. Along with the Jews who had largely forgotten the ways of their holy forefathers, Moses saw the divine only through the murkiness of a cloud. He was something of a lone Hebrew who had seen more of God than the Jewish nation but less than his ancestors.
It was precisely this sort of delimited theophanic spirituality that Eusebius was now invoking in his interpretation of the Transfiguration in the Commentary on Luke. In Luke’s text, “the appearance of His face (prosōpon) was changed” (Lk 9:29), while in Matthew’s account, alluded to by Eusebius, Christ’s face (prosōpon) shone like the sun (Mt 17:2). This was clearly a “face to face” encounter between Christ and the disciples, which was unlike Moses’ theophanies. Instead, it would appear to be on the level of the Patriarchs or even higher. The disciples receiving such a privileged access to the divine face could thus be identified as renewing the pure spirituality of the ancient Hebrews before such rarified closeness to the divine was sullied by the national decline from the Hebrew to the Jewish way of life. [35] Indeed, the Commentary itself had earlier clarified the distinction between Hebrews and Jews: the world comprised two orders (tagmata), [36] that of the Israelitic race and that of the foreign nations (allophula ethnē), represented by the tax collectors in Luke (540BC). Significantly, Eusebius overturns the biblical ordering, “first to the Jews, then to the nations,” [37] with the bold claim that God had first called the nations and only secondly the Jews, or “the circumcision” (540C): [38]
For before there was Israel there were the nations, and it was to the nations first that the oracles of God and theophanies were given, when the Israelitic name was not yet even present among men. For Enoch, being uncircumcised, was a gentile (ethnikos) . . . and Noah . . . was deemed worthy of receiving oracles from God, though he, too, was uncircumcised; and Melchizedek was more ancient than the people of the circumcision . . . and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were deemed worthy of oracles from God . . . And Job was an Idumean . . .
Commentary on Luke, 540CD [39]
The nation of the Jews, on the other hand, feigned obedience to God, but were deemed unworthy of higher forms of revelation and ultimately rejected his fullest theophany (541AB).
The devaluing and delimiting attitude towards the Mosaic encounter with God that we find in the comments on the Transfiguration thus resonates with a consistent attitude of the Commentary on Luke as well as a general feature of Eusebian thought. Again, Eusebius has transfigured the Lucan narrative so as to confirm his ethnic representations and theology of theophany. The Jews were neither named nor targeted in the gospel text. The Transfiguration’s relevance for conceptions of spiritual clarity or depth was left ambiguous at best. Indeed, whatever Paul may have meant by his claim that “we are the true Israel” (Romans 9:3–8), it is doubtful that he possessed the same conceptual apparatus that guided Eusebius’ historiographical assumptions about Hebrews, Jews, and Christians.
Yet, we ought not categorize this passage as merely another instance of the same anti-Jewish moves scattered throughout his corpus. For that would be to ignore the ways in which Eusebius’ eschatological tendencies in this passage serve to defuse, at least partly, the distinction between Hebrew/Christian spirituality and Jewish/Mosaic spirituality. Consistent with his interpretation of the Transfiguration as a prefiguring of future glory, Eusebius located this Transfiguration within the same sphere of spirituality as Moses’ glimpse of the divine back in Exodus. The cloud on the mountain carried the same valence for Eusebius as the cloud that visited the wandering Jews under Moses; it was a sign of epistemological uncertainty and of partial or confused knowledge of the divine.
This ambivalence in the present passage stands in sharper focus if we recall Origen’s interpretation of the cloud. In his Commentary on Matthew, Origen concluded that Peter was denied the construction of a tabernacle since the cloud was a better, more divine, tabernacle than any that could be built by human hands. Like a tabernacle, whose function was to shelter those within it, the cloud was a divine pattern of the resurrection. “The bright cloud overshadows the just who are at once protected, illuminated and enlightened by it.” Origen goes even further: “Perhaps the bright cloud that overshadows the just and prophesies of the things of God is the Holy Spirit who works within it and says ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.’” [40] In a final expansive move, Origen continues, “The bright cloud of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit overshadows the genuine disciples of Jesus. Or else the cloud perhaps overshadows the Gospel and the Law and the Prophets and then becomes bright to the man who can see its light in the Gospel, Law and Prophets.” [41]
The antithesis between Origen’s and Eusebius’ interpretation is sharp. Origen’s was no murky cloud that brought confusion and haze; its brightness illuminated rather than concealed. The transcendent glory of the Trinity swirled around the human witnesses in a cloud that protected and revealed, as the whole sweep of revelation from Law and Prophets up to the Gospel was made present in the grandeur of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Such revelatory brilliance and nearness to the divine was, for Eusebius, delayed until the end of time. Eusebius’ cloud was a veil of obscurity that tantalized the theophanic desires of disciples and readers alike. It would only be at a future time that the Son would “show himself to his saints in such a way that they would be able to say, ‘We, with unveiled face (prosōpon) reflecting the glory of the Lord . . .’ (2 Cor 3:18)” (549B). Eusebius notes that the revelation of the Son’s divinity through God’s voice in the Transfiguration had come through the darkness of a cloud, a point reminiscent of the cloud of God in the Exodus narrative that Eusebius, in his Introduction, had emphasized for its obscuring qualities.
The logic that here denied full theophanic disclosure to those who nonetheless caught a glimpse of future glory is likewise the same that prohibited the manufacture of a visual icon of Christ in the Letter to Constantia. There, Eusebius had reminded the empress that the divine nature could not be represented in the world of sensible images. It had flashed forth with brilliance on the mountain of Transfiguration, but the intelligible could not be captured in the sensible. The disciples of the New Testament and the Christians of Eusebius’ present had not fully transcended, then, the ambiguities and shadows of Jewish theophanic knowledge. Like the Jews, they must await a coming time in which, “no longer will a cloud speak, nor will the Father bear witness to the Son in a cloud, but he himself, through himself, apart from any darkness and apart from any translator (hermēneus) will glorify his only-begotten Son before all his saints in very deed [not merely in word]” (549B).
This final assertion of Eusebius returns us to the presence of a space between the source text and its commentary with which we began. For Eusebius, only the end of the age could bring about the end of translation—his role as a transmitter of meaning from the biblical framework to his own contemporary framework was ensured. The Transfiguration required a commentator, since the divine voice continued to speak out from behind clouds and within darkness. In such a world of shadows and ambiguous spiritualities, much might be lost (as well as gained) in translation, or at least be transfigured. But in Eusebius’ dim and shrouded world, even with its glints of the Word’s presence, translation was a spiritual and theological necessity; and so, the translator’s authoritative status remained secure.
The commentary’s exposition of the Transfiguration cautions us with respect to several dominant assertions about Eusebius. While he certainly promoted notions of Christian supercessionism and triumphalism over the Jews, his emphasis on the cloud’s obscuring effects confined even Christ’s disciples to the realm of ambiguity. The achievement of the clear-sighted vision of the divine, such as that of Abraham and other Hebrew holy men, was deferred. Also, in spite of the frequent declarations of Eusebius’ dependence on Origen, the preceding discussion has discovered an independent and less optimistic interpretive approach to the biblical text. Furthermore, the eschatology of the passage (and of the remainder of the Commentary on Luke) is firm and widespread (contrary to the modern emphasis on his anti-millenarianism, which flattens his multifaceted approach to eschatological elements of Scripture); and it remains consistently future-oriented (in contrast to declarations of a “realized eschatology” in Eusebius’ thought). It is hoped the present remarks, brief though they are, might offer some hint of the rich material that repays the modern reader’s careful investigation. The fragments on Luke carried on the incessant work of transfiguring meaning within and between the biblical and late-antique worlds in erudite, creative, and wide-ranging ways. [42] Together with Eusebius’ Introduction and other commentaries they participated within and creatively developed the broader commentary culture of late-antique philosophical and theological schools. [43]

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[ back ] 1. Sedley 1997:112–116.
[ back ] 2. Hadot 1987.
[ back ] 3. See Sturge 2007:8, 10, 19–21; Bhabha 1994:325.
[ back ] 4. PE 11.5.3; cf. Hollerich 1999:143–153.
[ back ] 5. PE 12.1.4, where Eusebius is explicitly drawing a parallel between the deuterōtai of the Hebrews and Christian teachers. For Eusebius’ pedagogical concerns, see Johnson 2011a:99–118.
[ back ] 6. The only clear internal indication of date is the reference to Maximinus Daia’s destruction of a statue set representing Christ and the woman with the hemorrhage in Caesarea Paneas; see Commentaria in Lucam 541D–544A; cf. HE 7.18. The references to persecution and the eschatological elements need not indicate an early persecution-era date; see Johnson 2011b. For other considerations of date, see Schwartz 1909:1387; Wallace-Hadrill 1960:51; followed by Moreau 1966:1064.
[ back ] 7. Wallace-Hadrill 1974.
[ back ] 8. See Johnson 2011b.
[ back ] 9. Since the publication of my recent argument that the fragments on Luke are not derived from the tenth book of the Introduction, it has occurred to me that one might argue that a decision to focus on Luke could have responded to the Marcionite privileging of that gospel, as well as Marcion’s distinctive version of that gospel (see Tertullian, adversus Marcionem 4.22; the modern scholarship is scarcely in agreement on the precise relationship between any original version of Luke and Marcion’s version, see most recently Tyson 2006, but also, e.g. Von Harnack 1990; Knox 1942; for a corrective account of the earlier phase of the German scholarship, see Roth 2008). I have found, however, no instances of Eusebius’ concern with the rendering of Luke’s text against Marcionite rivals (e.g. in the Transfiguration passage discussed here, Eusebius does not seem to notice Marcionite variants; see Harnack 1990:37; Knox 1942:86). If one nonetheless adopts this line of reasoning in order to continue to see the fragments on Luke as parts of the lost book of the Introduction, one would need to account for the complete absence of any anti-Marcionite expression in the fragments. One looks in vain for an anti-heretical subtext to the Commentary on Luke. Instead, it favors asceticism in a way that an anti-encratite work would have avoided, and it lacks concern to show Christ as the fulfillment of the Law or the Old Testament prophets as would be fitting if it were aimed at heretical disparagements of the Hebrew Scriptures (as is frequently found in the Introduction).
[ back ] 10. It should be noted that Luke, unlike the other evangelists, avoids metamorph- and its cognates; it has been suggested that he does so to avoid evocation of pagan parallels (Fitzmeyer 1981:798–799).
[ back ] 11. See Origen, Commentarius Matthaeum 12.38, 43; contra Celsum 6.68. A valuable collection and translation of patristic sources on the Transfiguration (including the two passages from Origen referenced here) is provided in McGuckin 1986:145–316.
[ back ] 12. Cf. Clement Stromateis 6.16.140.
[ back ] 13. For recent discussion of the letter’s authenticity (though allowing for the addition of later material), see Barnes 2010.
[ back ] 14. On the inclusion of Matthean material in the Commentaria in Lucam, see Johnson 2011b:150–156.
[ back ] 15. For similar emphasis on the small number of disciples granted the vision of the Transfiguration, see Origen, contra Celsum 2.64–65. Otherwise, this point seems to be unique to Eusebius.
[ back ] 16. Christ’s face shining like the sun only occurs in Matthew’s version.
[ back ] 17. Cf. Origen, Commentarius in Matthaeum 12.37; Homilia in Genesim 1.7.
[ back ] 18. See Johnson 2011b:149.
[ back ] 19. Quoting from Lk 19:27. That the “fellow-citizens” of Christ who receive such punishment are to be identified with the Jews is made explicit at 592D.
[ back ] 20. See Wallace-Hadrill 1960:51; Schwartz 1909:1387.
[ back ] 21. The PG editor, Angelo Mai, notes that Asterius, cod. B, f. 85 inserts Maximian rather than Maximinus here and reports that the emperor destroyed the statue set (of Christ and the women with the flow of blood); but Eusebius HE 7.18 refers to the statue set as still standing in his day (later authors, e.g. Philostorgius 7.3 and Sozomen 5.21, would claim that pagans under Julian were responsible for its destruction).
[ back ] 22. On Eusebius’ interpretation of other biblical birds, see Johnson 2007.
[ back ] 23. Pace Tabbernee 1997, triumphalist expressions (e.g., the claim that Christianity is spreading throughout the entire earth) cannot be used as indicators of the relative date of any of Eusebius’ works; triumphalism is a consistent feature of nearly all of his works, even those that can be securely dated to the period of persecution, e.g. the Gen. El. Intr.
[ back ] 24. See Thielman 1987; Barnes 1981:172–173; see also the important contribution of Ilaria Ramelli in this volume.
[ back ] 25. Only at Mt 17:2.
[ back ] 26. For general remarks on the importance of cross-referencing in Eusebius’ commentaries, see Johnson forthcoming.
[ back ] 27. Only at Mt 17:6.
[ back ] 28. Interestingly, Eusebius appears to avoid an allusion to the vision of God enthroned in Revelation; on Eusebius’ general treatment of the book of Revelation, see the balanced treatment (aside from an inappropriate appeal to a “realized eschatology”) of Mazzucco 1979.
[ back ] 29. Irenaeus, adversus Haereses 4.20.9.
[ back ] 30. On its textual problems, see variously, Nolte 1861; Selwyn 1872; Smith 1916–1917; Mercati 1948; Dorival 2004. For a general account of the work, see Barnes 1981:167–174; Des Places 1982:133–134, 158–188; Kofsky 2000:50–57; Johnson 2006b and 2011a.
[ back ] 31. I have already signaled the importance of this discussion at Johnson 2006a:117–119.
[ back ] 32. PE 7.6.2; 7.8.20–21, 37; 10.14.2; 11.6.39. For Egypt as a land of idolatry, see e.g. Eusebius CPs 67.2–4 (PG 23.680B); DE 5.4.3; for classical representations of Egypt, see Smelik and Hemelrijk 1984; Vasunia 2001.
[ back ] 33. PE 7.8.39. For general discussion, see variously Johnson 2006a:94–125; Ulrich 1999:57–131; Kofsky 1996.
[ back ] 34. PE 7.7.1; cf. Paul at Phil 3:5.
[ back ] 35. For Christ and the disciples as renewers of the Hebrew piety, see Ulrich 1999:113–116; Gallagher 1989; Johnson 2006a:227–232.
[ back ] 36. For similar terminology, see PE 8.10.18–19.
[ back ] 37. See e.g. Rom 1:16; 2:9.
[ back ] 38. Cf. ad Stephanum 7.7.
[ back ] 39. For a similar appeal to these holy men, see PE 7.8; Gen. El. Intr. 6 (= Ecl. Proph. 1).7 (PG 22.1041C); Johnson 2004.
[ back ] 40. Origen, Commentarius in Matthaeum 12.42 (trans. McGuckin).
[ back ] 41. Origen, Commentarius in Matthaeum 12.42 (trans. McGuckin); I have omitted a section where the text is corrupt. Origen’s mention of the Law and prophets here is consistent with his interpretation of Moses as embodying the Law and Elijah as embodying the prophets; see Commentarius in Matthaeum 12.38, 43; contra Celsum 6.68.
[ back ] 42. For the impact of the biblical vision(s) in shaping Eusebius’ thought and works, see Williams 2008.
[ back ] 43. See Philippe Hoffman’s illuminating discussion (2009), as well as the relevant chapters of Hadot 1995. See also Hollerich’s perceptive remarks on Eusebius’ commentaries as part of naturalizing processes in late antiquity (in the present volume).
[ back ] 44. Author’s note: The important article of A. Whealey (in VC 67 [2013]: 169–183) appeared only at the last stages of editing the present volume, and hence the argument made there against attributing the fragments of the Comm.Luc. to Eusebius of Caesarea (Eusebius of Emesa being a more likely source) could not be answered in the present treatment. Whealey’s argument against the Caesarean’s authorship is not entirely compelling, but certainly prompts the need for further inquiry.