Greeks, Barbarians, Judeans, and Christians: Eusebios’ framing of a way of life (early fourth century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Greeks, Barbarians, Judeans, and Christians: Eusebios’ framing of a way of life (early fourth century CE),' Last modified October 13, 2022, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9799.

Ancient author: Eusebios Pamphilos of Caesarea Maritima, Preparation for the Announcement (or: Preparation for the Gospel) 1.1-2 (link to Greek text; link to full translation).

Comments: Eusebios (or: Eusebius) Pamphilos of Caesarea (in the province of Syria-Palaestina) was a Greek-speaking intellectual (active in the late third and early fourth centuries) who eventually became overseer of the assembly of Christians in that city. Among his many surviving works is his twin works Preparation for the Announcement and Demonstration of the Announcement.

The previous work (Preparation) is a treasure-trove for non-dominent (“barbarian”) – Babylonian, Egyptian, Phoenician, and other – perspectives which you will find scattered throughout this website (especially in the first category). This is because sometimes Eusebios is the only one who has preserved substantial parts of works that would otherwise be largely lost (e.g. Philo of Byblos at this link).

Eusebios begins Preparation, however, by clearly outlining the sorts of ethnographic questions he hopes to answer or refute throughout the entire work. He begins with an imaginary Greek and an imaginary Judean confronting the Christian precisely over the question of ancestral customs and peoples. In both cases, a natural objection is that the Christians have recklessly abandoned ancestral customs. The entire framing, which comes through in these opening pages, shows that he hopes to establish the Christian people’s way of life (based on the “announcement” of Jesus Christ as a fulfillment of Judean writings) as superior to the customs of all other peoples (ethnē).

This ethnographic context for understanding the ways of the Christians is not entirely novel, however. Earlier authors like the writer of the Epistle to Diognetos (link) and Aristides of Athens (link) had each in his own way expressed comparable perspectives on Christians as a people with their own distinctive customs.

Source of the translation: E.H. Gifford, Eusebius: Preparation for the Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1903), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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Book 1

[Introduction to the work]

1 By the present treatise, which includes in its design the Demonstration of the Announcement (or: Gospel), I intend to show the nature of Christianism (christianismos) to those who do not know what it means. Here with prayers I dedicate this work to you, Theodotos, most excellent of overseers (or: bishops), a man beloved of God and holy, in the hope of gaining from you the help of your devout intercessions on my behalf, whereby you may give me great assistance in my proposed argument on the teaching of the announcement (or: gospel). . . [material omitted]. So let us begin the Preparation for the Announcement by bringing forward the arguments which will probably be used against us both by Greeks and by those from the circumcision [i.e. Judeans or Israelites], and by every one who searches with exact inquiry into the opinions held among us.

[An imagined Greek response to the way of life and customs of Christians]

2 For in the first place any one might naturally want to know who we are that have come forward to write: Greeks or barbarians? Or what can there be between these? What do we claim to be, not in regard to the name [i.e. “Christians”], because this is clear to all, but in the manner and character of our life? For they would see that we agree neither with the opinions of the Greeks, nor with the customs of the barbarians. So what is foreign (xenos) about us and what is this new type of life? And how can people be anything but impious and atheistic in every way if they have deserted the ancestral gods by which every people (ethnos) and every city is sustained? Or what good can those people reasonably hope for if they have set themselves at enmity and at war against their saviours and have pushed away their benefactors? What are they doing besides fighting against the gods? And what forgiveness will they be considered to deserve if they have turned away from those who from the earliest time, among all Greeks and barbarians, both in cities and in the countryside, are recognized as gods with all kinds of sacrifices, initiations, and mysteries by everyone alike: kings, law-givers and philosophers? (5) And what forgiveness will they be considered to deserve if they have chosen all that is impious and atheistic among the teachings of humanity? What kind of punishments would not be justly given to those who desert the customs of their ancestors and have become enthusiasts for foreign mythologies of the Judeans, mythologies which are considered evil among everyone? (10) Isn’t it proof of extreme wickedness and indifference to put aside so easily the customs of their own kin group and choose the teachings of the impious enemies of all peoples [i.e. Judeans] with unreasoning and unquestioning trust? In fact, Isn’t it proof of extreme wickedness that they do not even to adhere to the God who is honoured among the Judeans according to their customs (nomima) but instead lay for themselves a new kind of path into a desert, keeping neither the ways of the Greeks nor those of the Judeans? (15) These then are questions which any Greek might naturally ask about us, having no true understanding either of his own kin group or of ours.

[An imagined Judean response to the way of life and customs of Christians]

But descendents of the Hebrews also would find fault with us in that, being from other tribes (allophyloi) and other descent groups (allogeneis), we misuse their books, which do not belong to us at all. They would also find fault with us because in an arrogant and shameless way, as they would say, we force our way in and try to violently throw out the true family and kin group from their own ancestral ways. For if there was an anointed one (Christos) divinely predicted, it was Judean prophets who proclaimed his advent and also announced that he would come as redeemer and king of the Judeans, and not king of peoples (ethnē) of other tribes (allophyloi). Or, if the writings contain any more joyful news, it is for Judeans, they say, that these also are announced and it is better for us not to misunderstand them. Moreover, they say that we very absurdly and eagerly encourage the charges against their people (ethnos) for failing while simultaneously passing over in silence the promises of good things foretold to their people. Or rather, they say that we violently pervert and transfer the these promises to ourselves, and so plainly defraud them while we are simply deceiving ourselves. But the most unreasonable thing of all is that, even though we do not observe the customs of their law as they do but openly break the law, we assume that we will receive the better rewards which have been promised to those who keep the law.

 

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