Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 3 (2000-2001) - Review

Eusebius, Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, C.F. Cruse trans. (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson, 1998), pp. 477. ISBN 1565633717.  $24.95 hardcover.

Few late antique texts rival in importance the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea. Published in a series of editions between ca. 311 and ca. 325 CE,(1) the Ecclesiastical History (HE) charts, with extensive quotations from earlier documents, the history of the church from its origins to the victory of Constantine over the last of his imperial rivals in 324 CE. Academics and the general public alike will view with interest, therefore, the publication of this "new updated edition" of Eusebius' fundamental account. Hendrickson Publishers deserves credit for producing an affordable, cloth-bound version of the HE, printed in a large, easy-to-read type. It is, however, slightly disingenuous to advertise this reprint as "updated" when the edition's most striking feature is its reliance on recycled excerpts of nineteenth-century scholarship. As such, the new edition is itself a curious footnote in the history of the printing and interpretation of Eusebius, for it illustrates the longevity of the interpretive frameworks inherited from our predecessors.

The Hendrickson edition reprints the translation of the HE by the Reverend C.F. Cruse (1794-1864), an Episcopal clergyman from New York state. First published in 1838, Cruse's text of the HE appeared in a half-dozen editions on both sides of the Atlantic before the end of the nineteenth century. Cruse based his translation on the Greek text edited by "Valesius," i.e., Henri Valois (1603-76) who had been commissioned to prepare an edition of the ancient church historians by the assembly of French clergy in 1650. Nineteenth-century Anglo-American editions of the HE also depended on the work of this Catholic humanist, Valois, for the historical introduction which served as a preface to Cruse's translation; the Rev. S. E. Parker translated "the sense, more than the expression of Valesius," to provide readers with "Annotations on the Life and Writings of Eusebius Pamphilius." The 1998 Hendrickson edition reproduces this seventeenth-century biography of Eusebius together with Cruse's translation of the HE. It also appends a further piece of scholarship from the same era, a "historical view of the Council of Nicea" by the Rev. Isaac Boyle, not dated in the Hendrickson edition, but apparently first published in 1850.

This "new updated edition" of Eusebius is, therefore, a mixed blessing. While it provides a nicely-bound attractive text of Eusebius, I find no evidence that the text has been "updated" beyond a few typographic details. Unsuspecting readers may not realize that they are reading a reprint of the standard nineteenth-century edition of Eusebius. Nor will they have any sense of the rich ferment in Eusebius scholarship which has occurred this century, especially within the last generation.(2) In general, readers will do better to return to the Penguin translation of the HE by G. A.. Williamson, first published in 1965 and recently republished in a cloth-bound edition by Barnes and Nobles. (3) Williamson's translation is more complete and reliable than the handsome new edition of the HE by Paul L. Maier.(4) It also remains preferable to this oddly-antiquated reprinting of the nineteenth-century version of Eusebius' famous text.


1. On this controversial topic, see Andrew Louth, "The Date of Eusebius Historia Ecclesiastica," Journal of Theological Studies, NS 41 (1990): 111-23, which counters T.D. Barne's arguments for an early (prior to the outbreak of the Great Persecution in 303 CE) composition date for the first seven books of the HE. R.W. Burgess, "The dates and editions of Eusebius Chronici canones and Historia Ecclesiastica," JTS 48.2 (1997) offers further evidence in support of Louths position, dating the first edition of the HE to 313/14 CE, not long after Constantines victory over Maxentius in Italy. Back

2. See, e.g., Arnoldo Momigliano, "Pagan and Christian Historiography in the Fourth Century A.D.," in A. Momigliano, ed., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963) pp. 79-99; and Michael J. Hollerich, "Eusebius as a Polemical Interpreter of Scripture," in Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, eds., Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism (Leiden/New York/Kln: E.J. Brill, 1992), pp. 585-618. Back

3. Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, trans. with introduction by G.A. Williamson (Penguin, 1965; repr. Barnes and Noble Books, 1995). Unfortunately, the Barnes and Noble reprint does not include the revisions and new introduction added to Williamson's translation by Andrew Louth in the 1989 Penguin edition.Back

4.Paul L. Maier, Eusebius, The Church History: A New Translation with Commentary (Kregel Publications, 1999).Back

Joel Thomas Walker, University of Washington