Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Eusebius, EH.3.9-10: Josephus and the OT Canon
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 3, chapters 9-10. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
Eusebius here offers a sketch of the life and writings of Josephus, the Jewish historian whose works he uses throughout the EH. He also includes Josephus’s description of the canon of the Hebrew Bible.
In chapter 9, he provides the sketch of Josephus.
He notes that Josephus was among the most famous Jews of the first century, having first fought against the Romans and then having joined with them in the Jewish war.
Among his literary works he notes the Antiquities of the Jews in 20 volumes and the Jewish War in 7 volumes.
He also notes another work in 2 books which he calls On the ancientness of the Jews, and which Lake notes is better known as Against Apion.
In chapter 10, Eusebius cites a passage in Against Apion in which Josephus describes the Jewish canon as consisting of 22 books (the same number as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, though Josephus does not make this point). This number is presumably the same as the 39 books of the OT made by joining books into one volume.
He notes three parts of the Hebrew Bible:
First, 5 books of the law of Moses.
Second, 13 books of the prophets, covering the time from Moses to Artaxerxes.
Third, 4 books of “hymns to God and precepts for the life of men.” This would presumably be the Psalms and wisdom books.
He adds that there have been more recent works of history from Artaxerxes to his present (presumably 1-2 Maccabees, etc.) but that these “are not considered worthy of equal credence with the rest.”
He notes especially that the Jews do not dare to make “additions, omissions, or changes” to their Scripture and that they know this innately and are then taught from birth to regard the Scriptures as the decrees of God.
Finally, he notes that Josephus is also credited with writing a work titled “The Supremacy of Reason” or “Maccabees” (Lake: 4 Maccabees).
Josephus’s works are indeed a very important historical source for Eusebius in reconstructing the record of early Christianity. He remains an important source today.