Eusebius of Caesarea was certainly not the first to claim that (pre-)Mosaic wisdom was the precursor for the Christian faith, or that it was a significant influence for early Greek philosophers. However, his approach in the Praeparatio evangelica (313-324 CE) is unique in that, firstly, he situates his narrative of the ancient Hebrews and their decline, as a result of their assimilation of Egyptian culture, into the Jewish nation within the larger context of the national histories of other Mediterranean peoples; and, secondly, he systematically argues that the penchant of early Greek philosophers for appropriating the wisdom of more sophisticated cultures resulted in a system that, at its best, is an imperfect rendering of Hebrew wisdom. In making his case for the moral and religious superiority of the Hebrews (and therefore the Christians), Eusebius portrays them in utopian terms and casts the Jews in a dystopian light. The anthropological narrative coupled with the polemical dismantling of the Greek intellectual tradition can be understood, not unreasonably, as a response to the commonplace accusations levied against Christians. Further, as Aaron Johnson (Ethnicity and Argument in Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica. Oxford, 2006) has effectively demonstrated, Eusebius’ primary goal in this text is to define Hebrew and Christian as ethnic identities distinct from Jews and other Mediterranean peoples. In this paper I argue that, considering the ethnic background of the converts to whom this text is directed and the fact that they would continue to be immersed in that culture, the narrative of Hebrew decline and the rhetorical framework of the Praeparatio suggest that Eusebius is just as concerned with maintaining Christian ‘purity’, lest this new utopia suffer a similar decline. Additionally, he needed to reconcile his views with the advent of the first Christian ruler of that prevailing world; namely, the emperor Constantine.
8 Nov 2018
Making and Unmaking Memory in the Ancient World from the 7th Century BCE to the 7th Century CE: 19th UNISA Classics Colloquium