Eusebius as a saint of the Armenian church
The previous installment of this series (link01) concluded that while Fourth-century Christian apologist and historian Eusebius was unreliable as an opinion witness, nevertheless he wasn’t especially suspect when relating simple facts he said that he’d read in Josephus about Pilate’s dates in office. This installment looks at a more complicated and more contentious occasion when Eusebius is our earliest witness to a passage in Josephus, the opening portion of the famous or notorious “Flavian Testimony,” Antiquities 18.63 (or 18.3.3 in the Whiston versification).
More clearly than the dates of Pilate’s term, the received Testimony of Josephus about the life of Jesus illustrates Eusebius’s influence over later Christian scribes. Some of what we read is far more readily believed to be the work of a Christian rather than of a Jewish writer. Inevitably, the Christian upon whom suspicion falls most heavily is Eusebius himself.
Your obedient correspondent presented the following slide talk at the 2022 annual New England and Eastern Canada regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. The full paper is available from the Unlinks page, link. Click on a slide to enlarge it.
How confident should we be that Fourth Century bishop and historian Eusebius of Caesarea accurately reported what he read in Josephus’s First Century Antiquities of the Jews about the dates of Pilate’s term in Judea?
It was a dark and stormy night … in late nineteenth Century Strafford County, New Hampshire, near Dover and the seacoast. The Bartlett family’s fields were soaked too wet for haying the next day. There was time to swap tales with a visitor at the kitchen table. One story went like this.
Well, then; up in Barrington, take the road that leads through Fly Market, then up around by Jerry Kingman’s and Eliphalet Foss’s, over Muchdo hill, past Robert Stacy’s to Hardscrabble, and there on till you take the road that leads over to the Leathers’s, and when you are pretty well on your way, you will pass an old cellar-hole. There was where the old witch lived, and her name was Moll Ellsworth.
She lived alone, except a black cat without a white hair on it. She planted her own garden, and raised enough for her. She went out carding and weaving. Sometimes she laid out the dead and watched all night with them alone.
She would take no money but silver, and she always bit it when she took it, else it would have worked harm to her, as a witch. Even witches have their limits like other people.
In two previous posts, The Uncertaintist discussed why it appears that Mark may have intended his version of the story of Jairus’s daughter not to be a resurrection miracle (link). In Matthew’s telling, Jesus definitely restores a dead girl to life. Luke seems content to leave Jairus’s daughter ambiguous, but introduces a different and completely clear raising miracle, the widow’s son (link).
Regardless of what each author intended, some educated first century readers would have recognized the young adolescent girl’s condition as a possible case of a malady peculiar to women. According to the medical beliefs of the time, the affliction convincingly imitated death, but was easily and quickly curable. If that was the girl’s problem, then Jesus would have been telling the simple truth when he said in all three synoptic gospels that she wasn’t dead, but asleep
The youngest canonical gospel, John, replaces both Jairus’s daughter and the widow’s son with its own raising story, that of Lazarus of Bethany. The clear storyline of Lazarus’s return to life seems to have evolved organically from Mark and Matthew‘s versions of Jairus’s daughter, with Luke‘s raising of the widow’s son as an “intermediate form.”
In all three synoptic Gospels, Jesus remarks that Jairus’s unconscious daughter is asleep, not dead, in reply to others who insist she has died. As described in the previous post (link), Mark told the story to be consistent with Jesus correcting onlookers’ hasty misdiagnosis of a coma as death. Erroneous death declarations were a recognized hazard in the ancient world. Some of Mark’s contemporaries believed that a death-like but easily and rapidly reversible comatose condition sometimes afflicted women.
Mark set his story within a context that supported a matter-of-fact reading of Jesus’s remark. If Jairus’s daughter was dead, then a boy who seemed dead to onlookers should have been dead, too. Pilate’s skeptical reception of Joseph’s testimony about Jesus’s death in Mark underlines the flimsy foundation for the announcement of the children’s deaths. If disciples had seen Jesus revive a dead girl, then it needs explanation how the disciples utterly fail to understand Jesus’s predictions of his resurrection.
Matthew dissolves Mark‘s ambiguity by having Jesus assert plainly that the dead have been raised, referring to Jairus’s daughter. Luke introduces a different revitalization which Jesus refers to when stating that the dead have been raised. This leaves Luke free later on to tell his own ambiguous version of Jairus’s daughter’s story without diminishing his Jesus’s demonstrated authority over death.