Jeremiah Coogan, Eusebius the Evangelist. Rewriting the Fourfold Gospel in Late Antiquity. New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press (coll. “Cultures of Reading in the Ancient Mediterranean”), 2023, xvi-234 p.

  • Jonathan I. von Kodar

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  • Jonathan I. von Kodar
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The primary focus of this book is on the experiential ; how readers encountered Gospels with reference to the physical artifacts. Coogan puts forth the argument that Eusebius used a textual apparatus to present a coherent and unified reading of the fourfold Gospel. As such he demonstrates how Eusebius weaved a textual thread between the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This forged a path for theologians in the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia to consider a single fourfold Gospel over the next fifteen hundred years. The Eusebian apparatus and by extension, the Gospels, were adopted to give contextual insight to Gospel literature. Coogan discusses the assertions by Jülicher and McArthur, that the apparatus was to be dismissed as inconsequential. And so, the thinking continued until very recently when scholars began to give more credence to its use, specifically furnishing new textual applications and new strategies of reading and comprehending the Gospels. Eusebius’ novel innovation of employing a table of contents and categories, transformed the apparatus into a textual map. He introduced a set of numerical tables highlighting parallel texts. We know from agricultural handbooks, medical anthologies, multilingual and astronomical tables, etc., that contents and columnar tables did not originate with Eusebius. What was unique to him is the assembly of a new text from the textual reserve at hand to reconfigure the Gospels. Coogan argues that Eusebius did not just reiterate the commentaries of Origen, Tatian and others, but configured the gospel into patterns of reading “based on echo, allusion, and narrative parallel” (p. 174). Eusebius did not proceed with the aim of addressing inconsistencies nor to assemble a historical chronology to the Gospels ; history was not the underpinning of the apparatus. The result is enabling theological trajectories and new approaches to the Gospel texts for today’s readers. Coogan cannot overstate the impact of the apparatus in exegesis, liturgy, art, etc., and the significance of the fourfold Gospel. He demonstrates how textual mechanics bisect reading application to extract further knowledge. Texts invite use. To fully appreciate textuality of the late ancient Mediterranean, an integrative approach to reception, usage, and reading is required. Reception theory is key as he delves into how readers in various regions and throughout the centuries experienced a fourfold Gospel ; significantly, the ninth century Syriac biblical scholar bar Kepha’s description of Eusebius’ collecting the four books and ordering them into one, all the while taking nothing away nor adding to the content of the evangelists’ writing (p. 177). Coogan points out the ascription to Eusebius by bar Kepha of having physically constructed the fourfold Gospel into one was an overreach since the task of merging all four Gospels was already taking place during Eusebius’ lifetime. He suggests the three ancient Ethiopian Gospels of Abba Gärima did get it right — that Eusebius should be counted among the evangelists.

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