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Early Christian Scholars/Scholarship: Ammonius, Origen, and Eusebius

June 6, 2019

In a number of publications over the last several years, scholars have drawn attention to the ground-breaking work of several early scholars who date from the late second through the early fourth centuries AD.  In particular, the massive and innovative projects of Origen (ca. 184-253 AD) are noteworthy (see, e.g., the lengthy entry on him in Wikepedia here).

Origen’s most famous project is perhaps his “Hexapla”, which was a multi-columned arrangement of the Old Testament writings, a work that perhaps comprised 40 codices of about 400 folios each.  But his total literary output is simply astonishing.

The review of Origen’s works in the valuable catalogue by Moreschini and Norelli takes up a chapter on its own.[1] Drawing on the rich tradition of Alexandrian textual scholarship, Origen then created works that were innovative and took the physical form of such scholarship still further.  In particular, Origen developed the use of the codex bookform in remarkable ways to enable the layout of the material in the Hexapla.[2]

In a recent journal article, Matthew Crawford lays out a case that Origen also drew upon a now-lost work by an Ammonius of Alexandria, who may also have been a teacher of Origen at one time.[3]  Crawford posits that this Ammonius (not Ammonius Saccas) was a Peripatetic-trained scholar who likely became a Christian, and produced an early Gospels synopsis, arranging texts from the four Gospels in columns with Matthew as the standard.  If accepted, Crawford’s argument means that a serious tradition of Gospels scholarship emerged in Alexandria at least as early as the late second century AD.

At about the same time or earlier, there was also Justin Martyr, teaching in Rome, and likely making use of scholarly tools such as a Gospels harmony or synopsis.[4]  So, a growing tradition of Christian scholarship was beginning to flourish across the second and third centuries AD.  This included a number of Christian “apologists” who wrote defences of Christianity, often addressed to the Emperor and elite members of Roman society.[5]

All across this period, in addition to this industrious literary output, there was a vigorous intellectual engagement with the larger philosophical environment.  Indeed, Eric Osborn argued that the vigor of Christian scholarly work of this period was a major factor in the ensuing “success” of Christianity.[6]  Given the status of Christianity at the time, often attacked and at times under persecution by the state, this effort is all the more remarkable.  There was no effort to hide.  Instead, there was this open and aggressive effort to present Christian faith and make it credible in the intellectual world of the time.

[1] Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli, Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature:  A Literary History, Trans. Matthew JU. O’Connell (2 vols., Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 2005), 1:268-303.

[2] See, e.g., the discussion of Origen’s work by Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book:  Origen, Eusebius and the Library of Caesarea (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006).

[3] Matthew R. Crawford, “Ammonius of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Origins of Gospels Scholarship,” New Testament Studies 61.1 (2015): 1-29.

[4] See, e.g., the papers from the conference on Justin held in Edinburgh:  Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, eds., Justin Martyr and His Worlds (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), and L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr:  His Life and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967); Paul Parvis, “Justin Martyr,” Expository Times 120.2 (2008): 53-61.

[5] R. M. Grant, “Five Apologists and Marcus Aurelius,” Vigiliae Christianae 42 (1988): 1-17.

[6] Eric Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), and earlier Eric Osborn, The Beginning of Christian Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).



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One Comment
  1. Glen permalink

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