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The Canon of Eusebius

Eusebius of Caesarea is commonly known as the “Father of Church History.” His famous ten-volume work, Church History, originally published in 311 ce, was the first full sketch of the history of the church, from the days of Jesus down to Eusebius’s own time. As a result, Eusebius is an incomparable source for historians interested in the first three centuries of Christianity. For not only does he narrate events that transpired during this period and discuss its key figures, but he also quotes extensively many of the primary texts that Christians had written. A number of these texts have otherwise been lost to history, so that when Eusebius quotes them at length and accurately (which he often does), he provides us with unparalleled access to the Christian literature of the period. Eusebius’s account is, of course, told from his own perspective, with his biases affecting both his selection of material and the spin that he puts on it. Moreover, on occasion Eusebius explicitly intervenes in his historical narrative to express his own understanding of the developments he describes. One place that he does so involves his discussion of the books that he considered to be canonical Scripture. The passage is important for showing that even by his time, some 200–250 years after the earliest surviving Christian writings, there were still vibrant debates over the contours of the canon, even within orthodox circles.1 Eusebius’s listing of books is somewhat complicated, as he indicates that the status of several books was still under dispute. In any event, he indicates that books making a claim to being canonical fall into four categories: (a) “acknowledged books,” that is, those accepted as canonical by all proto-orthodox churches, (b) “disputed books,” that is, those recog­ nized by some churches but not others, (c) “spurious books,” that is, orthodox books that are in fact pseudonymous and so not to be accepted, and (d) rejected books, that is, heretical forgeries.

1

See further, Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 164–68; 172–76.

Translation by Bart D. Ehrman, based on the Greek text of Gustave Bardy, Euse`be de Ce´saree´, Histoire Eccle´siastique (SC, 41; Paris: Cerf, 1951).

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http://sheekh-3arb.org/library/books/christian/en/LostScriptures.pdf

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