The History of the Church

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Translator(s): 
Jeremy Schott
  • Oakland, CA: 
    University of California Press
    , May
     2019.
     545 pages.
     $17.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780520291102.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Eusebius’ History of the Church is the most important source about early Christianity in the first three centuries. Eusebius tells the story of the emergence, persecution, martyrs, heresies, bishops, and ultimate triumph of Christianity. For the past few decades, the standard translation of the History of the Church for English-speaking readers has been the G. A. Williamson translation of 1965, edited by Andrew Louth in 1991. Jeremy M. Schott, an expert on the era of Eusebius and Constantine the Great, provides contemporary readers a new translation in modern vernacular. Contemporary readers will discover that the new translation of Eusebius’ history by Schott is easy to read, with some unique features.

Schott begins his new translation with an introduction essay divided into several sections, focusing on the cultural, social, religious, and political context in which Eusebius lived and wrote his history. But besides focusing on the life and writings of Eusebius, Schott also discusses several other closely related topics such as apostolic succession, the fate of the Jews, heresiology (the study of theological disputes), persecution, martyrs, the Arian controversy, the ultimate triumph of Christianity, and the date and editions of the History of the Church. The last section of the introduction essay, discussing the date and editions of the manuscripts, explains that Schott’s translation is different from previous translations because it takes into account the various editions of Eusebius’ work. Schott explains that the key differences between the manuscripts are marked in his translation with brackets for the reader.

As is to be expected, Schott has his own interpretation of the events discussed by Eusebius. Some readers may be put off by how his discussion about a few topics is inconsistent with orthodox Christian tradition. For example, Schott explains that “heresy” and “orthodoxy” is a construction of the church that was used to categorize and manage new versions of Christianity in the centuries after Irenaeus. Also, Schott approaches Eusebius’ narrative about the universal persecution and quantity of martyrs with a degree of skepticism. Although scholars are familiar with these interpretations, the nonspecialist may discover some new and surprising insights.

Schott emphasizes that his new translation is consistent with the organization of the manuscripts of the History of the Church. Besides organizing the history of Eusebius into ten books, Schott has purposefully translated the manuscript headings. Schott explains that the translation of the headings will provide the reader the opportunity to understand how Eusebius and his early readers imagined the key themes and divisions of material in the text. The first book begins by discussing the antiquity of Christianity and how the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets predicted the coming of Jesus. The second and subsequent books each recount the important historical events of Christianity in a given chronological period.

Schott mentions in the introduction essay that his new translation is intended for students and nonspecialists. Each book begins with an introduction that includes a helpful overview, a summary of significant features, and a list of parallel and related primary sources. Schott emphasizes that teachers will find the chapter introductions especially helpful because the explanatory notes and bibliographic suggestions may help them prepare their lessons. The students and nonspecialists meanwhile, Schott hopes, will find the chapter introductions as an entry point into early Christian history and other ancient literature.

Schott’s translation also includes extensive footnotes and unique features. The footnotes reference passages from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and other ancient literature. Also, the footnotes provide commentary on interesting aspects of the translation. Features that may interest readers include maps, Eusebius’s bishop list, a glossary, and an index of Eusebius’ sources. These additions seek to provide the reader more insight into important themes and material in the text.

It is common in academia for scholars to publish a new translation of an ancient text, hoping that their new translation will be easier to read for contemporary readers and provide new scholarly insights. Schott’s new translation has achieved this aim. This new translation offers contemporary readers an accessible text with insights into the cultural and social influences that shaped Eusebius’ story of Christianity.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Steven Shisley is an instructional designer at Eastern Kentucky University and an independent scholar of early Christianity.

Date of Review: 
March 5, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

 Jeremy M. Schott, associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University, has published extensively on religion, philosophy, and culture in the era of Eusebius and Constantine. 

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