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The Canon Tables of the Gospels by Eusebius of Caesarea (fourth century AD): Critical Edition and Commentary

Martin Wallraff, University of Basel, Switzerland, Summer Fellow 2012

Although canon tables in many manuscripts of the gospels are lavishly decorated, their primary purpose is practical. They were invented by Eusebius as an exegetical tool to find parallel texts in the four gospels. The system is very intricate, and there are few similar devices known in antiquity. My research during the time of the fellowship concentrated on the making of these tables: What do we know of Eusebius’s preparatory work? What parallels do we have for the use of numbers referring to texts? How do practical and symbolic aspects of numbers interact? Are there other instances of tables of similar complexity in late antiquity? What does the architectural framework of the tables mean?

The last question is especially significant because it makes clear that an edition of a work like the canon tables cannot simply follow the rules of philology. The canons are a Gesamtkunstwerk, where text and image interact. Apart from technical issues (delicate transmission of numbers, variants and textual criticism) the edition, therefore, requires some further explanation, especially since very little research has been done on these issues in the last decades. The project is part of a larger inquiry into the culture of the book in late antiquity and of the bible. The canon tables are a major step in the development of a “sacred” framework of the text/book.

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