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Religion of the Book? Christians and their Books in Late Antiquity, a Cultural History

Martin Wallraff, University of Basel, Fellow 2009–2010, Spring

Within the framework of a larger project on the book in Late Antiquity, my research this term focused on a highly significant but largely neglected topic: the Eusebian canon tables of the gospels. Although they are part of hundreds of biblical manuscripts and although they are in many cases lavishly decorated, they are rarely studied as a witness to the culture of the book of their time. This complex synoptic system of the four gospels presupposes the tradition of the Alexandrian tradition of philology, a tradition familiar to Eusebius from his background in the school of Origen and Pamphilus. However, the synoptic tables were not only a useful scholarly tool; they also contributed to the beauty of the manuscript. Therefore they mark an important step in the process of the sacralization of the Christian book. Their success for many centuries can be explained by this combination of scholarly, aesthetic and spiritual features.

Despite their importance for New Testament textual criticism, for the history of art, and for the culture of the book, the Eusebian canon tables have been edited on the basis of manuscript evidence only once, and that was in the context of Erasmus’s famous edition of the New Testament five hundred years ago. My research will lead to a new critical edition with full reproductions of several manuscripts. Since these tables of numbers are not just an ordinary text, they require a broader discussion of their production, structure, and significance. The edition is introduced by such a discussion.