Sunday, October 01, 2006

Eusebius And Lying

In my last post, I mentioned Jon Curry's argument that Eusebius advocated lying. I cited Roger Pearse's material responding to the accusation, and I've added more material of my own elsewhere. For example, the historian Paul Maier, in his translation of Eusebius' church history, refers to Eusebius as "scrupulously honest not only in acknowledging his sources but also in confessing the trepidation with which he undertook his task" (Eusebius - The Church History [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1999], p. 17). The patristic scholar John McGuckin refers to "his high and honest regard for the ancient documents" (The Westminster Handbook To Patristic Theology [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004], p. 128). "If Eusebius' interpretation of these documents [used in his church history] was sometimes in error, this is to be explained by his want of critical judgement and not by conscious perversion of the facts." (F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary Of The Christian Church [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], p. 574) Roger Pearse also cites the comments of some other scholars, including the highly regarded patristic scholar J.B. Lightfoot.

There's a lot of Eusebius' material that I haven't read. And he surely was dishonest to some degree or another at times in his life, perhaps in some places in his writings. You've probably heard of Bob Woodward's recent book on the Bush administration and the situation in Iraq, and the people responding to that book and the issues surrounding it have been making accusations back and forth about the motives and accuracy of both sides. I saw a member of the Bush administration interviewed on television this morning, and he didn't want to accuse Woodward of lying or even of "having an agenda", but he did suggest that Woodward had some bias and wasn't as careful as he should have been. People will make accusations back and forth about differing degrees of bias, carelessness, dishonesty, etc. on both sides of the dispute. But it's doubtful that many people, if any, from either side will accuse the other side of publicly advocating the practice of lying. That's the charge that's been brought against Eusebius. Supposedly, he publicly advocated lying in book 12 of The Preparation Of The Gospel. It's not a matter of whether Eusebius was biased in some sense, was sometimes careless, was sometimes wrong, etc., as other ancient and modern sources often have been.

In addition to repeating Richard Carrier's suggestion that Eusebius advocated lying, Jon Curry has repeated the suggestion that the passage in Josephus about Jesus may have been interpolated by Eusebius. (Jon does this a lot. He comes across an argument against Christianity, doesn't do much to research it, then mentions it in a discussion with a Christian. When he's corrected, he doesn't seem to learn much from the experience, because he keeps doing it.) See Chris Price's article on the Josephus passage here and his article about whether Eusebius interpolated the passage here.

Below are some comments Eusebius made about honesty. Many of these comments are made in the context of discussing whether it's likely that Jesus' disciples would have lied about Him. Note how he refers to the evil nature of lying, how God cannot lie, etc. Notice that the second quote below comes from the same work in which Eusebius supposedly advocated lying.

"I would ask, then, where would be the sense in suspecting that hearers of such teaching, who were themselves masters in such instruction, invented their account of their Master's work? How is it possible to think that they were all in agreement to lie, being twelve in number especially chosen, and seventy besides, whom He is said to have sent two and two before His face into every place and country into which He Himself would come? But no argument can prove that so large a body of men were untrustworthy, who embraced a holy and godly life, regarded their own affairs as of no account, and instead of their dearest ones ----I mean their wives, children, and all their family----chose a life of poverty, and carried to all men as from one mouth a consistent account of their Master. Such would be the right and obvious and true argument; let us examine that which opposes it. Imagine the teacher and his disciples. Then admit the fanciful hypothesis that he teaches not the aforesaid things, hut doctrines opposed to them, that is to say, to transgress, to be unholy, to be unjust, to be covetous and fraudulent, and anything else that is evil; that he recommends them to endeavour so to do without being found out, and to hide their disposition quite cleverly with a screen of holy teaching and a novel profession of godliness. Let the pupils pursue these, and more vicious ideals still, with the eagerness and inventiveness of evil: let them exalt their teacher with lying words, and spare no falsity: let them record in fictitious narrative his miracles and works of wonder, so that they may gain admiration and felicitation for being the pupils of such a master. Come, tell me, if such an enterprise engineered by such men would hold together? You know the saying, 'The rogue is neither dear to rogue nor saint.' Whence came, among a crew of so many, a harmony of rogues? Whence their general and consistent evidence about everything, and their agreement even unto death?...[quoting what the apostles would say if they were deceivers] 'This is our prize, to go straight in the teeth of all the nations, to war on the gods that have been acknowledged by them all for ages, to say that our Master, who was crucified before our very eyes was God, and to represent Him as God's Son, for Whom we are ready to die, though we know we have learned from Him nothing either true or useful. Yes, that is the reason we must honour Him the more----His utter uselessness to us----we must strain every nerve to glorify His name, undergo all insults and punishments, and welcome every form of death for the sake of a lie. Perhaps truth is the same thing as evil, and falsehood must then be the opposite of evil. So let us say that He raised the dead, cleansed lepers, drove out daemons, and did many other marvellous works, knowing all the time that He did nothing of the kind, while we invent everything for ourselves, and deceive those we can. And suppose we convince nobody, at any rate we shall have the satisfaction of drawing down upon ourselves, in return for our inventions, the retribution for our deceit.' Now is all this plausible? Does such an account have the ring of truth? Can any one persuade himself that poor and unlettered men could make up such stories, and form a conspiracy to invade the Roman Empire? Or that human nature, whose characteristic clement is self-preservation, would ever be able for the sake of nothing at all to undergo a voluntary death? or that our Saviour's disciples reached such a pitch of madness, that, though they had never seen Him work miracles, they with one consent invented many, and having heaped together a mass of lying words about Him were ready to suffer death to uphold them?" (The Proof Of The Gospel, 3:5)

"And then the fact that even in simple sayings and common conversation they are not indifferent, but carefully measure their words even in these, so as to utter by their voice no lie, nor railing, nor any foul and unseemly word, because again of His admonition, wherein He said, 'for every idle word ye shall give account in the day of judgement'—to what a high degree of philosophic life do these things pertain?...For how could the divine ever speak falsely, being in nature most truthful, since surely the divine is truthful? And how could a good daemon ever deceive the inquirers by false statements? Or how could that which is 'fettered' by the course of the stars be superior to man? Nay, a mortal man who paid any little regard to virtue would never lie, but would choose rather to reverence the truth; nor would he lay the blame of a lie upon any necessity of fate or course of the stars....[quoting Origen with approval] 'If, however, any one shall explain the expression, 'It will certainly be,' by saying that though certain events will be in accordance with its indication, yet that it was possible also for it to have been otherwise, this we admit as true. For though it is 'not possible that God should lie,' yet it is possible, concerning things that may either happen or not happen, that He should know either that they will happen or that they will not happen.'" (The Preparation Of The Gospel, 1:4, 6:6. 6:11)


  1. Apparently, M. Curry doesn't understand the problem of selection in historiography. This is a fairly generic phenomenon, and it has a long secular pedigree. He should check with a history professor.

    Premodern history was written in an admittedly selective manner often to put forth a particular theme. When Eusebius tells us that he is selecting certain events that are "favorable" over others that are "disfavorable" he is simply telling us in the vernacular of his day that he is selecting events he considers most relevant for his purposes as a historian. One of those purposes, by his own admission, is to put forth the thesis that the rise of the Imperial Church is the arrival of God's kingdom on earth. This theme was the logical outworking of an earlier theme in both Scripture and the work of the Earlier Church Fathers. They built on Paul's soteriological assertion that Christ died at just the right time by way of saying that Christ came at just the right time in history, when there was a convergence of a great many events, events which were ideal for the spread of the gospel itself. That's all. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no hidden agenda here to bury away inconvenient truths. In fact, if he'd bother to read Eusebius' history, he'd find that he mentions quite a few inconvenient truths, which is not what you'd expect for somebody wanting to put his best foot forward and simply lie.

    Further, if M. Curry, along with Richard Carrier wants to discount Eusebius' history, then by all means I say let them. Nearly half or more than half of what we know of this period of Church History comes from Eusebius, so if they discount his history, then they discount the same material for themselves as the rest of us. A negative case for Eusebius cannot, for this reason, a positive case for their version of events make, so their positive case is just as dependent on Eusebius as ours.

    What's more, each and every historian of this time was a premodern historian. So if they discount Eusebius, then, unless they want to engage in tremendous amounts of special pleading, they will have to discount every other premodern historian from this time frame, and, what's more, every historian writing in a premodern fashion.

    The problem of selection is a problem faced by every historian in every age. Even in modern American history, we see this same phenomenon. Invariably, American historians will write history that emphasizes one of two themes: conflict or consensus, and they will either (a) select events to support that thesis, or they will (b)interpret those events in such a way to support their thesis. Again, if M. Curry would bother to ask a history professor about the nature of historiography, he'd know this.

  2. Has Jon Curry ever provided any direct quotes from Eusebius to establish his claim?

  3. Steve,

    Jon has cited the passages Roger Pearse discusses in his article that I linked to. Jon has acknowledged that he got his original quote of Eusebius from Richard Carrier. That quote (the manner in which Carrier presented it) and Carrier's comments on it are significantly problematic, as Pearse and others have noted.

  4. Good question Steve. I think it's useful to repeat some of them for the benefit of those that don't read our long posts.

    "But it is not our place to describe the sad misfortunes which finally came upon them [unfaithful Christians], as we do not think it proper, moreover, to record their divisions and unnatural conduct to each other before the persecution. Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment. Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be usefull first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity." (Church History, 8:2-3)

    A whole lot of nothing from you Jason from what I've read so far. No willingness to point out Pearse's response to Carrier. Instead you spend your time discussing your unwillingness to look at the web pages I provide and how it's "different" for you. Isn't it always. Sticking with the "Eusebius is being selective" line for the above quote. Suit yourself.

  5. So, Jon, your sweeping indictment of Eusebius is based on a single quote from Eusebius.

    Moreover, there is nothing in this quote to establish the claim that Eusebius was a liar.

    To begin with, he has no hidden agenda. To the contrary, he tells the reader exactly what he intends to do. That's a mark of candor, not dishonesty.

    In addition, all he says is that he will be selective in his reportage and only relate what is edifying.

    He says nothing to the effect that what he is reporting is untrue. He is not recording falsehoods. He is not making things up or saying that x did y when x really did z.

    So your own supporting material undercuts your thesis rather than corroborating your thesis.

    It's clear that you're not, in fact, getting this from Eusebius. Instead, you're starting with your thesis and then casting about for evidence, and even then the best you can come up with is evidence that is actually at odds with your thesis.

    Is this the best you can do?

  6. Jon,

    That is your evidence? It looks like your grasping at straws to get some dirt on Eusebius. C'mon man, you can do better than that. If I made your assertion and provided the above quote as evidence of it, I would be embarrassed. Your lack of objectivity is glaring. I'm sure if you read a similar quote by a secular historian you wouldn't level the charge of "liar"....

  7. Actually, that's not the main one. That would be this one:

    Praeparatio Evangelica 12.31.

    That it is necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a medicine for those who need such an approach. [As said in Plato's Laws 663e by the Athenian:] 'And even the lawmaker who is of little use, if even this is not as he considered it, and as just now the application of logic held it, if he dared lie to young men for a good reason, then can't he lie? For falsehood is something even more useful than the above, and sometimes even more able to bring it about that everyone willingly keeps to all justice.' [then by Clinias:] 'Truth is beautiful, stranger, and steadfast. But to persuade people of it is not easy.' You would find many things of this sort being used even in the Hebrew scriptures, such as concerning God being jealous or falling asleep or getting angry or being subject to some other human passions, for the benefit of those who need such an approach.

    Richard Carrier further explains Eusebius purposes here:

    Regarding Eusebius' use of this and other passages in book 12, Edwin Hamilton Gifford says "In Books X-XII Eusebius argues that the Greeks had borrowed from the older theology and philosophy of the Hebrews, dwelling especially on the supposed dependence of Plato upon Moses." (Introduction, Preparation for the Gospel, 1903). So in a book where Eusebius is proving that the pagans got all their good ideas from the Jews, he lists as one of those good ideas Plato's argument that lying, indeed telling completely false tales, for the benefit of the state is good and even necessary. Eusebius then notes quite casually how the Hebrews did this, telling lies about their God, and he even compares such lies with medicine, a healthy and even necessary thing. Someone who can accept this as a "good idea" worth both taking credit for and following is not the sort of person to be trusted.

    I commented further to Jason:

    So it's not simply the case of saying anthropomorphisms are OK. He's saying that Plato's view that it is good to lie for the sake of the state is justified by the example of anthropomorphisms in Scripture, and further that Scripture is the source of Plato's belief. This is a defense of a general principle, not a defense of a single instance of falsehood such as an anthropomorphism.

    Jason has thrown a couple of websites up which he says reply to this argument, but I've asked him point me to the argument specifically. He hasn't done so.

  8. Jon,

    Nice try, but once again, it's clear from your new quote, which is the "main" one, that it doesn't get you where you want to go.

    Eusebius goes on to illustrate what he means by citing examples of anthropomorphic usage in the OT.

    This does not carry the same connotation as a "lie."

    After all, Eusebius doesn't think he's being deceived by OT usage, does he?

    If he can recognize it for what it is, then it isn't deceptive, now is it?

    So here he's talking about a literary convention. There's nothing misleading about a literary convention as long as you understand the convention.

  9. All right Steve, I'll comb through more of his writings and see if I can find a lie. That ought to justify my circular reasoning and my already determined conclusions. I will not be denied. It doesn't matter how many facts are presented to me, it doesn't matter how compelling your argumentation may be, I simply will not believe. So, please stop trying. I only accept the most spurious and questionable information that defends and justifies my unbelief....thanks

  10. People should know that the translation Jon Curry has quoted from Richard Carrier is partially Carrier's translation. Roger Pearse, in the article linked above, discusses some problems with Carrier's translation and Carrier's argument drawn from that translation. I've explained to Jon why Carrier's argument is problematic, and it's not my problem if he doesn't want to read Pearse's article for more details.