Interesting new article in NTS: Matthew R. Crawford, ‘Ammonius of Alexandria,Eusebius of Caesarea and the Origins of Gospels Scholarship’ New Testament Studies 61 (2014), 1-29.
Abstract: In the early third and fourth centuries respectively, Ammonius of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea engaged in cutting-edge research on the relationships among the four canonical gospels. Indeed, these two figures stand at the head of the entire tradition of comparative literary analysis of the gospels. This article provides a more precise account of their contributions, as well as the relationship between the two figures. It argues that Ammonius, who was likely the teacher of Origen, composed the first gospel synopsis by placing similar passages in parallel columns. He gave this work the title Diatessaron-Gospel, referring thereby to the four columns in which his text was laid out. This pioneering piece of scholarship drew upon a long tradition of Alexandrian textual scholarship and likely served as the inspiration for Origen’s more famous Hexapla. A little over a century later, Eusebius of Caesarea picked up where Ammonius left off and attempted to accomplish the same goal, albeit using a different and improved method. Using the textual parallels presented in the Diatessaron-Gospel as his ‘raw data’, Eusebius converted these textual units into numbers which he then collated in ten tables, or ‘canons’, standing at the beginning of a gospel book. The resulting cross-reference system, consisting of the Canon Tables as well as sectional enumeration throughout each gospel, allowed the user to find parallels between the gospels, but in such a way that the literary integrity of each of the four was preserved. Moreover, Eusebius also exploited the potential of his invention by including theologically suggestive cross-references, thereby subtly guiding the reader of the fourfold gospel to what might be called a canonical reading of the four.
The main purpose of the article is to remind NT scholars about the importance of Ammonius and Eusebius and outline their work which resulted in the Eusebian canon system of tracing parallel passages in the four canonical gospels - a system which succeeded in enabling cross-referencing across the four gospels while maintaining their individual integrity. The article is generally helpful, and well worth a read; although on a range of issues I found it a little speculative (especially on the proposed title of Ammonius’ work and its supposed relation to Origen’s hexapla, even on the question of whether the material without Matthean parallel had any part in Ammonius’ work). Reflection on the actual use of the Eusebian system is limited to two or three admittedly interesting examples at the end of the article. One still doesn’t get a full picture of the use of the system, it’s assumptions and implications. Students would still be well advised to read Eusebius’ letter to Carpianus (in the NA, or in H. H. Oliver, ‘The Epistle of Eusebius to Carpianus: Textual Tradition and Translation’, Novum Testamentum 3 (1959), 138-145) and explore the system themselves for a day or two.
[One should also remember that the system in NA is an ideal system, and the actual system as deployed in a manuscript may have numerous errors, e.g. in Sinaiticus, see D.J. Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus (T&S III.5; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2007), 109-120 (in general), and with specific reference to Mark: P.M. Head, ‘The Gospel of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus: Textual and Reception-Historical Considerations’ TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 13 (2008), 20-22]