Friday, 24 May 2019
Carson Bay: Pseudo-Hegesippus and the Beginnings of Christian Historiography in Late Antiquity
Scholarship routinely dates the formal establishment of Christian history-writing as a distinct literary genre to the formative fourth century. It was that century that witnessed the authorial output of Eusebius, often credited with inventing Christian historiography, and that century that experienced the scribal productivity of Jerome, might patron of that other genre often cast of representative of Christian historiography, the world chronicle. This study adds critical texture to this scholarly framework by situating within fourth-century Christianity another type of history: Christian historiography modeled on the classical type established by Thucydides, wherein a historian in practice narrates a single battle, following standard narrative conventions and employing expected literary tropes. This history is known by the title De Excidio Hierosolymitano (On the Destruction of Jerusalem); colloquially, it is referred to as 'Pseudo-Hegesippus.'De Excidio is a Latin Christian history written around 370 CE, based largely upon Josephus' Jewish War but drawing upon a number of other sources besides. It rewrites the seven-book Jewish War into five books, turning Josephus' narrative into a Christian-classical history that effectively writes the Jews out of history with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE. This text has received markedly little scholarly attention, the only substantive interpretive accounts being an unpublished 1977 dissertation (by Albert Bell), an unpublished 1987 French dissertation (by Dominique Esteve), and a 2009 Italian book (by Chiara Somenzi). This paper frames De Excidio within nascent Christian historiography and prompts scholars of that period to reimagine the progression of that cultural-literary moment.