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Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea [Hardcover]

Anthony Grafton , Megan Williams

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2006

When early Christians began to study the Bible, and to write their own history and that of the Jews whom they claimed to supersede, they used scholarly methods invented by the librarians and literary critics of Hellenistic Alexandria. But Origen and Eusebius, two scholars of late Roman Caesarea, did far more. Both produced new kinds of books, in which parallel columns made possible critical comparisons previously unenvisioned, whether between biblical texts or between national histories. Eusebius went even farther, creating new research tools, new forms of history and polemic, and a new kind of library to support both research and book production.

Christianity and the Transformation of the Book combines broad-gauged synthesis and close textual analysis to reconstruct the kinds of books and the ways of organizing scholarly inquiry and collaboration among the Christians of Caesarea, on the coast of Roman Palestine. The book explores the dialectical relationship between intellectual history and the history of the book, even as it expands our understanding of early Christian scholarship. Christianity and the Transformation of the Book attends to the social, religious, intellectual, and institutional contexts within which Origen and Eusebius worked, as well as the details of their scholarly practices--practices that, the authors argue, continued to define major sectors of Christian learning for almost two millennia and are, in many ways, still with us today.

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There's an uncanny seventeen-hundred-year time mirror nested at the core of this marvelous little volume, as Williams and Grafton, luminous and deft as ever, burrow deeper and deeper toward the genuine bibliographic and scholarly ethos of Origen and Eusebius and assorted other Early Church Fathers, discovering there--lo and behold!--masters of mindbendingly scrupulous, if at times decidedly quirky, erudition. Nos pères, nos semblables!
--Lawrence Weschler, Director, New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU and author of Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences

Christianity and the Transformation of the Book is a highly enjoyable and successful collaboration between a distinguished senior scholar and a very bright young historian. Drawing on a wealth of recent writing on the cultural setting of early Christianity (much of it inspired by the seminal work of Peter Brown), Grafton and Williams bring their own distinctive insistence on the centrality of innovations in book production and book distribution to the formation of momentous new patterns of thought...The book succeeds in placing Origen and Eusebius firmly and illuminatingly against a world in which Christianity had not yet triumphed, and they convey vividly the intellectual daring involved in these pioneering attempts to articulate and define Christianity alongside and against the Jewish and the classical worldviews. In the process they provide a reminder--salutary and timely, from a European perspective, in an increasingly aggressive secularist climate--of how much Jewish and Christian thought patterns have contributed to shaping some of the most fundamental assumptions and directions of Western culture.
--Eamon Duffy (New York Review of Books 2007-03-29)

A fascinating exercise in intellectual history that highlights the crucial role books played in the rise of Christianity...Thanks to the stories so ably told in this work, one realizes that scholarship in the name of truth is a very ancient calling in Christianity.
--Lawrence S. Cunningham (Commonweal 2007-03-23)

With forays into library history, papyrology, and reception studies, this book is multi-faceted, erudite, and inspiring in its scope.
--Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007-06-01)

Grafton and Williams demonstrate how, in late antiquity, when the papyrus scroll and the codex were both being used to create books, Christian scholars Origen and Eusebius pioneered techniques such as the use of parallel columns, multiple colors, and complex tables to create new forms of scholarship that would inspire future intellectuals and in turn lead to the supremacy of the codex. In this lively and accessible volume, readers learn of the conception and execution of Origen’s Hexapla, a philological tool in six columns for studying the Hebrew Bible, and how Eusebius used his position as a Christian bishop to develop a major research center at Caesarea, where books were collected, copied, and created. Grafton and Williams argue that rather than ignoring difficult, often conflicting, non-Christian sources, Origen and Eusebius critically engaged and quoted these sources, thereby setting intellectual precedents that would be emulated by later scholars such as Jerome, Bede, and Erasmus.
--T.J. Bond (Choice 2007-09-01)

About the Author

Anthony Grafton is Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Chair of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University.

Megan Williams is Assistant Professor of History, San Francisco State University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific story of innovation in early Christian texts Dec 19 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Did you know that early Church Father Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, invented the hyperlink? Neither did I, until I read Grafton and Williams's wonderful book. (Well, it wasn't really the hyperlink, but it was the first simple means of navigating point-to-point within a text.)

Clearly and beautifully written, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book is an expansive literary tour of all of the Hellenized cultures of the eastern Mediterranean in the third and fourth centuries CE. But mostly it is about the innovative work of Eusebius and Origen, who invented new methods of presenting textual information and in so doing revolutionized book production.

Grafton and Williams zoom in on Origen's Hexapla, which compared six Hebrew and Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible in parallel columns, and on Eusebius's Chronicle, the first history of the known world organized as what today we would call a time line. But they also zoom out to look at the larger world of libraries, literary patronage, and scribal cultures among early Christians, pagan philosophers, and Hellenized Jews.

I am no scholar of this field and so not qualified to pass judgment on some of their academic arguments, but for a civilian with an interest in the evolution of information in culture, this is one very good read.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ". . . we are still the heirs of Origen and Eusebius" Oct. 1 2007
By Wesley L. Janssen - Published on
There is much to like about this book. While a few assertions and historical models are certainly debatable, Grafton and Williams have authored a fascinating account of the origin of rigorous western scholarship. Among the giants of philological erudition as well as text collection, preservation, translation and analysis, Origen was the titan of the titans. He was "a man of encyclopedic learning, and one of the most original thinkers the world has ever seen." His contemporaneous and subsequent opponents have had to admit to his intellectual gifts, including his emphasis on documentary evidence. His Hexapala "was one of the greatest single moments of Roman scholarship," and he has cast a very long shadow in which we stand today. Of course, he didn't live and work in an intellectual vacuum, as the authors demonstrate at some length. The following excerpts will lend some small sense of their book:

". . . the scholars of Christian Caesarea lived in a time of seismic cultural change, a time when one regime of book production and storage supplanted another . . . they were themselves impresarios of the scriptorium and the library, and developed new forms of scholarship that depended on their abilities to collect and produce new kinds of books . . . they struggled to devise texts that could impose order on highly varied forms of information. . .
". . . Christian scholars used written materials--both those they inherited from others, and those they created themselves--in ways that drew upon classical precedents, but they also developed these in new directions. They made their technical mastery of the production of complex books the basis of new kinds of intellectual authority, which in turn shaped new modes of scholarly inquiry. . . We in the modern university owe a great debt to this particular strand of the Christian intellectual tradition."

Among those given to selective oversimplification, skewed piety or ideological combat, Eusebius has had his detractors and Origen his outright assailants. In its very dispassion, a text like this one from Grafton and Williams is an important perspective and corrective. This volume certainly belongs in the library of any bibliophile and/or historian of scholarship itself.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Obscure Academic Gem Jan. 12 2012
By Bridgette Eichelberger - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I needed a book suitable for the subject my 15 page paper- I was looking for something well written, well researched, on a topic I found interesting, meaningfully interacts in some way with previous research and other fields, and makes some kind of debatable claim. Christianity and the Transformation of the Book fit the bill.

At first, I was slightly daunted by the heft- Transformation clocks in at a cool 348 pages. However, the bibliography is extraordinarily lengthy, and in many sections of the work there are delightful illustrations, so the "real" count is somewhere in the mid 200s, which isn't bad at all.

Often, books written by two authors that take 'halves' of a book are disjointed, and Transformation's coherence could have easily been hampered by focusing the first half on Origen and the second on Eusebius, two church fathers who were responsible for completing massive compilations of scripture. Although Williams is responsible for Origen, and Grafton Eusebius, Transformation still reads like one book.

The way Grafton and Williams integrate images into their argument about emerging methods of research is the strongest part of the book. Page fragments from Origen's Hexapla and Eusebius' Chronicle are especially helpful.
Although I disagree with minor points in Transformation, such as when Grafton was too lenient when ascribing noted inconsistencies to secretarial error (214), but these points are not central to their main claim.

Quote to Remember: Eusebius' Chronicle, a multi-religion world timeline, is described as a "rich crazy salad." G and W call it how they see it.
4.0 out of 5 stars bob's your uncle Oct. 30 2013
By M. W. Hewitt - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
bob's your uncle, i'd read it if your are interested in early church history. i mean i'd really read it

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