Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, III

Continuing our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

Book III

54 AD, Peter and Paul have been martyred, passing the bishopry/episcopate to Linus (who is mentioned in 2 Tim 4:21). Eusebius does provide a nearly complete lineage of bishops in the major congregations of the first three centuries, which is valuable info. Also, the general areas of work of the various Shellachim.

  • Thomas to Parthia (area of Iran)
  • Andrew to Scythia (near Iran to Russia)
  • Yochanon to ‘Asia’ (eastern asia, area of Turkey it seems, hanging around Ephesus, where he ‘allegedly’ died)
  • Kefa/Peter to Asia (westward)

An important thing to understand is that the Bible did not arrive in a complete form. Not all books were accepted by everyone at the same time; and some books that were accepted by many were disqualified by the majority—even some that were deemed useful. What came to be the Canon were those books that were deemed most sure by the widest consensus. These were the books that ‘we could all agree on’. Elohim did not define the Canon, explicitly. It was the work of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) through Elohim’s people. So it is possible that there are useful and inspired books that are not in the Canon, you just have to test them against those that are canonized. But when someone in the Brit Chadashah is talking about scripture, they are talking about the Tanahk because that was ‘settled’ first. As far as the BC goes, around 54 AD, the generally accepted apostolic writings were:

  • 1 Peter (2 Peter, Acts of Peter, Gospel of Peter, The Preaching, and the Revelation were not known to be handed down from the Shellachim)
  • 13 epistles of Paul
  • Hebrews was believed of Paul, but disputed by some

Note that, excepting Peter and Hebrews, most of the BC accepted at this time is gentile centered. Is that the writers saying to ignore the Jews? Heaven forbid, Paul says the Basar is to the “Jew first.” But to the Greek mindset, written was superior communication to oral. However to the Jew, it’s reversed. The testimonies of Torah were not written down until Moshe; the Mishnah wasn’t written for a couple hundred years, some even believe it was a sin to write it down. The Talmud seems to have marked an increased writing phase, brought on, along with the Mishnah, by the destruction of the Temple and the diaspora.

So we would expect there to be more writing to the gentiles, however if Torah was to be done away with, then the people who most need to be taught this would have been the Jews, yet instead of any written argument to them or written record of an oral argument, instead we find that Ya’akov was the bishop of Yerushalayim, full of Jews, who were believers and zealous of Torah.

In fairness though, it is troubling that Paul doesn’t make a more explicit call for the gentiles to seek to learn Torah from their Jewish brethren. But as I stated in my theory, I believe this was a mistake. And I’m not alone in recognizing that the Shellachim may have been chosen, but still made a mistake or two.

The Destruction of Yerushalayim

68-70 AD, Nero dies and is replaced by a series of short-reigned emperors followed by Titus who eventually destroys Yerushalayim. This to me should be part of any apologetics argument with a Jew because the Jews don’t have any famous accepted prophets after Yeshua (that I’m aware of). Yet, Yeshua who at least some like rabbi Shmuley Boteach, accept as an a righteous teacher, did miracles and prophecied the destruction of Yerushalayim—that makes him a prophet whose word came true, any Jew should be able to acknowledge that means Yeshua’s word should be taken seriously (even if they debate what was actually His word). One might argue that this prediction was added later, but Josephus acknowledges it as existing, but unbelieved—along with divine signs in the heaven as well.

Eusebius’ anti-semitism may be showing in how he describes what follows as “divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook the Jews…divine vengeance did not long delay to visit them for their iniquity against the Christ of God.” Having said that, even the Rabbis believe Yerushalayim was sacked because of sin. Rabbi Akiva (or was it Jonathan?) wouldn’t even ask for Yerushalayim to be saved, when given the chance, but instead asked for a smaller town with more righteous Jews in it. So it isn’t anti-semitic per se to say that the Holy City was destroyed because of sin.

Yet, Eusebius seems to have little compassion in his words. Matt 23:37-39 has Yeshua speaking the destruction with sorrow, and predicting a return. Being aware of Eusebius possible anti-semitism (which is odd, since he lived in Israel) may have something to do with how you never see in his history any of the ‘saints’ stand up for compassion on Israel, even when the ‘pious’ emperor Constantine is persecuting them. It does speak to how you should view his perspective and also the ‘consensus’ of the Church which survives him. After all, Yeshua says that by the fruits you shall know the tree. So what can you say of a historian and church that does not love the people that Yeshua loved?

This turn of events (the destruction) will shape the relationship between the followers of Yeshua and the Jews for centuries. Why were the early talmidim making huge conversions of Jews, but now the Jews have dug in their heels? Well, the talmidim being warned by Yeshua did not suffer the fate of those caught in the siege. Remembering His words, they fled as He said. Now, that’s not their fault for believing their Master, but if Eusebius’ generation had no compassion about it, one can see that that would drive a considerable national wedge.

Further, Eusebius sees what happens as a result of crimes against Mashiach and his Shellachim, but was everything else in Yerushalayim fine? Were the corrupted priests only doing evil to Yeshua? Akiva (or Jonathan) show sin was terrible. I’m not downplaying the evil of killing the ultimate righteous man sent from Elohim—heaven forbid!—but the way Eusebius writes it, it sounds like they were punished because they simply held the wrong creed. They could be doing everything else right (according to Torah), but they were wrong on only this one very important point. But a wider picture shows that the failure with Mashiach was simply the climax of other failures.

So if you haven’t, you might want to read what actually happened to Yerushalayim—Josephus goes on for pages of atrocity—to understand how deep a wound that event is, and to understand how inappropriate has been the Christian response. And how this fueled the divergence between Judaism and the followers of Mashiach.

Book III: other highlights

After the destruction of Yerushalayim, the relatives of Yeshua, (because apparently the Bishopry was semi-heridetery) got together to appoint a new bishop. This is interesting because the Catholic teaching is that we have an unbroken succession, ultimately going back to Peter having the head authority over the Congregation (the universal church) because he was given the keys. I think there is some evidence that Kefa was the chief of the Shellachim, but:

  • When Paul goes to check his doctrine, he doesn’t go to Kefa alone, but to a council of which Kefa was a part.
  • Kefa/Peter is rebuked/challenged by others
  • No where do we see another of the Shellachim going to him to approve their doctrine
  • All of the Shellachim appoint bishop’s in whatever place they establish without going back to consult Kefa. Which of course would be impractical.

And in the wake of Ya’akov’s death as bishop of Yerushalayim, it is not one person who lays hands and appoints the successor, but a vote of those who were recognized as being near to Yeshua. Throughout, Eusebius’ history you will see councils deciding matters, showing that final overriding authority was not vested in Kefa alone, and that therefore the ‘succession’ was not only from one-to-one, but sometimes many-to-one. As such when you get to schisms from the then Catholic church, you have no one person, which if you disagree with is found worthy of excommunication. The future ‘popes’ have no authority on which to decide that everyone else’s authority is illegitimate. Even the ‘seat of Peter’ will not always be decided one-to-one. Consider that even in modern times, the popes do not lay hands and appoint their successors while alive, but a ‘college of cardinals’ assembles to do so.

Quoting Hegesippus, it is encouraging to note that relatives of Yeshua were accused (and confessed) to being descendants of David. If Hegesippus is reliable, then it would mean that Yeshua was known to be of the house of David, which should give a Jew pause when ignoring Yeshua, because how many candidates for Mashiach can be determined to be the seed of David, since the destruction of the Temple?

To be continued…

 

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