Brief History of the Analogy of the Four Evangelists to the Four Living Creatures

While on Prince Edward Island last week, I visited St. Dunstan’s Basilica (rebuilt 1916) in Charlottetown. On the front, it had the ancient symbols (drawn from the vision in Ezekiel 1) for the faces of the four evangelists carved in stone: Matthew = man, Luke = ox, Mark = lion, and John = eagle (the order from left to right on the building’s face).

The order of the four evangelists here is unusual to my knowledge, but the symbolism for each evangelist is ancient. Here is the well-known page from the Book of Kells (fol. 27v; ca. 800): Matthew = man, Mark = lion, John = eagle, and Luke = calf (from top left clockwise).


This symbolism can be traced as far back as Jerome’s preface to his Matthew Commentary:

The book of Ezekiel also proves that these four Gospels had been predicted much earlier. Its first vision is described as follows: “And in the midst there was a likeness of four animals. Their countenances were the face of a man and the face of a lion and the face of a calf and the face of an eagle.” The first face of a man signifies Matthew, who began his narrative as though about a man: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The second [face signifies] Mark in whom the voice of a lion roaring in the wilderness is heard: “A voice of one shouting in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The third [is the face] of the calf which prefigures that the evangelist Luke began with Zachariah the priest. The fourth [face signifies] John the evangelist who, having taken up eagle’s wings and hastening toward higher matters, discusses the Word of God (Thomas P. Scheck. Commentary on Matthew (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 117). Catholic University of America Press, 2008.).

But the symbolism in this period was far from fixed. Augustine had the following correspondences (Harmony of the Four Gospels 1.9): Matthew = lion, Luke = calf, Mark = man, and John = eagle.

The earliest Christian to draw the analogy between the Evangelists and the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1 was Irenaeus (Haer. 3.11.8; ca. 180), who had the following: John = lion, Luke = calf, Matthew = man, and Mark = eagle.

Why the symbolism? Jerome and others interpreted the faces of the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1 as a prophecy about these Four Gospels. Only these Four Gospels are compared to the four living creatures. There could and would only be these four despite the presence of other gospels in this period. By drawing the analogy to Ezekiel’s faces of the four living creatures, early Christians were claiming that only these four were authentic.

These arguments for these four gospels do not convince modern scholars, but all scholars are intrigued by them, for it is not altogether clear how Irenaeus appeals to the analogy. Is Irenaeus establishing a novel viewpoint by appealing to the analogy or is there precedent in the Christian tradition for only these four gospels that he defends by the use of the analogy? We can’t answer that question here, and much of it depends on how one reads the sources before Irenaeus.


Talk on Canon at Clearview Church

In addition to the podcast, while I was at Clearview Church, I spoke for their “Digging Deep” series on the topic of “Why Does our (Protestant) Bible have the Books it Does?” Here, I begin with the table of contents of our modern Protestant and Roman Catholic Bibles and briefly trace the histories of these canons through the 16th century to the patristic period and to the earlier period of the late second temple period, talking in less certain categories about a canon in this earliest phase and more about sanctity and popularity of individual books.

The whole talk is about an hour and fifteen minutes and it includes the slides I used for the presentation. If you are interested in how Protestants and Roman Catholics came to have their respective bibles, then have a look.

New Book: Style and Context of Old Greek Job by Marieke Dhont

Below is a guest post from Dr. Marieke Dhont describing her new book Style and Context of Old Greek Job (Brill, 2018). Enjoy.

MD_OGJobWhen I was reading through the Old Greek (OG) text of the book of Job, the following verses (among many others, of course!) caught my attention:

Job 13:24

διὰ τί ἀπ᾿ ἐμοῦ κρύπτῃ,

ἥγησαι δέ με ὑπεναντίον σοι;

Why do you hide from me

and regard me your opponent?

למה פניך תסתיר

ותחשׁבני לאויב לך

Why do you hide your face,

and count me as your enemy?

Job 33:10

μέμψιν δὲ κατ᾿ ἐμοῦ εὗρεν,

ἥγηται δέ με ὥσπερ ὑπεναντίον.

But he found a basis for complaint against me

and has reckoned me as an adversary.

הן תנואות עלי ימצא

יחשׁבני לאויב לו

Look, he finds occasions against me,

he counts me as his enemy.

The Hebrew חשׁב with a double prepositional clause introduced by ל expresses the concept of “considering X as Y.” In the first case, the Greek translation represents the normal way to express this in Greek, namely with ἡγέομαι and a double accusative. In the second case, the translator uses a preposition to introduce the predicative, a construction that does not occur in any other classical or koine Greek sources. I started to wonder why the translator of Job would render the same construction differently in the course of his text.

OG Job is known as the “freest” translation in the Septuagint corpus, written in “good, idiomatic” Greek with a “literary style.” From this viewpoint, we may ask ourselves, why would the translator of Job, who clearly knows how to express himself in idiomatic Greek (13:24), say the same thing then in non-idiomatic Greek (33:10)? Yet, if we look at OG Job from the broader viewpoint of the corpus of LXX translations, it is precisely the “freedom” and “good, literary Greek style” of the translator of Job that requires explanation, since the majority of Septuagint translations appear to have been characterized by an isomorphic approach to the Hebrew that resulted in substandard Greek. How can we more adequately understand the character of Old Greek Job?

In Style and Context of Old Greek Job, I have three major goals.

– The first is to analyze the descriptors that scholars use to characterize Septuagint translations in terms of translation technique (e.g., “literal” and “free”) and style (e.g., “good” and “bad,” “literary” and “non-literary” Greek). I take insights from modern translation studies to argue that we would stand to gain from leaving behind the literal-to-free continuum (ironically, even modern translation studies have stopped using these terms; only in Septuagint studies do scholars still adhere to them). Translation is a complex process governed by various factors that are often socio-culturally determined. This cannot be described along a single axis but is more adequately characterized in terms multiple causation.

– My second goal is to come to a deeper insight into the character of Old Greek Job. This text is infamous for its qualitative and quantitative deviations from the Hebrew text of the Masoretes and has puzzled scholars for decades, but a nuanced analysis had yet to be offered. This book represents the first systematic study of the Greek text of Job from the viewpoint of language and style. I look both at the way in which certain features from the Hebrew are rendered into Greek, but also at how the translator uses features in the Greek text that have no counterpart in the Hebrew.

– The “freedom” of OG Job has often been understood in terms of a lingering opposition between Judaism and Hellenism. What does it mean to describe OG Job as a “Hellenized” translation, when Jews had adopted the Greek language and the target audience for the Greek translation of Job would have been Jewish? I propose an alternative approach to OG Job as a translation, an artefact of Hellenistic Jewish literature, and a product of an intercultural context in which Jews did not simply adopt elements commonly associated with Hellenism, but in which Hellenism, in turn, is approached as a culturally diverse environment that includes Judaism and that undergoes change as Judaism evolves. To structure my argument, I use a methodological framework derived from modern literary theory, namely Polysystem Theory (PST). I describe the position of OG Job as part of the development of a Jewish literary tradition in Greek.

In short, with this study, I attempt to provide a new answer to the question of why Job was translated into Greek the way that it was. I hope many will find my approach and the insights provided in this book stimulating for their own research.

About Marieke Dhont

Marieke Dhont obtained a joint doctorate in Religious Studies at KU Leuven and Theology at Université catholique de Louvain in 2016. She is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge, where she is working on a new project, entitled “Expressing Jewish Identity through Greek Language and Literary Heritage.”

SBL/IOSCS Paper Proposal Accepted


Last week, I learned that I will be presenting at the Denver meetings, “The Dream for a ‘Field for the Twenty-First Century’ Endures: A Description and Defense of the New Critical Edition of Job 22–42.” Yes, yes, if I present it, you will come :-). For anyone interested, here is the abstract:

Publishing “a Field for the Twenty-First Century” remains the aim of the Hexapla Project, and after many years of waiting, the release of its first edition, A Critical Edition of the Hexaplaric Fragments of Job 22–42, is planned for winter of 2018. In light of this development, I want to (1) review the aims of the Hexapla Project, (2) describe the format of the new edition vis-à-vis prior editions, and (3) reply to some recent criticism of the project with specific examples from the new edition of Job 22–42. The new edition surpasses the previous editions of Frederick Field and Joseph Ziegler both in terms of evidence and method, and this advance will be demonstrated with examples from Job 22–42. Finally, Olivier Munnich has offered some recent criticisms of the Hexapla Project, which I will address in the final part of the presentation.



Origen’s Hexapla at Southeastern

Origen3Last week, I gave a presentation at Southeastern Seminary on Origen’s Hexapla. Almost every point of the history of the Hexapla has been debated over the years. Was there a Hebrew column? Why was there a transliterated column (i.e. the Secunda)? Were there signs (asterisk, obelus) in the Fifth column (i.e. the corrected Septuagint)? Why did he compile it in the first place? What’s the Tetrapla? How did the Hexapla come to have such an impact on the textual history of the Septuagint? I won’t present it again here. Below are some pictures from Chip Hardy, Ian Mills, and SEBTS Library on social media. In addition to the SEBTS community, some from Duke, Shepherd’s Theological Seminary, and Erskine College attended the talk. I had a great time. The questions after the presentation were good. The coffee was excellent. I enjoyed the post-presentation conversations with the folks that attended.

I’m at Southern Seminary this week visiting family and friends and continuing to revise and finalize my critical edition of the hexaplaric fragments of Job 22–42 for publication.


Blog Reviews of The Biblical Canon Lists and Amazon’s Ridiculous Discount

Cover Art-RevisedWe are in the third month since the release of The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis, and there are now two blog reviews and an amazing discount to report.

First, the discount. Amazon is currently giving the book away at a 39% discount or for $27. One will not find that ridiculous price, even at SBL.

Second, the reviews. (1) Dr. Jim West has reviewed the book here. He takes issue with the small font size of the Greek, Syriac, and Latin texts, which is a completely fair criticism, and we have noted it. He ends with this paragraph:

I think the volume is completely worth the reader’s time.  Just not all at once.  The reading of lists can be a tiresome task and of the making of book lists there is no end.  Fortunately, here, readers find all the essential lists in one location and don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to track them down in various places and volumes.  For that alone our authors are to be thanked.

(2) Dr. Larry Hurtado provides a short review here. He thinks our bibliography is up to date and our footnotes are copious:

The major benefit of this book is that, for each list included, the authors give a brief introduction, and the actual text in the original language and with an English translation, plus copious notes.  In one handy volume, you have pretty much all the key evidence, which makes this volume a unique contribution.

In the comments to Hurtado’s post, Lee Martin McDonald, author of The Formation of the Biblical Canon, chimed in. I’ll give him the last word:

Thanks for the good review of this book Larry. It is a superb volume and both young scholars are planning on extending their focus well into the Medieval period and eventually well into the modern era. I have profited from their research in my recent volumes. I know both men well and Ed was kind enough to add clarity in some of the lists in my work. While we do not agree on some of the details, they are most kind to those with whom they disagree and I applaud their sensitivity toward fellow scholars and their gentle spirits. I think their work here will be the standard on canon lists for years to come. Thanks also for mentioning The Canon Debate volume! —Lee Martin McDonald

Book Giveaway of The Biblical Canon Lists

Cover Art-RevisedOver on the ETC Blog, Peter Gurry has set up a raffle for a chance to win a free copy of my and Ed Gallagher’s The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis. Click through to enter to win the book.

For more on the book, see the following links:

The ETC Blog: New Book: The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity

Ed Gallagher’s Blog: New Book: Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity

The OUPblog: The Origins of the Reformation Bible

The Origins of the Reformation Bible

460px-Antonio_da_Fabriano_II_-_Saint_Jerome_in_His_Study_-_Walters_37439-446x744Yesterday, for any who missed it, over on the Oxford University Press Blog, Ed Gallagher and I posted The Origins of the Reformation Bible. As you may well guess, the origins and debates over the contents of the Bible during the Reformation period were long anticipated in the Patristic period. Of course, both sides of the divide appealed to canon lists from early Christianity. Follow the link to read a significant part of the story that is not often told.

Blogging, Life, and the New Year

Canon_BooksAlthough I haven’t blogged here in a while, I have been busy. Phoenix Seminary has been trying to launch a blog, and I have contributed a couple of pieces to it over the last month:

  • On The Biblical Canon Lists. My briefest attempt to define and describe them to date.
  • On The Intellectual Life. A different kind of post from me in which I describe some of the more salient points on the life of the mind from the classic by A. G. Sertillanges.

I encourage readers to check out the blog as the seminary attempts to publish some good content in the new year. While on sabbatical this spring, my blogging here and elsewhere may be more sporadic, but I do hope to post even if infrequently. We will see how it goes.

Life Update

In other news, The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis by Ed Gallagher and yours truly was released in the UK on November 2 and will be officially released in the USA on January 2, although my friends in the States tell me that they have received their pre-ordered copies already.

Also, I have been furiously and frantically compiling course notes for a class on the History of the Canon of Scripture that I’m scheduled to teach at Phoenix Seminary January 8–12. I am enjoying the preparation and hope the students will gain insight and new appreciation for the subject.

After teaching the course, I go on sabbatical to give my projects some much needed attention. I hope to have some big news about one of these projects later in the year.

Expectations for the New Year

As the New Year approaches, I look back on 2017 with a heart of thankfulness and gratitude. I completed five and half years of teaching at the seminary and have never been more content and satisfied in my vocation than I am currently. In 2017, nothing radical happened, and for the most part there weren’t any breakthroughs. I’d like to think that I and my work were ordinary, faithful. In 2018, I pray for more of the same: faithfulness to all God has called me as Christian, husband, father, and professor. May God establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17).