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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXXI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXXI.—Africanus.

1. At this time also Africanus, 2022 the writer of the books entitled Cesti, was well known. There is extant an epistle of his to Origen, expressing doubts 2023 of the story of Susannah in Daniel, as being spurious and fictitious. Origen answered this very fully.

2. Other works of the same Africanus which have reached us are his five books on Chronology, a work accurately and laboriously prepared. He says in this that he went to Alexandria on account of the great fame of Heraclas, 2024 who excelled especially in philosophic studies and other Greek learning, and whose appointment to the bishopric of the church there we have p. 277 already mentioned.

3. There is extant also another epistle from the same Africanus to Aristides on the supposed discrepancy between Matthew and Luke in the Genealogies of Christ. In this he shows clearly the agreement of the evangelists, from an account which had come down to him, which we have already given in its proper place in the first book of this work. 2025



Julius Africanus (as he is called by Jerome) was one of the most learned men of the Ante-Nicene age. Not much is known of his life, though he seems to have resided, at least for a time, in Emmaus, a town of Palestine, something over twenty miles from Jerusalem (not the Emmaus of Luke xxiv. 13, which was but seven or eight miles from the city), for we hear in the Chron., and in Jerome’s de vir. ill. c. 63, of his going on an embassy to the Emperor Heliogabalus, and securing the rebuilding of the ruined city Emmaus under the name of Nicopolis, which it henceforth bore. He does not appear to have been a clergyman, or at any rate not a bishop; for he is spoken of as such by no early authority, and he is addressed by Origen in an extant epistle, which must have been written toward the close of his life, simply as “brother.” His dates cannot be fixed with any exactness. He must have been already a prominent man when he went on an embassy to the emperor (between 218 and 222). He must have been considerably older than Origen, for in his epistle to him he calls him “son,” and that although Origen was at the time beyond middle life himself. Unless Eusebius is mistaken, he was still alive and active in the time of Gordian (238–244). But if he was enough older than Origen to address him as “son,” he can hardly have lived much beyond that reign. He seems to have been a Christian philosopher and scholar rather than an ecclesiastic, and took no such part in the church affairs of the time as to leave mention of his name in the accounts of the synods of his day. He was quite a traveler, as we learn from his own writings, and had the well-deserved reputation of being one of the greatest scholars of the age. Eusebius mentions four works left by him, the Cesti, the Chronicon, and the epistles to Origen and to Aristides. Jerome (l.c.) mentions only the last three, but Photius (Cod. 34) refers to all four. The Cesti (κεστοί “embroidered girdles”) seems to have derived its name from the miscellaneous character of its contents, which included notes on geography, the art of war, medicine, agriculture, &c. It is said by Syncellus to have been composed of nine books: Photius mentions fourteen, Suidas twenty-four. It is no longer extant, but numerous scattered fragments have been preserved. Its authenticity has been doubted, chiefly because of its purely secular character, and the nature of some of the notes, which do not seem worthy of the clear-headed and at the same time Christian scholar. But the external evidence, which is not unsupported by the internal, is too strong to be set aside, and we must conclude that the work is genuine. The extant fragments of it are given in various works on mathematics, agriculture, etc. (see Richardson’s Bibliographical Synopsis, p. 68). The epistle of Africanus to Origen is the only one of his writings preserved in a complete form. It seems that Origen, in a discussion with a certain Bassus (see Origen’s epistle to Africanus, §2), at which Africanus was present, had quoted from that part of the Book of Daniel which contains the apocryphal story of Susannah. Africanus afterward wrote a brief epistle to Origen, in which he contended that the story is not authentic, urging among other arguments differences in style between it and the rest of the book, and the fact that the story is not found in Hebrew, and that certain phrases show that it was composed originally in Greek. Origen replied at considerable length, maintaining the authenticity of the passage, and thereby showing himself inferior to Africanus in critical judgment. Origen’s reply was written from Nicomedia (see §1), where he was staying with Ambrose (see §15). It seems probable that this visit to Nicomedia was made on his way to or from his second visit to Athens (see next chapter, note 4). Africanus’ greatest work, and the one which brought him most fame, was his Chronicon, in five books. The work is no longer extant, but considerable fragments of it have been preserved (e.g. in Eusebius’ Præp. Evang. X. 10, and Dem. Evang. VIII., and especially in the Chronographia of Syncellus), and the Chronicon of Eusebius which is really based upon it, so that we are enabled to gain a very fair idea of its original form. As described by Photius, it was concise, but omitted nothing worthy of mention, beginning with the creation and coming down to the reign of Macrinus. It actually extended to the fourth year of Heliogabalus (221), as we see from a quotation made by Syncellus. The work seems to have been caused by the common desire of the Christians (exhibited by Tatian, Clement of Alexander, and others) to prove in their defense of Christianity the antiquity of the Jewish religion, and thus take away the accusation of novelty brought against Christianity by its opponents. Africanus apparently aimed to produce a universal chronicle and history which should exhibit the synchronism of events in the history of the leading nations of the world, and thus furnish solid ground for Christian apologists to build upon. It was the first attempt of the kind, and became the foundation of Christian chronicles for many centuries. The time at which it was written is determined with sufficient accuracy by the date at which the chronological table closes. Salmon (in the Dict. of Christ. Biog.) remarks that it must have been completed early in the year 221, for it did not contain the names of the victors in the Olympic games of the 250th Olympiad, which took place in that year (as we learn from the list of victors copied by Eusebius from Africanus). It is said by Eusebius, just below, that Africanus reports in this work that he had visited Alexandria on account of the great celebrity of Heraclas. This is very surprising, for we should hardly have expected Heraclas’ fame to have attracted such a man to Alexandria until after Origen had left, and he had himself become the head of the school. On the fourth writing mentioned by Eusebius, the epistle to Aristides, see above, Bk. I. chap. 7, note 2. The fragments of Africanus’ works, with the exception of the Cesti, have been printed, with copious and valuable notes, by Routh, Rel. Sac. II. 221–509; English translation in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Am. ed. VI. 125–140.


ποροῦντος. A very mild way of putting his complete rejection of the story!


On Heraclas, see chap. 3, note 2.


In Bk. I. chap. 7.

Next: Chapter XXXII

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