Martyrs as philosophers: The school of Pamphilus and ascetic tradition in Eusebius's “Martyrs of Palestine”
The Martyrs of Palestine by Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 280 - 339 C. E.) is a valuable and underappreciated source of local information about the Christians of Caesarea and the school of Pamphilus during the persecution of Diocletian. The best record for the scope of this text is the Syriac long recension, recorded in Edessa in 411 C. E. The Greek witnesses, the shorter recension and the fragments of the longer version, are also important to an understanding of the compositional history of the text and the nature of the translation.
An important group of the martyrs in the text are intimates of Eusebius, members of the school of Pamphilus to which he belongs. This text provides evidence that Eusebius lived with several martyrs in an ascetic Christian philosophical community centered in the house of Pamphilus the deacon. This school, according to Eusebius, understood itself to be in the teaching tradition of Origen and, more broadly, Alexandria. The students of Pamphilus are the current "heirs" of the Alexandrian-Caesarean tradition of Origen and Eusebius's record in the HE of the Alexandrian "school" dovetails with the traces of communal life preserved in the Martyrs. Notable features of the Caesarean school of Pamphilus are textual criticism, radical social egalitarianism, and voluntary poverty. The community is also sex-segregated: the members of the school are male, but they are acquainted with other communal networks of women.
The philosophical, school activity of the text occurs in the urban setting of Caesarea, the staging ground for many of the confessions and martyrdoms. The articulations of the school of Pamphilus and the martyrs have a place in the social dialectic and contests over interpretative control of the large, multi-ethnic city. The obvious contests in the text also hide more silent contests: the miracles of the text are overt contests with the Roman authorities, but there are overlaps with contemporary Caesarean Rabbinic material as well. All of these threads—urban, doctrinal, historical, literary, communal, personal—combine to make the Martyrs a rich tapestry of Christian school activity and community activity on the cusp of the age of Constantine.