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E00256: Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, reports that, when he wrote, two tombs of John were known in Ephesos (western Asia Minor), one ascribed to *John the Evangelist (S00042) and another to the obscure apostle *John the Elder (S01115). Written in Greek in Palestine, 311/325.

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posted on 2015-01-14, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.4-6

Eusebius quotes a fragment from Papias of Hierapolis (early 2nd c. AD), who reports having collected oral traditions about the doctrines of the Apostles from people who had met them:

(4.) «εἰ δέ που καὶ παρηκολουθηκώς τις τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις ἔλθοι, τοὺς τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἀνέκρινον λόγους, τί Ἀνδρέας ἢ τί Πέτρος εἶπεν ἢ τί Φίλιππος ἢ τί Θωμᾶς ἢ Ἰάκωβος ἢ τί Ἰωάννης ἢ Ματθαῖος ἤ τις ἕτερος τῶν τοῦ κυρίου μαθητῶν ἅ τε Ἀριστίων καὶ ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωάννης, τοῦ κυρίου μαθηταὶ, λέγουσιν. οὐ γὰρ τὰ ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων τοσοῦτόν με ὠφελεῖν ὑπελάμβανον ὅσον τὰ παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς καὶ μενούσης».

(5.) ἔνθα καὶ ἐπιστῆσαι ἄξιον δὶς καταριθμοῦντι αὐτῷ τὸ Ἰωάννου ὄνομα, ὧν τὸν μὲν πρότερον Πέτρῳ καὶ Ἰακώβῳ καὶ Ματθαίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς ἀποστόλοις συγκαταλέγει, σαφῶς δηλῶν τὸν εὐαγγελιστήν, τὸν δ’ ἕτερον Ἰωάννην, διαστείλας τὸν λόγον, ἑτέροις παρὰ τὸν τῶν ἀποστόλων ἀριθμὸν κατατάσσει, προτάξας αὐτοῦ τὸν Ἀριστίωνα, σαφῶς τε αὐτὸν πρεσβύτερον ὀνομάζει· (6.) ὡς καὶ διὰ τούτων ἀποδείκνυσθαι τὴν ἱστορίαν ἀληθῆ τῶν δύο κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν ὁμωνυμίᾳ κεχρῆσθαι εἰρηκότων δύο τε ἐν Ἐφέσῳ γενέσθαι μνήματα καὶ ἑκάτερον Ἰωάννου ἔτι νῦν λέγεσθαι· οἷς καὶ ἀναγκαῖον προσέχειν τὸν νοῦν, εἰκὸς γὰρ τὸν δεύτερον, εἰ μή τις ἐθέλοι τὸν πρῶτον, τὴν ἐπ’ ὀνόματος φερομένην Ἰωάννου ἀποκάλυψιν ἑορακέναι.

[Quotation from Papias] '(4.) "But, if any one came, who had attended the elders [i.e. the Apostles and their followers], I questioned him about the words of the elders: what did Andrew or what did Peter say, or what does Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John, or Matthew, or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what does Aristiōn and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, say? For I believed that what was to be drawn from the books would not profit me as much as what came from a living and abiding voice."

[Eusebius’ comment] '(5.) It is worthwhile observing here that he mentions the name John twice. The first of these he enumerates among Peter and James and Matthew and the rest of the Apostles, clearly meaning the Evangelist; but the other John, separating him in the text, he enumerates among others, outside of the number of the apostles, putting Aristion before him, and he clearly calls him "elder" [presbyteros πρεσβύτερος]. (6.) This shows that the claim of those is true, who say that there were two persons in Asia that bore the same name, and that two tombs were made in Ephesus, each of which, even to the present day, is called John's. It is important to notice this, for it is probable that it was the second [John the Elder] who saw the Revelation, which has survived under the name of John, if one is unwilling to admit that it was the first.'

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Evangelist : S00042 John the Elder, early Christian buried at Ephesos : S01115

Saint Name in Source

Ἰωάννης Ἰωάννης

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Caesarea Maritima

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories


Written between 311 and 325, the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea is the first literary work to employ the methodology and objectives of classical historiography – which, since Herodotus and Thucydides, had traditionally focused on military and political events – in a novel field, the history of the Christian community. It survives in several Greek manuscripts, in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and in Syriac and Armenian translations. The first paragraphs of the work outline its chronological framework and thematic range: it is a narrative of events in the life of the Christian community from the times of Christ and the Apostles to the times of Eusebius (c. AD 260-340); it records the leaders of the most important communities (i.e. successions of bishops in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem); it records the most notable exponents of Christian doctrine and their works, and also the main heresies and their proponents; it finally records persecutions and people that suffered and were martyred during them. The Ecclesiastical History is mostly a synthesis of quotations and summaries from other sources, for which Eusebius often gives concrete references. Thus his work preserves excerpts from early Christian texts which do not survive in their full form. Since the author knew Greek and Syriac, but no Latin, his source material is confined chiefly to Greek texts, originating from Christian centres in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. These areas constitute the main geographical range of his narrative, while his information about Christianity in the western provinces of the Roman Empire (except Rome) is very limited. Eusebius lived in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine between c. AD 260 and 340. He was a pupil and friend of the martyred Christian intellectual Pamphilus. Under Constantine, he emerged as one of the most influential Christian figures of the Roman Empire, and was ordained bishop of Caesarea.


This passage is of special interest for the roots of the cult of John the Evangelist in Ephesus. Eusebius is mainly preoccupied here with the old problems of authorship and authenticity of the Book of Revelation, towards which he was particularly reserved, and unwilling to accept John the Evangelist as its author. Here Eusebius argues that there were two figures of the apostolic era, named John, who preached in Asia, John the Apostle and John the Elder (or presbyter), both of whom died and were buried in Ephesus. As a result of their common name, their memory was confused, but, according to Eusebius and his sources (which he does not name here), the two Johns were to be distinguished, and this could provide a satisfactory solution to the authorship problem of Revelation. Eusebius' most interesting piece of information, however, is his statement that two tombs of John were known in Ephesus in his day. The reliability of his claim is unknown, but it deserves attention with regard to the background of the cult of John prior to the organisation of his shrine on Ayasoluk Hill in the early 5th century. Vagueness in the local legends concerning John the Evangelist and his identity seems to be also echoed in a 2nd century letter of Polykrates of Ephesus, where John the Evangelist is described as 'a priest wearing the plate and a martyr and a teacher' (ἱερεὺς τὸ πέταλον πεφορεκὼς καὶ μάρτυς καὶ διδάσκαλος; Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.31.1-3; see E00218). In Late Antiquity, it became firmly established that John the Evangelist was the author of Revelation, whereas John the Elder disappears from the record.


Edition: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols. (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte NF 6/1-3; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; London and Cambridge, MA: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989). Further reading: Bauckham, R., Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006). Chesnut, G. The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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