Hegesippus (chronicler)

Saint Hegesippus
Born 110 AD
Died April 7, 180 AD
Jerusalem, Palaestina
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast April 7

Saint Hegesippus (Ἅγιος Ἡγήσιππος) (c. 110 – c. April 7, 180 AD[1]), was a Christian chronicler of the early Church who may have been a Jewish convert[2] and certainly wrote against heresies of the Gnostics and of Marcion. The date of Hegesippus is insecurely fixed by the statement of Eusebius that the death and apotheosis of Antinous (130) occurred in Hegesippus' lifetime,[3] and that he came to Rome under Pope St. Anicetus and wrote in the time of Pope St. Eleuterus (Bishop of Rome, c. 174–189).

Hegesippus' works are now entirely lost, save eight passages concerning Church history quoted by Eusebius,[4] who tells us that he wrote Hypomnemata (Ὑπομνήματα; "Memoirs" or "Memoranda"[5]) in five books, in the simplest style concerning the tradition of the Apostolic preaching. Through Eusebius Hegesippus was also known to Jerome,[6] who is responsible for the idea that Hegesippus "wrote a history of all ecclesiastical events from the passion of our Lord down to his own period... in five volumes", which has established the Hypomnemata as a Church history.[7] St. Hegesippus appealed principally to tradition as embodied in the teaching which had been handed down through the succession of bishops, thus providing for Eusebius information about the earliest bishops that otherwise would have been lost.

Eusebius says that St. Hegesippus was a convert from Judaism, learned in the Semitic languages and conversant with the oral tradition and customs of the Jews, for he quoted from the Hebrew, was acquainted with the Gospel of the Hebrews[8] and with a Syriac Gospel, and he also cited unwritten traditions of the Jews. Eusebius' own shaky command of Hebrew and Aramaic,[9] and his lack of personal knowledge of customs of the Jews, were insufficiently founded to judge Hegesippus as a dependable source.[10] He seems to have lived in some part of the East, for, in the time of Pope Anicetus (A.D. 155-166) he travelled through Corinth to reach Rome, collecting on the spot the teachings of the various churches which he visited, and ascertaining their uniformity with Rome, according to this excerpt:

"And the Church of the Corinthians remained in the true word until Primus was bishop in Corinth; I made their acquaintance in my journey to Rome, and remained with the Corinthians many days, in which we were refreshed with the true word. And when I was in Rome, I made a succession up to Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleuterus. And in each succession and in each city all is according to the ordinances of the law and the Prophets and the Lord"[11]

It is probable that Eusebius borrowed his list of the early bishops of Jerusalem from Hegesippus. With great ingenuity J.B. Lightfoot, in Clement of Rome (London, 1890), found traces of a list of popes in Epiphanius of Cyprus, (Haer., xxvii, 6) that may also derive from Hegesippus, where that fourth-century writer carelessly says: "Marcellina came to us lately and destroyed many, in the days of Anicetus, Bishop of Rome", and then refers to "the above catalogue", though he has given none. He is clearly quoting a writer who was at Rome in the time of Anicetus and made a list of popes[12] A list which has some curious agreements with Epiphanius in that it extends only to Anicetus, is found in the poem of Pseudo-Tertullian against Marcion; apparently Epiphanius has mistaken Marcion for "Marcellina". The same list is at the base of the earlier part of the Liberian Catalogue, doubtless taken from Hippolytus. Correspondences among the lists of St. Irenaeus, Africanus, and Eusebius cannot be assumed to have come from the lost list of Hegesippus, as only Eusebius mentions his name.

Eusebius quotes from Hegesippus fifth and last book[13] a long account of the death of James the Just, "the brother of the Lord", given the obscure Greek epithet Oblias, supposed to be a Semitic name in Greek translation.[14] Dr. Robert Eisenman connects "Oblias" with "Protector of the people", as were other 'Zaddikim'.[15] He also transcribes from Hegesippus the story of the election of his successor Simeon, and the summoning of the descendants of St. Jude to Rome by the Emperor Domitian.[16] A list of heresies against which Hegesippus wrote is also cited. Dr. Lawlor has argued that all these passages cited by Eusebius were connected in the original, and were in the fifth book of Hegesippus.[17] He has also argued the likelihood that Eusebius got from Hegesippus the statement that St. John was exiled to Patmos by Domitian.[18] Hegesippus mentioned the letter of Pope St. Clement I to the Corinthians, apparently in connection with the persecution of Domitian. It is very likely that the dating of heretics according to papal reigns in Irenaeus and Epiphanius—e.g., that Marcion's disciple Cerdon and Valentinus came to Rome under Anicetus—was derived from Hegesippus, and the same may be true of the assertion that Hermas, author of The Shepherd of Hermas, was the brother of Pope Pius I (as the Liberian Catalogue, the poem against Marcion, and the Muratorian fragment all state).

Zahn[19] has shown that the work of Hegesippus may still have been extant in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in three Eastern libraries, saying: "We must lament the loss of other portions of the Memoirs which were known to exist in the seventeenth century."[20]


  1. The Chronicon Paschale places the death of Hegesippus in the reign of the Roman Emperor Commodus.
  2. W. Telfer marshals Eusebius' reasons for concluding so, in "Was Hegesippus a Jew?" The Harvard Theological Review 53.2 (April 1960:143-153).
  3. In fact the quote from Hegesippus in Eusebius's Church History (iv.8) is simply that the pagans erect cenotaphs and temples to the deified dead, giving Antinous as an example, venerated "to this very day".
  4. Eusebius, Church History, ii.23; iii.20; iii.32; iv.8; iv.22;
  5. "The usual word is Memoirs, but this half begs the question of their contents" (Telfer 1960:143 note 1).
  6. Jerome, De viris illustribus 22.
  7. "This assertion has been responsible for the widespread belief that Hegesippus is to be reckoned the father of Church History," W. Telfer observed, concluding, on the contrary, that "it would appear, in short, that the Memoranda of Hegesippus were primarily doctrinal and polemical, and only incidentally concerned with history" (Telfer 1960:143-153) pp 143f). Telfer demonstrates that from Eusebius' readings of Hegesippus, that Hegesippus was following the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew Bible, and furthermore, than he was out of touch with actual practices of non-Christian Judaism.
  8. Eusebius, iv.22.
  9. See C. J. Elliott, "Hebrew learning among the Fathers", Dictionary of Christian Biography.
  10. Telfer 1960.
  11. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. iv.22.
  12. That such a list had begun with St. Peter and Saint Paul was Lightfoot's assumption.
  13. The placement of James' death in Hypomnemata, at the end rather than in the middle strongly suggests that the five books of memoranda did not actually constitute a chronological account of Church history, as St. Jerome assumed. (Telfer 1960:144).
  14. Charles C. Torrey, "James the Just, and His Name 'Oblias'” Journal of Biblical Literature 63.2 (June 1944:93-98) gives a sketch of attempted emendations, in offering his own, a variant of Obadiah; Torrey does not doubt Eusebius' characterisation of Hegesippus: "He was an Oriental, familiar with Aramaic and Hebrew, and it is not to be doubted that he understood perfectly the meaning of the word which he wrote" (p. 93), but is aware that "As soon as the attempt is made to find an Aramaic or Hebrew equivalent of 'ΩβΛιας, very serious difficulty is encountered" (p. 94). Like all his predecessors Torrey searches for the impossible origin in a corrupt manuscript tradition. See also: Jonathan Bourgel, "Jacques le Juste, un Oblias parmi d'autres", NTS 59 (2013), 222-46.
  15. "James the Brother of Jesus"
  16. See Desposyni.
  17. Lawlor, Hermathena, 11 (1900), p. 10)
  18. Lawlor, Journal of Theological Studies, 8 (April 1907), p. 436)
  19. Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, 2 (1877-8), p. 288; and Theologisches Litteraturblatt (1893), p. 495
  20. Peter Kirby, Hegesippus fragments in Eusebius


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