Category Archives: Reception History

Thoughts on Juvencus, Four Books of the Gospels, Book 2

Scott McGill has graciously continued including me during the editorial process of his work on the first English translation of Juvencus’ Four Books of the Gospels. I’ve mainly been able to help by catching additional scriptural intertexts.

In this regard, one set of lines that especially caught my attention was 2.124-126.

You’ll see the whole sky split apart and God’s
swift angels enter heaven and return
bearing a gleaming crown for the Son of Man.

In the immediate context of the poem, Juvencus is retelling John 1:43-51, and here in particular, John 1:51, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

But embedded within this retelling is a possible allusion to Isa 64:1 (“O that you would split the heavens and come down.”) and a probable one to Rev 6:2 or Rev 14:14 (in which Jesus is respectively described as being given and wearing a crown).

The allusions to epic poetry abound, but the more I read Juvencus, the more he impresses me as an adept intertextual interpreter of the sacred scripture.

– Mark G. Bilby

Juvencus and the Literary Reception of Luke

I’ve been working on some articles for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception that deal with the reception of Luke, including its reception in literature. The Four Books of the Gospels by Juvencus, written around 330 CE, is the earliest known great work of literature exploring and retelling Lukan narratives. Thanks to the work of Scott McGill, a complete English translation is forthcoming this December.

Scott was kind enough to share with me a working draft of his translation and notes for book one. In return, and at his request, I happily offered my feedback, some of which should find its way into the notes. While Juvencus primarily relies on the text of Matthew, much of book one retells the scenes and almost all of the dialogue found within the birth narratives of Luke (chs. 1-3). The poem is replete with classical references, but also, perhaps more surprisingly, intertextual Biblical references and allusions that require a deep familiarity with the Scriptures for the reader to catch. For example, on the surface of lines 35-38 we find refashioned the words of Gabriel to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist:

Now I, whom the Lord, Creator of the earth
and sky, made serve before him, am received
Now man’s ungrateful ears and eyes; I’ve done
the bidding of great God, to have it scorned.

But subtly embedded in these lines is Juvencus’ clever attempt to draw a parallel with the angelic epiphany found in Isaiah’s calling (Isaiah 6), and, more profoundly, to fashion the angel Gabriel as a divinely sent but humanly rejected prophet, akin to Isaiah (Isa 6:9-10) and his imitators (Mt 13:14-15, Acts 28:26-27).

Compare the text of Isaiah 6:9-10.

And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”

– Mark Glen Bilby