Onomasticon (Eusebius)

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The Onomasticon compiled by Eusebius of Caesarea (more properly, On the Place-Names in the Holy Scripture, Περὶ τῶν τοπικῶν ὀνομάτων τῶν ἐν τῇ Θείᾳ Γραφῇ, Peri tōn topikōn onomatōn tōn en tē Theia Graphē, in Greek) is a directory of place names, or "gazetteer", a primary source that provides historical geographers with a contemporary knowledge of early 4th-century Palestine and Transjordan. It sits uneasily between the ancient genres of geography and lexicography, taking elements from both but serving as a member of neither.[1] It is, according to many, the most important book for the study of Palestine in the Roman period.[2][3][4]


Eusebius' description of his own method, who wrote: "I shall collect the entries from the whole of the divinely inspired Scriptures, and I shall set them out grouped by their initial letters so that one may easily perceive what lies scattered throughout the text,"[5] implies that he had no similar type of book to work from; his work being entirely original, based only on the text of the Bible.[6] Others have suggested that Eusebius had at his disposal early Roman maps of the Roman Empire with which to work, and which allowed him to record the precise distances between locations in Roman miles.[7] Needless to say, this innovation has been very useful to modern research. Of the approximate 980 Biblical and New Testament names of places contained in those works, Eusebius identifies some 340 with locations known in his own day and age.

The primary source for the Onomasticon is Codex Vaticanus, Gr. 1456 which dates from the 11th or 12th century. Klostermann published a scientific edition of the manuscript in 1904, using in addition four other manuscripts. Dependent upon the Codex Vaticanus manuscript is Codex Parisinus Gr 464 which dates from the 16th century. These two manuscripts were edited and published by Lagarde in 1870.

Eusebius organizes his entries into separate categories according to their first letters. The entries for Joshua under Tau, for example, read as follows:[8]

Tina (Kinah, 15:22): of the tribe of Judah.

Telem (15:24): of the tribe of Judah.
Tessam ([Azem] 15:29): of the tribe of Judah.

Tyre ([Zer] 19:35): of the tribe of Naphthali.

Under each letter, the entries are organized first by the book they are found in, and then by their place in that book. In almost all of the entries in his geographical opus, Eusebius brings down the respective distances in Roman "milestones" (semeia) from major points of reference, such as from Jerusalem, Beit Gubrin (Eleutheropolis), Hebron, Ptolemais, Caesarea, etc. In Eusebius' Onomasticon, distances between each "milestone" were usually 1,600 meters–1,700 meters, although the standard Roman mile was 1,475 meters. Since most villages in the Onomasticon are far removed from Roman-built roads, scholars have concluded that Eusebius did not glean the geographical information from maps based on a milestone survey, but rather collected the information from some other source.[9]

Where there is a contemporary town at the site or nearby, Eusebius notes it in the corresponding entry. "Terebinth", for example, describes Shechem as "near Neapolis", modern Nablus, and "Tophet" is located "in the suburbs of Jerusalem".[8]


The Onomasticon has traditionally been dated before 324, on the basis of its sparse references to Christianity, and complete absence of remarks on Constantine the Great's buildings in the Holy Land. The work also describes traditional religious practices at the oak of Mamre as though they were still happening, while they are known to have been suppressed soon after 325, when a church was built on the site.[10] Eusebius references the encampment of the Legio X Fretensis at Aila (in southern Israel, near modern Aqaba and Eilat); the X Fretensis was probably transferred from Jerusalem to Aila under Diocletian (r. 284–305).[11]

Jerome provided a Latin translation of Eusebius' Onomasticon, which Jerome translated in anno 388 CE while living in Bethlehem.[12][13] Jerome's Latin edition includes various designations, based on the different manuscripts available to him. This Latin version of Eusebius' Onomasticon became the main source for research of Palestine in the west.[12] The edition published by Paul de Lagarde includes the Latin work compiled by Jerome under the title, Hieronymi de situ et nominibus locorum hebraicorum liber.[12]


Eusebius compiled his work in Greek, although a Latin translation of the Onomasticon was made by Jerome in little over half-a-century later. Greco-Roman referents are used by Eusebius in his Onomasticon for Hebrew names, such as Ailia for Jerusalem, Nicopolis for Emmaus, Diospolis for Lydda (Lod), Eleutheropolis for Beit Gubrin, Azotus for Ashdod, Jamnia for Yavne, Neapolis for Shechem, Scythopolis for Beit Shean, Diocaesarea for Sepphoris, Philadelphia for Amman, and Ptolemais for Acco.


The complete demographic diversity of Palestine in the 4th-century CE is not fully known. However, Eusebius who lived in Beit Gubrin (Eleutheropolis) speaks briefly about the country's ethnic make-up, principally, in the area of the country in which he was most familiar. Out of fourteen entries where he mentions the town's ethnic details, eleven of these settlements were Jewish, namely: Ekron, Anea, Debir, En-Gedi, Eshtemoh, Hormah, Thalca, Juttah,[14] Nineveh [sic],[15] Naarah, and Carmel (mentioned incidentally to Ziph); one a Samaritan village: Tirzah (Thersila) in Batanaea;[16] and two Christian settlements: Anaea and Jattir.[17] Another town with a sizable Jewish population was "Dabeira on Mount Thabor, in the borders of Diocaesarea" (Lower Galilee).[18][19]

Published editions of Eusebius' Onomasticon[edit]

  • de Lagarde, P., ed. (1870). Onomastica sacra. Göttingen: A. Rente. OCLC 6826073. (2nd ed. 1887; reprinted in Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1966)
(In this edition the Greek and Latin texts do not appear in parallel but in succession: first Latin, then Greek. The editor provides the material with references to biblical and other sources, without introductory notes and commentary)
  • Klostermann, Erich, ed. (1904). Das Onomastikon der biblischen Ortsnamen. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs. OCLC 953603156. (reprinted in Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1966. OCLC 748997898)
(The first critical edition of the Onomasticon)
  • Chapmann III, R.L.; Taylor, J.E., eds. (2003). Palestine in the Fourth Century A.D.: The Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea. Translated by G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville. Jerusalem: Carta. ISBN 965-220-500-1. OCLC 937002750.
(Provides an English translation both of the Greek text by Eusebius and of the Latin translation by Jerome)
(A triglott edition - in Greek, Latin, and English, with notes and commentary)


  1. ^ Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 106.
  2. ^ Eusebius; G.S.P. Freeman-Greenville; Rupert L. Chapman; Joan E. Taylor; Saint Gerome (2003). The Onomasticon: Palestine in the Fourth Century A.D. Carta. ISBN 978-965-220-500-1.
  3. ^ R. Steven Notley and Ze'ev Safrai, Eusebius, Onomasticon - A Triglott Edition with Notes and Commentary, Introduction
  4. ^ Hagith Sivan (February 14, 2008). Palestine in Late Antiquity. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-160867-4. A verbal map of Palestine, the Onomasticon ... Basically a scholarly venture, the Onomasticon's Palestine was a recreation of the biblical promised land occasionally brought up to date.
  5. ^ Onomasticon p. 2.14ff., qtd. and tr. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 107.
  6. ^ Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 106–7.
  7. ^ Yoel Elitzur, Ancient Toponyms in Eretz-Israel as Preserved among the Arabs - The Linguistic Aspects, Hebrew University: Jerusalem 1992, Introduction
  8. ^ a b Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 107.
  9. ^ Benjamin Isaac and Israel Roll, Roman Roads in Judaea I – The Legio-Scythopolis Road, B.A.R. International Series, Oxford 1982, p. 12
  10. ^ Barnes, "Onomasticon", 413.
  11. ^ Barnes, "Onomasticon", 413 n. 4.
  12. ^ a b c Krašovec, Jože (2009). Rofé, A.; Segal, M.; Talmon, S.; Talshir, Z. (eds.). "Phonetic Factors in Transliteration of Biblical Proper Names into Greek and Latin". Textus - Studies of the Hebrew University Bible Project. The Hebrew University, Magnes Press. 24: 17. OCLC 761216587.
  13. ^ Richard, Suzanne (2003), Near Eastern Archaeology: A Reader, EISENBRAUNS, p. 442, ISBN 978-1-57506-083-5
  14. ^ Eusebius, Onomasticon - The Place Names of Divine Scripture, (ed.) R. Steven Notley & Ze'ev Safrai, Brill: Leiden 2005, p. 104 (§545)
  15. ^ Chapmann III, R.L.; Taylor, J.E., eds. (2003). Palestine in the Fourth Century A.D.: The Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea. Translated by G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville. Jerusalem: Carta. p. 75 (Nineveh II). ISBN 965-220-500-1. OCLC 937002750.
  16. ^ Hamitovsky, Itzhak (2007). "Between Tirzah and Tirzah (Thersila) in the Onomasticon of Eusebius, and the Origin of Menahem Ben Gadi". Beit Mikra: Journal for the Study of the Bible and Its World (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Bialik Institute. 1 (52): 50. JSTOR 23509675.
  17. ^ Notley, R.S.; Safrai, Z., eds. (2005). Eusebius, Onomasticon: The Place Names of Divine Scripture. Boston / Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. xvii (Introduction). ISBN 0-391-04217-3. OCLC 927381934.
  18. ^ Notley, R.S.; Safrai, Z., eds. (2005). Eusebius, Onomasticon: The Place Names of Divine Scripture. Boston / Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. xvii (Introduction). ISBN 0-391-04217-3. OCLC 927381934.
  19. ^ Chapmann III, R.L.; Taylor, J.E., eds. (2003). Palestine in the Fourth Century A.D.: The Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea. Translated by G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville. Jerusalem: Carta. p. 47 (Dabeira II). ISBN 965-220-500-1. OCLC 937002750.

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