"In 2016, the Development of Early Christian Theology SBL section hosted a review panel of two recent monographs about Epiphanius of Cyprus: Young Richard Kim's Epiphanius of Cyprus: Imagining an Orthodox World and Andrew Jacobs' Epiphanius of Cyprus: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity. Our forum on Epiphanius continues this week with a piece from Dr. Annette Yoshiko Reed."
“I had lived in harness for too long with the greatest mind in Latin Christendom. I wanted out.” So wrote Peter Brown in 1997, reflecting on the arc that connected his first book with his second. By that “greatest mind,” Brown meant Augustine of Hippo, referring there to his own 1967 biography thereof, and evoking the “acute feeling of crampedness” that followed in its wake—a claustrophobia that, by his account, sparked a yearning to sweep capaciously further, from North Africa to Edessa and even into China. The result was the watershed World of Late Antiquity, first published in 1971, wherein Brown eloquently re-described the centuries once labeled as “post-classical” or “late Roman” as what we now study as the transformative era of “Late Antiquity.”
I here hark back to Brown’s self-reflection, almost twenty years ago, as a reminder of the broader historiographical contexts for the two brilliant new biographies here under review. On the one hand, in choosing to write in the genre of biography, both Young Kim and Andrew Jacobs follow in the footsteps of Brown’s monumental and field-making Augustine of Hippo—one of the books that marks a founding moment in the study of Late Antiquity as we now know it. Yet, on the other hand, both Kim and Jacobs use the genre of biography to write about the furiously much-maligned figure of Epiphanius, selecting a subject that stands in some subversive resistance to the telling and retelling of the lives of Augustine and figures similarly celebrated as “great men,” “greatest minds,” and Christian intellectual exemplars. In the process, moreover, each strives to use a single life as a springboard for more capacious reflections on Late Antiquity. Just as Brown notes how his interest in what he encountered as the “Age of Augustine” served as both inspiration and counter-point to his articulation of Late Antiquity, so Kim and Jacobs now suggest—each in his own way—how we might benefit from looking instead to Epiphanius when characterizing “Late Antiquity” anew.
The publication of these biographies of Epiphanius, in my view, marks an interesting moment in the development of the field and thus also an interesting occasion to look both forward and back. Accordingly, in what follows, I would like to reflect on this pair of books through the lens of two broader and interlocking methodological questions. The first concerns selectivity: What is the benefit and challenge in eschewing the usual focus on Augustine and figures like him to propose instead—as Kim so starkly puts it—that “Epiphanius of Cyprus was Late Antiquity”? The second concerns genre: What are the power and limits of biography, and what might we make of its particular pull on this particular field?
Epiphanius, as Kim notes, was as celebrated in his own time as he is maligned in ours. Whereas Sozomen wrote of him as “entirely the most famous man under heaven,” he remains dismissed in modern research as an “anti-intellectual fundamentalist” —as a “reactionary crank,” in general, and “the ‘hatchet man’ of the ‘Nicene right,’” more specifically.
For Kim, this gap between past and present perspectives provides an opportunity for a fresh approach to this clearly influential figure, whom he describes as a “giant” who “deserves to be considered among the most important figures of Late Antiquity.” In this sense, Kim frames his book as building on “an important shift in the scholarly view of and approach to Epiphanius as a theologian, bishop, and controversial figure.” Rather than limiting his task to reclamation or appreciation, however, Kim chooses to approach the challenge of writing the life of Epiphanius as a crucible for experimenting with a more critical approach to biography that attends to the cultural power of the performative construction of a persona and its reception.
Kim’s “critical biography” cleverly inverts the usual scholarly reading practice for Epiphanius’ magnum opus, the Panarion. Typically, as Kim notes, Epiphanius and his writings have been rarely studied for their own sake but mainly culled for “his transmission of otherwise lost texts and documents.” “Rather than mine the Panarion as a source of information on the beliefs and practices of others,” however, Kim approaches it “as a window onto the man himself.” He attends to the first-person narratives therein as they may “reveal how [Epiphanius] wanted others to understand him and imagine his life.” Furthermore, Kim suggests that this material might disclose “how his self-construction and presentation paralleled historical changes that were unfolding in the later Roman Empire.”
Jacobs is even more explicit in using a focus on Epiphanius to “broaden the framework in which we seek to understand Christian Late Antiquity.” For him, the gap between modern and late antique assessments of Epiphanius offers a heuristic wedge between past and present as well as a timely occasion for self-reflection on our own modern scholarly patterns of selectivity. “Our objections to Epiphanius,” Jacobs suggests, “indicate rather the type of value that we find in the transformative era we have come to call ‘late antiquity’ and the cultures that it produced.” For this, the exemplum is Augustine. On the one hand, scholarly attention to Augustine emblematizes the search in the past for Christian figures that fit the values of our present age: “When we focus on primarily on intellectuals like Augustine, we are remaining largely in a world we find comforting and familiar.” On the other hand, this attention has become somewhat tautological, all but defining the study of Late Antiquity and serving as a touch-point to which scholars return and return even while revising their views of the period. Or, as Jacobs so nicely puts it:
Even as the field of late antiquity itself shifts—from intellectual history to social history to cultural history, and so on—the persons who dominate our studies remain remarkably fixed… We may change, but Augustine (among others) remains constant, our historiographical North Star, in his centrality to our understanding of this period of time.
What attracts him about Epiphanius, by contrast, is in the shift away—the prospect of choosing precisely a figure that makes modern people uncomfortable. “[C]ertain key people,” Jacobs avers, “resonate more with our own cultural aspirations and anxieties”—and his view, Epiphanius is not one of them.
Instead of seeking to resolve or collapse difference, for instance, Epiphanius—by Jacobs’ reading—“does not worry over the fractious anxieties of identity that characterized the early Christian Roman Empire… [he] is remarkably comfortable with division and difference… His world is full of ‘others’ (Jews, pagans, heretics), and he casts a clear and confident gaze over their seemingly endless and multiplying ranks.” Difference is not so much a problem, but rather an opportunity for the assertion of authority through the compilation and organization of knowledge (as Todd Berzon similarly shows). Authority is similarly central to another area in which Epiphanius contravenes our modern expectations of what an important late antique Christian man should do: whereas Augustine cultivates his literary persona and corpora, Epiphanius retains a loose and oral style of Greek. Although maligned by modern scholars, this choice—as Jacobs shows—is likely not just a matter of laziness or lack of education: it forms part of what Jacobs persuasively reconsiders in Chapter Three as the deployment of an “improvisational style in multiple Christian disciplinary contexts.”
Whereas Kim focuses on the “carefully constructed persona” created by Epiphanius and signals his contention of its possible continuities with Epiphanius himself, Jacobs considers this persona to be opaque enough to displace any questions about its status as a window onto any inner self: “From this careful persona,” Jacobs suggests, “we steal no glimpses into the interior psyche of a ‘great man’… [but] we can espy the cultural landscape of a dawning Christian Roman Empire.” Significant in this regard is Epiphanius’ reception and cultural impact in his own time—which Jacobs deftly draws out by brilliantly experimenting with the application of contemporary discussions of celebrity (esp. Chapter One). It is precisely because of his “iconicity,” Jacobs suggests, that Epiphanius “does not resolve but simply embodies cultural tensions.”
In effect, then, both biographies unsettle the very presumption that underpins the genre—that is, confidence in the possibility of recovering enough of the life and experiences of a person to recount as a narrative in writing. The inner life and experiences of Epiphanius here remain bracketed. What is written, instead, is the story of his performed and constructed persona, in the case of Kim, and his iconicity and celebrity, in the case of Jacobs. Writings by and about Augustine may tempt us to imagine that we can gain some direct access to the inner self and inner life of one important late antique man—into a “mind” (which as Brown notes, is reified in retrospect as the “greatest mind” of his time). Yet the writings by and about Epiphanius trouble and fragment the very notion of a self that is stable and only internalized, pointing instead to the self as constructed and performed in deeds and writing, on the one hand, and the self as received as culturally constructive, on the other. And, as a result, a focus on Epiphanius is even more so a focus on his age.
This brings us to our second question, namely that of biography. Why focus on a single life at all, whatever the choice of person? And, more specifically, what may be lost and gained by choosing to write biographies as an entry-point into understanding Late Antiquity? In April of 1968—shortly after Brown published the biography of Augustine noted at the outset—Arnaldo Momigliano delivered the Carl Newell Jackson Classical Lectures at Harvard and began by reflecting on precisely this issue. “When I was young,” Momigliano there reflects, “scholars wrote history and gentlemen wrote biography. But were they gentlemen?... The biographers were no longer keeping their place. They claimed to be endowed with special intuitions of human motives; they even claimed to be the real historians.” By the time that Momigliano delivered these lectures in what he calls his “old age,” he notes that “[b]iography has never been so popular, so respected, so uncontroversial,” in part because of the “negative fact that full-blooded social history is becoming more and more intractable owing to its increased refinements and complications.” Accordingly, Momigliano opined that “[b]iography has acquired an ambiguous role in historical research: it may be a tool of social research or it may be an escape from social research.”
In the late 1960s, Momigliano thus observed that “[t]he new privileged position of biography in contemporary historical studies is in itself a paradox that invites questions—and doubts.” Much the same might be said today, especially in relation to the field of Late Antiquity. Indeed, part of what is so fascinating about the biographies of Epiphanius by Kim and Jacobs is that both take seriously the task of reflecting on the very genre and its limits. Unlike the biographers to whom Momigliano alludes, neither Kim nor Jacobs makes any claim to be “endowed with special intuitions of human motives.”
Both biographies are biographies that bristle against the constraints of the very genre. Kim, for instance, presents his work as a “critical biography,” and he stresses that his aim is “not a traditional biography but a complex examination of the intersection of words and deeds, convictions and tensions, perceptions and practices that undergird the pages of the Panarion.” Just as Kim elsewhere points to how the heresiological material in the Panarion can be read as a “collective biography” that builds “a composite image of the ‘unholy man,’” so he here highlights its autobiographical components as speaking to “a historical person and a rhetorical persona.” In this doubling, Epiphanius’ self-fashioning as an exemplar proves key, as Kim richly demonstrates with respect to his self-patterning after Athanasius, which shaped his vision and delineation of “orthodoxy.” And so too with Epiphanius’ self-construction as “heresy-hunter” in and by the writing of the Panarion—which, in turn, provided what Kim suggests was a “script” for the “orthopraxy” of Epiphanius’ later life.
Perhaps more strikingly, the very structure of Kim’s book artfully resists the smooth rhythms of any simple narrative retelling of Epiphanius’ own life. Kim moves back and forth between moments in Epiphanius’ life, as auto-biographically recounted in the Panarion, and discussing trends and topics important for Late Antiquity more broadly; the latter are exemplary of the specific domains over which Epiphanius claimed expertise or the specific contexts that shaped them—including but not limited to transformations in the Holy Land, fourth-century ecclesiastical controversies, and Christological debates.
Jacobs organizes his book in a sense to resist biography as well. He stresses, for instance, his thematic approach and notes that “in this sense my cultural biography is not so much that of Epiphanius but rather of the time he reflected and shaped.” Representative in this regard is his treatment of Epiphanius’ “deployment of an improvisational style of church discipline,” wherein he emphasizes that Epiphanius is not “unique or even necessarily innovative” but nevertheless “reveals a crucial strategy for the development of orthodox Christian institutionalism in the last decades of the fourth century.” Among the gains, moreover, is further to link Epiphanius’ self-fashioning to his textual practice—that is, his use of dictation as his main compositional style, resulting in “a pastiche of rigorous, moralizing orthodoxy in loose, spontaneous language.” Here too, the contrast with Augustine is instructive: whereas Augustine cultivates his literary skills and corpus, Epiphanius seems to write mainly by dictation, in a fluid and oral Greek, “grammatical mistakes and all.”
By means of conclusion, I would like to extend some queries—again in the spirit of reading these two books as speaking to a potent moment in the development of our field. One concerns our reading practices as modern scholars, and what is thereby privileged and elided, and the other concerns our writing practices, and what is thereby obscured or occluded.
Both Kim and Jacobs emphasize the importance of rescuing Epiphanius from a role as mere reservoir for information about others—with Kim lamenting that he has been studied mainly for “his transmission of otherwise lost texts and documents,” while Jacobs observes how “[s]cholars mine the Panarion for otherwise incomplete or missing documents by more important players.” These points are well taken with respect to the importance of reading texts on their own terms and not only atomizing them for earlier traditions that they might preserve. I wonder, though, whether this insight nevertheless reinscribes some longstanding habits in modern scholarship that serve to distract from the importance of anthological textual practices in Late Antiquity. Modern scholars tend to treat any possible “sources” primarily as materials in need of extraction, for instance, and devalue those works that interweave many such sources. To recover such works as literary works in their own right is promising, but to do so only with an emphasis on the author might run the risk of reifying an anachronistic contrast between the author, imagined as a well of autonomous creativity, and the anthologist, imagined as a rote or derivative compiler.
Premodern practices of anthologizing have been systematically devalued in favor of other modes of “authorship” more valorized in modern times—such as, most notably, those associated with the famous named-author who writes autobiographically about himself or in ways that otherwise seem to disclose something about their inner thoughts and experiences. But what if we were to argue for Kim’s dictum that “Epiphanius was Late Antiquity” precisely on the grounds of his anthological temper? Those same centuries, after all, are important for this too: the emergence of the Christian chronographical tradition, the systematic culling of proof-texts from the past there and elsewhere through excerption and compilation, the creation of extensive church rules through eclectic processes of collection as exemplified by works like the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Roman compilation of law codes—not even to mention the emergence of the classical Rabbinic literature culminating with archetypally anthological tomes of the Talmud Yerushalmi and the Talmud Bavli.
What insights might be gleaned if one were to focus on these writing practices instead, which cut across what comes down to us as authored and non-authored works in Late Antiquity as well as providing an interesting point of overlap between Christian and Jewish literary practices that might otherwise seem to be diverging in precisely this period? For answering such questions, a focus on Epiphanius might also be efficacious. The insightful excursuses and nested contexts within Kim’s book, in particular, offer a number of potentially fruitful seeds, not least in drawing attention to his patterning of the Panarion on “ancient biological and pharmacological knowledge” as well as in noting his neglected On Twelve Stones, as it contains “a bewildering display of intertextual connections, as he linked Old Testament, New Testament, geographical, mineralogical, medical, historical, and ethnographical images and knowledge.”
My final question is a related point about our modern attraction to those whom we can most readily imagine as “authors.” Both Kim and Jacobs make important arguments about the patterns of selectivity in the modern study of Late Antiquity that have led to the relative disregard for Epiphanius. Yet what does it mean to answer the problem of focusing on a particular small set of famous men by looking instead to a differently famous man? Such choices are naturalized by the subfield of “Patristics” and the rubric of “the Church Fathers,” as well as the lineage of the study of Late Antiquity, which is itself often framed in relation to “great men” like Brown and in retrospective essays and volumes celebrating their contribution to creating the field. But what of other sources? Even aside from the classic bifurcation of intellectual and social history for this period, as familiar today as in Momigliano’s time, we might ask about other literary sources neglected in the interest in authors for whom biographies are even possible. One might cite, for instance, any number of Christian apocrypha that are anonymous or apostolically pseudonymous, or those various materials that become associated with early figures like Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome. To what degree might this continuum of works be similarly read in terms of what Kim models in terms of persona, on the one hand, and what Jacobs maps out as celebrity, on the other?
In exploring such questions, we might take inspiration in one of the most historiographical insightful sentences of Jacobs’ book, cozily tucked away on page 107. There, he states: “The teleological temptation that haunts all history writing leads us, perhaps too easily, to emphasize limit and constraint over fluidity and flexibility.” To the degree that Epiphanius can help to inspire a flip in this emphasis, these biographies about him may also help to map out an even more capacious understanding of Late Antiquity more broadly.
 P. R. L. Brown, “So debate the world of Late Antiquity revisited,” Symbolae Osloenses 72:1 (1997): 5-30, quote at 16.
 P. R. L. Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (London: Faber & Faber, 1967).
 P. R. L. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: From Marcus Aurelius to Muhammad (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971).
 Young Kim, Epiphanius of Cyprus: Imagining an Orthodox World (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015); Andrew Jacobs, Epiphanius of Cyprus: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity, Christianity in Late Antiquity Series (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).
 Kim, Epiphanius, 1.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 1-3.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 176, 213.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 236-37.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 7.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 4.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 7.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 8.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 8.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 5.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 4.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 5.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 5-6.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 5.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 6-7.
 Todd Berzon, Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 101.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 13.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 52.
 Arnaldo Momigliano, The Development of Greek Biography: Four Lectures (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971). See further Mark Vessey, "The Demise of the Christian Writer and the Remaking of ‘Late Antiquity’: From H.-I. Marrou’s Saint Augustine (1938) to Peter Brown’s Holy Man (1983)," Journal of Early Christian Studies 6.3 (1998): 377-411.
 Momigliano, Development of Greek Biography, 1.
 Momigliano, Development of Greek Biography, 5-6.
 Momigliano, Development of Greek Biography, 6.
 Momigliano, Development of Greek Biography, 6.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 13.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 12; cf. Kim, “Reading the Panarion as Collective Biography: The Heresiarch as Unholy Man,” Vigiliae Christianae 64.4 (2010): 382-413.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 38-39, 173, 204.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 27.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 129.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 130.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 11.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 4; Jacobs, Epiphanius, 176.
 Kim, Epiphanius, 180, 210.
 Jacobs, Epiphanius, 107.
Dr. Annette Yoshiko Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Pennsylvania