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Mind, Text, and Commentary

Noetic Exegesis in Origen of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, and Evagrius Ponticus


Blossom Stefaniw

Scholarship on early Christian exegesis is full of puzzlement at the commentator’s apparent lack of concern for the literal or historical meaning of the text, usually explained as the result of an illegitimate allegorical method. This study comes to grips with the particularities of this type of interpretation by using tools from ethnography and literary criticism. By analysing the commentator’s interpretive assumptions and the framework of significances within which the commentaries were produced and read, the author is able to solve a chronic problem in the study of early Christian exegesis. Further, she articulates the social context of the performance of noetic exegesis and its significance for monastic teachers, philosophers, and their audiences.


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Chapter 1 Studying Exegesis, Interpreting Interpretation 9 Introduction 9 Sample Exegetes and Source Texts 16 Origen of Alexandria (185–254) 20 Didymus the Blind (c. 313–c. 398) 23 Evagrius Ponticus (c. 345–c. 400) 27 Terminology 28 Christians and Pagans 42 Precedent and Progress in the Interpretation of Interpretation 43 Chapter 2 What: What Manner of Thing Was The Text Beleived To Be? 59 Introduction 59 The Larger Cultural Context 63 The Nature of the Text and Exegetical Controversy 73 Traditional Texts as Media of Revelation in the Sample Commentators 86 The Authors of Traditional Texts as Visionaries and Prophets 96 Constructing Revelation: Interpretive Maintenance of the Authority of the Text 116 Perceiving the Moral and Spiritual Referent 132 Conclusions 145 Chapter 3 Why: Under What Conditions Was Noetic Exegesis Considered Necessary? 149 Introduction 149 The Intelligible and the Sensible: Metaphysical Categories and Multiple Referents 154 Ordinary Language and Perfect Knowledge: The Paradox of Written Revelation 198 Conclusions 218 Chapter 4 How: The Performance, Embodiment, and Acquisition of Noetic Skill 221 Introduction 221 Contemporary Psychology and the Cognitive Equipment Used in Noetic Exegesis 228 Embodying Noetic Skill: the Interpreter as Philosopher, Holy Man, or Spiritual Guide 253 Exegesis and Education: Acquiring Noetic Skill 266 Philosophical Formation in the Larger Cultural Context 270 Origen’s Curriculum 276 Didymus the Blind’s Curriculum 284 Evagrius and Monastic Formation 289 Conclusions 296 6 Mind, Text, and Commentary Chapter 5 Where: The Social and Institutional Context of Noetic Exegesis 299 Introduction 299 The Logistics of...

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