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Mind, Text, and Commentary

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

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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

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1 STUDYING EXEGESIS, INTERPRETING INTERPRETATION Introduction The act of interpretation is an essential and quotidian function of the human mind. Trafficking in signs and symbols, words and texts, is both ordinary and spectacular, a manifestation of gorgeous complexity and subtle ingenuity in the fundamental task of making sense. We interpret arbitrary sounds without even being aware of doing so and understand language. Some of us, more than others, are able to accurately interpret the subtlest social cues and respond with discretion and prudence to the unstated concerns of another person. We interpret behaviours, clothes, and tones of voice to orient ourselves to other people, and we have our own answers to larger philosophical questions about the nature of the world or the human condition based on the interpretations we have constructed from our experience and inheritance. One concentrated and prized form of the typical human behaviour of interpretation is the interpretation of texts. Exactly how this can or does take place has fascinated literary critics and philosophers intensely over the last fifty years as the linguistic turn ran its course. Another historical context in which interpretation held a specially prized position was in a philosophical educational milieu in late antiquity. The motivation for that was not an ancient linguistic turn, but rather the interaction of the ideas and assumptions and social contexts analysed in the following chapters. This book is about using some of the ideas which have arisen out of the fascination with interpretation in recent decades to better...

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