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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 2 What: What Manner of Thing Was The Text Beleived To Be? 59

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2 WHAT: WHAT MANNER OF THING WAS THE TEXT BELIEVED TO BE? Introduction It is actually possible for opinions to vary, and to vary extremely, on the topic of what a text really is. This can involve questions about the nature of text as such: Is it a precise, objective record of a specific piece of language whose meaning is determined? Or is it an inherently ambiguous, amorphous example of human thought processes, whose meaning is inherently undetermined and which means whatever it is read as meaning? Defining what a text is can also involve questions about the status of individual texts: Does this text deserve to be part of the literary canon? Is it a valid specimen of the author’s work? Should it be used in education? This preoccupation with issues of the relative objectivity or subjectivity of text as such, and how particular texts are granted cultural authority, has been typical of the shift from modernism to post-modernism. Late antique scholars also had particular concerns and preoccupations in addressing the question of the nature and status of various texts. In the sample before us here, we are not confronted with as much discussion of the definition of the nature of text-as-such as scholars in the past century have been occupied with, nor with our own day’s awareness of construction, narrative and discourse. Instead, we see these thinkers functioning within a culture which gave certain texts a privileged status and attributed special characteristics and capabilities to them, so that...

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