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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 3 Why: Under What Conditions Was Noetic Exegesis Considered Necessary? 149


3 WHY: UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS WAS NOETIC EXEGESIS CONSIDERED NECESSARY? Introduction To some degree each of the chapters of this study concerns itself with the question ‘Why was noetic exegesis practiced?’. This is not least because investigating the motivations and aims of our sample exegetes is naturally the focus of a study of their interpretive assumptions and of a thick description approach. In the present chapter we are not yet concerned with answering this question in terms of the social application of noetic exegesis or the larger cultural aims it was believed to be able to facilitate, but first with moving on directly from Chapter Two’s most general assumptions about the nature of the text to similarly broad quasi-philosophical beliefs which, for the exegetes concerned, provided a framework within which noetic exegesis, given the interpretive assumptions on the nature of the text just collected and those on the means and social location of noetic exegesis we are to examine in Chapter Four and Chapter Five, was necessary. In speaking of necessity, I am referring to a perceived need for noetic exegesis above and beyond the mere grammatical comprehension of the textual narrative in order to achieve the aims to which the reading of the text in a specific pedagogical context was oriented, and not of any historically compelling circumstances which caused noetic exegesis to arise or caused it to be preferred to any (purportedly) literal manner of reading. Thus while noetic exegesis was believed to be a necessary way...

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