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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 4 How: The Performance, Embodiment, and Acquisition of Noetic Skill 221

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4 HOW: THE PERFORMANCE, EMOBODIMENT, AND ACQUISITION OF NOETIC SKILL Introduction In this chapter we turn to the question of how, given the assumptions just identified regarding the nature of the text and the metaphysical state of affairs within which it existed, the reader or interpreter was believed to be able to comprehend the noetic significance of the text. Unfortunately, the commentators in our sample did not set down a clear, explicit, and demonstrably consistently applied procedure for how a noetic interpretation of any given text could be attained, nor are they themselves particularly structured or consistent in the steps they go through in order to reach their interpretations. Sometimes, as several example texts from the previous chapters have shown, a sort of hortatory comment precedes the interpretation, along the lines of ‘let us strive to understand the spiritual meaning’, and sometimes there is a clear announcement that the interpretation about to be delivered is the spiritual, intelligible, or noetic one.201 Most often, an interpretation is not characterised or categorised at all, but just delivered, so that Didymus’ students, for example, frequently have to ask what the spiritual interpretation is, or if that was it that they just heard.202 Similarly, there is scholarly debate to this day about whether Origen actually applied his theory of the three senses of Scripture, whether he had any such theory at all, or whether he actually only works with two senses at least in 222 Mind, Text, and Commentary 201 An example of ‘tagging’...

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