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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 5 Where: The Social and Institutional Context of Noetic Exegesis 299


5 WHERE: THE SOCIAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT OF NOETIC EXEGESIS Introduction Interpretive assumptions arising out of beliefs about the nature and status of the text, the metaphysical state of affairs relevant to it, and the proper means of understanding it, have all been examined throughout the preceding chapters, along with how such interpretive assumptions determine the range of meaning found in a text. These assumptions in turn determine where a given culture considers it appropriate to undertake the task of interpretation, which is the topic of the present chapter. Just as various communities today may believe that appropriate exegesis of the Bible comes from the charismatic pulpit, the Vatican, or the scholar’s desk,300 the interpretive community involved in noetic exegesis also had its particular convictions about the appropriate locus of the interpretive act. However, since noetic exegesis, unlike present-day interpretation of the Bible in the communities just mentioned, is not concerned with reaching an exclusive or authoritative statement of the definitive meaning of the text, this issue is not as closely 300 For our purposes, debate in Eastern Block countries in the Soviet era about where legitimate interpretation of Marx and Engels could be located would be just as adequate an example. related to questions of the correctness or authoritativeness of interpretation as it is today. Instead, beliefs and assumptions about the appropriate context for interpretation held by our sample commentators and their interpretive communities are intricately linked with the other interpretive assumptions we have already examined in the...

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