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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 6 Noetic Exegesis 365


6 NOETIC EXEGESIS Introduction At the outset of this study, engagement with the exegetical work of three early Christian thinkers was oriented to two ideas, one from the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, and one from the literary theorist Stanley Fish. Geertz’ concept of thick description required an account of exegesis which included the commentators’ own concerns and preoccupations, as well as attention to the reasoning behind their interpretive work which they themselves provide or manifest. Fish’s literary criticism was drawn upon for the concept of interpretive assumptions, as well as the hypothesis that the interpretive assumptions of the community reading a text are what determines the meaning which is found in that text. As a result, not only the identification of the relevant interpretive assumptions, but also attention to the larger cultural and intellectual context of those assumptions have been programmatic in the preceding pages. This study has, on the basis of the application of these two concepts from Geertz and Fish, been structured with each chapter representing a question about the interpretive project which was answered on the basis of the commentaries. The answers thus reached represent clusters of interpretive assumptions, and each chapter has included explanation and exemplification of how each interpretive assumption determined the meaning found in the text and how it coloured the exegetical project overall. A brief overview of the currency in the larger cultural context of ideas acting as interpretive assumptions in noetic exegesis in each chapter has been provided to substantiate the portrayal of...

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