Learning the Language of Scripture: Origen, Wisdom, and Exegetical Inquiry

James, Mark, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ochs, Peter, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Learning the Language of Scripture: Origen, Wisdom, and Exegetical Inquiry offers a new reading of Origen’s exegetical procedures as a contribution to the contemporary discussion about the theological interpretation of scripture. Contemporary interpreters are frequently anxious about the arbitrariness of their own procedures. Although Origen is often regarded as the most arbitrary of traditional interpreters, this study argues that his apparent arbitrariness is a sign of a deeper but neglected logic operative in his exegesis.
This study characterizes this logic in terms of wisdom. Origen regards scriptural texts as paradigmatic examples of wise speech. The task of interpreting scripture is to acquire the wisdom displayed in the scriptures by learning to speak as they speak. This dissertation describes three aspects of the process by which Origen seeks to acquire scripture’s linguistic competence. First, Origen treats scriptural texts as scripts or words to be spoken, investigating the proper contexts in which they may be used. Second, Origen asks about the underlying rules or ‘habits’ of scriptural discourse, which he reconstructs through inductive methods. Third, Origen uses analogical arguments to propose new utterances of scripture-like language that boldly push the boundaries of what his community recognizes as acceptable speech. The goal of this process is ultimately the transformation of his human language into the divine speech of the Logos, which this study labels the ‘deification of discourse.’
This study then sketches a model of contemporary theological interpretation in terms of the pursuit of wisdom. What emerges is a form of postliberalism that combines a focus on scriptural interpretation with a thoroughgoing commitment to empirical and rational inquiry.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
hermeneutics, scripture, interpretation, Origen, Stoicism, philosophy of language, theology, theological interpretation, Robert Jenson, Phyllis Trible, patristics, Sextus Empiricus
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