Luke. He suggests that it would irreverent to make such a suggestion if it were not for the fact that there is much diversity in our copies, whether by the carelessness of certain scribes, or by some culpable rashness in the correction of the text, or by some people making arbitrary additions or omissions in their corrections.30
Origen was also well aware that a translated text could never quite represent the exact wording of the original. Eusebius tells us31 how he produced the Hexapla - a massive work in which he placed the Hebrew, a Hebrew transliteration and four or more Greek versions side by side for comparison. The questions how much Hebrew Origen actually knew32 and how much he consulted Jewish scholars are vexed. He does claim in a number of places33 to have heard Jews interpreting scripture, or himself enquired of Jews about particular passages. The complete Hexapla was probably never copied, and the original has long since been lost. It is an indication, however, of how seriously Origen took the scholarly endeavour to ensure that every jot and tittle of the text was just right.
In ancient texts there was no word division or punctuation, so reading involved analysis of the text to see how the words fitted together and where the phrases ended. All reading in the ancient world was aloud, and had to be prepared, by studying the grammar and construction of the sentences. Then understanding required attention to vocabulary and etymology, since ancient texts often used archaic words. Commentators would build up concordances so as to discern the Homeric meaning of words;34 Origen did the same to establish biblical meanings, listing cross-references to elucidate the text before him. Besides this, figures of speech had to be noted - simile and metaphor, onomatopeia, irony and so on. If the linguistic 'turn' (trope) was not identified, the wrong meaning would emerge - after all, irony is saying the opposite of what you mean with a particular tone of voice, so failing to identify that in a text would be to misread it entirely. Origen expends considerable effort in identifying such linguistic features. He recognises that you cannot take a metaphor literally without completely misreading the text. There are times when taking a text 'according to the letter' is impossible. Origen simply adopts here the standard methodology of the schools of grammar and rhetoric, applying it to
32 Euseb. HE 6.16 claims he knew the language, but it seems from his writings that his knowledge was slight; de Lange, Origen and the Jews.
33 E.g. Comm. Jo. 6.83; Hom. in Ezech. 4.8; C. Cels. 1.45, 55; de Lange, Origen and the Jews for full discussion ofhis debt to Jewish scholars.
34 Lamberton, Homer the theologian.
Was this article helpful?