Socratic tradition, the Eranistes. As with our other five authors, his commentaries on scripture and homilies testify to his teaching role as bishop. His corpus of extant letters (now around 250, but twice that number were known in the fourteenth century) was addressed to many recipients within a limited social and geographical range - mostly from the Near East and usually elite secular or ecclesiastical officials.45 He compiled a Historia ecclesiastica for the period 323 to 428, a Historia religiosa about the monks of Syria, and a treatise against paganism, to which we return below.
The most interesting aspect of the Christian appropriation of pagan genres involves how they adapted these forms to suit new audiences and new themes. In this section I will examine the continuities with existing genres, and the innovations and subversions introduced by Christian authors. To illustrate each category, I will consider the writings of one or two authors from the six identified above.
Commentaries on scripture Biblical commentary was inspired by both Jewish and Hellenistic traditions. The Jewish Midrash traditions, first written down c. 200, could be divided into two kinds of exegesis of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible): legal, pertaining to the Torah, and non-legal. As in the later Christian commentaries, various modes of interpretation were accepted, ranging from the literal or direct meaning to the mystical meaning. Neoplatonist commentators treated the writings of Plato in much the same way as Jews and Christians treated scripture.46 The Enneads of the philosopher Plotinus (205-70), for instance, sought to present the tensions and inconsistencies in Plato's thought as 'perfectly reasonable and consistent'.47 Augustine is a good example of the educated Christian's struggle to come to terms with the vagaries of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, as he read them in translation in the Vetus Latina, the old Latin version superseded by Jerome's Vulgate.
Augustine's attempts to write a commentary on Genesis extended over thirty-eight years, beginning with De Genesi contra Manichaeos (GnM) and the
45 Wagner, 'A chapter in Byzantine epistolography', 126-7; see also Ian G. Tompkins, The relations between Theodoret of Cyrrhus and his city and its territory, 26-30.
46 See further Robert Lamberton, Homer the theologian.
47 Thus, A. H. Armstrong in his preface to the Loeb volume, Plotinus. Enneads, 1: xiii.
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