Origen the Philologist

It’s well known among scholars that Origen of Alexandria was one of the most extraordinary minds of early Christianity. He was a master of traditional Hellenistic learning, and matched that with an astounding knowledge of the scriptures. Naturally, philology, as it was practiced in the Hellenistic world, played a key role for Origen in his interpretive practice. I’m currently transcribing from his first homily on Psalm 36, and was reminded by this excerpt, in which he explains the difference between the Greek words παραζηλόω and ζηλόω:

τίς οὖν ἡ διαφορὰ τοῦ παραζηλοῦν παρὰ τὸ ζηλοῦν; κατανοητέον, οὐ πάνυ τίς ἐστιν ἡ λέξις ἑλληνική. οὐδὲ τέτριπται ἐν τῇ συνηθείᾳ τῶν ἑλλήνων. οὔτε τῶν φιλολόγων· οὔτε τῶν ἰδιωτικώτερον φραξόντων· ἀλλ’ ἔοικε βεβιασμένη γενέσθαι ὑπὼ τῶν ἑρμηνευτῶν· βουλομένων ἑρμηνεῦσαι τῷ ἑβραϊκῷ ῥημῷ καὶ τὴν διαφορὰν παραστῆσαι κατὰ τὸ δυνατὸν ἀνθρωπίνῃ φύσει ζήλου καὶ παραζηλώσεως·

What then is the difference between “παραζηλοῦν” and “ζηλοῦν?” In must be acknowledged that this word (παραζηλόω) is not quite Greek. It is not customary of the Greeks, nor of the philologists, nor of those speaking their own tongues. Rather, it appears to have been forced into being by the translators, who wanted to translate this Hebrew word, and demonstrate for the human kind the difference, insofar as it was possible, between ζήλος (zeal) and παραζήλωσις (emulation, jealousy).

Remarkably, I did a quick check of Origen’s observation against the TLG. Παραζηλόω is indeed an essentially Christian word. I can’t find anything earlier than the Septuagint, and nearly all the occurrences come in Christian writers. It’s quite a testament to his ability that he (and other ancient scholars) could make these kinds of judgments without the benefit of computers!

ἐν αὐτῷ,



Lots of changes in my life have taken place recently. After working at IBM for over 3 years, I’ve left to focus on my studies full time. I have moved to the DC area, and am slowly settling in. There are plenty of things to unpack, and plenty of new items to adjust to in a new city. Most of all, I’ve to adjust to my wife still being in Raleigh. She still has a semester left to finish her B.S. at NC State, which means we’ll only see each other on weekends. Fortunately the train ride isn’t bad.

Speaking of studies, graduate orientation was today. I got to meet the majority of the entering Greek and Latin students, which was a treat. I’ve also taken placement tests for both Greek and Latin this week. The tests were long (3 hours a piece), and quite detailed. I believe I did well, but I’m still waiting on the results. Results pending, I’ll be taking the following courses this fall:

  • Latin Prose Composition– A detailed review of Latin grammar, and close analysis (and imitation) of classical Latin stylists like Cicero.
  • History of the Ancient Mediterranean– A historical overview of the Mediterranean region from ca. 200 to about 800.
  • Homer– We’ll primarily be reading from the Iliad, as I understand it.
  • Intro to Syriac

Classes begin next week, and naturally I’m excited. As I come across interesting items in my work, I’ll try to share them here.

Of course, interesting items abound elsewhere. The Origen codex remains a vital interest, though I’ve neglected it. Likewise, I photographed plenty of interesting Chrysostom material while I was in Oxford. My photos aren’t the best, but they are good enough to read from, so I hope to post some transcriptions and translations as time permits. Hélas, tempus fugit!

ὁ ταπεινὸς ἁμαρτωλός Ἀλεξάνδρος

Unpublished Material from John Chrysostom on the Psalms

First, I must say that I am enjoying my week in Oxford immensely.  I’ve learned a good deal from the Palaeography summer school: we’ve been able to read a goodly number of texts, in all sorts of different hands.  There have been quite interesting lectures in the evenings, and great library exhibits during the day.

While I’m here, I’ve decided to make use of the special collections access that came with my card.  Use the excellent Pinakes website, I came across Ms. Barocci 55, a codex containing a large number of homilies from John Chrysostom.  Of particular interest to me were 6 homilies on the Psalms which are not included in the Patrologia Graeca volume.  According to the catalog, the materials on the psalms dates from the 10th century, which means it’s quite early.

The psalms covered in the ms are: 41, 50 (2 homilies), 71, 92, and 100 (all LXX numbers).  I transcribed some material today from the homily on ps 100 (about a folio, front and back’s worth).  Though I’m no expert in such matters, it is consistent with what I’ve read from John’s material on the Psalms (especially his contrast between worldly songs and spiritual ones).

If proven authentic, these are important homilies!  Robert Hill recently published an English translation of Chrysostom’s material on the Psalter, and these homilies were not included (given they are not in the PG).  Likewise, Hill has an article on Antiochene interpretation of Psalm 41, which does not mention the homily contained here.

Hopefully I’ll be able to do some more work with this while I’m here, and perhaps in the future too.  The recent discovery of the Origen codex will only increase interest in our early exegetical material on the Psalms. In the meanwhile (as they say in the UK), let this serve as a humble reminder:  The PG, while vast, does not contain the entirety of the Patristic tradition!

Oh, and if someone is aware of a publication of these homilies, do let me know in the comments!

τῷ χείρι τοῦ ταπεινοῦ Ἀλεξάδρου ἁμαρτωλοῦ

Off to Oxford!

Things have been quiet around recently, most of which because I’ve been moving.  My wife and I have moved from Raleigh, NC to the DC area so that I can start graduate school in a few weeks.  Moving is a dreary task, but one made much nicer by our family’s help!

In a few hours, I’ll be boarding a plane to London, en route to Oxford for the 2012 Lincoln College Greek Palaeography Summer School.  I’m quite excited to take part in the school: I know I’ll learn much!  It’ll be my first time in the UK beyond Heathrow, and right on the tails of the Olympics.

Lack of blogging has also mean a lack of work on Origen.  I’m mainly been typesetting the homily right now, but the content is in fairly good shape for a draft.  You may find the draft here.

ἐν αὐτῷ,