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,


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