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The Chreia in the Desert: Rhetoric and the Bible in the Apophthegmata Patrum

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Chapter Summary

A recent treatment of the relation between the Bible and early Christian monasticism contends that a profound commitment to the study of the Bible and the internalization of its teachings constitute the central themes of life in the desert. This chapter argues that, like the literary conventions of the Wisdom literature, Greco-Roman rhetorical devices constitute an illuminating cross-cultural bridge between the Bible and the Apophthegmata Patrum. The chreia form and the rudimentary rhetorical education presupposed by its ready usage are uniquely suited to a culture, such as the early Egyptian monastic society, poised on the boundary between oral culture and literacy. Rhetorical critics of the New Testament (NT) have drawn attention to the chreia as a literary type. The allegorical interpretations themselves range from a moderately transformative reading of scriptural metaphor to a monastic reading that differs radically from the apparent meaning of the original scriptural text.

Keywords: Apophthegmata Patrum; Bible; chreia; early Christian monasticism; New Testament (NT); Wisdom literature



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