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“Exegetical Torture” in Early Christian Biblical Interpretation: The Case of Origen of Alexandria

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This essay engages Page duBois’s work on torture and truth to contextualize a curious logic in Origen of Alexandria’s exegetical method. That logic insisted on “torturing” (Greek, basanos) the text in the style of a forensic investigation. From Thucydides to Galen and Origen, this vocabulary of exegetical torture figured texts as uncooperative witnesses in a situation familiar to ancient readers from the courtroom and in their own households. This agonistic paradigm of torture and truth offers the best interpretative context in which to read Origen’s call for the basanos – a metaphor very much alive in his work and world. The study concludes by connecting exegesis and martyrology as discourses in early Christian literary culture, which share the same fundamentally agonistic rhetoric of cross-examination.

Affiliations: 1: The Ohio State University, USA


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