Literal and Spiritual (I)

Francis M. Young helpfully delineates the hermeneutical assumptions of the Greco-Roman schools of grammar, rhetoric, and logic within which the Church Fathers received their formative educations.:”(“Alexandrian and Antiochene Exegesis,” in A History of Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 1: The Ancient Period, eds. Alan J. Hauser and Duane F. Watson [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 2003], pp. 334-354.)”:

School exegetical practice consisted of several divisions. The first was called methodikon, and “dealt with the practical problems of reading texts.” One practical problem concerned text-critical questions arising from the fact that all texts were handwritten without division between words or punctuation. Another was the meaning of archaic words and word-forms, along with identification and analysis of figures of speech. Another was etymology. All of this was known as the “literal sense” of the text, and it is important to note that for the schools in which the Fathers were trained, “literal” did not mean what it does for us, nor did it have to do with the “historical” reference of the text.:”(Ibid., 339.)”:

A second division of school exegetical practice was called historikon, and involved “the assemblage of explanatory comments in order to illuminate the content and reference.” This activity could make use of geography, astronomy, musical, or any other form of knowledge to construct its commentaries. It could deal with full versions or variant versions of narratives, along with historical facts and mythological references.:”(Ibid.)”:

A third division used principles of classical rhetorical theory to distinguish between the content of the text (ho pragmatikos topos) and its wording (ho lektikos topos). In this context, “mind” (dianoia) was thought to be clothed in the “letter” (gramma). These tools of thought enabled exegetes to consider matters of style and their relation to communication of messages, and thus better identify the themes or arguments of particular passages.:”(IBid., 340.)”:

Related to rhetoric, methods of refutation (anaskeue) and confirmation (kataskeue) were taught for purposes of making and challenging plausible narratives in courtroom contexts. Using these principles, biblical exegetes, especially in the Alexandrian school, could see past seemingly insoluable “literal” troubles in the Scripture texts and look for alternative meanings and significances.:”(Ibid.)”:


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