Review: The Spell of the Logos

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Origen’s construal of the Bible as a textual incarnation of the Word encourages an assimilationist interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures as a proto-Christian gospel. Although in partial agreement with this thesis, this study suggests a non-assimilationist reading of Origen’s biblical exegesis.

I must admit that this has been one of the most difficult books to read, and before one approaches it, the reader should have some knowledge of linguistics and Greek rhetoric. In this book, the author attempts to take an in-depth examination not so much of Origen, but his pedogogical style and, very much, his goal in discourse. He presents Origen in a much better, and indeed, conservative light than must scholarship, showcasing the ancient preacher as a skilled and masterful orator who carefully choose and investigated words, investing in them the belief that the deliverance of the gospel message was in of itself a saving power.

After briefly examining the arguments of and outlining the meaning thereof of logocentricism, the author focuses on six features of logocentricism (pg38-40). By the end of this first chapter, Niculescu has established his methods, his boundaries, and his views of Origen,¬† which he acknowledges may not be in line with historical patristic views. In the Synopsis (pg41) is the author’s clearest intention for the work and one which starts to show the move to Origen’s theological purpose for Niculescu.

Part two is the original core of the work, which is the author’s doctoral dissertation. In this chapter, the author takes full advantage of Origen’s writings, the cultural context and other pieces of information to highlight the ancient writer’s goal of using biblical discourse as a soteriological event. He gives great insight into Origen’s mind, focusing on such things as Origen’s textual criticism. It is interesting as well to find the author’s view on Origen’s allegorical use of such things as the introduction to books, such as the canonical Solomonic corpus (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs). In such events as these, Niculescu shows that Origen sought to regain everything available for Christ, including Greek teaching strategies. This section is used to identify the ‘alethiec attunement of the Logos’ as the report and the ‘iconic attunement’ of the Logos as the annunciation.’ Origen clearly sees the bible itself as the continuing incarnation of the Logos, and the proper use of it can bring about salvation to those who are attuned to it. As Niculescu says, ‘the bible can be said to be the textual site of the manifestation of the Logos as a historical event.’ Finally, one can gain from this section the valuable notion that Origen found biblical education as paramount to eschalogical salvation.

One has to wonder what Origen would have thought of the current debate over the historical Jesus? Would Origen have needed a historical Jesus of any type to have been a Christian? I say this because for Origen, as Niculescu paints, the picture of salvation is not so much attained during a physical act or an acknowledgment of sin and asking for forgiveness but when one ‘learns’. Through this education comes the mediation of the Logos which incarnated through the correct interpretation of the text, especially the Christological interpretation. The Gospel is no longer about Christ, about the textual aspects and the interpretation one can received via the Logos. By the end of the second part, the author moves them to challenge his positions and to continue to reexamine Origen and indeed the growth of the Church.

Part three is appropriately named, Emmaus and Beyond: The Growth of the Kingdom Document by the Doxological Gestures, Postures, and Feelings of a Priestly Homilist. From the start, he sets out to examine Origen’s writings without much scholarly opinions, standing against the normal ‘Platonist’ view and creating two new views (cosmo-theological and historical-escahtological). As he explores these areas, often critical of current scholarship of Origen, the author builds a case for the need to reexamine the ancient writer without presuppositions and ends with the simple question – ‘Is Origen’s exegetical pedagogy logocentric’? In this, he reexamines previous points and questions he raised in the first part, having presented two sides to the argument. He does so adequately and leaves open the possibility that while Origen himself didn’t prefer the non-assimilatist approach, it is still possible that it can be found within Origen’s pedagogical framework.

In the final section, he moves to examine two specific anti-logocentric viewpoints. It is noteworthy that Niculescu doesn’t shy away from looking at the political ramifications of allegorical readings of the bible through the incarnational Logos, and indeed, this section could very well stand apart from the whole and be used in current Jewish-Christian hermeneutic¬† discussions. This author is not shy about criticizing the ‘forced allegoricalizations’ made by Origen. He sees it as one interpreter making him or herself somewhat divine and thereby causing damage to another (and in this case, the Jews, as Origenistic interpretation seemingly removes all reference to a reality of the Jewish people.) From here, he examines Origen’s ‘authorization’ which is understandably a key in biblical interpretation. His conclusion, he admits, is tentative.

It would be unfair to the author to relate his conclusion, which requires self-reading and indeed, somewhat a self-analysis of one’s interpretative method. He writes in a heavy technical style in the first and fourth parts, but is readable, albeit at times with help for those untrained in pedagogy. He supplies ample evidence by the way of footnotes as well as supplying in six appendices examples and examinations of some of Origen’s interpretations. This work serves as a needed examination of Origen, often free from the examinations which have gone before, allowing Origen breathing room in the modern mind. He conclusions are his own, but easily recognizable as a plausibility.

In the end, Origen comes across as a preacher, first and foremost who is solely devoted to Scripture, and will we may disagree with him, his devotion is fundamental. This book is every bit as deep as Origen’s writings.

I want to thank Gorgias Press, whose motto is ‘publishing for the sake of knowledge’, for this review copy. Gorgias Press is a company which has a focus on the East. I would encourage you to look through their catalog which have a great many titles which may interest different types of readers.

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