Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Didymus the Blind and His Circle in Late-Antique Alexandria: Virtue and Narrative in Biblical Scholarship

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Didymus the Blind and His Circle in Late-Antique Alexandria: Virtue and Narrative in Biblical Scholarship

Article excerpt

Didymus the Blind and his Circle in Late-Antique Alexandria: Virtue and Narrative in Biblical Scholarship. By Richard A. Layton. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 2004. Pp. ix, 217. $44.95.)

Although well-known to patristic scholars, Didymus the Blind is not a name likely to ring bells of recognition in the minds of those less ensconced in the world of the early Church. Yet, even within the relatively small universe of patristic studies, few have taken the time to probe the mysteries of Didymus' corpus. This neglect stems not from a lack of interest in this ancient exegete but from the general failure of the tradition to transmit copies of his work to posterity. Casualties of anti-Origenist sentiment in sixth-century Byzantium, a lone set of papyri were secretly buried in a cave deep beneath an Egyptian monastery near modern Cairo. There the manuscripts remained until accidentally unearthed by the British in 1941. From the discovery of these so-called Tura papyri to their nearly complete publication in 1985, most academic attention to Didymus was given to the preparation of editions and not so much to the close analysis of his corpus that could enhance modern understanding of Christianity in fourthcentury Alexandria. This is the gap that Layton seeks to fill with this book.

In this tightly argued and interesting book, Layton claims that "Didymus earned the admiration of his contemporaries . . . because the activity of his school engaged the hopes and anxieties of Alexandrian Christians during a pivotal era of the city's history" (p. 6). In Layton's view, unlike Origen before him or Gregory of Nyssa slightly later, Didymus' impact must be understood locally, against the backdrop of the city of Alexandria. Didymus' interests were largely parochial, but, Layton argues, this is precisely what is most interesting about Didymus' surviving works. Acting almost like a palimpsest, Didymus exegetical works cover a world of discourse between master and disciple that was deeply engaged with the critical moral issues of the day.

Standing in the school tradition of Clement and Origen, we encounter Layton's Didymus at the center of an exegetical circle, or "school." The primary activity of this circle was to read the Bible. This reading, however, was not just a project designed to produce deeper understanding. It was, more significantly, a project by which the reader was able to find in the texts a "mimetic" map of the Christian life itself. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.