Homilies on Genesis and Exodus

By Origen; Ronald E. Heine | Go to book overview

APPENDIX
The Interpretation of Names in the Genesis and Exodus
Homilies

Etymological exegesis of names is one of the techniques of Origen's allegorical interpretation of Scripture. This is his attempt to draw spiritual significance from the meaning of the names of various persons and places in the Scriptural narrative by relating the names to words from which they are derived or, what is often the case, which they resemble.1

In this practice Origen stands in the tradition of allegorical interpretation reaching back through the Jewish and Greek allegorists before him. The Stoic Cornutus, for example, from whose works Porphyry says Origen learned to interpret the Jewish writings figuratively,2 works through the names of the gods in Greek mythology in this way.

Sky (ouranos) . . . encircles the earth and the sea and all things on the earth and in the sea, and for this reason acquired this name, being watcher (ouros) over all and forming the boundaries (horizōn) of nature. But some say he has been called Sky (ouranos) because he takes care of (ōrein or ōreuein) what exists . . . But others derive the etymology from his observing (horasthai) on high.3

Philo, whose influence on Origen in this respect is frequently apparent, applies this technique to the names of persons and places in the Pentateuch. He treats the name of the first river mentioned in Gn 2.11, for example, as follows. "One species of the four virtues is prudence, which he has called 'Pheison,'

____________________
1
Ancient etymologists were notoriously careless in their etymologies. See, for example, Plato Cratylus.
2
Eusebius H.E. 6.19.8.
3
C. Lang, ed., Cornuti Theologiae Graecae Compendium ( Leipzig: Teubner, 1881), 1-2.

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