Byzantine orthodox exegesis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Only one thing is perfectly clear about the history of Biblical exegesis in Byzantium: it needs and deserves more study. Surveys of the history of Greek-language exegesis after the patristic period have been rare, brief and characterised by a conviction that ‘in the sixth century original exegesis came to an end’. Such a statement is not simple prejudice; it is nonetheless wrong on many levels. Unfortunately, this certainty that Byzantine theologians, preachers and rhetoricians wrote no original Biblical exegesis has discouraged sustained study of not only the content but the forms, functions and historical specificity of Byzantine exegesis. This chapter is not an apologia for Byzantine exegesis, which seldom appeals to modern tastes, nor will it be a detailed survey and analysis of how Byzantine exegesis developed over time, for such a survey and analysis are not yet possible. I will argue, nevertheless, that Byzantine exegesis is historically specific and unique and deserves study from a number of perspectives. This chapter begins with a discussion of changes in exegetical method in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, for the transformation not only of exegesis but also of most other aspects of Christian culture in the eastern Mediterranean from the third through to the eighth century is undeniable and crucial. Following that discussion are four suggestions for the future study of how Byzantines understood and commented on the Bible. First, it would be useful to devote more study to specifically Byzantine content in that apparently most unoriginal of genres, the catena. A catena (from the Latin for ‘chain’) builds a scriptural commentary by excerpting passages from earlier exegetes and linking them together – usually in the margin of the text to which they all refer, but sometimes in close proximity in other ways. In the words of a website that has attempted to place links from chapters of scripture to each ante-Nicene father who commented on it, ‘a catena is a hypertext’. So, for example, Gen. 1:1 (‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’) inspired many commentators, preachers, teachers and contemplatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe New Cambridge History of the Bible
Subtitle of host publicationFrom 600 to 1450
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781139050555
ISBN (Print)9780521860062
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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