“Straight Reading: Shame and the Normal in Epiphanius' Polemic against Origen,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 21.3 (2013): 413–435.

“Straight Reading: Shame and the Normal in Epiphanius' Polemic against Origen,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 21.3 (2013): 413–435.

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  Straight Reading: Shame and the Normal in Epiphanius’s Polemicagainst Origen Blossom Stefaniw Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 21, Number 3, Fall 2013,pp. 413-435 (Article)Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/earl.2013.0038  For additional information about this article  Access provided by Universitaetsbibliothek Mainz (3 Dec 2013 09:24 GMT) http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/earl/summary/v021/21.3.stefaniw.html   Journal of Early Christian Studies 21:3, 413–435 © 2013 The Johns Hopkins University Press Straight Reading: Shame and the Normal in Epiphanius’s Polemic against Origen BLOSSOM STEFANIW Epiphanius was a vociferous advocate of a totalized, univocal, and normative version of Christianity. How does his agenda of defining and adjudicating the order of things unfold when applied to questions of reading and interpreta-tion? His sexualized polemic against Origen and Origenist textuality shows that a debate that is ostensibly about hermeneutics mobilizes notions of shame and deviance in order to define legitimate imaginings of where truth is and what sort of meaning can be found in the Bible. The textualities of Epiphanius and Origen manifest fundamentally conflicting notions of how truth relates to the text of Scripture, to the physical world, and to bodies. For Origen, Scripture refers to an intelligible realm outside of time and beyond sense expe-rience and the limits of embodied reason or the written word. For Epiphanius, however, the religious truth founded in Scripture can and should be connected to human bodies, and to the physical world. It is within range of common sense and plain language. Arguing between poles of the normal and the deviant, Epiphanius attacks Origenist textuality on three fronts. In the Panarion , Origen is represented as sexually deviant. The deviance of his textuality follows from that. Epi phanius also affirms a textuality that he portrays as normal and common sensical. He reads in an imagined world where human bodies remain intact and consis-tent. He therefore cannot accept the indeterminacy of the body suggested by Origen’s discussion of the resurrection. Epiphanius valorizes physical reality and rejects interpretations oriented to a higher noetic realm as a perversion of the text. Describing this conflict in terms of literal vs. allegorical interpreta-tion fails to account for the ideological aspect of exegesis. Instead, this article argues that what Epiphanius promotes is straight reading.  414 JOURNAL OF EARLY CHRISTIAN STUDIES 1. For two accounts of the development of Christian identities in these terms, see Virginia Burrus, Saving Shame: Martyrs, Saints and Other Abject Subjects  (Philadel-phia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) and Judith Perkins, The Suffer-ing Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era  (New York: Routledge, 1995).2. On rising Christian efforts at totalization, see Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse  (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994) and “How to Read Heresiology,”  Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 33:3 (2003): 471–92. Origen of Alexandria lived from 185 to 254. In this period, the state did not recognize Christianity as a legitimate and legal religion and per-sons discovered to be Christians were intermittently subjected to torture, execution, or disenfranchisement. The communities of Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire described themselves as belonging to a third race or as having their citizenship in heaven. Because of their limited numbers and because of finding themselves at odds with the law and with standards of decency and good comportment, Christians self-identified as aliens, transforming the stigmatization of their identity through public ordeal into ecstasies of martyrdom. 1  Epiphanius of Salamis, born roughly three generations after Origen’s death, was among the first cohort of citizens to grow up in a world where Christianity was legal and the emperor himself was a Christian. Dying in 403, however, he did not live to see a world in which the apparatus for exercising coercive force in order to define and impose adherence to doc-trines established as constituting right belief had reached its zenith. Epipha-nius strongly favored efforts toward the totalization of Christianity and contributed to them significantly through his writings. 2  In the Panarion  in particular, Epiphanius undertook to make a comprehensive survey of what exactly everyone else was doing wrong. Since Christian doctrine nec-essarily had to be argued from Scripture, efforts at resolving and defining right doctrine in a manner conducive to totalizing ambitions required a hermeneutic that could be relied upon to produce clear and unambiguous evidence for one doctrinal position and against another. When Epipha-nius, in the Panarion and elsewhere, turns his attention to the first great Christian exegete, Origen, he is confronted with a hermeneutic that is entirely unsuited to totalizing efforts. Origen’s way of interpreting Scrip-ture allows for things to remain unknown. It accepts flux and ambiguity both in the text and in human embodiment, and is not much invested in the physical world. Thus Epiphanius’s drive for a form of Christianity that is sorted, which is univocal and totalizable, is offended, and, given the strong and growing heritage of Origenist textuality in his own day, he  STEFANIW / STRAIGHT READING 415 3. Cf. R. P. C. Hanson, Allegory and Event: A Study of the Sources and Significance of Origen’s Interpretation of Scripture  (Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1959). Newer approaches to differing hermeneutics can be found for example in David Dawson, Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria  (Berkeley, CA: Uni-versity of California Press, 1992), and most recently Margaret M. Mitchell, Paul, the Corinthians and the Birth of Christian Hermeneutics  (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010).4. One treatment of the problematic nature of this view from an American perspec-tive can be found in the work of Stanley Fish, most notably his collection of essays, Is There a Text in This Class?  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980). A large section of continental literary theory in the 1970s and 1980s was also occupied with dismantling this notion and will not be detailed here.5. For this definition of ideology see John B. Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990). For its application in early Christian studies, see Caroline T. Schroeder, Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe  (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). must undermine Origen as a legitimate authority as well as undermining the legitimacy of his way of reading. FROM EXEGESIS TO TEXTUALITYLate fourth- and fifth-century debates about what constitutes correct exegesis might be understood as methodological disputes leading to a rea-sonable and necessary move away from allegorizing and towards a more rationalized and literal form of interpretation. 3  This view follows from a construal of exegesis as the reading and interpretation of texts where a text is a discrete entity whose meaning can be extracted from it if proper technique is applied. 4  The fundamental problem with treating the inter-pretation of texts as a technical procedure is that it resists the ideological shape of exegesis as a complex social practice of meaning-making. Fights about exegesis manifest ideological drives because they are fights about truth, about how and where one may legitimately claim to have found truth. That is, if we proceed from John B. Thompson’s definition of ideol-ogy as “meaning in the service of power,” any practice that generates and defines meaning can be lent ideological substance if and when it is called upon to shore up a way of imagining the world that has achieved, or is striving to establish, dominance. 5  One way to work towards ideological dominance is to attack other imaginings of the world, and other imaginings of the conditions for human knowledge in the world, as nefarious miscon-struals. In the present case, Epiphanius does this by undermining the way that Origen does the meaning-making work of interpreting sacred texts.  416 JOURNAL OF EARLY CHRISTIAN STUDIES 6. Elizabeth A. Clark, Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity  (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 5: “. . . the interac-tion of readers and the written is signaled by the word ‘textuality.’” While there are diverse modes of engagement with a text which are denoted by the term ‘textuality,’ the focus here is on interpretation because that is what Epiphanius primarily takes issue with. Since Epiphanius works to elide the difference between interpretation and simply reading the text, the term ‘Origenist reading’ is frequently used in the follow-ing discussion. By making the proper way to engage with a text synonymous with the mere act of reading, cast as innocent and uncontrived, Epiphanius sets a standard against which Origenist reading appears ludicrous and convoluted. Against such a standard, Origen is punished for reading wrongly, when of course Origen’s own tex-tuality privileges non-literal interpretation and especially noetic exegesis that pursues the higher meaning of a text.7. On the Origenist controversy as part of a rising preoccupation with the religious significance of human embodiment, see Elizabeth Clark, The Origenist Controversy  (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992). Using the term textuality adds dimension to the otherwise misleadingly simple concept of exegesis (as a technique for extracting meaning from a text-as-entity) by treating the interpretation of texts as a complex under-taking involving questions of epistemology and truth. 6  From this perspec-tive, Epiphanius’s polemic against Origenist textuality reveals itself as a re-imagination of a physicalized Christian world. The perception that Ori-genist textuality is intolerable is part of a larger shift towards normalizing the notion that truth is anchored in this world as it is perceived through the senses, in ordinary language and in human bodies. 7  The textuality that Epiphanius promotes requires both bodies and texts to be discrete, con-stant, and self-identical entities such that they can sustain univocal truth claims. Epiphanius undermines Origenist textuality by arguing between poles of normal vs. deviant. Because his polemic is cast in these terms, and because of his aversion to the ambiguous, multivocal, fluid, and unknow-able, Epiphanius takes up a stance of defending what is normal, natural, and real. For this reason, and as a corrective to the construal of this debate as a matter of literal vs. allegorical exegetical technique, the textuality that Epiphanius advocates should be re-construed as straight reading.Attaching notions of normality and deviance to interpretation does not begin with Epiphanius. David Dawson’s discussion of the rhetorical func-tion of meaning and interpretation indicates the central role of the belief that the text has an inherent meaning that is essential to it, while an alle-gorical meaning deviates from the natural and obvious. ‘Meaning’ is thus a thoroughly rhetorical category—it designates the way composers of allegory and allegorical interpreters enact their intentions toward others through the medium of a shared text. Consequently, although
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