Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.46
Peter Habermehl (trans.), Origenes. Die Homilien zum Buch Genesis. Origenes: Werke mit deutscher �bersetzung, Bd 1/2. Berlin; Boston; Freiburg: De Gruyter, 2011. Pp. vi, 359. ISBN 9783110204353. $135.00.
Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The new series Origenes: Werke mit deutscher Übersetzung, edited by Alfons Fürst and Christoph Markschies, is scheduled to be published in 25 volumes (46 sub-volumes, ‘Teilbände’), and it began to appear in 2010. The volume under review is the second part of vol. I (vol. I/1 contained the remains of Origen’s commentary on Genesis) and contains an edition, not of the Greek text (which is lost), but of Rufinus’ Latin translation of Origen’s homilies on the book of Genesis, accompanied by a German translation and brief explanatory notes. The general introduction to the series as a whole (the ‘Editorial’) is found in vol. 1/1 and is not repeated in later volumes. The Greek or Latin text of Origen’s works is not presented in a new critical edition but is reprinted from either the Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller or the Sources Chrétiennes series, in the case of the present volume from the GCS edition by W.A. Baehrens of 1920 (with the corrections by L. Doutreleau in the SC text of 1976). But it should be added emphatically that Habermehl made a new collation of all manuscripts used by Baehrens, which resulted in some 100 new and helpful corrections of his text.
The volume contains 16 homilies on only a limited number of selected passages from Genesis. There must have been many more of them but these are completely lost. Origen held these homilies in his later years in Caesarea Maritima, most probably in the period between 245 and 250. Since Origen always preached from memory, the extant text is what his stenographers jotted down. Moreover, Rufinus’ translations (made about 400 CE) are often unreliable. He translated many works of earlier Greek theologians into Latin, but more works of Origen than of anyone else. Since, however, in the ancient church there were so many controversies about Origen’s theology, Rufinus felt free to modify Origen’s text whenever he thought it would be better, or even necessary, to disguise or blur the ‘heretical’ text of his hero (of which the ever cantankerous Jerome does not stop reminding his readers). So thanks to Rufinus we do still have many works of Origen that would otherwise have been lost, but only “in einer interpretierenden, aneignenden Übersetzung” (16). So in the text of these homilies we are at two removes from Origen himself, both the stenographs and Rufinus standing in between. Only rarely are we in the position to check Rufinus’ translation against Origen’s original. As for the homilies on Genesis, there is a long Greek fragment of the second one (on Noah’s ark) from the exegetical catenae and from Procopius’ commentary on Genesis, but in these sources, too, Origen’s text has undergone heavy editing – and they are often different from each other — so that a comparison with Rufinus’ text does not yield valuable results (see pp. 295-329).
Even though Origen does pay due attention to the literal meaning of the biblical text, his outspoken predilection concerns the allegorical meaning. Reading these sermons one often feels that one is reading Philo of Alexandria (much admired by Origen), and Habermehl often notes the parallels. It is in this respect (the ‘spiritual sense’ of Scripture) that Origen was most influential for later exegetes. Homily 8, on Genesis 22 (the sacrifice of Abraham), is one of the most impressive specimens of Origen’s talent as a preacher in this volume.
Habermehl’s translation is reliable, steering a middle course between too literal and too free. His more than 500 explanatory notes are very concise but mostly helpful. The whole volume has been carefully executed (but at p. 9 note 28 “vit. Const. VI 36” should be IV 36). A bibliography and indexes conclude this welcome book. We should be grateful to the editor and translator for having made an interesting text more readily accessible to us.