Between 1864 and 1879 at least six monographs were published in Germany on some aspect or another of the “Antiochene school” of biblical interpretation. By the late nineteenth century it became routine to speak about two seemingly incompatible approaches to scriptural interpretation in the patristic period, the “Antiochene and Alexandrian schools” of scriptural exegesis. The former was characterized by a sober-minded literalism and an attentiveness to the historical sense of Scripture. It was usually cast as a laudatory precursor to modern biblical scholarship. The Alexandrian school, by contrast, was marked by lamentable flights of allegory and served as a solemn reminder of what the modern industry of biblical Wissenschaft, with its ideals of rigor and historical contextualization, sought to avoid.
This scholarly construct – the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools of biblical exegesis – still circulates in the literature. But it shows its age and many scholars are relegating it to the graveyard of outdated academic hypotheses. Alexandria cannot be collapsed into allegory, nor can Antioch be reduced to literalism, for there is too much evidence that complicates both of these assertions. The geographic epithets also require scrutiny. Origen and Theodore, key representatives of “Alexandria” and “Antioch” respectively, exercised enormous influence beyond their Greek worlds. Their legacies stretched into Latin, Syriac, and Armenian literatures of late antiquity, transcending the boundaries of the cities in which they respectively resided for only parts of their careers.
And then there are the liminal spaces which the traditional scholarly construct, framed as a binary, discourages us from seeing. Adrian’s Introduction to the Divine Scriptures, likely dated to the fifth century, is our earliest surviving “Antiochene” handbook on biblical exegesis. The opening section of the Introduction is dedicated to the anthropomorphic language for God in Scripture, especially in the Psalms. “It is a peculiarity,” he begins his treatise, “to depict God’s actions . . . from human characteristics” (§2). Adrian provides a dossier of examples of the fifteen kinds of anthropomorphisms that he finds in Scripture and then glosses these verses so as to render a fitting portrait of God for his readers. Yet the very same concern emerges when we turn to the “Alexandrian” side. Several centuries earlier Origen remarked in his Commentary on John that “many absurd and blasphemous” things can be said of God if readers take the anthropomorphic language for God in Scripture literally, that “God has eyes, eyelids, ears, hands, arms, feet, and even wings.” In such cases “we change what is written into an allegory, despising those who bestow on God a form resembling men” (Jo. 13.130, 131). But Adrian also discusses these anthropomorphisms (§2.1; 4.1-9). He does not label his explanations “allegories” as Origen does, yet both authors make similar explanatory moves in response to the same perceived problem. On this point, Alexandria and Antioch inhabited a shared theological culture that the Alexandria/Antioch binary obscures. And a wider comparative lens complicates the picture considerably, since the concern for extracting a fitting portrait of God from an authoritative text was shared not merely by Alexandrian and Antiochene Christians, but by a wide swathe of Christian, Jewish, and “pagan” authors.
The traditional construct is vulnerable to many criticisms. Yet it is one thing to argue that it fails to capture the patterns in the evidence, quite another to deny that there are no patterns in the first place. One of the concerns in my book is to disclose for readers the broader context for Adrian’s assertions about scriptural interpretation, a particularly challenging task since he does not name his interlocutors. For instance, he writes: “In many places Scripture also uses the word ‘bosom’ of the notion of inseparability” (§32). Adrian then catalogues five verses where “bosom” is ostensibly used in such a way (Ps 78:12; Ps 88:51[89:50]; Ps 34:13; Ps 73:11; John 1:18). But what literary context informs this remark? In the notes to my translation I draw the reader’s attention to the hand that silently shapes much of the Introduction. Note Theodore of Mopsuestia’s interpretation of one of the verses mentioned above by Adrian: “It is customary with the divine Scripture to mention the ‘bosom’ not when referring to the actual thing called ‘bosom’ by us, but when wanting to suggest something inseparable and indivisible” (Ps. 34:13). The similarity between these glosses is striking. But it is actually much stronger when we discover that Theodore proceeds to illustrate his point with four of the five verses cited above by Adrian. As it turns out, Adrian is often re-working and integrating large chunks of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentary on the Psalms into his Introduction.
In the notes to the translation of the Introduction readers will discover numerous instances like the preceding. There are patent similarities, and in many cases, dependencies, among a network of authors who predated and postdated Adrian. These authors were spread across the Mediterranean, worked in different languages, and were centuries removed from each other, yet they glossed biblical verses very similarly, and sometimes identically, to one another. There are strong resonances between Adrian’s interpretations of scriptural passages and the glosses we find in Eusebius of Emesa, Diodore of Tarsus, Polychronius (Theodore’s brother), Olympiodorus, Junillus, and a handful of other authors, but it is Theodore’s oeuvre with which Adrian’s Introduction stands in closest relation. It is noteworthy that these authors who populated Adrian’s network have traditionally been associated with the “Antiochene school.” And so, while the modern construct of the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools of biblical interpretation is badly weathered, it would be a mistake, in dismissing it, to overlook conspicuous patterns in our evidence.
My book does not reconstruct the exegetical cultures engendered by Origen and Theodore in late antiquity, though it provides new evidence for such a project. There are four main parts in the book. The first offers readers the only study of Adrian’s Introduction since Friedrich Goessling’s edition of the treatise one hundred and thirty years go. I discuss a variety of prolegomena, including authorship, the title and topic of the treatise, its structure and scholarly conventions, and the exegetical guidelines that Adrian provides his audience. These exegetical guidelines are particularly interesting, since in the concluding paragraphs Adrian presents would-be teachers of Scripture with a roadmap for how to instruct beginning pupils in scriptural study (§§75-78). In so doing Adrian avails himself of a rich lexicon of technical exegetical terminology that has captured scholarly interest (e.g., skopos, dianoia, hypothesis, idiomata, akolouthia, theoria). This is one of the most sustained discussions of how to interpret Scripture from within the exegetical culture shaped by Theodore of Mopsuestia. Also of interest is the trope list where Adrian lists, defines, and illustrates twenty-two tropes in Scripture (§73). This is, I think, the longest trope list in antiquity. Among its curiosities is the lengthy discussion of the trope of allegory which is preserved in Recension 2, but severely truncated in Recension 1 (§73.13).
The study is followed by an edition of two Greek recensions of the Introduction. The editio princeps of the Recension 1 was edited by David Hoeschel in 1602 (this is reprinted, with minor corrections and mistakes at PG 98, 1274-1312). A second edition was produced by Friedrich Goessling in 1887. My edition corrects numerous flaws in both of these editions, but its key advance is to base the text of the Introduction squarely upon the twelfth-century manuscript, Conventi Soppressi 39 (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana), the ancestor of all other manuscripts that transmit this recension. A number of scholars, myself included, have contributed to the discovery of Recension 2 of Adrian’s Introduction. This recension is at times shorter, and at other times longer, than the corresponding material in Recension 1. Comparing these recensions with one another makes for interesting observations about the habits of Byzantine scribes and the concerns of the audiences for which they worked. Recension 2 has never been edited and is incompletely transmitted by three manuscripts that date to the sixteenth century.
The third section of the book includes the first English translations of Recensions 1 and 2. The translations face the Greek text and each is accompanied by copious notes at the bottom of the page that clarify and contextualize Adrian’s remarks about Scripture. The book concludes with fragments of the Introduction culled from the exegetical catenae on the Psalms and Job. The fragments underscore the long-standing Byzantine interest in the Introduction, as well as its complex transmission history.
 Kasper Hornung, Schola Antiochena: de S. Scripturae interpretation quonam modo sit merita (Neustadt: Mayer, 1864); Heinrich Kihn, Die Bedeutung der Antiochenischen Schule auf dem exegetischen Gebiete (Weissenburg: Meyer, 1866); idem, Theodor von Mopsuestia und Junilius Africanus als Exegeten (Freiburg: Herder, 1879); Phillip Hergenröther, Die Antiochenische Schule und Ihre Bedeutung auf exegetischem Gebiete (Würzburg: Stahel, 1866); Franz Anton A. Specht, Der exegetische Standpunkt des Theodor und Theodoret von Kyros in der Auslegung messianischer Weissagungen aus ihren Commentaren zu den kleinen Propheten (Munich: Lentner, 1871); Otto Bardenhewer, Polychronius, Bruder Theodors von Mopsuestia und Bischof von Apamea: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Exegese (Freiburg: Herder, 1879).
Peter W. Martens is an Associate Professor of Early Christianity and Department Chair of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University