Biblical women in Origen's newly discovered "Homilies on Psalms": gendered markers of Christian identity in Late Antique Caesarea

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Origen’s newly discovered homilies on Psalms contain some fascinating passages on biblical women, which throw important light on his use of gender categories and his self-positioning in complex hermeneutical trajectories. Origen stands at an important juncture, where numerous exegetical traditions converged, and new ones developed. He explicitly adopts Paul as a source of inspiration for Eve, Sarah and Hagar, implying that he plays a similar role as the apostle vis-à-vis Judaizing factions. Origen also invokes an oral tradition for the image of Sarah as stemming from a Hittite background, parallel to Abraham’s Amorite genealogy. This tradition probably derives from a Jewish-Hellenistic milieu in Late Antique Caesarea and opens a rare window into the world of Greek-speaking Jews, to whom Origen felt closer than to the rabbis. Moreover, Philo’s allegorical interpretation of the midwives is adopted and embellished with Christian motifs. Origen’s own creative interpretations, on the other hand, are visible in the context of Aseneth and Judith. In these cases, he neither points to a source of inspiration nor can we as historians identify such a source. The images of these two women evolve organically from his overall views and perfectly suit his purposes of edification in the sermon. One of them is vilified and strengthens his gender biases vis-à-vis contemporary women in his community, while the other becomes a Christian prototype. The images of biblical women provide Origen with a platform to negotiate Christian identity in third-century Palaestina. Most of them serve as transitional figures, who mark boundaries: Eve and Sarah entice the audience to leave behind un-Christian ways; Aseneth shows how foreign vices are constantly lurking and endangering the believers. Their role differs from that of the patriarchs, who provide direct access to the divine and represent a stable kernel of Christian identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-507
Number of pages23
JournalEphemerides Theologicae Lovanienses
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Religious studies

RAMBI Publications

  • rambi
  • Gender identity -- Religious aspects -- Christianity
  • Origen -- Homilies on the Psalms
  • Sarah -- (Biblical matriarch) -- Christian interpretations
  • Women in Christianity -- History -- Early church, ca. 30-600
  • Women in the Bible


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