Origen, Selecta in Ezechielem

The translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel is proceeding well.  But the Migne edition (PG 13) also contains Greek fragments, labelled Selecta in Ezechielem.  The question has arisen as to what to do about these; to translate, or not?

A google search revealed that this is mentioned in E. A. de Boer, John Calvin on the visions of Ezekiel: historical and hermeneutical studies, p.20.

To Origen the whole of Scripture, not only certain passages, has a deeper meaning. In the end, typology in theory as Smalley described it, becomes allegory in practice. Any element in the text that is not at once clear to Origen in its literal meaning, must have a deeper spiritual sense.

Origen’s sermons were taken down by stenographers during the service, written out in full afterwards and later published, the same method that gave us Calvin’s homilies. Origen does not comment on the whole book, but follows the passages agreed upon in the lectionary of the liturgy. The aim of this practice was to cover the main parts of the Bible in preaching in a set course of three years. The texts from Ezekiel came in the second year, about halfway in the cycle. Origen does not treat his whole passage exegctically, but explains it in simple terms of exhortation.5 The sermons that survive were translated by Jerome into Latin.6 When Jerome composed his own commentary (one and a half centuries later), he did not ignore the exegetical tradition.

In the original Greek we also possess Origen’s Selecta in Ezechielem, together forming a small commentary. The more difficult passages are explained in excerpta, exegetical notes or scholia on Ezek. 1-30.7 He not only occupied himself with the texts from the prophet Ezekiel, handed to him by the lectionary, but also studied the book as a whole. His commentary has not survived.8 In his various prefaces Jerome distinguished three categories in Origen’s biblical work: the commentary, the homilies and the notes.” It may be, however, that the notes on Ezekiel, gathered as Selecta, were originally part of the commentary. One thing is certain, Origen was the first Church Father who intensively occupied himself at various times with the hook of Ezekiel and left his mark on the following history of exegesis.

5 The sermons cover the following passages from Ezechiel: sermon 1: Ez. 1:1 6, 2:lff; II: 13:1-9: III: 13:1, 17-22, 14:1-8; IV: 13:14-22; V: 14:13-21, 15:1-4; VI: 16:2 16; VII: 16:16 30; VIII: 16:30 33; IX: 16:45-52; X: 16:45 52; XI: 17:1 7; XII: 17:12-21; XIII: 28: 12-23; XIV: 44:1-3. We use the edition in Sources chretiennes, vol. 352, Homilies sur Ezechiel, cd. M. Bonnet Paris: Cerf, 1989.

6 Jerome did not always translate Origen’s sermons literaly (although against the critique of Rufinus he maintained that he did), but added some material to Origen’s text (cf. E. Klostermann, as quoted by Dennis Brown, o.c., 110).

7 Selecta in Ezechielem in: Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 13 (Origenis Opera omnia), 767 -826 which cover only Chapters 1 30). These fragments were collected from the catenae.

8 A tiny parcel (on Ez. XXXIV. 17) of a commentary in twentv five books survived (PG 13, 663-665).

In searching I found a footnote in one of the somewhat dubious mythology books of J.G.Frazer, telling us that Tammuz and Adonis are identified as the same god in the Selecta in Ezechielem PG 13, col. 797.  Another page of atheist polemic states:

Origen discusses Tammuz (whom he associates with Adonis) in his “Comments on Ezekiel” (Selecta in Ezechielem), noting that “they say that for a long time certain rites of initiation are conducted: first, that they weep for him, since he has died; second, that they rejoice for him because he has risen from the dead (apo nekrôn anastanti)” (cf. J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Graeca 13:800).

This is apparently the only reference in antiquity to the resurrection of Tammuz, so beloved of a certain sort of Jesus=paganism polemicist.

David W. Chapman, discussing Ancient Jewish and Christian perceptions of crucifixion, tells us that the only link between crucifixion and the Tau cross is found in Tertullian, Adv. Marc. iii, 22:5-6, and in the Selecta, 9 (PG 13, 800d-801a) on the lips of a Judaiser.

In short there are interesting snippets in the text; which suggest that translating them will be time well spent.


6 thoughts on “Origen, Selecta in Ezechielem

  1. Holdonasecond. Origen, in his homilies on Ezekiel, made his selection of subject-passages in accordance with an already existing lectionary arrangement?

    How likely is it, would you estimate, that any congregation in the 200’s would have a lectionary-system for the OT but not for the Gospels?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. There is an English Translation of Origens »Selecta in Ezechielem« concerning the Taw as sign for the cross in Saul Liebermanns “Greek in Jewish Palestine” p. 187. Hieronymus is using this explanation of Origen, as he always did, in his Commentarii in Ezechielem III, 9.

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