Université d'Erfurt

Dr. Jennifer Otto

ehemalige Gast-Post-Doktorandin am Max-Weber-Kolleg






Christians and Violence in the Century before Constantine

In September 2015, I began a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded post-doctoral fellowship at the Department of Religious Studies and the Max-Weber-Kolleg Erfurt working under the supervision of Katharina Waldner. I come to Erfurt from Montreal where I completed my PhD under the supervision of Ellen B. Aitken and Torrance Kirby at McGill University in 2014. My doctoral thesis explored early Christian portrayals of Philo of Alexandria’s Jewishness, demonstrating how invocations of Philo function rhetorically in the works of Clement, Origen, and Eusebius to assist them in legitimising their claims to appropriate particular aspects of Judaism as essential to their Christianity while rejecting other elements as superfluous or even dangerous.

My current research project investigates Christian understandings of violence in the third century C.E. via a study of the homilies delivered by Origen, the period’s most prominent churchman, as a fresh way of exploring Christian attitudes towards violence committed by, against, and within his own community. My work examines Origen’s writings in his late Roman context, seeking points of harmony, disjunction and tension with his contemporaries. Origen is, of course, not a representative Christian of the third century, however his homilies offer unique insight into the preaching one could expect to hear in a third-century Christian gathering.

Among Origen’s works, the homilies have received comparatively little scholarly attention. The fate of the homilies is in part attributable to the fact that the majority are extant only in Latin translations whose reliability has been questioned. Yet, the recent editors of Origen’s works argue in favor of the reliability as a witness to Origen’s teaching in his own church. More than 200 of Origen’s homilies remain extant, expounding portions of the text of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel, the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and a newly-discovered cache of homilies on the Psalms. Of his homilies addressing New Testament texts, only those on Luke are extant.

As a genre, the homily provides the closest access to the questions and concerns of the whole church rather than the solitary scholar in his study. I am particularly interested in Origen’s public exegesis of biblical texts, in which God is portrayed as committing or condoning acts of violence. Through a focused reading of Origen’s works, I seek to elucidate how Christians living in the late Roman Empire, a time and place notorious for rendering brutality banal, evaluated the morality of violent acts.

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