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Commentaries: Intersections between ‘Pagan’ and Christian Platonism in Late Antiquity

Ilaria Ramelli

In the fourth century CE, the extremely learned Didymus of Alexandria, also known as Didymus the Blind, the director of the Didaskaleion of Alexandria, wrote the first commentary – unfortunately lost – on Origen’s masterpiece of Christian Platonism, On First Principles (Περὶ ἀρχῶν), thereby conferring to Origen’s treatise the same status enjoyed by Plato’s dialogues.

Indeed, before that momentous move, only commentaries on Plato had been produced (along with some on Aristotle and Epictetus), or else, on the side of Jewish and Christian Platonism, commentaries on Scripture read through the lens of Platonism, such as those of Philo of Alexandria and of Origen himself. Especially in the case of Origen’s Commentary on John, the Alexandrian’s engagement with the Platonic tradition, particularly in the interpretation of the Johannine Prologue, stands out as fairly unique within the panorama of Christian commentaries on Scripture.

Very interestingly, Amelius, a direct disciple of Plotinus’s, who in turn had been a fellow-disciple of Origen at Ammonius Saccas’ in Alexandria, also engaged in a philosophical exegesis of the same Prologue of John (which therefore seems to have been known in the school of Plotinus). Amelius and Numenius of Apamea appear to be the only non-Christian Platonists (a Neoplatonist and a Middle Platonist and Neopythagorean respectively) who offered a philosophical interpretation of some New Testament writings. Amelius’s exegesis of John, preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Praeparatio Evangelica, will be the object of a close examination in this paper (as far as time will allow). It will be argued that Amelius in fact read the Prologue of John in the light of Origen’s commentary. This helps explain his claim that John, whom he calls “the Barbarian,” posited the Logos as ἀρχή.

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The Commentary and the Making of Philosophy

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