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(c. 184–c. 254 C.E.)

Origen was a Christian biblical critic, exegete, and homilist. Origen was a contemporary of Judah ha-Nasi in Roman Palestine. In his native Christian Alexandrian home, Origen learnt the Psalms in Hebrew and studied Greek and Bible. His father's martyrdom in 202 led Origen to become a teacher first in Alexandria and, after his expulsion by Bishop Demetrius in 213, in Caesarea Maritima. Having encountered personally the Jewish teachers of his time, Jewish customs, and Jewish relations with non-Jews, he interspersed his works with knowledge about Judaism, including non-rabbinic Judaism. As was customary for scholars then, he traveled to Greece, Asia, Syria, Rome, and Arabia to lecture, debate, and study. Famous and at the height of his activities, he was among other Christians imprisoned and tortured under Decius (249–51 C.E.). Set free at the emperor's death, Origen died soon after from the consequences of the ordeal.

Of this very fertile author's works only a fraction has survived. Its greater part is extant as Rufinus' and Jerome's Latin renditions often adapted to the Latin mind, its smaller part survived in Greek catena. The existing material belongs to two groups, thematic reflections and biblical studies. Of the thematic works, On Principles in four books belongs to Origen's early Alexandrian period. It speculates about God and the heavenly beings, man and the material world, free-will and its consequences, and Holy Scripture. The composition indicates detailed knowledge of Jewish observances, such as phylacteries and the Passover search for leaven, and also of some detailed halakhic rules. In a few cases it supplements the halakhot preserved in the Mishnah, as in regard to the eruv and to carrying on the Sabbath. Best known of the biblical studies, all composed during Origen's final 20 years, is the Hexapla, setting the Hebrew Bible in six columns: Hebrew, in Hebrew and Greek characters, followed by the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodotion. For some books there exist supplementary versions, called fifth, sixth, seventh. Comparing the Greek versions meticulously with the Hebrew, Origen marked additions and lacunae in the Greek with graphic symbols borrowed from the Alexandrian grammarians.

Of his commentaries to almost every book of the Bible, substantial remnants are extant for those on the Psalms, Song of Solomon, John, Matthew, and Romans. Some 279 homilies, mostly on the Hebrew Bible, have survived. Both these genres demonstrate Origen's close attention to the work of the Greek literary critics and of Hellenistic religious traditions. Origen occasionally rebukes Jewish literalism but also defends Jews against abuse. His distinction of three senses of scripture anticipated the Jewish distinction of four senses; in this regard, Jews borrowed from Christians rather than the reverse.


The works of Origen have been published in the GCS collection (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller) of various authors in 12 vols. (1899–1983), 4 additional vols. are in preparation. English translations include ANF (Ante-Nicene Fathers), vols. 4, 6, 9. STUDIES: N. de Lange, Origen and the Jews. Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations in Third-Century Palestine (1976); C.P. Bammel, "Adam in Origen," in: R. Williams (ed.), The Making of Orthodoxy. Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick (1989); H. Crouzel, Origen (1989).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.