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Reviewed by:
  • Commentary on Zechariah
  • Peter Steiger
Didymus the Blind Commentary on Zechariah. Translated by Robert HillThe Fathers of the Church, 111Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2006 Pp. xi + 372. $39.95.

In his translation of Didymus's On Zechariah Robert Hill has added to his list of contributions on patristic exegesis. It is his first publication of an Alexandrian exegete following prodigious work on those more commonly associated with Antioch. It promises not to be his last since a translation of Cyril's comments on the Twelve Prophets is forthcoming in the same series (FOTC 115). The introduction stipulates that this translation is part of a project contrasting the exegesis of Zechariah in Antioch and Alexandria and how ancient interpreters [End Page 426] compare with modern approaches. Given Hill's familiarity with the Antiochene exegetes, we can expect this contribution to be significant.

On Zechariah is part of the cache of papyri recovered from a cave in Tura, Egypt in 1941. Made up mostly of biblical commentaries by Didymus, these papyri were critically edited in German and French. Hill's is the first complete English translation of any of Didymus's exegetical works and is dependent on the Sources chrétiennes editions (83–85); it will certainly set the tone for further research. Like other selections in the FOTC, this translation contains a bibliography, introduction, and indices that will facilitate study. Hill's brief bibliography is not focused exclusively on Didymus, including as it does entries on the LXX, patristic exegesis, and modern biblical studies. A short introduction addresses the background of the work, i.e., the circumstances of composition, hermeneutical method, and theological significance. The translation is structured according to the fourteen chapters found in modern bibles, not according to Didymus's division into five books. The lemma being commented on is helpfully set off with italics while other biblical citations are marked by quotes and identified in footnotes. Hill's translation is readable and reliable. There are copious footnotes throughout, comparing Didymus to his Antiochene contemporaries and showing divergences between Didymus's LXX text and the Hebrew original that impact interpretation.

While the appearance of Didymus's commentary in English is welcome and long overdue, there are several drawbacks to the work. Most significant is the failure to properly situate Didymus's work theologically. As the introduction and bibliography reveal, Hill has neglected recent scholarship pertaining to Didymus, specifically the monograph by Richard A. Layton (Didymus the Blind and His Circle). The result is that Didymus's theology and spirituality are not adequately explicated. Didymus's exegetical productions were intended for ascetic audiences seeking to make Scripture a "living word" by putting into practice the texts they read, thus transforming the letter and shadow into spirit and truth and thereby becoming "children of Abraham" who acted on the word. The notion of developing virtue in response to the Word of God is largely overlooked. This spiritual theology explains why Didymus neglects comment on the historical setting of the text, preferring to satisfy those who were seeking to appropriate Zechariah in a Christian way.

Additionally, Hill's treatment of Didymus's hermeneutics is confusing. We are told in the introduction that Didymus was attached to Alexandrian hermeneutical principles (5). Then we learn that "one could gain the impression from Didymus's hermeneutic of a lack of a consistent set of principles" (17) although "la méthodologie est une invention moderne" (17). Indeed, Didymus has multiple tools he utilizes to draw out the significance of the text, including numerology, etymology, and philosophy, and his approach consistently moves from consideration of the literal to the spiritual in that he always quotes the text in question, paraphrases its historical or physical meaning (if it has one), and then moves to its allegorical or anagogical import. This method is more apparent in Didymus's other commentaries, which Hill does not seem to examine. Several [End Page 427] criteria also guide Didymus's interpretation: it must be worthy of God, obscure passages can be illuminated through consultation of other inspired authors, and such passages require the mediation of a holy teacher to properly apply them to specific circumstances.

Finally, a considerable...


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