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Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.3 (2003) 432-433

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Hervé Inglebert Interpretatio Christiana: Les mutations des savoirs (cosmographie, géographie, ethnographie, histoire) dans l'Antiquité chrétienne (30-630 après J.C.) Collection des Études Augustiennes Paris: Institute d'Études Augustiniennes, 2001 Pp. 632. 49,42 BF.

Hervé Ingelbert's Interpretatio Christiana is an extraordinary work. Not only is it well crafted and thoroughly researched, but it also takes up the study of the Christian transformation of ancient savoirs with unparalleled intellectual energy and scrupulous attention to detail. In this book Inglebert succeeds admirably well in living up to his intention of providing a more comprehensive study of the evolution of the cultural encounter between pagan and Christian intellectuals than Marrou does in his work on ancient Christianity. While recognizing the importance of Marrou's work, Inglebert nevertheless sets out to map a significant portion of the intellectual terrain of the ancient world. The six hundred-plus pages that he devotes to this endeavor span a period of roughly nine centuries and draw upon sources from Greek, Latin, Syrian, Armenian, and Jewish traditions.

Eschewing more frequently studied areas such as philosophy, theology, and biblical studies, he concentrates his attention on four areas of ancient learning: cosmography, geography, ethnography, and historiography. Though the latter half of the book focuses solely on historiography, Inglebert judiciously prepares the ground for this discussion in the first part of the book. His treatment of what the ancients meant by the first three disciplines displays a sensitivity to the different cultural contexts in which these bodies of knowledge arose: linguistic, regional, and social. On the basis of this nuanced discussion, he adopts the model of a filter and assesses the nature of the Christian reaction to these disciplines using the fourfold schema of refusal, indifference, synthesis, and original contribution. What emerges in the end is a clear sense of the complementary nature of the four disciplines and the extent to which Christians based their appraisal of these disciplines on the foundation of their own familiarity with Greek paideia.

Inglebert's balanced and illuminating assessment of the Christian transformation of ancient learning rests on a complex analysis of the dynamics of this change. On the basis of a preliminary analysis of the christianization of the ancient savoirs of cosmography, geography, and ethnography, the author constructs an intricate argument that requires multiple levels of interpretation. Initially, he elaborates the chronological development of the Christian transformation of Greek paideia as it passed from the Greeks to the Latins, Syrians, and Armenians while emphasizing the extent to which the influence of Jewish thought and social milieu modified or obstructed the transfer of this knowledge to Christians.

Next, he demonstrates how Christian belief provided the means by which Christians were able to transform the ancient notion of scientia. In this context, he disputes the claim that parallels can be found between the ancient notion of knowledge and the rationalistic conception of modern science as well as the belief that if no parallels exist, the Christian transformation of Greek scientia [End Page 433] ends in obscurantism. Instead, he argues that faith provided epistemological insight into the unifying knowledge of Christian wisdom that enabled Christians to overcome the conflicting logoi proposed by pagans in their effort to resolve the dilemma of divergent mythological interpretations of the world. And yet, Inglebert acknowledges that while the true philosophy of Christianity allowed for the possibility of understanding the contents of faith, at times Christians depended upon the same unscientific knowledge of the world as the ancients did. Reflection on Christian exegesis reveals the use Christians made of literal and figurative interpretations of Scripture to reconcile conflicts between Christian belief and classical paideia.

Finally, Inglebert examines in considerable depth what he regards as the most astounding achievement of the Christian transformation of ancient thought, namely, the invention of a universal history of humankind that had its roots in the messianic trajectory of Christianity and its ongoing dialogue with the pagan world. This...


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