NASSCAL Member Publication: Michael Zeddies on Origen as Author of “To Theodore”

Michael T. Zeddies, “Did Origen Write the Letter to Thedore?” Journal of Early Christian Studies 25.1 (2017): 55–87.

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Abstract: In 1958 Morton Smith discovered, in the monastery of Mar Saba, a Greek copy of a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria, addressed to one Theodore. The letter’s authenticity has been viewed with some skepticism, and since its publication in 1973, scholars have scrutinized it intensely, with some accusing Smith of forgery. Recent debate has suggested forgery is implausible; yet the letter does include non-Clementine elements, including the proposal that Christians should perjure themselves rather than reveal the authorship of a non-canonical Markan gospel that the letter describes. Since the misattribution of ancient texts is not uncommon, it is prudent to wonder if the letter has likewise been misattributed, rather than forged. Ancient testimony and recent scholarship suggest the letter’s author is Origen of Alexandria. Origen’s attitudes towards deception resemble those found in the letter, and many other features of the letter are demonstrably Origenian, including its theological attitudes and themes, its phrases and metaphors, and its biblical references. The letter is consistent with Origen’s use of Clement’s writings, and with Origen’s text-critical practices. It finds a plausible setting during Origen’s years in Caesarea Maritima, and a plausible recipient in Origen’s pupil Theodore.