From the "Theater of the world" to the "Mask of Christ" - And back again: Insights from origen's newly discovered homilies on psalms

Maren R. Niehoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This article provides the first translation and in-depth analysis of a passage in Origen's newly discovered homilies on Psalms, which refers to the theater in Caesarea and uses theatrical language to describe Christian identity. By putting on the mask of Christ the Christian adopts a Christian identity and becomes an active member in the community. The article interprets Origen's arguments in the context of material evidence from Caesarea which reflects the city's centrality in theatrical competitions. Moreover, Origen's exceptionally positive attitude towards the theater, compared to that of other Christian authors, is interpreted in view of Lucian, the second Sophistic, who recommended theatrical dances as a form of education and self-formation. In a second step the article surveys other passages in Origen's oeuvre, which relate more critically to the theater, and argues that Origen assumed different rhetorical roles, depending on the exegetical contexts. He adopted Paul's maverick style and positioned himself on changing stages. Finally, the article looks at contemporary Jews, who are briefly mentioned by Origen, and explores some of their attitudes to the theater, focusing on Rabbi Abbahu of Caesarea and Genesis Rabbah, who both showed a keen interest in integrating actors and theatrical images in rabbinic culture. The theater of Caesarea thus emerges as a discursive stage where 'Pagan', Christian and Jewish actors mingled and presented themselves, always aware of the Other, always competing for more attractive masks to put on. Origen turns out to have been a particularly sophisticated actor on this stage.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationScripta Classica Israelica
PublisherIsrael Society for the Promotion of Classical Studies
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameScripta Classica Israelica
ISSN (Print)0334-4509

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Israel Society for the Promotion of Classical Studies. All rights reserved.


  • Caesarea
  • Christian identity
  • Homilies on Psalms
  • Lucian
  • Origen
  • Rabbi Abbahu
  • Theater masks


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