The Chreestology of Ephesians

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The Chreestology of Ephesians

Post by Peter Kirby »

In a posthumously published essay ("What's in a name?"), J. L. Moles sets aside any concern about the potential usefulness of Chreestos-language in the New Testament for the project of demythologizers, graciously interpreting the texts as they would be heard, in the manner that would be most agreeable to those who heard it, given that this kind of word play was indeed commonly practiced. The essay introduces the felicitous term Chreestology here.

Our stem passage for that notion in the foreground is Ephesians 4.32. The authenticity of Ephesians is hotly disputed, probably a majority of scholars regarding it as ‘school of Paul’:

Be kind (χρηστοί) to one another, good-hearted, being gracious to one another, just as God ἐν Χριστῷ gave grace to you.

The notion that Christians should be chreestoi to one another is rooted in God’s grace as expressed ἐν Chreestoi. This also reminds us that Chreestianity is partly about the Chreestification—the being made Chreest-like—of Chreestians. This passage must also be read in the light of the preceding (Ephes. 2.4–10):

God, being rich in pity, because of his great love with which he loved us (5), even when we were corpses in our fallings by the wayside, made us live together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (6) and raised us up with him [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ), (7) so that he might demonstrate in the coming ages the overflowing riches of his grace in kindness (ἐν χρηστότητι) towards us in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). (8) For by grace you are saved through faith; and this is not from you, but it is the gift of God; (9) not from works, lest anyone should boast. (10) For we are His making, created in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ) for good (ἀγαθοῖς) works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

ἐν Χρeeστῷ Ἰeeσοῦ sounds like a jingling refrain. The primary pun is on Chreestos/chreestotees in the sense of ‘benevolence’/‘kindness’, though there is also a pun on chreestos/ἀγαθός. Chreestos is a second creator and mediator, instrumental in implementing the chreestotees of God. The latter word translates God’s ‘goodness’ in the Septuagint. The punning Chreestos/chreestos, therefore, underpins three very large theological ideas: Christ as mediator between God and man; Christ as ‘kind’ to humans and himself ‘loyal’ to God (this emphasises the hierarchical chain of reciprocity between God, Jesus, and humans); and Chreestos as the incarnation of God’s goodness. That ‘Christos’ sounded the same as ‘Chrestos’, the Septuagint word for God as ‘good’, is accidental (unless, with the Church Fathers, one here sees divine providence): but the New Testament transforms this happy accident into deep Chreestology.

The Collected Papers of J. L. Moles, volume 1, p. 964
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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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He also makes reference to Titus:

Compare also Titus 3.4–7 (almost universally nowadays regarded as non-Pauline):

When the goodness (χρηστότης) and loving kindness appeared of our saviour God, (5) not as a result of the deeds which we did in righteousness but in accordance with his pity did he save us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (6) which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) our saviour, (7) so that being justified in his grace we might become heirs as regards hope of eternal life. Beginning and end are ring-structured (‘saviour’ ~ ‘saviour’); clearly, the chreestotees of God our Saviour is manifested in our Saviour Jesus Chreestos. Here chreestotes = ‘benevolence’.

And Romans, among others.

Romans 2.1–16 on the righteous judgement of God starts with allusions to God’s ‘judgement’ (2.2–3, 5); but then asks: ‘do you despise the riches of his kindness [χρηστότητος] and forbearance and long-sufferingness, not knowing that the kindness [τὸ χρηστόν] of God leads you to change of mind?’ (4–5); the section ends (16) with ring-structure, ‘on a day when God will judge the secret things of men according to my good news through the agency of Christ Jesus’, with Jesus’ ‘goodness’ both emphasising God’s justice and holding out prospect of divine ‘kindness’.

p. 965
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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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This is his discussion of 1 Peter here:

Several of the above passages have played with the subsidiary implication Chreestos/chreestos in the broad sense of ‘good’. For this, our stem passage is 1 Peter 2.1–3. As we have seen, majority modern opinion does not accept the authorship of Peter the disciple:

So putting away all badness (κακίαν) and all deception and hypocrisies and envies and all ill-speakings, (2) like newborn babes, yearn for the undeceptive spiritual milk, in order that in it you may grow to salvation, (3) if you have tasted that the Lord is good/Christ [χρηστός/Χριστός (massive MSS split)].

There is a broad contrast between ‘badness’ and ‘goodness’. Peter has earlier (1.3) referred to ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ and several times (1.1, 2, 3, 7, 11, 13, 19) to Jesus Christ. It is Christ who is instrumental in the change between vice and virtue. At 2.1–3 the MSS split between χρηστός and χριστός. Jesus is the incarnation of Goodness. But also: Peter has just applied the term ‘Lord’ to God as well (1.25, quoting Isaiah 40.8 with a significant change), and 2.3 itself quotes Psalm 33.9, of God as ‘good’, so the punning ‘the Lord is good’ and ‘the Lord is Christ’ blurs Father and the Son. As in Ephesians 4.32, no epithet could convey better than chreestos Jesus’ mediating role between God and man or his ambiguous divine identity. Another question—relevant to the interpretation of other passages—is whether 2.3 also alludes to the Lord’s Supper. It surely does. Again, this is about Chreestians’ becoming Chreest-like, the Eucharist’s main function.

Cf. also 1 Peter 3.15–16:

Reverence (the) Christ (τὸν Χριστὸν) as Lord in your hearts, prepared always to make a defence to everyone who calls you to account concerning the hope that is in you, (16) but with gentleness and holy fear, having a good (ἀγαθήν) conscience, so that, while you are ill spoken of, those who are reviling your good (ἀγαθήν) behaviour in Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ) may be completely shamed.

Clearly, especially when taken with the earlier passage, τὸν Chreeston and ἀγαθήν and ἀγαθήν and ἐν Chreestoi interact (and with elegant chiasmus, be it noted).

pp. 965-966
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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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Peter,

I see no one has commented on this yet. I have not worked out for myself what the implications are for what Moles says about χρηστός and ἀγαθός in the New Testament and the Old Testament, at least not yet, but it seems quite significant and I am watching to see where you (and anyone else who might comment) go with this.

Best,

Ken
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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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Ken Olson wrote: Sun Feb 18, 2024 9:48 am I see no one has commented on this yet. I have not worked out for myself what the implications are for what Moles says about χρηστός and ἀγαθός in the New Testament and the Old Testament, at least not yet, but it seems quite significant and I am watching to see where you (and anyone else who might comment) go with this.
That's alright. I haven't quite worked them out either.

Moles begins this essay:

This matter of nomenclature belongs within large and contentious debate about: the cohesiveness of ‘the Jesus movement’ (or ‘movements’) and of ‘Christianity’; the legitimacy of that latter term; the relationship between ‘Christianity’ (or ‘Christianities’) and Judaism (or ‘Judaisms’); and Roman ‘persecution’ of Christianity. Throughout, I try to frame discussion in ways that take account of these debates but are not paralysed by them. Further, paradoxically, my material offers ammunition both to those who wish to generalise about ‘Christianity’ and to those who seek to demythologise it (who could infer that ‘Christianity’ was invented on the basis of a whole series of puns). My initial focus is restricted to a matter of language. But it will rapidly become clear that this matter has itself huge implications.

A little further down:

At the most basic level, there is indeed spelling ‘confusion’ or ‘error’, but that is the beginning of the matter, not the end. I shall argue that the name of ‘Christ’ (however spelled) was inevitably and multiply contested from the 30s of the first century onwards, and I shall tell a story about names, power, defamation, reclamation, pedagogy, and cultural appropriation in the earliest period of Christianity, a period which, on this analysis, will emerge as in essential respects the most formative period of Christianity. This last notion is of course itself highly controversial, but my material will support the claims of Larry Hurtado that Jesus was divinised from the very start of Christianity.15

When above I say ‘story’, I mean something not absolutely provable, something with elements of imaginative reconstruction, or muthos. This ‘story’ is a stitch-work from various materials: a selective account (surely nowadays substantially unproblematic) of some of the many ways in which punning and naming work in the ancient world; a preliminary potted history of the names in question that combines known facts with inferences about how ‘things must have been’; the puns on ‘Christ’ made by the Church Fathers; and a survey of New Testament puns. These materials should have interlocking force. The selective account illustrates the ubiquity and range of the phenomenon and the possibilities for our case. The history of the relevant names suggests certain key issues; these seem to be reflected also in the survey. The Patristic punning seems to echo punning already present in the New Testament and in pagan writers writing about the first century. Indeed, most of the things I say about the New Testament can be found in one form or another in the Church Fathers, but scholars do not seem to retroject this material or its insights into the first century.

This is the context in which he presents the discussion:

Punning is rife both in the Jewish and Gentile worlds, and both orally and in writing, and at both the most popular and the most sophisticated levels. One of its many forms is appeal to etymology and to different etymologies, including invention of etymologies. Another is substitution of synonyms (which is also part of Jewish pesher technique).17 Thus in Livy 6.1.10 ‘quae … ad sacra pertinebant a pontificibus maxime ut religione obstrictos haberent multitudinis animos suppressa’, the use of ‘obstringere’ = ‘bind’ alludes punningly to the popular derivation of religio from re-ligare.18 Another is punning on words that sound identical or very similar but have very different meanings (thus, hearing of Herod’s execution of his sons, Augustus quipped, ‘it is better to be Herod’s pig than his son’).19

Intellectual interest in punning is found among sophists, rhetoricians, grammarians, and philosophers.20 One particular focus was double-ness or the play of opposites. The Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus noted that bios meant both ‘bow’ and ‘life’, the one dealing death to the other (21 B 48 D–K {= D 53 L–M}), the Cynic Diogenes that the high Homeric phrase ‘he lashed [the horses] to make them go’ also meant ‘he lashed an olive’ (D.L. 6.55). Licentious Roman youths heard Sallust’s portentous ‘bellum patrare’ (‘prosecute a war’) as ‘do a pretty boy’ (Quint. 8.3.44). Rhetoricians admired the repetition of the same word or term in pointedly different senses.21

A phenomenon distinct from punning but allied to it is the intense juxtaposition of similar sounds in order to suggest causal patterns (which I shall call ‘sonic associativeness’). Thus at Livy 6.2.9 ‘imperator terroris intulerat’, the ‘cluster of similar sounds reinforces the connection between the general and the fear he inspires’.22

Names are words: the Greek onoma covers both categories; while ‘name’ does not seem to be generally recognised among the numerous meanings of logos,23 the verb lego can certainly mean ‘to name’,24 and it is difficult to see why this should not also be a possible implication of logos.25 Hymns place tremendous emphasis on divine names, their powers and implications. Names may have magic power. Ancient names are ‘speaking names’. They are religiously, morally, and interpretatively telling: Oedipus, who does not know where he is, whose foot—indeed, penis—is swollen; Pentheus, born for grief; Odysseus—who knows (oida), who travels (hodos), who hates and is hated (odussomai); Achilles—the barley man who fills the battle-fields with blood. In Roman contexts, such puns may be bilingual: Aeneas who is ‘terrible’,26 ‘Nero’ who is ‘fortis’,27 Parthenope who evokes Virgil ‘the virgin’.28 The great pagan gods were often polyonomous: even their individual names often interpreted as polysemous. By contrast, the accusative form [Δία] of the greatest Greek god, Zeus, could be used as a transcendental signifier (διά), signifying ‘Zeus’ as cause of everything and through and outside time.29 Individuals may have two quite different names (Paris/Alexander; Pyrrhus/ Neoptolemus). Identity or similarity of name may highlight opposition: Hera hates Heracles. Names may be palindromic: Roma/amor. Names may be linked anagrammatically: Camena/Maecenas.30 Philosophers made capital out of their names (Aristotle, whose ‘telos’ was ‘the best’; Diogenes, ‘son of Zeus’; Epicurus, ‘the helper’, Horatius, man ‘of the hour’, etc.).31

Names also have social and political significance. They both confer identity and affect reputation, including Nachleben: in Greek and Latin, as in English, the word ‘name’ means both ‘identifier’ and ‘repute’. Names can be bestowed honorifically (Augustus Caesar, Jesus Christ), but name-calling is also part of philosophical, social, and political invective. It is often crude: Cleisthenes of Sicyon renamed the three tribes that were not his own ‘pigmen’, ‘donkeymen’, and ‘swinemen’ (Hdt. 5.68.1). It could also sometimes be sophisticated: to call Brutus and Cassius ‘Pompeiani’ was to impute narrow partisanship—even absurd partisanship, since Pompey himself was dead. Proper names themselves can attract scorn: Cicero the chick-pea (Plut. Cic. 1.4), Tiberius to the Tiber! (Suet. Tib. 75.1). Such name-calling belongs within the general rhetorical strategy of hostile appropriation of one’s opponent’s language. Similarly, writers may appropriate other writers’ names: ‘Hesiod’ ‘out-Homers’ Homer; Horace ‘out-Enniuses’ Ennius; Virgil ‘outfights’ ‘Callimachus’.32 Suppression or erasure of names could occur within damnatio memoriae.33 But minority or oppressed groups may revalue a negative name. Diogenes turned ‘dog’ into a boast. And the verdict of history may rehabilitate: in time, no one criticised the philosophical ‘descendants’ of Socrates for styling themselves ‘Socratici’, even though Socrates had been executed by the state as impious and as a corrupter. In time, all Romans called themselves ‘Christians’ or ‘Chrestians’, even though ‘Christ’ had been executed by the Roman state as a political subversive.

Instead of clefting the sense of Chreestos from Christos and arguing for one instead of the other, the essay from Moles shows that he can see these allusions in the texts without hypothesizing any different word being used here. It does imbue the word with more shades of meaning through the inevitable awareness of how it would sound.
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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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Moles detects many different allusions and connections at work here, from a pagan perspective (pp. 951-952):

Suetonius’ ‘affecti suppliciis Christiani’ is very close to Tacitus’ ‘poenis affecit … Chrestianos … Christus … supplicio adfectus est’. Further, while ‘maleficae’ may well allude to the specific accusation of witchcraft that was commonly made against Christians,68 there is certainly interaction between ‘affecti suppliciis’ and ‘maleficae’: the Christians ‘do bad things’ and are themselves accordingly ‘done with punishments’. The contrast in Tacitus between the Christians’ alleged ‘goodness’ and their actual ‘badness’ is surely also latent here. So also (surely) is the malign pun on ‘Christians’ being ‘made good’, that is, punished by ‘death’ for their ‘badness’. As for the relationship of this passage to the Tacitean passage on Nero, either Suetonius is directly working from Tacitus, or he provides further evidence for popular bilingual punning on the name ‘Christian’, or both. The first possibility, likely, I think, but not formally provable, need not entail abandonment of the identification, in Claudius 25.4, of ‘Chresto’ as Jesus (if Suetonius is writing carelessly, or if he does not himself make the identification). Cf. also Orosius 7.7.10 (imitating Suetonius): ‘primus Romae Christianos suppliciis et mortibus adfecit’.

The Tacitus passage, then, shows pagans engaging in complex and polemical bilingual punning on Chrestiani and Chrestus as early as 64. The Suetonius Nero passage reinforces this picture. The Tacitus passage also shows that though some Romans knew of Christianity’s Jewish origins, by 64 ‘Chrestians’/‘Christians’ in Rome were generally regarded as distinct from Jews.

Further, since Chrestos/Chrestus was a common slave name and Christ and Christians could be associated with political disturbances, there were contexts, as, surely, in these very passages from Tacitus and Suetonius (both Nero 16.2 and Claudius 25.4), where the names were also regarded as slavish and redolent of Christianity’s allegedly low-class origins and continuing low-class recruitment.

To this pejorative implication, Christians could have had two responses: they themselves were ‘slaves’ of Christ on a par with ‘slaves of Caesar’, in as much as Christ had comparable status to Caesar; but also, and much more radically, ‘Christ’ as ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ subverted worldly hierarchies.

The collocation, in the Tacitus passage, of ‘the vulgar’ and ‘the Goodies’, suggests yet another resonance. The adjective ‘good’ had already been appropriated by aristocrats: the so-called agathoi or boni. So Christians qua ‘Goodies’ could also look like pretentious upstarts, the more strikingly for their generally low worldly status.

Almost all of this reflects pagan perspectives, though the Tacitus passage also allows the inference that Roman Christians made a connection between their name and χρηστός in the sense of ‘good’—an inference which will be validated in Christian contexts.

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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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Even with all the negative associations swirling around the term (p. 958):

Of course, these potentially numerous and heavy negatives could be countered by strong positives. The Christian claim that Jesus was the Messiah rested—it seems—on the resurrection. Paradoxically, therefore, the death associations of Chrestos advertised Christianity’s central claim. An apparent doubleness can be exploited (provided, of course, that the arguments for the resurrection are sufficiently strong, as to early Christians they were). The death associations of Chrestianoi found concrete expression in Christian martyrdoms; Greek and Roman pagans generally admired heroic deaths; and Christian martyrdoms won the exasperated admiration of some pagans, including philosophers. They could even arouse pity (as in 64). Hence the Gospels and Acts contain various hooks for admirers of philosophical martyrs such as Socrates and some Stoics.80 The name Chrestos/Chrestus also had a big simple positive, fully recognised by Church Fathers: surely everybody could be persuaded that the good was good, especially since—as already noted—‘good’ can be a divine epithet in paganism, and the word had a wide range of usefully benevolent associations. Thus when Christians tried to convert pagans devoted to gods often polyonomous and polysemous, the rich polysemous implications of the double name ‘Jesus Christ’ must have been a positive asset (provided, that is, the negative associations could be erased): far more so than such Jewish names as Yaweh (supposedly unutterable), or the Most High (not restrictedly Jewish), or Adonai (too Jewish). This ‘must have’ inference can be supported by New Testament passages.

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The Marvelous Chree

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JW:
Kree
The Kree were an evolutionarily stagnant race. This was due to a single member of the Kree race attempting to gain control of The Crystal of Ultimate Vision.[19] This unnamed Kree found the crystal, but attempted to use it to become akin to a god, with powers as of those of the Phoenix Force. As punishment, the crystal "genetically froze their evolution in place" allowing the rest of creation to pass them by.
The Kree were created by the imagination of The Jewish Creators of Marvel. probably just a coincidence.
Peter Kirby wrote: Sat Feb 17, 2024 8:29 pm In a posthumously published essay ("What's in a name?"), J. L. Moles sets aside any concern about the potential usefulness of Chreestos-language in the New Testament for the project of demythologizers, graciously interpreting the texts as they would be heard, in the manner that would be most agreeable to those who heard it, given that this kind of word play was indeed commonly practiced. The essay introduces the felicitous term Chreestology here.

Our stem passage for that notion in the foreground is Ephesians 4.32. The authenticity of Ephesians is hotly disputed, probably a majority of scholars regarding it as ‘school of Paul’:

Be kind (χρηστοί) to one another, good-hearted, being gracious to one another, just as God ἐν Χριστῷ gave grace to you.

The notion that Christians should be chreestoi to one another is rooted in God’s grace as expressed ἐν Chreestoi. This also reminds us that Chreestianity is partly about the Chreestification—the being made Chreest-like—of Chreestians. This passage must also be read in the light of the preceding (Ephes. 2.4–10):

God, being rich in pity, because of his great love with which he loved us (5), even when we were corpses in our fallings by the wayside, made us live together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (6) and raised us up with him [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ), (7) so that he might demonstrate in the coming ages the overflowing riches of his grace in kindness (ἐν χρηστότητι) towards us in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). (8) For by grace you are saved through faith; and this is not from you, but it is the gift of God; (9) not from works, lest anyone should boast. (10) For we are His making, created in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ) for good (ἀγαθοῖς) works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

ἐν Χρeeστῷ Ἰeeσοῦ sounds like a jingling refrain. The primary pun is on Chreestos/chreestotees in the sense of ‘benevolence’/‘kindness’, though there is also a pun on chreestos/ἀγαθός. Chreestos is a second creator and mediator, instrumental in implementing the chreestotees of God. The latter word translates God’s ‘goodness’ in the Septuagint. The punning Chreestos/chreestos, therefore, underpins three very large theological ideas: Christ as mediator between God and man; Christ as ‘kind’ to humans and himself ‘loyal’ to God (this emphasises the hierarchical chain of reciprocity between God, Jesus, and humans); and Chreestos as the incarnation of God’s goodness. That ‘Christos’ sounded the same as ‘Chrestos’, the Septuagint word for God as ‘good’, is accidental (unless, with the Church Fathers, one here sees divine providence): but the New Testament transforms this happy accident into deep Chreestology.

The Collected Papers of J. L. Moles, volume 1, p. 964

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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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Picking up with the way Moles reads various New Testament passages:

Compare also the Pauline 1 Corinthians 15.30–4, datable c.54–5:

Why am I in danger every hour? (31) I die every day, I swear by the pride in you that I have in Christ Jesus (Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ) our Lord. (32) If, on the human level, I fought with beasts in Ephesus, what is the profit (ὄφελος) for me? If corpses are not raised, ‘let us eat and drink, for we die tomorrow’. (33) Do not err: ‘bad associations destroy good (χρηστά) characters’.

(34) Sober up righteously and do not go wrong. For some have no knowledge of God. I speak to turn you to the right. Amidst the obscurities of this passage, one thing is clear: the guarantor of chreesta characters is Chreestoi Ἰησοῦ. There is also a punning connection with chreestos as ‘useful’/‘profitable’ (cf.ὄφελος and Philemon 8–11, 20).

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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

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Once again, referring to Romans:

Romans 16.18 ‘for such [those who create dissensions and difficulties] do not serve our Lord Chreest [Χριστῷ] but their own belly, and through their [speciously] good-talking [χρηστολογίας] and well-speaking [εὐλογίας] they deceive the hearts of the “un-bad” [ἀκάκων]’.

And once again to Ephesians:

Next, the (probably) non-Pauline Ephesians 4.20–1: ‘You did not so learn (the) Christ! (ἐμάθετε τὸν Χριστόν), (21) if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus’. The phrase to learn (the) Christ is startling, though glossed in the following ‘if’-clause, and the practice was widespread. The noun would be Χριστομαθία, as found in the Church Fathers and modern Greek. But χρηστομαθία, pronounced identically, is used Classically of ‘compendious learning of good bits’ (e.g., morally improving excerpts from an author), characteristically for philosophical ends.94 Our writer is implicitly substituting Χριστομαθία for χρηστομαθία, because it is Chreestos who is chreestos. This play on χρηστομαθία and Χριστομαθία is found in Clement of Alexandria, who presumably recognised it here.95 In this case, identity of sound makes a crucial distinction. The technique seems philosophical, along the lines suggested by Heraclitus and Diogenes, and its application is rhetorically clever: a philosophical technique is turned against philosophy itself.

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