In his interpretations of the books of the Hebrew Bible, written mainly in Caesarea Maritima, Origen often depicts the “letter” of scripture as a veil that covers the spiritual meaning of the text. He imagines the work of the spiritual exegete as an act of unveiling. Drawing on several biblical veils (including Moses' veil and the bride's veil in the Song of Songs), Origen constructs a hermeneutic theory that privileges a rational, spiritual, and “unveiled” interpretation of the text over a carnal, literal interpretation, which he most often associates with Jews. After examining the ancient association of veils with femininity and aidōs (shame), this article argues that Origen's consignment of Jews to a “veiled” reading functions as anti-Jewish slander insofar as it associates Jewish interpretive practices with shame, dishonor, femininity, and fleshliness. Origen's interpretation of the veil contributes to his understandings of gender, sexuality, sexual renunciation, and Christian identity. Despite Origen's rhetorical disavowal of the veil as literal, fleshly, Jewish, and feminine, a reading of his exegesis of biblical veils attests to his unrenounced desire for the “veil of the letter” and the “body” of the text.
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