HELP! Looking for Symbolism

Mewinut's picture

I am writing a paper that shows the early Church Fathers saw symbolic meaning in the miracles of the Old and New Testaments. I would love to focus on the women, for example, Tamar or Rahab. Is there any specific book out there that addresses the symbolism of miracles? Thank you!

tomgroeneman's picture

symbolism in the OT

There is much modern commentary on the way the OT speaks of Christ but mostly that has to do with typology which is a particular form of symbolism. Before the predominance of a literal reading of the Bible in the 16th century and on into today, there was a method of interpretation of the Scriptures that relied heavily on allegory. This may be the form of symbolism that you are referring to. The most widely known scholar who practiced the allegorical method was the early Church father named Origen of the 3rd century. Some of his works are available here on CCEL but generally his interpretations fell out of favor with many scholars because of some of the fantastical or elaborate meanings he would derive from the various symbols in a given story. There are also many other symbols in Scripture like numbers, parables, metaphors, similes, apocalyptic imagery and so forth; however, since the NT canon was finalized we now see all these OT symbols as representing Christ mainly. Now focusing on specific miracles presents a challenge for proper interpretation. For example, Paul speaks of the cloud that followed and led the Israelites through the wilderness or the waters that were parted in the Red Sea as symbolic or more accurately types of the Holy Spirit and water baptism. I heard a sermon once where the preacher likened the ax that Elisha made swim in the stream to something but I do not recall what. I do suggest that you choose a particular miracle in the OT, like the calling down of fire by Elijah against the prophets of Baal, and try to see how the physical elements of that story symbolize Christ or something about the gospel or the Christian life. The early Church fathers wrote some commentary on the OT and it would probably be easiest to select a Scripture reference that mentions a miracle and see if that citation is used by one or more of the Fathers. You can google the Scripture reference and add "in the Early Church Fathers" to the command line. There is also the possibility that some of the later Greek Fathers of the Orthodox Church have done some mystical or symbolic writing about the OT and NT miracles but that is beyond my knowledge and maybe you could ask an Orthodox priest for information. Narrowing down your search to just the women may limit your material sources I think. Please let us know more about why you are writing this paper and certainly how it comes out. God's peace to you.

Tom Groeneman