Research Projects:
Rhetoric, Philosophy and Religious Instruction in Hermetic Literature
Transpositional Hermeneutics in Antiquity

The first project focuses on the interplay of religion and philosophy in the corpus of pagan Hermetic literature and on a heavily rhetoricized intellectual milieu that generated this peculiar form of late ancient philosophical religion. A close rhetorical analysis of stylistically exuberant yet argumentatively crude Hermetic treatises provides a promising new approach to the problem of the socio-intellectual background of their producers and consumers. Hermetic literature is the product of Greco-Egyptian ‘consciousness’—a hybrid discourse of simultaneous affiliation and resistance on the part of the Hellenized Egyptian literati to the overwhelming prestige of Greek culture in late ancient Egypt.
The second project is a book-length study of the phenomenon of transpositional hermeneutics in Jewish and Greek culture, conducted in collaboration with Armin Lange (University of Vienna). The term “transpositional hermeneutics” designates an interpretative procedure that seeks to re-contextualize and rephrase the master-narratives of a specific culture. The procedure comprises three distinctive moments: (i) the anticipatory movement of fore-understanding (Vorverständnis) that a reader brings to a given text and finds it in contradiction with the text’s surface meaning; (ii) isolation of such perplexing textual elements (words or phrases), and (iii) their subsequent re-contextualization into a new referential paradigm. This specific exegetical method is widely attested in ancient Mediterranean cultures—in ancient Near Eastern and Greek techniques of divination, in various forms of philosophical allegoresis, in Qumran Pesharim, and in the biblical exegesis practiced in the intellectual circles of Alexandrian Judaism. The central argument of this project is that transpositional hermeneutics is a symptom of alienation from the conventional ways of reading authoritative texts, serving a double function of simultaneously preserving and readjusting these written repositories of cultural memory.

Selected Publications:

Pleše, Z. And B.D. Ehrman. 2010. The Apocryphal Gospels, edited and translated. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Pleše, Z. 2009. “Gnostic Literature” in M. von Albrecht, H. Görgemanns und R. Hirsch-Luipold (Hrsg.): Religiöse Philosophie und philosophische Religion der früher Kaiserzeit. Literaturgeschichtliche Perspektiven. Ratio Religionis Studien 1. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 163-198.

Pleše, Z. 2007. Fate, Providence and Astrology in Gnosticism. MHNH 7: 237-268.

Pleše, Z. 2006. Poetics of the Gnostic Universe: Narrative and Cosmology in the Apocryphon of John. Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies vol. 52. Leiden: Brill.

Pleše, Z. 2005. “Platonist Orientalism” in A. Pérez Jiménez and F. Titchener (eds.): Historical and Biographical Values of Plutarch’s Works. Studies devoted to Professor Philip Stadter by the International Plutarch Society. Leuven/Madrid, pp. 245-271.