Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-gvh9x Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-23T02:06:36.317Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

13 - Christianity Re-sexualised: Intertextuality and the Early Christian Novel

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Allison Surtees
Affiliation:
University of Winnipeg, Canada
Jennifer Dyer
Affiliation:
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Get access

Summary

INTRODUCTION

Early Christianity used sacred texts, including novels, to distinguish its rituals, ethics and theologies from traditional ancient Mediterranean religions, especially ancient Judaisms. One such novel, the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla, hereafter APT, promotes its ideology – an ascetic revision of first-century Christian sexual ethics – through the adventures of its female protagonist, Thecla (Lipsius and Bonnet 1891; Barrier 2009 – all dates are ad unless otherwise specified). Scholars have approached the novel, and Thecla in particular, from various and often divergent perspectives (Hylen 2015: 1–16; Cooper 2013b: 533; Aageson 2008: 194–8). Some have seen in Thecla the daily experiences of early Christian women and female leaders residing in Asia Minor; others read the APT as evidence for early Christian literary history and the formation of multiple genres, including hagiography. Those interested in social and theological history have cited the apocryphal acts as supporting evidence. Others less sanguine about the reliability of these texts have read the APT as second-century literature (Kraemer 2011: 117–52). Regardless of approach, recent scholarly output on the APT has continued unabated, and the last decade has seen new editions and monographs devoted entirely or in large part to the APT (e.g., Davis 2001; Johnson 2006; Barrier 2009; Lipsett 2011; Hylen 2015).

Building on that essential research, we examine Thecla's sexual renunciation and repeated sexual assaults through intertexts with Hebrew bible and the first-century gospels, specifically Mary of Bethany's veneration at Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38, 10:39) and Ruth's seduction of Boaz (Ruth 3:3–6, 4:13). In our view, Mary and Ruth, who actively initiate sexualised interactions with male characters, are increasingly masculinised and hypersexualised as each episode progresses, and may be treated as Thecla's biblical predecessors. By reading Thecla's complicated gender(s) and sexual past through the (counter)feminine lenses of Mary and Ruth, Thecla becomes an allusively charged literary character, and her rejection of, for example, marriage, family and feminine attire becomes more exegetically rich. Our approach situates Thecla's sexuality within its wider literary contexts, underscores her development over the course of the novel and illuminates how the community in Asia Minor responsible for the APT– known now only through the APT itself – interpreted and updated sacred texts to advance their own ideological interests.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×