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According to the New Testament’s Epistle to the Hebrews, the figure of Melchizedek comes on the scene in primeval history ‘without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days’. Something similar is the case with Celsus, whose work the Alēthēs Logos appears in the second century as if from nowhere. Unlike Plato son of Ariston or Nicomachus son of Aristotle, we know nothing of Celsus’ parentage; unlike Zeno of Citium or Antiochus of Ascalon we know nothing of his place of origin or base of operations. An important study of Celsus titles him Celsus philosophus Platonicus, but this last epithet which seeks to place him in a tradition is a modern scholarly deduction, rather than a label with which Celsus identifies himself in the fragments which have come down to us.
1 Even his nemesis Origen, whose Contra Celsum of 248–249 CE is our sole source for Celsus’ text, seems to have been unable to identify which Celsus he was; Origen equates him faute de mieux with an Epicurean Celsus from the time of Hadrian (Cels. 1.8) – a conclusion now universally rejected, and which even Origen himself grew to doubt.2 To use another analogy, Celsus arrives in history unheralded and full-grown, like Athene being born from her pater’s pate.
Celsus penned the earliest known detailed attack upon Christianity. While his identity is disputed and his anti-Christian treatise, entitled the True Word, has been exclusively transmitted through the hands of the great Christian scholar Origen, he remains an intriguing figure. In this interdisciplinary volume, which brings together ancient philosophers, specialists in Greek literature, and historians of early Christianity and of ancient Judaism, Celsus is situated within the cultural, philosophical, religious and political world from which he emerged. While his work is ostensibly an attack upon Christianity, it is also the defence of a world in which Celsus passionately believed. It is the unique contribution of this volume to give voice to the many dimensions of that world in a way that will engage a variety of scholars interested in late antiquity and the histories of Christianity, Judaism and Greek thought.