Artemilla and the New Roman Woman

In AP IX, 17, Artemilla, the wife of Jerome, the Roman ἀνθύπατος in Ephesus, goes to see the prisoner Paul, who is condemned to die in the beast fight on the following morning.  She has put on somber clothing in preparation to see him.  Then, when Paul sees her he says (my trans.):

Woman, ruler of this world, mistress of much gold, citizen of much luxury, woman who brags of her apparel, sit upon the floor and forget your riches and your beauty and your boasts in your earthly status.  For these things profit you nothing, except you beg God, who considers crap what is formidable here but who freely gives what is marvelous there.  Gold perishes, riches are consumed, clothes become tattered, beauty becomes old, great cities are replaced and the world will be destroyed in fire because of the lawlessness of humanity.  Only God remains, as well as the adoption given through him, in whom it is necessary to be saved.  And now Artemilla, hope in God and he will rescue you.  Hope in Christ and he will grant forgiveness of sins and place upon you a crown suitable for freedom, so that you serve no longer idols with the smoke of fat offerings, but the living God and Father of Christ, whose is the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I have written in previous posts about the manner in which liberal interpreters are no more careful than evangelical apologists in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature, and the interpretation of Artemilla’s conversion is no exception.  By many liberal interpreters, most notably Stevan L. Davies, Virginia Burrus and Dennis R. MacDonald, Artemilla is an example of a married woman who embrace chastity as means to autonomy and freedom from the patriarchal system.  Thus, they apply the sentiments and world view of modern feminism to the text, and they see Artemilla as a woman who seeks woman’s liberation.

Yet Paul, in his discourse to Artemilla, does not see her as a woman who is oppressed by patriarchy and marriage, but rather, as a member of the ruling class whose wealth bestows upon her a status of privilege.  But all the wealth upon which her status rests  is temporary and will burn in the eschatological fire, according to the beast fighter.  She must repent and embrace instead freedom in God and adoption into his family.  Only then, will she be able to experience salvation.

The preaching of an encratite gospel, a decision for sexual continence, and a refusal by Artemilla to sleep with her husband are all completely lacking in this text.  It is a complete misreading to see it as a chastity story (Burrus) or as written by women who have renounced sexual relations (Davies).  Rather, the text becomes more coherent in the light of studies like The New Roman Women by Bruce W. Winter, which demonstrates how women like Artemilla already experienced a large measure of freedom and autonomy, for their privileged status made it possible to dominate their domus, their slaves, their lovers, and at times, even their own husbands, while showing too little respect for the Roman laws and the customs that dictated propriety.

4 Responses to Artemilla and the New Roman Woman

  1. Richard Fellows says:

    The name “Artemilla” is rare. The Lexicon of Greek Personal names has only one other example. It surely symbolizes Artemis in some way. Does this give a clue about the role that the author gives her? Does she represent idolatry, perhaps?

  2. Petros says:

    Artemis is the goddess of Ephesus. But then governors are Romans–what are the chances that Jerome has a Greek wife?

  3. Richard Fellows says:

    I don’t know.

    Also intriguing is the mention of Eubula. Is this story dependent on the Acts of Peter here?

  4. Petros says:

    The alleged lines of dependence are not convincing to me. I maintain that dependence on common oral traditions between the AAA is a better explanation, and helps to do several things: (1) explain some resemblances between stories; (2) explain the equally impressive differences. (3) Explain the genre of the Acts of Paul as a compilation of oral traditions strung together in a coherent narrative. I dealt with how I would explain the relationships between the AAA here: https://actapauli.wordpress.com/2009/03/24/oral-tradition-units-and-the-acts-of-paul/ I have not seen a story where the literary evidence is so compelling that we must assume literary dependence; every similar story in my view is best explained by orality, such as the baptism of sea captain by Peter (Acts of Paul/Acts of Peter) or the destruction of a temple (Acts of Paul in Sidon/Acts of John, Ephesus; Irenaeus’ account of John leaving the bathhouse wherein Cerinthus bathed–all can be variations on single theme, but with considerable shifts caused by oral telling).

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