Artemilla and the New Roman Woman

September 9, 2011

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.

Committee for the Inclusion of the Acts of Paul in the New Testament Canon

April 23, 2009

This is for purely selfish motives for those of us who have studied the Acts of Paul.  I mean if tomorrow suddenly there was an Ecumenical Council which declared the Acts of Paul part of the New Testament canon, the few of us who have devoted any real time to studying the book would have sudden status in the community of New Testament scholars.  Consider how Rodolphe Kasser, an otherwise obscure Swiss Coptologist, became a superstar overnight when the news media proclaimed the Gospel of Judas just as accurate as the New Testament.  I am virtually unknown in the world of New Testament scholarship; all people ever seem to talk about is N.T. Wright this, N.T. Wright that.  What if I changed my name to N.T. Dunn?  Actually, James D. G. Dunn has a nice ring to it too.

Acts of Paul scholars are often discriminated against because our book is not in the canon.  When I embarked on this scholarly journey I remember vividly how the Warden of Tyndale House pointed to the late Colin J. Hemer’s study of Acts and said, “Here is a work worthy to take to heaven”–thus, implying that a study of the Acts of Paul would fail to make the grade.  He also predicted, nay prophesied, that I wouldn’t find a job, which turned out to be true, and so I have had to travel to the remotest part of the world, usually on my own dime, to Bangui (rated the 2nd worst city in the world) to teach pro bono in extreme heat and humidity.  And besides, no one knows whether I should teach New Testament or church history (which has been a disaster because my knowledge becomes sketchy after about the year 200).  In all fairness, then, the Acts of Paul should be included.  I mean in our committee we could discuss the merits of the book itself, its catholicity, its apostolicity, and its conformity to the Rule of Faith.  But for crying out loud, people should consider how unfair this situation is for Acts of Paul scholars.  We deserve equal rights.

Well, I think Dr. Jeremy Barrier might join the committee.  I broached the idea with Prof. Jean-Daniel Kaestli a few years ago in Switzerland and he suggested that since I lack a complete text of the Acts of Paul I should just forget it.  I admit that that is an encumberance for my committee, but if a complete papyrus should be found, who knows?  Is there anyone out there in the blogging world interested in joining my committee?