Chapter

Thecla of Iconium, Reconsidered

Ross Shepard Kraemer

in Unreliable Witnesses

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199743186
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894680 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199743186.003.0004
Thecla of Iconium, Reconsidered

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This chapter revisits the fictional story of Thecla of Iconium, a virgin who accepts Paul’s teachings of celibacy and asceticism and is ultimately authorized by Paul to “go forth and teach the word of God.” After summarizing and analyzing contemporary debates about the Acts of Thecla, Kraemer concludes that as in Justin Martyr’s Apology (with which Thecla may have some indeterminate connection), Christians are shown to be the true bearers of morality and piety, as demonstrated in their women, who index the presence or absence of these qualities in ancient social groups. Gender reversal is central to the text’s critique. Christian women exemplify masculine morality and piety: Christian men are deficient and elite polytheist men are the least virtuous, in all senses. Analyzing Tertullian’s opposition to women in positions of authority over men, and his defamation of the story of Thecla in particular as support for such views, Kraemer argues that positioning Thecla as a teacher authorized by Paul himself is part of real ancient Christian debates over the ability of women to assume offices and authority ordinarily constructed as masculine.

Keywords: Thecla; Paul; Tertullian; celibacy; asceticism; ascetic; virtues; morality; masculine

Chapter.  17923 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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