1st Edition

The Silencing of Slaves in Early Jewish and Christian Texts

ISBN 9780367204341
Published July 31, 2019 by Routledge
272 Pages

USD $155.00

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Book Description

The Silencing of Slaves in Early Jewish and Christian Texts analyzes a large corpus of early Christian texts and Pseudepigraphic materials to understand how the authors of these texts used, abused and silenced enslaved characters to articulate their own social, political, and theological visions.

The focus is on excavating the texts "from below" or "against the grain" in order to notice the slaves, and in so doing, to problematize and (re)imagine the narratives. Noticing the slaves as literary iterations means paying attention to broader theological, ideological, and rhetorical aims of the texts within which enslaved bodies are constructed. The analysis demonstrates that by silencing slaves and using a rhetoric of violence, the authors of these texts contributed to the construction of myths in which slaves functioned as a useful trope to support the combined power of religion and empire. Thus was created not only the perfect template for the rise and development of a Christian discourse of slavery, but also a rationale for subsequent violence exercised against slave bodies within the Christian Empire.

The study demonstrates the value of using the tools and applying the insights of subaltern studies to the study of the Pseudepigrapha and in early Christian texts. This volume will be of interest not only to scholars of early Christianity, but also to those working on the history of slavery and subaltern studies in antiquity.

Table of Contents



1 Introduction

1.1 Plan of the Study

1.2 Silencing in Texts

1.3 Subaltern Historiography

1.4 Summary and Conclusion

2 Slaves in the Pseudepigrapha

2.1 Slaves in the Sibylline Oracles

2.2 Slaves in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs

2.3 Slaves in the Testament of Job

2.4 Slaves in the Letter of Aristeas

2.5 Slaves in the Book of Jubilees

2.6 Slaves in Joseph and Aseneth

2.7 Slaves in the Wisdom Literature

2.8 Slaves in 3 Maccabees

2.9 Slaves in Pseudo-Phocylides

2.10 Slaves in the Sentences of the Syriac Menander

2.11 Conclusion

3 Slaves in Paul

3.1 Slaves in 1 Corinthians

3.2 A (freed) slave in Philippians

3.3 The slave in Philemon

3.4 Conclusion

4 Slaves in the Gospels

4.1 (Re)imagining the slaves in the Gospels

4.1.1 Slaves in Mark

4.1.2 Slaves in Matthew

4.1.3 Slaves in Luke

4.1.4 Slaves in John

4.1.5 Summary

4.2 Focus on particular slave characters in the Gospels

4.2.1 The unnamed female slave of the high priest

4.2.2 The named male slave of the high priest

4.3 Conclusion

5 Slaves in the Book of Acts

5.1 The violence on Rhoda

5.2 Rhoda as…Cassandra?

5.3 Surprised by Rhoda

5.4 The violence on the fortune-telling slave

5.5 The tale of three women

5.6 Conclusion

6 Slaves in early Christian martyr narratives

6.1 The cases of Felicitas and Blandina

6.2 Haunted by Felicitas

6.3 Moving with Felicitas from the Passio to the Acta

6.4 From Felicitas to Blandina

6.5 Summary and Conclusion

7 Slaves in the Acts of Andrew

7.1 The used and abused body of Euclia

7.2 Silenced slaves

7.3 A Christian philosophy for the masses

7.4 The dream of empire

7.5 Reading the Acts of Andrew "from below"

7.6 Conclusion

8 Conclusions



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Ronald Charles is Assistant Professor in the Religious Studies Department at St. Francis Xavier University, Canada.


"Ronald Charles is an important voice in the study of early Christian slavery. A postcolonial historian of antiquity, he situates his investigation of slave characters in Jewish and Christian writings in the theoretical context of subaltern studies. Instead of perpetuating grand narratives, he deliberately concentrates on small tales. Attentive to the voices of ancient slaves and the silences of modern historians and theologians, Charles joins the chorus of those who insist we finally hear the voices of those who cry for justice on behalf of those they love." - Jennifer Glancy, Le Moyne College, USA


"I can only echo Charles’s urgent call to biblical scholars to pay very close attention to the literary functions and historical contexts in which slaves are mentioned in our sources. As this book amply proves, doing so yields truly important insights, both historically and theologically... Charles’s work has indeed created significant new knowledge, and in many cases it also establishes convincing redundancy for scholarly conclusions that have been reached earlier." - S. Scott Bartchy, Review of Biblical Literature