Stoicism in Early Christianity.
This collection of thirteen essays by a galaxy of international experts is a valuable resource for our understanding of the uses of Stoicism in early Christianity. While the editors' prefatory claim that this is a new scholarly enterprise is odd, given the hefty bibliography and historiography on that issue from late antiquity to the present, the volume under review is important for three reasons. First, each essay distills recent scholarship on its chosen theme, including its author's own signal publications; following each essay is an up-to-date bibliography. Second, these essays focus on the Roman not the ancient or middle Stoics. Third, the editors include texts later judged apocryphal or heretical. They rightly see that heterodoxy was an integral feature of early Christianity, in itself and not just as a stimulus to the development of orthodoxy. Indices of ancient and modern authors and of subjects enhance the utility of the book.
Troels Engberg-Pederson leads off with a stage-setting essay reminding readers that philosophizing between the first century B.C.E. and the second century C.E. was eclectic. Proponents of particular philosophical schools freely adopted ideas from rival schools whose other teachings they sharply rejected. Nothing new here. But the author wants readers to see that, for early Christian writers and their audiences, this practice was normal. The selective appropriation of Stoicism in Christian texts was consistent with contemporary expectations and sensibilities.
Next follow eight essays, seven dealing with Stoic ethics in New Testament authors and one with the apologist Justin Martyr. Runar M. Thorsteinsson and Niko Huttunen treat Pauline texts. The parallels they track involve moral intentionality, detachment from adiaphora, and natural law. Thorsteinsson's Paul used Stoicism rhetorically, as a heuristic device, while Huttunen's Paul expressed his personal views on the compatibility of Stoicism and Christianity. Stanley K. Stowers, Harold W. Attridge, and Gitte Buch-Hansen treat Stoic parallels in the Gospel of Matthew (Stowers) and the Gospel of John (Attridge and Buch-Hansen). All three scholars accent the doctrine of eupatheia in these evangelists' depictions of Jesus as a moral exemplar and teacher. Although Attridge warmly cites Buch-Hansen's 2007 dissertation, neither he nor she refers to its published version, "It Is the Spirit That Gives Life": A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in John's Gospel (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2010). And, while Buch-Hansen argues that Philo and Origen shed light on John's spiritualization of Stoic monism, both she and Esther de Boen, who also targets pneuma, omit the path-breaking work of Gerard Verbeke, L 'Evolution de la doctrine du pneuma du Stoicisme a S. Augustin (Paris: D. de Brouwer, 1945). Another study of a single New Testament text is J. Albert Harrill on the author of 2 Peter's use of the Stoic language of ekpyrosis to describe the celestial fireworks of the apocalypse, which can be survived if ignorance and moral instability are replaced by the wisdom and constancy of the sage. John T. Fitzgerald observes, in his essay on slavery in a variety of biblical texts, that while neither their authors nor the Stoics urged the overthrow of existing hierarchies, they shared a minority view in advocating the humanizing and humane treatment of slaves, whose accidental status was no bar to their possession of virtue and inner freedom. The final essay in this first group, Nicola Denzey on martyrdom and the freedom of the will in Justin and fellow apologists, shows that, despite their rejection of Stoic fatalism, they appealed to the Stoic principle that we are masters of our own inner attitudes; thus we can retain our moral freedom in the face of sufferings that lie beyond our control.
The four other essays in this collection treat Gnostic or Gnosticizing works written in Coptic, whose borrowings derived mainly from Stoic physics. Esther de Boen considers pneuma in the Gospel of Mary. Ismo Dunderberg tracks the use of krasis, the Stoic concept of mixture in which two material elements occupy the same space at the same time while retaining their own qualities, in a number of Valentinian texts. Takashi Onuki charts the conversion of the Stoic passions arising from false intellectual judgments into material elements, and demons, in the Apocalypse of John. And Tuomas Rasimus argues that Sethian Gnostics were first out of the gate, preceding Porphyry, in applying a Stoicized version of the Neoplatonic triad of being-life-mind to their decidedly nonStoic cosmology. Collectively, these four essays share scholarly difficulties not faced by the other contributors. Not all Copticists agree on the correct reading of the texts at issue, on what in them is interpolation or emendation, and hence on their proper interpretation and translation. More so than the other contributors, their authors devote considerable attention to debates over technicalities with other authorities. At the same time, these four scholars offer a great service in making accessible to readers who lack Coptic the fruits of research in their field. All their contributions, as well, are vivid illustrations of a theme struck by Engberg-Pederson in his introductory essay: the capacity of early Christian writers to annex selected Stoicizing ideas to their profoundly non-Stoic world views.
Altogether, while some of these essays are more marked than others by strongly revisionist arguments, this collection is refreshingly free from confessional and ideological polemics. The borrowings in early Christian texts which they analyze range from substantive agreement to thorough reconceptualization to the purely cosmetic application of Stoic ethics and physics. By no means do the essayists treat this component of their chosen texts in a monocular or exclusive way, acknowledging that it is part of the mix with other sources. They point out the limits to the uses of Stoicism seen by the authors they study. The result, in each essay and in the volume as a whole, is a signal advance on scholarship in this field, a contribution as judicious and perspicacious as it is erudite.
Marcia L. Colish
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|Author:||Colish, Marcia L.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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