Acts of Paul and Thecla

Acts of Paul and Thecla

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The Acts of Paul and Thecla (Acta Pauli et Theclae) is an apocrypha
Apocrypha
The term apocrypha is used with various meanings, including "hidden", "esoteric", "spurious", "of questionable authenticity", ancient Chinese "revealed texts and objects" and "Christian texts that are not canonical"....

l story— Goodspeed
Edgar J. Goodspeed
Edgar Johnson Goodspeed was an American liberal theologian and scholar of Greek and the New Testament. He taught for many years at the University of Chicago, whose collection of New Testament manuscripts he enriched by his searches...

 called it a "religious romance
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

"— of St Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

's influence on a young virgin named Thecla
Thecla
Thecla was a saint of the early Christian Church, and a reported follower of Paul the Apostle. The only known record of her comes from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, probably composed in the 2nd century.-Biography:...

. It is one of the writings of the New Testament Apocrypha
New Testament apocrypha
The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that claim to be accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. These writings often have links with books regarded as "canonical"...

.

The text


It was written in the 2nd century. The discovery of a Coptic
Coptic language
Coptic or Coptic Egyptian is the current stage of the Egyptian language, a northern Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Egypt until at least the 17th century. Egyptian began to be written using the Greek alphabet in the 1st century...

 text of the Acts of Paul
Acts of Paul
The Acts of Paul is one of the major works and earliest pseudepigraphal series from the New Testament also known as Apocryphal Acts, an approximate date given to the Acts of Paul is 160 CE. The Acts were first mentioned by Tertullian. Tertullian found it heretical because it encouraged women to...

containing the Thecla narrative suggests that the abrupt opening of the Acts of Paul and Thecla is due to its being an excerpt of that larger work. It is attested as early as Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

, De baptimo 17:5 (c 190), who inveighed against its use in the advocacy of a woman's right to preach and to baptize
Ordination of women
Ordination in general religious usage is the process by which a person is consecrated . The ordination of women is a regular practice among some major religious groups, as it was of several religions of antiquity...

. Tertullian states that these Acts were written in honour of St Paul, by a presbyter of Asia, whose fraud was identified, and he was degraded from his office, at a date about AD 160. Many surviving versions of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, and some in Coptic
Coptic language
Coptic or Coptic Egyptian is the current stage of the Egyptian language, a northern Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Egypt until at least the 17th century. Egyptian began to be written using the Greek alphabet in the 1st century...

, as well as references to the work among Church fathers
Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

 show that it was widely disseminated. In the Eastern Church
Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

, the wide circulation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in Greek, Syriac and Armenian is evidence of the veneration of Thecla of Iconium
Thecla
Thecla was a saint of the early Christian Church, and a reported follower of Paul the Apostle. The only known record of her comes from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, probably composed in the 2nd century.-Biography:...

. There are also Latin, Coptic and Ethiopic versions, sometimes differing widely from the Greek. "In the Ethiopic, with the omission of Thecla's admitted claim to preach and to baptize, half the point of the story is lost."

The narrative of the text


The author sets this story about Paul into the framework of the Book of Acts, but this text is ideologically different from the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 portrayal of Paul. The extravagant praise of virginity
Virginity
Virginity refers to the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. There are cultural and religious traditions which place special value and significance on this state, especially in the case of unmarried females, associated with notions of personal purity, honor and worth...

, however, was a running thread in many brands of Early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

.

Here, Paul is described as travelling to Iconium
Konya
Konya is a city in the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey. The metropolitan area in the entire Konya Province had a population of 1,036,027 as of 2010, making the city seventh most populous in Turkey.-Etymology:...

, proclaiming "the word of God about abstinence and the resurrection
Resurrection
Resurrection refers to the literal coming back to life of the biologically dead. It is used both with respect to particular individuals or the belief in a General Resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. The General Resurrection is featured prominently in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim...

". Paul is given a full physical description that may reflect oral tradition: in the Syriac text "he was a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were projecting, and he had large eyes and his eyebrows met
Unibrow
A unibrow is a "confluence of eyebrows"; that is, the presence of abundant hair between the eyebrows, so that they seem to converge to form one long eyebrow. The condition of having a unibrow is synophrys.-Beauty culture:...

, and his nose was somewhat long, and he was full of grace and mercy; at one time he seemed like a man, and at another time he seemed like an angel." Paul gave his sermons in the house of Onesiphorus
Onesiphorus
Onesiphorus was a Christian referred to in the New Testament letter of Second Timothy . According to the letter, sent by St. Paul, Onesiphorus sought out Paul who was imprisoned at the time in Rome. The persecution of Christians during Nero’s reign made Rome a dangerous city for Christians...

 in a series of beatitudes
Beatitudes
In Christianity, the Beatitudes are a set of teachings by Jesus that appear in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful....

, by which Thecla, a young noble virgin, listened to Paul's "discourse on virginity" from her window in an adjacent house. She listened, enraptured, without moving for days. Thecla's mother, Theocleia, and her fiancé, Thamyris, became concerned that Thecla would follow Paul's demand "that one must fear only one God and live in chastity", and they formed a mob to drag Paul to the governor, who imprisoned the apostle.

Thecla bribed a guard to gain entrance to the prison, and sat at Paul's feet all night listening to his teaching and "kissing his bonds". When her family found her, both she and Paul were again brought before the governor. At her mother's request, Paul was sentenced to scourging and expulsion, and Thecla to be killed by being burned at the stake, that "all the women who have been taught by this man may be afraid." Stripped naked, Thecla was put on the fire, but she was saved by a miraculous storm which God sent to put out the flames.

Reunited, Paul and Thecla then traveled to Pisidian Antioch
Pisidia
Pisidia was a region of ancient Asia Minor located north of Lycia, and bordering Caria, Lydia, Phrygia and Pamphylia. It corresponds roughly to the modern-day province of Antalya in Turkey...

, where a nobleman named Alexander desired Thecla and offered Paul money for her. Paul claimed not to know her, and Alexander then attempted to take Thecla by force. Thecla fought him off, assaulting him in the process, to the amusement of the townspeople. Alexander dragged her before the governor for assaulting a nobleman and, despite the protests of the city's women, Thecla was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts. To ensure that her virtue was intact at her death, a Queen Tryphaena took her into protective custody overnight.

Thecla was tied to a fierce lioness, and paraded through the city. She was then stripped and thrown to beasts, which were provided by Alexander. The women of the city again protested against the injustice. Thecla was protected from death, first by the lioness who fought off the other beasts, and then by a series of miracles (during which she appeared to baptize herself), until finally the women of the city and Queen Tryphaena intervened. The way in which Thecla was said to have baptized herself in the arena was quite strange and unique (the account of this is found in chapter 9 of the Acts of Paul and Thecla and also in the Acts of Thecla). While in the arena, she saw a vat of water that contained seals/sea-calves. Since she thought it might be her last chance to be baptized, she jumped into the vat and proclaimed that she was baptizing herself. A miracle occurred and all the seals/sea-calves were killed by God before they could eat her.

Thecla returned to Paul unharmed. She later returned to Iconium to convert her mother.

One ending describes Thecla as dwelling in a cave for the next 72 years, then traveling to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 to be buried with Paul.

Significance


Although probably consciously unhistorical, and certainly overstated, the tale reflects ascetic tendencies, and the experience of persecution in early Christianity. However, many have noted that it is also almost erotic, even mildly pornographic, in places. When Goodspeed called it a "religious romance
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

" it was to the literary genre he referred.

A local martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

 legend, of Tecla of Iconium, may have inspired this episode, in which she was connected to Paul of Tarsus
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

. "It is otherwise difficult to account for the very great popularity of the cult of St. Thecla, which spread over East and West, and made her the most famous of virgin martyrs," wrote M.R. James, the editor of this Acta (James 1924).

Portrayal of Paul


Paul is also an ambiguous figure in this work. He is seen as a preacher of asceticism
Asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

, but one with whom women are besotted. His teachings lead Thecla into trouble, and yet he is never there when the trouble comes.

This presentation of Paul as ascetic preacher, discouraging marriage, appears to be very different from that of the (possibly pseudonymous) Pastoral Epistles
Pastoral epistles
The three pastoral epistles are books of the canonical New Testament: the First Epistle to Timothy the Second Epistle to Timothy , and the Epistle to Titus. They are presented as letters from Paul of Tarsus...

. For instance, 1st Timothy 4:1-3 has Paul explicitly condemning anyone who forbids marriage.

However, 1st Corinthians
First Epistle to the Corinthians
The first epistle of Paul the apostle to the Corinthians, often referred to as First Corinthians , is the seventh book of the New Testament of the Bible...

7 (universally regarded as authentically Pauline), appears to share more ambivalence about marriage, with the statement "it is well for a man not to touch a woman" (7:1). This text has been interpreted as ideologically closer to Paul and Thecla.

In any event, Paul and Thecla indicates one possible understanding of Paul's legacy in the second century.

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