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date: 23 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Subsequent readers of the Pauline letters found much in them to support both celibacy and noncelibate marriage. A century or so later, someone formulated a tale of an elite young virgin named Thecla, who renounced her engagement and left her family to adopt an ascetic, celibate form of Christian practice preached by Paul. This essay analyzes the treatment of gender and sexuality in the Acts of Thecla with attention to both the ancient narrative itself and scholarly debates. Gender reversal is here central to the critique leveled by the text. Christian women are the ultimate exemplars of masculine morality and piety, compared to whom even Christian men are deficient in this regard—or at least less impressive. The essay also attends to the complex relationship between contemporary theological debates (especially with respect to women’s ordination) and the Thecla narrative as historical precedent.

Keywords: Thecla, Paul, celibacy, virginity, marriage, Tertullian, Apocryphal Acts, women’s ordination

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