Friday, 8 May 2015

Adrian Brandli: A question of belonging: Perpetua and the family of Christ (WS 0175)

The Passion of Perpetua is arguably one of the most imaginative Christian texts that have come down to us from antiquity. It tells the story of a group of Christians who were martyred at Carthage on the occasion of emperor Getha’s birthday in 203. Particularly prominent is the report about 22-year-old Vibia Perpetua, including some kind of a prison diary that seems to feature her own words. In this report, her path from a mere catechumen to a baptized Christian, who was about to undergo the torments of martyrdom, is depicted as the renunciation of her worldly kinship relations in favour of a new kind of family that features Christ as the worthy replacement for the actual father. Interestingly, this change of paradigm does not simply build on a revision of notions of filial obligation (such as pietas) to explain the dissociation with one and the affiliation with another father figure but intertwines Roman moral thought with biblical motifs, thereby producing a unique conflation of two distinct lines of tradition. Starting from these observations, it is the aim of the paper to elucidate Perpetua’s shift from one household model to the other against the backdrop of these traditions. Thus, the analysis of the text will focus on both the moral expectations that were associated with the Roman household and the biblical imagery, which allocated a place in the Christian family to Perpetua.

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