Saturday, 2 May 2015

Ross Ponder: Classifying Christian Dreams: Tertullian’s Taxonomy of Dream-Visions

It is widely assumed that Tertullian’s interest in dream-visions serves as evidence of his Montanism, epitomizing his departure from orthodoxy. This conviction persists in scholarship in spite of serious problems in proving a direct connection between Tertullian’s taxonomy of dream-visions (An. 42-57) and Montanist practices. The purpose of this study, however, is not to deny the possible influence of Montanism on Tertullian, but instead to account for his interest in dream-visions by employing a more dynamic model for diversity in ancient Christianity. The model used in this study attends to the rhetorical context of Tertullian’s oneirology. Rather than focusing on Tertullian’s so-called Montanism, I note the way dream-visions, as part of the social relations of daily life, enabled ancient authors like Tertullian to negotiate multiple identities. Just as Roman authors (e.g., Artemidorus of Daldis) assumed a range of identities distinct from an expert dream interpreter (warrior, traveller, doctor, and researcher), so did Christian authors like Tertullian. Adopting a variety of roles enabled ancient authors to assert superiority over rivals as an authority on dream interpretation. Tertullian’s taxonomy of dream-visions thus offered the earliest surviving Christian account of the phenomenon in antiquity. This study contributes, therefore, to recent patristic studies that have rediscovered Tertullian’s intellectual context of Roman culture.

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