Thursday, 7 February 2019

James Dever: Prometheus, Creation, and Christ: Tertullian of Carthage’s Defense of the Christian Narrative

Tertullian of Carthage refers to the God of Christian revelation as the verus Prometheus twice in his oeuvre. In Apol.18.2-3 (ca. 197/8), Tertullian develops what I will identify as a predominantly Roman strand of the development of the Prometheus myth, in which Prometheus is depicted as the creator of the human race. In Marc.1.1.4-5 (ca. 208), he develops the more broadly received Greek iteration of the myth, in which the titan is depicted as suffering punishment for his love of humanity and his opposition to the unjust law of Olympian Zeus. In this essay, I will first analyze Tertullian’s complex negotiation of the various strands of mythic discourse in Apol.and Marc.,accounting for both textual and material-cultural evidence for the prominence of the Prometheus myth in the Roman empire and Tertullian’s theological transformation of it. I will then describe how Tertullian transumes the Roman creation-myth through his evocation of the Greek myth of vicarious suffering in Marc., revealing the fundamental continuity of the act of creation with that of redemption in the Christian narrative. I conclude with an account of how Tertullian’s defense of this narrative requires precisely the account he offers of the quality of Christ’s flesh, as that which renders the mystery of creation more fully visible as a mystery. Christ, the incarnate Word, becomes the hermeneutical key for the figurative exegesis of Scripture, which includes both “instruments” or “testaments” of God’s relationship to the world (see Marc.4.1).

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