The author argues that accusations of sexual depravity in early Christian literature, whatever their historical value, must be placed in the broader context of Greco-Roman rhetorical traditions in which charges of sexual deviance were stock elements of rhetorical slander. The first chapter, “Sexual Slander and Ancient Invective,” shows the degree to which the discourses of status and gender were intertwined in the Greco-Roman world. In this context, accusations of sexual deviance served the construction and maintenance of an elite identity understood as a male who is able to control his passions and avoid excess. In four subsequent chapters she tracks the Christian appropriation of this rhetorical tradition. In his letters Paul constructs Christians as the only true elites by implying that “the only men truly capable of mastering desire were those ‘in Christ’.” Responding to accusations of sexual depravity, Justin Martyr and other apologists respond in kind, using sexualized slander to portray non-Christians while emphasizing the chastity of Christians. The final two chapters examine the ways in which sexual slander is used by Christians against other Christians in the letters of Jude and 1 Peter, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the heresiological works of Justin the Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons. A revision of her Columbia University dissertation, this well-written and carefully organized book will certainly be of interest to specialists and graduate students, but could also be appropriate for advanced undergraduates.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Dupertuis, R. R. (2007). [Review of the book Abandoned to lust: Sexual slander and ancient Christianity, by J. W. Knust]. Religious Studies Review, 33, 247. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0922.2007.00204_10.x
Religious Studies Review