Epiphanies in Second- and Third-Century Christian Literature: Discourse, Identity, and Divine Manifestations Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Combs, Jason
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This is a study of the early Christian discourse on epiphanies—visible manifestations of otherworldly beings, including gods, angels, and demons, who communicate or interact directly with human beings. During the second and third centuries, epiphanies featured prominently in the literature, letters, inscriptions, and art of the pagan (non-Jewish, non- Christian) world that Christians inhabited. Yet, compared to their pagan contemporaries, Christians wrote little about epiphanies. The paucity of evidence in theological treatises has led scholars to suggest that most Christians in the second and third centuries were not interested in epiphanies. Nevertheless, when the evidence from theological treatises is compared with the more numerous accounts from such literature as the apocryphal acts, the significance of epiphanies becomes clear. Epiphanies were implicated in early Christian discourse on identity. Focusing on the writings of Tertullian, Athenagoras, and other apologists as well as on apocryphal acts, gospels, and other narratives, this dissertation argues that developments in Christian theories and narratives about divine encounters evolved out of discursive strategies that distinguished between Christian and pagan epiphanies. For instance, although the most common Christian response to pagan epiphanies was to declare them demonic, careful analysis of Christian discourse reveals a more influential strategy. Whereas most pagan authors suggested that gods could be recognized by comparison to their statues, some Christian authors proposed that demons should be identified by their efforts to encourage the worship of a pagan god. Interpreting epiphanies according to their purpose instead of their images allowed Christians to identify images commonly associated with pagan gods as images of angels or even Christ. In particular, some Christian authors adopted the popular pagan images of the young man or shepherd as manifestations of Christ, while others described Christ appearing in the uniquely Christian images of an apostle, a deacon, or even the cross. The study of each of these images shows how Christians negotiated their relationship with common Greco-Roman practices and traditions often defined as pagan.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Plese, Zlatko
  • Nasrallah, Laura
  • Ehrman, Bart D.
  • Styers, Randall
  • Marcus, Joel
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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