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Abandoned to Lust

Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity

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    Abandoned to Lust
    Book Description:

    Early Christians used charges of adultery, incest, and lascivious behavior to demonize their opponents, police insiders, resist pagan rulers, and define what it meant to be a Christian. Christians frequently claimed that they, and they alone were sexually virtuous, comparing themselves to those marked as outsiders, especially non-believers and "heretics," who were said to be controlled by lust and unable to rein in their carnal desires. True or not, these charges allowed Christians to present themselves as different from and morally superior to those around them. Through careful, innovative readings, Jennifer Knust explores the writings of Paul, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and other early Christian authors who argued that Christ alone made self-mastery possible. Rejection of Christ led to both immoral sexual behavior and, ultimately, alienation and punishment from God. Knust considers how Christian writers participated in a long tradition of rhetorical invective, a rhetoric that was often employed to defend status and difference. Christians borrowed, deployed, and reconfigured classical rhetorical techniques, turning them against their rulers to undercut their moral and political authority. Knust also examines the use of accusations of licentiousness in conflicts between rival groups of Christians. Portraying rival sects as depraved allowed accusers to claim their own group as representative of "true Christianity." Knust's book also reveals the ways in which sexual slurs and their use in early Christian writings reflected cultural and gendered assumptions about what constituted purity, morality, and truth. In doing so, Abandoned to Lust highlights the complex interrelationships between sex, gender, and sexuality within the classical, biblical, and early-Christian traditions.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51004-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Who’s on Top? Sex Talk, Power, and Resistance
    (pp. 1-14)

    When has discourse about sex ever been exclusively about sex? Moreover, has there ever been a time when sex itself was not also about power? Peter Baker’s observation that the Clinton scandal was about power states the obvious to those who have followed the debates of feminist and cultural critics over the last several decades.¹ Of course the impeachment was about power, power framed and negotiated in terms of accusations about sex. The trial of a former American president is only the most recent example of a long history of the intersection of sex and politics. Charges of sexual misconduct...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Sexual Slander and Ancient Invective
    (pp. 15-50)

    There are perhaps few characters in Roman history as devious, greedy, and full of lust as Antony and Cleopatra, if we believe the representations of them found in ancient history and biography. Following the battle of Actium, Cassius Dio tells us, Cleopatra tricked Antony into taking his own life. Antony chose to enslave himself to her in life, and he remained her slave in death, demonstrating his servile nature (douloprepeia), even at the end (Cass. Dio 51.10–11, 15.2). Cleopatra, Cassius Dio concludes, had an insatiable appetite for pleasure and material wealth, an appetite that led, ultimately, to both her...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Paul, the Slaves of Desire, and the Saints of God
    (pp. 51-88)

    In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul warned the brothers in Christ to refrain from porneia (“fornication” or sexual immorality more generally), avoiding the passion of lust (pathei epithymias) exhibited by the gentiles (ta ethnē). Paul similarly exhorted the members of the Galatian church (lit.“assembly”) to practice self-mastery (enkrateia), since they had “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). Writing about one hundred years later, Justin Martyr made comparable claims. First he decried the unreasonable passions of the Greeks and their gods (Justin 1 Apol 5.9.2) then, remarking upon the transformation that occurs when one is devoted...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Sexual Vice and Christian Apologia
    (pp. 89-112)

    During the second century, there arose a defensive sort of Christian writing designed to address new, pointed criticisms of the movement. Christian authors composed defenses of the faith that reassured their non-Christian audiences by registering a commitment to a number of the central values of the larger culture and by claiming that, of all people, they were the most friendly toward the emperor and “his” empire. Though they did “not completely identify themselves with the broader society,” these authors were also not “advocates of confrontation or revolution”; rather, they hoped to persuade educated elites familiar with Greek philosophy to adopt...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The False Teachers of the End Time
    (pp. 113-142)

    In the Book of Revelation, Rome is represented as a great whore “with whom the kings of the earth have fornicated” (Rev 17:2).¹ At the end of times, the author of Revelation promised, Rome and the kings who copulated with her, together with the merchants who have grown rich from her luxury, will be destroyed. The kings and merchants will weep and mourn as they watch her and all her great wealth laid to waste, burned and burning for eternity following the true and just judgment of God (Rev 18:1–19:4; cf. Rev 14: 18–11, 21:8). In this way,...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Illicit Sex, Wicked Desire, and the Demonized Heretic
    (pp. 143-164)

    Charges of demonic influence and slavery to desire, found throughout late-first- and early-second-century Christian literature, built upon the traditional association of illicit sex, idolatry, and apostasy; upon well-known categories of Greek invective; and upon moralistic writings that made sōphrosynēand its opposites (akolastos, aselgeia, tryphē) the distinguishing characteristics of a “good” (agathos) or “bad” (kakia) person. These charges, directed at real or imagined opponents, could serve at least three functions simultaneously: to eliminate rivals who, if the charge stuck, would be viewed as anything but Christian; to persuade insiders to adopt and display a strict sexual virtue or face demonization and...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 165-236)
    (pp. 237-270)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 271-280)