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Title: Contest and community : wonder-working in Christian popular literature from the second to the fifth centuries CE
Author: Schwartzman, Lauren J.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2746 4657
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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In this thesis, I hope to demonstrate that what I call the magic contest tradition, that is the episodes of competitive wonder-working that appear in a wide variety of apocryphal and non-canonical Christian texts, made an important contribution to the development of Christian thought during the second to the fifth centuries CE. This contribution was to articulate ‘the way’ to be a Christian in a world which was not isolated from the secular, and not insulated from the reality of the Roman empire. First, I demonstrate that a tradition of texts which feature magic contests exists within the broader scope of non-canonical Christian literature (looking at this literature across communities, regions and time periods). Second, I identify what the major features of the traditions are, e.g. what form the narratives take, what the form for a magic contest is, and what the principles used to build the magic contests are, and how these principles feature in the texts. The principles I identify are power, authority, ritual, and conversion, as well as their use as historical exempla. Third, I discuss what the texts did in the context of the time period, and for the communities that produced and read them: in other words, how did the this tradition work? I show that they served multiple purposes: as tests of faith, religious truth and ways to proclaim such; as constructors and markers of group identity (and the perilous task of identifying the insiders and those who should be outsiders); as calls to unity within the overarching diversity of the times and places, and a unified front for the ‘battle’ against evil. I suggest that the texts present a model for how one could decide what the ‘true faith’ was and how one could practice it in the turbulent environment that early Christians faced both before and after Constantine.
Supervisor: Morgan, Teresa Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Late antiquity and the Middle Ages ; Latin ; Church history ; Christianity and Christian spirituality ; Religions of antiquity ; Cognitive anthropology ; History of the ancient world ; Intellectual History ; Classical Greek ; Magic ; ritual ; early Christianity ; Judaism in the Roman world ; apocrypha ; Acts of Silvester ; Acts of Peter