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Title: The beheading of John the Baptist in the first three centuries : memory, violence, and reception
Author: Shedd, Nathan L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 8502 609X
Awarding Body: Liverpool Hope University
Current Institution: St Mary's University, Twickenham
Date of Award: 2019
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This study focuses on the reception of John the Baptist's beheading in the first three centuries. The primary question that drives this investigation is: What impact did John's beheading have on its reception during this time period? To answer this question, the study breaks into five chapters. Chapter one reviews previous scholarship on John's death and asks how the question of reception compares to other scholarly efforts. This review shows that scholars have largely overlooked this question. Chapter two asks how historians might conceptualize and approach reception history. I argue that social memory theory offers helpful theoretical and analytical frameworks in this regard. Specifically, traditions of bodily violence become sites of contestation in commemorative activity. Those who harness a violent past in identity formation often transform the degrading potential of bodily mutilation so that the symbolically freighted violence is not debilitating to present needs. Chapter three traces the symbolic potential of beheading in John's general context. I argue that beheading constituted a degrading form of bodily violence that not only emasculated the victim, but also interrupted proper burial and reincorporation in life in the hereafter. Chapters four and five proceed to ask how early recipients of John's beheading engage this social script. Chapter four argues that Mark contests the degrading potential of John's beheading. Although Mark acknowledges the degrading social script of beheading, he brings it into tension with other elements that cast John and Herod respectively as positive and negative figures: (i) the moral corruption of the Herodian court as those whose "will" is opposed to God's will; (ii) the emasculation of Antipas and the masculinity of John the Baptist; (iii) the keying of John's beheading to Jesus' crucifixion; (iv) the portrayal of Herod as entertaining the ludicrous notion of a beheaded man's resurrection (or the depiction of Herod as paranoid because of John's improper burial). Chapter five argues that the contest over John's degrading death takes anti-Jewish turns. Particularly salient in this respect are Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho and Origen's Commentary on Matthew. Both authors redeploy the tradition so that Herod Antipas' actions against the prophet become symbols for contemporary Jewish action. Justin and Origen activate the negative characterization of Antipas, making Antipas' moral coloration emblematic of "the Jews." In so doing, they perpetuate an image of "the Jews" as killers of God's prophets. What impact, therefore, did John's beheading have on its early reception history? In light of these commemorative maneuvers underlying the tradition's history, this study argues that the impact of John's death is characterized by a dangerous synchroneity. On the one hand, John's beheading was a salient image that early recipients harnessed and contested in their works of self-definition. On the other hand, as part of the work of identity formation, the tradition developed in anti-Jewish directions. In this respect, the memory of John's beheading became "violent".
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: 225 New Testament