Chapter 1. Paraphrase in Practice: The Life of Thekla and Literary Inheritance in Late Antiquity

The Ever-Present Past in the Life and Miracles

The form of the literary paraphrase says a great deal about what the author of the Life of Thekla is attempting to do in literary historical terms: by choosing to write a saint’s Life through the lens of a second-century apocryphon, the author associates his work with a much earlier period in Christian history—the apostolic period. The literary paraphrase, called μετάφρασις in Greek, is clearly a backward looking form, but it also consolidates the past and reinterprets it for contemporary cultural and literary concerns. In Chapter Two I present a brief literary history that situates the Life amidst a wealth of paraphrasing activity in ancient Jewish and Christian literature.
Of primary importance, however, is to have a clear idea of how the author of the Life himself describes and employs the paraphrase form. This is the subject of the present chapter: a running literary and rhetorical analysis of the Life which focuses on the changes that it makes to the original source text, the Acts of Paul and Thekla (ATh). What I consider significant in my analysis below are the contemporary connotations of these changes and how they contribute to the construction of an authorial voice. These are elements of the Life that most need to be explained for the sake of broader issues current in late antique studies. (Some of the most important of these issues are, to my mind, the reception of the earliest Christian literature in late antiquity, the keen competition between literary (specifically, biographical) forms at this time, and the perennial interpretive question of how do cult and text relate in the Christian cultures of late antiquity.)
Gilbert Dagron, in his Vie et Miracles de Sainte Thècle (1978) calls the Life “une honnête travail de professionnel et un document de premier ordre pour {15|16} une histoire du goût littéraire” (23). Dagron’s study, however, lacks the analytical apparatus necessary to explain what he means by “honnête travail” and “goût littéraire.” The meaning of “literary taste” for eastern late antiquity has yet to be adequately defined by scholars and requires a literary history that could place the LM in some kind of context. How popular were paraphrases of apocryphal Acta at this time? How did they contribute to the mix of biographical writing in late antiquity? I attempt to provide answers to these questions in Chapter Two below.
As for “honnête travail,” this requires a close reading of the ATh and Life together so as to track changes made to the former by the latter. Dagron did not perform this analysis but concentrated on the Miracles in the aim of revealing a cross-section of Seleukeian society in the fifth century. [1] However, the significance of the LM is broader than social history, and it could reasonably be argued that much of the detail from the Miracles is invented for the sake of the overarching goals of the author. The analysis in this chapter will, therefore, examine the author’s programmatic statements and how he tries to work them out, or how he fails to do so. I offer some conclusions on how the author is trying to arrange the narrative material within his chosen form and how this arrangement reveals his attitudes towards the apostolic past.
On the topic of “the past,” it should be reiterated that the Life speaks to perennial themes in late antique, medieval, and Byzantine history. [2] In collecting, redacting, and arranging, the author is imposing an order on his material that reveals certain lurking ideas about the past, and about its relationship to the present. This is true for the Miracles as much as for the Life. But for the latter—our present concern—the processes of reception and re-publication are especially vivid because the textual products have survived: both the source text and its literary paraphrase are extant and complete. Thus, the later text can be “mapped” in order to bring to light the ideals and assumptions of the Christian writer who worked with them. [3]
For the author of the Life, it is clear that his interest in the apostolic past centers around the ATh, which offers him direct access to the living world of his spiritual patron, Thekla. The survival of this one text, on a papyrus or in {16|17} whatever form he held it, is a piece of living history. As Edward Shils wrote in his famous study of Tradition:
Documents have primarily a heuristic value. But it is also their sheer pastness which confers value on them: a person who holds them has brought the past into his presence. They embody some quality which is inherent in their pastness—both in their own physical identity with what they were in the past and because they carry a record of a past event. [4]
The sense of “pastness” in the present, as Shils describes it, is keenly felt by the author of the Life because he believes Thekla can be shown to live and work even in his own day. Thus her legend takes on additional “past in presence” since it belongs to an active saint and patron.
As will be shown below, Thekla’s death in the ATh is written out of the Life so as to confirm her “haunting” presence at Seleukeia. In this way the legend continues, and the author of the Life feels confident enough to add another substantial volume to a Christian saga that tracks her movements and epiphanies from a historic, apostolic beginning to his present day. These contemporary traces of her bodily presence in Seleukeia—the Miracles—are themselves pieces of the past, and the author has written them to conform to the history of Thekla that he presents in her Life. Thus, despite his claims that the Miracles were written only to confirm the “truth” of her past legend (Mir. preface 1–21), the rewritten Life forms a unified whole with the Miracles, and the work appears designed from the start to serve as a historical monument for later readers. [5]
This first chapter of my study is organized around four central sections, dealing with the four main narrative sections of the Life: 1) Preface (Life preface), 2) Iconium (1–14), 3) Antioch (15–25), and 4) Myra, Iconium (again), and Seleukeia (26–28). [6] In terms of analysis, the paraphrastic nature of the Life seems more suited to a running commentary than to a thematic study. Chapter One begins, therefore, where the Life begins, with the preface (προθεωρία): this is a programmatic passage which lacks its complement in the ATh. In this section the author explains his reasons for writing the Life and offers some {17|18} general reflections on the impetus to historiography, which he claims as his own divine vocation (Life preface). The Iconium section which follows narrates Thekla’s conversion, trial, and first (attempted) martyrdom on the pyre (1–14). It closes with Thekla’s reunion with Paul outside the city and their setting off together for Antioch (14). The next section details Thekla’s capture at the gates of Antioch, her subsequent trial, her alliance with Queen Tryphaina, and her second (attempted) martyrdom with various wild beasts in the arena (15–25). This section closes with her leaving Tryphaina’s house in search for Paul at Myra (25). The final section begins in Myra with Thekla’s lengthy address to Paul (26). From this point her character begins to take on features essential to the way she is portrayed in the Miracles. Paul sends her to Iconium, which she passes through only briefly on her way to Seleukeia. The Life ends with a description of Seleukeia and of Thekla’s ministry there prior to her fateful disappearance into the ground (27–28).

Preface (Life preface)

The preface to the Life offers a look at certain assumptions held by its author concerning his literary project and his relationship to Thekla. While substantially shorter than that of the Miracles, the preface to the Life reveals in particular his awareness of his place in the history of writing on Thekla. For instance, he admits in the second sentence to making use of a previous work: “Receiving the narrative from another, more ancient history, I follow that account step by step” (ἐξ ἑτέρας μὲν καὶ παλαιοτέρας ἱστορίας ἐκληφθεῖσα, κατ’ ἴχνος δὲ αὐτῆς ἐκείνης συντεθεῖσα; Life preface 3–4). That he is here referring to the ATh is borne out by the narrative of the Life: he follows closely a text very similar to the ones that have survived. [7]
Moreover, that he is referring to an actual text and not to the legend in general is suggested by his seriousness on the question of alteration. He {18|19} recommends that his readers pay attention to the changes that has made to the received text and ask themselves whether these changes are in the spirit of that tradition:
I would request those living now, and likewise those who may come upon this work in the future, to take note that when I say something extraordinary [i.e. beyond the original]—and I shall—it is not outside the aims of the ancient accounts (οὐκ ἔξω τοῦ σκοποῦ τῶν πάλαι συγγραφέντων).
Life preface 12–15
He admits only to changes in “composition and style” (συνθήκη καὶ λέξις), and he places under these headings the insertion of invented speeches (δημηγορίαι). [8] The speeches, he says, provide Thekla with “an old-fashioned beauty” (αρχαιότροπον κάλλος), though he claims not to have attempted to adhere rigorously to Attic style. “Truth” (ἀλήθεια), “clarity” (σαφήνεια), and the “order of the acts” (ἡ ἐν τοῖς πράγμασι τάξις)—by which he may mean the order as presented in the ATh—are his three expressed stylistic goals.
Towards the end of the preface he mentions Herodotus and Thucydides, which appears to be a conscious attempt to place the Life in the tradition of classical Greek historiography:
Herodotus the Halicarnassian and Thucydides the Athenian, and anyone else after them who wrote ancient or contemporary history (τῶν ἱστορίας παλαιὰς ἢ νέας συγγεγραφότων)—each of these says that he came to his labor (οἰκεῖον πόνον) of writing with an individual purpose and passion (οἰκείᾳ γνώμῃ καὶ προθυμίᾳ).
Life preface 29–32
The novelty of this rhetoric lies not in a Christian writer appropriating the Greco-Roman historiographical tradition but rather in his specific appropriation of the rhetoric of history for rewriting the ATh, a text taken by most scholars of Christian apocrypha to be the paradigm “Christian Romance”. [9]
Clearly more important than the Greek Romance in this case are the personae of ancient historiography, including the persona of Luke, whom he {19|20} also mentions at the end of the preface. The author of the Life considers Luke to be the historian behind the Luke-Acts pair and reminds his readers that Luke dedicated his works to a certain Theophilus:
Just as, therefore, the admirable Luke (ὁ θαυμάσιος Λουκᾶς) clearly did among the divine Gospels and in his narrative concerning the apostles [i.e. Acts] (τῷ περὶ τῶν ἀποστόλων συντάγματι), when he placed Theophilus at the front (προτάξας τὸν Θεόφιλον), to whom he dedicated all the toil of his divine composition.
Life preface 43–47
The overall effect of this final section of the preface is to cast the entire LM in a historiographical light. [10]
Finally, here in the Life’s preface, the author alludes to an important, overarching theme that influences the execution of his narrative:
Not that these things would become forgotten or obscure after a long time (οὐχ ὡς ἂν μὴ ἐξίτηλα, μηδὲ ἄδηλα τῷ μακρῷ χρόνῳ γένηται), for the deeds of the saints (τὰ τῶν ἁγίων ἔργα) are guarded by God and always remain steadfast, solid, and immortal, for the sake of his own eternal renown (εἴς τε οἰκεῖον ἀεὶ κλέος), and for a help to men who still roam about on earth.
Life preface 36–39
Through this quotation from the opening of Herodotus’ Histories—ὡς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα (Herodotus 1.1)—the author reveals a motif that remains pertinent for the rest of the work, “divine memory.” This motif works itself out, as will be shown, in the introductions and conclusions of various scenes where the author claims the necessity of “making mention” of a given story he remembers or has collected (e.g. μνημονεύω; Mir. 11.1–2). [11] When he “remembers” a story—the whole of the Life, perhaps, or an individual {20|21} miracle—the assumption is that he is fulfilling a divine vocation, helping to preserve the storehouse of Christian memory which is ensured by God to be “steadfast, solid, and immortal” in the face of time’s forgetfulness.
The author of the Life thus offers a uniquely altered vision of the historiographical process. To start, the traditional historians’ values—autopsy, accurate sources, and the importance of preservation—clearly still resonate with this author. However, the institution of Christian historiography, as inaugurated by Luke, has affected him to the degree that he sees the history of the apostolic times as having been miraculously preserved by God. His argument at the end of the preface is, therefore, that the deeds of the apostles are substantively different from the deeds recorded in Herodotus and Thucydides. [12]

Thekla in Iconium (Life 1–14)

Thekla the Apostle

Following the programmatic preface to the Life, Thekla is introduced in the narrative of the Life as “present” (πάρεισι) at the same time as Jesus’ “rising” (ἄνοδον) into heaven. Reminiscent of the opening chapter of the canonical Acts, the author here places the reader in the archaic Christian past, a time of nostalgic value as much (or more) for a fifth-century historian as for a first or second. Moreover, he is here reestablishing the basic fact about Thekla, that she was the first female martyr:
Again, at this time, Thekla too was present (πάρεισι): not that she came after numerous martyrs, nor indeed after numerous female ones, but that she is immediately in second place (δευτέρα εὐθύς) after the apostles and the martyr Stephen, whom the word of truth knows as first (πρῶτον οἶδεν ὁ λόγος τῆς ἀληθείας). But she was first among all the women (πρώτη δὲ πασῶν γυναικῶν), so that Stephen was reckoned the leader among the men fighting on behalf of and through Christ, and Thekla the leader among the women, having fought in similar contests.
Life 1.11–18
There is no mention of Stephen in the original ATh, which, in turn, indicates that the tradition of Thekla as the first Christian female martyr had probably {21|22} grown up since the late second century, the date of the ATh. In other words, if Thekla had achieved by the second century the same protomartyr status that she held in late antiquity, then Stephen would likely have been mentioned in the ATh. His conspicuous absence perhaps demonstrates that the ATh was, in the early period of Christian literature, read as just one of many martyr acts, yet by the fifth century it had become one of the most authoritative of these—authoritative enough to establish Thekla’s primacy among the female saints. [13]
This primacy is due mostly to her association with Paul, whose historical character was becoming more and more popular in the late fourth and fifth centuries. Indeed, after associating Thekla with Stephen, the author of the Life continues his scene-setting by introducing Paul into the narrative.
The divine Paul, being a Jew from birth, a persecutor, and a zealot for the patriarchal Law, as he himself says somewhere, was nevertheless deemed worthy of divine baptism and preaching (ἀξιωθεὶς δὲ τοῦ θείου βαπτίσματος καὶ κηρύγματος), and of being an apostle—precisely how is what we have learned from the blessed Luke—and he himself ended up on his apostolic course. [14]
Life 1.19–23
The references here to Paul’s own letters as well as to, once again, the canonical Acts of the Apostles are indicative of one of the motivations for paraphrase which will be further examined in the next chapter—that is, certain casual, suggestive details in the scriptures could provide a tantalizing window on a world accessible only to the imagination. It was standard practice for ancient writers to attempt to invent or reconstruct history on the basis of a few tidbits of information. [15] In the Life, of course, the windows are already offered by its Vorlage, the ATh, but not just by that: the apostolic world of the New Testament was still very much a part of imaginative Christian writing, especially in Asia Minor—evidenced, for example, by the late fourth-century Visio Pauli, {22|23} written most likely in Tarsus, Seleukeia’s neighboring capital. [16] In addition, the religious landscape, including ancient cult sites like Thekla’s at Seleukeia, could also provide windows on the past, opportunities for reconstruction and reinvention. [17]

Paul teaches; Thekla responds

The initial, brief summary of Paul’s ministry serves as an introduction in the Life for one of the most famous scenes from the ATh, that of Thekla’s conversion to chastity by hearing the preaching of Paul from a neighboring window. This is, of course, not the first scene in the ATh: Paul’s journey to Iconium, his arrival, and the famous “encratic beatitudes” all come before Thekla is even mentioned. In the original text Paul is described as having fled Antioch along with two sycophants Demas and Hermogenes, to whom Paul witnessed along the way (cf. Acts 13:48–14:1). A resident of Iconium, Onesiphorus, and his family prepared a place for Paul to stay in the town, “Titus” having informed them what Paul looked like. Then follows a description of Paul’s appearance—“small in size, bald-headed, bandy legged, of noble mien, with eyebrows meeting, rather hook-nosed, full of grace” (ATh 3). Paul’s proto-ascetic speech, the “encratic beatitudes,” is then reported, echoing Matthew 5:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy and shall not see the bitter day of judgment; blessed are the bodies of the virgins (παρθένων), for they shall be well pleasing to God and shall not lose the reward of their chastity (ἁγνείας). For the word of the Father shall become to them a work of salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall have rest for ever and ever.
ATh 6
The Life includes this speech after the narrative introduction of Thekla and her place at the window, but, as we shall see, it is significantly changed. For now it is enough to point out that the opening of the story has been substantially reworked to achieve certain goals. What is gained by the original telling, and lost in the Life, is Thekla’s subsequent, dramatic appearance at the window; however, what is gained in the paraphrase is a heightened awareness of Thekla as protagonist. {23|24}
The opening description in the Life therefore reads as a conscious, artful attempt at drawing together multiple traditions concerning Paul and Thekla, including the canonical Acts. The Life’s description of Thekla at the window, while coming much earlier than it does in the ATh, nevertheless gains a certain dramatic element, as the pair draw near to one another unwittingly. Thekla is described as a well born young virgin, who “was often the object of thought and rivalry among many of the fortunate young men” of Iconium. When she settles on a fiancé, Thamyris—a liaison negotiated by her mother Theocleia—she is satisfied and seats herself, still “in the darkness of error,” by that fateful window. As Paul’s words begin to waft her way from the neighboring house, she is transfixed:
She was struck from the start, as if hearing some strange and foreign voice (ξένης καὶ ἀήθους φωνῆς)—Christ wanted it this way, in order to assure the capture of such a beautiful prey. And understanding certain words of the divine lesson (θείας ἀκροάσεως), she was immediately vexed in her soul by the words, and she remained fixed (προσπήγνυται) at the window by the words of Paul as if by some adamantine nails.
Life 1.51–56
Paul’s opening speech in the Life comes immediately after this quotation, but its content is completely different from the ATh: the famous “encratic beatitudes” have been rewritten by the author of the Life. Their heavy emphasis on virginity as a way to salvation is replaced by a series of musings on the coincident beauty of marriage and celibacy. This is perhaps a reflection of the effect of the closing of the canon of Pauline writings, not yet completely formed in the middle of the second century, but taken as fact in the fifth. Texts urging chastity, such as 1 Corinthians 7, were now in the same corpus as later, more lenient teaching, like Ephesians 5:22–33, which paints a comparatively positive picture of the married life. [18] Of course, few late antique writers (like second-century writers before them) were ever very careful to balance their picture of Pauline sexual ethics, but the author of the LM takes some pains to de-asceticize the ATh’s portrait of Thekla—not completely erasing the ascetic but toning it down significantly, perhaps to be in line with the fuller Pauline {24|25} corpus, perhaps also in response to the anti-encratic movement of the late fourth and early fifth centuries.
Paul’s speech in the Life begins with a meditation on “that blessed one” (μακαριστὸς ἐκεῖνος), the Christian who “views God eternally and unhindered” (Life 2.11–12). [19] He does not once give into the “the most shameful of pleasures” but lives a “spotless” and “blessed” life. Yet no less “blessed,” says the author, are those who live in holy marriage, according to the commands of God, but they must limit their relations to the production of children (2.17–22). Even still, those who live as virgins from baptism are the best of all (2.22–27). The latter are “zealous for the life of angels on earth” (τὸν τῶν ἀγγέλων ἐπὶ γῆς βίον) and they do not “defile the garment of Christ (τὸ ἔνδυμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ) through shameful works and deeds” (2.27–32). At this point the author closes Paul’s speech with a general admonition for all categories of Christians to be zealous for the poor and to maintain “the chief of the virtues”—that is, “faith in Christ”—and to receive in turn “the whole body of piety (εὐσεβείας).” Emphasized at the end are the rewards of “rest” (λήξεως) and “crowns and prizes” (στεφάνων καὶ ἄθλων) in heaven and the threat of “Hades” to those who fail to gain the crowns (2.34–43).
The language is almost completely biblical, and mostly Pauline, and is thus on its own unremarkable. However, when compared with its source text, this passage’s adherence to Pauline themes—particularly to the characteristic mingling of personal and corporate “body” imagery—is very striking. [20] There is an agreement between the texts that eternal life, the angelic state, and a virginal calling on earth are equivalent, a common theory in late antique Christian, especially Syriac, thought. [21] Otherwise, the mention of the married life as commendable reveals the Life’s attempt at rendering a more complete picture of Pauline teaching. This revised speech of Paul, once programmatic for the sexual ethics of the ATh—and indeed for the whole legend—is in fact now also strikingly programmatic for the LM but for a completely different reason: the wider picture of New Testament history and thought has become the backdrop for Thekla’s story. Much more emphasis is placed here on the {25|26} documents received from the period—Acts of the Apostles, of course, but Paul’s letters as well—and the felt need for precision on the topic of Pauline sexual ethics seems indicative of an awareness of the boundaries (and depth) of the apostolic inheritance.
Following Paul’s speech the Life resumes its description of Thekla at the window. However, the ATh, as mentioned above, introduces Thekla here for the first time, a delay which adds drama to the scene (lost in the Life):
And while Paul was speaking in the midst of the church in the house of Onesiphorus, a certain virgin (πάρθενος) named Thekla—the daughter of Theocleia—betrothed to a man named Thamyris, was sitting (καθεσθεῖσα) at the window close by the house and listened (ἤκουεν) day and night to the discourse of virginity, as proclaimed by Paul.
ATh 7
In the Life a contrast is made between those who are able to see Paul by being with him at Onesiphorus’ house and Thekla, who can only hear and imagine him:
Some were present and listening (ἀκροωμένων), but she, not being present, and not seeing Paul, nevertheless grasped (ἐδράττετο) Paul’s words, and was held fast (ἀπρίξ) at the window, as if it were [an instrument] supplying to her the beloved sound, and as if it were making her in no way inferior to those watching and standing around Paul. [22]
Life 3.14–19
This brief ekphrasis on the famous window where she heard the teaching of Paul for the first time also serves as a lesson on imagination and, further, could be read as a foreshadowing of Thekla’s omnipresence at Seleukeia as displayed in the Miracles. While “held fast” in one place, her spiritual self is present with Paul already through the sound, which is relayed somehow through the physical window itself.
Because of the strangeness of Thekla’s “adamantine” position at the window and her “passionate excitement for the stranger” (Life 3.26), Thekla’s mother Theocleia summons her fiancé Thamyris to speak with her. In the ATh Theocleia explains to him without emotion:
I have a story (διήγημα) to tell you, Thamyris. For three days and three nights Thekla has not risen from the window either to eat or to {26|27} drink; but looking earnestly as if on some pleasant sight (εὐφρασίαν), she is devoted to a foreigner (ἀνδρὶ ξένῳ) teaching deceitful and artful discourse (ἀπατηλοὺς καὶ ποικίλους λόγους) . . . He says one must fear only one God and live in chastity (ζῆν ἁγνῶς).
ATh 8–9
The scene as it is told in the ATh is thus wooden and unimaginative. [23] By contrast, the author of the Life takes this opportunity to demonstrate his abilities at narrative expansion by inventing a long speech for the mother:
Your Thekla has left behind what we hoped and prayed for her, and she shows contempt for me her mother, and for you her suitor, and she does not wish to know anything about the affairs of this house; but she loves (ἐρᾷ) some stranger (ξένου), a charlatan (ἀπατεῶνος) and a vagabond (πλάνου), who has descended on the house just next door—to the detriment of ours! . . . Therefore, hurry up, Thamyris, and make haste to strip from her hands that which has already turned her attention to that other man [i.e. the window], and call her back again to us, and preserve the time-honored prosperity of the family, yours and mine.
Life 3.46–56
Theocleia has been given a personality and here conveys something more of the imaginable horror a respected matron could feel at her daughter succumbing to an itinerant preacher. Her new character takes on added importance in the narrative of the Life, and, consequently, her later condemnation of Thekla before the judge at Iconium is somewhat more emotionally charged.
Thamyris’ much lengthened address to Thekla in the Life offers a heightened sense of dramatic romance not deployed in the ATh. The latter text reads:
And Thamyris greeted her with a kiss, but at the same time being afraid of her overpowering emotion said, “Thekla, my betrothed, why do you sit (κάθησαι) thus? And what sort of feeling holds you distracted? Come back to your Thamyris and be ashamed (αἰσχύνθητι).”
ATh 10 {27|28}
In its attempts to improve upon the ATh, the Life brings to the fore here a conflict between two young lovers, characteristic of earlier novelistic works like the Jewish novella Joseph and Aseneth. [24] Thamyris’ attempt to play on her aristocratic sensibilities is a new addition in the Life. Likewise, the romantic link between the Thekla and “the stranger” is newly felt by Thamyris as he reports what other, respectable Iconians are saying about her repudiation of his love and her own family loyalties:
That man sings (προσᾴδει), seated at a window, but this girl has been captured by his songs (ᾄσμασιν) and is riveted to a window. Her mother is despised while counseling and questioning her every hour, and her fiancé is despised—her soon-to-be husband—who admonishes and implores her. She is entirely for that man [Paul], for his words and for his deceptive charms (δολερῶν ἰύγγων).
Life 4.27–32
The author of the Life reveals in his heightening of the scene how such meager elements of the legend, like the window, have become romanticized in the cultural context of Thekla’s received character. These small details of the original story have been transformed into a literary iconography, and the Life’s author’s attempt at bringing into relief the romance between Paul and Thekla, through Thamyris’ invented speech, shows a late antique, literary iconographer at work. The love triangle between Thamyris, Thekla, and Paul is also part of this literary iconography, and the techniques used here are clearly borrowed from other, earlier novelistic texts (including other apocryphal acts) that play on the social sympathies of the characters. The values of an itinerant preacher are contrasted with social order among the wealthy in a provincial town: while certainly a topos of apocryphal acts generally, this element seems to have had special resonance in the late fourth and fifth centuries. [25]

Demas and Hermogenes accuse Paul

In both the ATh and the Life, Thamyris, leaving Thekla’s house, seeks out Paul. On his way to the apostle he runs into Demas and Hermogenes, Paul’s shady companions from Pisidian Antioch. These traitors are only too willing to help Thamyris against Paul, in both accounts. [26] However, the liberties the Life takes {28|29} with its source are for the sake of bringing out the psychology of the two and serve as an interesting attempt at portraying anti-apostolic jealousy. [27] The two respond to Thamyris’ questioning with similar sentiments to those found in Thamyris’ speech to Thekla:
This stranger, whence he comes and who he is, we do not know well; only that he is a deceiver and a wanderer (ἀπατέων καὶ πλάνος), and while veering away from the common arrangement of life and good order he has corrupted everything . . . This man tries to throw out, to overturn and to destroy, with all his strength, the path designed by nature itself for the race of men: namely, that of marriage and having children.
Life 5.22–28
Demas and Hermogenes rhetorically paint the blackest picture of Paul they can but are implicated from the beginning as much by saying they do not know where Paul comes from as by the substance of their accusations. The theme of Paul’s rejecting or altering Nature recurs at a later point in the Life when Paul is arraigned before the judge at Iconium (Life 6): clearly the author of the Life is trying to correct something like the “encratic” image of Paul that condemns marriage and requires virginity for salvation.
Demas and Hermogenes report what Paul has been so disturbingly teaching: “There is for you no resurrection unless you remain chaste and do not pollute the flesh” (ATh 12). According to the original text this is truly an accurate summary of the “encratic beatitudes” speech from ATh 5–6 (quoted above). However, in the Life this accusation is not at all in concert with Paul’s rewritten speech at the house of Onesiphorus. The duplicity of Demas and Hermogenes is thus brought to the fore in the Life, since what they report about Paul is much more rigorous and perverts the balanced picture of chastity and marriage offered in his earlier speech. The reader recognizes this duplicity from the description of the two as well as from their reporting on Paul to Thamyris. The careful reader, however, would also note that there is here in the Life an implicit rejection of the picture of Paul as presented in its source text. The condemnation of Paul by Demas and Hermogenes becomes a condemnation of the ATh since the accusation they make against the apostle is what he actually did teach in the “encratic beatitudes.” {29|30}
However, the picture of Demas and Hermogenes, and consequently of Paul, in the Life is even more sophisticated than this. The two sycophants have turned Paul’s preaching on resurrection into a reductionistic philosophy, which serves as a caricature of pagan critics unwilling to come to grips with the import of Paul’s sexual ethics in a broader frame of Christian thought. Their take on Paul’s teaching on resurrection is explored in the following passage:
He is trying to proclaim and to introduce a certain resurrection for those long dead and for the bodies decomposing in the earth, a novel practice also never heard from anyone before. The true and authentic resurrection in human nature itself is preserved and accomplished daily: the succession of children born from us (with the image of those parents who conceived and bore them being renewed afresh on their children) is and tends to be some way of being raised again, so that those who were alive long ago appear among the living again and are seen among the men around them.
Life 5.31–41
Even if it is taken into account that these two wrongful accusers are supposed to be offering a perversion of Paul’s teaching, their summary here of Paul’s teaching on resurrection is exceptionally superficial. They are portrayed as legitimately reductionistic with regard to Paul’s teaching on the resurrection. Therefore, the force of Thamyris’ questioning them is to bring these characters into relief. Already sufficiently evil in the ATh, they are highlighted (and somewhat caricatured) in the Life and shown to be much less knowledgeable about Paul’s teaching, which the author of the Life has taken pains elsewhere to represent more accurately.

Paul is dragged before the court

Following this encounter in the ATh, Thamyris takes the two to his home for dinner, during which they offer their host the idea of bringing Paul before the governor Castellius (14). Rising in the morning, Thamyris goes to the house of Onesiphorus “with rulers and officers and a great crowd with batons (ἀρχόντων καὶ δημοσίων καὶ ὄχλου ἱκανοὺς μετὰ ξύλων)” to apprehend Paul. [28] {30|31} The crowd cries out, “Away with the sorcerer (τὸν μάγον) for he has corrupted (διέφθειρεν) all our wives!” (15), and then the scene moves immediately without any further elaboration to the tribunal and Thamyris’ opening accusation.
This transition between Thamyris’ banquet with Demas and Hermogenes and the trial of Paul provides evidence in the Life of the author’s stated intention of altering the style/diction (λέξις) of the work (preface 18), as in the following example from Thamyris’ speech before the governor:
Everything was full of uproar, disorder, and wailing, as if enemies had suddenly fallen on the town and they were plundering everything. [29] Together with this mob Thamyris made a great stride (ἔθει μακρὰ βιβάς), one might say poetically (ποιητικῶς), to the tribunal (τὸ δικαστήριον), and led Paul before the court (παρὰ τῇ δίκῃ) with his own hand, as if having wrenched some tyrant from the acropolis (ὡς ἄν ἐξ ἀκροπόλεως τύραννόν τινα καθῃρηκώς). Coming into the judgment circle (εἴσω δὲ τῆς δικαστικῆς κιγκλίδος) and standing before the bema (ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος), he began with the following words.
Life 6.20–27
The poetic rhetoric is thicker here, appearing again as part of the author’s heightened emphasis on what he considers to be crucial scenes. His allusion, “Thamyris made a great stride,” is to Homer’s descriptions of Ajax’s striding, e.g. Iliad 7.213 and 15.686 (both also, ἔθει μακρὰ βιβάς; cf. Odyssey 9.450). [30]
Thamyris’ formal accusation before the judge (δικαστής) is written in similar terms to those used by Demas and Hermogenes, repeating their feigned ignorance of who Paul is and where he comes from, “For he is a stranger and unknown to any of us” (6.37–38). He also reiterates the theme that Paul’s teaching is contrary to the natural order, adding a litany of human activities and institutions that would have been impossible without marriage and children: {31|32}
. . . families, cities, fields, and villages . . . empire, rule, laws, rulers, justice, soldiers, and generals . . . temples, sacred precincts, sacrifices, initiations, mysteries, prayers, and entreaties. All of these things . . . are accomplished and performed through men, and man is the orchard of marriage (ἄνθρωπος δὲ γεώργίον ἐστι γάμου). [31]
Life 6.42–51
This passage contrasts with Thamyris’ speech in the ATh, which is much more succinct: “O proconsul, this man—we do not know where he comes from—makes virgins averse to marriage. Let him say before you why he teaches thus” (16). Thamyris’ small role in such a defining scene in the ATh offers the author of the Life an opportunity for expansion, in order to display the values of pagan Iconian society, vis-à-vis Paul’s Christian testimony that follows.
Paul’s defense before the governor becomes a completely different speech in the Life. Unlike in the ATh, Paul here does attempt to counter the specific accusations against him. Of course, in the ATh those accusations, particularly that he drives women to virginity, were true according to his reported preaching. Moreover, consistent with the Life’s attempt to approximate Paul’s broader sexual ethics in the sermon at Onesiphorus’ house, Paul’s speech in the Iconian court shows the Life’s ability to draw on multiple sources of Pauline teaching.
In the Life Paul opens by countering the charges against him. He claims that he is not the “creator and inventor” (δημιουργὸς οὔτε εὑρετής) of his teachings but, rather, God is truly their creator and their teacher (Life 7.5–8). Paul then launches into a theological diatribe that bears no resemblance at all to the source text. Thus Paul begins in the ATh:
The living God, the God of vengeance, the jealous God, the God who has need of nothing, who seeks the salvation of men, has sent me that I may rescue them from corruption (φθορᾶς) and uncleanliness (ἀκαθαρσίας) and from all pleasure (ἡδονῆς), and from death, that they may sin no more. [32]
ATh 17 {32|33}
A comparison with the same speech from the Life is instructive as to how far theological language had come since the mid second century. The formulae used by Paul in the Life are clearly post-Nicene:
Therefore on account of these and many other evil acts of irreverence, God took pity, as I have said, and had compassion for this nature (οἰκτιζόμενος τὴν φύσιν ταύτην), so that, while being its molder and creator (πλάστης καὶ δημιουργός), he discharged us apostles through his only begotten Child (Παιδός) to go out and visit the entire earth, and to cleanse it from the evils I described and others I omitted, but also to introduce faith, knowledge of God, piety (εὐσέβειαν), and most of all that which characterizes and betokens (τεκμηριοῖ) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the holy and worshipped Trinity (ἡ ἁγία καὶ προσκυνητὴ Τριάς), the uncreated (ἄκτιστος) and same-substance (ὁμοούσιος) divinity, the eternal (ἀΐδιος) and unchanging (ἀναλλοίωτος), the inseparable (ἀχώριστος) and incomprehensible (ἀπερίγραφος), transcending time (ὑπέρχρονος) and the visible world (ὑπέρκοσμιος), sharing the same honor (ὁμότιμος) and the same throne (ὁμόθρονος) and the same glory (ὁμόδοξος), impalpable (ἀναφής), unfathomable (ἀπερίληπτος), upon which all things depend and to which all things run, and from which nothing has been separated (κεχωρισμένον).
Life 7.38–50
Still central to the speech are the divine epithets—e.g. “unchanging, undivided, and incomprehensible”—but instead of being divine self-descriptions from Exodus (e.g. “living,” “jealous,” etc.), they have become technical terms from late antique Trinitarian theology. The language of the speech has thus ceased to be strictly Pauline, or even Biblical, and is now made up of theological terminology.
Not surprisingly, the terminology seems to be mainly Constantinopolitan in its creedal significance (AD 381); even though some of these terms were used in the Christological debates of the fifth century, their valence here is clearly Cappadocian. [33] In fact, there is a significant lexical correspondence between this passage and parts of Gregory of Nazianzus’ three sermons “On Peace” (Orations 6, 21, and 23; PG 35). One passage from these orations is particularly similar to Paul’s speech quoted above: {33|34}
Ἔν γὰρ οὐχ ὑποστάσει, ἀλλὰ θεότητι· μονὰς ἐν Τριάδι προσκυνου-μένη, καὶ Τριὰς εἰς μονάδα ἀνακεφαλαιουμένη, πᾶσα προσκυνητή, βασιλικὴ πᾶσα, ὁμόθρονος, ὁμόδοξος, ὑπερκόσμιος, ὑπέρχρονος, ἄκτιστος, ἀόρατος, ἀναφής, ἀπερίληπτος, πρὸς μὲν ἑαυτὴν ὅπως ἔχει τάξεως, αὐτῇ μόνῃ γινωσκομένη, σεπτὴ δ’ ἡμῖν ὁμοίως καὶ λατρευτὴ, καὶ μόνη τοῖς Ἁγίοις τῶν ἁγίων ἐμβατεύουσα.
Oration 6; PG 35.749
Not one in substance, but in divinity. One worshipped singly in Three; Three recapitulated in One. All worshipped, all kingly, sharing the same throne, the same glory, heavenly, transcending time, uncreated, invisible, impalpable, unfathomable, unto itself in order/rank, being known to itself alone, but it is likewise sacred and worshiped by us, and alone enters the Holy of Holies.
This selection from Gregory’s first sermon “On Peace” (Oration 6) contains eight of the same terms as epithets of the Trinity as in Paul’s speech: προσκυνητή, ἄκτιστος, ὑπέρχρονος, ὁμόθρονος, ὁμόδοξος, ἀναφής, ἀπερίληπτος. Further, two pairs of these terms are in the same order in which they are used by Paul in the Life: ὁμόθρονος/ὁμόδοξος and ἀναφής/ἀπερίληπτος. While this alone is not incontrovertible proof of quotation, there is sufficient agreement, in this selection and throughout Cappadocian writings, to show that the author of the Life was actively gathering post-Nicene Trinitarian formulae. [34] The epithets appear elsewhere in Gregory’s corpus, as well as occasionally in the other Cappadocians, and the accumulation of agreements is suggestive of conscious borrowing. [35]
More significant perhaps than the potential allusions in Paul’s speech is the fact that the author of the Life did not find it aesthetically displeasing to put {34|35} into the mouth of the apostle technical language from fourth and fifth century theology. His nostalgia for apostolic times and literature thus only extended so far, and he consciously removed the strictly Pauline language from the original speech to introduce specialized language of his own time, which would have been familiar from theological texts as well as from sermons.
This speech is helpful for showing that there were limits to the author’s reconstruction of Paul: (near) contemporary theology and ecclesiastical issues also played an important role in his composition. Nevertheless, for the sake of consistency in the area of sexual ethics (obviously a concern for Thekla devotees), Paul does attempt to redress the accusation that he preaches only virginity, against Nature, and to the detriment of humanity. As noted above, there is no way for Paul to refute this charge in the original ATh since his beatitudes speech at Onesiphorus’ house is certainly “encratic” in this sense, but that speech is rewritten in the Life, and, on that basis, the author has Paul acknowledge the divine character of both virginity and marriage:
And this marriage is a remedy (φάρμακον) and an aid from God given to the whole race of men, being likewise an antidote (ἀλεξιφάρμακον) to fornication and a kind of spring (πηγή) and flowing and succession of our common race, instituted by the creator (δημιουργοῦ) of all himself for the salvation, preservation, and lasting life of men, succeeding one another and renewing in their turn ever-decaying nature. [36]
Life 7.65–69
The Life is clearly struggling to combine several strands of Pauline teaching here while also attempting to answer seriously Thamyris’ charge that virginity destroys the human race. The paraphrase genre allowed for this thoroughgoing revision, so that the author could bring a source text fully into a different thought world while maintaining the pretense of simply copying the original.

Paul and Thekla’s liaison in prison

Thekla returns to the story when Paul is thrown in prison awaiting the judge’s decision on his punishment. In the ATh, Thekla goes to the jail, bribing her way through two gates with her bracelets and a silver mirror. Then, while sitting by Paul’s feet she listens to “the deeds of God” and kisses his chains (ATh 18). The Life at this point emphasizes the rashness of her endeavor, attempting to {35|36} heighten the dramatic tension of the moment: “she conceived and carried out a deed very rash for a young girl, very courageous for an older woman, and even very zealous for a Christian initiate” (Life 8.15–17). Thekla’s clinging to Paul is certainly conceived of in romantic terms—she has left her fiancé for another man—but, as this quotation shows, there is already an element of the supernatural in Thekla’s behavior. She does not behave as any normal woman, even as a Christian woman, would.
In fact, Thekla’s movement or passage in the Life from the outside world into the prison is conceived of in terms of a late antique pilgrimage: she passes through certain necessary gates of access where she relinquishes her material possessions as bribes, which she does gladly; by these “inventions of female vulgarity,” she “purchased the right of seeing (ἰδεῖν) Paul and marveling (θεάσασθαι) at him” (8.20). As Georgia Frank has recently written in her study of visual pilgrimage in late antiquity, “Pilgrims to holy places valued the sense of sight as a primary mode for religious understanding, even when their devotions at the holy places became increasingly tactile.” [37] In the Life, Thekla’s visual access to Paul is certainly emphasized over their tactile contact, even though the tactile (and auditory) element appears primary in its second-century source.
The first meeting of Paul and Thekla, therefore, takes place in the prison. In the ATh, this encounter is brief, since Thamyris, while looking for Thekla, discovers that she has gone to the other man—“chained to him in affection”—and then drags both of them before the tribunal. These scenes are imprecise in their detail: the author of the ATh was hurrying on to Thekla’s first martyrdom. The Life takes the opportunity to elaborate the hastily written scenes by inserting a long speech of Paul to Thekla in the prison. Paul confesses to her his frustration that his words were not well received by the Iconians. Now that he has seen her devotion, however, his mind is put to rest and he rejoices:
I was afraid of leaving this city without fruit and profit, failing to save a life or lead anyone to Christ. But behold, you yourself have appeared to me, materializing from I don’t know where, and you have destroyed this fear.
Life 9.5–9
Thekla is already playing the patroness/protectrix role that she takes up at the end of the Life and retains throughout the Miracles. In this speech Paul {36|37} rehearses all that Thekla has given up “for piety and faith” (τῆς εὐσεβείας καὶ πίστεως; Life 9.12–13). Her renunciation, Paul says, was despised by the Devil (διάβολος), whom Thekla “will make a fool and will utterly destroy in an instant” (Life 9.22–23). Paul warns her of coming trials and how “the tyrant” will try to take his revenge on her. However, Paul predicts Thekla’s future triumph, which he compares to that of Job (Life 9.37–38).
Paul concludes his exhortations with the assurance that she will be reckoned an apostle for her struggles and victory:
For you will rule, I know well, over every weapon of war set against you, and you will conquer the tyrant in every situation; not by yourself alone but through many others. For you will teach many others and you will lead them to your bridegroom, like Peter, like John, like each of we apostles, among whom you yourself will certainly be counted, I know this well.
Life 9.75–80
Taken as a whole, this additional speech serves to fill out a rough patch in the original text, but it also serves to promote a certain received version of what Thekla achieved, emphasizing her historic place among the martyrs of the early Church. Several elements are put in place to presage the spiritually-present Thekla who haunts Seleukeia in the Miracles: the comfort Thekla brings to Paul, the allusion to pilgrimage, and Paul’s prediction of her reception into the company of the apostles—such as Peter, John, and himself who have already achieved success in their ministry. That the latter is an anachronistic assumption from the point of view of Paul in prison at Iconium (c. 50s AD?) is clearly not a paramount consideration for the author of the Life, since he (like the author of the ATh) is reconstructing the character of Paul from received tradition.
Following Paul’s address to Thekla in the prison, the Life enters into a long description of the hunt for Thekla. This description includes a dramatic account of her mother’s maidservants discovering that Thekla was missing while performing their morning chores. This section is an expansion of one sentence in the ATh: “And when Thekla was sought for by her family, and Thamyris was hunting through the streets as if she had been lost” (ATh 19). In the Life the scene of the maidservants’ discovery, and the mourning and wailing which ensued, is interrupted by a view of Thekla sitting serenely at Paul’s feet (Life 10.26–27). Thamyris, having discovered the truth, bursts onto the scene thinking that Paul has seduced Thekla in the prison. The love- {37|38} triangle suggested by the vague narrative in the ATh has become in the Life an explicit case of misidentification.

A second appearance in court

Following their discovery, Thamyris grabs Paul and takes him before Kestillios the proconsul (named here for the first time in the Life): “with the townsfolk and citizens he had with him, he dragged Paul before the court” (10.48–51). This mob scene resembles the last, except that the more serious charges of “enslavement” and “seduction” are now at the fore of Thamyris’ case against Paul (10.57). Kestillios, however, being sympathetic to Christianity for unexplained reasons, only “whipped Paul a little and expelled him from the city” (10.59).
The ATh account is more compressed but essentially the same except for three small differences. First, Paul is called “sorcerer” (μάγος) by the crowd, which is apparently the main charge against him. Second, mention is made of Thekla sitting “at the place where Paul sat while in prison” (ATh 20); Paul’s cell is thus likened to the window where she heard Paul’s words wafting from Onesiphorus’ house. Third, “the governor,” before ejecting Paul from the city, “gladly heard Paul speak about the holy works of Christ” (τοῖς ὁσίοις ἔργοις τοῦ Χριστοῦ; ibid.).
In the Life there is no mention of Paul preaching again to the governor; rather, simply “he was taken with the man, and there had entered into him some desire for what Paul said about piety (εὐσεβείας)” (Life 10.53–54). Εὐσέβεια (“piety,” “devotion”) is the author’s normal description of Paul’s teaching, to which Thekla clings: its generalized meaning probably helped him de-asceticize Thekla’s character, while still keeping her personally devoted to Paul’s counter-cultural stance. [38] By the end of the Life the word has taken on a programmatic significance for Thekla’s ministry in Seleukeia.
Thekla’s association with Paul has by this point been more directly affirmed than in the ambivalent ATh. This has been accomplished through an exaggerated personal devotion to the apostle, Paul’s invented prophecy about her triumph as a martyr, and their romantic misidentification in the prison. However, Paul’s authoritative role now recedes into the background as Thekla is brought forward for her own trial before Kestillios in Iconium.
The most striking element of Thekla’s first trial scene in the ATh is her own mother Theocleia’s demand that she be burnt for deserting Thamyris. She {38|39} cries, “Burn the wicked one; burn her who will not marry in the midst of the theater, that all women who have been taught by this man may be afraid” (ATh 21). This outburst is removed in the Life, even though an invented speech by the proconsul clearly focuses on her refusal to marry.
His speech is an interesting amalgam of Thamyris’ accusation against Paul and Paul’s own defense, signaling Kestillios’ vacillation between these two positions. Kestillios, on one hand, argues with Thamyris that marriage “fills the whole earth with men and other living things” (Life 11.20), and he also argues, playing on her aristocratic lineage, that marriage “guards the preserves the surnames (ἐπωνυμίας) of the families unmixed and distributes their inheritances to whom it is befitting when it is befitting” (11.30–32). However, he argues from an ethical point of view with Paul that marriage “through a lawful union, always prevents illicit relations and pleasures” (11.27–28). His arguments on procreation also have the ring of Paul’s teaching on resurrection: “Each of us leaves this life without exception, but through marriage each replaces himself with another being similar to himself” (Life 11.37–38).
Compare Paul’s earlier statement before Kestillios that “[marriage] was instituted by the creator (δημιουργοῦ) of everything for the salvation, preservation, and lasting life of men, succeeding one another and renewing in their turn ever-decaying nature” (Life 7.68–71). It seems the author of the Life is trying to show in these speeches that Paul’s teaching is actually affecting the proconsul’s thoughts on marriage, rather than simply stating that the “governor gladly heard from Paul about the works of Christ,” as ATh 20 does.
Of course, the irony in all of this is that Thekla still chooses renunciation, even though the author has gone so far to resuscitate marriage. Thus, despite the proconsul’s (Pauline) defense of marriage, [39] Thekla remains unmoved by his speech. In fact, she is so confident and resolved that the author likens her to the predator rather than to the prey: “Not compromising or bending to anything at all, she looked like some lion-cub (λεόντειος) amidst a herd of gazelles” (Life 11.9–11). [40]
Following this characterization, however, the author compares Thekla to Christ the lamb: “she stood there—if I may say so—like a silent lamb before her shearer, not seeking to utter anything, but dreaming of what and when she might suffer for Christ’s sake” (12.7–10). There is thus a lack of confidence {39|40} about how to portray the young martyr, as a conqueror or as a martyr, an ambivalence which is present in the Gospels’ descriptions of Jesus himself. [41] Intriguingly, the author of the Life has signaled here his reluctance to liken her to Jesus—“ if I may say so”—even though he is making use of a messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53:7 (see Acts 8:32).
Before he finally decides to burn her at the stake, the judge is once more described as divided in mind over his decision. Ultimately, he decides that Thekla should die because of Thamyris’ “power” and “just anger” and because Kestillios “was influenced by opinions about Christians which at that time were around and being discussed” (12.27–29). This suggests the author of the Life was aware of secular criticisms of Christian sexual ethics in previous generations, perhaps even with specific relation to the legend of Thekla. Thus, the knowing statement that Kestillios consented to punishing Thekla because he was “just like other pagans of his day,” so to speak, adds more weight to the hypothesis that the author is intentionally trying to write asceticism out of the original legend. This is because the argument that Christians renounce marriage as a matter of course is being implicitly condemned (in line with its explicit condemnation earlier). The character of Kestillios is therefore affected to some degree by the full Christian teaching on marriage and is sympathetic to it, but the combined weight of his prior assumptions and Thamyris’ anger is simply too great to prevent the execution.

Thekla on the pyre

Following the judge’s final condemnation of Thekla in the ATh, she casts about the tribunal, looking for Paul, “as a lamb in the wilderness looks for a shepherd.” Instead of Paul, however, Christ appears to her, “in the likeness of Paul.” In response she says her first words of the original story, “As if I were unable to endure, Paul has come to look after me.” Next the Christ-Paul disappears into heaven while she is “gazing earnestly at him.”
This scene is included in the Life but it happens once she is already on the pyre, a change which serves to increase her sense of abandonment. In the Life, Christ still appears to her in the form of Paul, but there is no intimation, as there is in the ATh, that Paul should have been present. Christ is thus not filling-in where Paul failed, “for she truly thought him to be Paul, and not Christ” (12.41–42), an aside which alleviates some of her disorientation in the original. Her first words, explicitly “to herself” in the Life, are typically expanded: {40|41}
Behold, Paul watches over me and protects me, lest bending, lacking conviction, and shrinking at the fire I betray the beautiful and blessed confession (ὁμολογίας). But rather, may it not be that I give up the Christ evangelized to me by you yourself, Paul, nor the piety (εὐσεβείαν), and disgrace your teaching (διδασκαλίαν). Only stay a little while, teacher (ὦ διδάσκαλε), and call Christ to my aid, so that by the breeze (τῇ αὔρᾳ) of the Spirit he may scatter and sprinkle this fire and he may strengthen the weakness of my nature (ἀσθένειαν τῆς φύσεως) through its help.
Life 12.43–51
The phrase “weakness of human nature” (ἡ ἀνθρωπίνης τῆς φύσεως ἀσθένεια) is originally Platonic (Laws 854a), but it finds its peculiar Christian expression in 2 Corinthians 13:4, where Paul says that “Christ was crucified out of weakness” (ἐσταυρώθη ἐξ ἀσθενείας). As Origen later pointed out, this concept is a conscious reversal of Plato’s understanding of the broader import of human spiritual weakness (Against Celsus 3.42.11).
That the author of the Life had this Christian play on classical ἀσθένεια in mind is confirmed by the description of Thekla’s actions immediately following: “and after these words, first tracing (ἐκτυπώσασα) the form (τὸν τύπον) of the cross on herself, and then even more, rendering (ἀπεικάσασα) her whole self in the form (τὸν τύπον) of the cross through the extending of both her hands . . .” (12.51–54). Her purpose, therefore, in word and gesture, is an imitation of Christ’s crucifixion. This characterization was signaled earlier by the author’s somewhat hesitant quotation of Isaiah 53:7.
It is important at this point to compare the visualization of her martyrdom in the ATh. The well known scene is succinctly described:
And the boys and girls brought wood and straw in order that Thekla might be burned. And when she came in naked the governor wept and admired the power that was in her. And the executioners arranged the wood and told her to go up on the pile. And having made the sign of the cross (ἡ τὸν τύπον τοῦ σταυροῦ ποιησαμένη) she went up on the pile. And they lit the fire. And though a great fire was blazing it did not touch her. For God, having compassion upon her, made an underground rumbling, and a cloud full of water and hail overshadowed the theater from above, and all its contents were poured out so that many were in danger of death. And the fire was put out and Thekla saved.
ATh 22 {41|42}
It is immediately clear that the author of the Life chose to interpret “the sign of the cross” from the ATh in a much more theologically rich manner, which calls upon Paul’s (and perhaps Origen’s) own anti-Platonic formulation of ἀσθένεια. Thus, in the Life the author has first exonerated Paul by removing the denigrating insinuation that the apostle had left Thekla to die. Second, the author has actually made Paul present in the language of Thekla’s self-typology of “weakness” in martyrdom. The formulation is even more complex, however, since Christ, whose crucifixion is being imitated, is emphatically present in the theater with Thekla, watching her gesture the motions of a Pauline theology of his own execution!
In the Life, the fire is shamed by the cross and backs away from Thekla. The pyre thus becomes “a bridal-chamber (θάλαμος) rather than a furnace for the virgin” and it shields Thekla’s nakedness from the crowd (12.58–59). The author says that the Babylonian furnace from Daniel 3 was “a similar philanthropy of fire” to Thekla’s “bed-chamber” (κοιτωνίσκος): in both cases God “tamed” (ἡμερώσαντος) the blaze (12.62–65). The rest of the natural wonders—rain and hail—are described similarly to the ATh, except that the Life states openly that the downpour “drowned many of the Iconians,” a claim the ATh does not make. In the latter “many were in danger of death,” but God’s wrath for Thekla’s mistreatment has no place in the events.

Reunion outside Iconium

In neither the ATh nor the Life is there a description of Thekla’s escape from Iconium. The scene simply shifts to Paul and Onesiphorus outside the city, waiting by a prepared tomb to find out what ultimately happened to her. When she arrives at the tomb, Thekla comes upon Paul praying for her safety.
In the ATh, a child tells Thekla that Paul has been praying for her and fasting “for six days already.” This strange statement does not fit the fast pace of the narrative thus far—there has been no indication that more than a day has passed—and it is understandably expunged from the Life. In the latter the reader does not immediately come upon the words of Paul, as in the ATh; rather, it is reported that Thekla only sees him praying for her, then she proceeds to utter her own prayer of thanksgiving.
This is a typical device in the Life: to substitute a summary for the actual text (here, the prayer of Paul), then to modify an existing speech, or to add an invented one, to try to offer a different perspective on the scene. Thekla’s revised prayer is interesting for its theological language, similar in this way to Paul’s final speech before the judge: {42|43}
God, King and Blessed Creator (δημιουργέ) of everything, and Father (Πατήρ) of your great and only begotten Child (Παιδός), I give you thanks . . . for having seen this Paul, my savior (σωτῆρα) and teacher (διδάσκαλον), who preached to me the might of your kingdom and the greatness of your authority, as well as the unchanging (ἀπαράλλακτον), equal-in-power (ἰσοδύναμον), equal-in-state (ἰσοστάσιον) nature of divinity (θεότητος) within the Trinity (ἐν Τριάδι), the mystery of your only begotten Child’s incarnation (ἐνανθρωπήσεως) . . .
Life 13.27–37
Thekla’s student/teacher relationship with Paul is again pushed to the fore, much more so than in the ATh. And her reiteration of the late antique technical terminology—mimicking Paul’s revised defense at Iconium—emphasizes their unity in thought and action. Post-Nicene Trinitarian language once again describes (anachronistically) the substance of their faith.
Paul’s excitement at hearing Thekla’s thanksgiving is heightened in the Life: he “springs up” from kneeling on the ground “as if from some machine” (καθάπερ ἔκ τινος μηχανῆς). He then gives thanks for Thekla’s rescue from the fire, saying, “A martyr has been born, also a disciple (μαθήτρια), and a little later, an evangelist (εὐαγγελίστρια)” (13.53–55). Paul’s anticipation of Thekla’s fame as a preacher/teacher does not occur in the ATh and thus serves as another example of the predictive imprimatur given to Thekla by this author through Paul. He also seems to be attempting to iron out any ambivalence on the point of Thekla’s teaching authority which (it might be argued) is present in the ATh itself, though it obviously appears more prominently in later tradition, such as in the aspersions cast on the ATh by Tertullian and Jerome (see the Introduction above).
Thus, just following this scene in the original, Thekla asks to become Paul’s apostolic companion but is rebuffed:
And Thekla said to Paul, “I will cut my hair off and I shall follow (ἀκολουθήσω) you wherever you go.” But he said, “Times are evil and you are beautiful. I am afraid lest another trial (ἄλλος πειρασμός) come upon you worse than the first and you do not withstand it and become cowardly (δειλανδρήσῃς).” And Thekla said, “Only give me the seal in Christ (τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ σφραγῖδα), and no trial shall bind me.” And Paul said, “Thekla, be patient; you shall receive the water.”
ATh 25 {43|44}
Scholars have debated the significance of Paul’s warning to Thekla in this passage: what in particular does Paul mean by “the first trial”? [42] He appears to be referring simply to her first martyrdom, but he could also be referencing an unmentioned temptation to stay and marry Thamyris—the latter interpretation depends on Paul’s mention of Thekla’s beauty here. In either case, as Melissa Aubin has noted, this scene in the ATh serves to “produce frustration” in the believing reader who has just seen Thekla behave so heroically. It also serves to “discredit” Paul, who here “disenfranchises” his own pupil. [43]
In the Life, Paul’s hesitancy is softened, and the drama of this crucial scene is intensified and made further to solidify Paul’s historical (and theological) unity with Thekla—precisely the opposite implication from the skeptical tone of the original. Instead of a straightforward rebuke, Paul explains at length his reasons for delaying her baptism, and then, pressured by a second wave of Thekla’s pleading, finally agrees to baptize her, though he asks her to wait a while, as in the original. Additionally, in the Life he invites her to come to Antioch with him, a partiality on Paul’s part that is obscured in the ATh by the jarring rebuke. The Life reads, by contrast:
“But nothing of the sort will prevail upon me,” Thekla said, “for the God who helped me in the fire will always help me, even in other dangers, and even if the enemy will devise more complicated machines against us. Only give me, teacher, the seal in Christ (τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ σφραγῖδα). Armed with this weapon I will crouch before nothing, I will fear nothing, I will triumph over every danger, and I will triumph over every temptation and demon. Only give to me the seal in Christ (τὴν ἐν Χριστῷ σφραγῖδα).” . . . “Therefore,” he said, “since this is your opinion, this will be; and now you will join me on the journey, and waiting a little while, you will attain the grace through holy baptism, grace which alone is the irresistible power of salvation, of security, and of faith for those who place all their hope and assurance in Christ.”
Life 14.26–39 {44|45}
Paul’s response here assumes the rest of the story in the ATh, and it is through the character of Paul in particular that the author seems to be playing off of a prior knowledge of the legend. Paul’s hastily sketched and often ambivalent role in the original ATh becomes in the Life a crucial authorial device for drawing out and manipulating his reader’s narrative assumptions. It is, therefore, through the empty vessel of Paul’s character that the author fills in contemporary theological formulations and predicts, or presupposes, Thekla’s upcoming triumphs. In the Life Paul is a literary vehicle for connecting Thekla’s apostolic origins to her status in contemporary faith and practice.

Thekla in Antioch (Life 15–25)

Intercepted by Alexander

Immediately following Paul’s assurance to Thekla that she will be baptized, the Life provides a summary statement of the story so far, signaling the conclusion of her time in Iconium. “But these things happened thus in Iconium, and such was their completion. Which things are stronger than human nature, but are not unreasonable miracles of divine power” (Life 14.41–44). The author has thus read the ATh as a two-setting work, Iconium and Antioch.
The question of whether “Antioch” in the ATh is the Pisidian or Syrian city has been thoroughly debated without any resolution, and the various detailed arguments need not be reiterated here. Briefly, the two main points of discussion are, first, in the canonical Acts of the Apostles, Paul proceeds from Iconium to Pisidian Antioch, but, second, Alexander, the town councilor who assaults Thekla in “Antioch,” is said to be “Syrian” in several manuscripts. [44]
It is enough to point out that the author of the Life recognized this apparent contradiction—later Byzantine editors of the ATh did not—and has tried to solve it by overtly conflating the “Antiochs” to Syrian Antioch. [45] Thus {45|46} the author of the Life comments parenthetically in his introduction to the Antioch section:
When they drew near to Antioch—I speak of the Antioch in Syria, the beautiful and great, where the beautiful and blessed name of “Christians” was first used; and not the Antioch in Pisidia, neighbor to Lycaonia, even though the Pisidians claim it.
Life 15.1–4
This conflation serves as another example of the Life’s close attention to the details of its source text. It should be clear by now that part of the exercise of this paraphrase was ironing out perceived difficulties in the ATh.
Alexander, a libidinous aristocrat of Antioch, succumbs to Thekla’s tremendous beauty as soon as the travelers approach the town. Her beauty is not mentioned at this point in the ATh but is played up in the Life to such a degree that it must be asked whether Alexander could have resisted at all. We have already noticed that a kind of fatalism permeates the Life due to its literary character: the paraphrase form naturally anticipates future events of the story because of its audience’s familiarity with them.
Despite the honor the author of the Life has given to Syrian Antioch by insisting that it was the scene of Thekla’s second, and most stunning martyrdom, he has at the same time made it out to be, like every deme (ἅπας δῆμος), a center of licentiousness. This reputation is in line with the type of place that would produce, as one of its leaders, the wanton Alexander:
It reckons its happiness in those who delight it most and make it mad for pleasure . . . so that it revels above all in those who lead it via Bacchic frenzy toward every intemperance and delight.
Life 15.21–25
Alexander is essentially evil because he represents the best that the evil-minded citizens can produce. He has the “order” (τάξις) of a town-councilor, but behaves towards Thekla in “disorder” (ἀταξία) and tries to procure Thekla from Paul, as if the latter were her pimp and panderer (μαστρωπὸς καὶ προαγωγός; 15.31–32).
In the original ATh, Paul comes off very badly at this point, not defending Thekla in the least, but rather disappearing at her point of greatest need. However, in the Life he appears more cunning when he tries to put Alexander off by suggesting Thekla is a boy: “Paul declared that the woman in no way belonged to him—and that he was not even sure that she was in fact a woman” (15.34–36). The first statement echoes the ATh (26), but the second is new. {46|47}
This addition shows an awareness of the poor picture of Paul presented in the ATh and represents an attempt at rectifying the original, even though the revising is not as thorough here as it appears elsewhere. Dagron notes that this additional line suggests that Thekla has cut her hair, as she threatened to do above in ATh 25. [46] Whether or not she has cut her hair, her appearance is certainly already male to the degree that Paul can reasonably suggest she is not a woman (see Life 25.17–19). This is an interesting change to the ATh, since in the latter her safe travel from Antioch to Myra, following the second martyrdom, is predicated on her newly adopted male appearance in ATh 40. The addition in the Life, therefore, foreshadows that later transformation and perhaps also empties it of some of its drama, for the sake of resuscitating Paul in ATh 26.
In resisting Alexander’s advances, Thekla pleads in the Life that her good birth should exempt her from such an outrage. The problem appears to be her aloneness, since Thekla also brings up her abandonment of Thamyris—she could have a husband if she wanted but instead has chosen to travel alone:
For I am not wandering, as you reckon, between shameful loves fitting for you, trafficking my beauty and offering it up to anyone willing to pay—may it not be! May I not shame myself before God, my protector! May I not forget what I have entrusted to God and render false the pledges (συνθήκας) I made to him through Paul.
Life 15.48–54
Her concern is with her own appearance as a solitary woman, not because she may be vulnerable to attack but because she seems to be a prostitute. She thus attempts to appeal to Alexander’s aristocratic standing, which has already been duly emphasized in the condemnation of Antioch’s moral standards. Aristocracy is also reemphasized in Thekla’s response, which is to tear Alexander’s chlamys, “that imposing and admired garment” and to knock off his “golden crown, brilliant and dazzling” (15.60–62).
Alexander decides, after swaying back and forth between “affection” and “hatred,” to rush Thekla to the tribunal, accepting that he had been beaten by the girl. Thekla is thus described throughout this scene in severe masculine terms, which anticipate the male, proto-ascetic disguise that gets her safely to Myra:
Now the excessively rough (λίαν ἀπηνές) and wild (ἀνήμερον) character of the girl was making her enemy more savage (ἀγριώτερον), {47|48} because he was outraged and despised and had completely succumbed to his illegitimate desire.
Life 15.79–81
As in the previous court appearances, the “illegitimate” (οὐκ ἐνδίκως) nature of the violence done to Thekla is contrasted with the Roman justice system supporting it. This contrast is not made explicit in political terms, but there is a consistent subversive diatribe in the Life against the authorities that side with Thekla’s prosecutors like Alexander.

Tryphaina, Falconilla, and the lioness

In the ATh there is no description of Thekla’s trial at Antioch, only that she “confessed” and was condemned to wild beasts. In response to the speedy judgment, however, the “women of the city” complained en masse to the judge, crying out, “Evil judgment! Impious judgment!” (ATh 27). No reaction to this crowd is recorded, but Thekla asks the judge if she could “remain pure until she was to fight with the wild beasts,” perhaps having taken encouragement from the pleading women. Again, the judge’s response is not recorded, but Thekla appears successful in her request since she is entrusted to “Queen” Tryphaina (βασίλισσα), who not only protects Thekla from violence but who takes consolation in the girl, since her own daughter, Falconilla, has passed away. Tryphaina, later described as a “kinswoman” (συγγενής; ATh 36) of the emperor, is a name mentioned by Paul at Romans 16:12: “Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaina and Tryphosa.” Her connection (perhaps as a freedwoman) to the Julio-Claudian imperial family is debated; but her role in the ATh is certainly designed to lend credence to that text’s overall verisimilitude. [47]
The Life, following the ATh, neglects to report on the trial at Antioch, a more conservative approach than we saw with the invented speeches at Iconium. It does insert a comment, however, on Thekla’s positive attitude: “Having been handed over, the virgin was nevertheless rejoicing in the trial, and she was already calling the judgment a victory and an addition to her {48|49} martyrial battles” (16.1–3). This statement fits with the predictive theme apparent earlier in the speeches of Paul.
Tryphaina, Thekla’s designated protector, is next introduced as “distinguished by her nearness [in lineage] to the emperor (βασιλέως τε ἀγχιστείᾳ λαμπρυνομένη), proud of her wealth, cultivating virtue in her life and habits” (16.16–17). No explicit contrast is drawn between Tryphaina and Alexander, but the implication is that Tryphaina’s aristocratic romanitas is both superior to Alexander’s local authority and also uniquely ordained by God. Perhaps reminiscent of Paul’s appeal to the emperor at Caesarea in Acts 25–26, Tryphaina’s involvement with the imperial family in both the ATh and the Life is understood to be God’s ordained means of Thekla’s martyrial triumph, as will be seen in more detail later.
Following Tryphaina’s reception of Thekla “as a consolation,” because her own daughter Falconilla had just died, the martyr is led in a procession with the wild beasts designated to kill her the next day. In the ATh Thekla is seated on a lioness, which proceeds to lick her feet to the amazement of the audience. It is reported that the charge under which she is condemned is “sacrilegious” (ἱερόσυλος; sacrilegium), the standard Roman legal term for an impious act. [48] The women of the city again make their plea for Thekla: “O God, an unholy judgment takes place in this city.” The scene then jumps to Tryphaina receiving a message in a dream from her dead daughter, who tells her to get Thekla to pray so that Falconilla “can come to the place of the just” (ATh 28).
The author of the Life, in response to this imprecise list of reactions to Thekla’s condemnation, chooses the elements he prefers and writes them into a more fluid scene. The lioness receives the most attention, and her affection for Thekla is newly emphasized:
Then a deed (ἔργον) happened that was miraculous (παράδοξον) and truly worthy of a divine sign (θεοσημείας): for the lioness that was thought the most cruel (πικροτάτη), attached to Thekla, neglected her natural instincts. Like a young maidservant (θεραπαινίς) reared along with the young girl (κόρη), she habitually sat next to her and was fawning over (περιέσαινε) her feet, taking great care with her teeth, I think, lest (even accidentally) she should nibble and damage {49|50} the already evangelical feet (τοὺς εὐαγγελικοὺς ἤδη πόδας) of the martyr. This stunned the entire city, and it struck all the onlookers with a certain speechlessness (ἀφασίας).
Life 16.26–34
Both Tryphaina and the lioness are unique accomplices to Thekla’s triumph and provide color to the original story. As such, they have clearly taken on a greater importance in the Life. Their enhanced profile here points to their broader fame and to the recognition that this part of the earlier story must have had among late antique readers: significantly, the lioness appears as a requisite element of Thekla’s iconography on pilgrim flasks from Egypt in this period. [49]
The women of the city, who cry out to God in the ATh, are not quoted directly in the Life. Instead, their sentiments are summarized and expanded, in a manner typical for this author. He says that they were shouting on the martyr’s behalf, not because she was a martyr, but “as a woman suffering pitiably and undergoing an illogical sentence because of her self-control (σωφροσύνη) and dignity (σεμνότης)” (Life 16.38–39). The “feminist” strain of the original text is heightened, in contrast to a slight misogynism detected elsewhere in the Life. [50]
In the ATh Tryphaina asks Thekla to pray for Falconilla “that she may live in eternity, for this I saw in my sleep” (ATh 29). Thekla “without hesitation” prays for her daughter, saying, “My God, son of the Most High, who is in heaven, grant her wish that Falconilla may live in eternity.” In the Life Tryphaina’s request is somewhat grander. She asks Thekla to “make Falconilla’s soul intimate (οἰκειώσῃς) to Christ” and “to provide for her what was lacking in [her?] faith (τὸ παρὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐλλειφθέν)” so that Christ might “from his grace give my daughter repose (ἀνάπαυλαν) and eternal life” (Life 17.27–31).
Thekla’s lack of hesitation in the original is highlighted in the Life and transformed into a general exhortation for believers to always be ready to pray, alluding perhaps to Paul’s “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Thekla raises “perfectly pure hands” (πανάγνους χεῖρας) to heaven and prays a much enlarged version of her original intercession:
[Tryphaina’s] longing (πόθος) is that the soul of that girl be counted (ἐναριθημῆναι) among the souls of those who already believe in you, and to have the benefit of the mode of life (διαίτης) and delight {50|51} (τρυφῆς) of paradise. Pay out this reward (ταύτην ἀμοιβὴν ἔκτισον) for her on my behalf, Lord Christ. For behold, as you see, she herself has become a guardian of my virginity (μου τῆς παρθενίας φύλαξ). After your Paul, she has assisted me and has delivered me from the frenzy (οἰστρομανίας) of Alexander. She has comforted me in her bosom after the fright of the wild beasts. For being a queen (βασιλίς) she has humbled herself with me (συνεταπεινώθη μοι), because of the desire and fear she has for you. [51]
Life 17.42–51
Several points are worthy of note in this prayer. Not least is the fact that the Life is more explicit on the issue of Falconilla’s exclusion from “paradise,” where she would receive a better “mode of life” and “delight.” The latter word in Greek is τρυφή which originally had the negative connotations of “self-indulgence” and “luxury,” came also to mean, at least by the Hellenistic period, “satisfaction” or “delight,” both in the positive sense. [52] And from very early in Christian Greek τρυφή was synonymous with heavenly bliss. [53] There is also the connection with “Tryphaina” as a name, which is derived from τρυφή and the root-verb θρύπτω, “to refine” or “to break into small pieces.” [54] Moreover, the name “Tryphosa,” the companion of the Tryphaina greeted by Paul in Romans 16:12, also comes from τρυφή and θρύπτω. [55] This subtlety is not beyond the author of the LM: he may have been playing off of Falconilla’s mother’s name, who, being a believer already, wanted her daughter to receive the same “bliss” that she already possessed. He could also be attempting here to link more firmly the two Tryphainas through some clever wordplay on the name of Tryphaina’s New Testament companion.
The next scene, in which Alexander comes to fetch Thekla for her fight with the wild beasts (θηριομάχος), demonstrates how closely the author of the Life could, when he wanted, follow the exact wording of the original text. Alexander’s address to Tryphaina is almost exactly the same in both texts. {51|52}
ὁ ἡγεμὼν κάθηται καὶ ὁ ὄχλος θορυβεῖ ἡμᾶς· δὸς ἀπαγάγω τὴν θηριομάχον.
The governor is seated and the crowd is clamoring for us; give [her to me], so that I so that I can pit her against the beasts.
ATh 30
ὁ ἡγεμὼν γάρ, φησί, κάθηται, καὶ ὁ ὄχλος θορυβεῖ· δός, ἀπαγάγω τὴν θηριομάχον.
“For the governor,” [Alexander] said, “is seated and the crowd is clamoring; give [her to me], so that I can pit her against the beasts.”
Life 18.5–6
Such correspondences demonstrate both that he was paraphrasing a text of the ATh very similar to the one that has come down to us and that his theory of paraphrase was such that word for word copying was not inconceivable.
There are further correspondences in this passage, however, which show his small-scale elaborations and changes in diction. For example, the effect that Alexander’s demand has on Tryphaina is described in these ways:
ἡ δὲ Τρύφαινα ἀνέκραζεν ὥστε φυγεῖν αὐτὸν λέγουσα·
And Tryphaina put him to flight with a loud cry saying . . .
ATh 30
ὡς τὴν Τρύφαιναν ὑπὸ τῶν ῥημάτων τούτων δηχθεῖσάν τε καὶ ἀναφλεχθεῖσαν ἐκβοῆσαί τε πικρὸν καὶ γοερόν, ὡς καὶ εἰς φυγὴν τραπῆναι τὸν Ἀλέξανδρον. οἷα δὲ τὰ ῥήματα Τρυφαίνης·
Tryphaina, stung and inflamed by these words, cried out so harshly and lamentably, that Alexander turned to flee; such were Tryphaina’s words . . .
Life 18.6–9
These examples serve to show how the seriously author is taking his claim to be making changes to the style and diction of the original text. First there is the insertion of a brief description of Tryphaina’s own psychological response: ὑπὸ τῶν ῥημάτων τούτων δηχθεῖσάν τε καὶ ἀναφλεχθεῖσαν. Next, he elaborates the original, simple ἀνέκραζεν with ἐκβοῆσαί τε πικρὸν καὶ γοερόν. And, finally, the simple clause ὥστε φυγεῖν αὐτὸν in the ATh becomes the more elegant ὡς καὶ εἰς φυγὴν τραπῆναι τὸν Ἀλέξανδρον. The whole sentence is made up of two result clauses introduced by ὡς, where one would {52|53} expect the normal ὥστε, as in the ATh text. The movement of the passage is thus more vivid and interactive in the Life, even if it loses the simple force of the original.
In the Life Tryphaina follows Thekla to the arena and complains, in a second speech, about the gross impiety of the Antiochenes in condemning Thekla to the beasts. Thekla’s reaction to Tryphaina’s wailing is written in the similar terms to Tryphaina’s response to Alexander above: “at these words Thekla was stung and pained in her soul” (δηχθῆσά τε καὶ ὑπεραλγήσασα τὴν ψυχήν; 18.41–42). Thekla then prays to God, reminding him of what she has given up to follow Christ and asking that Tryphaina would be comforted. Thekla recapitulates the story thus far, emphasizing Tryphaina’s key role in protecting her from sexual violence while awaiting her martyrdom.
Therefore because of her and her compassion (συμπάθειαν) for me, I have not surrendered my virginity (παρθενίας), and I have conquered the rage (λύττης) of Alexander against me. And I fight with the self-control (σωφροσύνης) dear to me and you, thinking little of the beasts, because you have assisted me from heaven and because she has protected me on earth. This is the result of your providence (προνοίας) for me, that I find a harbor (λιμένος) in the midst of such violent and savage waves (ἐν ἀγρίοις οὕτω καὶ ἀνημέροις κύμασιν), a harbor which rescues me out of this great surging (ζάλης) of the beasts.
Life 18.52–59
The decorative additions here, such as the final nautical metaphor, are designed to expose the triangle of devotion between Thekla, Tryphaina, and God. Nowhere is the depth of Tryphaina’s faith clearly expressed, but her protection is pious enough for Thekla to want to intercede on her behalf—as she has already done for her daughter Falconilla. Just above this passage, Tryphaina briefly mentions in her prayer to God that she, “evangelized” (εὐαγγελισαμένης) by Thekla, was shown “the true and straight path towards your piety (εὐσεβείας)” (18.17–18).
What is lacking in her expression of faith, however, is a sense of where Paul fits in, since the early Christian person “Tryphaina” is just as familiar from Paul’s letters. On one hand, then, there appears to be no attempt in the Life to reconcile Tryphaina’s appearance in Romans 16 with her character in the ATh (assuming that the use of τρυφή above was not signaling this). On the other hand, Tryphaina’s inclusion of εὐσέβεια here is significant, and further solidifies her identification with Thekla, as Paul’s invented speeches did for {53|54} his own character at earlier points in the Life. Εὐσέβεια has been used by Thekla herself on several occasions as a euphemism for Paul’s teachings as a whole. Tryphaina’s use of the same word here shows that the image of the passing down of Christian teaching in the Life is a linear one—that is, not that of already converted Christians mutually reinforcing one another, as in Paul’s closing greetings in Romans. This sense of didactic inheritance is much more well-defined in the Life than in the ATh and it is reinforced later when Thekla meets Paul at Myra.

The Antiochene arena

The ATh begins the climactic beast-fighting scene at Antioch with a description of how the women spectators were divided in their support for Thekla. Some are anxious for her to see her punished for committing sacrilegium (ἱερόσυλον), and others wish to be martyred along with Thekla. The latter cry out, “O that the city would be destroyed on account of this iniquity! Kill us all, proconsul; miserable spectacle, evil judgment!” (ATh 32). Thekla is thrown into the arena already stripped, but is given a girdle (διαζώστραν). When the lions and bears are let loose on her, “a fierce lioness” (πικρὰ λέαινα) runs up to meet Thekla and lays at her feet. The text does not explicitly say that this was the same lioness on whose back Thekla rode earlier in the parade of beasts, but that is implied. The lioness defends Thekla against a bear, which it “tears to pieces,” but then dies while killing a lion “that had been trained to fight against men” and which “belonged to Alexander” (ATh 33). The women, now apparently undivided in their affection for Thekla, mourn the loss of the lioness because she was Thekla’s “helper” (βοηθός).
The Life follows this order closely, though, as usual, it changes the wording. Thus, the women’s plea for the ruin of the city quoted above becomes, “but many others had the thought and desire to be martyred along with Thekla and were also suffering the cruelty and nonsense of the misfortune” (Life 19.11–13). Characteristically, what was originally a direct quote from the women in support of Thekla has become in the Life a summary statement of their sentiments. Gone is the simple immediacy of the original, though the style of reporting has been heightened. In addition, minor changes are made to the way Thekla’s nudity is described: the author has excised the awkward mention of a girdle and has instead chosen to concentrate on her nudity’s general effect on animals in the arena. “For beautiful bodies always attract the eyes of beasts” (19.17–18). In order to make firm the connection between Thekla’s feline escort in the earlier parade of beasts and the lioness {54|55} that comes to her defense in the arena, the Life uses the same metaphor of a servant-girl (θεραπαινίς) before her young mistress (19.23).
Having thus survived the initial advance of the beasts, Thekla is besieged by many more wild animals. In the ATh, after “stretching forth her hands and praying,” she notices a large pit of water near her, which is filled with ravenous seals. Before throwing herself into the water, she says, “Now it is time to wash myself (λούσασθαί με) . . . In the name of Jesus Christ I baptize myself on my last day (ὑστέρᾳ ἡμέρᾳ βαπτίζομαι)!” (ATh 34). The “women and the multitude” weep over this action, as does the governor, because they know it means certain death. The seals, however, “having seen a flash of lightning” are instantly killed and “float dead on the surface.” Following this brave act, Thekla is surrounded by a cloud of fire, “so that the beasts could neither touch her nor could she be seen naked.”
The Life elaborates this climactic scene with a long prayer by Thekla, not present in the original, during which she prays silently to herself in the midst of the arena. The prayer serves as another litany of her exploits up to this point: “while I was just a girl, still shut up in the house, being kept for Thamyris . . .” (Life 20.7–8). She also considers how God has placed her in the arena, “exercising her faith (καταγυμνάζων τὴν πίστιν),” and she gives thanks to Christ for this opportunity “to be deemed worthy (καταξιωθεῖσα) of your sufferings (παθήματων) and stigmata (στιγμάτων)” (20.16–17). The force of her prayer is thus a plea for martyrdom and death, and she explicitly requests the latter at the end, alluding to Paul’s imagery : “if you approve, clothe me now in death, and through the baptism of death, free me from fear and free these from their toil against me” (20.23–25; cf. Romans 6:3–4). Of course, the (apparently unintentional) irony in all this is that Thekla survives, just as she survived in Iconium: thus, she is never actually martyred, even though that weighty term has been applied to her from the beginning.
In the ATh the advance of the beasts continues (35). The women, still mourning for Thekla, throw perfumes down into the arena. The wild beasts are “hypnotized” and leave Thekla alone. Alexander, frustrated in all his attempts on her life, asks the governor for permission to bring out his “terrible bulls” in order to pull Thekla apart. The governor agrees “grudgingly,” in imitation of Pontius Pilate (cf. Matthew 27). Even this attack is foiled, however, because the fire that has been applied to the bulls’ genitals devours the ropes with which Thekla is bound. Meanwhile, Tryphaina, watching these successive trials from the audience, has a fainting spell. This throws the townspeople into an uproar because they think a kinswoman of the emperor has died. Alexander, fearing that he will be held responsible, asks the governor for mercy and that Thekla {55|56} may be freed. Following this request the governor examines Thekla on why she survived so many wild beasts.
The changes to this scene in the Life primarily deal with issues of consistency. For example, the “plethora of beasts (πλῆθος τῶν θηρίων)” to which Alexander subjected Thekla is paralleled with the “plethora of spices and perfumes (πλῆθος ἀρωμάτων καὶ μύρων)” thrown down by the women (21.2–8). Likewise, the ferocity of Alexander’s beasts is contrasted with the modesty of those that God uses (frogs, flies, locusts) to combat human hubris (21.11–17; cf. Exodus 8–10). Intriguingly, Alexander calls Thekla a “demon” (δαίμων) and “possessed by a demon” (κακοδαίμων) during his repentance before the governor, and she is further likened to a “uncouth beast” that is “more shameless than all the other beasts (πάντων τών θηρίων τούτων ἀναιδέστερον)” (21.42–44). “Shameless” (ἀναιδῆ) has already been used as an epithet for Alexander himself (21.2), which conveniently undermines his use of it here against Thekla. Their mutual condemnation demonstrates the author’s occasional interest in dramatic irony.

Thekla’s miraculous triumph

Thekla’s questioning by the governor is put off in the Life to make way for a programmatic section on miracles in general. The author’s focused attention on her miraculous escapes from death in Iconium and Antioch—especially the latter—has much to do with his (as it were) theoretical understanding of miracles and how they are performed. He has already pointed out the power of God to turn beasts against their own nature, as he did the lioness who defended Thekla instead of harming her (16.27 and 19.31). The specific term he uses for this event is θεοσημεία, “divine sign,” which was used before his time by Christian writers for many varied miraculous occurrences: angels at Jesus’ birth (Origen Against Celsus 1.60); the eclipse during the Crucifixion (ibid. 2.35); miracles by Moses and Christian saints (Cyril of Alexandria Commentary on Romans 11:30; Commentary on Nahum 17); Constantine’s heavenly vision (Eusebius Life of Constantine 1.28). [56]
The author of the Life uses θεοσημεία for other miracles as well: for instance, it is used of Thekla’s self-baptism scene generally (21.1, in the plural). The governor himself employs the term in amazement of Thekla post-baptism (23.25). In the latter passage, he seems to mean something specific that has to do with God’s self-witnessing through nature: “We have all alike {56|57} watched these events, which are many and marvelous, deeds truly worthy of a divine sign (θεοσημείας)” (23.24–26). This passage, read alongside his use of θεοσημεία in the lioness scenes above, suggests that, for this author, the word means the evidence of nature being inexplicably affected, such as beasts miraculously falling asleep in the arena. The term is often paired with words of similar meaning, such as the noun θαῦμα (“wonder” in both senses; e.g. 16.35 and 17.4) and the adjectives θαυμάσιος (“marvelous”; 23.25) and παράδοξος (“extraordinary/miraculous”; 16.26), but θεοσημεία is a programmatic term that proves the divine origin of his topic. He does not use the term in the Miracles, thus confining “divine signs” to martyrdoms that can “witness” to God’s power. Thekla’s miracles are consistently called θαύματα or παράδοξα, and never θεοσημείαι. It is Thekla’s renown that is built on θεοσημεία, not her subsequent healings and miracles. Those, like her contests against the beasts at Antioch, attest to θεοσημεία but are secondary to it. Θεοσημεία in this case has to do with anterior reputation. In the story, Thekla’s triumphs certainly attest to it, but θεοσημεία is primarily the result of the long-term success of Thekla’s legend.
The author of the Life goes on to make an explicit comparison between “the miracles of the saints (τὰ θαύματα τῶν ἁγίων),” which he calls “marks of a pious soul (ψυχῆς εὐσεβούσης ἰνδάλματα),” and “the results of some magic or spell,” which are what “he who has no knowledge of the divinity” considers Thekla’s deeds to be (Life 22.6–11). The author firmly separates these two categories of the supernatural and condemns magic because it relies on non-ethical means to achieve its ends:
A magician (μάγος) desires to work something new (καινουργῆναι) or to perform something extraordinary (παραδοξοποιῆσαι), but he begins with the murder of humans (ἀνδροφονίας) or animal slaughter (ζῳοκτονίας) or some other abominable act. He would not be able to perform any of his strange or unusual signs (τι τῶν ἀτόπων καὶ ἀήθων) were it not for the help of these disgusting acts.
The author cites “Apollonius of Cappadocian Tyana” as “the most famous (περιφανέστερον) example” of a ancient magician who worked miracles through such means. He calls Apollonius’ deeds “witchcraft” (γοητείαν) and includes under this heading “the summoning of gods” (θεαγωγίας), “the summoning of souls” (ψυχαγωγίας), “the calling of demons” (ἐπικλήσεις), and “secret impieties” (λανθανούσας ἀνοσιουργίας). He claims that Apollonius {57|58} was “not a true philosopher” and was repudiated by the “gymnosophists of Ethiopia and India” precisely because he was known to have “too much to do with the pollution of witchcraft (κατὰ τὴν γοητείαν μιάσματος)” (22.15–25). He includes with Apollonius the more recent “Julianus,” “Ostanes,” and “Simon,” “whom merely to mention is to be filled with pollution (μιάσματός ἐστι πληρωθῆναι).” [57]
He goes on to set against these unholy magicians five Jewish and Christian figures, who, “adorned with a godly life,” lived on prayer and a few words but who did great works all the same. These figures are Elijah, Moses, Peter, Paul, and Thekla (22.27–55). What they asked of God was only “what could be accomplished easily [i.e. without human sacrifice],” such as holding back the rain for three years, parting the seas, raising the dead, and “triumphing over fire, lions, bulls, and marine beasts.” Subtly continuing the theme of individual competition between Christian miracle worker and pagan sorcerer, the arch-magician Simon is mentioned among the apostle Peter’s exploits (22.46–49). [58]
The story alluded to here, that of Peter “pulling down (κατασπάσας)” Simon from the sky after the latter miraculously flew up into the sky, is from the apocryphal Acts of Peter, a text which, on the basis of this allusion, appears to predate the assembling of the Acts of Paul. [59] More importantly, however, the use of this story by the author of the Life further attests to the broad literary context within which he was attempting to situate his reconstruction of Thekla’s received apostolic character. Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius, not explicitly named but alluded to (τὸν ἐκείνου βίον), is set alongside this somewhat marginal Christian literature as well as famous stories of miraculous deeds from the Old Testament, in a strange patchwork of half-told supernatural tales. On one hand, the author is relying heavily here on previous knowledge of these stories, in much the same way that his paraphrastic changes to the ATh require a sense of what happened in the original. On the other hand, he demonstrates an appalling ignorance of the details of Philostratus’ Life and does not cite what might be regarded as the more sensational scenes of that text, such as the levitation of the gymnosophists or Apollonius’ striking, if {58|59} few, miraculous exorcisms. [60] Thus, his extended comparison of these texts falls flat and contains little of interest besides the mere mention of Apollonius, a local son, and, as regards narrative, the author’s decision to insert such a large programmatic section in the middle of the work’s climax. This material seems much more at home in the preface to the Miracles, but its use here, at the very least provides further witness to the unity of the work in conception (if also to its desultory deployment in fact).
Following this programmatic section, the narrative of the Life continues with Thekla’s response to the governor’s summons. She reiterates stock elements of earlier speeches—“I am, as you can see, a woman, a girl, and a stranger . . .” (22.56–57)—and she cites another Christological formula: “God is my shield-bearer and champion, and his only begotten Son, the one who is of old, preexistent, and who is perpetually with the Father, but who has recently been seen on earth . . .” (22.57–60). More significant, however, is the narrator’s parenthetical comment on Thekla’s theological faculties: “[what she said] was much more fitting (μεγαλοπρεπέστερον) and theological (θεολογικώτερον) than standard female reasoning” (22.66–69). This is the only text in the whole Life that deals with the difference between Thekla and a normal Christian woman. [61] One implication is that the degree to which she supersedes her gender—“led into the public (ἐν τῷ μέσῳ τε προήγαγες),” as she puts it elsewhere (20.9–10)—is the degree to which she becomes a saint, though this is not spelled out in so many words.
Such programmatic material, however, is generally absent from the ATh, to which the author of the Life now returns. In the ATh Tryphaina leaves her house, having fainted earlier, to come meet Thekla on the way. In the Life the scene is written up for the sake of drama. Thekla, having been released by the governor comes to Tryphaina’s house with a crowd of people and proceeds to revive Tryphaina from her lifelessness. The Life does not explicitly say Thekla raised her from the dead, but this is implied. “Upon hearing these things Tryphaina was refreshed (ψυχωθῆναι), in effect, and immediately came to life again (ἀναβιῶναι)” (Life 24.5-6). [62] In both the ATh and the Life Tryphaina {59|60} next promises Thekla that she will be her inheritor. In response Thekla begins to teach her benefactress and converts her whole household (ATh 39; Life 24.26–31).

Thekla seeks Paul at Myra

In the ATh, Thekla’s success at Tryphaina’s home in Antioch does not satisfy her, and, though we are not given the reasons for this decision, she boldly sets off to find Paul, whom she has heard is at Myra. This sudden exit in the ATh works because the narrative thus far has been so fast-paced; however, the pace of the Life is much slower in general due to its long speeches and expansive description. In line with this practice, its author adds a lengthy descriptive passage on Thekla’s mood in Antioch. Thus, despite all the adulation she had received, her memory of Paul was too strong to keep her there:
The martyr was in awe (ἐτεθήπει) of Paul, and now had no other words but “Paul,” and “Where’s Paul?,” and “Who can point me to this one, whom Christ gave as a guide to me and a teacher in his way of life (πολιτεία) and faith?” For, though she had become widely known and famous from her miracles (θαύματα), she was not now disdainful of her teacher.
Life 25.4–7
The image is one of a novelistic heroine, separated from her husband or fiancé, having found success in a far-flung country but still pining for her old, true love. [63] This romantic element has been consciously maintained throughout the Life, even at places where the ATh seems to have dropped it. [64]
Worthy of note here is that Thekla is described as “in awe” herself, continuing the rhetoric and language of wonder. She says that Paul was her teacher in Christ’s “way of life” and “faith.” “Way of life” (πολιτεία) is a typically programmatic term that is used very often in saints’ Lives to indicate the ethical or ascetic standards offered in the holy person, standards to which the believing readers should aspire. [65] The word has been used elsewhere in the {60|61} Life by both Paul and Thekla to describe the “angelic and heavenly way of life” or the “way of life in Christ” and also appears once in the Miracles (Life 2.6–7; 13.38; Mir. 44.48; cf. Life 6.45 by Thamyris).
Next in the original story comes Thekla’s famous donning of male attire for her trip to Myra. The ATh reads at this point: “And wearing a mantle that she had altered to make a man’s cloak, she came with a band of young men and maidens to Myra” (ATh 40). The author of the Life has not changed the text greatly but he has adjusted the emphasis to correspond to his understanding of why she would wear men’s clothes in the first place: “She changed her outfit again to be more male, so as to conceal with this disguise her radiant beauty” (Life 25.17–19; cf. Exodus 34:33–35). [66] In the Life, the threat to Thekla of being raped is always less important than the excellence of her beauty; in this sense, the roughness of the ATh—including the horror of the scene at the gates of Antioch where Paul deserts her—is softened and the attention is consistently drawn to Thekla (Life 15; cf. ATh 26).
In the same way, Thekla’s arrival before Paul in Myra is adjusted to emphasize Paul’s shock at her appearance. “When she appeared suddenly, standing before them, she struck everyone stupefied and speechless (θάμβους καὶ ἀφασίας) and filled Paul with fear” (Life 25.30–32). This is an elaboration of the ATh text, “he was astonished (ἐθαμβήθη) at seeing her” (ATh 40). Thus the Life linguistically retains the force of the sense but has added texture to this dramatic moment. “Speechlessness” (ἀφασία), of course, is a programmatic term for Stoic philosophy but in this context it indicates the awe with which readers should reflect on the triumphs of the holy people represented. [67] Paul’s reaction is, therefore, a model for the readers. As noted above, Paul’s rough outline in the ATh offers the opportunity for him to be more completely described in the Life. Thus, the climactic description of Paul here as “admiring” (ἐθαύμασε) reinforces the role that Paul has come to represent earlier in the text (Life 25.38). [68] {61|62}

Thekla in Myra, Iconium, and Seleukeia (Life 26–28)

Thekla’s address to Paul in Myra begins the final section of the Life. The address is organized around sixteen uses of the phrase “I learnt through you (ἔγνων διὰ σοῦ),” each followed by abstractions relating to Trinitarian theology. For instance:
And I learnt through you the ineffable (ἄφραστον), inaccessible (ἀποριστόν), unchangeable (ἀναλλοίωτον), incomprehensible (ἀκατάληπτον) nature of the power (δυνάμεως) that is in the Trinity (Τριάδι). And I learnt through you the consubstantial (ὁμοούσιον) Trinity in the heaven, above the heaven of the heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and everywhere, above everything, and around everything.
Life 26.8–12 (cf. 13.27–37)
Unfortunately, this passage shows a large amount of manuscript variation. [69] It would therefore be a mistake to try to demonstrate that the author was quoting from or alluding to a certain source. However, the consistency of authentic Trinitarian formulae throughout the Life is still significant for the work’s overall tone and apparent theological sympathies. Formulae like these are innocuous and rather pedestrian, but the aesthetic of putting fourth-century technical terms into the mouth of Thekla or Paul is still very striking and the author of the Life does not cease to do it, even at the very end of his text. The characters of Paul and Thekla have thus been reconstructed, and their new language fits the author’s later, literary vision of their apostolic interactions.
In responding to Thekla’s long confession of faith, Paul uses some of the same phrases as his pupil, signaling their unity of thought yet again. Most important is his reiteration of “through me (δι’ ἐμου)” in the middle of the passage, in which he is imitating her sixteen uses of “through you (διὰ σοῦ)” above:
You now lack nothing for apostleship and inheritance of the divine preaching (πρὸς ἀποστολὴν καὶ διαδοχὴν τοῦ θείου κηρύγματος). Therefore, go away, teach the word, complete the evangelistic course (τὸν εὐαγγελικὸν δρόμον), and share my zeal for Christ. On account of this Christ chose you through me (δι’ ἐμοῦ), in order that he might move you into apostleship (εἰς ἀποσολήν) and might put {62|63} in your hands certain cities yet uncatechized (τῶν ἔτι ἀκατηχήτων πόλεων). For it is necessary for you to multiply your talents.
Life 26.61–67 (cf. Matthew 25:14–29)
Paul frames her commission with the term “apostleship” (ἀποστολήν) and additionally employs “succession” (διαδοχήν) as its synonym or complement, highlighting the linear reception of apostolic preaching (glimpsed above in Tryphaina’s response to Thekla at Antioch; Life 18).
What is being subtly put forward in this lengthy rewritten section is a view of ecclesiastical history and how Thekla fits into it. Thekla takes on a character that she never had in the ATh, that of one of Paul’s disciples in Acts or in his letters. Despite occasionally being called “protomartyr” in this text, Thekla is consistently, if tacitly, paralleled with the likes of Timothy and Titus rather than the “protomartyr” Stephen. [70] Her commission is ultimately to return to a city in Asia Minor that Paul has already visited, Iconium, just as Timothy is sent to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10–11) or is given charge over the church at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:1–3). This much could have been elaborated from the ATh alone, where Paul says “Go and teach the word of God” (ATh 41). However, Thekla’s commission by Paul extends to multiple cities “yet uncatechized,” which allows for the future fame of her cult and foreshadows the localized, patriographical rhetoric of the Miracles.
At this point comes the end of the ATh. Thekla has been commissioned by Paul to “Go and teach the word of God” and has left with Paul the “many things” that Tryphaina sent for “the service of the poor.” When she arrives in Iconium, Thekla proceeds to Onesiphorus’ house—where she first heard Paul teaching—here she sits, cries, and prays to God. The last paragraph of the ATh concerns her testimony to her mother Theocleia and her departure for Seleukeia. This scene is foundational for later elaborations of her legend:
And [Thekla] found Thamyris dead but her mother alive. And calling her mother she said, “Theocleia, my mother, can you believe that the Lord lives in heaven? For if you desire wealth the Lord will give it to you through me; or if you desire your child, behold, I am standing beside you.” And having thus testified, she went to Seleukeia and enlightened many by the word of God; then she rested in a glorious sleep.
ATh 43 {63|64}
The ATh text thus ends by stating that Thekla died in Seleukeia. [71] While obviously attesting to a traditional association between Thekla and Seleukeia, there is (crucially) no elaboration about what Thekla did there or how long she lived.
From this point the Life leaves the ATh behind and sets out into new territory by offering a description of that city at which Thekla finally settles. “The city [Seleukeia] is situated at the beginning of the boundaries of the East, a first rank place and above every city of Isauria, situated near to the sea and not far from a river; the river’s name is the Kalykadnos . . .” (27.27–30). This ekphrasis extends to a comparison with Seleukeia’s rival, Tarsus, a city which is invoked multiple times in the Miracles:
It contends with the beautiful Tarsus, with regard to size, setting, the mildness of its climate, the abundance of its fruits, the bounty of its merchandise . . . but Seleukeia surrenders its bitter rivalry at one place only, bowing slightly and ceding to the other first place: Tarsus is the homeland and city of the great Paul, apart from whom (it must be said) we would not happen to have our holy virgin.
27.40–49 (cf. Mir. 4.1–13)
This rivalry is expressed in terms that reinforce the revised story he has just told. Paul and Thekla are even more strongly linked, and, moreover, they participate like classical heroes in the founding of cities.
Thekla settles on a hill near Seleukeia “like Elijah on Carmel” or “like John in the desert” and proceeds to wage war against “the daimon Sarpedon” and “the warlike daimon dwelling on the heights, Athena.” These references are to two of the four gods that Thekla conquers in the first four miracles (Mir. 1–4). However, Thekla’s activities in Seleukeia are not at all limited to the conquering of pagan deities. She has already taken on the character of super-natural miracle worker, and there is no further mention of her martyrial triumphs. She is compared in her apostolic mission—“evangelizing the saving word, and catechizing, sealing, and enlisting many for Christ”—to the apostles Peter (“in Antioch”), Paul (“in Athens and all the nations”), and John (“the great theologian in Ephesus”; Life 28.1–5).
Thekla is here being written into competition with these figures, not just nostalgically but in terms of real texts (apostolic legends) which were likely to be in circulation in the fifth century. Given our author’s reserved, classical {64|65} literary style, it is impossible to prove that he was reading such texts and employing them directly as models for his project. Nevertheless, such texts were readily available, and there can be no doubt that the LM is part of the imaginative inheritance of apostolic personae. [72]
As just noted, in the ATh Thekla “went to Seleukeia and enlightened many by the word of God; then she rested in a glorious sleep (μετὰ καλοῦ ὕπνου ἐκοιμήθη).” The author of the Life has changed this statement significantly, for the sake of his reinvention of Thekla’s legend and subsequent ministry:
After she had brought everyone to faith, especially through the miracles (διὰ τῶν θαυμάτων μάλιστα), did she die (ἐκοιμήθη)? Absolutely not! (οὐδαμῶς) Just as the most widespread and more sure tradition (ὁ πολὺς καὶ ἀληθέστερος λόγος) attests, she sunk down while alive (ἔδυ δὲ ζῶσα) and went under the earth (ὑπεισῆλθε τὴν γῆν)—the decision of God being that this earth would separate for her and be cleft from below (ὑπορραγῆναι), on the very spot where is fixed the divine and holy and liturgical table (ἱερά καὶ λειτουργικὴ τράπεζα), established in a circular peristyle, shining in silver. This is where she dispenses fountains of healings (πηγὰς ἰαμάτων) for every suffering and every sickness, her virginal grace pouring out healings (ἰάματα) there, as if from some rushing stream, upon those who ask and pray for them.
Life 28.5–14
The significance of the words ἐκοιμήθη and οὐδαμῶς in this passage cannot be overemphasized. They represent a conscious overturning of the original legend, as expressed in the text that the Life has followed so closely up to this point. Thekla’s disappearance is emphatically not death or “sleep,” as the ATh has it, but rather a “living” (ζῶσα) disappearance. [73]
That this disappearance would be framed immediately on both sides by a description of her miraculous activities is not coincidence. Thekla’s posthumous thaumaturgical activity must ultimately depend on her entry into the ground of Seleukeia. [74] More will be said concerning the literary character of {65|66} this activity below, but for now it is enough to notice that the author of the Life does not try to explain to confused readers why he insists so forcefully that Thekla does not die in Seleukeia. Rather, he simply replaces the original text with this unique rewriting. Placing the disappearance between the two halves of his text—his Iliad and Odyssey—our author offers a fundamentally new vision of Thekla which lacks the limited horizons of the original ATh. The Miracles is also his Posthomerica—a reinvigoration of the legend in which he attempts to capture all the contemporary phenomena of Thekla’s miraculous expression in Seleukeia. By disappearing into the ground Thekla claims the very earth of the place and becomes autochthonous. In this way the Life takes on the role of an urban foundational myth and paves the way for a catalogue of the city’s golden years in the Miracles. {66|}


[ back ] 1. Dagron admits he is offering “une analyse qui ne se voulait pas encyclopédique” (1978:7).
[ back ] 2. Eastern late antiquity still lags behind the medieval West in terms of scholarship on memory and attitudes to the past (but compare Averil Cameron 1999). The present chapter has been aided by the following studies on the textual past in the Middle Ages: Stock 1990, Yates 1966, Carruthers 1998, Spiegel 1997, Coleman 1992, and Rita Copeland 1991.
[ back ] 3. I take this concept of mapping from Kirsti Copeland 2000, but it is made to perform more sophisticated tasks by Jonathan Smith 1978.
[ back ] 4. Shils 1981:77.
[ back ] 5. “The past was very real to the men and women of late antiquity: as they saw it, it had not so much to be remade as reasserted” (Averil Cameron 1999:2).
[ back ] 6. In his edition of the text Dagron explains that, unlike the Miracles which were already numbered in the manuscripts, the Life requires numbered chapters to facilitate reading (1978:171n1). These numbers are used for the sake of reference below. See the Table of Contents for an overview of how the sections of these four chapters fit together.
[ back ] 7. There is currently no complete critical text for the Acts of Paul, of which the ATh comprises the middle third. The Lipsius-Bonnet text (LB) is used below, though with reference to the “critical translations” of Hennecke and Schneemelcher 1992:2.213–270 and Elliott 1999:350–389, which cite many passages not available in LB. “Lipsius-Bonnet based their edition [of the ATh] on eleven Greek manuscripts, but over forty are now known to be extant” (Elliott 1999: 353). There are also numerous versions in almost all the ancient Christian languages; the Syriac version, the earliest and the one with which I am most familiar, does not show any significant variations from the Greek ATh (Wright 1990 [1871]:2.116–145), though it is clear that other translations do (most of which are probably later than the sixth century): see Elliott 1999:350–363. Willy Rordorf’s new critical edition of the Acts of Paul for the CCSA is eagerly anticipated. Unless otherwise noted, the translations from the ATh are Elliott’s; the translations from the LM are mine.
[ back ] 8. For the place of speeches in ancient historiography, see OCD 1434 s.v. “speech presentation”; for the much debated subject of speeches in Thucydides, see Hornblower 1987:45–72 and Woodman 1988:11–15.
[ back ] 9. Whether the ATh is called a Christian Romance (Hägg 1983:154–165; Burrus 1987:49–60) or a Christian anti-Romance (Aubin 1998), it is always read in terms of the ancient genre of the Greek Romance.
[ back ] 10. Between his appeal to the ancient historians and this mention of Luke comes a brief reflection on the “individual” impetus to historiography, during which he names his own patron “Achaios” (Life preface 34). The emulation here of Luke is thus made even more explicit. However, in terms of organization, the mention of Achaios serves as a link between the pre-Christian and Christian historiography, a chronological order which the author appropriates for his own project. It could be further noted that the dedicatee is quite possibly an invention of the author—as of course could be the case for Luke also (cf. Bovon 2002:22–23)—the name “Achaios” may thus be harkening back to a pristine time of truer faith or perhaps to a time of purer Greek. In either case the point is that our author’s rhetoric of historiography (and perhaps also his anonymity) seems to be directly modeled on Luke.
[ back ] 11. See the opening sentences of Mir. 17, 20, 25, 26, 42, and 43; similar openings, such as κἀκεῖνο δέ μοι ῥητέον, can be found at Mir. 23, 24, 45, and 44.
[ back ] 12. This is a argument that he continues in the preface to the Miracles, where he compares the oracles found in Herodotus to the posthumous healing work of Thekla at Seleukeia: Mir. preface 73–77.
[ back ] 13. For the term protomartyr, see Bowersock 1995:75–76. Refer to the discussion in the Conclusion of this study for Thekla’s cultic status in comparison with the Virgin Mary.
[ back ] 14. The phrase ἀξιωθεὶς δὲ τοῦ θείου βαπτίσματος καὶ κηρύγματος is loosely repeated by Thekla as she prepares to baptize herself in Antioch: διὰ Παύλου. . .σφραγῖδος καὶ χάριτος ἠξίωσας (Life 20.10–11). This correspondence emphasizes the unity of thought between the two, as well as Thekla’s inheritance of teaching from Paul, two themes which will come to the fore later in the Life.
[ back ] 15. On historical forgery, or Schwindelliteratur, in antiquity, see Speyer 1971. See also Shils 1981:54–62: “The desire to know the past, to locate the present self in a setting of temporal depth, or to account for one’s origin, is served by the memory of the individual, his elders, and by the historiographic discovery of what has been forgotten or never known. It is also served by imagination, which supplements or takes the place of memory when the latter fails” (52).
[ back ] 16. On the Visio Pauli, see Hennecke and Schneemelcher 1992:2.712–748, Elliott 1999:616–644, Dinzelbacher 1991, and Kirsti Copeland 2000.
[ back ] 17. On the visual imagination in pilgrimage contexts, see Frank 2000, Elsner 1997, and, more theoretically, Schama 1995.
[ back ] 18. The author of the ATh alludes to 1 Corinthians 7:29 and Romans 8:17 in Paul’s speech, though most of the allusions are understandably to Matthew. On the nuances of the sexual ethics urged in 1 Corinthians 7, which the author of the ATh has clearly not picked up on, see Brown 1988:53–54: “If anything, it is striking how little weight Paul placed on the fact that he was, apparently, unmarried or had left a wife.”
[ back ] 19. The theme of divine vision (“perfect,” “unhindered,” “omnipresent,” “omniscient,” etc.) is a favored one in the Life. It recurs in the Miracles as an example of the implicit definition of Thekla’s post-disappearance, spiritual state (e.g. Mir. 22.7).
[ back ] 20. Hardly noticed in New Testament scholarship is the ease with which the ATh places Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5 in the mouth of Paul. This wholesale reworking of the beatitudes deconstructs authoritative personae and their teaching within a century or so of their being written down. Nevertheless, this deconstruction corresponds well to the picture of early Christian textuality presented in Chapter Two below.
[ back ] 21. See Brown 1988:95–102 with references.
[ back ] 22. “À la fenêtre comme à l’instrument” (Dagron 1978:181).
[ back ] 23. Theocleia’s description of Thekla in the ATh, though stilted, does have echoes in the Life: cf. ATh 9, “Moreover, my daughter, clinging to the window like a spider (ὡς ἀράχνη ἐπὶ τῆς θυρίδος δεδεμένη), lays hold of what is said by him with a strange eagerness and fearful emotion (ἐπιθυμίᾳ καινῇ καὶ πάθει δεινῷ).”
[ back ] 24. For Joseph and Aseneth, see Wills 2002:121–162.
[ back ] 25. E.g. here and in the fourth-century Latin translation of the Acts of Peter: see Christine Thomas 2003:61–64.
[ back ] 26. A Hermogenes is mentioned as having deserted Paul in 2 Timothy 1:15—this one is called “the coppersmith” at ATh 1.
[ back ] 27. The treachery of Demas and Hermogenes in the ATh perhaps owes something to Luke’s portrayal of Simon Magus in the sense that both authors set up apostolic rivals whose powers are shown to be fruitless (Acts 8:9–24). On Simon Magus, see Edwards 1997.
[ back ] 28. These groups are altered in the Life to read, “some other citizens and town councilors and men willing to undertake anything (μετὰ δημοτῶν τινων καὶ ἀγοραίων καὶ πάντα τολμᾶν εἰθισμένων ἀνθρώπων).” For the meanings of the multivalent titles δημοτῶν and ἀγοραίων, see Dagron 1978:189n1; he translates the phrase, “des hommes du peuple et du marché, gens habitués à tout oser.”
[ back ] 29. This is perhaps a reference to contemporary brigandage in fifth-century Isauria, on which see Chapter Three below.
[ back ] 30. These three allusions to Homer are cited by Dagron 1978:191n3, but there are several more uses of μακρὰ βιβάς (or μακρὰ βιβάσθων or μακρὰ βιβᾶσα) in the Homeric epics: Iliad 13.809 (Ajax), 15.307 (Hector), 15.676 (Ajax), 16.534 (Glaukos), and Odyssey 11.539 (Ajax). The use of “long-striding” at Odyssey 9.450 is blind Polyphemus’ description of the ram Odysseus escapes underneath. The formulaic descriptions of Ajax are probably what the author had in mind for Thamyris. Instances of Homeric language in the LM seem stale and forced; these allusions always serve the purpose of poetic diction and never appear to be thematically related to the narrative. Homer is explicitly named at several points in the LM: Life 27.58; Mir. 16.14–15, 27.19, 35.14–15, 38.15, 44.33. In addition, Plato is alluded to a few times (Mir. 14.31–32, 26.16, 39.4–5), as is Euripides (Mir. 13.7–8, 33.62–63). For these and other references, see Dagron 1978:157.
[ back ] 31. Thamyris is made to use Pauline language here: at 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul says that Christians are the γεώργιον θεοῦ. Educated Christian readers of the fifth century would certainly have recognized the irony of this allusion.
[ back ] 32. Although there appears to be no direct quote in this speech of any single Pauline text, the language is innocuously Pauline: e.g. “uncleanliness” (ἀκαθαρσία) is found with the same sense (i.e. moral impurity; synonymous with πορνεία) at 2 Corinthians 2:12, Galatians 5:19, Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:3, and passim.
[ back ] 33. See the Conclusion to this study below (pp. 222–223).
[ back ] 34. The term “inseparable” (ἀχώριστος) from the Life passage, while not used by Gregory in Oration 6, does appear twice in Oration 21 in similar contexts (i.e. the union of the Trinity; PG 35.1160.30 and 1164.10); this term was employed by both Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius in the fifth century in reference to the union of Christ’s natures (see Lampe s.v. “ἀχώριστος”), but this sense would clearly be out of place in the passage quoted above. Dagron 1978 does not list any verbal parallels with the Cappadocians at this point or anywhere else in the LM.
[ back ] 35. E.g. the terms ὁμόθρονος and ὁμόδοξος appear together in Gregory of Nyssa’s Against Eunomius (3.3.36); ὁμόθρονος appears with ὁμότιμος and ὁμοούσιος (and σύνθρονον) in Basil of Caesarea’s Against Eunomius (PG 29.760.27). It should be noted that all of these terms, though coined in the late fourth century, were part of creedal formulae that would have been widely known and acknowledged by the mid fifth century. The Life’s partiality for Gregory of Nazianzus may have had something to do reciprocally with Gregory’s partiality for Thekla (for the latter, see Dagron 1978:55–56). For the appeal to the Cappadocians as a commonplace in later Greek writing, see Averil Cameron 1990.
[ back ] 36. The word “spring” (πηγή) is used for Thekla’s post-disappearance healing shrine (Life 27.12).
[ back ] 37. Frank 2000:104.
[ back ] 38. Other occurrences of εὐσέβεια include, Life 1.26, 36; 2.38; 3.4; 7.44; 8.21; 9.12, 59; 12.47; 18.18; 26.43, 51; 27.19, 21; cf. Mir. epilogue 38.
[ back ] 39. The proconsul goes so far as to suggest he officiate in Thekla and Thamyris’ wedding (Life 11.57–59).
[ back ] 40. This characterization anticipates her friendship with the lioness in the arena at Antioch (Life 18–19).
[ back ] 41. Compare, for example, the application of Zechariah 13:7 to Jesus in Matthew 26:31 with the application of Psalm 118:26 to him in Luke 19:37–40.
[ back ] 42. E.g. Burrus 1987:54 notes that this scene does not fit the typical structure of the “chastity story,” to which she otherwise likens the ATh, but it is reminiscent of scenes of female abandonment in the Greek Romance, such as when Chaereas resigns himself to Callirhoe’s death in Chariton (sections 6–8). Burrus argues that these dramatic agreements are based on shared oral folktales, but the argument for shared literary imitation of some sort is at least as strong.
[ back ] 43. Aubin 1998:266–267.
[ back ] 44. Alexander is also called συριάρχης (“Syriarch,” i.e. a local wealthy organizer of games) in at least two manuscripts, which may in fact be the original reading since it makes more sense later in the story when he provides beasts for the arena. However, σύρος (“Syrian”) is better attested, occurring in six manuscripts (LB 1.253). As noted above, the new critical text in preparation by Willy Rordorf for CCSA is still eagerly awaited. Currently the standard view is represented by Hennecke and Schneemelcher 1992:2.218–220, who also argue for Pisidian Antioch, following Schmidt 1936:115f. Nevertheless, Schneemelcher pleads for some latitude on the question of the redactor’s consistency: “Rather is the author of this apocryphal work [the Acts of Paul] to a great extent a compiler. . .The author’s purpose is the edification and upbuilding of the community, perhaps also the propagation of a particular ‘image’ of Paul. We may therefore conjecture that he did not set particular store upon the distinction of the two Antiochs” (219–220).
[ back ] 45. Dagron 1978:44–47.
[ back ] 46. Dagron 1978:231n5.
[ back ] 47. For the identification of Queen Tryphaina with a certain “Antonia Tryphaina” known from first century coins, see references at Hennecke and Schneemelcher 1992:2.222; Dagron is skeptical, however (1978:235n2). He is right to suspect that this is just another expansion on a once-mentioned name in Paul’s letters, as seen with “Hermogenes” above. But the title βασίλισσα as a technical term, combined with her being already a convert, does suggest that the ATh has attempted to identify the two Tryphainas (i.e. Paul’s friend and the “Queen”), even if they were different women, as is likely.
[ back ] 48. OLD 1675; Berger 1953:688–689. The charge of sacrilegium originally applied only to a theft from a temple but expanded in its usage to include any neglect or violation of imperial rule. Accordingly, the term ἱερόσυλος can also mean “temple robber,” even in late antiquity, and it appears as such at Mir. 22.11, where it is applied to a thief who steals a cross from Thekla’s church.
[ back ] 49. Davis 2001:118–119, 164, and illustrations at 216, 234–236 and 231. See also Nauerth and Warns 1981.
[ back ] 50. See Dagron 1978:38–39.
[ back ] 51. The term βασιλίς, while found in Euripides and Plato, is characteristically late Greek and takes on its standard meaning of “empress” in about the fourth century AD, though Philostratus uses it in this way a century earlier (Life of Apollonius 1.3). See LSJ and Lampe s.v. “βασιλίς.”
[ back ] 52. For the negative connotations in classical literature, see LSJ s.v. “τρυφή.”
[ back ] 53. E.g. 2 Clement 10.4; Clement of Alexandria Paedagogus (“The Tutor”) 1.9; s.v. “τρυφή” (definition 4c) in Lampe. In the Septuagint version of Genesis 3:23, “the Lord God sent Adam out from the paradise of luxury/delight (ἐκ τοῦ παραδείσου τῆς τρυφῆς) to work the earth from which he was taken.” The equation of heavenly “bliss” with Edenic “delight” by Syriac writers was common (e.g. Ephrem Hymns on Paradise 4.10, 5.5, and passim; see Brock 1990:49–62).
[ back ] 54. See BDAG s.v. “Τρύφαινα.”
[ back ] 55. See BDAG s.v. “Τρυφῶσα.”
[ back ] 56. See Lampe s.v. “θεοσημεία.”
[ back ] 57. For Julianus and Ostanes, see references at Dagron 1978:259 nn4–5; on late antique theurgy, see Lewy 1978 with E. R. Dodds’s and Pierre Hadot’s reviews of the first edition (both reprinted at Lewy 1978:693–720).
[ back ] 58. For Simon Magus, see Edwards 1997.
[ back ] 59. The flying scene is from Acts of Peter 32 (=Martyrdom of Peter 3); see references at Dagron 1978:259n6. For the relationship between the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Paul, see Elliott 1999:390, citing Schmidt 1936:127–130. It should also be pointed out that the Life’s references to Paul’s miracles all come from the canonical Acts (9:40 and 12:7–10), as noted by Dagron 1978:258.
[ back ] 60. Levitation: Life of Apollonius 3.17; Exorcisms: e.g. 4.20, 3.38–40 (the latter by the sages). The author’s ignorance of the details of the Life of Apollonius is exemplified by his statement that the gymnosophists repudiated Apollonius, which of course is the opposite of what actually happens in the Life.
[ back ] 61. If the audience of this and similar texts were female, as some suggest, a running comparison between Thekla and “normal” women would be expected. Its absence here, and elsewhere, militates against this theory. On the question of female readership of novelistic Christian literature, see Davis 2001:10–13 and references
[ back ] 62. Both verbs, ψυχόω and ἀναβιόω, have extended meanings in patristic Greek: the former is [ back ] used to describe, among other things, the creation of man (Gregory of Nyssa On the Creation of Man 28.1) and the raising of Lazarus (Nonnus Paraphrase of John 11.44); the latter term is used of Christ’s resurrection as early as 2 Clement (19.3). For further references, see Lampe s.v.
[ back ] 63. Such as Callirhoe does in Chariton’s novel (bks 2–3). See Johnson forthcoming.
[ back ] 64. For anti-romantic elements in the ATh, see Aubin 1998.
[ back ] 65. See e.g. Athanasius of Alexandria Life of Antony 14; Theodoret of Cyrrhus History of the Monks of Syria 1; Palladius Lausiac History preface 33; History of the Monks in Egypt preface 10. While πολιτεία in this sense is characteristically late antique and Byzantine, the word had taken on its basic Christian sense from an early point: e.g. 1 Clement 2.8; Martyrdom of Polycarp 13.2. There are, however, no uses of the word in this sense in the New Testament. See BDAG (definition 3) and Lampe (definition 3d), s.v. “πολιτεία.”
[ back ] 66. That Thekla here changes her clothes “again/back” (πάλιν) to masculine ones, is proof that the author believed her to have done this on the way to Antioch. The ATh has her change only here, on the way to Myra.
[ back ] 67. Cf. Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Pyrrhonism 2.211.
[ back ] 68. It is perhaps also itself imitative of Jesus’ amazement at the centurion’s faith in Luke 7:9.
[ back ] 69. Dagron 1978:271n1.
[ back ] 70. For a brief history of the term protomartyr in early Christian literature, see Bowersock 1995:75–76.
[ back ] 71. In classical Greek to “fall asleep” (κοιμάω) often means euphemistically “to die” (e.g. Homer Iliad 11.241; IG 14.1683), and there are several uses of κοιμάω in this sense from the Gospels (e.g. Matthew 27:52; John 11:11). See LSJ and BDAG s.v. “κοιμάω.”
[ back ] 72. No comprehensive study has been made of the reception of legends about famous Old Testament figures and the Apostles in late antiquity; four good studies on New Testament personae are Culpepper 1994 for John, Matthews 2002 for Philip, Thomas 2003 for Peter, and Edwards 1997 for Simon Magus. However, see generally the series Studies on Personalities of the New Testament, published jointly by the University of South Carolina Press and T&T Clark.
[ back ] 73. For ideas as to how this passage contributes to archaeology at the cult site, see Dagron 1978:50–54, 72–73 and Hill 1996:208–214.
[ back ] 74. Thekla’s disappearance into the ground has classical and early Christian literary precedents, though no direct allusion is readily apparent. For instance, Oedipus sinks mysteriously into the ground at the end of Sophocles’ Oedpius at Colonnus (see lines 1661–1662, 1732, 1760–1763, and 1775). Also, at the end of the Protoevangelium of James (see pp. 223–225 below), Elisabeth and an infant John the Baptist flee to a mountain that splits in two (ἐδιχάσθη) and receives them (ἐδέξατο): see §43 in Strycker 1961.