Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity

Overview

Early Christians used charges of adultery, incest, and lascivious behavior to demonize their opponents, police insiders, resist pagan rulers, and define what it meant to be a Christian. Christians frequently claimed that they, and they alone were sexually virtuous, comparing themselves to those marked as outsiders, especially non-believers and "heretics," who were said to be controlled by lust and unable to rein in their carnal desires. True or not, these charges allowed Christians to present themselves as ...

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Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity

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Overview

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

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Bryn Mawr Classical Review - David M. Reis

An original and provocative contribution to the ongoing study of rhetoric, identity, and power in the early Christian tradition.

Dialogue & Alliance - Gene G. James

I highly recommend Knust's book.

Journal of Religion - Benjamin Dunning

A careful and detailed study that deftly navigates a sizable number of early Christian texts.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review
An original and provocative contribution to the ongoing study of rhetoric, identity, and power in the early Christian tradition.

— David M. Reis

Review of Biblical Literature

Jennifer Wright Knust has written a thoughtful and well-argued book... It deserves to be read.

Dialogue & Alliance
I highly recommend Knust's book.

— Gene G. James, University of Memphis

Journal of Religion
A careful and detailed study that deftly navigates a sizable number of early Christian texts.

— Benjamin Dunning

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231136624
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 11/2/2005
  • Series: Gender, Theory, and Religion Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Knust is assistant professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Boston University School of Theology.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsList of AbbreviationsIntroduction. Who's on Top? Sex Talk, Power, and Resistance1. Sexual Slander and Ancient Invective2. Paul, the Slaves of Desire, and the Saints of God3. Sexual Vice and Christian Apologia4. The False Teachers of the End Time5. Illicit Sex, Wicked Desire, and the Demonized HereticNotesBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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