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Ευσεβεια: Roman Imperial Family Values and the Sexual Politics of 4 Maccabees and the Pastorals

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Early Christian and Jewish texts responded to the “family values” campaigns mounted by successive emperors from Augustus and Hadrian with varying combinations of accommodation and resistance. This dialectic of resistance and accommodation appears in central aspects of 4 Maccabees and the Pastorals, texts that have frequently been assigned to the earlier part of the second century, that is, to the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, and that foreground martyrs as the exemplars of their teaching. Both the Jewish and the Christian text give the virtue ευσεβεια a central role, constructing that virtue along the lines of the Roman virtue pietas, that is, as duty and devotion not only to the divine, but also to those of one’s household and family. The specifically post-Augustan character of this virtue is manifest in their displays of an a ideal of chastity for women that responds to the Julian laws—not only the avoidance of adultery and stuprum, but also a commitment to marriage and remarriage as long as the woman can bear children. Both likewise espouse the long term Roman idealization of the univira and both are insistent that the husband must be the teacher of the wife. Among the most significant aspects of this comparison are the close correspondences between the exegeses of Genesis 2-3 in 4 Macc.18:7-10 and 1 Tim. 2:13-15.


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