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How to Read a Book: Irenaeus and the Pastoral Epistles Reconsidered

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image of Vigiliae Christianae

Both the title of Irenaeus’ Refutation and Overthrow of Falsely-Called Knowledge and the opening lines of the preface to Book One of this work feature language from 1 Timothy. This prominent positioning once garnered significant attention from scholars, who, building on a larger narrative of a second-century Pauline captivity to “the heretics,” argued that it was only with the pseudonymous Pastoral Epistles that a Paul emerged who could be useful for the proto-orthodox church (Irenaeus, in particular) in its fight against the “heretics.” More recently, however, the role of the Pastorals in Irenaeus has been downplayed by those who are not convinced of the Pauline “captivity” narrative. In this article I argue, against this recent trend, that the Pastorals do provide, using the language of Gérard Genette, a significant hypotext for Irenaeus. The use of 1 Timothy in the title and preface of Adversus haereses clues the reader to this intertextual relationship and sets a paradigmatic course for the remainder of the work.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies 125 Saunders Hall, CB# 3225 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3225, Email:


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