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Animal Voices

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image of Religion and Theology

This article suggests that the presence of talking animals in the Apocryphal Acts of Paul, Peter, Thomas and Phillip, examples of Christian prose fiction, shows a Christian intervention in a wider cultural discussion taking place in the period about human self-understandings and identity. The hierarchical thinking of ancient culture consigned many humans to animal status. Two second-century narratives, Apuleius' Metamorphoses and the Greek Onos, through their depictions of a human suddenly transformed into an ass, suggest that authors of the period used this image of an animal-man to reflect on what it would be like for someone to lose his or her place and voice in society (as those reduced to slavery did) and suddenly find oneself in the position of an animal, treated as less than fully human, as so many people in this period were. The Apocryphal Acts through their motif of talking animals worked to unsettle traditional status structures. Their representation of speaking animals figured a message of universal inclusiveness and equal participation by all species in the Christian community and worked to challenge the contemporary social hierarchy that devalued some persons in the society as too akin to animals.


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