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Onesimus A case study of slave conversion in early Christianity

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Scholarly interest in Onesimus has tended to focus on the history behind the letter to Philemon, the nature of Paul's request to Philemon, and the degree to which Philemon acceded to it. This study seeks to address these and other questions against the background of slavery and the religious practices of domestic slaves in the world of early Christianity. The case af Onesimus can illuminate the place of slaves in the early Church, and thereby broaden our understanding of religious conversion in early Christianity. The historical reconstruction offered here is that Onesimus sought the mediation of Paul in his dispute with Philemon. Paul seeks Onesimus's restoration to Philemon's household, and to the Christian community which gathered there. In leaving Philemon's house Onesimus had abandoned also the Christian church to which he had previously belonged, and Paul sought his reinstatement to both household and church. The study concludes with an application of Snow and Machelek's typology of the religious convert to Onesimus, as reflected in Paul's ideology as given expression in Philemon.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Theology and Religious Studies University of Swaziland PB Kwaluseni Swaziland


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