SBL Proposal Accepted on Orestes Myth in the Canonical Acts of the Apostles

Got confirmation of acceptance this morning. Thank you to the session chairs (Eric Vanden Eykel and Christy Cobb) and the review committee for the opportunity to present this research.

Title: Murder, Madness, Mending, Mission, Mates, Mars Hill, and Mob Justice: The Characterization of Paul as a New Orestes in the Canonical Acts of the Apostles

Abstract: While myth critics have thoroughly explored the influence of Euripides’ Bacchae on the canonical Acts, the potential influence of his Orestes (in tandem with his twin Iphigenia plays), as well as Aeschylus’ Oresteia has gone overlooked. Here we outline the sagas of Orestes and the Paul of Acts in parallel: guilty of murder, subjected to religious madness, mended to health by a friend, sent on a divine mission, accompanied by faithful travel-mates, making a speech of self-defense on the Areopagus, and narrowly escaping mob execution at a major center of Artemis worship. Besides these parallel plot-lines, we detail numerous ways in which the Pauline narrative exhibits hallmark literary and thematic features of Greek drama and novels, such as the transformation of the hero’s character, the contrast of folly and wisdom, the negotiation of Greek and non-Greek identity, the inevitability of the divine will as mused by the narrator, and deus ex machina pivot points and resolutions. Finally, we seek to divine the purpose of such mythical characterization: providing meaningful cultural analogues to scaffold readerly understanding; referencing commonplace cultural iconography; engaging in entertainment characteristic of novelistic fiction; engendering Roman sympathy for Jews committed to pacifism; repositioning Jewish aniconism as a form of Greek philosophy; embracing the philhellenic policies of Hadrian; invoking the foundational Greek etiology of trial law to apply to Jesus-followers; and forming a literary-mythological foundation for Pauline hero cult. NB for evaluators: Anna Lefteratou is not an SBL member but she will co-author this presentation and may co-present, depending on future commitments.

Contemporizing the Classics: A Guessing Game

If I told you a story with the following plot-lines:

  1. once upon a time, there was a royal brother and sister who were long separated from each other
  2. with the help of a male friend, the brother escaped from death and went on a distant journey
  3. the sister became the guardian of an object of special importance
  4. the sister was trapped in an ominous center of death
  5. the brother and male friend were captured and brought to that place of death
  6. the siblings were thus finally reunited, but they still did not recognize each other
  7. the siblings and their friend were joined together in a common mission under supernatural guidance
  8. the siblings and their friend narrowly escaped death after being pursued by an evil ruler

…would you say that you know the story? The author? Are you sure?

And if I told you another story with these plot-lines:

  1. once upon a time, there was a man and his faithful male companion who fled from danger and embarked on an adventure
  2. their quest took them on a distant journey to find and steal a sacred artifact
  3. that sacred artifact was kept in an ominous temple devoted to the god of death where gruesome human sacrifices were done
  4. the two male travelers were unexpectedly joined by a female on their adventure
  5. the adventurers were captured and were on the verge of being sacrificed
  6. the group of three together escaped the temple with the sacred artifact
  7. the evil ruler pursued them, but they miraculously got away and survived
  8. they returned the sacred artifact to its rightful home and returned home themselves

…would you say that you know the story? The author? Are you sure?

If you seek answers, you’ll find them below the fold

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Erastus as Timothy’s Lover? A Possibly Positive Homoerotic Allusion in Acts 19.22 in Light of the Orestes-Pylades Mythological Paradigm of Friendship

A quick follow-up to the previous post. As part of our forthcoming article in Harvard Theological Review, there is a footnote (p26n68 in the Green Open Access archived version) that should be surfaced and not buried.

The Greek word ἐραστής means “lover,” “admirer,” or “adherent.” See LSJ s.v. ἐραστής. In antiquity, the love between Orestes and Pylades was commonly seen as more than platonic friendship. See, e.g., Lucian, Erotes 47 and Augustine, Confessions 4.6, both quoted in Hall, Adventures with Iphigenia, 107–108. Given the etymology of the name and its intertextual indebtedness, Erastus and his pairing with Timothy may suggest an homoerotic interpretation. Regarding the paradigmatic status of the friendship of Orestes and Pylades, see esp. Lucian, Toxaris.

Harvard Theological Review article forthcoming: Iphigenia-Orestes Myths Retold in the Canonical Acts of the Apostles [updated 2021-04-16]

A forthcoming article by me and Anna Lefteratou in Harvard Theological Review explores how the Ephesian Riots in Acts 19 are thoroughly modeled after Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris in matters of vocabulary, plot, themes, characterization, dramatic sequencing, and speech acts.

Update 2021-04-16. Got confirmation of final acceptance today! Screenshot below. Additionally, Anna and I recently heard that the article will be cited in a major forthcoming commentary on Iphigenia in Tauris as part of the section on the reception of the play. Green OA archiving makes a difference! As per usual, in the publishing negotiation process I’m trying my best to advocate for the version of record being made fully open access without the payment of an APC. Since HTR is a hybrid OA journal and the authors’ institutions already pay Cambridge University Press a lot in subscriptions, this is an eminently reasonable ask. I’ll report back on their decision once I hear.

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