Programme and Abstracts

Here, you can download a PDF of the conference programme with times in UTC (directly below). Abstracts for the papers are listed below.


Paper Abstracts

Bozia, Eleni. Christian Apologists and Lucian of Samosata: Re-examining Religious Awareness and Literary Convergences

The perspectival controversy between Christians and pagans in the first centuries of the common era seemingly springs from their differences in the consideration of the divine and the pivotal position of statues in paganism. In this paper, I examine comparatively works of Lucian of Samosata and the Apologists and argue that they all reexamine human involvement in religion, discuss the divine, and unanimously reconsider monotheism and the adoration of statues against the backdrop of the Second-Sophistic socioliterary encounters. I suggest that Lucian formulates a logical apprehension of paganism by pushing anthropomorphism to its furthest end and presents his audience with an account of how the supporter of one religion might view the other. Therefore, a comparative reading of Lucian and the Apologists indicates a functional and qualitative correspondence between the two conflicting tenets within a common literary sphere.


Studies so far have focused on establishing Christian and Roman-pagan realities either in contention with one another or in light of the Christians’ attempt to establish themselves in the current reality. My intention is to read these authors within the context of the Second Sophistic that creates the space for ingenious authorial personas and literary debates. More specifically, a major point of contention between pagans and Christians is statue worship. Celsus in Origen contra Celsum, 7.62 contradicts that stating: “who, unless foolish, would believe that these are gods and not merely statues?” Nonetheless, Origen insists that Christianity does not sanction the creation of idols or of images to depict their god (7.64). One expects the aforementioned theses and contradistinctions between pagans and Christians. The religious reality, however, becomes less clear-cut when we read Lucian in De Sacrificiis vocalizing the Christian argument in a non-Christian text saying that it is not enough that pagans build temples so that gods are not houseless, and raise statues, but they also come to believe that what they behold is not ivory or gold but the god himself. A close reading of Lucian’s De Sacrificiis, Juppiter Confutatus, and Juppiter Tragoedus alongside Tertullian’s De Spectaculis, Clemens’ of Alexandria Protrepticus, Tatian’s Oratio ad Graecos, Justin’s the Martyr Apologia, Pseudo-Justin’s Cohortatio ad Gentiles, Athenagoras’ Legatio sive Supplicatio ad Christianis, and the Epistula ad Diognetum reveals that both sides discuss the god(s), the importance of sacrifices, the worshipping of statues, and most importantly human concern about life choices by revisiting classical literary motifs such as Old Comedy and Homeric paradigms.

Lucian brings this reality to the foreground, presenting it as an exchange of ideas between different belief systems in an age of literary awareness. His verisimilar undermining of pagan deities indicates that he takes the religious pulse and provides a vignette of this transitional era in the Empire. His writings indicate that there is no explicit demarcation point between pagan and Christian religion or literature, and that a majority of the people were, like him, evaluating and reconsidering the various religious theses within a creative literary context. Hence, a comparative reading of Lucian and the first Apologists contributes to our understanding of the variegated ferments in this unique cultural realm.

DeVore, David J. Apologetic Across Mediterranean Courts: The Martyrdom of Hegesippus Between Jerusalem, Corinth, and Rome

While scholars know well that second-century Christian sects debated one another, and Jews, fiercely, we have been slower to incorporate martyr narratives into our map of these debates. This paper uses the martyr narratives of a fragmentary author, Hegesippus, to explore how martyrdom could enhance one Christian pedigree against multiple detractors, within and on the border of Christianity, simultaneously.

Hegesippus, a Syrian or Palestinian Christian who visited Corinth and Rome, wrote three martyr narratives quoted in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History:of James the brother of Jesus, of James and Zoker the nephews of Jesus, and of Simon the son of Clopas (HE 2.23, 3.20, 3.32). Since these martyr narratives are told along a succession (diadochē) of the bishops of Jerusalem, the martyrdoms bolster this Jerusalem community’s authority.


As a Syrian or Palestinian with knowledge from Rome and Corinth, Hegesippus could weave memories from several regions into his apologetic (Antonelli 2018), right as discourses about martyrdom were just percolating (see e.g. Bremmer 2019). For Palestinian features, Hegesippus’ martyrdoms include rabbinic narrative features (cf. e.g. Shepkaru 2006) such as martyrs who survive their confession, contrary to the criterion emerging elsewhere that martyrs die (DeVore 2019). Greek culture, however, generated Hegesippus’ concepts of episcopal succession and heresiological discourse (e.g. Berzon 2015); and the Domitian’s role as judge of Christ’s nephews presumes Domitian’s toxic reputation in Rome (e.g. Bönisch-Meyer 2014).

Hegesippus promoted his Palestinian Christian tradition to compete both with other Christianities and with Palestinian Judaism. His martyrdoms of James and of Simon both involve Palestinian Jewish antagonists, while Christ’s nephews and Simon confront Roman judges similar to those of contemporary martyr narratives (e.g. Justin, Second Apology 2, Tatian, Against the Greeks 19). These confrontations enhanced intellectuals’ reputations (Secord 2020) but also dovetailed with anti-Roman resentment in Palestine that lingered after the Temple destruction and Bar-Kochba revolt (cf. Shepkaru 2006). In a time when settled Christian communities were becoming increasingly connected (e.g. Concannon 2017), Hegesippus deployed resources from multiple communities against one another to valorize his own heritage and authority.

Dunning, Susan. The Subversion of the Imperial Saeculum in Christian Apologetics of the Second and Third Centuries CE

From the second century ce onward, Christian apologists of the Latin West sought to subvert forms of imperial rhetoric that utilized the term saeculum to express emperors’ authority and capacity to secure ages of peace and stability at Rome. Augustus’s foundation in 17 bce of the ludi saeculares (‘Saecular Games’) had transformed a cult rooted in Republican traditions by associating it with the arrival of a new saeculum, and allowed the princeps to establish himself as restorer of Rome and founder of a new age. At the same time, Augustus gave a new sense to the term saeculum: originally an ‘age’ or ‘generation’, it now referred to a period of 110 years. Later emperors both emulated and strove to surpass Augustus by employing these Games to advertise the connection of their dynasties with the arrivals of saecula of peace and prosperity, creating expression of authority over time (= ‘saeculum rhetoric’) in coinage, literature, and inscriptions. By the second century ce, for example it was common for emperors to issue coins bearing the legend saeculi felicitas. In the case of Septimius Severus, this allowed the emperor to legitimize his new dynasty and advertise his upcoming ludi saeculares of 204.

I will demonstrate that Christian apologists like Tertullian and Cyprian sought to undermine imperial claims to authority over time by adopting a new meaning for the saeculum that contrasted the present state of the world with the permanence of a future age in the reign of Christ. For these writers, the saeculum no longer referred to an ‘age’ or ‘generation’, but had come to encompass the entire present age of human existence. Thus, saeculum in Christian contexts is often translated as ‘world’, and saecularis as ‘worldly’, but this shift of definition is a Christian innovation rooted in the connotations of the term ἀιών in Jewish and Christian writings.

In his De spectaculis written between 197 and 202, just prior to the Severan Saecular Games, Tertullian repeatedly portrayed the saeculum in a negative light, as in his claim that ‘worldly things’ (saecularia) were of the devil (15). He also argued that the vast majority of spectacles held in the Roman world were improper for Christians to attend, due to their violent nature and their connection with ‘pagan’ religion. Christians should instead wait for the ultimate spectacle of Christ’s return at the ‘extreme old age of the world (saeculum)’ (De spec. 30). This new Christian saeculum rhetoric is found throughout the earliest martyrdom accounts, such as the Passio sanctarum Perpetuae Felicitatis (c. 204), and is taken up by Cyprian in his writings, particularly in the context of the Decian persecution, which Brent (2010) associates with the emperors’ desire to honour the gods after the arrival of the new saeculum of 248. In De lapsis 8, for example, Cyprian equates allegiance to the saeculum with the renunciation of Christ and allegiance to the devil.

The apologists’ novel interpretation of the saeculum thus rejected imperial claims to power over the age of the world, establishing a new rhetoric to be found in later authors like Augustine that contrasted the decline of the present saeculum with the future return and reign of Christ.

Evans, David. Citizenship and Philanthropy in Athenagoras’ Legatio

In 167CE, Aelius Aristides praised the Athenians for the φιλανθρωπία which the city had demonstrated to all the Greeks all other peoples, even by making “its former enemies friends” (Panath. 60). Ten years later, from the same city, Athenagoras the apologist wrote his Legatio in defence of the Christians. The treatise responds to three common accusations—that the Christians were guilty of “Atheism, Thyestean banquets, and Oedipean unions” (Leg. 3.3)—but ultimately drives at one point: the Christians “are the most pious and righteous of all men in matters that concern both the divine and your kingdom” (Leg. 1.3). To highlight this point about the kingdom, Athenagoras draws a parallel between his addressees (the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus) and the Christians. Just as the emperors are gentle, mild, peaceable and philanthropic (Leg. 1.2; 30.2), the Christian life is also gentle, philanthropic, and kind (Leg. 12.1, 3). For the Christians, this philanthropy is primarily displayed by following Jesus’ teaching to love one’s enemies (Leg. 12.3). This paper will seek to elucidate Athenagoras’ engagement in the rhetoric of φιλανθρωπία in his portrayal of the Christians. It will consider this in light of the Legatio’s historical and literary context, his appeal to the emperors, and his use of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

Haupt, Benjamin. Tertullian’s Apologetic Use of a Sophisticated Latin Literary Identity

Tertullian is famous for his acerbic polemic and his ascetic morality. Many know him for his brief quips and thus seek to characterize him as vehemently hostile toward non-Christian literary culture. Several scholars over the last 40-50 years have noticed, however, that Tertullian was deeply shaped by the elite educational structures of the Roman Empire and have thus argued that Tertullian was a participant in the movement broadly known as the Second Sophistic. Some of these studies have rightly noted Tertullian’s more accommodationist tone in his apologetic writings as he employed the literary strategies of this movement. New advances in our understanding of the Second Sophistic and indeed caution in the application of this term as a descriptor of literary activity during the imperial age of Rome have come to light in the last 10-15 years. These new insights need to be applied to Tertullian’s apologetic literary activity in order to articulate more precisely how Tertullian was shaped by and participated in this broad cultural movement. Tertullian’s African ethnicity and its influence on his literary use of Greek sources to address his imperial Roman, Latin-speaking audiences deserves more treatment.

This approach to Tertullian’s participation in his specific cultural setting will then be brought to bear on another much-discussed area of Tertullian scholarship. Over the last century, biblical scholars have debated whether Tertullian quoted already extant Latin translations of the New Testament writings or whether he translated these writings afresh into Latin for his own literary productions. In a textual commentary comparing Tertullian’s often unique Latin citations with other Old Latin renderings and the textual witness of early Greek manuscripts of New Testament writings, I found in my dissertation (“Tertullian’s Text of the New Testament Outside the Gospels” University of Birmingham, 2019) that there is overwhelming evidence to support the view that Tertullian regularly conducted his own translation of Greek New Testament passages into Latin. But how are we to understand this literary activity of translating Greek documents for a Latin-speaking audience? Was this simply a pragmatic necessity for a Christian seeking to address a Latin-speaking audience? This new essay will develop my thesis by exploring Tertullian’s participation in the elite literary culture of imperial Rome as an important background for understanding his use of the text of the New Testament in his writings, with special attention given to his use of the New Testament in his apologetic writings.

Kemezis, Adam. Eusebius as Reader of Philostratus and Hierocles: Apologetics, Interpretation and Authority.

The (probably) Eusebian Against Hierocles is an unusually specific instance of Christian apologetic engagement with a single surviving text from non-Christian imperial literature. The treatise aims to refute a lost pagan apologetic text, the Philalēthēs Logos of Sossianus Hierocles. That text apparently included a positive appraisal of the 1c CE religious figure Apollonius of Tyana that drew heavily on the suriving Apollonius of Philostratus.

Scholarship on the Against Hierocles has tended to see it as part of a larger ongoing comparison of Apollonius and Jesus Christ as contrasting models of “holy men.” In most apologetic writings, the debate focuses on the presumed historical figures and especially their miracles, without much consideration of the texts that describe them or the authors of those texts. The Against Hierocles is an exception, however. Eusebius in fact turns out to be more interested in Philostratus himself and issues of textual interpretation and authority than in miracles or any other actions of his quasi-divine protagonist.

This talk begins with a survey of the non-Eusebian tradition on Apollonius and Christ, showing the general lack of interest in Philostratus as author. I then move on to Hierocles’ text, as characterized by Eusebius and also by Lactantius in the Divine Institutes, and the apparent role of the Apollonius comparison in Hierocles’ overall argument. One can infer from these sources that Hierocles’ two-book treatise was mainly concerned with attacking the coherence and authority of Christian scriptures, and that the Apollonius comparison was probably a supporting rather than central theme. In particular Hierocles seems to have emphasized the social marginality of the Gospels’ authors as compared with Philostratus, and the credulity of Christian readers as against the discernment of pagan readers of Philostratus.

It is this essentially rhetorical and interpretive critique that Eusebius replicates and amplifies. He states explicitly that his quarrel is much less with Apollonius than with Philostratus and Hierocles. Philostratus is an incompetent author because, although he sets out in the Apollonius to prove that his hero is not a charlatan, his narrative makes him out to be just that. Similarly Hierocles is an incompetent reader because he thinks that the Apollonius proves how much more rational and intelligent its pagan readers are than Christians, when in fact the text lacks credibility or coherence.

The talk goes through in detail Eusebius’ arguments and the aspects of Philostratus’ and Hierocles’ authority they attack. In conclusion, I examine how Eusebius’ reading of Philostratus picks up on but anachronistically interprets real tensions in the Apollonius. I also argue that the Against Hierocles should not be read as a defensive response to a strong pagan advocacy of Apollonius as a counter-Jesus, but rather a proactive move by Eusebius to establish his superior authority as a reader and interpreter in line with the project of textual and cultural appropriation seen in the Praeparatio Evangelica.

Kolbeck, Ben. Read it in Rome: Justin’s Appeals to Roman Legal Documents

That Justin Martyr, the archetypical Christian Apologist, engaged in Roman legal and documentary practice in styling his Apology as a petition to the emperor – replete with a request to be ‘posted up’ and appended legal evidence in the form of a rescript of Hadrian – has been well-discussed before. In recent years, discussion has moved on from the old obsession with whether this form is ‘authentic’ or not (i.e. whether the Apology really is a petition, or just an elaborate literary setting), to the exploration of what Justin was accomplishing with this manoeuvre: the way that he was engaging with an emerging administrative and judicial discourse that both legitimated the emperor’s claim to be the chief arbiter of the inhabited world, yet also demanded that he reply to the formal approach of a provincial subject.

What has been largely overlooked is the way he does this in the content of his Apology, also. At three points in the First Apology Justin references hypothesised Roman documentation to buttress his argument: in one instance, census data supposedly recording Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem, and two places in which records (acta) of Pontius Pilate are cited. In each case Justin uses Roman documents to authenticate Hebrew Bible Messianic prophesies, and the fact that they were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. If these passages are discussed at all by modern scholarship, it is usually to decry Justin’s mendacity in inventing records that cannot possibly exist. Moreover, a recent discussion sees these examples as nothing more than an insincere gesture to unconvinced Roman readers – one which was unimportant for Justin himself.

On the contrary, I argue that these references constitute an important element in Justin’s attempt to turn the Roman state into a witness for the Christian case. His references to Roman documentation tap into an imperial rhetoric which emphasises Rome’s ownership of knowledge about the world and about its subjects, and which assume its deposition in the centre of the world – Rome. I suggest that while Justin’s particular claims lack historical merit – it is very unlikely that such census data, or any records of Pilate, were in existence or accessible in the mid-second century A.D. – they are not absurd, and could well have been meaningful and even plausible to contemporary audiences. By comparison to a very similar rhetorical device found in the contemporary author Phlegon of Tralles, I show that Justin’s citation is almost certainly meant to be sincere, and that far from an example of the subordination of written evidence to oral wisdom, these passages in fact show Justin trying to marry the oral and the documentary in a manoeuvre that makes complete sense in historical context. This remarkable attempt to authenticate barbarian wisdom with Roman documentary practice sets the stage for later Christian attempts to fuse Church and Empire – culminating in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.  

Lemeni, Daniel. Philosophers, Monks and the anti-Pagan Apologetic Character of the Life of Anthony: Rethinking a Problematic Cultural Model

In this paper, we intend to examine the interaction of early monasticism with the pagan tradition of the philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world by turning to Life of Antony. In our opinion, in the transformation of the classical paideia into an early Christian model the Life of Antony played a decisive role.

In recent exegesis, the interest in the study of the assimilation of antique philosophy in early ascetic tradition has increased. And indeed, hagiographers glorified the lives of holy ascetics, while Church historians recognised the significance of pagan pedagogical model as a means of connecting to the tradition of Greco-Roman world. Our essential premise is that a major factor in the development of Christianity in Late Antiquity was the emergence of the monastic tradition.

This paper is divided into two sections. Section one (“Philosophers, monks, and the spiritual exercises in Late Antiquity”) explores the philosophical background of the early monasticism, and the role played by antique philosophy in the formation of a Christian monk. Strictly speaking, ancient technologies of the self were absorbed, transformed and integrated into the mental framework of early Christian monasticism. Several examples from antique philosophy reveal a significant influence on the early monasticism. From this perspective, the antique philosophical background has provided a useful instrument for interpreting monastic culture as a new model of education in the Life of Antony. Therefore, there is a continuity between prominent teacher role from philosophical schools and abba from the desert. But this philosophical background generated a competitional relationship between monks and philosophers in Late Antiquity. Building upon this premise, section two (“Life of Antony as an Athanasius’ Apologetic Agenda”) examines how the Life of Antony represents a ”new” type of Christian philosophy, and Antony the Great represents a new ”philosopher” in Late Antiquity. From this perspective Antony is not only a teacher but also a philosopher serving in Athanasius’s apologetic against pagan philosophical model. In other words, the Life of Antony must be read as part of a “competition” in which an alternative Christian paideia was proposed, one founded on Christian doctrine. More exactly, in this section we will argue that the basis for the apology for Christianity in the form of a monastic biography lies in the fact that the monastic tradition grew out of and in relation to the philosophical model.

Thomson, Stuart R. Philosopher-Kings and Roman Emperors: Greco-Roman Fissures in Justin Martyr & Athenagoras

The Apologies of Justin Martyr and the Embassy of Athenagoras are addressed directly to Antonine imperial rulers in a way that deliberately crosses accepted cultural boundaries. Though Justin writes in Rome to a Roman emperor, he writes in Greek to a ruler figures as a Greek philosopher-king, a rhetorical move echoed and expanded upon by Athenagoras; and even though writing in Greek, they write into Greek culture as self-identified barbarian/Christian outsiders.

This paper will focus on the self-presentation and rhetorical strategies of these two Antonine apologists, bringing them into conversation with other imperial Greek philosophical and rhetorical self-presentations utilising Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital. Rather than seeing the dividing lines posited as reflections of reality, I argue that they are a construction designed to evoke and manipulate traditional tropes. Both authors construe hostility towards Christians as echoing traditional depictions of hostility to philosophy: the figure of the outsider philsopher as a paradigm of integrity appears extensively in Second Sophistic oratory and literature, harking back to the
persecution of Socrates. Our authors, by presenting themselves as liminal or even outsiders to Greco-Roman society, are actually playing as insiders with recognisable codes of cultural critique.


Seen in this light, the deliberate choice of literary address to the emperors as philosophers and civic guardians of paideia is an astute rhetorical move. On the one hand, it was Christian failure to participate in civic and particularly imperial cult that was the flashpoint for persecution when it did arise; on the other, the Antonine period saw an ‘intensified Helllenization of imperial selfrepresentation… within a long (and contested) tradition of Roman appropriations of Greek paideia‘ (Whitmarsh 2001, p. 16). Thus the particular modes of address for imperial power used by the apologists emphasise imperial rule as rational and grounded in virtue, and ignore and downplay figurations of imperial authority that bring it into conflict with Christianity.

Because this status of philosopher-king is a Greek, specifically non-Roman, form of cultural capital that the imperial household has to buy into, it is open to contestation within the agonistic culture of the Second Sophistic. Fellow share-holder in the enterprise of paideia – even (or, given their selfpresentation as philosophers, especially) Christian ones – thus have some some leverage on the imperial image. The emperors can be lauded as Platonic philosopher-kings; but in silhouette is the possibility of imperial power playing the role of Socratic persecutors. By wresting the focus away from the ‘Roman’ religious, political or military aspects of the emperor, to a ‘Greek’ philosophic role, Justin and Athenagoras attempt to secure a platform from which Christian negotiation with imperial power seems legitimate.

The process of presenting Christianity goes on in a world already full of fractured and differing cultural identities, and it is precisely by exploiting these fissures of identity that these apologists attempt to create a possible space for Christianity under the Roman Empire.

Yule, Justin. Visions of Bodily Wonders: The Martyrium of Polycarp and the Sacred Tales of Aelius Aristides

My paper offers a close comparison of two texts that are historically proximate, and yet culturally distant: Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. The orator Aelius Aristides (117-181 CE) sets his highly literary autobiographical Sacred Tales (Hieroi Logoi) in the environs of Smyrna in Asia Minor, and in it he provides details of his chronic illnesses and his success as an orator through the intervention of Asclepius. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (Martyrium Polycarpi), we read an account of the circumstances leading up to the public execution of Polycarp. This paper advances a historical argument and makes the case that Aristides’ particularly public life would have brought him awfully close to attending the martyrdom of St. Polycarp (c. 155-177 CE). It is my contention, at least, that these two men emerged from a shared cultural and symbolic space. Ultimately, this paper will consider the ways in which the building of personal piety interacts with political authority. By divulging these visions of bodily wonder, one man was able to entrench his status within a hegemonic religious cultural, while another was able to challenge the authority of the state.

In the textual argument of my paper, I highlight a shared set of symbols that are used to build images of Aristides and Polycarp as theioi andres. Both men are described as receiving divine dreams—visions of bodily wonders—that prefigure the miraculous wonders that their bodies will undergo. Asclepius heals Aristides’ many sicknesses through dreams that indicate new courses of prayers, treatments, and medicines. The body becomes a mediating space wherein the piety of Aristides is made manifest.

Against this, we read in the Martyrdom that Polycarp, facing death should he be forced to deny the pagan gods, eventually receives a vision when in hiding, sent by God. He sees his pillow burst into flame and, as he notes to his companions, this foretells his martyrdom by fire. The narration of Polycarp’s execution involves many wonders that fit the generic function of a martyrdom epistle, culminating with his body shining like bread and smelling of ritual incense.

Finally, I examine the recurrent symbol of the salutary wind in these descriptions of bodily wonders. Stormy weather or sudden gusts of wind are scattered throughout Aristides’ text, and they seem to interact with moments of healing. In the Martyr text, we see described a divine wind that makes the flames billow around Polycarp’s body like a taut sail (15). I will highlight the function of this shared symbolism, and I discuss the need to conceptualize a symbolic space that is stretched across the physical geography, and which can relate two texts to one another from two vastly different literary cultures. I present the historical argument that the two ‘textual communities’ implicated in these texts were both woven into the fabric of the city of Smyrna, and drew from the same pool of divine symbols.

Paper Handouts

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