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The Acts of Thecla

The “Acts of Thecla” is a legendary account of the adventures of Thecla, a woman converted to the Christian faith through the preaching of the apostle Paul.1 Paul himself appears on the fringes of the story, as a socially disruptive evangelist who converts women to a life of strict asceticism and sexual renunciation, much to the chagrin of their husbands and fiance´s. Thecla is portrayed here as the daughter of a woman named Theocleia and the finance´e of a prominent citizen of the city of Iconium, Thamyris. Listening to Paul preach his message of chastity, Thecla becomes enthralled and decides to become Paul’s follower, renouncing her family and abandon­ ing her fiance´e. In response, Thamyris has Paul arrested. When Thecla then refuses to fulfill her social obligation of marriage, she is condemned (at her mother’s own instigation) to be burned at the stake. But she is miraculously delivered from martyrdom, and joins up with Paul on his journeys. When they arrive in Antioch, however, another series of setbacks occurs, in which Thecla is arrested for humiliating a leading aristocrat of the city while refusing his sexual advances. But once more, in a remarkable series of episodes (in which, among other things, Thecla baptizes herself in a pool of ravenous seals), God intervenes on Thecla’s behalf, preserving her from death. She is eventually then reunited with her beloved apostle, Paul, who authorizes her to share fully in his ministry of teaching the word. The Acts of Thecla was evidently in circulation near the end of the second century, along with the other narratives found in the “Acts of Paul” (see above, and below on 3 Corinthians). Thecla herself, largely based on this text and the legendary accounts that it then generated, became an enormously important saint and object of devotion, especially for women, down through the Middle Ages.2

1

See Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 31–35. 2See Stephen J. Davies, The Cult of Saint Thecla: A Tradition of Women’s Piety in Late Antiquity (New York: Oxford, 2001); and Cartlidge and Elliott, Art and the Christian Apocrypha, chap. 5.

Translation by Bart D. Ehrman, based on the Greek text in E. A. Lipsius and M. Bonnet, Acts Apostolorum Apocrypha; part 1 (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1959), with several textual alterations based on manuscript evidence.

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