The Story of Thecla

An Early Christian Heroine

By Perry V. Kea

From The Fourth R
Volume 26, Issue 4
July– August 2013
Download the PDF

The Acts of Paul and Thecla is a mid-to late-second century document. Set in the first century CE and connected to Paul, it tells the story of Thecla, a young woman engaged to be married who becomes one of Paul’s disciples. In order to be a true disciple, Thecla chooses a life of celibacy, a choice that puts her life at risk. However, whenever her life is threatened, God protects her, and she thus survives two attempts on her life. At the end of the story, Thecla becomes an evangelist. This story of Thecla provides a fascinating glimpse into an early Christian tradition that elevated the virtue of celibacy and honored female leadership.

Relation to the Ancient Novel

In terms of its form and function, the Thecla story is similar to the ancient Greek novel. Several examples of this kind of popular literature (such as Chaereas and Callirhoe) have survived. Typically in these ancient novels, two young lovers, both from the aristocratic class, are separated by circumstance. Often, both face death, and the young heroine’s virginity is threatened. Usually, the young man and the young woman find themselves traveling to distant, sometimes exotic, locations. And, of course, adventure attends such travel. But in the end, the young couple is reunited and they are able to consummate their love. The novels end in true “they lived happily ever after” style.

While these stories were meant to entertain, they also serve a conservative social function: they affirm the conventional expectations regarding marriage for young men and women.

Summary of the Thecla Story

The story opens with Paul arriving in the city of Iconium in Asia Minor.1 In his public preaching there, Paul emphasizes the virtue of sexual renunciation. He presents sexual abstinence as a requirement for followers of Christ. We first meet Thecla as a young woman engaged to a certain Thamyris. Thecla is a “good girl”; she does not venture into public on her own. She overhears Paul through her open window. Paul’s preaching strikes a chord in Thecla.

She becomes fascinated with the apostle and his message of celibacy. She subsequently refuses to budge from her room. Worse, she refuses to communicate with her mother, Theokleia. Alarmed by this sudden change in behavior, Theokleia asks Thamyris to reason with Thecla. But he too is met with stony silence. So Thamyris returns to the streets to learn more about this Paul. It is worse than he feared. He is informed by a couple of men who know Paul:

He robs youths of wives and virgins of husbands, saying, “There’s no resurrection for you, unless you stay holy and don’t defile the flesh but keep it holy.” (12:2–3)

Thamyris gathers a mob to accompany him. They find Paul and bring him before Castellius, the governor. This initial hearing provides Paul an opportunity to bear witness to the gospel (17:1–4). The governor then orders Paul jailed. When Thecla learns of this, she leaves her home and bribes her way into the jail to be with Paul. She listens intently to Paul’s teaching and kisses his fetters (18:3). Of course, Thecla is discovered by Thamyris, “bound up by affection” to Paul (19:3). When Paul is led away, Thecla rolls on the ground where Paul had been sitting (20:1) before she, too, is taken to the governor.

At this second hearing the crowd is clearly hostile towards Paul. He is accused of bewitching the youth of the city. But then the focus of the scene shifts from Paul to Thecla. When Thecla refuses to tell the governor why she will not marry Thamyris, her own mother, Theokleia, urges: “Burn the outlaw, burn the unmarried girl right there, in the theater, so that all the women taught by this man will be afraid!” (20:6). Consequently, Paul is flogged and banished from the city, and Thecla is condemned to be burned at the stake. The young women and men of the city are required to bring the wood and kindling for the fire. Thecla is brought into the theater naked (an indication of her humiliation). She makes the sign of the cross and then mounts the pyre.2 Before the fire can harm her, God sends a tremendous thunderstorm. The fire is doused and Thecla is saved.

She leaves the city and seeks out Paul. She finds him hiding with a Christian family in a cave/tomb outside the city. She informs Paul that she will travel with him. Paul is reluctant and tells her that he worries she might not withstand another threat to her faith. Thecla responds by asking Paul to baptize her. She believes that if she receives the “seal of Christ,” no harm can come upon her. Oddly, Paul defers baptizing her. (We will see later why this has to be postponed.) So Paul and Thecla set out for the city of Antioch.3 Interestingly, Thecla attempts to disguise her gender by cutting her hair like a young man (25:3). But the disguise does not work.

As soon as the two of them reach Antioch, a prominent citizen named Alexander is immediately smitten with Thecla. He tries to purchase her from Paul (perhaps thinking she is a slave?), but Paul professes not to know her (26:3)! It is a very disquieting scene—Paul basically abandons Thecla in the face of a threat to her virginity. From this point until very late in the story, Paul disappears, and Thecla takes center stage.

Alexander tries to force himself upon Thecla, but she fights back. She rebuffs his advance and in the process humiliates him by tearing his cloak and knocking off his crown (26:7). With his male honor thus disgraced, Alexander hauls Thecla before the city’s governor, who condemns her to the wild beasts. Thecla asks that her sexual purity be preserved until her death, so the governor places her into the custody of a wealthy matron named Tryphaena. The story points out that Tryphaena’s own daughter, Falconilla, had died at an earlier date. Tryphaena and Thecla bond as surrogate mother and daughter.

Again, as Thecla is taken to the arena to die, she is stripped except for a loincloth. In an interesting development, the women of the city decry her death sentence. And during the battle with the beasts, they vocally support Thecla. In the initial battle, a female lioness protects Thecla from attack, until the lioness is killed by a lion trained by Alexander. As other beasts close in on her, Thecla notices a pit of water. Since Paul chose not to baptize her earlier, she seizes her only chance. “And so she threw herself in, saying, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I baptize myself on my last day’” (31:3). The women in the crowd, and even the governor, are horrified that Thecla will be eaten by the seals swimming in the pit. Yet, once more, God intervenes with a flash of lightning that kills the seals.4 A protective cloud hides Thecla from the other beasts. The women of the city then toss fragrances into the arena to confuse the beasts that are attempting to sniff out her location.

The villainous Alexander next obtains permission from the governor to bind Thecla between two strong bulls. Red hot irons are then held to the genitals of the bulls so that they might tear Thecla apart. But when the flames burn through the ropes, she is again miraculously saved (35:1– 6). This is too much for Tryphaena, who faints from the spectacle. The governor thinks she has died. And so does Alexander. He pleads with the governor for himself and the city, because he fears the wrath of the emperor. Here is the story’s trump card: It turns out that Tryphaena is a relative of the emperor (36:3).

The governor summons Thecla and asks her, “Who are you? What is it about you, that not even one of the beasts touched you?” (37:1). She then gives her witness or testimony.

“I’m a slave of the living God,” she said. “As for what I’m about, I have come to believe in the son in whom God was well pleased—it’s because of him that not even one of the beasts touched me. He alone is the goal of salvation and the foundation of immortal life! He is refuge for the storm-tossed, relief for the distressed‚ shelter for those who despair. Very simply, whoever doesn’t believe in him will not live but will die forever!” (37:2–4)

The governor then releases Thecla. The women of the city react joyously.

All the women shouted with a great voice and gave praise to God in unison, so that all the city shook with the sound: “One is the God who saved Thecla!” (38:5)

Tryphaena, of course, recovers. Thecla returns to Tryphaena’s home where she begins to instruct the household in the word of God (39:3). But after several days, Thecla again goes in search of Paul. Accompanied by the young men and women in Tryphaena’s house, Thecla dresses as a man (40:2) and finds Paul in the city of Myra. Paul is astonished to find her alive. Thecla describes her ordeal and God’s protection. She informs Paul that she intends to return home to Iconium, at which point Paul declares, “Go and teach the word of God!” (41:3).

The story concludes very quickly. She returns to Iconium to discover that Thamyris is dead. She and her mother are apparently reconciled (43:1–2). Then she departs for the city of Seleucia, where, we are told that “after enlightening many with the word of God, she slept a good sleep” (43:3). This is where the original story apparently ended.

The Preaching of Paul

We know the views of the historical Paul on marriage and sex from his First Letter to the Corinthians. In that letter, he advises married couples not to commit themselves to a permanent state of sexual abstinence. He allows them temporary periods of abstinence for special periods of prayer, but encourages them to come together again. Paul apparently feared that a vow of permanent abstinence would be too difficult for married couples; he even suggests that Satan might use such a vow to tempt the couple (1 Cor 7:1–5).

To the unmarried and widows, Paul encourages, but does not command, sexual abstinence. It is apparently Paul’s own practice (1 Cor 7:8). But he immediately tempers his counsel with permission to marry if the person cannot commit to permanent abstinence (1 Cor 7:9).

All of this is couched within Paul’s expectation that the present age was about to pass away and be replaced by a new order—God’s reign of justice inaugurated by the return (parousia) of the risen Christ. It is obvious that Paul’s apocalyptic outlook deeply colors his views on marriage and sexuality. He does not condemn marriage or marital sex, but expects such things to “pass away” in the age to come. Therefore, where it is practical and possible, Paul advises the Corinthians to “remain as you are” (1 Cor 7:26). If you were married when you believed in Christ, remain that way. If you were unmarried, do not seek to change.

The story of Thecla picks up on the historical Paul’s preference for sexual abstinence and elevates it to a moral requirement. Here are some examples of Paul’s preaching early in the story.

Blessed are they that keep the flesh chaste, for they shall become the temple of God.

Blessed are they that have renounced this world, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God.

Blessed are they that possess their wives as though they had them not, for they shall inherit God.

Blessed are the bodies of the virgins, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God and shall not lose the reward of their continence (chastity), for the word of the Father shall be unto them a work of salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall have rest, world without end. (5–6).5

Thecla’s Desire for Paul

The story’s presentation of Thecla is provocative. On the one hand, she is attracted to Paul’s preaching of sexual purity.  Yet she is obsessed with desire for Paul. Here is a nod, I think, to the Greek novel. Thecla and Paul are like the young lovers of the novel. The story of Thecla allows the theme of sexual desire to be raised, but then shows how it is tamed and disciplined.

Early in the story, we learn, “As she watched many women and virgins approaching Paul, she longed that she, too, be reckoned worthy to stand in Paul’s presence and hear Christ’s word” (7:3). When Thamyris learns about Paul’s activity, he complains, “I’m completely distraught about Thecla, because she loves that outsider so—and I’m being robbed of my marriage!” (13:5). Later, when Thecla learns Paul has been imprisoned, she visits him in his cell. As she listened to him, “her faith grew as she kissed his bonds” (18:3). When Paul is first taken from her, she rolls on the ground where Paul had been sitting (20:1).

When Thecla is caught and then condemned to death by burning, there is a pivotal scene. With Paul banished from the city, Thecla faces her first test of faith.

Thecla was there, looking for Paul as a lamb looks for its shepherd in the wilderness. And as she looked into the crowd she saw the Lord, like Paul, sitting there; and she said, “Paul has come to watch over me, perhaps fearing that I’m unable to endure this.” And so she held him in her gaze; and he went away into heaven. (21:3–5)

From this point on, Thecla’s desire begins to mature. She will continue to desire to be with Paul and learn from him until the end of the story, but after her vision of Christ, her commitment to her new faith and her desire to remain sexually pure become the focus of the story’s attention. When she next sees Paul, she asks to be baptized, and she cuts her hair in a masculine fashion, an indication of her desire to remain a virgin. So when she is arrested again in Antioch and condemned to death, Thecla asks that her virginity be protected (27:3). Thus, she is given into Tryphaena’s protective custody.

The Four Rs of Literacy

Want to read more great articles?
Consider subscribing to The Fourth R.

Thecla as Intercessor

An important development in the story is the power of Thecla’s prayer on behalf of others. The story suggests a strong relationship between Thecla’s faithfulness in the face of death and the efficacy of her prayers to God. For example, after Falconilla appears to Tryphaena in a dream, Tryphaena asks Thecla to pray for the deceased Falconilla “so she may live forever” (29:2). Thecla prays, “My God, son of the Most High in heaven, grant her what she wants: that her daughter Falconilla live forever” (29:3). As she is being led away to the arena, Thecla prays on behalf of Tryphaena: “Lord God, whom I trust, to whom I have fled, who delivered me from the fire. Repay Tryphaena, who has suffered along with me, your slave, because she has kept me pure” (31:3–4). Later, after Thecla is miraculously preserved from the wild beasts, Tryphaena enthuses, “Now I believe that dead people are raised! Now I believe that my child lives” (39:2). The efficacy of Thecla’s prayers is an important component in the development of her legend as a saint. In subsequent centuries, Christians came to believe that the prayers of martyrs and other saints were particularly effective. In the later legendary accounts of Thecla’s time in Seleucia (more about this later), her intercessory power is an important theme.

Thecla as Martyr and Evangelist

Among the more compelling aspects of the story are Thecla’s courage in the face of death and her characterization as an evangelist/missionary. Even in the first attempt on her life, Thecla exhibits a complete readiness for martyrdom. The vision of Christ in the guise of Paul strengthens her (21:3). As she climbs onto the pyre, she makes the sign of the cross.

Her second trial is described in much more detail. Paul disappears from the story until his apostolic blessing is needed. Thecla is portrayed as a brave and composed woman as she faces the wild beasts. As described above, when given the chance to explain her power over the beasts, Thecla gives a bold witness before the governor and citizens of Antioch.

After she finds Paul in Myra, she tells him, “I have received the bath (that is, baptism), Paul; for the one who has worked together with you for the gospel has also worked together with me for washing” (40:4). Clearly, from the point of view of this story, God is at work in both Paul and Thecla. The next step is obvious: Paul declares, “Go and teach the word of God” (41:3). Paul’s apostolic mandate to Thecla to preach the word of God is very important. From the standpoint of the story, it gives Thecla’s subsequent activity apostolic legitimacy.

The story of Thecla does not apply any titles to Thecla. She is not called an apostle, or deacon, or evangelist, or anything else. But some things seem pretty obvious. She baptizes herself when it appears that she is about to die. Her action is presented as appropriate in the story (recall 40:4). The story implies that if she can baptize herself, she can baptize others. Furthermore, Paul’s command to preach the word of God is unambiguous. Thecla, the virgin and martyr, is authorized to act as an evangelist.

The Thecla Story and Early Christian Women

Thecla’s story of a strong female lead character stands in contrast to another early Christian document associated with Paul. The First Letter to Timothy presents itself as a letter from the apostle Paul to his younger colleague, Timothy. The letter opens with Paul instructing Timothy.

I urge you as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. (1:3–4, NRSV)

This letter proceeds to tackle certain practices and doctrines that “Paul” finds objectionable while it also commends a church structure that promotes godliness and sound teaching. In considering First Timothy (and its two related letters, Second Timothy and Titus), it is important to recognize that this letter was almost certainly not written by Paul. The overwhelming consensus of scholarship is that this letter was written by a late first- or early second-century author who used Paul’s apostolic reputation to advocate for the author’s doctrinal and organizational preferences.

When we consider First Timothy and the story of Thecla historically, something very interesting occurs. By placing these two texts in conversation with each other, we gain an insight into an intramural debate among Pauline Christians. As we have already seen, the Thecla story presents a version of the Pauline tradition that emphasizes sexual purity and honors female leadership. First Timothy presents a more conservative form of Christianity. To this we now turn.

In the second chapter “Paul” tells “Timothy” that he desires

that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence from God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim 2:9–15)

Later in the letter, the author warns “Timothy” about false teachers who “forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods” (1 Tim 4:3).

First Timothy’s concern for the modest comportment of Christian women is somewhat in line with the Acts of Thecla’s sexual austerity. But First Timothy and the Acts of Thecla clearly differ on two points. First, it is hard to imagine that the people who valued the Acts of Thecla would agree with First Timothy that women should have no teaching responsibility with respect to men. The Thecla story affirms a leadership role for celibate women. Secondly, the two texts differ on the value of marriage and childbirth. One suspects that the Thecla audience would find First Timothy’s interpretation of the Adam and Eve story deficient, especially the conclusion that childbearing is necessary for the ultimate salvation of women. Clearly, the emphasis on sexual purity in the Acts of Thecla means that childbearing is to be rejected.

In chapter 5, which addresses the problem of widows, the author of First Timothy gives us an insight into a particularly interesting situation. Christianity inherited from Judaism a deep commitment to the weaker members of the community. In Jewish scripture, the phrase “widows and orphans” is commonly used to designate the most vulnerable members of society. The Book of Acts mentions the attention shown to widows (see for example, Acts 6:1). So by the early second century some Christian communities were financially supporting widows, and the widows served the church by ministering to others in need. The outreach ministries of such women were very significant in the spread of the new faith. However, the financial burden for caring for the widows apparently had become acute for the author of First Timothy. In 5:3–8 he makes a distinction between “real” widows and those who have family members. It becomes clear that the author of First Timothy wants the family members of a widow to support her so that the church can use its financial resources to help those “real widows” who have no family (1 Tim 5:5). This may strike modern readers as a pragmatic solution.

But the author then goes further. First, he prescribes that no woman is to be placed on the list of widows unless she is at least sixty years old. If we pause and think about the life expectancy of people, especially women, in the ancient world, we quickly realize that the number of such women would have been rather small in these early Christian communities. While some women lived to old age, the life expectancy of women in the ancient world was much less than in modern, developed societies. So what are “younger widows” to do? “Paul” advises them to “marry, bear children, and manage their households” (1 Tim 5:14).

What does this have to do with the Thecla story? Thecla is a virgin, not a widow. But we know that in some Christian communities, some unmarried women and young widows were put on the list of widows. They performed works of hospitality and service for the church and were financially maintained by the church in return. The author of First Timothy worries that such widows might become a problem.

But refuse to put younger widows on the list; for when their sensual desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry. Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. (1 Tim 5:11–13)

While Thecla is not termed a “widow” in the story, she does appear as the type of independent female that First Timothy fears. An unmarried Christian woman (whether virgin or widow) was freer to pursue a Christian vocation than a married Christian woman—something the historical Paul emphasized in 1 Cor 7:34, a position at odds with that of the pseudonymous “Paul” of First Timothy.

When we consider First Timothy and the Acts of Thecla against the larger background of social conventions and expectations for women in the Greco-Roman world, we can see that First Timothy is much more socially conservative than the Acts of Thecla. The social expectation for women was marriage, childbearing/rearing, and household management. When the author of First Timothy advises younger widows to marry, etc., he is embracing the family values of the dominant culture. The Thecla story stands as a challenge to those values. This is why Theokleia calls for Thecla’s death, as a lesson “so that all the women taught by this man (Paul) will be afraid” (20:6)! We see in First Timothy and the Acts of Thecla two very different Christian attitudes toward marriage and family.

Reactions to Thecla

A particularly good example of the contested nature of women’s leadership in the early church can be found in the writing of the late second- and early third-century Latin theologian, Tertullian. In his Treatise on Baptism (De Baptismo), Tertullian takes issue with those who support the right of women to teach or baptize. He explicitly says that the Acts of Thecla is cited in support of such rights. But Tertullian dismisses the Acts of Thecla as a forgery.

But if certain Acts of Paul, which are falsely so named, claim the example of Thecla for allowing women to teach and to baptize, let men know that in Asia the presbyter who compiled that document, thinking to add of his own to Paul’s reputation, was found out, and though he professed he had done it for love of Paul, was deposed from his position. How could we believe that Paul should give a female power to teach and to baptize, when he did not allow a woman even to learn by her own right? Let them keep silence, he says, and ask their husbands at home. (De Baptismo, chapter 17)6

Yet Thecla’s story proved attractive to others. Around 300 ce, Methodius of Olympus wrote The Banquet of the Virgins. In this text Thecla delivers a lengthy speech that extols the virtue of virginity. Sexual abstinence continued to be valued by many Christians, even if marriage was deemed acceptable. Tertullian himself advocated virginity, even though he was married. Around 400 ce, Isidore of Pelusium (in Egypt) called Thecla the “Protomartyr” (first martyr), obviously drawing on the stories of her willingness to die for her faith.

The view of Thecla’s story that appears to have prevailed in orthodox Christianity affirmed and celebrated her virginity and her willingness to become a martyr. Although her role as an evangelist/missionary was played down, still her legend grew. The original Acts of Thecla were expanded in the fourth and fifth centuries. These later legends describe Thecla’s career after she moves to Seleucia. The most important of these stories describes an attempt by evil men to rape Thecla. She is miraculously saved when she is absorbed into a rock. Although she is no longer present in body, numerous miracles and healings occur because of Thecla’s saintliness. Because of Thecla’s association with Seleucia, male and female ascetics lived in the region where she supposedly was swallowed up by the rock. A church was built commemorating Thecla. The ascetic communities and Thecla’s church became pilgrimage sites for Christians from the fourth century on. Thecla’s shrine at Seleucia is mentioned in a late fourth-century account by a Christian woman named Egeria.7 There was also a shrine to Thecla in Maalula, Syria (near Damascus) and one (possibly two) in Egypt. On the site at Maalula, claimed by some as the place where Thecla was absorbed into the rock, an Orthodox convent still stands.

Though less well known in the West, Thecla was not without her admirers in Europe. There is a catacomb associated with Thecla in Rome.8 She was revered in Spain, as well. The Cathedral of Tarragon is dedicated to her. And the late seventh- and early eighth-century English writer, Bede, refers to her feast day (September 23), a further indication of her popularity.

Final Thoughts

Contemporary readers of Thecla’s story typically have mixed reactions to it. On the one hand, they appreciate Thecla’s strong faith in the face of death and her portrayal as a female evangelist/missionary. But the story’s insistence on celibacy is not attractive to most modern readers. Nevertheless, we should ponder why such a lifestyle held appeal in the ancient world.

In a culture where one’s possibilities in life were largely circumscribed by class, wealth, and gender, asceticism could be seen as a discipline that allowed for some form of individual control. Even if people could not change the political, social, or economic structures of the world, they could change themselves. Especially for women, a life of celibacy delivered them from some of the constraints normally imposed upon women by men. A life of virginity also meant that the risks of childbirth were avoided. Ancient women suffered from complications at childbirth far more often than is the case for women in industrialized countries today. Lastly, celibate women had opportunities for meaningful work and service usually not available to married women. 4R

Copyright © 2013 Westar Institute. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Lane C. McGaughyPerry V. Kea is Associate Professor of biblical studies and the chairperson of the Philosophy and Religion Department at the University of Indianapolis. A Fellow of the Jesus Seminar since 1987 and an active United Methodist layperson, he has contributed several papers for Westar seminars and articles for The Fourth R.

Browse Other Articles

The Missing Bible

The history of Christianity is often the history of doctrinal dispute, arguments about what the Church should or should not believe. This history is often framed as if the Church fell into division after existing an original “pure” form, yet historically no such a pure form can be found to have existed. Like most social and cultural movements, the earliest generations of Christianity are marked by an explosion of creativity and diverse ideas and practices that only later took on more rigid forms. Continue reading

Spiritual Defiance

Robin Meyers

What if we thought of faith as resistance to ego, to orthodoxy, and to empire? In this article, Robin Meyers offers a call to action and vital insights from his Lyman-Beecher Lectures at Yale University, which eventually inspired his book Spiritual Defiance. Continue reading

Rethinking the Beginnings of Christianity

Maia Kotrosits

Many scholars already know that the people represented in the New Testament didn’t consider themselves Christians. ... I want to suggest that, rather than static truths about Jesus or God, early Christian texts represent a number of creative and improvised ways of trying to make sense of who one is, where one belongs, and what God means in the face of loss. Continue reading

Endnotes

 1. Paul’s activity in Iconium is narrated in the Acts of the Apostles (13:1–14:7), but the episode makes no mention of Thecla.

 2. This is one of the earliest references to a Christian making the sign of the cross.

 3. The story does not make clear which Antioch is meant. Pisidian Antioch is northwest of Iconium in southern Asia Minor. It is one of the cities visited by Paul according to Acts 13:14 on the so-called first missionary journey. However, Paul had close ties with Syrian Antioch as well. According to Acts, Paul spent time in this city working with Barnabas (Acts 13:1–3). Since Paul and Thecla first encounter a Syrian (Alexander) when they arrive in Antioch, the story would seem to suggest that Syrian Antioch is meant.

 4. The presence of man-eating seals is the sort of dramatic scene one expects from the ancient novel. We do know that exotic animals sometimes were exhibited in the public arenas to entertain the crowds. Perhaps the author of the Acts of Thecla had witnessed seals (the Mediterranean monk seal is the most likely candidate) as part of such an exhibition.

 5. These few verses are from M.R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, Clarendon Press, 1924. I took it from the website “Early Christian Writings.” URL: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/actspaul.html

 6. The translation is Ernest Evans, Tertullian’s Homily on Baptism. SPCK, 1964.

 7. Only part of Egeria’s account of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and other Christian sites in the eastern half of the Roman Empire has survived.

 8. Very recently, archaeologists discovered images of Paul, Peter, Andrew, and John painted on the ceiling. These images have been restored through the use of lasers.

Additional Reading

Burris, Virginia. Chastity as Autonomy: Women in the Stories of Apocryphal Acts. Studies in Women and Religion, volume 23. The Edwin Mellen Press, 1987.

Davies, Stevan L. The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts. Southern Illinois University Press, 1980.

Davis, Stephen. The Cult of St. Thecla: A Tradition of Women’s Piety in Late Antiquity. Oxford University Press, 2001.

McDonald, Dennis R. The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon. Westminster Press, 1983.

Reardon, B.P., ed. Collected Ancient Greek Novels. University of California Press, 1989, 2008.