The early Jesus movements emerged as the Roman empire came under one-man rule. With Caesar Augustus, power relationships started changing at every level, from the administration of a vast empire, to the family form on which it was built, and even to understandings of what it meant to be a self. Early Christ groups and others responded in myriad ways. How are their forms of resistance relevant today?
Deborah Niederer Saxon (Ph.D., Iliff School of Theology-University of Denver) is a Visiting Instructor of Religion at Butler University in Indianapolis. Her work focuses on newly-discovered texts, women’s roles, and ecumenical/interfaith collaboration. She is the author of The Care of the Self in Early Christian Texts (2017). She also serves on Westar’s Board of Directors.
Susan M. (Elli) Elliott (Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago) is a writer, workshop leader, and environmental activist based in Red Lodge, Montana. She is the author of Cutting Too Close for Comfort: Paul’s Letter to the Galatians in its Anatolian Cultic Context (2003/2008) and Family Empires: The Roman Family Empire and Early Christian Responses (2018, Polebridge).
Understanding the Beast
Families and Selves Under Roman Rule
The Roman empire was supposedly a “family.” Caesar Augustus became the sole ruler of the empire by becoming its distinctively Roman father. His family empire shaped Christianity as it grew. What was it like to live in a Roman household and the emperor’s family? What can we learn from those whose voices were suppressed in this harsh and cruel world?
Friday, 7:30–9 pm
Empire as Family, Family as Resistance
Resistance to the Roman empire and its family model came in many forms. Gender and a close relationship to the earth played a role in some opposition, including Boudicca’s rebellion, the Cybele devotees’ transgender resistance, and the Cynics’ brazen nature-based non-conformism. People also banded together for mutual support in ways that broke the mold more subtly. Early Christ groups developed in this mix. Saturday, 9:30-10:30 am
Is Martyrdom Resistance?
The Story of Perpetua
Some early Christians resisted by embracing martyrdom. Stories of martyrs’ self-control in the face of imperial violence exemplified the “true Christian.” Perpetua provides an intriguing example of a woman martyr who rejected the traditional family model and resisted the Roman empire. Yet the exaltation of martyrdom emerged with the rise of imperial Christianity. Saxon and Elliott will discuss the implications of martyrdom.
Breaking the Mold
Some early followers of Jesus viewed martyrdom as self-care. Others saw self-care in terms of how one should live. In recounting the lives of Mary and Thecla – whose stories are told in recently discovered texts – Saxon will discuss how care of the soul plays out in their lives, comparing and contrasting them with Perpetua. What are the implications of these stories for women today? Saturday, 1:30–2:30 pm
Saxon and Elliott will facilitate group questions and discussion. Saturday, 3–4 pm