Widows as Altar in Christian Texts of the Second and Third Centuries
Butterfield, Margaret Leslie
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AbstractThis dissertation examines the image of widows as an altar of God as employed in four early Christian texts commonly dated to the second and third centuries CE: Polycarp’s letter To the Philippians, Tertullian’s Ad uxorem, Methodius’s Symposium, and the Didascalia apostolorum. Each of the four chapters provides an analysis of the rhetoric of one of the texts in order to contextualize its use of the image of widows as altar, which is then explored in more detail. These texts exhibit concerns with three matters in particular: widows’ purity (particularly marital / sexual purity), their relationship to community offerings and finances, and their practices of prayer and speech. They employ the image of widows as an altar of God in order to shape understandings of widows, and their behavior, through the language and logic of sacrifice, and they do so in relation to one or more of the three core concerns. Although the texts generally deploy the image of widows as altar in attempts to control or subordinate widows, the very functioning of that rhetoric depends upon the presence of sociohistorical conditions regarding widows and their work that may run counter to those goals. I argue that these sociohistorical conditions included the presence of widows in some early Christian communities who were figures of sacerdotal importance. They received offerings from the community and prayed to God on their behalf, and formed a significant connecting link between humans and the divine.
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