Thecla’s Devotion: Narrative and Emotion in the Acts of Paul and Thecla

By J.D. McLarty

An investigation of the narrative devices used in the Thecla episode of the Acts of Paul, and their parallels with contemporary pagan fiction.

ISBN: 9780227176092


Second-century apocryphal Christian texts are Christian fiction: they draw on the motifs of contemporary pagan stories of romance, travel and adventure to entertain their readers, but also to explore what it means to be Christian. The Thecla episode in the Apocryphal Acts of Paul recounts the conversion of a young pagan woman, her rejection of marriage, her narrow escapes from martyrdom and the end of her story as an independent, ascetic evangelist.

In Thecla’s Devotion, J.D. McLarty reads the Thecla episode against a paradigm pagan romance, Callirhoe: for both texts the passions are key to the unfolding of the plot – how are unruly emotions to be managed and controlled? The pagan would answer: ‘through reason’. This study uses the portrayal of emotion within character and plot to explore the response of the Thecla episode to this key question for Christian identity formation.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 266

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Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

J.D. McLarty is Senior Tutor of Wolfson College and Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. Her first degree was in Classics at Girton College, Cambridge. After a five year stint in the City she returned to Cambridge where she has taught New Testament Greek for the Faculty of Divinity for a number of years.



1. Contexts

Part 1 – Plot
2. Reading the Plot
3. The Reader’s Journey
4. Time
5. Space and Place
Part 1 Conclusions: The affective force of the plot

Part 2 – Character
6. Emotion and Characterisation
7. Characterisation in Callirhoe
8. Characterisation in the Acts of Thecla
Part 2 Conclusions: The characterisation of the Acts of Thecla read against Callirhoe

9. Emotion and Identity in the Acts of Thecla
Appendix: The Plot of Callirhoe


Endorsements and Reviews

In this sophisticated and close reading of the Acts of Thecla, Jane McLarty brings together the insights of contemporary narrative analysis and those of recent study of the emotions in antiquity, in particular as explored through the Hellenistic novels of the early Empire. In so doing, she rescues the story from narrow debates about the role of women in early Christianity, and from the slogans of ‘feminist’ or ‘liberationist’ against ‘conservative’. Instead, through the story of Thecla and of the other characters who people the narrative we see how understandings of the affective dimensions of Christian life are being explored and reconceived. This will be important reading not only for devotees of Thecla but also for anyone interested in the formation of a Christian identity and of a Christian self.
Professor Judith M. Lieu, FBA, University of Cambridge

In this fascinating study, J.D. McLarty examines the Acts of Thecla in the light of Graeco-Roman romantic novels, paying careful attention to both plot and characterisation as a means of analysing the emotive response expected of readers by the author. By skilfully weaving together insights from literary and gender studies on the presentation of Paul and Thecla, McLarty draws striking and surprising conclusions about the place of emotions and the passions in the construction of Christian identity envisaged by this enigmatic early Christian text.
Professor Paul Middleton, University of Chester

This marvellous book combines in equal measure learned philological acumen, theoretical sophistication and genuine originality. Thecla’s Devotion does scholarship a great service in being both a focussed study on the Acts of Paul and Thecla and an exploration of its connections to Greek romances, second-century Christian literature and ancient philosophy. McLarty has also clothed the substantial scholarly work here in elegant and lucid prose. A rare book indeed!
Dr Simon Gathercole, University of Cambridge

[The] questions MacLarty raises here are worth thinking more about.
Julia Snyder, in Theologische Revue, 2019, no 6