Book: The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity
Chapter: 12. The Thecla Tradition and Women's Religious Knowledge in Early Christianity
The story of saint Thecla invites a wide range of readings. It tells about women’s religiosity in early Christianity, of the written medium, and of the saints’ missionary activities. The figure of Thecla is represented in a variety of literary genres, from hagiography to philosophical dialogue (Methodius). What do the different genres say about the transmission of religious knowledge and how do they themselves transmit it? How should we read the female, gender-related aspect of this path of transmission? In my contribution I will use theories of the History of Knowledge and the History of Ideas to explore the figure of Thecla as a transmitter of religious knowledge and examine how the different genres reflect this process in three texts. In The Acts of Paul and Thecla I highlight the special and gendered relationship between chastity, knowledge and authority. In The Miracles of Thecla I focus on the miracles connected to reading and writing and thus to a scriptural knowledge, and in Methodius’ Symposium I examine what happens when female knowledge of chastity is extracted from an ecclesiastical context. Through these three readings I will explore questions of gender and religious knowledge and see how divisions between popular and elite religiosity have to be nuanced when women’s access to knowledge and authoritarian positions are taken into account.