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An Embodied Reading of the Shepherd of Hermas

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The Shepherd of Hermas (70–150 CE) is one of the oldest Christian writings from a major urban center. While the majority of manuscript evidence of the Shepherd is concentrated in North Africa, the work has a long-standing association with the city of Rome. It consists of three major sections: the Book of Visions, the Mandates, and the Similitudes. The Shepherd was enormously popular during the early centuries as a catechetical text used for moral formation. Its manuscript evidence during the early centuries far exceeded that of the Gospels.

This book focuses on the first section of the Shepherd known as the Book of Visions, which narrates Hermas’s visionary experiences in first-person voice. The book argues that enactive reading can help to generate immersive experiences of Hermas’s visions and explain the success of the Book of Visions among ancient readers. Cognitive approaches also highlight how modern scholars, who are trained to read apocalypses ‘against the grain’ in their search for historical or theological information, fail to notice and appreciate the very things that made apocalypses engaging to a broad range of ancient readers and hearers.

Published: Jul 24, 2023


Section Chapter Authors
Abbreviations Angela Harkins
Acknowledgements Angela Harkins
Seeing the Shepherd of Hermas with New Eyes Angela Harkins
Chapter 1
The Popularity of the Shepherd of Hermas in the Ancient World Angela Harkins
Chapter 2
Taking a Look at Hermas Angela Harkins
Chapter 3
Sticky Thoughts that Make Presence from Absence Angela Harkins
Chapter 4
Experiencing the Journey Angela Harkins
Chapter 5
Immersion in the Narrative World of Apocalyptic Visions Angela Harkins
Conclusion Angela Harkins
End Matter
Bibliography Angela Harkins
Index of Ancient Texts Angela Harkins


This book is a breath of fresh air in biblical studies, presenting as it does an enormous amount of insight into different theoretical perspectives. Harkins’s analyses of the Book of Visions are thought-provoking, and her application of embodied cognition to an ancient apocalyptic text is stimulating and demonstrates the potential of enactive reading.
Angela Kim Harkins is to be commended for her meticulous care in balancing the cognitive and psychological insights on universal human dispositions with the historically and culturally conditioned contexts of our ancient sources.
Armin W. Geertz (University of Arhaus) and Melissa Sayyad Bach (University of Copenhagen), Journal of the American Academy of Religion