Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Ian N. Mills (Duke University) Wrote on Pagan Readers of Christian Literature

Fascinating reading. Did you know scholars had fairly long followed a stray remark by Tertullian (counterposed by one other remark of his) to prove Pagans didn't read the Bible?

A few other scholars had started to answer that actually NT books have quite a few apologetic features (which would be useless if authors - Ian Mills may be thinking of successive co-authors, I'd disagree, but such also would have written before Constantine, ex hypothesi, and still have to be counting on being read by non-Christians). Ian Mills adds the testimony of six men - among whom Sts Clement the Stromatist and Justin stick out to me, and then also Tatian in connection with a recent dialogue - who converted after reading. It's not until page 16/27 on the pdf that I find something I find a need to disagree with:

"There is no doubt that all the autobiographic narratives so far recounted reflect an unrealistically intellectualized account of Christian conversion."


If the point is, not all conversions are primarily intellectual adventures, I'd agree. But that's not to the point. The six people who did convert in this manner would be a drop in the sea against lots who converted for other reasons, perhaps. But the character of the study Ian Mills undertook, namely finding ex-pagans who became Christians on reading, would concentrate precisely this part of the conversions overall to his study. Girls who found Jesus on the Cross more romantic than a fat man of fifty selected by her father who needs the money and thinks he can push her because he's pagan, and suddenly finds out that as Christian 12 year old Barbara or Lucy disagrees would for instance clearly be outside this study. People plagued by a dissonance between a longing for purity and an ability to extract themselves from a non-wife lover's arms until hearing a bishop tell stories of saints, and having come to study under that bishop only for his rhetoric skills, equally. A friendly man to the poor who was chasing and saw a Cross and a Crucified between two antlers of a deer is also not quite the object of ...

Pagan Readers of Christian Scripture: The Role of Books in Early Autobiographical Conversion Narratives
Ian N Mills

... which is what I am now reading.

Some more examples who did read Bible parts before converting and did write autobiographies might be there, but they mainly converted for some other reason, and so left it out. The exact autobiography type which is the most likely to contain a prolonged (and therefore unambiguous) reference to reading Bible parts prior to converting, is that of a man converting for that kind of reason. It's the autobiography of the "intellectual convert" - of which I am at least around half of the importance, or probably even more, one.

So, up to page 16 out of 27, I have no objection to his study. Only on, this one I dealt with, is the first.

Hans Georg Lundahl
St. Elias of Mount Carmel

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