Acts of Love: A Narrative Pattern in the Apocryphal Acts
David Konstan
Journal of Early Christian Studies 6.1 (1998) 15-36

Taken generally, the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles share an ascetic orientation in regard to sexuality that finds expression in a repeated narrative formula: the apostle converts a married man or woman to the worship of Christ, which entails in turn the renunciation of carnal relations. If one of the partners to the marriage remains unconverted, she or he may seek to retaliate for this disruption in conjugal life. When the offended spouse is powerful enough to encompass the apostle's death, the narrative is brought to a conclusion in the form of a martyrdom or passion. Three out of the five Acts that survive in substantial portions terminate in this way.

The apostle, by his intervention, may be perceived as a rival to the husband or wife for the devotion of the spouse, since he acts as an alternative pole of attraction. In this respect, the pattern in the Acts inverts the basic paradigm that informs the ancient Greek novels, in which the mutual erotic passion between husband and wife, or between fiances, is repeatedly tested and wins out against the allure or the threats of potential rivals. The bond of eros between marital partners, which is privileged in the novels, 2 is systematically devalued in the Acts in favor of a religious commitment to the apostle and the faith for which he stands. As Judith Perkins observes: "The anti-social bias of the Acts emerges from a comparison of their endings with the typical conclusions of the [End Page 15] Greek romances with which they are contemporary and thematically linked." 3

In the paper that follows, I shall call attention to another narrative motif in the Acts, one that does not pose so radical an opposition between human love and spiritual zeal. Before turning to my central theme, however, let me illustrate just how the apostle is presented as a competitor for the affections of a married convert.

Our primary Greek source for the Acts of Andrew narrates only the final episode in the apostle's life, leading to his crucifixion. This segment begins with the apostle's arrival in Patras, where, prior to the point at which the Greek text commences, Andrew had healed Maximilla, the wife of the proconsul Aegeates, who, as we learn from Gregory of Tours' epitome and other sources, had been prepared to commit suicide in the event that Maximilla should die. As a convert to Christianity, Maximilla henceforward adopts a life of celibacy and refuses to perform the services of a wife, putting her husband off for a while by sending to him a slave named Euclia in her place. When Euclia's disguise is exposed by her fellow slaves (sundouloi, 18, 22), Aegeates mutilates her and expels her from the house (22); however, he approaches his wife in all humility and begs: "I cling to your feet, I who have been your husband now for twelve years, who always revered you as a goddess and still do because of your chastity [sophrosune] and your refined character" (23). Aegeates naturally supposes, moreover, that Maximilla's abstention is due to her erotic interest in a rival: "So if you are keeping some secret from me about another man--something I never would have suspected--I will make allowances and I myself will cover it up, just as you often put up with my foolishness." 4 Maximilla's answer is calculated to inflame his suspicions: "I love [philo], Aegeates, I love [philo]; and what I love [philo] is not of this world and therefore is imperceptible to you. Night and day it kindles and enflames [exaptei kai phlegei] me with love [storgei] for it. . . . Let me have intercourse [prosomilein] with it and take my rest with it alone" (23, trans. MacDonald, modified). [End Page 16]

Maximilla's language leaves Aegeates in doubt as to her condition; he does not know, he says, "if my wife is in a state of ecstasy or lunacy [ekstasei e maniai]" (24, trans. MacDonald). On the one hand, she employs erotic imagery of burning and intimate association; but the object of her passion is given in the neuter, and she uses terms for love (philein, storge) that do not in principle refer to sexual attraction. A slave of Aegeates, however, who professes to tell him the whole truth, makes the apostle the direct object of Maximilla's passion: "She has so given way to desire [pothoi] for him that she loves [stergein] no one more than him, including you I would say" (25, trans. MacDonald). The slave adds that Stratocles, the brother of Aegeates, has become entwined in the same longing (pothos) for Andrew.

Apprised now of Andrew's role in encouraging Maximilla's abstinence, Aegeates has him incarcerated, though Maximilla visits the apostle by night. When Andrew proves unrelenting, and exhorts Maximilla not to submit despite Aegeates' threats to harm him (37 [5]), Aegeates has the apostle scourged and crucified (51 [1]). After his death, to which Andrew willingly, indeed eagerly submits, Maximilla and Stratocles dedicate their lives to the worship of Christ, leaving Aegeates lonely and childless (64 [10]).

Within the terms of the text, the slave's interpretation of Maximilla's attachment to Andrew is misguided. Maximilla herself makes it clear that she is not attracted to the man, but to the spiritual doctrine he preaches. It is this, not Andrew the person, that blocks her carnal relationship to her husband. The apostle is not a rival to Aegeates; rather, the narrative tension is generated by her individual commitment to sexual continence, which of itself acts as a solvent on traditional conceptions of marriage.

Recently, however, Kate Cooper has argued that the tension between celibacy and marriage is something of a smokescreen for the real conflict within the narrative, which is precisely that between an official of high status--in this case, the proconsul of Achaea--and the apostle's challenge to his authority. If sexuality is denigrated in the Acts, it is "in the service of a challenge to the establishment." 5 For the contemporary audience, "the parable of the wandering ascetic and the settled householder" served as "an exploration not of asceticism but of Christianity's claim to moral superiority, with the figure of the ascetic teacher representing a disinterested challenge to the status quo" (58). As Cooper [End Page 17] sums up her elegant and subtle argument: "The challenge by the apostle to the householder is the urgent message of these narratives, and it is essentially a conflict between men" (55). 6

Whether the struggle between Andrew and Aegeates is over authority as such, with sexual abstinence serving as a proxy issue, or whether Maximilla's choice of an ascetic life is itself centrally thematic in the Acts, and serves as propaganda for an early manifestation of Christian encratism, the apostle's intervention results in a disruption of marriage as a mortal relation based on mutual desire. Maximilla's philia, pothos, and storge are deflected away from her husband, to whom they should by rights be directed, and toward an abstract ideal of remaining chaste (sophron) or, more accurately, pure (katharos) and "beyond the flesh" (38; cf. 14). Maximilla's wish to associate with Andrew is essentially a metonymy for her dedication to the way of life to which he invites her. Conversion means giving up purely human ties in favor of a transcendent object of desire.

But if this is the apparent message of Maximilla's renunciation of conjugal communion and the events leading up to the execution of Andrew, there are other episodes that indicate a sensitivity and respect on the part of Andrew for mortal love, and it is to the narrative formula that encodes this alternative sensibility that I should like now to turn. The first miracle that Andrew performs in the version of the passion that has come down to us is not the healing of Maximilla, which occurs prior to the action narrated (cf. 1, 26), but rather that of a boy, perhaps a slave (the ambiguous term pais rather than doulos is consistently employed, 2-5), named Alcman, who is possessed by a demon and betrays symptoms resembling those of epilepsy (2-3). Alcman is attached to the household of Aristocles (or of Stratocles, brother of Aegeates, if one adopts Prieur's emendation). At all events, he is one "whom Stratocles loved dearly [esterge panu]" (2), and his reaction to the boy's illness is extreme:

When Stratocles saw him he said, "If only I had never come here but perished at sea this would not have happened to me! Friends. . . I cannot live without him." And as he said this, he hit himself about the eyes and became disturbed and unfit to be seen. (2, trans. MacDonald).
Maximilla comforts Stratocles by telling him of Andrew's extraordinary curative powers, and at her bidding, the apostle treats Alcman and [End Page 18] expels the demon that has inhabited him (5). Alcman subsequently converts to Christianity (10).

Stratocles is deeply moved by Andrew's feat in reviving the boy, and the apostle seizes the opportunity to awaken him to the true faith, affirming his conviction that he "must bring out into the open the person [anthropon] now latent" within him (7). The idea that one must be born anew to enter the kingdom of Christ has its roots, of course, in the Gospels (John 3.3-5; cf., e.g., Titus 3.5). Andrew, however, develops to the point of a conceit the quite distinct image of the new man as an embryo or fetus within the self, waiting to be born: "Bring to birth the child you are carrying and do not give yourself over to labor pains alone. I am no novice at midwifery or divination. I love [philo] what you are birthing, I am passionate [ero] for what you are stifling" (7, MacDonald trans. slightly modified; cf. also 9, where the symbolism is elaborated still further).

It is possible--I think likely--that the maieutic metaphor here serves in part as an exegesis or elaboration of Stratocles' earlier infatuation with the boy Alcman, substituting the inner, spiritual child which Stratocles has begun to develop for the outer and carnal object of his affection. 7 Taken together, the two passages recall the doctrine elaborated in Plato's Symposium, according to which love for a handsome youth is seen as a first step on the road to a nobler passion for the beautiful as such. The Symposium suggests, rather enigmatically, that the spiritual lover somehow causes the beloved to procreate in the beautiful (206b-207a); one is reminded also of Socrates' famous comparison, in the Theaetetus, of his own dialectical technique to the art of a midwife. Indeed, Jean-Marc Prieur specifically connects the figure of Andrew with that of Socrates as a "divine man," citing, among other similarities, "the extraordinary and voluntary character of his death," his "ascetic life," his "supernatural knowledge," and the fact that "Andrew acts as a master of 'midwifery.'" 8

Even if, however, the account of Stratocles' intense love for Alcman has some such ulterior or symbolic function (the verb employed, it [End Page 19] should be noted, is stergein, commonly used for familial feeling, rather than eran), it remains the case that the immediate reason for Andrew's intercession is to assuage the acute grief that Stratocles experiences at the threat to the boy's life. The effect of Andrew's action in this case, at least, is to salvage a powerfully sentimental relationship, not to destroy it.

The healing of Alcman is parallel to Andrew's earlier act of saving the life of Maximilla. Both Alcman and Maximilla adopt the Christian faith after they are cured. Stratocles' anguish in behalf of Alcman is no more fervent than Aegeates' had been at the prospect of his wife's demise, for which Andrew had gently comforted the proconsul (Gregory 30). The difference between the two cases, of course, is that while Stratocles too converts, and henceforward will be a brother in Christ of Alcman, Aegeates resists the apostle's message, and persists in his desire for a sexual relationship with his wife. In consequence he both loses his wife's devotion and embarks upon the fatal persecution of Andrew.

The story of Stratocles and Alcman demonstrates, however, that this was not a necessary conclusion to the chain of events inaugurated by Andrew's responsiveness to Aegeates' sorrow and his cure of Maximilla. The apostle does not destroy human bonds of affection, except insofar as they necessarily involve sex. Nor is it simply that he works to replace ordinary love with a more elevated or spiritual tie among Christian brethren. Rather, the apostle is moved precisely by the intense mortal affection or storge that a man may feel for a boy or a husband for a wife. In illustrating Andrew's concern for such specifically human attachments, the two healing episodes counter the impression of indifference or even hostility to worldly love which the violent sundering of the relationship between Aegeates and Maximilla might produce.

Stories of healing testify to the spiritual power of the apostle, often contrasting the effectiveness of the true faith with the false claims made by pagan magicians. 9 They may also serve as parables of rebirth, and thus image forth the Christian promise of resurrection. The first episode in the summary of the Acts of Andrew recorded by Gregory of Tours tells, for example, how the apostle restored sight to a blind man by casting out a demon from him (2); its effect is merely to impress the reader with Andrew's authority over malevolent fiends (cf. also 6, 13-16, 24). [End Page 20] But the episode immediately following more closely resembles that of Stratocles and Alcman, and deserves citation in extenso:

Demetrius, the leader of the community of Amasians, had an Egyptian boy [puer] whom he cherished with an unparalleled love [quem amore unico diligebat]. A fever overtook the boy, and he expired. Later, when Demetrius heard of the signs the blessed apostle was performing, he came to him, fell at his feet with tears, and said, "I am sure that nothing is difficult for you, O servant of God. Behold my boy, whom I love to an extraordinary degree [quem unice diligebam], is dead. I ask that you come to my house and restore him to me.
When the blessed apostle heard this, he was moved by his tears [condolens lacrimis eius] and went to the house where the boy lay. (3, trans. MacDonald)
The apostle sympathizes deeply with the human sense of loss (cf. condolensque lacrimis eorum, 7, where Andrew is moved to raise from the dead the son of an old man and woman; also tunc sanctus apostolus misericordia motus, 29, of Antiphanes' lament over his stricken wife). Andrew then restores the lad to health and returns him to his master, whereupon all the bystanders accept baptism.

There is, no doubt, a good narratological reason for putting an episode such as this near the beginning of the Acts (assuming that Gregory's epitome is a reliable witness to the order of the original text). It is not yet the moment to put the apostle in the kind of danger that his dedication to sexual continence arouses when he intervenes in the lives of married couples. The story exhibits Andrew's sensitivity to human love and the beneficent effect of his mediation.

The next event recounted by Gregory exposes a mother's incestuous passion for her son, Sostratus (4). Like Phaedra in Euripides' Hippolytus, and the step-mother in a similar tale related in Apuleius' Metamorphoses (Book 10), the mother, when spurned, turns the charge against Sostratus, and accuses Andrew as well of fomenting the boy's illicit desire. Sostratus refuses to denounce his mother, and the proconsul of the region condemns him to death, but Andrew produces an earthquake and storm, and the mother is struck by lightning. This display of meteorological pyrotechnics induces the proconsul and his household to accept baptism.

The story of Sostratus and his mother offers a context in which the apostle can oppose a sexual liaison that is universally regarded as illegitimate. It thus provides a safe expression for the aversion he harbors in respect to sexuality in general, which, when it interferes with normal conjugal relations, can provoke the kind of intense hostility that will lead to Andrew's martyrdom. While it may be true that Gregory on the whole [End Page 21] plays down the element of celibacy in his summary of the Acts of Andrew, 10 sexual continence is for Andrew in principle an extension of the prohibition against prostitution (cf. the story of Gratinus, 5), adultery, and incest (cf. Andrew's prohibition of a marriage between cousins, 11). In two paradigmatic tales near the beginning of the narrative, the Acts of Andrew thus represents both Andrew's sensitivity to human affections, in the case of Demetrius, and his hostility to carnal association in a way that does not yet pit the apostle against the values and powers of the society at large.

Gregory also recounts episodes in which families are divided by the conversion of one member, quite apart from the issue of sexual abstinence, as in the case the youth Exuos, whose parents condemn him for his choice right up to the moment of their death (12). Similarly, the civic authorities may seek to put an end to Andrew's preaching out of a general antagonism to the new religion, independently of the question of celibacy: compare the tortures inflicted on the apostle by Virinus, the wicked proconsul of Thessalonica (18), although MacDonald (Acts of Andrew, 266-67) and others (cit. ibid., n. 1) suppose that Gregory has altered his source to suppress the encratite message, and that in fact "Varianus's irritation with Andrew in the AA had less to do with protecting pagan religion, as in GE, than with protecting his bed."

According to Gregory, when Andrew arrives for the first time in Patras (21), he is opposed by the proconsul Lesbius; Lesbius is stricken by an angel, and subsequently restored to health by the apostle, at which point he adopts the true faith (22; perhaps Lesbius was succeeded by Aegeates as proconsul after his conversion: so MacDonald, Acts of Andrew, 53). After this, the proconsul's wife is killed by a serpent because of her jealous attack on an innocent woman who had formerly been Lesbius' mistress: "Ablaze with bitterness, she said, 'So that is why my husband deserted me and for the last six months has not made love with me: he prefers his maidservant!'" (23). The wife's complaint suggests that Lesbius' conversion may have entailed a vow of continence, which in turn accounted for the alienation of his wife. 11

The diversity of episodes in the Acts of Andrew suggests that a complex narrative pattern informs the text. The apostle not only divides partners in love by his radical insistence on celibacy, he also unites them by resuscitating the dead or dying in behalf of dear ones, having been [End Page 22] moved by sympathy with their passionate grief. Scenes of this type culminate in the service Andrew performs for Stratocles in ridding his beloved Alcman of the demon that possesses him. In such cases, the consequences of the apostle's intervention may be uncomplicatedly benign: a youth is restored to an admirer, a child to a parent, a wife to a husband. The finale of the Acts of Andrew as we have it, beginning with the healing of Alcman and concluding with Maximilla's conversion and Andrew's martyrdom, seems to stage a transition from the motif of the reunion of loved ones to that of violent separation; perhaps it recapitulates as well a narrative movement that operated over the text of the Acts as a whole.

The Acts of John, in the form in which it has come down to us, is missing the original beginning (Bonnet filled the gap with what are generally agreed to be later materials). 12 The surviving portion opens (ch. 18 in Bonnet's numeration) with John's approach to Ephesus: "When we came near the city Lycomedes, the commander-in-chief of the Ephesians, a wealthy man, met us, fell down before John and asked him for help, with these words: 'Your name is John; the God whom you preach has sent you to help my wife, who has been paralysed for seven days and lies past recovery.'" 13 Lycomedes' grief for his wife Cleopatra is reminiscent, in its intensity, of Stratocles' for the youth Alcman:

See, Lord, the lost beauty, see the youth, see the much talked of bloom of my unhappy wife. . . . What good was it to me, that I was called godly to this day. . . ? The sun in his circuit shall not see me, if you are no more with me. Cleopatra, I will die before you (20).
John admonishes Lycomedes to give up his laments, saying: "Know that your partner for life [sumbion] will be restored to you" (21). But when John urges him to join him in praying to God, Lycomedes faints dead away. John is understandably alarmed, and prays for the recovery of both the husband and the wife. He then proceeds to rouse first Cleopatra, who, when she saw Lycomedes dead because of her, lost her voice, "gnashed her teeth, bit her tongue, closed her eyes, and began to [End Page 23] weep" (24). But John pities Cleopatra, and perceiving her heroic restraint [me maneisan mede ekstasan], advises that she call to her husband, who at her summons returns to life.

This episode, which reads like a comic version of the fatal misapprehensions of Pyramus and Thisbe as related by Ovid, is carefully constructed to exhibit the reciprocal love that Lycomedes and Cleopatra bear for one another. In contrast with the connubial dissension brought on by Andrew in the case of Aegeates and Maximilla and, if modern reconstructions are to be trusted, of Virinus and Lesbius as well, John's intervention works here to reunite a couple threatened by death. In this respect, it would seem congruent with the narrative paradigm of the Greek novels, which is based on the reunion of husband and wife (or fiances). 14 Certainly, the apostle here does not act as a rival for the devotion of either spouse. The entire episode, we may note, is brought to a conclusion with the healing of a group of sixty old women in a public theater (36); John thus appears to reaffirm, rather than subvert, the values of the civic community.

At this point, the order of the received text is disturbed: the next sequence in the original presumably narrated the conversion of Drusiana, the wife of Andronicus, and its consequences (cf. 87, 105). As it may plausibly be reconstructed, this account involved Drusiana's election of sexual abstinence, for Drusiana later apostrophizes Jesus: "you protected me when my former husband [sumbiou], Andronicus, did violence to me, and gave me your servant [doulon] Andronicus as a brother" (82.8-9; cf. 63.11-13). Junod and Kaestli thus conclude:

As opposed to the parallel narratives in the Acts of Andrew and the Acts of Thomas, the violent reaction of the abandoned husband did not end up with the martyrdom of the apostle. Andronicus, instead of bringing his murderous intentions to fruition, converted in turn to the new faith and agreed to see in Drusiana nothing more than a sister. 15
If this is right, once again the Acts of John has emphasized the unity of the married couple upon their conversion.

In the surviving text, John next brings about the destruction of the [End Page 24] great temple of Artemis at Ephesus, its priest dying under the collapse (42); however, when a relative mourns his deceased kinsman, John grants him the power to revive him (47). After this, John becomes involved in a grim event in which a young man, in love with the wife of a fellow worker, slays his own father for reprimanding him. John resurrects the father (52), upon which the boy, in his horror at his deed, castrates himself; John reproaches the lad for destroying what is not in itself hurtful. Both these episodes may be taken as indicating John's responsiveness to the importance of familial ties.

After another interruption, the text resumes with a second voyage to Ephesus; with John are Drusiana and Andronicus, Lycomedes, and various other devoted followers (59). (Along the way, John persuades bedbugs kindly to wait outside his hotel room for the night.) Once in Ephesus, a prominent young Ephesian named Callimachus becomes enamored of Drusiana, and attempts to seduce her (63). When she learns of his base desire, Drusiana wills her own death, to the great grief of Andronicus, with whom she had lived chastely since their conversion. Callimachus goes so far as to attempt to molest the corpse, but he is prevented from doing so by a magical serpent. John revives the lad, who at last repents of his evil passion, and then rouses Drusiana; she in turn resurrects the slave Fortunatus, who had assisted Callimachus in his morbid plan, though the slave remains unrepentant (83).

It would thus appear that Drusiana has been twice at risk of suffering sexual violence in Ephesus: the adulterous designs of the wanton Calli-machus are a reprise of the earlier, potentially tragic conflict between Drusiana and her husband Andronicus that resulted from her original vow of chastity. Both trials are resolved by the conversion of the lustful aggressor, unlike the two episodes at Patras recounted in the Acts of Andrew, which end without a reconciliation. Taken together, the doublets in the Acts of John might be understood as suggesting the equivalence of conjugal sex and adultery. Equally, one may conclude that the apostle succeeds in bringing harmony not only to married couples potentially divided by the continence of one partner but even to a would-be adulterer like Callimachus and the chaste object of his desire. More importantly, the second episode fuses the two narrative patterns that we have elicited in the analysis of the Acts of Andrew: Andronicus' pious remorse over his wife's death, which is rewarded by her resurrection, stands in contrast with the purely physical passion of Callimachus that extends even to the point of necrophilia. Having eliminated in Andronicus the motive of lust, John is shown in fact to have strengthened the bond between the spouses in the face of a potential rival. [End Page 25]

John dies peacefully. For this reason, a story involving unresolved strife between a married couple, leading to the persecution and martyrdom of the apostle, is out of place at the conclusion. 16 Instead, the Acts of John offers a tale that emphasizes the power of the apostle to cure passion and resurrect the dead. But the difference between the Acts of John and the Acts of Andrew is not, perhaps, reducible simply to the extrinsic circumstance that John escaped crucifixion. Throughout the narrative of John's acts, the emphasis seems to have fallen on John's contribution to the integration of the family, albeit in the form of a chaste matrimony, rather than on the separation brought about by the conversion of one of the partners to Christianity. By aligning the apostle more with the narrative motif of the resurrection and reunion of loved ones than with the alternative paradigm of estrangement and violence, the Acts of John differs from the vigorous confrontation between the apostle and the civic authorities that is staged in the Acts of Andrew. It is by selection among a range of commonly available narrative strategies that the two texts achieve their specific tone and texture.

It may be worth noting that in the Latin Virtutes Iohannis (printed by Elliott following the Greek Acts of John), a woman petitions the apostle to raise her son, who had recently been married, just as he had done for Drusiana: "there was such a great weeping that the apostle himself could hardly refrain from crying and tears" (VII), and he duly accomplishes the miracle.

In abstracting from a rich text only the bare framework of those segments that are most novelistic in character, and suppressing the lengthy passages devoted to homily and exhortation, I am conscious of distorting its character in the way a cross section of cell tissue misrepresents the complexity of the living organism. What stands out as a result of this dissection, however, is John's responsiveness to the pain of mortal loss, whether between spouses, parents and children, or even more distant kin like the relative who mourns the death of a priest of Artemis. John's primary interest is in the conversion of the souls he saves, but his sympathy answers to the anguish of human beings who have lost someone dear. Despite hints of the potentially disruptive effects of conversion upon the family, the Acts of John eschews violent separations. I should not at this stage wish to claim, however, that the divergent narrative strategies of the Acts of John and the Acts of Andrew reflect an underlying distinction in doctrine. [End Page 26]

In the Acts of Peter, the central narrative, which coincides with Peter's arrival at Rome, is organized around the return to the true faith of Marcellus, who had been seduced away from Christianity by the magical tricks of the impostor Simon. With Peter back in action, a miracle involving a speaking dog promptly recaptures Marcellus' loyalty (9-10). The narrative choice is thus between devotion to the false prophet, whom Marcellus describes as a young god, and to Christ, whose power is manifest in the various marvels that Peter performs, such as bringing dead fish to life (13) and endowing a seven-month-old baby with voice and a gift for preaching (15). The religious options, in turn, are mapped onto a second opposition between selfishness and true charity. Simon seeks to block Marcellus' beneficence in order, it is implied, to enrich himself at Marcellus' expense, whereas Peter insists on the altruistic distribution of wealth among the poor. 17

Inserted into the frame story involving Marcellus is Peter's narration of his previous encounter with Simon in Jerusalem, where he exposed Simon for having robbed the gold of the wealthy matron Eubula (17). When, thanks to Peter's visions, her wealth is recovered, Eubula acknowledges the true faith and disburses her goods among the poor. The tale is obviously parallel to that of Marcellus, and, taken together, the pair constitute a narrative formula distinct from those that we have so far examined.

Peter goes on to cure the blindness of a group of old women (20-21). Finally, in a public contest with Simon at Rome, Peter revivifies a man whom Simon had ostensibly put to death, and when two mothers appeal to him to raise their sons (one of them a senator), Peter obliges (25-28). Here, then, is the story pattern that we have identified in the Acts of John and of Andrew: the apostle responds to familial grief and miraculously reunites loved ones.

Among the witnesses to the senator's revival is Agrippa, the prefect of Rome. But when Peter alienates from Agrippa his four concubines (33[4]), whom he converts to a life of chastity, the stage is set for a martyrdom analogous to that of Andrew. Compounding Peter's offense is the conversion of Xanthippe, whose husband Albinus, a close friend of the emperor Nero, incites Agrippa to take action against the apostle [End Page 27] (34[5]), leading to his crucifixion. As in the Acts of Andrew, where Alcman is restored to Stratocles, the penultimate miracle performed by the apostle Peter is in the service of mortal love, in this case the affection of mothers for their sons. Here, however, the essentially comic device of resuscitation and the renewal of the household is less closely integrated into the narrative of the apostle's death, which is once again brought on by the disruption of a marriage resulting from the wife's choice of sexual abstinence.

The well-known story of Paul and Thecla again focuses on the consequences for marriage of a woman's conversion and commitment to chastity, as Thecla endures and survives a series of threats because of her refusal to wed Thamyris, to whom she was betrothed. As Schneemelcher remarks: "The consequences correspond to the pattern which occurs also in other apocryphal Acts: the husband (here it is the fiance), who through the woman's continence has been deprived of her, stirs up the people or the authorities against the apostle." 18 In the end, Thamyris has the decency simply to die (43), thereby resolving the tension in the narrative, though Thecla, like Drusiana, first has to endure another set of torments because of the unwanted attentions of a Syrian named Alexander.

At Myra, Paul, after healing a man named Hermocrates, apparently raises his son Dion, for whom Hermocrates and his wife, Nympha, have been weeping disconsolately. 19 Schneemelcher notes (223) that

the sexual continence which in other parts of the APl [= Acts of Paul] plays so prominent a role is lacking in the extant fragments of this episode. It might in some way have been of importance in the lost sections. We may however also assume that the author wished in this case to display by means of an example the other side of Paul's preaching, the resurrection. But even this is by no means clearly said.
I would call attention to the fact that the fragments suggest that Paul revives Dion with a view to comforting his parents, and that Paul also reconciles with them their other son, Hermippus, who had opposed his father's cure out of a desire to inherit his property. Whatever the provenance of the episode, it seems shaped to the pattern according to [End Page 28] which miracle working and the symbolism of resurrection are deployed at least partly in the service of restoring family ties.

In Ephesus, Paul is obliged to fight wild beasts in the amphitheater because of the jealousy that the governor Hieronymus experiences after his wife, Artemilla (along with the freedwoman Eubula, wife of Diophantes), dedicates herself to the apostle's teachings. Paul eludes the danger by means of a timely hail storm. The story seems to function, however, as a prelude to Paul's death in Rome at the order of the emperor Nero, thus reiterating the encratite theme near the moment of the apostle's martyrdom.

The Acts of Thomas is the most completely preserved of the five apocryphal Acts. Perhaps for this reason it also betrays the most coherent narrative structure, especially in the latter portion. It is remark-able, however, that unlike the other Acts, the Acts of Thomas scarcely adumbrates the narrative topos of reuniting dear ones by a miraculous resuscitation.

As his first deed, Thomas persuades the daughter of the king of Andrapolis and her husband, on their wedding night, to adopt a life of abstinence. When he learns of their choice, the king is enraged, but Thomas has already departed for India and thus escapes unharmed. Because of the mutual conversion of the couple, they are not sundered, but rather united in their common love of Christ. The king's wrath, in turn, is aroused not by deprivation of sex, but rather by his daughter's choice of a new faith (and, presumably, her decision not to bear children, that is, heirs). Here is a clear case of competition between the apostle and the secular authority, though the issue of chastity is displaced one generation downward (cf. the wrath of Thecla's mother).

In the second episode, Thomas takes money given him by the Gandophur, the king of India, for the purpose of building a palace and instead distributes it among the poor: the acts of charity are imagined as contributing to the construction of a palace in heaven. The theme is analogous to the contrast in the Acts of Peter between Christian alms-giving and pagan luxury. When he learns of Thomas' activities, the king determines to punish him. However, the king's brother, Gad, who had goaded the king to take vengeance against Thomas, dies and sees the palace prepared for Gandophur in heaven; restored to life by angels, he recounts the vision, and the two royal brothers decide to follow Thomas and practice charity. The death and return of Gad thus differs from the [End Page 29] motif of a dear one brought back to life by an apostle, and serves chiefly to persuade the king of the truth of Thomas' claims about the heavenly palace.

In the third praxis, Thomas encounters the dead body of a beautiful (eumorphos, 30) youth who has been slain by a serpent. Thomas conjures the serpent into sucking its venom from the boy's body, thereby destroying itself and reanimating the youth, who then follows the way of Thomas. Despite the boy's beauty, however, there is no suggestion of an amatory motif in the tale, which focuses entirely on the struggle between Thomas as representative of Christ and the serpent as the spirit of evil. 20 Contrast the rescue of Stratocles' beloved Alcman in the Acts of Andrew.

Thomas of the Acts is the identical twin of Jesus, and at times it seems as if they were conceived of as the mortal and divine aspects of a single self. The drama, accordingly, appears to take place on two planes, the earthly and the cosmic: the handsome youth is saved after a contest between Thomas, with assistance from Jesus himself, and an avatar of the primeval serpent; the Indian king's choice is between a palace in this world and a palace in heaven; the young couple at Andrapolis choose marriage to Christ rather than carnal marriage to one another. The focus is not on love and separation as such but rather on the Manichean duel between the supernal and infernal realms.

In the fourth of Thomas' acts, a juvenile donkey speaks in praise of Jesus (this episode is plainly a companion piece to that of the serpent). In the fifth, Thomas exorcizes a demon that has sexually tormented a woman; no loss of mortal affection results from its departure, though the demon professes (46) to have been happy with its host and paramour. The sixth act recounts how a young man who has adopted a life of Christian chastity slays the woman he loves because she insists on having sex with him; as a result, his hands wither. Thomas restores his hands and brings the woman back to life, upon which she recounts a vision of the torments of hell. The resurrection is not a consequence of the youth's love for the woman, but a sign of Thomas' power; the woman renounces adultery and worships Christ, but there is no narrative interest in the reunited couple.

From the seventh act onward, the narrative comprises one interlocking set of tales involving exorcisms and a succession of conversions to [End Page 30] chastity and Christ; these lead to separations, but ordinary loves are not mourned or respected, and in no scene does Thomas resurrect anyone out of sympathy with human attachment. Thus, in acts seven and eight, demons are driven from the wife and daughter of the king's captain, Siphor (whom the king will later send to arrest Thomas), with the assistance of a speaking ass who serves as messenger; to be sure, the deed is performed for Siphor's sake, but the emphasis is exclusively on Siphor's subsequent conversion rather than human love.

In the ninth act, Mygdonia, the wife of Charisius who is the relative and closest friend of the king Misdaeus, comes and adores Thomas, gives away her jewels, and commits herself to a life of chastity. Charisius is furious at this rejection, and petitions the king to curb Thomas. Charisius' longing for his wife is deep and sincere (e.g., 116, where he addresses her as potheinotate), but she chooses a higher love, saying: "the man I love [hon philo] is heavenly" (117, my trans.). In the tenth act, Mygdonia is baptized. Charisius beseeches Thomas to restore his wife to him (128), and charges him with doing him unprovoked harm. Thomas answers: "Believe me, my son, if men loved [estergon] God as much as one another they would receive from him everything that they ask, without being forced by anyone" (128 fin., trans. Elliott). The love of God is here contrasted with mortal love, and though the tacit implication is that Charisius may enjoy a holy relationship with his wife if he converts to Christianity, it is clear that mortal love counts for relatively little in Thomas' view. 21 In the eleventh act, King Misdaeus' wife Tertia also cleaves to Thomas and chooses chastity, to the king's horror (138); the king's son, Vazan, is converted in the twelfth act, and baptized, along with his own wife, his mother Tertia, and Siphor's wife and daughter, in the thirteenth. The story ends, like the Acts of Andrew and Peter, with Thomas' willing martyrdom at the orders of the desolate ruler, followed lastly by Misdaeus' own conversion. Throughout the finale, the themes of abstinence and the domestic estrangement that ensues are prominent.

It is time now to inquire what the above typology of plot elements, and more particularly the disjunction between separations and reunions, may [End Page 31] mean for the characterization of the apocryphal Acts as a form. The question of the genre of the Acts continues to excite controversy. Thus, Wilhelm Schneemelcher, in his introduction to the translations of the "Second and Third Century Acts of Apostles," comments: "There is still no exact and generally recognized definition of the kind of text to which the apocryphal Acts belong." 22 While acknowledging that the Acts have certain themes in common with ancient Greek romantic fiction, above all in respect to travel and erotic motifs, 23 Schneemelcher concludes: "One cannot . . . simply derive the AGG [= Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles] from the hellenistic novel" (ibid.).

Schneemelcher goes on to question whether there is sufficient internal resemblance among the five major apocryphal Acts to warrant subsuming them under a common type at all: "the fact that the AGG differ markedly from one another tells against this" (ibid.). When he turns, however, within the space of a few pages, to criticizing what he identifies as an American tendency to treat the Acts as an expression of women's "resistance to the patriarchal order in marriage, the family, in society and in the state" (81), 24 Schneemelcher retreats from nominalism and allows, somewhat contradictorily, that the Acts both cohere as a group and betray a particular kinship with the novel: "The AGG took on their special stamp through the position of the apostles. They (and not the liberated women) stand in the centre of the works, and it was because of them that the AGG were written. They are intended to be the bearers of the message, which is proclaimed in a form that comes close to the novel. So here the aims of entertainment, instruction and religious propaganda are combined into a unique Gattung" (82-83). [End Page 32]

Now, it seems indubitable to me that the Acts constitute a well-defined corpus, marked by the central role of a wonder-working apostle who travels widely with the purpose of attracting adherents to a form of Christianity that puts a premium, among other things, on sexual continence. The encratite intention finds narrative expression in the tension that is generated between spouses when one of them elects abstinence. 25 The plot of the Greek erotic novels is based, on the contrary, on the efforts of a couple to be united or reunited in a marriage marked by mutual sexual desire. To this extent, the two forms are, as Kate Cooper says, diametrically opposed. 26 Nevertheless, the Acts--or at least some of them--do accommodate, as we have seen, a set of episodes in which the apostle, whether by healing or resurrection, restores the relationship between a married couple or other dear ones--a motif that has an analogue in the Scheintod or apparent death that the novelistic protagonists sometimes undergo. 27

Unlike the hero and heroine of the novels, the apostle bears no special affection for any one individual: his most complete devotion is reserved for Christ or God. Thanks partly to this focus on a single protagonist, Jean-Marc Prieur affirms categorically that the author of the Acts of Andrew "has chosen the literary Gattung of a biographical narrative." 28 As many scholars have noted, however, the Acts depart from the usual formula for biography in that they do not record the birth or childhood of the apostles, and concentrate exclusively on their mature efforts to spread the faith. 29 More importantly, the miracles and spiritual transcendence of the apostles suggest not so much biography in general as the narratives about thaumaturgic sages like Apollonius of Tyana. [End Page 33]

Closer to the Acts than the novels in this regard is the so-called Alexander Romance, which exhibits the extraordinary abilities of Alexander not only, or even chiefly, in his military prowess, but rather in his cunning, in accord with the paradigm of the clever sage or eiron. A second strand of the romance focuses on the king's aspiration to more than mortal stature. The hero of the Alexander Romance thus combines a sense of mission with a magical acumen. One understands how, in mediaeval literature, the figure of Alexander could be assimilated to the image of the Christian or Moslem saint. Analogous to the Alexander Romance are the so-called lives of Aesop and Homer, which celebrate a sharp-witted hero of humble station. In this same class, moreover, of quasi-biographical narratives, in which a canny protagonist inspired by a special confidence repeatedly triumphs over adversaries, are the four canonical Gospels themselves. 30

All such wise-man tales have in common an episodic structure, in which the several scenes are concatenated like beads on a string until they culminate in the extraordinary death of the hero. As a result, they are easily subject to expansion, reduction, and variation of incident, and they tend accordingly, like the Alexander Romance and the Gospels, to survive in multiple redactions. For this reason, Christine Thomas and I independently came up with the label "open text" for narratives of this kind. 31 Although the armature of these biographical chronicles may be fairly uniform, their hospitality to inserted episodes allows the several rescensions to have a character of their own, depending on the choice and arrangement of the subordinate tales. Thus, in evaluating the thematic emphases of works like the apocryphal Acts, it is particularly important to attend to the inset pieces, and not just the overall resemblance that the frame stories bear to one another. [End Page 34]

At the larger level, the various Acts are as alike as the surviving Greek erotic novels, in each of which the hero and heroine fall in love, suffer tests of their fidelity, and are reunited in the end. All five of the so-called ideal novels honor reciprocal eros as the basis of marriage. It is instructive to contrast with this pattern the anonymous Latin romance, The History of Apollonius King of Tyre, which, though it is also based on the paradigm of separation and reunion, focuses primarily on the relationship between a father and daughter rather than on young lovers, and is deeply suspicious of the power of erotic passion. Thus, even though the formal similarities between Apollonius and the Greek novels are close enough for some scholars to have posited a Greek original for the Latin romance, thematically they are radically different and indeed opposed. 32

In the apocryphal Acts, thematic concerns such as views of human love are likely to manifest themselves in the structure and order of the subordinate tales. It is in the nature of open texts, of course, that they accrete materials from various sources, and a number of episodes, as scholars have shown, probably circulated independently or in quite distinct contexts before being integrated into the Acts as we have them. 33 Nevertheless, each of the different sequences seems to have its own character, either because the Acts were differentially receptive to particular kinds of anecdotes (e.g., the apparent immunity of the Acts of Thomas to the narrative paradigm we have elicited in this study) or because they put their individual stamp on the bits that accrued to them (e.g., the transcendental interpretation of pederastic affection in the Acts of Andrew).

The coexistence of distinct, even contradictory narrative motifs imparts to the corpus of the Acts a tension that enables complex identifications on the part of the audience. On the one hand, election of sexual abstinence on the part of married men and women threatens to dissolve the family as the site of social reproduction and, further, to eliminate the fundamental axis of gender difference in antiquity, that is, the active sexual function of the male and the passive role of the female. As David Halperin writes: "sexual penetration was thematized as domination: the relation between the insertive and the receptive sexual partner was taken [End Page 35] to be the same kind of relation as that obtaining between social superior and social inferior." 34 Refusal of sexuality in the Christian context thus has the consequence of collapsing the hierarchical structure of gender roles into the undifferentiated communion of brethren; hence too the androgynous imagery of male parturition (cf. Andrew's role as midwife to Stratocles) and female virility. Analogously, conversion and sexual continence annul the polarization of homoerotic subject positions as lover (erastes) and beloved (eromenos or pais, i.e., "boy"), recasting the partners as brothers and equals. On the other hand, the restoration of familial ties, thanks to the sympathetic intervention of the apostle in his capacity as supernatural healer (the alternative paradigm we have identified), affirms the traditional structure of the household and the division of functions between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves.

The double or ambiguous perspective of the Acts permits them a wide appeal, inasmuch as the image of radically celibate and independent women, youths and slaves is balanced or at least varied by the depiction of familial affection and integration. In calling attention to the role within the Acts of a secondary narrative paradigm based on the apostle's respect for mortal ties, I hope to have contributed something to the appreciation of their richness in respect both to their formal structure and to their thematic subtlety in encoding a complex attitude toward the place of love in Christianity.

David Konstan is Professor of Classics at Brown University.


1. This paper is a revised version of a lecture presented to the Philadelphia Seminar on the Origins of Christianity, held at Princeton University on 20 March 1997. I am grateful to the participants in the seminar for their stimulating comments and suggestions, as well as to the anonymous referees of this journal for their helpful remarks.

2. See David Konstan, Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genres (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).

3. Judith Perkins, The Suffering Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era (London: Routledge, 1995), 26.

4. Para. 23, trans. Dennis Ronald MacDonald, The Acts of Andrew and the Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals, SBL Texts and Translations, vol. 33 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990).

5. Kate Cooper, The Virgin and the Bride: Idealized Womanhood in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 55.

6. In reference to Maximilla's "rejection of human love," Perkins, Suffering Self, 28, observes: "Through the trope of the marriage union, the Acts illustrated a Christian rejection of contemporary social structure and the outrage this engendered."

7. Margaret Aymer points out to me that Stratocles' metaphorical pregnancy stands in contrast to the childlessness of Aegeates at the end of the Acts; it also contributes to a blurring of the opposition between male and female identities among Christians.

8. Jean-Marc Prieur, in Edgar Hennecke, ed., The New Testament Apocrypha, rev. by Wilhelm Schneemelcher, trans. R. Mc. L. Wilson, vol. 2, Writings Relating to the Apostles, Apocalypses and Related Subjects (1989; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 11.

9. On the function of healing in the Acts, with particular reference to the Acts of Peter, see Perkins, Suffering Self, 124-41, who argues that the apostles' cures "establish the superior healing prowess of the Christian community," and that the Acts of Peter is designed to "demonstrate the Christian community's powerful concern with sickness, health, and human suffering" (125, 129).

10. MacDonald, Acts of Andrew, 181.

11. So MacDonald, Acts of Andrew, 283 n. 70, following Jean-Marc Prieur, ed., Acta Andreae, 2 vols., CCSA 5-6 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1989), 49.

12. Maximilianus Bonnet and Ricardus Adelbertus Lipsius, edd., Acta apostolorum apocrypha, 2 vols. (vol. 2 in 2 parts), (1888-1903; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1959).

13. Para. 19, trans. J. K. Elliot, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

14. See Perkins, Suffering Self, 41-76.

15. "A la difference des recits paralleles des Actes d'Andre et des Actes de Thomas, la reaction violente de mari delaisse ne debouchait pas sur le martyre de l'apotre. Andronicus, au lieu de mener a leur terme ses projets meurtriers, adherait a son tour a la foi nouvelle et acceptait de ne plus voir en Drusiane qu'une soeur"; Eric Junod and Jean-Daniel Kaestli, ed., Acta Iohannis, 2 vols., CCSA 1-2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1983), 90.

16. Cf. Junod and Kaestli, Acta Iohannis, 564-66.

17. On the role of wealth and patronage in the society represented within the Acts of Peter, see Judith Perkins, "The Social World of the Acts of Peter," in James Tatum, ed., The Search for the Ancient Novel (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 296-307; Perkins, Suffering Self, 135-41.

18. In Hennecke/Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 220.

19. For the reconstruction of this fragmentary section, see Schneemelcher in Hennecke/Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 222-23.

20. The word peirasmos doubtless indicates a "trial" rather than a "temptation" in the sense that Thomas himself might be susceptible to the boy's charms, though both Elliot, The Apocryphal New Testament, 459, and Drijvers in Hennecke/Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 351, translate "temptation."

21. Thomas does seem to vascillate once and, in apparent fear, bids Mygdonia do the will of Charisius (130), but his hesitation is probably best construed as a test of her, which she passes by stoutly refusing to submit to her husband.

22. In Hennecke/Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 78.

23. Cf. Rosa Soder, Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und die romanhafte Literatur der Antike (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1932); Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 90: "an association of some kind has commonly been assumed between the apocryphal acts . . . and the ancient novel." For a survey of the question of the genre of the Acts, see Jean-Daniel Kaestli, "Les principales orientations de la recherche sur les Acts apocryphes des apotres," in Francois Bovon, ed., Les actes apocryphes des apotres: Christianisme et monde paien (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1981), 57-67.

24. Schneemelcher associates these views, which he characterizes as "ahistorical travesties," with Stevan L. Davies, The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980); Dennis Ronald MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983); and Virginia Burrus, Chastity as Autonomy: Women in the Stories of the Apocryphal Acts (Lewiston, New York: E. Mellen, 1987).

25. For a more precise account of encratism and its relation to the several Acts, see Yves Tissot, "Encratisme et actes apocryphes," in Bovon, Les actes apocryphes, 109-19.

26. Cf. Perkins, Suffering Self, 26.

27. Cf. Shadi Bartsch, Decoding the Ancient Novel: The Reader and the Role of Description in Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Glen Bowersock, Fiction as History: Nero to Julian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

28. Jean-Marc Prieur, in Hennecke/Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 113. On philosophical lives as a model for the Acts, cf. Richard Goulet, "Les vies de philosophes dans l'antiquite tardive et leur porte mysterique," in Bovon, Les actes apocryphes, 161-208; Eric Junod, "Les vies de philosophes et les actes apocryphes des apotres poursuivent-ils un dessein similaire?" ibid., 209-19.

29. Cf. Schneemelcher in Hennecke/Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 79, with reference to Phillip Vielhauser, Geschichte der urchristliche Literatur (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1975), 693ff.

30. Cf. Cameron, Rhetoric of Empire, 91: "the Christian story is itself a biography." Richard I. Pervo, Profit with Delight: The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 122-31, subsumes the apocryphal Acts, together with Luke-Acts, under the broad category of historical novel. There is less to be said in favor of the connection that Dennis Ronald MacDonald, Christianizing Homer: The Odyssey, Plato, and the Acts of Andrew (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), draws between the Acts of Andrew and the Homeric Odyssey; cf. also MacDonald, Acts of Andrew, 53-55.

31. See Christine Thomas, "Where is the Text in this Text? Fluidity in the Alexander Romance and the Apocryphal Acts," in Bradley Chance, Ronald Hock, and Judith Perkins, edd., New Perspectives on Ancient Fiction and the New Testament (Atlanta: Scholars Press, forthcoming); David Konstan, "Reading the Alexander Romance," in Giusto Traina, ed., Il romanzo di Alessandro = Lexis (forthcoming).

32. See Konstan, Sexual Symmetry, 100; cf. Gareth Schmeling, "Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri," in Gareth Schmeling, ed., The Novel in the Ancient World (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996), 517-51.

33. The literature is enormous; for an example, see Yves Tissot, "Les actes de Thomas, exemple de recueil composite," in Bovon, Les actes apocryphes, 223-32.

34. David M. Halperin, "Is There a History of Sexuality?" in Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin, edd., The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 1993), 418; cf. David M. Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love (New York: Routledge, 1990).

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