Shifting Identities – Creating Change
Conversion, Conflict, and the Drama of Social Reproduction: Narratives of Filial Resistance in Early Christianity and Modern Britain
Abstract: The authors examine the element of family conflict in conversion experiences. As a way to understand what is often at stake in these conflicts, they compare the Acts of Paul and Thecla with a recent novel about the Pakistani community in Britain. Mother-daughter tension is at the core of both narratives, and in both cases it functions to explore the vulnerability of social reproduction in a marginal community.
Some decades ago, the American scholar Dennis MacDonald wrote of a “battle for Paul” in second-century narrative sources,1 and nowhere is this more true than in thinking about models of Christian conversion. Paul takes centre stage in the public preaching of the canonical book of Acts that preserves a stylised picture of the earliest days of Christian mission. But in non-canonical texts preserving a very different picture of Christian conversions this public performer Paul is replaced by an alluring pseudo-romantic figure, a lure to female adolescent protagonists who follow him into a Christian life, leaving their homes and family life behind. The implication of these latter texts is seemingly that this departure from home is a necessary corollary to rejection of an inherited identity.2
Produced predominantly during the second to fourth centuries CE, the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles have proved a lively testing-ground for recent scholarship on cultural hybridity in late antiquity.3 One of the most ← 169 | 170 → potentially exciting areas of this work is a re-consideration of the role of householders in...
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