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FA-232749-16
A Memory of Violence: The Radicalization of Religious Difference in the Middle East (431-750 CE)
Christine Shepardson, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FA-232749-16

Martyrs of Exile: John of Ephesus and Religious Persecution in Late Antiquity (Book Section)
Title: Martyrs of Exile: John of Ephesus and Religious Persecution in Late Antiquity
Author: Christine Shepardson
Editor: Wendy Mayer
Editor: Eric Fournier
Abstract: In the late sixth century, John of Ephesus’s Church History and Lives of the Eastern Saints drew on familiar narratives of early Christian martyrdom to encourage Christians who rejected the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE) to endure earthly sufferings that he claimed were caused by imperially sanctioned persecution [rdifuta] against God’s true saints. From a historical perspective, however, Daniel Washburn has noted several differences between these centuries, such as Constantine’s use of the familiar Roman punishment of banishment with increasing frequency for religious minorities and with a new rhetorical goal of reform through conversion to imperial orthodoxy, leading Éric Fournier to question whether the use of the term “persecution” for Christian rulers’ treatment of dissident Christians might be misleading. After all, unlike their earlier counterparts, most of the heroes in John’s sixth-century stories seem to have been more in danger of hypothermia from the winter cold in exile or prison than of being torn limb from limb by wild beasts in a Roman arena. Despite these differences, however, later Christians who were at odds with imperial orthodoxy produced narratives that instead stressed their parallels with earlier Christians, claiming that the concern for eternal salvation that motivated their defiance was the same; their suffering, equivalent; and their steadfast saints equally martyrs. This paper will argue that although the empire’s treatment of Christians who refused to participate in key ritual offerings shifted from the second to the sixth century, John of Ephesus interpreted the ostensibly kinder and gentler reform-minded later imperial pressure as equally threatening to Christians’ eternal salvation as earlier pressures had been, which for him justified narrating the stories of his exiled saints through the familiar rhetoric of martyrdom and persecution.
Year: 2017
Publisher: Routledge
Book Title: Heirs of Roman Persecution: Studies on a Christian and para-Christian Discourse in Late Antiquit

Suffering Saints: Shaping Narratives of Violence after Chalcedon (Book Section)
Title: Suffering Saints: Shaping Narratives of Violence after Chalcedon
Author: Christine Shepardson
Editor: Christian Raschle
Editor: Jitse Dijkstra
Abstract: Narratives of violence pervade the fifth- and sixth-century anti-Chalcedonian writings of John Rufus, Zachariah Rhetor, Philoxenos of Mabbug, Severus of Antioch, and John of Ephesus, who depict their heroes as the most recent martyrs in a long line of suffering saints who persevered in Christian truth in the face of unjust imperial persecution. These stories, however, were carefully crafted for rhetorical effect. Faced with various threats to their followers’ allegiance, these leaders represented anti-Chalcedonian Christians in the lineage of the early martyrs in the hope of defending their doctrinal legitimacy and thus reducing the rate of apostasy from their churches.
Year: 2017
Book Title: Religious Violence in Antiquity: New Perspectives

Spinning Violence: Narrating the Suffering of Early Anti-Chalcedonian Saints (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Spinning Violence: Narrating the Suffering of Early Anti-Chalcedonian Saints
Author: Christine Shepardson
Abstract: Most Christians in late antiquity understood imperially sanctioned violence against the earliest Christians as the unjustified persecution of martyrs by an empire that was at odds with God. Nevertheless, Christians in positions of power after the rise of the emperor Constantine often explained imperially sanctioned violence against their religious opponents as the justified suppression of heresy, a narrative that complicated the position of Christians who rejected imperial orthodoxy, such as those who denounced the legitimacy of the Council of Chalcedon after 451. One consequence of this post-Constantinian challenge is that narratives of violence pervade the fifth- and sixth-century anti-Chalcedonian writings of John Rufus, Zachariah Rhetor, Philoxenos of Mabbug, Severus of Antioch, and John of Ephesus, as these authors depict their heroes as the most recent martyrs in a long line of suffering saints who persevered in Christian truth in the face of unjust imperial persecution. The fact, though, that these authors retained a narrative of their community as God’s suffering saints even when they had imperial support under the emperor Anastasius (r. 491-518), highlighting in those years their heroes’ self-imposed struggles from ascetic hardships more than physical injuries from imperial violence, demonstrates that their stories of suffering were carefully crafted for rhetorical effect in each new context. Faced with a variety of threats to their followers’ allegiance over the decades, ranging from bloody physical violence to the attractive temptations of bribery, these sixth-century leaders persistently represented anti-Chalcedonian Christians as suffering saints in the lineage of the early martyrs in the hope of defending their doctrinal legitimacy regardless of who currently held sway in the imperial capital, and of thus reducing the rate of apostasy from their churches.
Date: 07/15/2017
Conference Name: Religious Violence in Antiquity: New Perspectives

Hell of a Wrong Eucharist: Ritual Distinction and Community Identity in 6th-c. Syriac Christianity (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Hell of a Wrong Eucharist: Ritual Distinction and Community Identity in 6th-c. Syriac Christianity
Author: Christine Shepardson
Abstract: This talk explores the complicated world of the eastern Mediterranean in the late fifth and sixth centuries in the topsy-turvy decades after the emperor Marcian affirmed the orthodoxy of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, a doctrine that remained hotly contested as subsequent emperors supported one side and then another of the debates, and positions proliferated further in response to ongoing efforts at compromise. In 475, for example, the usurper Basiliscus issued an Encyclical that rejected Chalcedon, but ‘flip-flopped’ just months later in his Anti-encyclical. The emperor Zeno (r. 474-5, 476-91) hoped to find an acceptable compromise when he issued the Henotikon in 482, but since only some from each side supported the compromise, it fractured the church further. After Zeno’s death, many (but not all) anti-Chalcedonian Christians temporarily enjoyed support from the emperor Anastasius (r. 491-518), but the subsequent reign of Justin I (r. 518-27) was filled with more aggressive pro-Chalcedonian policies. Justin’s successor Justinian (r. 527-65), with the empress Theodora, renewed efforts to find a compromise, but they were ultimately unsuccessful; the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 largely signaled an end to these efforts, and the reign of Justin II (r. 565-74) that followed became increasingly hostile to those who opposed imperial (i.e., Chalcedonian) orthodoxy. In this context the markers of Christian orthodoxy were contested and its definition by any measure was wildly unstable. In this chaos some Christians identified orthodoxy by imperial support (despite shifting doctrine), some patronized a particular church building (despite changing bishops), some adhered to a particular doctrine or followed a particular bishop as their fortunes waxed and waned, and still others seem to have hoped that their personal devotion to a life of asceticism would stand as a secure bulwark against doctrinal uncertainty.
Date: 7/15/2017
Conference Name: Center for Late Ancient Studies, Duke University

Remembering the Future: Heaven, Hell, and the Eucharist in John Rufus (fl. 500-18). (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Remembering the Future: Heaven, Hell, and the Eucharist in John Rufus (fl. 500-18).
Author: Christine Shepardson
Abstract: This paper today will discuss John Rufus’s Plerophoriae, from the anti-Chalcedonian monastic stronghold of Maiuma (Gaza) in the early sixth century during the supportive reign of the emperor Anastasius. This essay argues that John Rufus deployed earlier saints’ vivid visions of heaven and hell to forcefully pressure sixth-century Christians to avoid contact with anyone or any place associated with Chalcedonian Christianity. Many visions and prophecies in this text, in fact, suggest that the Eucharist in particular should be understood as a focal point of the controversy, and that Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian Christians were not nearly as distinct as John Rufus would have liked. In another chapter of this project, I demonstrate that John of Ephesus’s later texts claimed that late sixth-century anti-Chalcedonian Christians faced financial, social, political, and sometimes violent physical pressures to accept the Chalcedonian Eucharist. I believe that examining the ways in which John Rufus earlier deployed depictions of an imminent afterlife and the Eucharist ritual in relation to the Chalcedonian controversy allows us to imagine daily interactions and concerns of early sixth-century Christians (and their leaders) in new and productive ways.
Date: 7/15/2017
Conference Name: Regional Late Antiquity Consortium, University of Kentucky

Persisting in Religious Truth: Reading John of Ephesus during the Rise of Islam (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Persisting in Religious Truth: Reading John of Ephesus during the Rise of Islam
Author: Christine Shepardson
Abstract: In the late sixth century, the Christian leader John of Ephesus (ca. 507-88/9) wrote his Church History and Lives of the Eastern Saints. By the middle of the seventh century, Muhammad’s followers had taken control of many of the regions where anti-Chalcedonian (Miaphysite) Christians survived despite decades of imperial pressure, and by the late seventh and early eighth century, Muslims began to welcome non-Arab converts to Islam more freely. In response, Syriac-speaking anti-Chalcedonian Christians produced texts like the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius [ca. 692, Miaph, 100km SE Nis] to combat the growing threat they believed Muslims posed to their community. While scholars have studied Pseudo-Methodius’s Apocalypse in this context, none have added John of Ephesus’s texts to the discussion. The only surviving manuscript of John’s Lives (567-9) was produced in 688; part III of his Church History (577-88) appears to be written by the same scribe; and part II of his Church History (567-71) survives in one ninth-century manuscript that Pseudo-Dionysius incorporated into his Chronicle in the late eighth century. This paper will highlight some of the thematic echoes between John of Ephesus’s writings as they were preserved during the rise of Islam and the contemporaneous Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius (and were there time, thanks to Michael Penn’s work, I could add John bar Penkaye’s, Book of Main Points [ca. 687, E-Syr, 100km NE Nis], the Edessene Apocalypse [early 690s, Miaph, Ed], and the Apocalypse of John the Little [early 8th c, Miaph, Ed?]). In this paper, I argue that John’s texts, with their strong arguments about remaining steadfast in (anti-Chalcedonian) Christianity in the face of government persecutions and financial and political incentives to apostatize, resonated with Syriac-speaking anti-Chalcedonian Christians not only against the Chalcedonian empire of the sixth century, but also against Muslims in the late seventh and eighth centuries.
Date: 11/15/2016
Conference Name: Society of Biblical Literature, San Antonio

Anathemas from Heaven: John Rufus and Severus on Chalcedonian Claims of Legitimacy (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Anathemas from Heaven: John Rufus and Severus on Chalcedonian Claims of Legitimacy
Author: Christine Shepardson
Abstract: In the early sixth century, John Rufus circulated stories of saints’ visions and prophecies that he argued proved the invalidity of the Council of Chalcedon (451), and in turn the orthodoxy of his own non-Chalcedonian community. In some cases, John reported that a written document anathematizing the council had descended from heaven itself in the presence of witnesses. John represented these stories as fifth-century predictions about, and early responses to, Chalcedon, but comparison with the writings of his contemporary non-Chalcedonian colleague Severus of Antioch reveals the powerful role that the stories of heavenly anathematizations of Chalcedon played in John’s own context. For his part, Severus explicitly mentioned sixth-century Christians’ concerns about rejecting a council that had as many trappings of episcopal and imperial legitimacy as Chalcedon did. Citing scripture and earlier church councils and saints, Severus argued that since the Council of Chalcedon had strayed from orthodoxy, neither it nor the clergy who adhered to it had the authority to anathematize or otherwise censor truly orthodox (non-Chalcedonian) Christians. With the methodical tools of his legal training, Severus countered his audience’s fears that they and their clergy might be separated from God and the church on account of their rejection of this council, encouraging them to remain faithful to non-Chalcedonian clergy through the long-lasting conflicts. This essay will position John Rufus’s Plerophoriae in his own time by reading its miraculous stories of heavenly anathemas in light of Severus of Antioch’s concrete writings about earthly ones.
Date: 05/01/2017
Conference Name: North American Patristics Society, Chicago


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