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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mos Christianorum: The Roman Discourse of Exemplarity and the Jewish and Christian Language of Leadership

  • Author(s): Petitfils, James Michael
  • Advisor(s): Bartchy, Scott
  • Mellor, Ronald J
  • et al.

Prompted by recent research on "example" in the field of Classics, this dissertation sets out to better understand the various ways in which Jewish and Christian authors writing, for the most part, in the Imperial west participated in the ubiquitous Roman discourse of exemplarity as they contended for what they understood to be native ancestral leadership ideals. I first introduce the form, function, and broad popularity of the Roman discourse of exemplarity (chapter 1), and propose five prevailing characteristics of ideal Roman leadership (noble lineage, courage/martial prowess, eloquence, generous patronage, and piety), before testing them on multiple Roman works (chapter 2).

My project then explores the ways in which both the rhetorical form and moral content of this ancient conversation were appropriated and redeployed in texts celebrating non-Roman ancestral leaders. I begin with the Moses(es) of Josephus' Ant. 2-4 and Philo's Mosis 1-2, arguing that Josephus' more sustained contact with Roman culture and politics significantly shaped his presentation of Moses' exemplary leadership, while Philo's account largely lacks such narratological and moral Roman coloring. Both authors, however, stress Moses' all-encompassing paradigmatic piety. Chapters 4-5 focus on the leadership discourse in 1 Clement and The Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, two corporate letters deploying Christ and Christ-imitating ancestral exempla in the service of intracommunal issues of leadership. I demonstrate the robust participations of these two texts in the Roman discourse of exemplarity as well as their shared appropriation of many characteristically Roman leadership priorities (especially courage and agonistic endurance). At the same time, I argue, both texts advocate the rather un-Roman, Pauline leadership priority of humility using Roman discursive tools, thus affirming the utility of Roman exemplarity for the preservation and articulation of non-Roman ancestral traditions.

Among other implications, my project encourages those studying Roman pedagogy and moral discourse to begin including texts often overlooked as belonging exclusively to the fields of Jewish or Christian studies. Secondly, for those interested in ancient notions of Jewish and Christian leadership, my project encourages the appreciation of both the similarity of developing Mosaic or Christ-oriented leadership traditions to Roman approaches and the possibility of their cultural peculiarity.

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