Clerical Exile




Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity has been published by Peter Lang in the Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity series.

I have two essays in the book:“Tracing the Imaginary in Imperial Rome” and “Exile, Identity, and Space: Cyprian of Carthage and the Rhetoric of Social Formation.”

Check out my Research webpage for the abstracts, and make sure to get your volume before they sell out!

John Exsul?

My essay “Mapping Exilic Imaginaries: Greco-Roman Discourses of Displacement and the Book of Revelation” has been accepted for publication in Studia Patristica. See my Research page for an abstract.


I will be presenting my essay, “Tracing the Imaginary in Imperial Rome” at the Northwest Early Christian Studies Seminar (NWX) held at the University of Portland (April 16, 2016).

Clerical Exile

I have written two articles that will be published in Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity: Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity (eds. Jakob Engberg, Julia Hillner, and Jörg Ulrich; Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2016).

The first article explores the convergence between imperial and exilic discourses of space and identity (“Tracing the Imaginary in Imperial Rome”), while the second examines the exilic rhetoric of Cyprian of Carthage (“Exile, Identity, and Space: Cyprian of Carthage and the Rhetoric of Social Formation”).

For more information, please see my abstracts on my Research page


Cyprian and Exile

On Monday, November 25 I will be presenting a paper at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Annual Meeting at the Religious Competition in Late Antiquity session.  My paper is entitled “Exile, Identity, and Space: Cyprian of Carthage and the Rhetoric of Social Formation.”

In his commentary on the letters of Cyprian of Carthage, G.W. Clarke rightly states that the bishop does not cite pagan authors in his writings: to underscore his reasoning Cyprian always appeals to the scriptures rather than to the classical canon.  Yet Clarke also notes that traces of classical education appear in the bishop’s rhetoric, and others have detected the influence of Stoic principles embedded within his arguments.  Thus, while Cyprian radically opposes his pre-conversion life with his life in Christ and envisions clearly demarcated boundaries between Christian and pagan worlds, he nevertheless remains implicated in and inscribed by classical culture.  The border between Athens and Jerusalem cannot be defined as neatly as he and many other church fathers believed.

Additional support for early Christianity’s engagement with its cultural heritage can be detected in the ways that Cyprian, the Christian communities in Carthage and Rome, and Cyprian’s biographer Pontius appropriate the varied discourses on displacement found within the pagan and Christian tradition.  This paper will examine how Cyprian and his contemporaries mined the reservoir of topoi associated with exile and flight in order to define the appropriate response to imperial persecution and to establish the contours of the Christian community in its aftermath.  Against those who viewed escape from persecution negatively and sought to construct a church of the martyrs, Cyprian and his supporters mobilize exilic motifs to defend his flight, to counter the support for an elite church defined by confessors and martyrs, and to establish the attitudes and behaviors necessary for inclusion in the “mother church.”  The literary archive on displacement thus provides the bishop and his contemporaries with a culturally conditioned framework to debate and clarify the dimensions of authentic Christianity.  In the process, these discursive “practices” on identity and space produce a specific Christian social formation.

Ancient and Modern Physiognomy

In this segment from NPR, Bob Mondello explores the role of social media and snap polls in the U.S. debates. He thinks that reality television shows such as American Idol have conditioned Americans to watch events and cast their votes. Moreover, he states that “the things reality shows have conditioned us to look for — polish, brashness, engagement with the camera — are all surface, not things that have much to do with governing.”

Mondello would prefer that we judge candidates according to the effectiveness of their argumentation rather than to superficial qualities such as body language and style. Yet these features have been a regular part of political life for over two thousand years.  The Greeks and Romans in particular were obsessed with physiognomy, a “science” devoted to scrutinizing a person’s various external features, both permanent (e.g., physical size or skin color) and transitory (e.g., comportment, movement, gestures, and vocal intonation) in order to learn about their inner qualities. The body, in other words, provided observers with important clues about a person’s character: as ps.-Aristotle states at the beginning of his Physiognomy, “minds follow their bodies and are not isolated and unaffected by the changes of the body … and the body is clearly affected along with the affectations of the soul” (805a1). This position allows him to conclude, for instance, that “a brilliant complexion indicates a hot, sanguine temper, whilst a pale, pink complexion signifies a talented nature” (806b1). Similarly, soft hair is the sign of a coward, while coarse hair signals a man of courage (806b1).

Maud Gleason’s Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome explores this topic among second-century Roman elites, while Mikeal Parsons’s Body and Character in Luke and Acts demonstrates how the author of these texts engages and subverts common physiognomic assumptions. Simon Swain’s Seeing the Face, Seeing the Soul: Polemon’s Physiognomy from Classical to Medieval Islam combines essays from numerous scholars along with valuable translations of Roman and Islamic texts.

While Mondello is surely right that the external features of candidates are unrelated to their ability to govern effectively, the Western intellectual tradition shows that they are nevertheless instrumental in determining which candidates are given this opportunity.

How Reality TV Turns Debates Into ‘White House Idol’

The Endurance of Greco-Roman Rhetoric

The Greeks and Romans maintained an almost obsessive interest in rhetoric.  From Aristotle to Cicero to Quintilian, authors repeatedly affirmed that mastering the art of persuasive speaking was necessary for any educated (male) citizen to be taken seriously in the public square.  Building upon the study of grammar and logic, rhetoric, according to the ancients, was an essential part of a comprehensive education (enkyklios paideia).  In medieval universities, these three fields constituted the trivium, or the first part of a liberal arts education.  In the following article, Sam Leith considers the rhetorical legacy the ancient world has given to Western language patterns.

Other Men’s Flowers and the Art of Persuasion