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In 167 CE, Aelius Aristides praised the Athenians for the φιλανθρωπία which the city had demonstrated to all other peoples. Ten years later, from the same city, Athenagoras the apologist wrote his Legatio in defence of the Christians. The treatise responds to three common accusations – that the Christians were guilty of ‘Atheism, Thyestean banquets, and Oedipean unions’ (Leg. 3.3) – but ultimately drives at one point: the Christians ‘are the most pious and righteous of all men in matters that concern both the divine and your kingdom’ (Leg. 1.3). To highlight this point about the kingdom, Athenagoras draws a parallel between his addressees (the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus) and the Christians. Just as the emperors are gentle, mild, peaceable and philanthropic (Leg. 1.2; 30.2), the Christian life is also gentle, philanthropic, and kind (Leg. 12.1, 3). This paper will seek to elucidate Athenagoras’ portrayal of the Christians as philanthropic citizens in light of the Legatio’s historical and literary context, Athenagoras’ appeal to the emperors, and his use of Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount.

 

David Evans is a PhD candidate in the Ancient History department of Macquarie University, Sydney. He recently submitted his thesis for examination, with the title Christians in Athens in the First Two Centuries: From Paul to Bishop Quadratus. David has a background in education and church ministry, and is currently teaching Christian Studies at St Peters Lutheran College, Indooroopilly.

 

About Classics and Ancient History Seminars

Please note, if applicable to the session, Classics and Ancient History seminars are followed by a wine-and-cheese reception ($2 coin donation per person). Enquiries about the seminars may be made to Associate Professor Tom Stevenson.

The Friends of Antiquity, an alumni organisation of the University, runs its own series of public lectures, which take place on Sunday afternoons. The Friends’ program for 2019 can be found at http://www.friendsofantiquity.org.au.