Dr David Evans (Macquarie University)

In AD 167, Aelius Aristides praised the Athenians for the philanthrōpia (‘benevolence’) that 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, namely 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’s portrayal of the Christians as philanthropic citizens in light of the Legatio’s historical and literary context, his appeal to the emperors and his use of Jesus’s teachings in the sermon on the mount.