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Reading Renunciation:
Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity
Elizabeth A. Clark

Paperback | 1999 | $69.95 | £58.95 | ISBN: 9780691005126
360 pp. | 7 3/4 x 10
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400823185 |
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A study of how asceticism was promoted through Biblical interpretation, Reading Renunciation uses contemporary literary theory to unravel the writing strategies of the early Christian authors. Not a general discussion of early Christian teachings on celibacy and marriage, the book is a close examination, in the author's words, of how "the Fathers' axiology of abstinence informed their interpretation of Scriptural texts and incited the production of ascetic meaning."

Elizabeth Clark begins with a survey of scholarship concerning early Christian asceticism that is designed to orient the nonspecialist. Section Two is organized around potentially troubling issues posed by Old Testament texts that demanded skillful handling by ascetically inclined Christian exegetes. The third section, "Reading Paul," focuses on the hermeneutical problems raised by I Corinthians 7, and the Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral Epistles.

Elizabeth Clark's remarkable work will be of interest to scholars of late antiquity, religion, literary theory, and history.


"This is a magisterial work. . . . Reading Renunciation will stand the test of scholarly time and remain an essential work in the long tradition of patristic exegesis."--Richard Valantasis, Journal of Religion

"[A] scholarly, conscientious and provoking study"--Philip Rousseau, Journal of Ecclesiastical History


"Elizabeth Clark reveals in devastating detail how the ascetic project came to prevail in the culture wars of early Christianity. By an inventive and selective interpretation of the Scriptural texts, later writers made the texts suit their purpose. Through arguments that are dense, supple and exciting, Clark shows us the church fathers ruthlessly exploitating their own foundation texts. This is a magisterial work by a major scholar."--Averil Cameron, Keble College, University of Oxford

"No aspect of the Christian tradition seems more alien to our own sensibilities than the ascetic temper of the late antique Church Fathers. Without diminishing their strangeness, Elizabeth Clark shows us just how they read their Bibles, their bodies, and their world. The book is itself a remarkable act of reading and writing--of 'poaching' and 'founding [her] own place'--informed by a profound knowledge of the ancient texts and by a mastery of postmodern critical theory."--Wayne A. Meeks, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviation List xv
CHAPTER ONE Introduction 3
CHAPTER TWO Asceticism in Late Ancient Christianity 14
Reading for Asceticism
CHAPTER THREE Reading in the Early Christian World 45
CHAPTER FOUR The Profits and Perils of Figurative Exegesis 70
CHAPTER FIVE Exegetical and Rhetorical Strategies for Ascetic Reading 104
CHAPTER SIX Three Models of Reading Renunciation 153
Rejection and Recuperation: The Old Dispensation and the New
CHAPTER SEVEN From Reproduction to Defamilialization 177
CHAPTER EIGHT From Ritual to Askesis 204
CHAPTER NINE The Exegesis of Divorce 233
Reading Paul
CHAPTER TEN I Corinthians 7 in Early Christian Exegesis 259
CHAPTER ELEVEN From Paul to the Pastorals 330
Afterword 371
Bibliograpky 375
Select Index of Biblical Passages 401
Select General Index 409

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