Abject Joy: Paul, Prison, and the Art of Making Do

ISBN : 9780190065515

Ryan S. Schellenberg
240 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Sep 2021
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No extant text gives so vivid a glimpse into the experience of an ancient prisoner as Paul's letter to the Philippians. As a letter from prison, however, it is not what one would expect. For although it is true that Paul, like some other ancient prisoners, speaks in Philippians of his yearning for death, what he expresses most conspicuously is contentment and even joy. Setting aside pious banalities that contrast true joy with happiness, and leaving behind too heroic depictions that take their cue from Acts, Abject Joy offers a reading of Paul's letter as both a means and an artifact of his provisional attempt to make do. By outlining the uses of punitive custody in the administration of Rome's eastern provinces and describing the prison's complex place in the social and moral imagination of the Greek and Roman world, Ryan Schellenberg provides a richly drawn account of Paul's nonelite social context, where bodies and their affects were shaped by acute contingency and habitual susceptibility to violent subjugation. Informed by recent work in the history of emotions, and with comparison to modern prison writing and ethnography provoking new questions and insights, Schellenberg describes Paul's letter as an affective technology, wielded at once on Paul himself and on his addressees, that works to strengthen his grasp on the very joy he names. Abject Joy: Paul, Prison, and the Art of Making Do by Ryan S. Schellenberg is a social history of prison in the Greek and Roman world that takes Paul's letter to the Philippians as its focal instance-or, to put it the other way around, a study of Paul's letter to the Philippians that takes the reality of prison as its starting point. Examining ancient perceptions of confinement, and placing this ancient evidence in dialogue with modern prison writing and ethnography, it describes Paul's urgent and unexpectedly joyful letter as a witness to the perplexing art of survival under constraint.


Table of Contents
Translations and Abbreviations
Introduction: Paul, Prison, and the Social History of Emotions
Prison and the Pauline Legend
Prison Letters and Pauline Incomparability
The Characteristic Emotion of the Sage
The Body of Paul and the History of Emotions
Outline, and a Note on Comparison
1. Far More Imprisonments: Punitive Custody in the Letters of Paul
Paul and Other Imprisoned Apostles
Magistrates and Jurisdictions
Paul in Local Custody
Writing in Chains
Plausible Accusations
2. To Die Is Gain: Subjection, Glory, and Paul's Wish for Death
Prison before the Prison
Everyday Violence
Confinement and Subjugation
A Noble Death?
To Depart and Be with Christ
To Die Is Gain
3. Speaking with All Boldness: Prison in the Roman Social Imagination
Prisoners of War
Ill-Fated Aristocrats
Nonelite Malefactors
Philosophers, Astrologers, and Other Divine Heralds
For the Defense of the Gospel
4. I Have Learned to Be Content: Performing the Autarkic Self
You Can't Always Get What You Want
Thanks Anyway
Agency and Abasement
Performing Indifference
5. Rejoice with Me: The Epistolary Cultivation of Collective Emotion
Paul Unaffected
My Joy and Crown
Joy, Hardship, and Solidarity
Socioaffective Emotion Regulation
Conclusion: The Body of Our Humiliation

About the author: 

Ryan S. Schellenberg is Associate Professor of New Testament at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. His research seeks to ground reconstructions of early Christ groups in lived human experience by placing the ancient evidence in dialogue with contemporary ethnography. Schellenberg's previous book, Rethinking Paul's Rhetorical Education, was awarded the 2015 F. W. Beare Award for an outstanding book in New Testament and Christian Origins by the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies.

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