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Read it in Rome: miracles, documents, and an empire of knowledge in Justin Martyr's First Apology

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Kolbeck, Benjamin 


Roman ruling ideology stressed imperial control of knowledge, as well as of material and people. A range of evidence from across the empire suggests that these knowledge claims were commonly accepted, and often mobilised, by ruled communities. In his First Apology, Justin Martyr leverages these ideals for his own knowledge claims concerning the life of Jesus and his fulfilment of Hebrew Bible prophecies. It has already been recognised that Justin engages with the machinery of empire through packaging his Apology as a petition presented to the emperor. On the other hand, his citation of Roman documents at several points in the text has been neglected. A close examination reveals the importance of these citations to Justin’s project, in which he utilises the supposed fidelity of Roman documents, and the idea of the emperor as a guarantor of collected knowledge, to authenticate his Christian claims. Finally, proceeding from suggestions about an internal audience for Christian apologetics, it is argued that these references should be seen as alleviating the concerns of an internal Christian readership, and not as overtures to non-Christian Graeco-Romans.



Justin Martyr, First Apology, documents, census, acta, petition, Pilate

Journal Title

Zeitschrift fur Antikes Christentum

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Volume Title



De Gruyter