Sexual Violence in History: A Bibliography

compiled by Stefan Blaschke


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First published: October 1, 2023 - Last updated: October 1, 2023


Speaker: Amy Smith Carman

Title: Violence in the Acts of Thecla

Subtitle: -

Conference: Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (November 18-21, 2023) - Online Program

Session: S18-345: Violence and Representations of Violence in Antiquity. Theme: Sanctifying Violence

Place: San Antonio, Texas, United States

Date: November 18, 2023

Language: English

Keywords: Ancient History: Roman History | Cases: Real Offenders / Alexander; Cases: Real Offenders / Thecla; Types: Rape / Prison Rape; Representations: Religious Texts / Acts of Paul and Thecla


Link: -



Abstract: »In the second-century CE text, Acts of Thecla, the heroine Thecla is subject to extreme violence on three different occasions. Violence against her body can be viewed through two major lenses: Thecla’s viewpoint and the larger, non-Christ following culture around her. Her first sentencing takes place in her hometown of Iconium for refusing to marry her fiancé, an act which is deemed a threat to the city itself and warrants the death penalty. This moral infraction demands not only physical violence but a public spectacle as an example for other women in Iconium. Thecla puts up no defense and remains silent. She is saved through miraculous intervention and leaves the city. She is left without a home city and travels with Paul to Antioch. When they enter the city, she comes across her second violent encounter, this time in the form of Alexander, a leading man of the city who attempts to rape her. Paul denies knowing her and she fights Alexander and rips a crown from his head. She is again sentenced to death by being eaten alive by lions, this time for more nebulous reasons but at the very least for “disrespecting” a powerful man (who has lions at his disposal) but possibly also a man who represents the empire. This time she speaks up with a request – for her virginity to be preserved. Presumably, her time waiting in prison would result in rape, possibly from Alexander himself. A wealthy woman cares for her until her time in the arena. This time, the spectacle is even greater, with lionesses defending Thecla from lions and the women of the city interfering against what they consider an unjust punishment. After baptizing herself, she undergoes her legs being pulled apart by bulls, in what several feminist scholars consider a “pornographic” display. The narrator uses Thecla’s body to underscore theological points on the importance of purity over the threat of violence to the physical body. Yet, in these trials as well she survives through miraculous intervention. These near-martyrdoms as well as the attempted sexual assault are all physical examples of theological ideas that will be delved into further detail in my presentation.« (Source: Online Program)

Wikipedia: Ancient history: Ancient Rome / Roman Empire | Bible: New Testament apocrypha / Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thecla | Sex and the law: Rape / History of rape