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: Jennifer Collins-Elliott

Title: "Perhaps It Would Not Have Pained You if You Had Done It Willingly'"

Subtitle: Sexual Torment as a Gendered Tool of Sanctification and Glorification

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 / Callimachus; Cases: Real Victims / Drusiana; Types: Rape / Attempted Rape; Representations: Religious Texts / Acts of John


Link: -


Speaker: - Jennifer Collins-Elliott, Department of Religious Studies, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Abstract: » "Perhaps it would not have pained you if you had done it willingly." These are the words spoken by Callimachus to Drusiana's corpse as he prepares to rape her in the apocryphal Acts of John. Angry that he could not seduce her in life, Callimachus is determined to take in death what he felt was rightly his. By desecrating her corpse, Callimachus wants to teach Drusiana - and those hearing her story - a lesson. Callimachus’ ceaseless sexual torment is meant to terrorize Drusiana, but Callimachus is miraculously prevented from raping her. Instead, Callimachus is trapped by a snake and forced to answer for his behavior the next day to John. Here, the author turns this story on its head. Rather than debase her, Drusiana’s victimization sanctifies her and helps to bring about her greatest accomplishment: to reform and glorify her near-rapist, as well as glorify John and, ultimately, God. To explain the function of sexual violence in this story, I argue that this gendered form of torment sanctifies women like Drusiana and glorifies their patriarchal authorities, both human and divine. By putting the account of Callimachus and Drusiana from the Acts of John in conversation with those of Thecla in the Acts of Paul and Mary in the Life of Abraham, I aim to demonstrate that the threat of sexual violence stands out as a particularly gendered form of torment. Each of these women's stories are embedded in the stories of pious men who have authority over them. And each of these men get to share in the spiritual profits of the sexual violence endured by these women. The lessons born of their victimization are meant to buoy the reputations of their male authorities, which then also extends to the supernatural authority of God. Just as Mary’s endless lament in the Life of Abraham inspired those who heard her cries to pause and glorify God, a universal good is gained by all who hear of these women's sexual torment, both inside and outside their stories. In this way, sexual violence is a chastening tool, the disciplining whip that makes virgins, martyrs, and holy women, and can reform the wicked.« (Source: Online Program)

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