Spirit Epicleses in the Acts of Thomas
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, No. 281


By Susan E. Myers
August 2010
Mohr Siebeck
Distributed by Coronet Books Inc.
ISBN: 9783161494727
276 pages
$117.50 Paper original

The most complete example of an early Christian novel about an historical figure, the third-century Acts of Thomas contains within it two prayers that are strikingly similar in style and content. Each is found in the context of Christian initiation and each is addressed to a feminine deity who is asked to "come" to be present in the ritual. The prayers address the feminine Spirit, who is called "Mother," "fellowship of the male," and "dove," among other titles. Susan E. Myers examines these prayers in their historical, literary, and liturgical contexts, and challenges some of the prevailing assumptions about Syriac-speaking Christianity in general, and the Acts of Thomas in particular.

She extensively analyzes the Acts of Thomas, beginning with questions of authorship, provenance, and dating of the work. At the core of the study is a detailed analysis of the redactional character of the Acts of Thomas, especially the prayer language within it. The author argues that the liturgical scenes reveal a form of Christian initiation that apparently included an anointing with optional water baptism, and a Eucharist of bread and water only.

Susan E. Myers continues by examining other prayers to deities in the ancient world, and concludes with an analysis of the theological content of the prayers themselves. They are addressed to the Spirit, who appears as a feminine revealer figure who can be invoked to be present in ritual action with her devotees.

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