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  • Sex and Salvation: Virginity as a Soteriological Paradigm in Ancient Christianity
  • Elizabeth Ann Pollard
Sex and Salvation: Virginity as a Soteriological Paradigm in Ancient Christianity. By Roger Steven Evans. New York: University Press of America, 2004. Pp. 204. $32.00 (paper).

This book is an assemblage both of the ancient writers who comment on virginity and of the modern scholars who comment on those same texts. One comes away from the book with a broad sense of many of the central issues, such as how virginity allowed women to transcend the limits of their gender and the special role reserved for virgins both in the early church and in the divine kingdom. The book is divided into two parts. In "Part One: Virginity in the Ancient World" Evans undertakes brief treatments of virgins in Greco-Roman writings and in Judaism and then discusses Christian canonical treatments of virginity, settling into an extended exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7. For the analysis in part 1 he pulls selectively and in very limited fashion from various sources; for instance, for virginity in Judaism, he incorporates passages from the Hebrew scriptures (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy), rabbinic literature, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Dead Sea scrolls. Evans offers a list of patristic commentators on the 1 Corinthians passage, including the usual suspects: Tertullian, Pseudo-Clement, Cyprian of Carthage, Methodius of Olympus, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Jerome, Chrysostom, Augustine, and Leander of Seville. He includes some discussion of the noncanonical Christian treatment of virginity and some summary of the scholarship on the societal understandings of virginity. In "Part Two: Virginity in the Writings of the Church Fathers" Evans works primarily from the texts of the Church Fathers, by and large the same list of commentators on the 1 Corinthians passage, in order to discuss patristic understandings of virginity, including ideas of virgins as brides, mothers, and companions to Christ and also the saved and saving role of virginity. Evans asserts a few evocative points about virgins having easier access to salvation, a more elevated place in the heavenly afterlife, and consequently an intercessory and salvific role on behalf of other, especially married, Christians.

Evans relies heavily on secondary scholarship, especially in the first half of the book. For the most part Evans works through many of the relevant major scholars such as Peter Brown, Kate Cooper, Gail Corrington, Ross Kraemer, and Jo Ann McNamara, to name a few, although shocking omissions include Virginia Burrus's Chastity as Autonomy (1987), Elaine Pagels's work on gender and gnosticism (such as Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, 1988), and Daniel Boyarin's Carnal Israel (1993). The bibliography suggests a startling oversight of Susanna Elm's Virgins of God (1994), but Evans does cite Elm in endnotes. While Evans does pull from the relevant scholars just mentioned, the occasional misrepresentation of the modern scholarly record makes the reader nervous about the rest. One example is when Evans takes issue with [End Page 492] Ross Kraemer's alleged misinterpretation of the calls from Thecla's mother to burn her virgin daughter in the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. Evans writes that Kraemer "draws a rather odd conclusion when he [sic] says that, 'the fact that the woman who renounces acceptable forms of sexual behavior in favor of celibacy is doomed to the most degrading form of the very sociosexual identity she has rejected—prostitution'" (62). No wonder Evans finds this an "odd conclusion"; when Kraemer makes this point, she is referring not to Thecla but to Trophima in the Acts of Andrew.

Evans also appears to rely heavily on translations of the ancient texts he considers, thus leading to some perplexing instances when he offers the Greek when it seems largely gratuitous (33–34) but then does not offer the Hebrew, Greek, and/or Latin when it would illuminate the discussion. Some examples of this include his discussion of modern biblical translators (34, 50) and interpreters (30–34), as if an exegesis from a twentieth-century commentary or translator reveals anything about the ancient context. His citation of Webster's definition of "ineffable" in discussing a translation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-3605
Print ISSN
1043-4070
Pages
pp. 492-494
Launched on MUSE
2007-06-13
Open Access
No
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