Title of Poster or Presentation

Broken Chains, Open Doors, and Mad Women: Prison Escape Narratives in Euripides’ Bacchae and Acts of the Apostles

Presenter Information

Megan WinesFollow

Submission Type

Oral/Paper Presentation

Degree Type

PhD

Discipline

Humanities

Department

Theology

Access Type

Open Access

Abstract or Description

The Acts of the Apostles is an adventure tale for the ages; it features long journeys, worthy adversaries, strong protagonists, shipwrecks, and harrowing prison escapes as it follows the apostles, and the spread of what would become Christianity across the ancient world. The similarities between these scenes and those found in more popular literature (cf. R. Pervo, D. Macdonald, et al) suggests that they may function at the level of entertainment value. If so, we might better understand these episodes if studied in relation to other forms of ancient “entertainment” media, especially the ancient drama.

This paper will examine Peter’s prison escape in Acts 12, exploring its similarities to broader prison escape narratives in the ancient world, especially those presented in Euripides’ Bacchae 434-450 and 604-641. While much of the comparative work between these texts has focused on lexical analysis, relying heavily on individual verses’ intertextual similarities, this paper will seek to broaden this comparison, focusing more on plotline/narrative similarities rather than purely lexical comparisons. The paper will then turn to the potential thematic parallels that can be drawn between Euripides’ depiction of the maenads of Dionysian cults, and the character of Rhoda, the slave woman. The framing narrative of the prison escape allows for a reading of Rhoda that places her (and to some extent the Christian community) in parallel to the Dionysiac bacchantes. This paper will argue that the prevalence of women both within the Dionysus cult and in the early Christian communities evokes a more sympathetic reading of Acts 12’s “mad” slave girl Rhoda, and seeks to re-understand what this “mad woman” is doing in the context of Acts.

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Broken Chains, Open Doors, and Mad Women: Prison Escape Narratives in Euripides’ Bacchae and Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles is an adventure tale for the ages; it features long journeys, worthy adversaries, strong protagonists, shipwrecks, and harrowing prison escapes as it follows the apostles, and the spread of what would become Christianity across the ancient world. The similarities between these scenes and those found in more popular literature (cf. R. Pervo, D. Macdonald, et al) suggests that they may function at the level of entertainment value. If so, we might better understand these episodes if studied in relation to other forms of ancient “entertainment” media, especially the ancient drama.

This paper will examine Peter’s prison escape in Acts 12, exploring its similarities to broader prison escape narratives in the ancient world, especially those presented in Euripides’ Bacchae 434-450 and 604-641. While much of the comparative work between these texts has focused on lexical analysis, relying heavily on individual verses’ intertextual similarities, this paper will seek to broaden this comparison, focusing more on plotline/narrative similarities rather than purely lexical comparisons. The paper will then turn to the potential thematic parallels that can be drawn between Euripides’ depiction of the maenads of Dionysian cults, and the character of Rhoda, the slave woman. The framing narrative of the prison escape allows for a reading of Rhoda that places her (and to some extent the Christian community) in parallel to the Dionysiac bacchantes. This paper will argue that the prevalence of women both within the Dionysus cult and in the early Christian communities evokes a more sympathetic reading of Acts 12’s “mad” slave girl Rhoda, and seeks to re-understand what this “mad woman” is doing in the context of Acts.