Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Scott Bruce

Second Advisor

Anne Lester

Abstract

For decades, scholars have maintained that the Proto-Orthodox Christians held a dualistic understandings of themselves, insisting that these men and women valued their souls above their corrupting bodies. Although Christians would later adopt this view, the Proto-Orthodox actually conceived of themselves as psychophysical beings, believing their body and soul to be distinct, but equally important, aspects of themselves. This thesis, therefore, argues for the valuation of the body in Proto-Orthodox Christianity though the examination of this group‟s stories, beliefs, and practices. The first chapter examines the biblical perception of the body as revealed through Jesus‟ attitude toward food and the practice of healing. Acting directly against Jewish and Gnostic customs, Jesus fed thousands because they hungered and healed all those in need simply because he cared about people‟s physical wellbeing. The second chapter focuses on the Proto-Orthodox‟s conception of birth and rebirth. These men and women celebrated birth as the blessing of all blessings and subsequently rejoiced in the birth of their savior, understanding his incarnation as central to their salvation and proof of God's love for the human body. Indeed, the Proto-Orthodox believed that God loved the body to such an extent that, on Judgment Day, he would allow them to regain both their souls and their earthly bodies to live for ever more. Finally, this thesis concludes by examining the novel Christian phenomena of martyrdom. The Proto-Orthodox believed that the bodies of the martyrs not only witnessed Christ‟s love, as he alleviated their pain, but also bore witness to his power: after the death of the martyr, the bones themselves were believed to contain the power of God. The examination of the Proto-Orthodox's valuation of their bodies therefore reveals a richer understanding of ancient Christianity.

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