Working Papers on Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic Literature 1.28 (17/3/15)
‘Without Lies or Deception: Greco-Roman Cultural Protocols of Oracular Truth and Authority in the New Testament Letter to Titus’ J. Albert Harrill
Abstract for a paper given at the project’s 3rd Literary Interactions conference, in Boston, 18-19 June 2015:
The Deutero-Pauline epistle to Titus (ca. 95–125), addressed to Paul’s alleged co-worker in Crete, deploys a polemic against opponents (“foolish talkers and deceivers”), which takes the form of a famous proverb advancing ethnic stereotype about the island’s entire populace: “There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what it is not right to teach. It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, ‘Cretans are mostly liars, brutes and loitering gluttons.’ This testimony is true! For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound [‘healthy’] in the faith” (Titus 1:10–13). The assertion that the Cretans are liars appears in the Hymn of Callimachus to Zeus and other writings, as commentators have noticed. My paper aims, first, to investigate Titus’s intertextual use of this proverb by focusing on its claim that the testimony is true even though it comes from “pagan” prophecy. Then, I plan to contextualize the epistle’s wider claim that the Apostle Paul’s teaching is, like the Cretan proverb, also an oracle without lies and deception. The goal of my paper is thus to investigate an intertextual allusion in early Christian literature in light of its cultural and artistic protocols on the truth and authority of oracles in the Trajanic and Hadrianic eras.