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Acts of Paul and Thecla

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The Acts of Paul and Thecla (Latin: Acta Pauli et Theclae) is an apocryphal text describing Paul the Apostle's influence on a young virgin named Thecla. It is one of the writings of the New Testament apocrypha. Edgar J. Goodspeed called it a "religious romance"[1]

History of the text


It is attested no earlier than Tertullian, De baptismo 17:5 (c. 190), who says that a presbyter from Asia wrote the History of Paul and Thecla, and was deposed after confessing that he wrote it.[2] Eugenia of Rome in the reign of Commodus (180–192) is reported in the Acts of her martyrdom to have taken Thecla as her model after reading the text, prior to its disapproval by Tertullian.[3] Jerome recounts the information from Tertullian,[4] and on account of his exactitude in reporting on chronology, some scholars regard the text a 1st-century creation.[5]

Many surviving versions of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in Greek, and some in Coptic, as well as references to the work among Church fathers show that it was widely disseminated. In the Eastern Church, the wide circulation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in Greek, Syriac, and Armenian is evidence of the veneration of Thecla of Iconium. There are also Latin, Coptic, and Ethiopic versions, sometimes differing widely from the Greek. "In the Ethiopic, with the omission of Thecla's admitted claim to preach and to baptize, half the point of the story is lost."[6]

The discovery[when?] of a Coptic text of the Acts of Paul containing the Thecla narrative[7] suggests that the abrupt opening of the Acts of Paul and Thecla is due to its being an excerpt of that larger work.[citation needed]

Narrative of the text


The author sets this story during Paul the Apostle's First Missionary Journey, but this text is ideologically different from the New Testament portrayal of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Epistles.

6th-century fresco near Ephesus depicting Paul and Theoclia (mother of Thecla)

In the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Paul travels to Iconium (Acts 13:51), proclaiming "the word of God about abstinence and the resurrection." Paul is given a full physical description that may reflect oral tradition. In the Syriac text, "he was a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were projecting, and he had large eyes[8] and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long, and he was full of grace and mercy; at one time he seemed like a man, and at another time he seemed like an angel." While in Iconium, Paul gave his sermons in the house of Onesiphorus (cp. 2Tim 1:16) in a series of beatitudes, which Thecla, a young noble virgin, heard from her window in an adjacent house. She listened, enraptured, without moving for days. Thecla's mother, Theocleia, and her fiancé, Thamyris, became concerned that Thecla would follow Paul's demand "that one must fear only one God and live in chastity," and they formed a mob to drag Paul to the governor, who imprisoned the apostle.

Thecla bribed a guard to gain entrance to the prison, and sat at Paul's feet all night listening to his teaching and "kissing his bonds." When her family found her, both she and Paul were again brought before the governor. At her mother's request, Paul was sentenced to scourging and expulsion (cp. Acts 14:19, 2 Tim 3:11 refers to Paul, but not specifically Thecla), and Thecla to be killed by being burned at the stake, so that "all the women who have been taught by this man may be afraid." Stripped naked, Thecla was put on the fire, but she was saved when God sent a miraculous storm to put out the flames.

According to apocryphal sources, Thecla and Paul reunited outside of Iconium, where she told him, "I will cut my hair off, and I shall follow you wherever you go."[9] The two then traveled to Pisidian Antioch (cp. Acts 14:21), where a nobleman named Alexander desired Thecla and offered Paul money for her. Paul claimed not to know her, and Alexander then attempted to take Thecla by force. Thecla fought him off, assaulting him in the process, to the amusement of the townspeople. Alexander dragged her before the governor for assaulting a nobleman, and, despite the protests of the city's women, Thecla was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts. To ensure that her virtue would still be intact at her death, Queen Antonia Tryphaena took her into protective custody overnight.

The next day, Thecla was tied to a fierce lioness and paraded through the city. Though some condemned her for being sacrilegious, other women in the city protested the injustice of her sentence. Still, Thecla was stripped naked and thrown into an arena, where the lioness protected her from a bear and died while killing a lion that belonged to Alexander. Believing that the day in the arena would be her last chance to baptize herself, Thecla jumped into a vat of water that contained ravenous seals (or sea-calves, in some versions of the story). A miracle killed all the seals by lightning, before they could eat her.[10] Further miracles occurred during Thecla's trial when the perfumes of the women in the arena hypnotized the wild beasts so they wouldn't hurt Thecla, and when fire spared her from raging bulls. Thecla was freed when Queen Tryphaena fainted and Alexander begged the governor for mercy, believing that the queen was dead. The governor heard Thecla speak about the Christian God, ordered her clothed, and released her to the rejoicing women of the city.[11]

In Myra, Thecla returned to Paul unharmed and "wearing a mantle that she had altered so as to make a man's cloak."[12] She later returned to Iconium to convert her mother.[13] She went to live in Seleucia Cilicia. According to some versions of the Acts, she lived in a cave there for 72 years, becoming a healer. The Hellenistic physicians in the city lost their livelihood and solicited young men to rape Thecla at the age of 90. As they were about to take her, a new passage opened in the cave and the stones closed behind her. She was also able to go to Rome and lay beside Paul's tomb.[14]

See also



  1. ^ Edgar Johnson Goodspeed, "The Acts of Paul and Thecla" The Biblical World 17.3 (March 1901, pp. 185–190) p. 185.
  2. ^ "ANF03. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian – Chapter XVII. – Of the Power of Conferring Baptism".
  3. ^ "...there fell into her hands the History of the holy Apostle Paul and of the blessed Virgin Thekla, and as she read it in secret, day after day..." ("ACTS OF SAINT EUGENIA", chapter ii) Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, The Apology and Acts of Apollonius and other monuments of early Christianity Swan, Sonnenschein & co., 1894, p.158
  4. ^ De Viris Illustribus. chapter 7: Luke
  5. ^ Ceresa-Gastaldo has shown that Jerome’s “care for the chronology is constant and fundamental”; from this he was able to deduce from the De viri illustribus and Chronicon that the “History of Paul” (incorporating the earlier Acts of Paul and Thecla) was originally published between AD 68–98: Studia Patristica 15 (1984) 55–68. Affirmed by A. Hilhorst [“Tertullian on the Acts of Paul”, p.159f], S. Reinach, Cultes, mythes et religions IV (Paris, 1912) 229-51 ('Thekla'), esp. 242, and Theodor Zahn, (Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen 1877, p.1307), cf. W. Rordorf, 'Tradition et composition dans les Actes de Thecle', Theologische Zeitschrift 41 (1985) 272-83, esp. 276, reprinted in his Liturgie, foi et vie des premiers Chretiens (Paris, 1986*) 457-68
  6. ^ Goodspeed 1901:186 note.
  7. ^ In a papyrus conserved at Heidelberg (Goodspeed 1901:185).
  8. ^ The Armenian text adds "blue" according to Goodspeed 1901:186.
  9. ^ Elliott, J. K. (Trans.) (2003). "The Acts of Paul and Thecla". In Ehrman, Bart D. (ed.). The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader. Oxford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 9780195154641.
  10. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2003). Lost Scriptures. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 120. ISBN 978-0-19-514182-5.
  11. ^ Elliott, J. K. (Trans.) (2003). "The Acts of Paul and Thecla". In Ehrman, Bart D. (ed.). The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader. Oxford University Press. p. 181. ISBN 9780195154641.
  12. ^ Elliott, J. K. (Trans.) (2003). "The Acts of Paul and Thecla". In Ehrman, Bart D. (ed.). The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader. Oxford University Press. p. 182. ISBN 9780195154641.
  13. ^ Digest, Reader's (1992). "Up from the Wilderness". In John A. Pope Jr. (ed.). After Jesus: the triumph of Christianity. Pleasantville, N.Y: Reader's Digest Association. p. 187. ISBN 0-89577-392-9.
  14. ^ James Keith Elliott, ed. (1999). The Apocryphal New Testament: a collection of apocryphal Christian literature in an English translation. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 372–374. ISBN 978-0-19-826182-7.


  • Translation, in Eliott, J.K. The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1993.
  • Elliott, J. K. (Trans.) (2003). "The Acts of Paul and Thecla" (PDF). In Ehrman, Bart D. (ed.). The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader. Oxford University Press. pp. 177–182. ISBN 9780195154641. Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  • Barrier, Jeremy W. The Acts of Paul and Thecla: A Critical Introduction and Commentary. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. 2009.
  • MacDonald, Dennis Ronald. The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1983.
  • McGinn, Sheila E. “Acts of Thecla.” In Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, ed., Searching the Scriptures, Vol. 2: A Feminist Commentary. New York: Crossroad. 1994. 800–828.
  • Kirsch, J. P. Sts. Thecla. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1912.
  • Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-518249-1.
  • Streete, Gail C. Redeemed Bodies: Women Martyrs in Early Christianity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-664-23329-7. Thecla Coffey