Callia Rulmu, «Between Ambition and Quietism: the Socio-political Background of 1 Thessalonians 4,9-12», Vol. 91 (2010) 393-417
Assuming the Christian group of Thessalonica to be a professional voluntary association of hand-workers (probably leatherworkers), this paper argues that 1 Thessalonians in general, and especially the injunction to «keep quiet» (4,11), indicates Paul’s apprehension regarding how Roman rulers, city dwellers, and Greek oligarchies would perceive an association converted to an exclusive cult and eager to actively participate in the redistribution of the city resources. Paul, concerned about a definite practical situation rather than a philosophically or even theologically determined attitude, delivered precise counsel to the Thessalonians to take a stance of political quietism as a survival strategy.
410 CALLIA RULMU
This background aids in understanding Paulâ€™s injunction to
endure persecutions from fellow countrymen (1 Thess 2,14) by
keeping a low profile, minding their own affairs (4,11), earning the
respect of outsiders (4,12), loving them (3,12), and not repaying
evil for evil (5,15), but holding fast to the promise of Godâ€™s
revenge (2,16) 72. Ultimately, the adoption of an exclusive cult by
the Thessalonian Christian group alienated them from the patron-
client system (potential Roman benefactors) and their own
4) Hostility Caused by the Willingness to Be More Involved in the
Political Life of the Town
An ulterior factor to be considered is the relationship between
Thessalonian Christians and local Greek oligarchis.
The Empire had shorn little interest in extending political or
social power to artisans and merchants, but had granted a number
of privileges to the wealthy and their associations 73. Interestingly,
it appears that in the Eastern provinces, during the first half of the
first century CE, a series of class hostility incidents occurred in
Sardis, Nicaea, and Smyrna (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 4
Â§ 10) 74. This hostility was likely due to contemplated in the
frustration felt by artisans and workmen as they powerlessly
contemplated their inability to fully participate in the redistribution
of the benefits of the urban society 75. â€œFull participationâ€ was
Cf. MALHERBE, The Letters, 65.
C. LEE, â€œSocial Unrest and Primitive Christianityâ€, The Catacombs and
the Colosseum. The Roman Empire as the Setting of Primitive Christianity
(eds. S. BENKO â€” J.J. Oâ€™ROURKE) (Valley Forge, PA 1971) 137, n. 36 : â€œThe
widening of citizenship under the early Empire generally was limited to men
of property and wealth or individuals who had provided meritorious service to
the state (e.g., soldiers). Although citizenship was somewhat more common
among members of the lowest class in the West, the actual political (and
social) rights of the poor were small or nonexistent everywhere in the
Empire â€. See also A.N. SHERWIN-WHITE, The Roman Citizenship (Oxford
1939) 167-170; id., The Letters of Pliny, 610.
Episodes of slave rebellion occurred through the time of the Late Re-
public : see G. ALFÃ–LDY, The Social History of Rome (Totowa, NJ 1985)
See LEE, â€œSocial Unrestâ€, 129.