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.
412 CALLIA RULMU
father. As this story indicates, there is no doubt about the actual
power of local oligarchies in cities like Thessalonica.
Concerning the ambitions of the lower strata, Roman attempts
to sedate social unrest and exert actual political control in the
Eastern provinces by granting privileges to artisans date from the
time of Claudius (41-54 CE), and were reiterated in the time of
Trajan (99-117) and Hadrian (117-138) 81. A speech (Orat. 34)
delivered by Dio Chrysostom in the city of Tarsus presents an
interesting example of the change in the socio-political panorama
of the time. In his discourse delivered before a public gathering
of the citizens of Tarsus, Dio Chrysostom â€œcomes as a messenger
from God in time of needâ€ 82. Addressing the Tarsians affected by
internal conflicts, he states: â€œ . . . a day or two ago the Assembly
(dhmov) took one course and the Council (boylh) anotherâ€
while â€œthe Elders (oÄ± gerontev) still maintain a position of
independence â€ (34.16) 83. Dio Chrysostom then mentions, among
the political bodies of the city, â€œa group of no small size (plhuov
oyk olÂ¥gon) which is, as it were, outside the constitution (ejwuen
ÃŸ ÃŸÄ± Â¶
thv politeÄ±av). And some are accustomed to call them linen-
workers (linoyrgoyv) â€ (34.21).
The group in question was very likely a guild of linen-workers 84.
Dio underscores their lack of a role in the political arena of the city,
and describes the conflicting feelings of the city-dwellers towards
the association of linen workers:
. . . at times the citizens are irritated by them and assert that they are
a useless rabble and responsible for the tumult and disorder in
Tarsus, while at other times they regard them as a part of the city
and hold the opposite opinion of them ... Well, if you believe them
to be detrimental to you and instigators of insurrection and
confusion, you should expel them altogether and not admit them to
Claudius decided to extend decisional power (and citizenship) to those
who until then had been alienated by the old system: BENKO and Oâ€™ROURKE,
The Catacombs, 55.
Dio Chrysostom, III (trans. J.W. COHOON â€” H.L. CROSBY) (LOEB;
Cambridge, London 1961) 335.
F. POLAND, Geschichte des griechischen Vereinswesens (Leipzig 1909)
99, thinks that â€œthe Eldersâ€ formed a distinct political organization in many
cities of that time. Even â€œthe Youthâ€ (toyv te neoyv, Dio III, 34.21) would be
another political party (POLAND, Geschichte, 95).
POLAND, Geschichte, 117.