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.
414 CALLIA RULMU
new ethic in which he inferred that political and social behaviors
are intimately entwined. Abraham J. Malherbe showed that â€œto
remain quiet and mind oneâ€™s own businessâ€ (1 Thess 4,11) is an
appeal to withdraw from political affairs (cf. Dio Cassius, Hist.
60.27) 87, and Ronald F. Hock too acknowledged that the wording of
such an expression (hsyxazein kaÄ± prassein ta Â¶dia) is drawn
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from the semantic field of political expressions 88. Both Hock and
Malherbe agree that Paul was encouraging the Thessalonian
Christians to remove themselves from public life. While
recognizing that such a stance was not motivated by eschatological
concerns, or the need to display a new form of â€œworkshop
morality â€ 89, or because toil and handwork were values in Judaism,
they situate Paulâ€™s injunction to quietism on the grounds of
philosophical reflection 90.
Without denying the possibility that Paul was familiar â€œwith
the moral traditions of the Greco-Roman philosophersâ€ 91, Paulâ€™s
first concern did not lie in his desire to differentiate his community
from contemporary philosophical parties, i.e., Stoics, Cynics, and
Epicureans 92, but in the urgency to provide practical advice to
assure the community survival. The economic recession affecting
the Eastern provinces of the Empire during the first century CE left
this Christian group reliant on the support of patron-client
relationships. Unfortunately, due to their allegiance to Christ and
the incompatibility of this allegiance with the Cult of the Emperor
and the gods, the Christian Thessalonians could not rely on
A.J. MALHERBE, Paul and the Thessalonians. The Philosophic Tradition
of Pastoral Care (Philadelphia, PA 1987) 97. Id., The Letters, 247: â€œThe first
infinitive, dependent on filotimeÄ±suai, is hsyxazein (â€œ to live a quiet lifeâ€),
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which had long described withdrawal from active participation in political and
social affairsâ€, quoting as examples Chion, Epistle 3.5 and Plutarch, Stoic
HOCK, The Social Context, 46. He also quotes (91, n. 192) Plutarch,
Praec. ger. rei publ. 798E-F, who describes a career in public life as ta koina
prassein, while quietism is designated by the term hsyxÄ±a.
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So A. DEISSMANN, Light From the Ancient East (New York 1927)
See HOCK, The Social Context, 46-47; MALHERBE, Paul, 97-98, 101-
106 ; id., The Letters, 246-247.
HOCK, The Social Context, 47.
MALHERBE, The Letters, 248-249.