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.
BETWEEN AMBITION QUIETISM
imperial patrons. Instead, they appeared to have turned their
attention to the local Greek oligarchs, who, in turn, exploited the
political role of voluntary associations for their ongoing conflict
with magistrates and rulers sent by the Empire: Greek patrons
would gain more power in the city by having a larger clientela.
This appears to have resulted in hostility towards the Christian
group from the Roman rulers, since the Christians not only
challenged the social system of the Empire by giving up the Cult
of the Emperor, but also indirectly supported the pretensions of
local Greek oligarchs.
In the meantime, the Empire promoted a broad wave of socio-
political renewal in the Eastern provinces in an attempt to regain
control over cities ruled de facto by Greek oligarchies. The
Christian Thessalonians appear to have strived to claim the rights
offered by the Empireâ€™s new policy, which would obviously have
displeased any potential Greek patrons. The end result of this
c o m p l i c a t e d picture would be that the Christian group of
Thessalonica put its own existence in jeopardy by attracting the
contempt of both Greek and Roman influential personalities. Paul
is therefore using political language when he coins the oxymoronic
expression filotimeÄ±suai hsyxazein (â€œ strive to keep quietâ€,
Ëœ Î© Â¥
1 Thess 4,11), knowing that his readers would easily relate his
exhortation to quietism to their â€œdangerousâ€ striving for more
i nv o l v e m e n t in the politic life of their town. The verb
filotimeomai was mainly used to describe the ambitious efforts of
people who hoped to gain honor by their active involvement in
political, and thus public, activities (cf. Philo, Rewards 11) 93.
Moreover this specific verb, when followed by verbs in their
infinitive form (as precisely in 1 Thess 4,11), depicts the strong
desire for or ambitious attempt to obtain a given thing (cf.
X e n o p h o n , O e c . 21. 6 ; Plato, Phaedr. 2 3 2 A ) ; the fact that
filotimeomai and its cognates frequently appear with spoydazein
(â€œ to be eager or earnestâ€) shows the intensity correlated to the
â€˜strivingâ€™ (Epitectus, Diatr. 4.4 title; Philo, Creation 81; Dreams
2.55 ; Embassy 60 ; Plutarch, Them. 5.4 ; Garr. 504A; Stoic rep.
MALHERBE, The Letters, 246.
The word was also used sometimes as the equivalent of generosity
(Plutarch, Cic.3.1; Phoc. 31.3), and it could even describe hospitality (Philo,