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.
416 CALLIA RULMU
Although Paulâ€™s exhortation to turn from striving for political
engagement to aloofness â€œmight have sounded Epicureanâ€ 95, it
arose from a completely different concern. Paul knew that the
Thessalonian Christians were regarded with diffidence by the
Roman rulers simply because they were a hand-worker association
in the reckless city of Thessalonica. He knew that the tradition of
the city (quick in changing allegiance, when necessary) did not
plead in their favor. But this was still bearable, especially in light
of the fact that a more real menace to the Christian ekklesia came
from their visibility in the Roman and city dwellersâ€™ eyes caused
by their rejection of the Cult of the Gods and the Emperor and by
their indirect support of the local Greek oligarchyâ€™s pretensions
against Roman rulers. The Christian Thessalonians were also in
danger of drawing upon themselves the wrath of the Greek patrons
because of their eagerness to participate in the redistribution of the
cityâ€™s resources â€” a pretension fostered by the Empireâ€™s interests
in regaining control over perhaps dissident and de facto unlimited
local oligarchic powers.
In light of the historical background reconstructed in this study,
it appears that in 1 Thess 4,11-12 Paul is exhorting the local
Christians to keep quiet and take a stance of political quietism â€”
so as to remain incognito in their city â€” as a survival strategy.
This behavior would help them remain unnoticed by imperial
authorities (Roman benefactors), city dwellers, and local politarchs
(Greek patrons), and secure the associationâ€™s continuance. Bene
qui latuit, bene vixit (â€œOne who has lived unnoticed has lived
well â€, Ovid, Tristium III. 4.25).
Adventist University of France Callia RULMU
B.p. 74 â€“ 74165 Collonges-sous-SalÃ¨ve
Abraham 110) and the ambition of common folk (Philo, Agriculture 63) :
MALHERBE, The Letters, 246.
MALHERBE, Paul, 104, citing Seneca, Epistles 68.10, who â€œwas aware
that by advising Lucilius to live quietly he might appear to be giving the same
advice as Epicurusâ€.