Review of Colleen M. Conway, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco Roman Masculinity

Article excerpt

Review of Colleen M. Conway, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco Roman Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), xii + 254 pp.

Colleen M. Conway explores the connections between the images of Jesus in the New Testament and conceptions of idealized masculinity in the Greco-Roman world in this provocative new book. Conway's study adds gender analysis to the array of other investigations of Jesus, showing how the writers of the New Testament construct and explore Jesus' masculinity. What they say about Jesus reveals much about their concerns over gender as well as about important social and cultural details concerning the relationship between Jesus' gendered portrayals and the broader Greco-Roman society. Conway argues that the New Testament contains responses to Greco-Roman ideas of manhood and she explores this thesis by examining the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, and the book of Revelation. The intersections, according to Conway, show how the writers of the New Testament dealt with cultural ideas of masculinity and responded to them in ways that helped shape the development of ideas not only about Jesus, but also Christianity. Conway adds a new resource to investigations and analyses of gender in the New Testament, and also freshly applies gender theory and masculinity to early Christian writings about Jesus.

Conway's sources are broad and wide-ranging, drawing not only from works on gender but also from postcolonial theory. It is at the meeting point of these two frameworks that she constructs her arguments about the New Testament. Conway is interested in the concept of hegemonic masculinity, the accepted and dominant cultural idea of masculinity usually associated with an elite group and held up as ideal in comparison to other forms of masculinity. Conway argues that early Christian writers accepted as well as opposed Greco-Roman hegemonic ideas, at times even mimicking them in order to promote Christianity. According to Conway, one of the ways Christianity legitimated itself was by imitating the prevailing cultural ideas of masculinity, occasionally smoothing over some of the disconnects between Christianity and Greco-Roman culture, while at other times resisting and subverting the dominant culture. Conway explores constructions of gender hierarchies, the disconnect between biology and gender, and how ancient masculinity was "learned": one trained oneself to be a man rather than being born one. Among the men she studies regarding hegemonic masculinity we find Caesar Augustus, Philo's Moses, and Philostatus's Apollonius of Tyana.

Turning to the New Testament texts themselves, Conway notes, for example, how Paul overcame the potentially humiliating and emasculating crucifixion of Jesus by emphasizing how Jesus went willingly to his death, making this voluntary bravery the mark of a true man. In doing so, Paul helped to transform Jesus' death into an act of masculine heroism. …