Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian

By Weinrich, William C. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 1996 | Go to article overview

Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian


Weinrich, William C., The Catholic Historical Review


Prophecy in Carthage:Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian. By Cecil M. Robeck, Tr. (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press. 1992. PD. xii, 329. $29.95.)

The phenomenon of prophecy in the New Testament and early Christian literature has not always received its due. That imbalance is beginning to receive correction through such good research as that by David Aune, David Hill, and Christopher Rowland. We may now also add the name of Cecil Robeck, who in this book undertakes the task of providing a historical and theological account of prophetic gifts in North African Carthage during the first half of the third century. Robeck investigates the Passion of Perpetua and the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian to determine what factors gave rise to the visions and oracles reported by these authors, what backgrounds account for their symbolism, and what factors influenced their interpretations and applications. Robeck, wisely (I think), eschews any attempt to explain psychologically the prophetic gifts mentioned in these signal figures of early North African Christianity. In his introduction he distinguishes between "prophetic function" (interpretation, application, and effect on other Christians) from the "prophetic person," and he makes clear that this book concerns itself only with "prophetic function" (p. 4). In the conclusion, however, Robeck contends that certain psychological factors were at work in the visions and oracles and that further work "in psycho-history and/or psychoanalysis would be helpful." Having read a little of that already, I am not so sure.

Overall Robeck presents an insightful and balanced analysis of the prophetic material found in the writings of Perpetua,Tertullian, and Cyprian. He evinces a thorough familiarity with the primary sources and the secondary scholarship and is judicious in his own argument and conclusions. While he certainly at times engages other scholars in debate, a strength of the book is Robeck's concentration on the texts themselves. Since the author declares himself to be a "lifelong Pentecostal," the overall balance and good judgment of the book is to be commended. This is a book of good scholarship; special pleading is on the whole absent.

Robeck's discussion of the visions of Perpetua and Saturus is perhaps the least creative of his sections. He breaks no really new ground for our understanding of these visions, although his conclusions, I would judge, are largely correct. I remain, with Robeck, of the opinion that the Passion of Perpetua is not Montanist and is an example of mainstream North African Christianity. The chapter on Perpetua's visions of Dinocrates (Pass. Perp. 7) includes a good discussion on the Greco-Roman background of the imagery. Yet, I think Robeck overemphasizes Perpetua's "anxiety" (pp. 54f.). The discussion of Perpetua's climbing the ladder (Pass. Perp. 4), although largely fine, has some doubtful elements. The "two ways" notion in Judaism hardly is the background for the image of the ladder, and therefore the ladder is not a "symbol of the Christian life itself" (p. 27). It seems evident to me that the ladder simply symbolizes the martyrdom which Perpetua is about to undergo. The figure of the Shepherd addresses Perpetua as "child" upon her arriving at the top of the ladder. Robeck's discussion of this address is meager, although he does note that the address is in Greek and therefore is a traditional form of address. Suggestive is Robeck's claim that Christian catechesis based on certain extra-biblical and biblical books provided the raw material for Perpetua's understanding of her visions. Tipping his hat to contemporary women's studies, Robeck is disappointingly taken with the idea of gender transformation in Perpetua's vision of the Egyptian in which she becomes a man." This transformation is said to be an example of women's empowerment in the early Church, an idea that almost certainly never occurred to Perpetua herself. That Robeck fishes in Gnostic waters for adequate background here is indicative that in this discussion he is astray.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.