Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity

Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity

Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity

Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity


Movement from one community to another can create strife, pain, and social dislocation. In this astute analysis, Stephen Wilson examines the ancient sources for clues to how leaving a religious group happened, what motivated defectors, and the different ways Jews, Christians, and pagans interpreted the event. As Wilson explains, "by and large defection was a rancorous business and provoked extreme reactions, understandably so in the case of those who became traitors or who turned violently on their former community. But even the less dramatic instances were deeply troubling." Contents Introduction 1. Surveying the Horizon 2. Jewish Apostates 3. Christian Apostates 4. Pagan Defectors 5. Conclusion.


In recent years, I have occasionally heard it said that a discussion of apostasy remains a desideratum. This is less true of Judaism, where one or two notable studies have appeared, but in studies of early Christianity and the world of pagan polytheism, it undoubtedly remains the case. My modest aim is to draw attention to as broad a range of evidence as I could find for apostasy and to discuss some of its implications. It is only a start, and I hope it will provoke others to think about the topic too. I have learned a great deal from Professor J. G. Barclay’s work on the Jewish evidence, and wish to acknowledge the use of his diagrams in the conclusion.

Briefer versions of this study were commented on by Alan Segal, Nicola Denzy, and Margaret MacDonald at a meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, and Martin Goodman was kind enough to look over parts of it too. I am grateful for their comments.

My wife, Jennifer, as usual contributed to matters of style, consistency, and sense with her skillful copyediting.

The book is dedicated to our grandchildren, who light up our lives.

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