DEFINING THE TOPOS
Johan C. Thom
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of
(Milton, Paradise Lost 1.254–55)
Topos has become a key term in both classical and New Testament scholarship.1 Even a superficial survey of articles published by NT scholars will reveal that the term topos occurs with increasing frequency in titles, while still more studies are devoted to topoi without using the term in the title. Within the context of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Hellenistic Moral Philosophers and Early Christianity Group, the topoi of friendship, frank criticism, moral progress, and the passions have all been extensively and productively discussed in the last five years, and uiey remain a central interest for this group.2
1 For classical scholarship, see especially Hermann Wankel, ‘“Alle Menschen müssen sterben’: Variationen eines Topos der griechischen Literatur,” Hermes 111 (1983) 129–54; Laurent Pernot, “Lieu et lieu commun dans la rhétorique antique,” Bulletin de l’Association Guillaume Budé (1986) 253–84. For a brief, but programmatic survey of the topos in New Testament studies see Abraham J. Malherbe, “Hellenistic Moralists and the New Testament,” ANRW II.26.1 (1992) 267–333, esp. 320–25. This article also contains important references to earlier work on the topos in classical literature (320 n. 252).
2 The work on topoi by this group has appeared in several publications: see John T. Fitzgerald, ed., Friendship, Flattery, and Frankness of Speech: Studies on Friendship in the New Testament World (NovTSup 82; Leiden: Brill, 1996); John T Fitzgerald, ed., GraecoRoman Perspectives on Friendship (SBLSBS 34, Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1997); David Konstan and others, Philodemus: On Frank Criticism (SBLTT 43, Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1998). Forthcoming publications include: John T Fitzgerald, ed., Passions and Progress in the Hellenistic World; David Armstrong, Philodemus: On Death and Philodemus: On Anger; V. Tsouna, Philodemus: On Household Management and On Arrogance (all four latter books will be published in the SBL Writings from the Graeco-Roman World series). Future topoi to be discussed will probably include(greed), wealth and poverty; (love of honor or fame); (concord or harmony); piety and the topos on household management.