Chapter 1. Did Christians “Do Dialogue”?

The attraction of Plato was felt powerfully in late antiquity, and is still felt today. As one illustration, the novelist Iris Murdoch was also a teacher of philosophy in Oxford, and deeply interested in Plato. [1] She even composed two Platonic dialogues, on the themes of art and religion, in which she introduced the figure of the young Plato as a speaker and dramatic persona; [2] Plato plays the role of Alcibiades in the Symposium. In the author’s note, she explains that these dialogues were meant to be performed, “either in modern dress or in period costume,” and the published version notes such a performance of the first of them, Art and Eros, which had taken place at the National Theatre in London in February, 1980, directed by Michael Kustow (to whom the published version is dedicated). The very concept of dialogues as performative at once raises questions about their interpretation and whether they have a single meaning. These are questions, including that of authorship and intention, which are central to the focus that Hösle places on intersubjectivity. [3]
In the late fourth century, soon after the death of his brother Basil, Gregory of Nyssa composed a dialogue on the soul, with himself and his dying sister Macrina as the interlocutors. [4] Gregory’s Life of Macrina is one of the classics of late antique Christian literature, and Macrina’s role as teacher, the Christian version of Diotima/Socrates in Plato’s Symposium, has long been noted. [5] The Life is a highly complex and artful text, even if Gregory presents it as deliberately “simple.” Similarly, Gregory’s use of the dialogue form in On the Soul is clearly a deliberate literary choice, carefully adopting a Platonic model. [6] This literary choice allows Gregory to make a dramatic play by attributing a rejection of dialectic to Macrina, who is given the role of a Christian Diotima, but who in the Christian context of late antiquity remains a woman educated at home by her mother only in the Scriptures and the Psalms; this contrasted sharply of course with her brothers Gregory and Basil, who had been given the best education available in literary paideia. On the Soul, this most Platonic of Christian dialogues, undercuts its own philosophical framework and uses the dialogue form to express the tension between Christian faith and philosophical reasoning. We need not suppose that such a dialogue “really happened” (though the temptation to read the Life of Macrina as a real portrait has been strong, especially among those interested in women in late antiquity). For Gregory, the figure of Macrina is a literary trope. [7] Yet she was also his real sister and he used her in his literary treatments to work out ideas of his own, thereby beautifully exemplifying the ambiguities and ambivalence inherent in the dialogue form.
A very large number of dialogues survive from late antiquity and the Byzantine period, and Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Soul is hardly typical. Yet as we have seen, it raises some of the key issues that surround this form of Christian writing. My subject, and the titles of the three chapters published here, are indebted to a provocative collection of essays edited by Simon Goldhill in 2009 with the title The End of Dialogue in Antiquity. [8] Goldhill’s introduction is entitled “Why don’t Christians do dialogue?” His broad argument is that open debate ended with the success of Christianization: Christians debated, but they could not “dialogue” in the Socratic sense of conducting open-ended discussion. The end was always a foregone conclusion; thus what may seem to be dialogues do not represent genuine dialogue or debate, but something much more sinister, an artificial genre or an authoritarian discourse leading not to the opening of debate but rather to its closing down. Goldhill thus identifies “dialogue” with freedom, and with democracy, and his model is the supposedly open-ended Socratic dialogue.
It is not new to argue that the dialogue form that began in classical Greece ended with the rise of Christianity. We find the idea inherent, for instance, in the standard work on the classical dialogue by Rudolf Hirzel, published in 1895, [9] though Hirzel devotes little actual space to considering the Christian, or indeed the late antique, period. Goldhill’s argument ignores the later history of dialogues, and by implication denigrates Byzantium in relation to the history of western culture. But there are several other strands within it, in particular the claim that Christian discussion could not be “real” discussion, because it aimed by definition at proving an authoritarian position—orthodoxy, which was not to be questioned. I confess to seeming to give some encouragement to such a view in 1986 when delivering the Sather Lectures at Berkeley, when I spoke of a “totalizing discourse” as having been at least partly achieved by the sixth century, a time when the aim of church and state alike was certainly to establish a settlement and arrive at a uniform ideology. [10] That phrase, used in a study of the development of Christian rhetorical expression in late antiquity, has been taken up by others, perhaps too often. [11] I followed it up with a paper that tried to apply an ascetic model to early Byzantine society, [12] and indeed a closing-in of horizons is a popular way of looking at the early Byzantine period. [13] Several emperors—Zeno, Heraclius—resorted to forbidding any further discussion of religious matters and ordering silence. [14] They were following the precedent set by the earlier impatience with dialectic famously expressed by Constantine when he first heard of the Christian disputes in Egypt surrounding Arius. [15] If this characterization of Byzantium is correct, the historical implications are profound; but in fact I argue elsewhere that it is not. [16] Byzantium was very far from being the closed society that its own Orthodox self-representation tends to suggest. “Orthodox” and official doctrines were very often questioned, while the rhetorical skill evinced in the production of dialogues, among a wide range of other works, was a pathway by which those not already belonging to the elite could obtain secular or ecclesiastical advancement, making Byzantium a far more open society than is supposed. Those who believe in the standard image have been taken in by the smooth surface of the Byzantines’ own rhetoric. In contrast I want to argue even more strongly than I did in 1995 that contrary to the idea that discussion was “shut down” in the fifth or sixth century, what happened was the very opposite. I quote from that paper of 1995: “the constant and public search for certainty,” for orthodoxy in contrast to heresy, “generated its own resistance.” [17] “Instead of calming and stabilizing society, the much vaunted serenity of the Christian emperors … in actuality stimulated division.” The greater the effort to control and enforce, the more resistance showed itself. The settled religious establishment was desired and boasted about, [18] but never achieved in practice. Late antique historians have learned to be very skeptical of claims made in official language, especially in the case of legal evidence, and the same skepticism needs to be applied to religious rhetoric. The reality was continual struggle, reinvention and resistance, above all, continual talk and continual arguing; not only was Christian orthodoxy not settled in the sixth century or in any other named period: the process of trying to achieve it required constant and energetic efforts in the direction of legal and other kinds of enforcement. [19]
This is far from suggesting that genuine dialogue stopped with Christianization, unless one simply rules out as irrelevant all the mass of material about religious debate which we find continuing right through the Byzantine period until the very end. This is indeed just what Goldhill does. His kind of dialogue is an elite form of polite open-minded conversation between educated people. He not only denies the relevance of such genres as Christian “catechism” or questions and answers (let alone conciliar arguments), but also the actual dialogues and disputations that survive in huge numbers. [20] They include not only dialogues between Christians and Jews, or Christians and Muslims, but also, for instance, a reported debate between Maximus Confessor and the patriarch Pyrrhus in Carthage in the 640s, and many, many more. [21]
A first theme, therefore, hinges on the question of whether Christians really did stop “dialoguing” (and if so what that means for the nature of the late antique and Byzantine world). Goldhill’s contention is taken up in a paper in the same volume by Daniel Boyarin, who applies just such an idea of an “epistemic shift” in the fifth century to explain otherwise puzzling features in the Talmuds. [22] Both Goldhill and Boyarin derive support from the important book by Richard Lim on public debate in late antiquity. [23] While Lim memorably argues for “the containment of the Logos,” his work in fact brings the actual extent of public debating in late antiquity vividly to our attention, not least between Christians and Manichaeans. Nevertheless, he argues that from the fifth century AD onwards, public debates were “no more than show cases.” [24] Following Lim, Daniel Boyarin maintains that there was in that period a loss of faith in rational argument, constituting “an emergency in discourse.” [25] Both Lim and Boyarin detect a move towards an authoritarian stance (which Boyarin calls “hierarchisation”), exemplified by the increasing use of lists, florilegia and systematization, and Lim implies that “religious competitors” were “bound by the parameters of these norms [he is here referring to conciliar precedents] when they engaged in controversy.” [26] Lim sees this shift as happening in the fifth century, and connects it with what he also sees as a lack of actual discussion in church councils. The modes of argument employed in church councils do indeed call for more discussion than they have so far received. Meanwhile, chapter 2 below will consider possible reasons for what I prefer to call increasing technologization, and take issue with the idea expressed by Lim and Boyarin that debates were reduced to silence.
Christian debates were not entirely one way. Maijastina Kahlos, for instance, has argued in relation to the late fourth and early fifth centuries that both Christians and pagans at times tried to find middle ground, for instance when they debated on matters of monotheism and polytheism. [27] Apologetic was another type of writing, which, it would seem, could not by its nature be wholly one-sided. [28] There was no single formula for Christian discussion. But Christians certainly did often tend towards the authoritarian; in that sense they were not open-minded, and of course the very project of conversion implies that the convert has been convinced and is willing to separate himself from his previous convictions. [29] The processes of Christianization, and the identification and targeting of error demanded mechanisms of separation and the delineation of borderlines. [30]
In practice Christians in late antiquity (and in Byzantium, for that matter), were constantly “dialoguing,” engaging in actual and written debates, arguments and disputations. The question is what form these debates took. Were they open-ended, as Goldhill requires, or were they, as he imagines in contrast, more usually polemical, apologetic or even encyclopedic? My wider project is to study the large corpus of known and surviving dialogues in both late antiquity and the Byzantine period, particularly, but not only, from the literary point of view. How did dialogues relate to other forms of Christian writing, and what techniques did they use? How did they relate to actual debates, [31] and did the latter—as well as the rest of the large body of Christian writing, which had its own effect—conduce to social harmony, or conversely, to division and even violence? [32] What if anything can they tell us about religious communication in the Roman empire?
Another recent survey, indeed, has seen disputation as a key mode of inter-religious communication in antiquity. [33] But in order to begin to answer any of these many interlocking questions it is necessary to draw up a comprehensive list of all the many known and surviving dialogues, not to mention those embedded in other kinds of works. Meanwhile chapter 3 below will outline some of the issues surrounding the literary form—or forms—of the dialogue, while chapter 2 will set the scene for such a discussion by considering the evidence for actual argument, debate, and dialogue in late antiquity.
In the rest of this chapter, I want to return to the relation of Christian dialogues to classical ones, and to survey the many different kinds of dialogic material that would need to be covered in a full study of this neglected field.
Whether Socratic dialogues were as open-ended and “democratic” as Goldhill contends, seems doubtful. In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates’ affected ignorance may lead to an aporia, lack of resolution, but his questions are often leading, and in the later dialogues at least, Plato gives up the pretense and allows Socrates to be the mouthpiece for theoretical discourses, or even to be the listener while another character expresses philosophical argument at some length. The nature of the Socratic elenchos remains a matter of considerable disagreement. The very nature of dialectics can be seen in terms of competition; as one scholar puts it, “Greek dialectical encounters, like Greek erotic encounters, involved the constant negotiation of who was on top and who on bottom,” amounting to a “dynamic interplay of balance” in which “the invitee has to risk his pride and any general sense of superiority that he may have to engage in the dialectic.” [34] Leaving aside the insoluble “Socratic problem,” interpretation of Plato has veered between the opposing poles of doctrinal and historical or dialogic approaches. [35] In a long series of articles Livio Rossetti has pointed to the rhetorical nature of Socrates’s arguments and strategies, even when he famously seems to condemn rhetoric as such. [36] In other words, Socratic dialogues are not what they may seem, and Plato’s dialogues are only one subset, albeit a famous and important one, of the known corpus of some two hundred Socratic dialogues. As for our present question, which relates to dialogues in late antiquity, Daniel Boyarin provocatively argues that Platonic dialogues themselves were monologic—the opposite of open-ended. [37] Moreover, late antique dialogue-writers had other precedents besides Plato, and even when they did imitate Plato they were drawn most to a limited number of Platonic dialogues—in particular, the Symposium, book 1 of the Republic, Phaedo, Phaedrus, and the Protagoras, useful for dramatic and narrative settings and for the subject matter. [38] Furthermore, in later periods Aristotle and Aristotelian dialectic were stronger influences than Plato on many Christian dialogues and debates. This is especially true for the Byzantine period, as I hope to show elsewhere.
Another way of looking at classical dialogues has been in the context of sympotic or symposiastic literature. [39] While some Christian writers were drawn to this mode, they are not my focus of attention here. At the beginning of the fourth century Methodius of Olympus did indeed present the Christian theme of asceticism and virginity in the guise of a symposium; I will return in chapter 3 to this curious work and to Methodius’s other dialogues. My main concern here is with Christian dialogues in Greek, though Christians, not least Augustine himself, also wrote dialogues in Latin. [40] But it is hard to see many Christian dialogues as being similar either to the talk at classical Greek symposia or to the literary conversations of an Athenaeus or a Macrobius. [41] Nevertheless there are surely connections still to be explored with both of these, and between the sympotic works of Plutarch and the types of dialogue written by Christians. [42] Lucian’s extensive output also needs examination from this point of view, even if his influence seems to have been felt later by Byzantine littérateurs and authors of “satirical” dialogues more than by late antique or Byzantine philosophical or theological dialogue-writers. [43] As Richard Miles has pointed out, and before him Jacques Fontaine, [44] Christian dialogue was pursued in earnest; its aim was not clever or diverting conversation, but truth.
Debate is inherent in the New Testament writings; the disciples of Jesus asked themselves what his life and teaching meant while he was alive, and still more after his death, and Paul continually exhorts the new communities to distance themselves from error. [45] Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, from the first half of the second century, is the earliest example of what was to become a major Christian group of dialogues, commonly known as the Adversus Iudaeos literature, and designed to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. [46] Much has been written about Justin’s work, whose two contrasting sections make it something of a hybrid, if indeed they are not two separate works or a dossier; it cannot be denied, however, that it already exemplifies what Tessa Rajak has called “talking at,” and Elizabeth Clark “talking back,” [47] that is, the desire to win an argument. In the late second century, the teaching of Bardesanes of Edessa was also expressed in Syriac in the form of a dialogue between Bardesanes and the astrologer Awida, apparently by one of his disciples. [48] Dialogue was to be a major type of literary production in Syriac in later centuries, [49] and Bardesanes himself is credited with dialogues composed against the Marcionites, [50] but as Han Drijvers pointed out, the Book of the Laws of Countries is not really dialogic, being much more a vehicle for Bardesanes’s own views on fate and free will. [51] Nor, despite its nod to Plato’s Republic in the opening passage, is it in fact Socratic. [52] Bardesanes is made to say ‘It is teachers who are questioned, but they themselves do not put questions. And if they do (it is) to lead the ideas of the one who is questioned upon the right track, so that he may put good questions and they may understand his meaning. For it is an excellent thing that a man knows how to formulate questions.’ [53] Bardesanes holds forth on fate and free will, and the nature of the heavenly bodies, all topics destined to be treated often in later centuries. The Book of the Laws of Countries also differs from the Greek examples from the second century in being more philosophical, with clear debts to the Timaeus, and to Middle Platonism and Stoicism (Drijvers refers to its “artificial character”). Dialogue also appears in the form of disputes between Paul and Simon Magus in the Ps. Clementine literature, [54] to which the Book of the Laws of Countries is somehow related, and signals the start of a literary form which was to become very important and very central in Syriac literature.
It is true that in its very genesis, Christian dialogue was controversialist; Justin’s aim, like that of other second-century Christian writers such as Tatian and the Latin writer Tertullian, was from the start to argue against pagans, Jews and heretical Christians. Justin wrote against heretics, Tatian against “Greeks,” i.e. pagans. [55] A little later, Tertullian produced an extensive oeuvre consisting of treatises and writings with pagans, heterodox Christians and Jews as their targets. Assuming its authenticity, the opening of his treatise against the Jews is interesting from our point of view: the treatise is presented as a written exposition, on the basis of written records, of an actual debate between a Christian and a Jewish proselyte, which had turned into an unruly shouting match:
It happened very recently that a debate was held between a Christian and a proselyte Jew. Through the tug-of-war exchange between them, they dragged the day into evening. Also, through the clamouring from some supporters of both individuals, the truth was being obscured as if by a cloud. Therefore, as a full explanation was impossible on account of everyone speaking at once, it was decided to settle the questions that have been raised in writing, after a more careful examination of the texts. [56]
The texts in question are the Jewish Scriptures, and we have here already a dialogue whose argument is based on proof texts and their interpretation. It immediately raises many questions, for instance about the extent, if any, of actual debate between Jews and Christians at Carthage, where there was certainly a Jewish community, and about the nature of Judaism at the time. [57] It is clear enough that what follows, even at this early date, is a polemic, not a dialogue. It seems, then, as though the birth of Christian literary dialogues in Greek was connected to Christian polemic against Jews and to Christian arguments against heresy.
In general, indeed, we can say that dialogue was one of the literary modes in which the vast literature aimed at establishing Christian superiority was expressed. Its origins cannot be separated from the polemical or controversialist urge; dialogues were part of the effort to establish orthodoxy, especially if orthodoxy is understood in the broad sense set out by Hervé Inglebert in his important work on the development of a comprehensive Christian system of knowledge. [58]
This is not the place to rehearse the issues of conceptualization and methodology surrounding the concept of orthodoxy, which have given rise to so much writing in recent years. [59] Suffice it here to say that there was no simple chronological development towards a single orthodoxy. In its absence we can place emphasis on different aspects, on process, or on anthropological and sociological approaches. But one desideratum remains: we need a full analysis of the kinds of texts through which contemporaries struggled (again and again) to establish their own sense of what was and was not right belief (“orthodoxy”) and to demonstrate the falsity of other versions. These texts include dialogues.
Yet perhaps it is not so straightforward. The anti-Jewish dialogues, in particular, are often dismissed as stereotypes, with one end only, to show Christian superiority and if possible the inevitable conversion of the Jewish interlocutors. But not all dialogues are so clear-cut. Dialogue, after all, involves more than one interlocutor. Might we see even in this genre of Christian dialogues an exemplar of the Bakhtinian concept of the “dialogic,” with an inherent open-endedness, albeit different from that attributed by Goldhill to the Socratic dialogues? [60] Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia implies potential fluidity of meaning, a post-modernist shifting instability, and it is at least worth asking the question of whether this might help towards a better reading of some of these early Christian texts. [61] Writing on Gregory of Nyssa, Susan Wessel argues that Gregory’s choice of the dialogue form for his On the Soul allows “for the possibility of interpreting seemingly contradictory ideas in an integrated fashion.” [62] The paradox is that Macrina’s alleged hostility to dialectic is framed in a literary production which adopts the trappings of Greek philosophy; similarly, Justin’s seemingly shrill Dialogue with Trypho begins with a clear evocation of Platonic dialogic scene-setting. [63] The latter’s opening sets a classical scene of civilized encounter and conversation in the portico of a gymnasium, in Platonic fashion, [64] while in a narrative within a narrative Justin relates his own conversion from philosophy (latterly Platonism) to Christianity, after which he maintains that in Christian argument philosophers must yield to the prophets. In what later became a trope, Trypho’s companions laugh at Justin (8.3, 9.2), but Trypho himself is not converted (another later trope), and looks forward to further discussion “to continue our study of the Scriptures” (143.1). [65]
A more dialogic reading might help in the context of the current preoccupation among scholars of late antiquity and early Christianity with identity and self-definition. [66] Indeed, Andrew Jacobs has applied such a reading to the Dialogue with Trypho, arguing that it is in fact susceptible of a more nuanced interpretation that can help us to get beyond the obstacles put in our way by the Christian authors themselves. [67] “To read such texts dialogically, in a Bakhtinian sense, is to refuse the absolute separation of self and other that ancient Christians anxiously demand.” [68] Jacobs is not offering a literary reading for its own sake. Nor is he trying in any simple way to “recover” an actual rapprochement between early Christianity and Judaism. [69] Nevertheless he writes from the perspective of a historian of Jews in the Roman empire, and he is therefore also exercised by the problem of literal as well as figurative encounters with Jews on the part of Christians in the first Christian centuries. [70] In other words, Jacobs too is concerned at heart with the question of what relation there is, if any, between the dialogue texts and social reality, a question that keeps asserting itself as we look further into these Christian dialogues. As Jacobs observes, [71] this search, with the question of whether the debates were “real,” and whether the texts can tell us about “real” conditions, has been a primary aim in previous scholarship. When so many of the texts themselves are just that—texts, without direct evidence of their audience or circumstances—this is indeed difficult to establish. If it is a real question at all, it is surely one for the stage when we have a much more complete and comprehensive understanding of all the dialogue material, not just of isolated examples or parts of the whole which happen, like the anti-Jewish dialogues, to interest a particular constituency of scholars and thus to have been more studied than the rest.
While I accept that Christian writing, including dialogues, was inherently designed to convince (to that extent agreeing with Goldhill), [72] a more dialogic reading of specific texts may nevertheless represent a salutary step in the search for a less simplistic view of a huge and varied range of material, and in particular, help to avoid the ever-present temptation of reading off social realities from what are often complex texts. The first step must be a close textual and literary analysis of the texts themselves, with the aim of understanding their individual rhetorical strategies. [73] There is a long way to go towards achieving this necessary end.
What then is the corpus of material to be studied?
Christian dialogues, to speak only of late antiquity, range from anti-Jewish texts (Adversus Iudaeos) to more apologetic works such as Minucius Felix’s Latin Octavius, [74] or to the seeming scholasticism of Theodoret’s Eranistes in the fifth century, for which see the discussion in chapter 3 below. The interlocutors may be pagans, or Jews, or Manichaeans, Zoroastrians, or, later, Muslims, and the topics covered differ just as much. Yet I believe that these different types should be studied in conjunction with each other, not excluding more philosophical dialogues such as that between Zacharias Scholasticus and Ammonius on the eternity of the world, the dialogue on predestined terms of life by the early-eighth century patriarch Germanus [75] (preceded by another by the historian Theophylact Simocatta on the same topic nearly a century before), [76] or the highly rhetorical dialogue between history and philosophy which precedes the same Theophylact’s history of the reign of the Emperor Maurice. [77] The anonymous Greek work On Political Science extant from the reign of Justinian is also a dialogue, based, even if indirectly, on Cicero’s De Republica, but also appealing to the memory of Socrates, and imbued with late antique Neoplatonism. [78] A self-conscious reference to the aims of “dialectical science” is put into the mouth of the character named Menas; they are, quite simply, to lead one to the divine. [79] There are also poetic dialogues from late antiquity, especially in Syriac, but also including the Greek sixth-century dialogue poems by Romanos. [80] These dialogues raise issues about liturgical performance, and questions of possible origin in Syriac rather than Greek contexts; there is also evidence for antiphonal singing in earlier Syriac religious literature. [81] The interesting types of dramatic dialogues represented in Romanos’s liturgical hymns also found their way into Greek prose homiletics. [82]
While some of the literary prose dialogues owe a clear debt to Plato, others are very different. Joel Walker has drawn attention to the plethora of debates at the Sasanian court in the sixth century, and their debt to Aristotelian logic, to which I will return in the next chapter. [83] But again there is no simple historical progression, and the interplay between Platonic and Aristotelian elements is one of the still-untold stories in the long history of Greek Christian dialogue-writing from the second century to the end of the Byzantine era.
A final question concerns the types of writing in late antiquity that are not strictly dialogues in form, but which might be (and have been) held to embody the “dialogic,” in that they express debates and arguments and differing points of view. Letters—very important in the corpus of Byzantine literature—certainly qualify, but I refer here rather to the sets of “questions and answers,” or erotapokriseis, of which many survive with various degrees of literary finish or secure attribution. These vary between the scholastic and the more pastoral, and Andrew Jacobs has no hesitation in including one of the latter in his paper about dialogue—the Questions to Antiochus the Dux ascribed to Athanasius, a text which in its present form seems to date from the late seventh or eighth century. [84] Similar examples include works by Anastasius of Sinai in the seventh century, and the sixth-century collection attributed to Caesarius, [85] but the genre had begun much earlier, for instance with the fifth-century set of “Questions and answers to the orthodox,” going under the name of Justin, and others are more didactic or even scholarly, like Eusebius’s Gospel Questions (CPG 3470) and the later sets of quaestiones or ambigua by such writers as Maximus the Confessor. [86] The Christian examples form one part of a story that also encompasses both Jewish literature and philosophical texts. [87] Such sets of questions and answers between master and pupils, along with zetemata (inquiries on specific points) and erotemata (questions) were a regular part of the educational system at the grammarian’s level. [88] All these types are receiving attention elsewhere, and my focus here is on the Platonizing or “philosophical” dialogues, while recognizing that the demarcation lines may well on occasion become blurred.
My contention, then, is that dialogue, as practiced by Christian writers, including Platonizing prose dialogues, did not end in the fifth century, or at any other time in the late antique and Byzantine periods, but was instead a vehicle for Christian expression that continued to be used for many centuries with enormous energy and variety. It contributed to the process of Christianization and the drive towards orthodoxy, and was a valuable tool for Christian writers. But the story is more complex than this suggests. Dialogue also interconnects with other kinds of Christian writing, and in turn, literary dialogues interconnect with “real” or actual debates, a subject that will be considered in my next chapter.
Entangled in this topic are several different strands. I have been concerned up to now with the purpose of Christian dialogues and their implications for the development of thought and argument in the Christian empire. But they also raise philosophical and theological issues in varying degrees, and some at any rate can claim to be genuinely literary or rhetorical. [89] Should these therefore be seen as part of a so-called “Third Sophistic,” the outpouring of high-style Greek literature in late antiquity, including many works by Christians, and if so, how far is a literary/rhetorical analysis appropriate? [90] It is at least worth asking the question, since Libanius, his circle, and the “Gaza school” [91] still receive disproportionate attention among literary theorists of late antiquity.
My third and final chapter will consider three very different examples in order to bring out the actual variety within this corpus, and the range of methodological approaches required to do it justice. It will also consider the increasing technologization perceptible in some later dialogues, and return to Richard Lim’s question about what this may represent. Many questions remain, as well as a huge body of material from the later Byzantine period, much of which has hardly yet been studied, but which I hope to discuss in later publications. On the whole, Christian dialogues have been the subject only of individual studies or general surveys that are far from comprehensive. [92] I want to argue in contrast that this is a worthwhile, and indeed an important field, even if so far a neglected one, and that its study has great potential both for literary history and for our understanding of the religious and intellectual dynamics of late antiquity and beyond.


[ back ] 1. See Murdoch 1977.
[ back ] 2. Murdoch 1986.
[ back ] 3. Hösle 2012, e.g. 11 for “a genre of intersubjectivity.”
[ back ] 4. Gregory of Nyssa On the Soul and On Resurrection, translation in Roth 1993.
[ back ] 5. On the Life, see Krueger 2000.
[ back ] 6. See Wessel 2010; Williams 1993; Burrus 2000; Hösle 2012:136, 397–398.
[ back ] 7. See E. A. Clark 1998:426.
[ back ] 8. Goldhill 2009; some elements of the argument presented here were first aired in a paper at the annual conference of the North American Patristic Society in Chicago in 2010. P. Van Nuffelen 2014 also discusses Goldhill and Lim, but comes to different conclusions. I am grateful to Peter Van Nuffelen for sharing his paper with me.
[ back ] 9. See Hirzel 1895: vol. 2, chap. 7; for Christian dialogue, see Bardy 1957, classifying Christian dialogues as either apologetic, theological, biographical or Scriptural; Hoffmann 1966; Voss 1970; P. F. Beatrice 1983. For Hirzel as the originator of the idea that dialogue ended with the advent of Christianity, see Lim 2009:151.
[ back ] 10. Averil Cameron 1991b, chap. 6; cf. Averil Cameron 2012.
[ back ] 11. Some questions: De Bruyn 1993, arguing for the limits of rhetoric. Markus 2009 argues for closure in the late sixth century, though focusing on the west, while also remarking that “ends are new beginnings” (p. 13).
[ back ] 12. Averil Cameron 1995.
[ back ] 13. As also implied in Athanassiadi 2010.
[ back ] 14. See Lim 1995a:227.
[ back ] 15. Eusebius Life of Constantine 2.69; Socrates Ecclesiastical History 2.7. For distrust of dialectic and disapproval of Christian dispute and argument expressed by Christians including the ecclesiastical historian Socrates, see Lim 1995b:215–226.
[ back ] 16. Averil Cameron 2008a; Averil Cameron, forthcoming a.
[ back ] 17. Averil Cameron 1995:157.
[ back ] 18. For stress laid by Christians on social homonoia in the pre-Constantinian period, see Lim 1995b:206–208; emphasis on deference (sunkatabasis) and unanimity (sundiathesis): Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 7.24.7–8.
[ back ] 19. See Averil Cameron 2007.
[ back ] 20. For some examples, see Averil Cameron 1991a; however Byzantine dialogue literature has never been studied in its totality.
[ back ] 21. PG 91:288–353; below, chapter 2.
[ back ] 22. Boyarin 2009a.
[ back ] 23. Lim 1995a; see also Lim 1999 (where I read “triumph” as “triumphalism,” and the methods to which Christians resorted to achieve dominance); Lim 1995b; for “social closure,” see Lim 1995a:104–105, 106, though compare Lim 2009:153–156, on the classical symposium as an elite form of conviviality. Asking why Christians did not do this kind of dialogue is for several reasons the wrong question; in practice, “Christians ‘dialogued’ as never before” (Lim 2009:171).
[ back ] 24. Lim 1995a:106.
[ back ] 25. Boyarin 2009a:224.
[ back ] 26. Lim 1995a:226.
[ back ] 27. Kahlos 2007:141–153; see also G. Clark 2009:133: however, compare Humfress 2012, with a list of Augustine’s controversialist works at 324–325; Führer 2012, in the same volume, argues from a broader definition of dialogue in Augustine’s writings to its continuation throughout his life: Augustine went on “being dialectical” and many of his writings sprang from a “dialectical mindset” (valuable general remarks on the nature of dialogue, 274–279).
[ back ] 28. Kahlos 2007:79–80, but see further below.
[ back ] 29. Kahlos 2007:78, 83–84.
[ back ] 30. See Averil Cameron 2008a.
[ back ] 31. Here I part company with Lim 2009, who advocates “decoupling” them from attitudes to intellectual conformity, and seeing them as a “boutique literary form.”
[ back ] 32. See Lim 1995b.
[ back ] 33. See Cancik 2008.
[ back ] 34. Lane 2011:253.
[ back ] 35. See Hart and Tejera 1997, a collection not without its faults but offering a useful introduction to the issues; see in particular Rossetti 1997 and Smith 1997, both of which raise questions of orality and performativity which can also be asked of Christian dialogues.
[ back ] 36. Including for example Rossetti 1989, 2007, 2011.
[ back ] 37. Boyarin 2009b.
[ back ] 38. Hösle 2012, part two, includes a detailed discussion of the subtleties of structure and content in Plato’s dialogues, and see below and chapter 3 on Methodius. Except for the Republic 1 and the Protagoras, those to which allusions are most often made in our texts are not the so-called Socratic dialogues.
[ back ] 39. König 2009 (Clement, Athenaeus, Methodius, Macrobius), 2012; see Martin 1931, and for the social and material context Murray 1995; also Smith 2003.
[ back ] 40. Schmidt 1977; G. Clark 2009; Stock 2010, and see chapter 2 below.
[ back ] 41. For Athenaeus, see now Jacob 2013 and for Macrobius, and for much general discussion, see Goldlust 2010.
[ back ] 42. See Kechagia 2011; Oikonomopoulou 2011; König 2007. Eshleman 2012 links pagan and Christian writing in the early empire, a welcome—because still unusual—feature among studies of the Second Sophistic period. The relevance of the latter to early Christian dialogues has yet to be fully explored.
[ back ] 43. This may well be a somewhat artificial distinction, which fails to do justice to Lucian’s own engagement with Plato.
[ back ] 44. Miles 2009:148; Fontaine 1968; 1988:62.
[ back ] 45. Cf. Edwards 2009:2, “there is hardly any book of our New Testament that does not contain an invective against false teaching”; see also Averil Cameron and R. G. Hoyland 2011: Introduction.
[ back ] 46. Rajak 1999:59–80. For Christian writing from the first to the fifth centuries, see Young et al. 2004. Anti-Jewish dialogues (Adversus Iudaeos texts): Schreckenberg 1999; Külzer 1999; Lahey 2007; Frederiksen and Irshai 2008.
[ back ] 47. See E. A. Clark 1999:128–132.
[ back ] 48. Drijvers 1994 (anti-Marcionite and to be identified with the dialogue on fate translated into Greek and known to Eusebius and Epiphanius); Drijvers 2006; Ramelli 2009a, 2009b:1–28.
[ back ] 49. A good starting point for the links between Greek and Syriac is provided by Watt 2010 and see Johnson, forthcoming, and Tannous 2013.
[ back ] 50. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 4.30; Watt 2010:V.
[ back ] 51. For some of the issues surrounding the text, originally written in Syriac and very soon translated into Greek, after which it became widely known, see Drijvers 1966, especially 67, 75–76. Bardesanes’ cosmology: Drijvers 1966:96–126.
[ back ] 52. Bowersock 1990:32.
[ back ] 53. Bowersock 1990:7.
[ back ] 54. See Côté 2001a, 2001b.
[ back ] 55. For the genesis of Christian controversialist writing in the early centuries, see Inglebert 2001:395–400; Le Boulluec 1985.
[ back ] 56. Translation, Dunn 2004:68–69; see Dunn also for the authenticity of the work.
[ back ] 57. See the brief remarks of Dunn 2004:47–51.
[ back ] 58. Inglebert 2001:413–461.
[ back ] 59. See for orientation Le Boulluec 2000; Ayres 2006; also Averil Cameron 2012 (2013).
[ back ] 60. Bakhtin 1981, and see the classic discussion of Bakhtin and the dialogic in Kristeva 1981:64–91.
[ back ] 61. Also on Bakhtin, see E. A. Clark 1999:122–124, with bibliography. Rossetti 1997 also offers useful suggestions for the analysis of Christian dialogues.
[ back ] 62. Wessel 2010:380n47.
[ back ] 63. Ed. Bobichon 2003; Minns and Parvis 2009, and see Munnich 2012 (a dossier); the opening evokes Xenophon Memorabilia 1.1.10 as well as Plato.
[ back ] 64. The dialogue is set in Ephesus according to Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 4.18, who also calls it a dialogue against the Jews, one among many apologetic and polemical works he lists as being by Justin. For continuing Platonic elements in the rest of the dialogue, and traces of the Phaedrus, Timaeus, and Protagoras, see Hoffmann 1996:16–17. Rajak, who wants to see the dialogue as foundational in the history of Christian anti-Jewish hostility, calls it “a conscious contribution to a new Christian literature” (Rajak 1999:80; see 65–66 for Justin’s philosophical culture and 66–67 for the context in Justin’s other writings); also Edwards 1991. Analysis of the dramatic locations in many dialogues, especially Plato’s: Hösle 2012:210–236.
[ back ] 65. Against Rajak, see Horner 1999.
[ back ] 66. See for instance many works by Judith Lieu, especially J. Lieu 1996, 2002a, 2002b, 2004.
[ back ] 67. Jacobs 2007; for reactions to Rajak’s reading of the Dialogue with Trypho, see Jacobs 2007:296n18, and for Bakhtin, Jacobs 2007:293–295.
[ back ] 68. Jacobs 2007:295.
[ back ] 69. See Jacobs 2004.
[ back ] 70. Jacobs 2007:295.
[ back ] 71. Jacobs 2007:296–297. Hösle’s distinction between the debate itself, and the written record, is philosophical rather than historical; he is concerned with the relation between art and meaning rather than what “actually happened.”
[ back ] 72. For a stronger view, see Siniossoglou 2008: chap. 1 on Theodoret’s Cure for Hellenic Maladies and the nature of Christian apologetic.
[ back ] 73. For the case of heresiology, see Averil Cameron 2003, 2005.
[ back ] 74. On which, see Goldlust 2010:417–422.
[ back ] 75. Garton and Westerink 1979.
[ back ] 76. Garton and Westerink 1978; discussion: Garton and Westerink 1979:xvi–xvii; Michael Whitby 1988:33–39; Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby 1986:xv (following the pattern of rhetorical controversiae); Frendo 1988:144–147.
[ back ] 77. Michael Whitby 1988:40–45; Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby 1986:3–5; see Olajos 1981 for the argument that the dialogue did not originally belong with the History (I owe this reference to Elodie Turquois). Theophylact’s Problems of Natural History (ed. Massa Positano 1965) is a further dialogue: Michael Whitby 1988:33–34; Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby 1986:xiv–xv.
[ back ] 78. Bell 2009, 2013. Platonism in the dialogue: O’Meara 2002:49–62; O’Meara 2003.
[ back ] 79. Bell 2009:181.
[ back ] 80. Krueger 2003; Frank 2005; Brock 1984; 1987; 1991; Averil Cameron 1991a; Reinink 1991.
[ back ] 81. See Harvey 2005.
[ back ] 82. See Cunningham 2003:101–113.
[ back ] 83. Walker 2006.
[ back ] 84. See Jacobs 2007:328–332.
[ back ] 85. Riedinger 1989 (four sets of questions with designated speakers); Papadogiannakis 2008.
[ back ] 86. See below, chapter 3, on Theodoret.
[ back ] 87. See Volgers and Zamagni 2004; Bussières 2013; Papadoyannakis 2006, 2008; cf Niehoff 2008.
[ back ] 88. Cribiore 2001:207, 209–212.
[ back ] 89. Siniossoglou 2008:21–27, argues that the appropriation of ancient philosophy by Christian writers was “rhetorical” rather than doctrinal, that is, Christian apologists did not engage with the substance so much as the form. He also argues for a strongly essentialist understanding of both “Platonism” and “Christianity,” on the basis of which he denies the possibility of “Christian Hellenism.”
[ back ] 90. See Averil Cameron, forthcoming a.
[ back ] 91. See e.g. Saliou 2005; Amato 2010; for the production and educational environment at Gaza in the early sixth century, see Johnson, forthcoming.
[ back ] 92. The most complete for late antiquity is Voss 1970. For the Byzantine period, see Ieraci Bio 2006.