As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23.39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation

Bilby, Mark Glen, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Gamble, Harry, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Guroian, Vigen, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Kovacs, Judith, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Dobbins, John, Department of Art, University of Virginia

This dissertation comprises the first thorough, critical analysis of the early Christian interpretation of Luke 23.39–43 (up to 450 CE). Tatian's Diatessaron is its earliest plausible reception, while the Gospel of Peter does not depend on Luke here but instead attests to an earlier, simpler apologetic narrative used by Luke. Contrary to the implication of modern commentaries, harmonization of Luke's divergent criminals with the Markan/Matthean reviling bandits is not a major concern, nor do ancient views fit neatly into chronological vs. sylleptical positions. Several find intentional cooperation among the Evangelists, while early Syriac interpreters, starting with the Diatessaron itself, dismiss or ignore the Markan/Matthean tradition altogether. Eschatological dissonance proves a far more prevalent concern. Origen's interpretation-which provokes considerable criticism late in his own life-makes this apparent. Origen remains pivotal in eschatological debates for the next two centuries, though he is criticized for very different reasons. By far the most common mode of interpretation finds in the second criminal a selfrepresentative figure who models many Christian practices, beliefs and virtues, including prayer, beatitude, supersession, Nicene orthodoxy, faith, justification by faith without works, conversion, catechesis, confession, martyrdom, asceticism, simple speech, and penitence. Augustine is the first on record to gainsay the traditional idea of the bandit as a martyr-an interpretation perhaps embedded in the original Lucan story-, though he iii reverses his position late in 419 CE. This shift calls for late dates for Sermons 53A, 285, 327, and 335C. Ephrem emerges as the most creative and influential purveyor of devotional, liturgical and typological readings. On the other hand, Chrysostom's two Good Friday sermons on the bandit are the most influential texts in the early history of interpretation as they inspire Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Latin imitations. By the late 4 th century, Luke 23.39–43 appears as a standard lection (or part of a lection) during Good Friday noon services in the East. Despite the exclusive use of Matthew's passion in the West, the influence of Eastern homilies helps carve out a place for the Lucan story in Western homilies during Holy Week and Easter Octave.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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