Greek Apologists of the Second Century

For the second-century Greek apologists the key issues, it seems to me, lay with ancestral customs and literary canons. Their primary motive was justification, justification of their unpopular—indeed, potentially dangerous—decision to turn their backs on the classical literature inherited from antiquity and the customs of their forefathers, thus abandoning the comfortable ethos of the GraecoRoman synthesis into which they had been born, nurtured, and educated. What these people had done was somewhat analogous to the Westerner today who converts to Islam: they had taken leave of their senses by adopting what was regarded by most people, ignorant as they were of its high moral and philosophical tone, as a suspiciously alien culture. In order to mount this justification, this apologia for conversion, the apologists borrowed many genres, many traditions, many well-worn arguments, from the very culture they challenged, manipulating them for a new, unexpected purpose.

To substantiate this view of the matter, I shall first discuss the question of genre, then the rejection of one literary canon in favour of another, together with the exploitation both of arguments about the history of culture and of the philosophical critique of religion, then their attempts to cope with being neither Jew nor Greek. These features will prove to be the best clues to what is going on in these apologetic writings.

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