Skip to main content Accesibility Help

Hermogenes the Smith and Narrative Characterisation in The Acts of Paul: A Note on the Reception of 2 Timothy

  • Benjamin A. Edsall (a1)

The figures of Demas and Hermogenes in the Acts of Paul are puzzling for their ambiguous relation with figures by the same name in 2 Timothy (and, for Demas, in Philemon and Colossians). The purpose of the present article is to question what personal biographical details present in the Thecla narrative contribute to larger issues of literary dependence, focusing in particular on the notice that Hermogenes is a ‘coppersmith’. Although several scholars explain this passing reference in terms of a confused literary dependence on previous Pauline traditions, it is rarely approached as a meaningful narrative feature. This personal detail, however, should be read for its contribution to the Thecla narrative in light of the wider early Christian view of ‘smiths’, running from the New Testament texts into the third century and later. When these elements are taken into account, the smith-notice is highlighted as characterising Hermogenes (and, by extension, Demas) negatively.

Hide All

1 See, inter alios, MacDonald, D. R., The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (Philadelphia: Westminister, 1983) and White, B. L., Remembering Paul: Ancient and Modern Contests over the Image of the Apostle (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) for differing accounts of continuing oral tradition and its impact on Pauline reception.

2 The principal exception to this is Richard Bauckham; see below.

3 Onesiphorus: 2 Tim 1.15; 4.19; Demas: Phlm 24; Col 4.14; 2 Tim 4.10; Hermogenes: 2 Tim 1.15; Alexander: 1 Tim 1.20; 2 Tim 4.14; Tryphaena: Rom 16.12. There is some evidence for a Queen Tryphaena in Pontus in the first century; still useful on this point is Ramsay, W. M., The Church in the Roman Empire before ad 170 (London: Putnam, 1893) 382–9.

4 All translations are my own.

5 The location of Antioch here is debated. Ramsay (The Church, 381) thought that the introduction of συριάρχη (or σύρος) was a later editorial mistake in the Greek manuscripts (dating from the tenth century) since it was not present in the Syriac tradition (from the sixth century). He is followed generally by MacDonald, The Legend, 40–2; P. W. Dunn, ‘The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy in the Second Century’ (PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 1996) 21–2; Barrier, J. W., The Acts of Paul and Thecla: A Critical Introduction and Commentary (WUNT ii/270; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009) 137 and others. However, the publication of the Coptic Heidelberg manuscript, which reads ⲟⲩⲥⲩⲣ[ⲟⲥ], demonstrates at least equal antiquity for that reading. Moreover, if Lipsius, R. A., Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha: Acta Petri, Acta Pauli, Acta Petri et Pauli, Acta Pauli et Theclae, Acta Thaddaei (Hildesheim/New York: Olms, 1972) ad loc. is correct that the Greek should read συριάρχη with manuscript C (presumably on the principle of lectio difficilior potior), then the story would be clearly set in Syrian Antioch, with the term signifying Alexander's status rather than simply his place of origin. Büllesbach, C., ‘Das Verhältnis der Acta Pauli zur Apostelgeschichte des Lukas: Darstellung und Kritik der Forschungsgeschichte’, Das Ende des Paulus: Historische, theologische und literaturgeschichtliche Aspekte (ed. Horn, F. W.; BZNW 106; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2001) 215–37, at 218 tentatively favours this view, as do Esch-Wermeling, E., Thekla–Paulusschülerin wider Willen? Strategien der Leserlenkung in den Theklaakten (NAbh 53; Münster: Aschendorff, 2008) 319 and, more confidently, Pervo, R. I., The Acts of Paul: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014) 151–2. On the other hand, Lipsius’ decision is subject to debate (note the objection in von Gebhardt, O., Passio S. Theclae virginis: Die lateinischen Übersetzungen der Acta Pauli et Theclae nebst Fragmenten, Auszügen und Beilagen herausgegeben (TUGAL 7; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1902) xcviii and Vouaux, L., Les actes de Paul et ses lettres apocryphes (Les apocryphes du nouveau testament; Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ané, 1913) 195 ) and Paul's next destination is in Myra (Acts Paul 4.15), which lies in relative proximity to Pisidian Antioch and Iconium (though Pervo notes the easy sea access from Syrian Antioch). I follow Lipsius here, though it does not greatly affect my argument.

6 MacDonald, The Legend, 65; cf. the general agreement of Rordorf, W., ‘In welchem Verhältnis stehen die apokryphen Paulusakten zur kanonischen Apostelgeschichte und zu den Pastoralbriefen?’, Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi: Gesammelte Aufsätze zum 60. Geburtstag (Paradosis 36; Freiburg-Neuchâtel: Universitätsverlag Freiburg Schweiz, 1993) 462–5 and Barrier, Acts of Paul, 40–1.

7 See MacDonald, The Legend, 29.

8 For general critiques, see Schneemelcher, W., ‘Acts of Paul’, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. ii (ed. Schneemelcher, W., trans. Wilson, R. McL.; Cambridge/Louisville, KY: James Clarke & Co Ltd./Westminster John Knox, 1992) 213–70, at 221–2; Häfner, G., ‘Die Gegner in den Pastoralbriefen und die Paulusakten’, ZNW 92 (2001) 6477 ; Ng, E. Y., ‘ Acts of Paul and Thecla: Women's Stories and Precedent?’, JTS 55 (2004) 129 and esp. Esch-Wermeling, Thekla, who surveys and critiques MacDonald and Rordorf's views on pp. 25–7 and whose entire argument undermines his approach. Dunn, ‘The Acts of Paul’, 21, 40, 49, 78, 94–5, Merz, A., Die fiktive Selbstauslegung des Paulus: Intertextuelle Studien zur Intention und Rezeption der Pastoralbriefe (NTOA/SUNT 52; Göttingen/Fribourg: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht/Academic Press, 2004) 215–17 and Pervo, Acts of Paul, 89–90 engage on this narrower point. Snyder, G. E., Acts of Paul: The Formation of a Pauline Corpus (WUNT ii/352; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013) 117 simply states, ‘Whatever we do with MacDonald's theory, the similarities between the Acts of Paul and Thekla and 2 Timothy are worth noting.’

9 MacDonald, The Legend, 62–3, and see the comments in Schneemelcher, ‘Acts of Paul’, 221. Regarding the literary form of the Thecla narrative, Barrier, Acts of Paul, 1–21 and passim has attempted to establish firmly the view first proposed by von Dobschütz, E., ‘Der Roman in der altchristlichen Literatur’, Deutsche Rundschau 111 (1902) 87106 that the Acts of Paul is best read as an ancient romance novel. In addition to Barrier's work, Dobschütz's suggestion has been followed by Söder, R., Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und die romanhafte Literatur der Antike (Würzburger Studien zur Altertumswissenschaft 3; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1932); Bremmer, J. N., ‘Magic, Martyrdom and Women's Liberation in the Acts of Paul and Thecla’, The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (ed. Bremmer, J. N.; Studies on the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles; Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1996) 3659 .

10 Dunn, ‘The Acts of Paul’, 21, 40, 94.

11 Esch-Wermeling, Thekla, 25–6, and see her full comparison of the ideology of the Pastorals and the Iconium episode on pp. 27–68. While her observations are incisive regarding these parallels, her larger redactional argument faces a number of difficulties; cf. Edsall, B. A., ‘(Not) Baptizing Thecla: Early Interpretive Efforts on 1 Cor 1:17’, VC 71 (2017) 235–60, at 242–6.

12 Cf. Bauckham, R., ‘The Acts of Paul as a Sequel to Acts’, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, vol. i : Ancient Literary Setting (ed. Winter, B. W. and Clarke, A. D.; Grand Rapids/Carlisle: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1993) 105–52, at 117 and Betz, M., ‘Thekla und die jüngeren Witwen der Pastoralbriefe: Ein Beispiel für die Situationsgebundenheit paulinischer Tradition’, Annali di Studi Religiosi 6 (2005) 335–56, at 342 n. 25.

13 MacDonald, The Legend, 63.

14 Of course, early Christian writings are well known for alterations and expansions of various elements in their base texts. Later apocryphal narratives (whether Gospels or Acts), however, often tend to imaginatively fill perceived gaps in the authoritative text rather than simply shift characterisations without textual warrant; see further below.

15 The latter is the implied solution in Schneemelcher, ‘Acts of Paul’, 219–22.

16 Bauckham, ‘Acts of Paul’, 129–30; see further below.

17 Δημᾶς may have been a shortened form of Δημήτριος (cf. BDF §125.1), which occurs 2,570 times. I am indebted to Stephen C. Carlson for this observation. The Lexicon is now online at

18 This singling out of Hermogenes also problematises MacDonald's appeal to the folklore ‘law of twins’, with his argument that ‘Paul's two fellow travelers … possess no individual qualities’; MacDonald, The Legend, 29.

19 Preserved by the Coptic P.Heidelberg (ϩⲉⲣⲙⲟⲅⲉⲛⲏⲥ ⲡϩⲁⲙⲕ︦ⲗ︦; Schmidt, C., ed., Acta Pauli: Übersetzung, Untersuchungen, und Koptischer Text (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1905)) and the majority of the Greek witnesses, the notice is omitted in B and C (see the apparatus in Lipsius ad loc.). The majority of Latin families LB and LA render the text in line with the Greek, while LC tends to change the singular to the plural (Demas et Hermogenes aerarii) and LBa adds Alexander to the list of companions (facti sunt ei comites Demas et Hermogenes et Alexander aerarius; von Gebhardt, Passio S. Theclae). The Syriac provides probably independent attestation for the plural solution (; Wright, W., ed., Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, vol. i : The Syriac Texts (London: Williams and Norgate, 1871)).

20 Bauckham, ‘Acts of Paul’, 129. It should be noted, however, that Demas is not paired with anyone in 2 Tim 4.10. It is clearly stated that Demas left Paul for ‘love of the present world’ while Crescens and Titus are simply mentioned as being elsewhere.

21 In this way there is a certain similarity with contemporary ‘fan fiction’. Drawing an analogy with ‘popular reading’ more broadly, Henry Jenkins notes that ‘media fans take pleasure in making intertextual connections across a broad range of media texts’ ( Jenkins, H., ‘Textual Poachers’, The Fan Fiction Studies Reader (ed. Hellekson, K. and Busse, K.; Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014) 2643, at 33). Further, ‘[f]ans have chosen these media products from the total range of available texts precisely because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-existing social commitments and cultural interests; there is already some degree of compatibility between the ideological construction of the text and the ideological commitments of the fans and therefore, some degree of affinity will exist between the meaning fans produce and those which might be located through a critical analysis of the original story’ (Jenkins, ‘Textual Poachers’, 30). However, it is worth noting that the similarities between fan fiction and ancient literature is necessarily loose given that ‘conflation of folk and fan cultures may blur important distinctions between them, not least of which is the relatively recent legal idea that stories can be owned’ (F. Coppa, ‘Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fan Fiction as Theatrical Performance’, The Fan Fiction Studies Reader, 218–37, at 219).

22 See the recent similar treatment of the Protevangelium in Bockmuehl, M. N. A., Ancient Apocryphal Gospels (Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2017) 5871 . In his terminology, the Protevangelium is ‘epiphenomenal’ with respect to the underlying Gospel texts.

23 For example, the evident change in the women at the tomb between John 20 and Ep. apost. 9–11, which appears to be a harmonising expansion. In an effort to correlate the account of John with that of Mark and Matthew, and perhaps in continuity with the interest in the different ‘Marys’ involved in Jesus’ life and ministry (cf. GPhil 59.6–11), Mary Magdalene of John 20 is expanded to include two other Marys, his mother and the sister of Martha.

24 Alongside Bauckham, the exegetical impulse of various aspects of the Thecla narrative has been noted by Snyder, Acts of Paul, 137–45 and Edsall, ‘(Not) Baptizing Thecla’.

25 See the most recent discussion in Pervo, Acts of Paul, 91–5 (who opts for the physiognomy of an ‘itinerant teacher’, p. 94) and also the short summary in Barrier, Acts of Paul, 75.

26 Cf. Betz, M., ‘Die betörenden Worte des fremden Mannes: Zur Funktion der Paulusbeschreibung in den Theklaacten’, NTS 53 (2007) 130–45, at 135–7.

27 See n. 5 above, and note that Lipsius’ favoured MS C does not include the phrase Ἀντιοχέων πρῶτος. My point holds true for the majority of Greek and Latin witnesses (cf. von Gebhardt, Passio S. Theclae, xcviii–xcix) and the Coptic P.Heidelberg as well, which read ‘Syrian’ rather than ‘Syriarch’. Being identified as a Syrian in the second-century Roman Empire could have indicated the location of the narrative (Syrian rather than Pisidian Antioch) or even conveyed tacit characterisation based on ethnic stereotypes, such as the frequent association of Syrians with slavery (as slaves and traders); cf. Noy, D., Foreigners at Rome: Citizens and Strangers (London: Duckworth, 2000) 235–6, whose comments are specifically concerned with peregrini in Rome.

28 Cf. MacDonald, The Legend, 41, whose comments pertain to Galatarchs but hold true for other regional leaders as well (see also Pervo, Acts of Paul, 149, 151–2). Note that although MacDonald sides with Vouaux against Lipsius in reading ‘Syrian’, he nevertheless argues that Alexander being a Syrian indicates that his status was bought by benefactions rather than being inherited, perhaps contributing to a social insecurity that is exacerbated by the events with Thecla.

29 Concern for idolatry also appears in what may be the earliest reference to Christian preaching in 1 Thess 1.9–10.

30 Acts 15.20 and passim; 1 Pet 4.3; 1 John 5.1; Rev 2.14 and passim.

31 Did. 3.4–6; Tertullian, De idololatria, see further below.

32 Cf. Isa. 40.19–20; 44.9–17; Jer 10.3–5, 14; Hos 8.4; Hab. 2.18 etc.

33 Diog. 2.3.

34 Idol. 4.2: quicquid idololatria committit, in artificem quemcumque et cuiuscumque idoli deputetur necesse est.

35 The date of the Apostolic Tradition is difficult, but it is generally accepted that the material concerned with Christian initiation (Trad. ap. 15ff.) was present in the earliest version, even if the details cannot all be assigned confidently to that early stage. Proposed dates for the composition range from the late second to the early third centuries; see the summary of relevant issues and discussion in Ekenberg, A., ‘Initiation in the Apostolic Tradition ’, Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity, vol. ii (ed. Hellholm, D., Vegge, T., Norderval, Ø. and Hellholm, Ch.; BZNW 176; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011) 1011–50.

36 Trad. ap. 16.3 ( Till, W. and Leipoldt, J., eds., Der koptische Text der Kirchenordnung Hippolyts (TU 58; Berlin: Akademie), 1954) 41.3): ⲉϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲟⲩⲣⲉϥⲧⲁⲙⲓⲉ ⲧⲟⲩⲱⲧ ⲡⲉ ⲏ ⲟⲩzⲱⲅⲣⲁϥⲟⲥ ⲡⲉ ⲙⲁⲣⲟⲩϯ ⲥⲃⲱ ⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲧⲙ̄ⲧⲣⲉⲩⲧⲁⲙⲓⲉ ⲉⲓⲇⲱⲗⲟⲛ ⲏ ⲙⲁⲣⲟⲩⲗⲟ ⲏ ⲙⲁⲣⲟⲩⲛⲟϫⲟⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ. Note that concern over involving painters and idol-makers in the church is continued in later church orders from the late third and late fourth centuries; see Didasc. 18.3 (against receiving donations from painters () and idol makers (); Vööbus, A., ed., The Didascalia Apostolorum in Syriac (CSCO 401, 402, 407, 408; Louvain: Secrétariat du CorpusSCO, 1979) 180–1). The Apostolic Constitutions picks up the prohibitions both from the Didascalia and the Apostolic Tradition 4.6 (no donations from εἰδωλοποιοί) and 8.4.32 (εἰδωλοποιὸς προσιὼν ἢ παυσάσθω ἢ ἀποβαλλέσθω; M. Metzger, ed., Les constitutions apostoliques (SC 320, 329, 336; Paris: Cerf, 1985–7)).

37 The possibility of a subtle, even subconscious, connection with the Demetrius of Acts 19 may be supported by the relation between the names Δημήτριος and Δημᾶς, see n. 17 above.

38 Pseudo-Basil, De vita et miraculis sanctae Theclae 1.5: τούτω δὲ ἤστην οὐκ ἀγαθὼ μὲν ἄνδρε … Notably the author drops entirely any reference to the craft of Hermogenes or Demas.

39 A similar point could be made with regard to the portrayal of Paul and Thecla after the pattern of a late second-century Christian teacher/initiate relationship; cf. Edsall, ‘(Not) Baptizing Thecla’.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

New Testament Studies
  • ISSN: 0028-6885
  • EISSN: 1469-8145
  • URL: /core/journals/new-testament-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed