First-Century Guides to Life and Death: Epictetus, Philo and Peter
This monograph is a comparative study of three prominent ethical Guides in the Roman East during the Julio-Claudian and Flavian period: Epictetus the Stoic (c. AD 50-60 – c. 135), Philo the Alexandrian Jew (20-15 BC – AD 50), and Peter the Christian Apostle (died c. AD 64). Each Guide drew from his differing philosophical or ideological perspectives to teach about God, life, and death. After providing an introduction to the Guides, Burge examines their teachings on these topics.
Matters of life and death are thus discussed in this forum. What is the nature and character of God according to each Guide, and how is one to relate to God? What is the purpose of life, and what does the good life look like? To what extent is such a life attainable, and how is one to pursue it? What is death, and how does one’s view of death affect how one lives? Is there an afterlife, and what can be known about it?
In the final section Burge draws the forum together by considering the resonance and dissonance between the three Guides and discussing reasons for their differences.
It unexpectedly emerges in the course of Burge’s research that the three Guides faced an enemy with common features: a movement that was spreading rapidly throughout the Roman Empire know as the Second Sophistic. The close proximity of deceitful teachers to the Guides is reflected in the vehement polemical style with which they set forth their superior path of life. Since each Guide was motivated by, and responded in unique ways to, the threat posed by this common enemy, it was possible to compare their responses.
“The writings of the New Testament are highly contextualized documents which offer unique responses to the common philosophical and religious questions of their day. With crisp clarity, Burge lets us listen to three ancient guides who masterfully provide answers to the common street-level concerns about the nature of God and the way of life and death. Epictetus the Stoic, Philo the Jew, and the Christian author of 2 Peter line up to present their cases as Burge lets us hear their discussion in the ancient forum. This stellar study serves scholar and student alike who want to understand the New Testament message within its historical horizon and contemporary communicators of the Christian faith who need a model for presenting the gospel in contextually relevant way.” – Gene Green, Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College
First-Century Guides to Life and Death won Macquarie University’s Chris Dixon Medal for the Best Thesis in Early Christian Thought and Experience.