"Constructing a “Civilized” Christian: Titus 1:10-16 and Ancient Ethnic Stereotypes"
Thursday, October 19, 2023

Dr. Chris Hoklotubbe from Cornell College will be visiting the Department of Classics to deliver a colloquium presentation on November 2nd at 5:00 pm in Van Allen Hall's Lecture Room 2.


Constructing a “Civilized” Christian: Titus 1:10-16 and Ancient Ethnic Stereotypes


In Titus 1:10–16, the author, writing in the name of Paul, describes his opponents as belonging to the notorious circumcision faction, infatuated with “Jewish myths,” and as embodying the worst qualities of Cretans. “It was one of [these Cretans],” the author states, “their very own prophet [Epimenides, ca. 6th century b.c.e.], who said, ‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true!” (Titus 1:12–13a, NRSV). Modern commentators of Titus, disturbed by idea that Paul comes across as a “bigot," have argued that the author uses this maxim hyperbolically to shame only heretical teachers, not Cretans in general. However, such interpretations too easily “hand-wave” a problematic passage that really seems to mean what it says!

I suggest that we can better account for the possible social and political function of Titus’s "racialized rhetoric" when we read this passage alongside of modern analogous accounts (e.g., Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks) of how ethnic minorities appropriate and denigrate the characteristics and practices of other ethnic groups in order to represent themselves as “civilized” before the colonial “gaze”—often at the expense of other ethnic groups with whom they are in competition for limited recognition and power. Such modern analogues of colonial experiences can help us to reframe Titus in its ancient colonial/imperial context. In particular, I argue that we should situate this passage alongside of ancient discourses of “race/ethnicity” (especially within the competitive cultural domain of so-called the Second Sophistic) and imperial Roman representations of Christians as a barbaric, superstitious, and potentially seditious people. Through such a re-contextualization, we can better understand how pejorative constructions of “barbaric” Cretans and Judeans may have functioned to discursively construct a “civilized” Christian subject.


To learn more about Dr. Hoklotubbe, visit his page on Cornell College's website here: https://www.cornellcollege.edu/academics/our-faculty/faculty-profile/index.php/show/choklotubbe