Date of Completion
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
The Epistula Severi provides an account of the conversion of the Jews on the island of Minorca in February, 418. According to the letter, the Christians were inflamed with religious fervor as a result of the arrival of certain relics of St. Stephen the Protomartyr shortly earlier. As a result, they rallied under the leadership of their bishop, Severus, and attempted to engage the Jews of Magona, the primary city on the island, in a debate and convince them to join the Christian church. The Jews, according to Severus, refused to debate and began stockpiling weapons to defend themselves against the threat of potential violence. The Christians marched to the synagogue to search for weapons and a riot broke out between the two groups. Eventually, fearing their destruction, the Jews yielded to the Christians and converted. After minimal resistance and a few minor miracles, all five hundred and forty Jewish inhabitants of the island became Christian.
Unlike previous scholarship which sought to determine the authenticity or historicity of the letter, I will examine its narrative elements. Employing rhetorical narrative criticism, I will show how the author develops a totalizing discourse of imperial Christianity that seeks to absorb and erase Jewish history. Rhetorical narrative criticism studies the elements of a narrative to explore the ways in which the author shapes the telling for an intended purpose. Although forced conversion was illegal when the letter was written, the author communicates to his audience a model for encouraging conversion which conceals the violence employed. He does this by developing an image of Christian and Jewish identities which pits them against one another. Miracles, dreams, and even geography are employed to show divine involvement in the conflict, supporting the Christians in their actions and vexing the Jews until they adopt Christian practices.
Pearsall, Mark, "indigni et peccatoris verbum: Christian Identity in the Epistula Severi" (2016). Doctoral Dissertations. 1013.