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The Body and Society Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity by Peter Brown

The Body and Society Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity


The Body and Society Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity by Peter Brown

First published in 1988, Peter Brown's The Body and Society was a groundbreaking study of the marriage and sexual practices of early Christians in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Brown focuses on the practice of permanent sexual renunciation-continence, celibacy, and lifelong virginity-in Christian circles from the first to the fifth centuries A.D. and traces early Christians' preoccupations with sexuality and the body in the work of the period's great writers. The Body and Society questions how theological views on sexuality and the human body both mirrored and shaped relationships between men and women, Roman aristocracy and slaves, and the married and the celibate. Brown discusses Tertullian, Valentinus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Constantine, the Desert Fathers, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine, among others, and considers asceticism and society in the Eastern Empire, martyrdom and prophecy, gnostic spiritual guidance, promiscuity among the men and women of the church, monks and marriage in Egypt, the ascetic life of women in fourth-century Jerusalem, and the body and society in the early Middle Ages. In his new introduction, Brown reflects on his work's reception in the scholarly community.


The reader of Peter Brown's work is always uncertain which to admire most, the grace and clarity, the scope and erudition, or the ability to bring diverse and complex units into a meaningful whole. These merits are all fully on display in The Body and Society. New York Times Book Review Peter Brown's book is a great achievement. It will long be read, its insights studied and discussed, and its prose admired and enjoyed... His work is a tour de force, showing a mastery of text and subject through six centuries of history. -- W. H. C. Frend New York Review of Books A profound exploration of the meaning of embodiment, celibacy, and chastity for early Christians. Christianity Today A work of rediscovery and re-evaluation, written in luminous, heart-stopping prose. -- Nicolas Rothwell The Australian A seminal work. Bryn Mawr Classical Review A truly magisterial work of historical scholarship by the greatest living authority on late antique Mediterranean civilization. It will be the definitive work on this subject for the foreseeable future. Choice [A] compelling and human study of the depths and heights of sexual renunciation... Brown's detached yet compassionate sympathy recreates the subtle and complex world of late-antique sexuality and renunciation with a skill which is uniquely his. This is not a history of the idea of virginity, but a sharpyly-focused series of pictures of its practice. London Review of Books Only Peter Brown could have written The Body and Society. The book... is the work of an acute and immensely learned mind soaked in the sources, with an enviable power to bring together widely scattered and recondite texts. Religion

About the Author

Peter Brown, formerly professor of classics and history at the University of California, Berkeley, is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University and the most prominent scholar of late antiquity (between 250 and 800 A.D.). He is the author of a dozen books, including Augustine of Hippo, Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianization of the Roman World, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Poverty and Leadership in the Late Roman Empire.

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Book Info

Publication date

13th June 2008


Peter Brown

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Columbia University Press


568 pages




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