Naomi Reiss

Project Title: ‘Prisoner of Christ’: Incarceration, Early Christianity, and Modern Prison Ethics

HEI: The University of Edinburgh

School: School of Divinity

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Novenson and Dr Philippa Townsend, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

About Naomi’s Research

Naomi Reiss
Naomi Reiss

The apostle Paul, a key New Testament figure, suffered imprisonment on multiple occasions, at the hands (according to various accounts) of local authorities, Roman officials, client kings, and even the Emperor; however, he identifies himself only as a prisoner of Christ (Phlm 1:1). This enigmatic phrase had a significant afterlife in early Christian literature; it is re-ascribed to Paul in numerous sources and, increasingly, to other imprisoned Christians. Moreover, many important early Christian texts were written in, or narrated, situations of imprisonment.

My project will explore the trajectory of the concept ‘prisoner of Christ’, and its associated narratives, among early Christians. It will provide a thematic analysis of the formative experience of imprisonment for early Christians, the meanings ascribed to these experiences, and the development of a carceral mythology with its own tropes, theologies and tensions. This project will take an intertextual approach, exploring the recurrence and development of themes and concepts introduced by some of the earliest Christ-followers in the imaginations and the lived experiences of later generations. It will also explore the possible continuities, parallels and causational links between ancient Christian prison tropes and theologies and modern-day experiences of prison, an experience which directly affects many tens of thousands of people in the UK today.