The Apocryphal Day of the Lord: Advertising Sunday Rest with Extra-Canonical Texts, lecture by Uta Heil (University of Vienna), CEU Vienna and Zoom, April 25, 2023, 5:30–6:45 pm
The cultural history of Sunday as a day of rest in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages is complex. The previously proposed outline of its development has been repeatedly challenged by scholars of history and religion, and the story of Sunday has been revealed as far more variegated than is apparent at first glance. For example, Sunday did not simply replace the Jewish Sabbath, nor was the Sabbath commandment directly transferred to Sunday. Furthermore, the various Sunday laws enacted by the emperor Constantine officially gave the inhabitants of the Roman Empire a day of rest from work, but the effect and reception of these laws are hard to ascertain, even among Christian authors. In addition, Sunday was by no means a central theme in the history of late antique Christianity, so the scattered extant references must be interpreted carefully. Even though it was already a matter of course in the second century for Christians to meet and worship together on Sunday, there was actually no consensus on how the day as a whole should be organized and what significance should be given to it.
This is precisely the background for the production of some apocryphal and pseudepigraphic texts on Sunday presented in this talk. At the center is the so-called Letter from Heaven, written by Christ, which employs massive threats to exhort people to honor Sunday, to rest from work on that day, and to attend Sunday church services. However, it should be placed in the context of other revelatory writings and apocalypses, as well as pseudepigraphic exhortative sermons, dialogues, and visionary literature in order to broaden the scope.
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