Fortress Press

The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity

The Burden of the Flesh

Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity

Teresa M. Shaw (Author)


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Shaw's rich and fascinating work provides a startling look at early Christian notions of the body--diet, sexuality, the passions, and especially the ideal of virginity--and sheds important light on the growth of Christian ideals that remain powerful cultural forces even today.

Focusing on the fourth and early fifth centuries, Shaw considers three types of Christian arguments--physiological, psychological, and eschatological--about the efficacy of fasting in the ascetic pursuit of chastity. Demonstrating their connections also illumines relationships between body and belief, theory and behavior, and physical self-abnegation and theological speculation. In the process, Shaw examines a variety of texts from the seventh century b.c.e. to the seventh century c.e., including medical treatises, philosophical writings, Christian homilies, and theological treatises.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800627652
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 320
  • Publication Date May 27, 1998


"Teresa Shaw has written a splendid book. By unraveling the complex interaction between late antique medical theories about the relationship between food and ethics and the emerging Christian ascetic movement, The Burden of the Flesh casts the role of body and soul in early Christianity in an entirely new light. Familiar notions of a dualistic divide, if not antagonism between the two, can now no longer be maintained." --Susanna Elm University of California, Berkeley "Shaw traces the web of physiological, psychological, theological, and ethical meanings that attend the theory and practice of fasting by early Christian ascetics, especially by women. Putting to rest previous allegations that early Christians were 'dualists,' sharply separating body and soul, Shaw shows how fasting became a tool or the re-creation of the Edenic, angelic condition. Shaw brilliantly points up the paradox of how release from the 'burden of the flesh' was achieved in and through the body. An important contribution to studies of the history of the body and of gender." --Elizabeth A. Clark Duke University