Fortress Press

The Rape of Eve: The Transformation of Roman Ideology in Three Early Christian Retellings of Genesis

The Rape of Eve

The Transformation of Roman Ideology in Three Early Christian Retellings of Genesis

Celene Lillie (Author)


Sex, violence, power, and redemption. In recent decades, scholars of New Testament and early Christian traditions have given new attention to the relationships between gender and imperial power in the Roman world. In this surprising work, Celene Lillie examines core passages from three texts from Nag Hammadi, On the Origin of the World, The Reality of the Rulers, and the Secret Revelation of John, in which Eve is portrayed as having been humiliated by the cosmic powers, yet experiencing restoration. Lillie compares that pattern with Gnostic savior motifs concerning Jesus and Seth, then sets it in the broader context of Roman cosmogonic myths at play in imperial ideology. The Nag Hammadi texts, she argues, offer us a window into symbolic forms of Christian resistance to imperial ideology. This groundbreaking study highlights the importance of the Nag Hammadi writings for our fuller appreciation of the currents of Christian response to the Roman Empire and the culture of rape pervasive within it.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506423364
  • eBook ISBN 9781506414379
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 364
  • Publication Date March 1, 2017


1. "The king gave the sign to assault their spoils . . .": The Mytho-logic of Rape, Marriage, and Conquest
2. "One loves, the other flees . . .": Daphne, Apollo, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses
3. "And they lusted after her . . .": The Rape of Eve and the Violation of the Rulers
4. "And so they convicted themselves . . .": The Rulers and Resistance
5. "But she could not be grasped . . .": Thinking through the Rape of Eve
Works Consulted


Reviewed in New Testament Abstracts 61.2 (2017)


Path-breaking and powerful

"Celine Lillie’s fresh and extensive analysis of portrayals of Eve’s rape in three Nag Hammadi writings, skillfully reappraised against the background of rape discourses that had been exploited in Roman imperial founding myths, is path breaking and powerful. The value of her eminently readable study will certainly not be limited to Nag Hammadi specialists. It will also benefit more widely students of early Christianity and Greco-Roman society, as well as many other readers seeking insight into the dynamics of patriarchal paradigms and sexual violence.”

Michael A. Williams | University of Washington

Groundbreaking and breathtaking

"Celene Lillie’s The Rape of Eve is both ground-breaking and breathtaking. Her three Nag Hammadi texts, On the Origin of the World, The Reality of the Rulers, and the Secret Revelation of John oppose Roman imperial theology not just in itself but as the present material investment of a primordial cosmic aberration. This changes absolutely how we read these three texts—and other “Gnostic” ones like them as well."

John Dominic Crossan | DePaul University

Full of refreshing and remarkable insights

"The book is full of refreshing and remarkable insights. Lillie’s reading of the Nag Hammadi texts helps us fill out the complex picture of early Christianity, particularly how some Christ-followers might have approached the Hebrew scriptures and regarded the Roman Empire.  It also alerts us to the intimate relations between sexual and imperial hierarchies, as well as the dynamic, creative, contextual, and intertextual development of religious traditions."

Tat-siong Benny Liew | College of the Holy Cross