Revisiting the Subintroductae: Slavery, Asceticism, and “Syneisaktism” in the Exegesis of John Chrysostom

In: Biblical Interpretation
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Building on Page duBois’ work on domestic slavery, and the relationship between literal and metaphorical slavery, this article revisits John Chrysostom’s treatises against the subintroductae (“female spiritual companions”), and reads the late ancient ascetic cohabitation of syneisaktism (often termed “spiritual marriage”) not so much as a type of spiritual marriage, but as an alternative form of slavery. The findings examine the discourse of slavery in the treatises, determine the type of service cohabiting ascetics may have provided to one another, and show how this popular living arrangement relates to late ancient domestic slavery. The thesis holds that syneisaktism provided an alternative to slaveholding, since many of these subintroductae would have been ascetics who got rid of most, if not all, of their slaves, and had to find other ways of coping with domestic labor demands. The close resemblance between slavery and syneisaktism thus shapes Chrysostom’s diatribe against the subintroductae.

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